Rand Fishkin’s top 11 startup tips to earn free customers

Rand Fishkin speaking at the GROW conference in B.C.

Editor’s note: Team GeekWire is attending the GROW conference in Vancouver, B.C. this week, covering some of the talks.  

Perhaps no entrepreneur can entertain and inform a crowd like Rand Fishkin. And the SEOMoz founder, fresh off the company’s $18 million venture capital round from May, was at it again during his talk today at the GROW conference in Vancouver, B.C.

Fishkin noted that the global spend on SEO is probably less than $5 billion, far less than what is spent in traditional advertising channels.

“Whenever I see something where everybody else is overspending on something that probably doesn’t deserve it, and getting marginal value, I think: ‘Oh, sweet. There must be opportunity on the other side where nobody is spending money and nobody is thinking about it.’ This is what entrepreneurship is all about,” he said.

Fishkin went on to offer 10 tips for building a better business through inbound marketing. His tips:

1. Create a content “strategy,” not just a blog. 

“Can you reach the right people? Why are those people going to care about you, and what are you doing to earn their interests? And what incentive do they have to share? It is usually not financial. It is usually about making them look good, or feel good, making them look better in their community. Having a great answer to that is really important.”

2. Be willing to fail repeatedly before you find what works.

“SEOMoz is doing pretty well. It is going to do $20 million in revenue this year, maybe a little bit more than that. There are 86 of us in the office now, going to 90 in a few days. But that’s not the important part of the story. This is the important part of the story …. because for five years from 2001 to 2006 we did nothing but dig ourselves into debt, credit card debt. We didn’t even raise money. To this day, my personal credit score is so low that I can’t rent a house, I can’t buy a house, I can’t buy a car. When I got married to my wife, her credit was great and then it went to shit. I feel terrible, but that is the important part of this story. The treadmill. You have to be willing to do that.”

3. Content doesn’t just mean blog posts, articles and infographics: Be willing to get creative.

“Build interesting stuff. Blog posts are fine. Articles can do well, interactive stuff can do well, video can do well. Be creative. Where other people aren’t investing, invest in it.”

4. Put all your content on one domain, under one brand.

“Can you imagine if Facebook decided: ‘Hey, after we go out of colleges, let’s not be Facebook anymore. Let’s be Foot Magazine.’ Ah no, it’s Facebook. People know it. The name carries over, and the same thing is true with SEO and domains.”

Matthew Inman

5. Experiment with lots of potential networks and channels.

“You could think to yourself, ‘Twitter is really crappy to me.’ Reddit might be awesome for you, depending upon who you are. A former Mozzer, in fact one of our first employees ever was Matt Inman, who is the guy who is The Oatmeal, and he worked for us for four years of those five shitty years. And he’s killing it on Reddit. Reddit has been amazing for him.”

6. Combine keyword research + shareable title for big wins.

“Take those keywords that you are researching … and then try to make the keywords for those fun and interesting, and repeatable. Think about what would get lots of great Tweets, if you had that handle on Twitter. And then write that piece of content, and answer those questions for people. This will work phenomenally well.”

7. Build relationships with the right influencers using these 3 tools.

Google Reader, FollowerWonk, FindPeoplePlus.

8. Time things right: Use tools to determine when your community is online.

“For years, I’ve been trying to convince, Geraldine, my wife, that she needed to Tweet more than once with her articles. And she was like: ‘No, I don’t like to. But you publish them at like 12 a.m., and no one is online, honey.’… Data to the rescue. I don’t just mean Twitter. This is Google Insights for search, and it will show you when a keyword is getting really popular. You know what is really popular today: Todd Akin. It was not popular three days ago, no one was searching for that dude. Today, everyone is searching for that dude, because, well, he’s a douche bag. But, sorry Todd, but I think you are a dick. But this tool will show you those spikes, so you can write about stuff…. when it is just starting to spike.”

9. Use rel=author from Google and post your content to Google+.

People click on photos.

10. Don’t ignore advertising: Retargeting, PPC, social ads, all get more effective the bigger your inbound brand.

“If you go to SEOMoz, we will follow your ass around the Web. Seriously, like a lost dog, we will follow you around the Web. It almost gets a little annoying at times. I am not saying ignore all advertising, just be creative. Do it the right way.”

11. Bonus

“If you combine these things, you will win far more than if you focus on a single strategy.”

Here’s a copy of Fishkin’s slide deck, with the top ten tips starting on slide #58.


Editor’s note: SEOMoz is a GeekWire sponsor.

  • http://www.duncanhaley.com John Haley

    Rand, great to see you guys continuing to tear it up and sharing your “secrets” of success.

  • http://coolmarketingstuff.com charlessipe

    SEOMoz is an inspirational startup success story. It seems they are building an amazing culture and I read that they pay employees $3,000 a year for their vacation. Pretty freaking cool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tymonj Tymon Johns

    Thanks for these tips. I will definitely be implementing a couple of new ideas that I hadn’t thought about before!

  • http://www.thednetworks.com Dhawal D

    Wonderful, would you be interested in know What Startups can learn from Mahabharata, the Indian Epic, feel free to check it out http://thednetworks.com/2012/09/01/what-startups-can-learn-from-mahabharata-2/