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The Marketing Lessons Learned from Rand Fishkin


If you don’t know Rand Fishkin, he is a mythological figure in the digital marketing world. Founder of – among the most prominent software and website in the SEO industry – he recently left the company and started over again.

In fact, after leaving Moz, he created a new company called SparkToro. I admire Rand Fishkin’s style, as he usually brings a fresh perspective in the otherwise monoculture of digital marketers, which all polarize around the same ideas.

I want to show you some excellent strategies I’ve seen him use since he started his new project and what I believe makes him so successful at what he does. Those strategies in a way are part of a broader mindset Rand Fishkin has acquired throughout the years.

Tools as marketing, Trending: will it become the Hacker News for marketers?

You might think that for someone like Rand Fishkin, with his contacts and success; starting a new website is a joke.

Yet, there is one thing to point out. Google doesn’t care. You might be Rand Fishkin, but if you’re building up a website from scratch there’s no way it will be successful without a proper marketing strategy:


SimilarWeb estimates (take them as a pinch of salt) tell us that in just a few months SparkToro has gained traction. It is also interesting to look at the marketing mix:


As of now, SEO is not the most critical channel for the acquisition of traffic. It is important to notice that it takes time to build a proper SEO strategy.

Thus, even though, over time we can expect to see SEO as a prominent “distribution channel” for SparkToro, as of now it’s not.

It is also important to notice that the direct traffic represents the most critical acquisition channel. That is a clear indicator of the strong brand Rand Fishkin has built over the years.

I believe though the real traction will come from a tool that SparkToro has launched recently. This is called “Trending.”

This tool aims to provide a single page where marketers can find the most important articles of the day. This is how the tool looks like:


As explained on SparkToro, the trending tool gets the twitter accounts of marketers connected to it; it gets all the URLs from those accounts; a ranking is assigned based on how many accounts have tweeted a given link.

If they have received enough tweets a list of the day will comprise those URLs that have been tweeted the most. At the same time, over time, Tweet accounts connected to the Trending tool are weighed based on their “historical authority.”

In other words, if they have been sharing quality links from several sources, they will weight more on the Trending page. The exciting part is that Trending algorithm doesn’t take into account followers.

And a link loses relevance over time unless it gets reshared more and more (the aim is to provide fresh links each day).

Whether or not this tool will prove sticky, it is a great marketing tactic to grow a website, quickly. I’ve been using it on a daily basis in the last weeks.

The only thing I’ve found not practical is that I have to keep a tab open and refresh it the tool to keep using it. I’d expect to see in the next future something like a Chrome Extension that allows users to have it opened automatically. Communities like have done it successfully.

Do you want trust? Share everything you got

If you read Rand Fishkin book, Lost and Founder, you might have noticed that one trait of his character is about sharing everything openly, even the most embarrassing things.

Rand Fishkin applies the same principle in business. Lately, he shared all the legal documents about a recent funding campaign, publicly:


Those resources are precious to anyone operating in the startup world. It is counterintuitive to think that sharing everything openly does impact positively your business.

In fact, I’m not sure if there is any proof for that. However, one thing is true, helping others grow by “giving away” your failures and resources is an element of trust. I don’t know Rand Fishkin personally. Yet I trust his words because those are backed up by actions.

The art of hustle: the outreach campaign a la Rand Fishkin

We all want to believe in the story of that fantastic piece of content that went viral. However, that happens very seldom. And also when that happens that success isn’t repeatable.

Thus, there isn’t a process you can put together for virality, it just happens. On the contrary, outreach might sound less “sexy” and just boring. Yet, it works. Rank Fishkin knows it very well, and that is why he has a process in place.

The process might be manual, slow or inaccurate. That is how Rand Fishkin calls it, but it works.

Promote without promoting: the art of arousing curiosity

None likes getting sold. We all want to believe in making decisions solely based on our rationality. That is why the best marketers and salespeople are those that sell us things without us ever realize it.

Rand Fishkin, I believe has a natural inclination for that. If you take a look at the previous post, there is one interesting aspect. He mentions a research he has performed with SparkToro. This is an anticipation of a piece of content that is coming next.

Needless to say, I look forward to it. This is a critical aspect. In fact, we all know that when it comes to products (also books) and services we need to start promoting them way before they are ready.

That’s because the best promotional strategy is about involving your audience and arousing curiosity. Rand Fishkin, before launching the next article or research is talking to his community.

That makes sense. In fact, a proper research takes time and effort. Making sure it reaches as many people as possible, it is crucial.

MVP vs. EVP: Why and when the MVP is too risky and when and why to use the EVP model instead

Rand Fishkin executed brilliantly the Beta launch of Trending:

Of course, when he launched it, the tool worked pretty well. It was not a MVP but as Rand Fishkin calls it, it was an EVP.

In fact, as he pointed out on a LinkedIn article.

The problem with MVPs, and with the “something > nothing” model, is that if you launch to a large customer base or a broad community, you build brand association with that first version. To expect your initial users (who are often the most influential, early-adopter types you’ll attract—the same ones who’ll amplify the message about what you’ve put out to everyone else in your field) to perceive an MVP as an MVP is unrealistic.

And he also pointed out:

For an early-stage company with little risk of brand damage and a relatively small following and low expectations, the MVP model can work wonderfully.

If you already have a big following with high expectations, publicly launching a traditional MVP (one that leans more to the “minimum” side of the acronym than the “viable” side) can be disastrous

In this case, he called this “MVP hangover.” In other words, the failure of an established brand with a large audience might be too risky to take.

Instead, you might want to go with what Rand Fishkin defined an Exceptional Viable Product. Thus, next time you’re about to launch if you have an established brand or large audience, ask yourself, “have I built an MVP or an EVP?”

Inbound works but keep it personal

One thing that strikes me the most about Rand Fishkin is that even though he has a huge following, he takes the time to connect personally.

This is the emails he sent to a group of people for the crowdfunding campaign to fund SparkToro:


Rand’s initial email to one of SparkToro’s investors

When you get to the top, it’s easy to forget to take the time to connect personally with people. Yet Rand Fishkin takes the time to connect with people, and he seems to love that.

In fact, this is something – I argue – that you can’t fake.

Marketing is about an open mindset

In the end, you might find dozens of marketing tactics. However, they all start with a mindset of openness. It is easy said than done.

On a daily basis, we are taken by daily issues, deadlines and money, which get in the way. Thus, it’s very hard to keep all the qualities you wish to have as a person.

This is normal. We’re not perfect, even though each of us thinks to be the one who got it right, while the rest “can’t understand!”

However, keeping an open mindset means just that. When the time is right you’re ready to acknowledge your drawbacks and act on them.

Not because they’ll bring a certain result. Not because they will positively affect the bottom line. Not because they are “growth hacks.”

But only because they are the right things to do. Rand Fishkin, I believe is a great example of a person that tries really hard to bring a fresh perspective in a world of buzz, and monoculture, like the digital marketing world.

That is why he is one of the few people in the digital marketing world that I follow with great pleasure. That’s why SparkToro is one of the blogs you need to follow to keep a fresh and broader perspective about digital marketing.

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The Marketing Lessons Learned from Rand Fishkin


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