Youtalk: A Candid Conversation with Rand Fishkin

What It Takes to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

A Candid Convo on Entrepreneurship, Google Monopoly, TikTok’s Demise, & Why Uncomfortable Truths Are Your Best Selling Point

Episode Highlights:

0:35 – The Positive & Negatives of Entrepreneurship
1:13 – Why Uncomfortable Truths Are Your Best Selling Point
5:15 – Sparktoro & Consumer Influencer Marketing
6:45 – Google Monopolization & The Future of SEO
10:44 – Pairing Content With Your Social Channels
16:11 – When Should You Use Paid Advertising?
20:42 – Should You Use Social Media as a Testing Ground?
25:47 – TikTok’s Demise
28:30 – Big Tech Hearings

We’ve recently sat down with cofounder and CEO of SparkToro, Rand Fishkin, to discuss many topics regarding entrepreneurship, marketing, business, and more. Let’s take a look at a few highlights of this week’s Youtalk.


1:13 – Why Uncomfortable Truths Are Your Best Selling Point

Rand: I really like to be transparent. The difference between honesty and transparency is: honesty is not telling a lie; transparency is telling the whole uncomfortable truth. I find that as a human being, marketer, author, writer, just someone who shares information with people—uncomfortable truths are far more interesting and unique. They resonate. They attract attention. They earn amplification. They help people. If you write a blog post about “Top 10 Marketing Tactics,” it’s the same old junk. It isn’t interesting as opposed to something that’s unique. Something that addresses topics that people don’t normally discuss. The blog post that I published last night. One of the first comments in there says: “I love this blog post, but did you just conflate conservatism and racism? I don’t like that at all.”

Be willing to make enemies. Be willing to piss people off. Because you’ll also attract people when you do that. Take a passionate position. It’s a unique and useful thing, especially in the corporate world where people are so unwilling to do that because they think they have to appeal to everyone.


“Honesty is not telling a lie. Transparency is telling the whole uncomfortable truth.”


6:45  – Google Monopolization & The Future of SEO

Michael: I know you’ve kinda been an outspoken critic of Google and the monopolization…


Rand: I mean, who hasn’t been other than people who work at Google.


Michael: I feel you, man. Part of me is torn because it’s nice to have everything in one umbrella just for laziness purposes. But outside of that, no, I definitely don’t agree.


Rand: I mean, I’m sure that all the manufacturers in the 1880s thought it was convenient that US steel provided everything they would ever need. But then they were also like gosh, it’s destroying American capitalism and opportunity. I think it is. Maybe we should make some laws around it.


Michael: I feel the same way. As a consumer, I love going to Google. It has a really good search engine. But as a small to medium business owner? It’s hard to succeed and have opportunities there.


Rand: I look at what Google has done in travel, flights, hotels, jobs, movies, television, and finance. Now they’re going into credit cards and bank loans. I’m like, oh man. They’re just taking out the competition by getting all their data and then getting people to come to you through Google and it’s pretty ugly.


Michael: Do you see a bright future for the SEO world? For instance, if I was starting a business today and I had goals that were 10 years out, do you think SEO is the channel for me?


Rand: It depends on the business. In many cases, I would say that you should probably do some investment in SEO. The weird thing I think about today versus 10 years ago is that 10 years ago, I would’ve said, “Hey, put a commensurate amount of effort into SEO as that channel can pay you out.” SEO can be a huge payout channel. If you’re successful at it in the right fields.

Today, I would tell you to go under. I would not put the commensurate effort in because SEO as a channel has so much potential to decline as Google sort of destroys that opportunity to keep traffic for themselves, build their own properties, or send it to other alphabet owned businesses. I worry significantly that five years from now if you’re doing SEO, it could be like what happened to Vimeo, Wistia, and all the video platforms five years ago when Google was like: Oh, wait a minute. Why are we sending traffic to other video providers? Let’s send it all to YouTube.

You’re suddenly just out of the game, right? Just completely taken out. So I worry about that. And therefore I would suggest to most entrepreneurs, founders, CMOs, and VPs of marketing to take some of the investment that you put in SEO and consider alternative channels that can help boost your diversity in traffic sending sources. Putting all your eggs in that SEO basket feels a lot riskier today than it did a decade ago.


10:44 – Pairing Content With Your Social Channels: Which Goes First?

Michael: When you craft your content, do you think of the channels it’s going to be pushed out on prior to creating it?


Rand: Oh yeah. In fact, this is one of the reasons you’ve probably seen some of my content pieces as of recent. I’ll often feature a photograph because I know that with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, a photograph often draws people’s eye and it focuses folks. If you have that photograph in there, you’re going to be far more able to attract attention and clicks through those social channels. Social channels for me are primarily the first way I get traffic. And then secondary is those people on social subscribed to the email. A lot of those people on social media might link to it. I might be featured on someone’s podcast and discuss my content. And then it might rank in Google as well. There are all these sorts of second-order effects, but social is the first mechanism for a promotion.

And because of that, I want to play to those algorithms and the expectations that people have when they’re consuming content in these channels.


Michael: That makes sense. So social is your primary focus. Do you think social should be the primary focus for others as well?


Rand: Let me clarify my answer. Social is not my primary focus, but it is my initial primary focus, right? Like it’s the first way that I earn attention and traction. Then, I follow up with all these other channels. So I’m obviously using a lot of different platforms—digital PR, which used to be called influencer marketing, SEO as well, email marketing, one on one relationships, all of these channels come after the initial social push.

I think almost everyone who’s creating or amplifying content should probably be using social, at least a little, for their initial amplification. So much of the world that consumes media online pay attention to some combination of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit. I’m not telling you to put all your eggs in those baskets. I’m just saying to optimize for those. And then you can also do well with search, remarketing, retargeting ads, email newsletters, subscriptions, and webinars.


Michael: So multichannel approach in short.


Rand: Yeah. And if some of these platforms don’t work for you, that’s fine. For example, if you’re like: Oh god, I hate being on video. I never want to be on video. Then you’re not going to be great at it, so don’t do it.  It’s a serious risk in relying on only one channel longterm. I just think you should find the platforms that resonate with you and your audience, and that you’re uniquely good at. Then you’ve got a real match.


16:11 – Organic vs. Paid Ads: When Should You Use Paid Advertising?

Michael: So is that where Sparktoro can come in with some of that social traction? Let’s say I’m a new business and I have a small social media following. I’m having a hard time with organic reach. I’m finding more and more that I probably need to pay for visibility…


Rand: I think that Sparktoro has a wide variety of customers and user cases even wider than we expected when we launched it. My broad advice from that perspective is if you’re struggling to get traction on social channels or with your content, I might rethink a few things. I might rethink, generally speaking, whether you should be paying for amplification if organic amplification is not working well for you. The frustrating part about it, if you try to push content or a message you post on your Facebook or Instagram page, you may try to amplify that with paid spend. The network will let you do it. They’ll let you spend as much money as you want, but the engagement that you get from that paid amplification is pretty bad. Like it’s kind of terrible.

Ironically enough, you want to spend paid amplification dollars on things that have already done well in organic. So if you’re not getting organic traction, paid traffic probably isn’t the way to go. You should probably take those dollars and go work with an agency to improve the positioning, the pitch, the content itself, who it’s targeting, how it’s reaching them, what formats you’re using, etc. Maybe text-only blog posts are not the way to go and you need something more visual. Maybe you need to enter the world of data journalism. Maybe you need some interactive tools.

Whatever it is, you need to evolve what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Rather than just thinking you’ll throw another 50k at Facebook this month and magically attract more people. Take that 50k and go hire a good agency.

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