‘Take Ten’ Interview with Rand Fishkin – Moz

Rand Fishkin
Wizard of Moz

“I think it would be really really powerful and it would be wonderful to see people coming out of those certification programs doing a wonderful job in the industry and then having that certification program be able to be recognized by agencies who hire consultants, by businesses that hire in house SEOs, by marketing teams that want their marketers to get trained.”



Welcome to ‘Take Ten’, OMCP’s podcast where we spend 10 minutes, more or less, talking to online marketing thought leaders, educators, and career professionals about training and certification with hosts Jane Flint and David Temple.

OMCP: I’m here with Rand Fishkin, the Wizard of Moz. Rand, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Rand Fishkin: I certainly will, David. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, what a great friendship we’ve had over the years. My name is Rand I founded a company called Moz in Seattle. I founded that company with my mom, actually my co-founder Jillian and I ran it as the CEO from 2007 to 2014. When I stepped down, I promoted our long time CO Sarah to the role. So, these days my title is Wizard of Moz and really what that means is I do a lot of education, a lot of evangelism speaking, a lot of content creation and promotion. I get to do plenty of hands on as CO and testing and experiments, which I love. I’m still the chairman of the board at Moz. I’m trying to see this company through to a great outcome and continue to try and help marketers succeed and be better as CO’s.

OMCP: Well it sounds like a great role, I mean you certainly earned it, it didn’t just happen. When you first got in the industry, I remember that the yellow shoes were your trademark. Now it seems to be your mustache, tell me about those yellow shoes. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen? And then talk about your mustache.

Rand Fishkin: It was semi-conscious with the yellow shoes so basically I had been in a lot of online forums for years before I ever went to my first SEO marketing event, which was Search Engine Strategies in 2000… I think it was either 2004 or 2005. It was in New York and it was super cold out, it was March. My grandfather and I went together, Si, who you know, Si Fishkin. He and I went together to that show, we stayed in a hotel a few blocks away so we were walking through the icy cold in my yellow shoes. And I wore them because I wanted people from the online world to be able to recognize me in person, and so I told people through the forums and blogs that I was participating on “Hey, I’ll be the guy in the yellow shoes. Say hi if you see me.” And it worked. Barry Shwartz from Search Engine Round Table came up to me in the first five minutes of me getting there and said “You must be Rand Fishkin.” So those yellow shoes became a trademark ever since.

OMCP: And the mustache?

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, the mustache. The mustache is a little different. I had a deal when I was CEO that I was not going to shave my mustache until Moz returned to profitability. I then stepped down as CEO and about three months after making that agreement in 2014. It’s been about eighteen months now, Sarah, to her credit, I think is a great CEO but she’s chosen, she actually doesn’t want to run the company to being profitable. She’s more focused on trying to grow. So that meant my mustache got real long. At board meetings I’ll occasionally be like, “Hey, Sarah when do I get to shave this thing?” We’ll see.

OMCP: That’s a great story. Rand, how did you start educating yourself about online marketing back in the day?

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, when I first started in web marketing my first discipline was web design and usability. There were some really good courses out there and a great book that I actually still think is the absolute best book I have read about web design and user experience and that is Steve Krugs, “Don’t Make Me Think”. I think that was the start of my education. But then when I got into SEO, as you know, back in those days there was very little out there. Webmaster World, the private forums had some interesting information but there were very few blogs talking about it. SEO book has barely come out at that time and obviously I hadn’t started as SEO Moz which became Moz yet. One story I think is just crazy, I remember I got to my grandparents house in Flemington, New Jersey,a tiny little town in western New Jersey and sat down at their dining room table with my grandfather. He had printed out the Paytrink paper that Larry Page and Sarah Gabren had written, when they were at Stanford. He printed out the Trustrank papers from some of the Yahoo researchers, he printed out a bunch of applications and we just sat down together and read through those and he explained to me what all these mathematical concepts meant in the real world.

From that I think I was able to get a lot more insight into how does a software engineer at Google think about search? How do they think about relevancy? How do they think about popularity and engagement and all these kinds of things that suggested that a site or a page should rank for a query. So that was really how I got myself educated. And it was a lot of trial and error. We’d try things on our clients websites, we’d try things on our own websites, I ran probably a dozen domains at once at one point doing weird stuff all over the place. I tried to see what stuck and what didn’t. I think that’s still something really valuable in SEO’s is to be able to experiment.

OMCP: Let me ask you this. Do you feel it’s necessary for someone to have a strong understanding of all the online marketing disciplines these days SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, etc. even if they’re only going to focus on SEO as a career?

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, the model that I love to use is kind of the T shaped marketer. I have broad knowledge across web marketing so I understand how email marketing works, how conversion rate optimization works, how content marketing and content strategies play a role, social media marketing, pay displayed media, retargeting, PBC. And I think I would call myself one of those people. I have rough knowledge in those areas. A little deeper in maybe content and social and CRO than in email or paid or displayed, those kinds of things. But in SEO I go much much deeper. I think it actually makes me a better SEO, a better search marketer. To know things about how email works, how conversion works, because you can empathize with your colleagues, you can empathize with the varying demands of a marketing team or department or business.

You can make smart trade offs or understand how you need to serve multiple goals or multiple master with a project or with a tactic. That’s really hard to do if you are exclusively focused in one of those areas. I actually think SEO is one of the practices that gets hurt the most when people have no understanding of it. They do things on the paid side or on the contents side or on the email side that lead people to a different domain and then you get no authority that helps your original domain or use subdomains that bifurcates authority and ranking power and those kinds of things. Or they do things exclusively for brand that has no key word relevance, so they don’t rank for anything. All that type of stuff. If you can gain just some knowledge on SEO it potentially becomes a superpower for the other marketing channels you invest in.

OMCP: What do you think is the biggest gap in online marketing training or education today?

Rand Fishkin: To me, I think a lot of it is two things. One, structured curriculum that deftly and sensibly walks someone through the process in a way that is empathetic to how people learn. Look, Moz is as guilty of this as anyone, we will put up great blog posts about learning this one in depth particular tactic. But what should you read before that? What should you read after that? Maybe you come to Moz and you read the Beginners Guide to SEO, now what? What’s next? How should I know what I should dive into, where I should go, what do I need to learn in order to be proficient for what my company or my client, my business needs. I think that is missing. I wouldn’t say missing, it is rare to find, rare to find. And then the second thing I would say is that hands on testing.

Go get your hands dirty, go build the website, find a search phrase that when you search for it all ten results are terrible, you just can’t get any value from any of them. You think to yourself, “Who did this? Why is Google ranking these people? You know what, I’m going to fix this.” I had this experience recently. I searched for a best dried pasta, because I wanted to know what the best dried pasta brand is, right? That’s an important thing, I want to eat well. You know what? The best I could do was find one site in the UK that had rated six pasta varieties, three of which I couldn’t even get my hands on. There’s hundreds of pasta varieties. Who is out there doing this testing? I’m going to take it on myself, next year I’m going to boil every kind of pasta there is. I bought a domain, pastalabs.com, I’m going to test this out. That I think is missing from education around SEO as well.

OMCP: And then what can competency based certification do for our industry, Rand?

Rand Fishkin: These things we’ve been talking about, I would love, I would love to see certification programs do a great job of guiding someone down that path of here’s the next logical step, here’s what you need to learn. And then giving them the impetus, but also the freedom and flexibility to go play around, to go buy that domain and try and get it ranked for a keyword or two, and buy some paid search ads to it, have a monthly budget of maybe only $100 and try and drive traffic that’s relevant and what can you convert, how happy can you make your visitors. I think it would be really really powerful and it would be wonderful to see people coming out of those certification programs doing a wonderful job in the industry and then having that certification program be able to be recognized by agencies who hire consultants, by businesses that hire in house SEOs, by marketing teams that want their marketers to get trained. This is the place to go. That would honestly be awesome. I think our industry has been needing it for a while.

OMCP: Well thank you so much for your time, Rand. We always appreciate talking to you.

Rand Fishkin: Oh my pleasure, dude. Anytime.

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