This week we Rand Fishkin steps into the interview chair as part of our ongoing series of interviewing the top people in the social media marketing space.
Rand is an Internet Marketing Consultant and the founder of SEOmoz, a Seattle-based SEO company, serves as a hub for search marketers worldwide, providing education, tools, resources and paid services.
Rand has been involved in web development since 1995 and search engine optimization since 2001. Rand specializes in working with both online and brick-and-mortar firms to improve traffic, usability & conversion rates on the web. His clients include companies around the globe in the retail, financial, healthcare & communication sectors.
1. Rand, your blog is one the best sources of information in the SEO world. How has your blog helped differentiate SEOmoz from the competition? How has your blog helped you generate new business?
First off, thanks! We do work very hard to make the blog the best it can be. I think we differentiate SEOmoz with a lot of different tactics. We try hard to cover or present new material rather than simply discussing the major memes or news in the SEO space. This, of course, means that folks have to go elsewhere to get their critical news, but we never wanted to compete in that space during the early stages of our growth.
The blog has been a differentiator for the company by providing a lot of press and publicity as well as serving to expose us to a lot more opinion and feedback in the search marketplace. With an average of more than 30 comments per post, and many with more than 100, we get to see a lot of broad experience. The blog has also built a community of private contacts that’s simply fantastic – I can email thousands of people in the web world and get a quick response – that’s invaluable when you need help or need to to help someone else.
The blog has helped us generate business primarily through the publicity that comes with it. Even in the early days when I was still learning SEO (of course, I’m still learning today), people seemed to take the popularity of the blog as a sign of expertise. Thankfully, the network the blog helped us build allowed me to stand on the shoulders of many giants in the industry and become someone who knew what they were talking about (at least, most of the time ).
2. One of the main features of your blog is strong use of video. Tell me about your decision do to so many video posts?
When we hired Scott Willoughby, he had worked in the film industry and had some strong video skills (which we’ve only leveraged a tiny bit due to our lack of serious hardware). We started Whiteboard Friday as a test and found that it was fun, popular and a great way to present SEO content in a new style.
3. You have created your own channel on YouTube. Does video search actually generate qualified business inquiries for you? Or is it just high school kids who think you’re cool?
I doubt any high school kids think we’re cool. We’ve got a lot of subscribers to the channel, but I think they’re more interested in the community and learning aspect than in becoming a client. Of course, some of them are probably premium members too, so that’s certainly helping us out financially >
4. You have recently added some community features to SEOmoz.org like YOUMoz and the premium content. Can you tell me about your decision to launch these web 2.0 features instead of the more traditional features like a forum?
We never really wanted to run a forum – there are a lot of good ones out there about SEO and we’re really seeking to provide a lot of signal with very little noise, so the pre-approved system at YOUmoz is a perfect fit there. It’s also exciting to be able to submit something that could potentially get in front of tens of thousands of eyeballs on the main blog, and even on YOUmoz, you see 10-20 comments per post, which is far more than even many other popular blogs, so YOUmoz is a terrific place to get feedback.
The premium content isn’t really very “web 2.0″ – it’s actually probably the opposite direction from UGC & free & open. Our decision to launch it was based on a desire to have a far broader range of interaction and help many more small and mid-size folks, rather than simply consulting with large companies (which was becoming a trend for us). Premium content also scales much better than consulting, where you’re always trading time for money.
Part 2: How SEOmoz clients are using social media tactics
1. SEOMoz has an impressive customer base. Are your clients asking you for an SMO strategy? What social media tools or tactics are you seeing them use? What works? What doesn’t work?
I’d say that for nearly all of our clients, social media marketing plays some role in the strategies we provide. Typically we’re talking about viral content development, opportunities for leveraging social media functionality on their own sites, getting UGC into the picture, monitoring brand and reputation on blogs/forums/social sites and building profiles on social portals. I can’t universally say there’s anything that works for everyone – certainly someone like NPR uses social media in a far different way than a web 2.0 company like Yelp or Farecast.
2. What are some of the opportunities in social media that you see that marketers are not taking advantage of?
I think the vast majority of marketers aren’t even aware that social media marketing exists – they have no idea that content can be submitted to Digg, no idea that companies can have Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, little clue about why Yahoo! Answers or Wikipedia might be important. Inside the search industry bubble, people are very aware of these tactics, but if you go out into the mainstream world of marketers, you’d find little to no engagement whatsoever.
3. What social media sites do you see rising and/or falling in favor over the next 12 months?
I think Facebook is going to run over MySpace sometime soon. Granted, they both have their niches, but Facebook is accelerating at a very fast pace and has the media steamroller behind it. I’m hopeful that Reddit will do more in terms of functionality and growth as well – the site’s great, mostly due to the community of submitters and voters, but they haven’t evolved much since launch and there’s a lot of opportunity for growth. Finally, I’d say that Flickr needs to extend its popularity – it’s a great site and very popular in the techy circles, but it has yet to reach a wider audience. If they don’t do it, I’d be concerned that a competitor will eat away at that market, maybe even a new version of Picasa.>
4. Link baiting is a tactic that you are well known for. Can you explain what it is and how a company can use it?
I’ve explained the concept behind linkbait here on the Yahoo! blog. That’s probably a good resource for those who are new to the topic. Basically, the idea is to put out content that will spread virally across the web through “connectors” – owners of blogs, posters on social media sites, participants in forums and web communities, etc. I think the biggest example of this to date is surely YouTube’s growth from a non-player to market leader in 3 months with the Lazy Sunday video off SNL.
5. Which SMO techniques that you think are wastes of time?
Bullshitting. I think it’s totally useless to go onto social media sites and pretend to be a “big fan” of some company or product in a fake way. I see it on occasion and it’s so easy to spot and so repellent to the community that it hurts the brand more than it helps.
6. Tell me about the most successful campaign you have seen in SMO?
I don’t think I can reveal that, actually. I can talk about a recent success though – we worked with Chris Null who runs FilmCritic.com and used some cool linkbait on the site to help push them from #380 for “movie reviews” to #8 today (hopefully that acceleration will keep up).
7. The FilmCritic.com example you gave was very interesting, especially with such a competitive keyword. Can you share what the time frame was that you were able to move the site 370+ places in Google?
We launched a re-design of the site in late June and began the linkbaiting around that same time frame, so approximately 30-40 days. It was a lesson for us in how powerful linkbait could be
8. Tell me about the biggest blunder you’ve seen in SMO?
I saw a company “pretend” to do an independent review of several vendors of a particular product/service on a website. They got very popular with hundreds of thousands of visitors and tons of blogs and social buzz about them, but then one intrepid blogger started investigating and found that the company who was ranked “best” had actually paid a social media firm to put together the whole project. Ugly stuff – that blog entry got nearly as much coverage as the original piece and many bloggers actually deleted their links to the ranking site. That sucked.