Martech Stacked Episode 19: The Free Martech Tool That Every Software Subscription Business Needs - with Rand Fishkin
1st October 2020
I’m joined today by a man who in 2004 co-founded the SEO software company, Moz. He moved on in 2018 and wrote “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World”, before launching SparkToro - a martech tool that identifies your customers' biggest sources of influence, and the hidden gems - so you can reach them where they hang out. Welcome to Martech Stacked, Rand Fishkin.
Listen to Martech Stacked on Apple, Google Podcasts or Spotify.
#1: ProfitWell Revenue operations products that reduce churn, optimize pricing, and give you accurate, free revenue reporting.
#2: SparkToro Forget expensive surveys or time-consuming research. SparkToro identifies your customers' biggest sources of influence, and the hidden gems—so you can reach them where they hang out.
#3: Hunter.io Hunter lets you find email addresses in seconds and connect with the people that matter for your business.
David Bain: I'm joined today by a man who, in 2004, co-founded the SEO software company Moz. He moved on in 2018 and wrote Lost and Founder, a painfully honest field guide to the startup world before launching SparkToro, a martech tool that identifies your customers' biggest sources of influence and the hidden gems, so you can reach them where they hang out. Welcome to Martech Stacked, Rand Fishkin.
Rand Fishkin: David, thanks so much for having me, great to be here.
David Bain: Yeah, thank you so much Rand. I saw you give a little wave at the beginning there actually, but I'm cutting the video up which means at the very beginning it will just be focused on me but I just wanted to share with the listener that you were giving that lovely informal Rand greeting at the beginning.
Rand Fishkin: Yes, yes. Because a lot of people probably have seen a whiteboard Friday or two and I guess I have a signature wave that got picked up as a meme at some point in martech world.
David Bain: I like the fact that in your book, the back of your book it actually says on the back cover, "Hi there, it's me, Rand." And then brackets, waves. So it's a bit of a personal brand identity thing you've got going on there.
Rand Fishkin: Oh man, I guess I've been outed as a waver. I got training with the Queen so I think I'm in good hands.
David Bain: Well, I don't know, I think you could improve your wave or alter your wave style, I think if you could compare them both.
Rand Fishkin: I'm trying to be efficient, David, I try and keep it... want to Americanize it a little bit.
David Bain: Okay, okay. First listener to come up with a gif that combines the queen and Rand's waves, let's see if someone's going to do that.
Rand Fishkin: I do wish I had her savage wit and ability to dismiss nepotistic and corrupt world leaders the way she does, that would be a delightful skill.
David Bain: She's certainly still being able to do that quite successfully well into her 90s, so very impressive. But I just want to tell the listener, of course, you can find Rand over at sparktoro.com. So Rand, explain what SparkToro does and how you use marketing technology, that, and also other marketing technology to make it better.
Rand Fishkin: Sure, yeah, absolutely. So SparkToro is incredibly simple software with a very simple value proposition and the really difficult part is just getting the data and plugging it all together. So the idea with SparkToro is that you or any marketer or researcher can instantly discover what any audience reads, watches, listens to, and follows. If you want to know what plumbers in Canada are listening to, which podcasts are popular with them, SparkToro can tell you. If you want to know what professional architects in Los Angeles are watching on YouTube, SparkToro can tell you that. If you want to know what people who care about custom sneakers in London, which websites are popular with them, SparkToro can tell you.
Rand Fishkin: That data is gathered from tens of millions of social and web profiles that we have crawled just the same way Google would crawl, so it's all publicly available information, there's no privacy violation, we don't store or show personally identifiable information, this is all aggregated data. And it's something that a lot of in-house marketers who are trying to better understand their audiences and where to reach them, and a lot of agencies and consultants use to do just that. I will say, David, we launched three months and 20 some days ago so we're still pretty darn new and early stage, but yeah, it's been really cool to see people already adopting the product.
David Bain: Well, it's great to see you've launched, obviously that's a big feat in itself, it's quite challenging to get to that stage as a SaaS developer, but actually I'll ask you a little bit about the history of SparkToro to begin with. So how long have you actually been thinking about the concept for?
Rand Fishkin: Gosh, probably since 2015 or '16. Less on the solution and more on the problem, because for those who don't know, my previous company Moz was in SEO software, search engine optimization, and so look if you're a marketer or you're building something, you're building content, you're building a product or whatever it is you're trying to market, if people go out and directly search for the thing that you offer, search marketing is great. Google works great for that. Somebody says, "Oh I want running shoes." Fantastic. But what if what you're selling is heavy machinery and nobody searches for it, or what if you're selling a software product that maybe solves a very painful problem but people don't know to search for it, they're not realizing that they have the problem, or even if they do realize it they don't know how to google your solution.
Rand Fishkin: So in those cases, what do you do? You have to build up awareness of the problem, awareness of your solution in other ways. I remember having a lot of challenging conversations when I was at Moz with businesses and organizations of all sorts of sizes, especially a lot of early stage companies, who said, "Search doesn't work for me." So search doesn't work for you and you don't want to pour ludicrous amounts of dollars into Facebook advertising and display advertising, what do you do? You've got to figure out the sources of influence that already reach your audience and then make them aware of you in those places. That is very, very challenging, especially about figuring out what your audience pays attention to. So I started thinking about it while I was at Moz, and then when I left my co-founder Casey and I got together, we talked a bunch about this, and of the problems that we considered potentially solving with a new company, we decided that this one was the one we were most excited about.
Rand Fishkin: And thankfully we were able to convince a bunch of investors to put money into a very nascent idea. The product didn't exist yet so it was just a concept, and it was a very unusual structure. We did not raise venture, we don't plan on ever raising venture. In fact, we plan on being a profitable company that pays dividends, which blows most investors' minds and they think it's a terrible idea until they see how successful it can potentially be.
Rand Fishkin: But regardless, that journey was a long one, and then we were in development for almost 18 months before launching, so it was a long dev process. I am not a fan of the MVP model, so we really polished up the product. We had a version that was ready in July of 2019, and we didn't actually launch the product that went live for V1 until April of 2020.
David Bain: Yeah. Reading your book Lost and Founder, I think that you obviously talked through the challenges that you've had in the past as well, with doing things like perhaps launching an MVP and maybe delivering an unsatisfactory experience. I can certainly understand why you feel that. And I like the fact that you're not really a fan of venture capital either.
David Bain: I think that more entrepreneurs, more digital entrepreneurs nowadays are being a little bit more self-sufficient and going down that route, and it's nice to see, and it's nice to see you doing that as well. Let's talk a little bit about first of all what a business maybe does with the data that they find in SparkToro, because I'm sure there's a lot of incredible data that they can find, but what would be a typical use case scenario where a company goes on there, they conduct the research and they find the data in SparkToro, what would be the next step maybe strategically for them? Would they use the data to form relationships with influencers and get them to hopefully become brand advocates?
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, that's one potential use case. We've seen a little bit of that, I wouldn't say it's the majority of cases. So the two biggest use cases that we've seen, the big broad use cases are marketing teams using us for their strategic planning. Basically where are we going to go try and reach our audiences that is not just throwing money at Google and Facebook?
Rand Fishkin: So they use SparkToro to try and get a sense for do our audiences... which social platforms do our audiences participate on and who do they pay attention to there? Which publications are popular and how popular? Which websites are popular and how popular? Which podcasts, which YouTube channels, what sorts of hashtags they use, what words and phrases they use to describe themselves.
Rand Fishkin: Then it's almost, in a way, like a marketing persona development process. They're trying to understand their audience so that they can prioritize with data, instead of just intuition and insight. With data they can prioritize should we do a bunch of YouTube sponsorships? Should we do influencer marketing? Should we do podcast sponsorship? Should we try and pitch guest editorials? Should we do some opeds in major papers? Should we do some website partnerships? Should we do some partnerships, co-marketing, webinars? All that type of stuff. So it is helping them see where their audiences pay attention so that they can, at the very top level, strategize about how to reach those audiences, their persona, and then in the tactical level go out and say, "Ah-hah, David and ContentCal's podcast, wow. That is popular with martech folks, how do we get on there, how do we sponsor that? How do we get our product mentioned there?" That would be a very big use case for SparkToro.
Rand Fishkin: Then I would say there's also the much more in the weeds tactical use case that a lot of content marketing folks and PR folks have been using SparkToro for, and that is literally we just made something or we have a campaign to run, we need to figure out where to go pitch it. So it's just straight up building a list for outreach.
David Bain: So your first use case scenario, can you imagine then that more brands would actually be arranging their own advertising directly themselves with where they're advertising instead of going through a third party like Google AdWords or Facebook?
Rand Fishkin: Isn't that the dream? That's the dream, right?
David Bain: I think it is. I think there's got to be some kind of mechanism, I guess, to ensure that the rates that they're paying fit market rate or better than that, and I guess measure the effectiveness of that. Is there some mechanism that you can think of, some software that you can think of, that a customer could use to manage lots of different independent advertisers or advertising opportunities?
Rand Fishkin: That's a good question. I am not familiar with something like that but my suspicion is that many, many advertisers and many marketers don't invest in doing it themselves because it is challenging to maintain all those relationships one-to-one, and as a result of very few people doing that the ROI is incredibly high. So anytime there's a marketing tactic where there's a barrier to entry, it's oh it's really difficult to, for example, get invited to speak at a bunch of events, or now in COVID times it's a bunch of webinars. It's very challenging to pitch yourself and get accepted and then create those and have content that resonates and be appreciated by the audience, and because it's very difficult and because very few people do it, it's incredibly valuable. Right? It can literally make an entire business.
Rand Fishkin: And there are tons of agencies and technology firms and software companies, I mean I did this at Moz, right? We had a number of tactics that we invested in that I think turned that into a multi tens of millions of dollars a year business because very few people invested in them. But almost everyone is throwing money at Google and Facebook, and so it's really difficult to get a true competitive advantage and unique value proposition in your marketing campaigns by also throwing money at Google and Facebook. And this is why, in my opinion, the dream is dis-intermediate those monopolistic gangsters.
David Bain: I completely get what you're saying, and I agree that I think a lot of marketers don't value having real face-to-face conversations with customers, with partners, and really developing an understanding of what those partners do and enabling those partners to understand what their brand does, thus better hopefully representing it in a more genuine way to their own audiences.
David Bain: I guess there has to be that bit of software that exists to better manage those relationships, if a brand's going to do it at scale. But it certainly seems to be a more important way to move now to better take advantage of what your brand is truly about.
David Bain: I spoke to Louis Grenier from Hotjar in episode nine, and he actually... we're going to here what your top three pieces of marketing technology are just in a second, but he cheated a bit. He said conversations with customers is his number one piece of technology or number one thing to do, but he positioned it in a way that used technology as well. Essentially it's all about really knowing what customers want as opposed to relying on technology to find out those things on your behalf. So let's get into your technology as well, Rand. So starting off number three, what are your top three tools in your current martech stack and why?
Rand Fishkin: Sure. So one of the tools that we have been using and in fact we're nearly on the edge of launching an integration with them is hunter.io, and if folks aren't familiar with Hunter, they essentially crawl the web, aggregate data in a very email-centric way. So if you are trying to discover the email address of almost anyone professionally at almost any publication or website, Hunter does a spectacular job.
Rand Fishkin: You can type in virtually any website and get the format that employer or that company uses for their team members and you can get back a bunch of the email addresses that are associated. It's very, very impressive. And yeah, I think email discovery is a challenge for everyone. I don't love cold outreach at scale, I don't even love cold outreach one-to-one, but in many, many cases when you are doing marketing sorts of things, having an email address is hugely valuable. So I find myself using it very regularly to find even things like someone who has signed up for a SparkToro account, and I like to email everybody who pays for a subscription and buys a SparkToro subscription.
Rand Fishkin: So they'll come in, they'll sign up with something like admin or team or marketing at domain name. I know that that goes to an alias and does it actually go to the person who signed up? But then I see the name of the person who signed up so I'll go to LinkedIn and I'll find that person's name and maybe I'll send them a connection request on LinkedIn, but then I'll go to hunter.io and plug them in and now I get back their email, and now when I send a welcome to SparkToro email it goes to their email address and it feels so personal to be welcomed individually to SparkToro and have that person know something about you. There's a real relationship there. So I love them for a bunch of stuff, and yeah like I said SparkToro's about to do an integration where we will show contact data from Hunter inside our product too.
David Bain: I found your phrase doing marketing type things quite interesting. So that would mean that it's not necessarily just about marketing. Is it a legitimate use of Hunter to get email addresses and then to use it maybe to create a very bespoke targeting campaign for advertising?
Rand Fishkin: Certainly. I think that is a use that a lot of marketers do at scale already, and I've seen folks do similar things with Facebook or they'll take email addresses and they'll plug them into Clearbit or FullContact to get back all the social URLs and then they'll go look at those social URLs or crawl them and extract data from them. So all that kind of stuff are use cases.
David Bain: Wow, okay. So it's a tool that I haven't tried personally, I've certainly heard of, but it's in my list of tools to try and you might just have boosted it further up there.
Rand Fishkin: I mean, David you could try it on this podcast in 10 seconds flat because all it is, it's just a form field that's like enter anybody and then you enter anybody and it bam, returns to you with whatever data it's got. And I love tools like that, I love tools that require almost no setup, almost no sophistication, the UX is just ludicrously obvious and straightforward. But then the power of the data is what's useful there. I don't know if you go to hunter.io and plug in Rand Fishkin, I assume it will just...
David Bain: I've already plugged in sparktoro.com and it's come up with two email addresses, your own and also firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rand Fishkin: Those both go to me, but yes, excellent.
David Bain: So it's certainly an appealing tool to try, as I'm sure many marketers will be doing that. And I like the additional social lookup software that you recommended as well. Can you just highlight again what those two tools were called?
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, so FullContact has their Person API where you can essentially send them a list of email addresses or social accounts and they'll fill in all the blanks. So if you, for example, maybe you've trawled through Twitter and you've got 500 Twitter profiles and you would like to get email addresses for those people or you'd like to also get their LinkedIn pages or you'd like to also get their Reddit profiles or YouTube profiles or whatever it is, right? You can do that through FullContact's Person API, which is pretty slick.
Rand Fishkin: I used it at Moz, actually, when we did a big customer research project, we were looking at people who had stuck with the Moz subscription and people who had canceled and what sorts of attributes did they have that were different from one another, et cetera. I loved FullContact for that. The other one is-
David Bain: And FullContact... Sorry, I was just going to say with FullContact there's no pricing on the website. Do you know roughly what the pricing is for the service?
Rand Fishkin: Oh gosh, it was pretty inexpensive. I remember us running something on the order of 100,000 emails and getting all the data we wanted for around $20k, so yeah. Not unaffordable at all.
David Bain: Great, okay. And sorry, the other tool you mentioned was?
Rand Fishkin: The other tool is Clearbit, which I think a lot of marketers are probably familiar with Clearbit, but they have something similar where you can essentially give them data of one type of profile and they will fill in those other elements. Clearbit has some more advertising centric overlap as well for custom audiences, et cetera, but yeah. I think both of those are good options.
David Bain: Superb stuff. So that was hunter.io was your tool number three, so what is your tool number two?
Rand Fishkin: I don't want to put myself first, so over email we said we'd talk about SparkToro. I do use SparkToro more than any other tool, but a lot of that is helping other people, right? I don't want to pretend like it's my all day every day that I'm in my own tool, but I am kind of proud of the fact that this is no offense to Moz, but when I was the Moz, I didn't have to do much inside Moz's tools all that often, and part of that was being CEO of a larger company, but it's kind of cool that I probably run 20 SparkToro searches a day, if not more. Sometimes even on the weekends. So yeah, I use SparkToro quite a bit, and that is primarily about helping other marketers and with some of our own campaigns with discovering attributes and behaviors of those audiences so that we can do good jobs positioning our campaigns and our products, targeting our outreach efforts, knowing how much effort to put into a marketing channel or a particular tactic or a specific piece of outreach. I don't know if you've had this, David, I'll frame this up for you and you tell me if this sounds familiar to you.
David Bain: Sure.
Rand Fishkin: So you walk into a meeting room or a boardroom or you're having a conversation over email with some executives and you say, "Hey, I think we should put some serious dollars and efforts towards getting into this industry publication this year, or getting on stage at HubSpot's inbound conference, for example, which attracts a lot of martech professionals, or SaaStr or MicroConf or something like this," right? And the executives say, "Well, I'd like us to be in the Wall Street Journal."
Rand Fishkin: And you kind of cock your head. It doesn't have to be The Wall Street Journal, it could be the New York Times or TechCrunch or something, some prestige publication, and you kind of cock your head sideways and you rub your chin a little bit and you go, "You just told me, or we all agreed that our target customer are these people. Did they read The Wall Street Journal more than anything else?"
Rand Fishkin: "Well, look David, I go golfing with all of our customers and I can tell you they read The Wall Street Journal so you better get us in The Wall Street Journal." And you just kind of want to jump out the window. It's a terrible experience, and it's very tough to bring data to those conversations to sort of prove to your executives, no, look, I looked and the inbound event is attended by 17% of all these SaaS marketers that we're targeting and The Wall Street Journal is read by 2.5%. So, what do you think? Should we put 10 times the effort into this one than that one? That is a conversation that I really love bringing SparkToro's data to. I don't know if that resonates with you.
David Bain: It does resonate with me. I recognize those conversations, but I'll tell you what rung a bell apart from actually me listening to the accent that you were putting on there and wondering if it was a character in The Simpsons.
Rand Fishkin: That's my fancy east coast CEO, I don't know where it comes from.
David Bain: You'll probably relate to this as well, it actually reminds me more of SEO and actually having conversations with executives about targeting. This was several years ago, I've been involved in SEO since roughly the same time as you, the mid-2000s or so, and I haven't been so actively involved in the area in the last couple of years or so. It reminds me of deciding on what should be the target keyword phrases for the site and for different pages and for executives going, "But I want to rank for this phrase because I search for this phrase and that's what competitors appear for."
Rand Fishkin: Right. And you say to yourself, "Friend, you're the only one looking for that. Don't worry. Here's the search volume, you're the only one out there."
David Bain: And we haven't even talked about personalized search but that's another story.
Rand Fishkin: Right, exactly, exactly. So same problem, same sort of problem. I like to call it The Wall Street Journal marketing problem because for some reason whenever there's a C title executive in the room, The Wall Street Journal comes up, at least in the United States. But this sort of bias happens all the time with prestige publications, and I understand it, I have empathy. Look, my 93, 94 year old grandmother was never impressed by any of the tech publications that sent Moz high value traffic or that helped my book Lost and Founder get sales or that's helping SparkToro, but one side mention in the New York Times and my grandmother cut out the article and she had it on her fridge. So I get it, I understand the bias, but we're marketers, we have an obligation and responsibility to do our job and to tell people things they don't always want to hear.
David Bain: Yes. I think the fine line to tread as a marketer is marketing in reality but also understanding that you need to market to perception as well, and if it's a large group's perception, even if it's not reality it becomes someone's reality almost and you have to deal with that.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. I have the impression that there is a huge group of people who never read the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or whatever it is, but they have a Google alert set up or a Mention alert or whatever it is, and so when one of their competitors gets mentioned they see that and then they think oh, well, a lot of people must be reading about this in our industry who care about this stuff, we need to be there too, and these biases are just self-reinforcing. And hey, if you're The Wall Street Journal, it's great. You're going to encourage that. But it's definitely a challenge.
Rand Fishkin: This is something I hope that SparkToro, because the simplicity of the tool is I type in whatever, SaaS marketers, and it shows me that 2% read this publication and 20% read that publication. It's not rocket science, it's very clear. And the profile data's right there.
Rand Fishkin: I think bringing those kinds of numbers and that sort of list of publications that actually do reach an audience, this is immensely valuable to a lot of marketers, and not just to the marketers, to the team as well so that they don't spin their wheels.
David Bain: Absolutely. But if you do get that mention in The Wall Street Journal and it doesn't bring you a lot of traffic or immediately measurable notoriety, then maybe take advantage of it by doing something like retargeting or targeting a very small group of CEOs who are your target audience and let them know that you've been featured in that publication.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, right. I think prestige publications can serve a purpose for social proof and for editorial... I don't want to say peacocking but presenting yourself in a way that you've passed through some of the gate keeping of a broader editorial effort. And that can have some value. At the same time I think if I were going to tell marketers where to put their dollars and their time, it would rarely be in those prestige publication spot.
David Bain: Yeah, absolutely. Your peacocking phrase reminded me of when I was a marketing manager more than 10 years ago and working with a PR firm and every so often they'd come around and present in a big hard copy book, these are the publications that you've been featured in and this is the value of what we've done for you.
Rand Fishkin: And it would have like here's Barack Obama on the cover of this magazine, and then look at you on page 71, here's your mention right alongside Obama, wow, amazing. You kind of have this-
David Bain: You can't pay for this publicity.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, you can't pay, except you obviously just paid for that publicity.
David Bain: So, we've got hunter.io is your tool number three, we've got SparkToro as your tool number two, what is your martech tool number one?
Rand Fishkin: So, I don't use this every day but I will say this is one of the most valuable tools, possibly the most valuable martech tool in our tech stack, and that is ProfitWell. ProfitWell is free, unbelievably it is free, and so I urge you all to sign up. Anybody with a subscription business should sign up for it, it is a very clear, clean, obvious interface that integrates with your Stripe account and I think some other payment methods as well but we use Stripe at SparkToro, and then it shows you your revenues, your monthly recurring revenue, subscription one time, it shows you trends over time, it shows you customers. So I can see all of our customers who signed up and their product, whether they are actively using the product or not, I can see whether they have... This is through an integration obviously with a trigger event, a firing event on your website.
Rand Fishkin: Then I can see folks who have canceled, when they've canceled, when they're upgraded their subscription, downgraded. Just all of that management stuff that, David, I don't know if you've ever built this but I spent years working with our teams at Moz, we had a team called inbound engineering at Moz that ugh, every couple of years, ever three years there'd be some new requirement, we have to rebuild our systems to monitor all this stuff and put it together. ProfitWell does it all for your for free, it has budgeting, so we can basically see oh we're $5000 away from hitting what our monthly target was and this is how many more sales we'd need. Beautiful.
David Bain: It's utterly incredible the software that's available now compared with five years ago, 10 years ago, even more. It's just night and day isn't it?
Rand Fishkin: I would have killed for ProfitWell, killed for it.
David Bain: Ridiculous. So you mentioned churn, I think as well, and identifying different areas that are perhaps dropoff points. Is there a specific example that you can give that has actually saved your business potentially a lot of money or value in other ways by using ProfitWell?
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. One of the things we noticed early on, this was during our beta period actually, we saw that usage fascinatingly enough sort of bifurcated along two lines. So a lot of our users were regular, weekly, monthly users, they were using their subscription. And then there was this cohort of, I think it was close to 30% of our users, who basically used the product very heavily in one or two weeks and never came back.
Rand Fishkin: So what they were really showing us is that they needed the data but they were going to only run a campaign like this maybe once a quarter, once every six months, once every year, maybe once every two years. And we wanted to be okay with that. We're not venture backed, we don't need only recurring revenue. All revenue's great to us. Any customer that we can help is great for us. We don't need to care about forcing you into a subscription. So we said, "Let's not force everyone into a subscription."
Rand Fishkin: And we created a one-time heavy use package where for a week you can use SparkToro nearly as much as you want. I think it's like 1000 searches or something like that. And every month we have two to five customers who buy the one week heavy use subscription and just use it real heavily. We've even had some of those customers come back and do it again, even though we've only been live for four months. Great, fine, wonderful, right? So that's taking that insight, turning it into a package and a pricing, and pricing your product to reflect how users actually want to use your product.
David Bain: So I had a conversation, it wasn't part of the broadcasted conversations, I won't say who it was with but it was with a software company and I was talking to the founder and he said that obviously they offer a monthly type access to their product, and I was saying that I would actually pay for ad hoc access to this product, and he was saying actually we don't want to do that because if we offer that then too many people will do that and not enough people will actually sign up to the monthly package. Was that a concern and how did you get around that if it was?
Rand Fishkin: I believe that is a concern if you have a very particular kind of investor who is looking for you to be able to raise future investment and therefore they need all recurring revenue and certain churn numbers to be able to market and position you to raise your next round. But if you don't care about raising rounds of funding, ta-da. The world becomes your oyster, right? And we don't care about raising future rounds of funding, we care about in this order, being profitable, serving our customers well, serving our community well, serving ourselves well, and then our investors. Right? They'll profit if we do all four of those things well.
Rand Fishkin: So it's kind of beautiful but when I was at Moz, yeah, I felt the pressure every day, David. Every day I felt the pressure to basically look at our churn number and figure out how to bring it down, and look at our subscription numbers and figure out how to bring lifetime value up and those kinds of things. So any type of one-time offering would have been seen as suicidal. Just an anathema to everything that we were trying to achieve as a business, which was essentially a very specific type of financial and customer growth to match metrics that fit with what venture style investors and public market investors were used to.
David Bain: So do you have the belief that because you're offering those one-time offerings, that actually financially it will probably benefit you in the future because people stay with you longer and they'll be happier with your brand, they'll become advocates? Or is it simply because you just want to do the right thing for people?
Rand Fishkin: Yeah, it's a little of both. So I have the belief that two things are true. One, I think more people will subscribe and we will ultimately provide more value to more people in the ways that they want, which is both a good thing broadly speaking for the business because I think it speaks to our reputation and our brand and it speaks to evangelism and marketing, and also the right thing to do as a person and a human being who builds a product that they believe in and things can actually help people. So I think both of those things are true.
Rand Fishkin: I also... I'm not going to lie, when someone tells me I can't do something, oh my god, it's like catnip. I've just got to swat, give it to me. So I think there's a little bit of bucking trends and being driven by contrarianism, so I'll admit that there's a little bit of an emotional component there too. But this is not the only thing we do this on. One of the things that surprised a ton of people and actually got, it's really weird, every month there'll be a big Twitter thread or a LinkedIn thread or something where someone has taken a screenshot of the email that we send, the automated email that we send to our subscribers in their... before we bill them. So basically let's say you sign up for a SparkToro subscription and you pay us $150 for the standard package, whatever. Three days before you're billed again you'll get an email, it comes from SparkToro, I think it comes from me, rand@sparktoro, but it's a formatted email, it's obviously an automated one.
Rand Fishkin: But it basically says like, "Hey, most SaaS companies don't tell you when they're about to bill you again but we don't want to play those games, we don't have any investors, we don't have a need to keep you as a customer. If you're not using it, if you don't find it valuable, or if you need to save some money, cancel. Click this button and cancel. Otherwise you'll be charged in three days, anything you need write to me."
Rand Fishkin: People love that email. They just love the email. They read the text, it sounds like a human being, it seems authentic, it is authentic, like it's true, that's what I want, I want you to cancel if you're not getting value. We get a bunch of marketing, obviously a bunch of marketing value out of it. I think someone sent a tweet, it had like 700 likes or something in July around this.
David Bain: I've seen it on Twitter, yes. So I must have seen it on there.
Rand Fishkin: It's not just one, it'll be several of our customers have posted. There's almost every month that we've been live, someone goes... not viral, but gets a lot of traction on one of the social platforms with it.
David Bain: Yeah. It's an important lesson for digital marketers, and I say digital marketers rather than marketers, I think just not to focus on how they can maximize conversion rates or sneakily improve figures. It's all about long-term success and about making your customers really, really satisfied with you in ways that aren't necessarily completely measurable. I think what you've explained there just emphasizes that.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. I mean, I think half of it is the empathy that is shown to customers, and the other half is how unusual it is. So if lots and lots of subscription companies did this it would be the standard thoughtful thing. Well, we all do it so it's not that special so no one's going to amplify you for doing it. If you want to be perceived that way, perceived as unique, as uniquely thoughtful and uniquely customer focused, you've got to find something that nobody else is doing and then do that.
David Bain: So let's finish up by asking you a couple of other quick questions about your general use of marketing technologies. So the first one is as your business grows, what's an example of a process that you currently do manually that you may wish to automate using marketing technology in the future?
Rand Fishkin: Fair enough. I do love doing a lot of things manually because it has that personalized touch. That being said, I am very much looking forward to the day when audio transcription software is so perfect that it requires no editing or nearly no editing. That will be a beautiful day. That being said, I do use speechpad.com right now, and they actually do both machine with manual editorial human review. It's quite good and quite cheap, so maybe good enough, maybe AI doesn't have to get there. I'm pretty excited for a future that will remove... You know how Zoom has the video touch-up feature?
David Bain: Sure.
Rand Fishkin: It's medium good, like my skin looks okay today. You don't want to come into my shed and see it in real life. But I will not mind when Zoom's touch-up feature advances another 150-200%, that will be a good day for me, especially in the summer when my skin seems to be freaked out.
David Bain: I think you're fine, I think you just have to be concerned when webcams go up to 4K or 8K in resolution.
Rand Fishkin: So this is a 4K, this one that I've got here. I don't think it's at full capacity.
David Bain: Okay, yeah. When you're actually streaming regularly at that resolution.
Rand Fishkin: Then, oh god. I mean, look David, you have it easy my friend. Do you know how long my hair takes to get like this every morning? I have to get up a full 45 minutes before any call that I have in order to do my physical therapy exercise, get in the shower and blow dry my hair and blah blah.
David Bain: So my years of follicle reduction's actually a good thing, is that what you're saying?
Rand Fishkin: I am saying you are inducing jealousy in this.
David Bain: I don't think you're in a position to be able to say that, a man with full hair, but I am-
Rand Fishkin: So I would, on the marketing technology side, I would love for some technology that helps to identify and better attribute dark traffic and I think what's starting to be called shadow traffic or shadow visits, essentially the visits that analytics tools are not effectively recording because of ad blockers or browsers that are blocking the send to Google Analytics or those kinds of things.
Rand Fishkin: So I am hoping that attribute technology gets better because look, if you have a physical retail store, if you own it, you get to know if someone comes in and you get to see which shelves they're browsing and what products they pick up, right? Look, I don't want to invade anyone's privacy but I think it's reasonable to ask that if I run a website, I get to see did someone visit a page and where did they go before and where did they come from and where did they go after? That's super useful in terms of me making a better website, a better experience, not just better marketing but better service. I am still sore as hell at Google for taking away keywords in, what was that? 2011 with keyword not provided?
David Bain: Yeah.
Rand Fishkin: That is the shadiest, most hypocritical, unbelievable that they got away with it and people just stopped complaining and, "Well, what are you going to do?"
David Bain: Well, the reason they got away with it, it was because it was gradual. It was like 10% a year for about five years.
Rand Fishkin: Yeah. And they kept promising it wouldn't go higher, they kept being like, "No, no, no, just a sample of traffic, it will never go higher than 10..." What was the Matt Cutts quote? "It will never go higher than 10%." Then how they said, "Oh, well it's a privacy issue." Well, why don't you do it in paid? Screw you, never ask us questions again. F off, I mean frankly, go take your monopoly and shove it down... I just... I don't know. Whenever topics come up around regulation or how well, Google built a better product. Just get your blood boiling a little bit about that issue, maybe it will help you reflect on the fact that Google has something coming.
David Bain: Well, do you see another search engine coming along that will take away a lot of Google's business? Or is Google going to be in its current state of monopoly for the foreseeable future?
Rand Fishkin: Let's see, yes unless regulation comes around. I think Google... You can see the documents, I don't know if you paid attention to the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust had their hearings with Sundar Pichai and Amazon and all those folks a few weeks ago, but some of the documents that came out were amazing. They were emails between executives inside of Google, and one of those emails said, "Hey, we should make sure no one can ever compete with us by making sure that search quality always relies on having more searcher data, and that way... if we use user signals to boost the way we're able to effectively rank content and show people things, people will come to expect that and no new search engine will ever be able to displace us because they won't have enough user data and historical information to be able to build a better machine." And it was basically a okay, how can we use our monopoly to make sure no one can ever compete with our monopoly? It was almost phrased that way in the email, it was just beautiful.
David Bain: I think one of the biggest concerns for me is the industries every single year that seem to be taken out of existence. Initially you had things like comparison websites and-
Rand Fishkin: This year it's jobs and recipes, a few years ago it's flights, hotels. Anywhere they see money, the new Google credit cards and bank accounts, woo.
David Bain: Yeah. Rand, this is a conversation that I'm sure could go on for a long time.
Rand Fishkin: Oh I've got many thoughts.
David Bain: Yes. I can sense that, but also you've shared a lot of great value just talking about marketing technology in general, what SparkToro's doing to improve the data that's available to marketers and obviously the other tools that you've shared with us as well. Is there any final takeaway that you would like to leave with our listener?
Rand Fishkin: Gosh, yeah. One of my big passions in life and in the world is to support entrepreneurs and software creators and marketers who are helping small and medium businesses grow and be successful in spite of a climate that is very big business friendly. So I would just encourage a lot of folks to think about how they can reframe their experiences and their passion and their goals and their drive away from worshiping at the altar of the biggest 10-50 technology companies and comparing themselves constantly against those entrepreneurs, and instead think about how beautiful and wonderful it is to have a world that doesn't reward income inequality, that doesn't worship at the altar of a few, almost all white dudes in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, tech CEOs. I think we are ripe for an age of more diversity and more opportunity for more people instead of more wealth for a few.
David Bain: Wonderfully said. Not just a marketing thought, a thought for a way to live moving forward, and how hopefully it will change the way that business is done, and I'm positive about it and I'm sure many people are as well. Great thoughts. Rand, thank you so much for your time and your tips today. What's the best way for the listener to find out more about you and what you do?
Rand Fishkin: Sure, yeah. Well, if you want to try out any of the tools I've mentioned, you can try all three of them that we talked about today, in fact our free to try hunter.io, sparktoro.com, and profitwell.com. And if you are interested in following me and hearing me complain more about the monopolistic situations and hearing lots of marketing advice as well, I am most active on Twitter where I'm @randfish.
David Bain: Wonderful stuff. Thanks again, sir.
Rand Fishkin: My pleasure, thanks for having me, David. Take care.
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