Transcript of Podcast with Rand Fishkin

Podcast Date: March 8, 2007

Rand Fishkin

The following is a written transcript of the March 22, 2007 podcast between Eric Enge and Rand Fishkin:

Eric Enge: Hi, I am Eric Enge, the President of Stone Temple Consulting; you can see our website at www.stonetemple.com. We are here today with Rand Fishkin, and we plan to talk about SEOmoz's shift to a paid-subscription model, the progress to that shift and what's coming in the future of SEOmoz. Rand is the renowned CEO of the SEOmoz, a voluminous blog post poster, and a frequent speaker in the industry conferences. You can see the SEOmoz website at www.SEOmoz.org. Say hello Rand.

Rand Fishkin: Hi there, Eric.

Eric Enge: Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to make the switch to a paid-subscription model?

Rand Fishkin: Sure, well, I think that there was a feeling internally at the company that we were putting a tremendous amount of content and effort into the SEOmoz website, and that direct monetization of that wasn't in the cards yet. I think that all of us here are very passionate about contributing to the blog, the new user-generated content system, creating tools, and supporting all that type of stuff. But operating it all without any type of return on that investment felt like an unwise move; and certainly, particularly with regards to the tools, and also with regards to keeping up the rate of blog posts, as we get more and more popular as a company, it felt like we were missing out on a lot of financial opportunities; so, this is a logical and a natural transition for us.

Eric Enge: I understand; so, how does that compare in your mind to sites like Search Engine Land, which provides a lot of content at no charge?

Rand Fishkin: Well, I think that SEOmoz still provides an incredible amount of content at no charge; the premium content stuff is really just a bonus on top of that, and I think I would compare it to Search Engine Watch, where you can sign up as a premium member there and get access to some exclusive content every week. Certainly, SEOmoz is offering a little bit more in some areas, and a little bit less in others. We are going to be putting out about a single premium article a month, which are generally thirty pages to fifty pages, and include lots of diagrams on how to use them, and walkthroughs etc; and access to tools, or additional features inside the tools. I think for professional SEOs that this is probably a very, very valuable part of that as well.

Eric Enge: One of the things that I have always liked so much about SEOmoz is that you take these analyses that you do, and you put out an enormous amount of numerical data and technical details and specifics. Is this type of content going to become premium content?

Rand Fishkin: No, I would say at this point we are still keeping the study-type reports free. For example, when we did a study of lot of people's different blog traffic versus what Alexa was reporting, or Netcraft was reporting, or Compete.com was reporting; those articles are all still free. The stuff that's paid is more like a downloadable e-book, something that would, for example, give you a walkthrough of a dozen different keyword research tools, and how best to use keyword targeting, and where you can find valuable, keyword brainstorming ideas, and how to test those, and those types of things. So it's much more of a guide, kind of a walkthrough than it is really a detailed reporting with statistics and those types of things.

Eric Enge: I understand, so part of this is a "how to" focus.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, it's more of a how to focus; I think it's a type of thing that would appeal more to someone who is interested in learning how to do SEO and SEM tasks rather than someone who maybe is already an expert in this field, someone like you or I, and is simply looking for more reference level information, which a lot of those other studies and reports they put out are doing. For example, I think next week we are going to be launching one of SEOmoz's more well-known articles; a new version of the search engine ranking factors, where we invited fifty or so folks to vote on what they felt were the most important ranking factors at the search engines. I think that this time it's going to be even better than last time, and that will be a free article.

In addition to that, we are going to be releasing something called How to Build the Search Engine Friendly Site or a Professional's Guide to Search Friendliness something like that, and that will be a premium article. So you can get a sense of the fact that the paid content is more the how to type of content.

Eric Enge: Right, this study must be better than the last time, because I participated in this one.

Rand Fishkin: And your vote counted double; I made sure of that.

Eric Enge: Excellent. So, talk a little more about the SEO tools.

Rand Fishkin: We have three real SEO tools right now, and are in development on a fourth. The two that are very well-known are the Page Strength tool, which is basically an amalgamation of factors to rank a page, like how many links are pointing at a site, how many links are pointing at a particular page; how many tags someone in del.icio.us, whether they are mentioned in Wikipedia or DMOZ, the page rank; all sorts of different factors. And we take a look at those, we weight them individually, and then we put it together, and give you a score back; and I would say the for professional SEOs the score really is not the valuable part of the page strength tools.

It's nifty to see though; oh, I went from a, you know six and a half to seven in page strength, but that's not particularly the point nor it is all that valuable. What is very valuable is that getting all that data back about the site. So, for example I use it constantly, you know someone will call me up on the phone, or I will be looking at a site whether to buy a link or not, or I will be checking out a page, and I will use my little bookmark in the toolbar at FireFox, and just click get page strength for this page, and then it returns in thirty seconds or less, and it's just terrific to have all that data right in front of you as opposed to having to go search it all out individually.

With premium membership, the Page Strength tool allows you to compare multiple reports at a time. So, if you want to know what two or three of my competitors are doing, or what two, or three different pages that are ranking really well are doing; you can compare and contrast them individually on a single page, which is a really nice premium feature. And the other one that's cool is you can track the history of the site, the history of a page. So for example, if you wanted to say hey I am going to be working real hard on this, so I want to track what my competitor is doing, and let's see where I was a month ago, three months ago, six months ago, you can do that.

That's just for the premium member. The Keyword Difficulty Tool is the same thing, it measures how difficult would it be to rank for this phrase by looking at, a few different factors including who are the top ten people ranking for it at Google right now, and how strong are their sites, that type of stuff. But, if you are a premium member, you have a few different added features. For example, how many times you can run it, because the Keyword Difficulty Tool is very processor intensive, I'll put it that way, and we were finding that our site was consistently taking up 80% of its load from just from the Keyword Difficulty Tool. Our free members are limited to two uses per day, and I think premium members get up to the thirty so.

Eric Enge: I think that keyword difficulty is one of those little things that is under appreciated in SEO. Somebody starts a new site and they learn the idea that keyword tools can give you volume information, and they just want to go after the biggest keywords in their space.

Rand Fishkin: Or, they are looking at something horrible like the KEI from Word Tracker, which is an awful metric. With the Keyword Difficulty tool, if it says 50% versus 70% that is a true difference, and that type of data is incredibly valuable.

Eric Enge: And then, what an experienced SEO can do is recognize the marketing resources of the client and fit it in the right place in the difficulty scale for their objectives, their budgets, add what's realistic for them to accomplish.

Rand Fishkin: Yes, entirely. I know tons and tons of people who use it for just those purposes; I think it can be really valuable when you are starting up a campaign or when you are thinking about doing some new key word targeting or branching off into a new market of those types of things. I know people who even use it who are blogging for dollars now a days, and so some people use it to try and decide what kind of keyword they are going to go after in their blog post title this time. It's a very, very valuable tool, and, you are right, and maybe it's a little bit under appreciated, not under appreciated, by those who use the Keyword Difficulty Tool - they definitely recognize the value.

Eric Enge: Yes, and that understanding the difficulty of a keyword is a subtlety that is appreciated more by an experienced SEO than someone who has just got the idea that search engines can give them traffic.

Rand Fishkin: Oh yes, definitely. The last tool is one that right now is exclusive to paid members, but it's going to be launching to everyone, after we develop the next tool, and that's a crawl test. Matt (of SEOmoz) has done a fantastic job building it. If you stick it on a single page, it will follow up to fifty links on that page, and give you all sorts of information like, what is Yahoo term extraction say the primary keywords are for each page, how are the pages indexed at the major three search engines; do they all have unique title tags in the meta descriptions, are they all crawlable; do we get any 301's, 302's, 404's; so it's just such a quick and easy way to find problems in a site, and see how well someone is doing in an SEO campaign before you start working with them. I am a big fan of that tool, and I think that people will really appreciate it whenever it launches. Right now if you want to; you can see some test reports on a few websites, and it's a tremendous amount of data to get, so it's pretty nifty.

Eric Enge: Excellent; so, how many subscribers do you have so far?

Rand Fishkin: Premium subscribers, I think we have got just around a little over hundred, so a very, very small population has actually signed up for the premium membership. We have had a lot more people download individual articles, which was interesting to me. I think that what surprised me was that, people will pay twenty-nine dollars to download the Keyword Research Guide or the Link Building Guide; both of which are valuable; but for that thirty-nine dollars they can get access to both of them and all the tools, and then, if they decide that they are not enjoying that service; they can cancel it out after a month. So I don't know, it's being interesting to see the buying patterns of people in the Internet marketing world.

Eric Enge: How many people have downloaded the individual articles?

Rand Fishkin: Let's say it's several hundred at this point probably somewhere between two hundred and fifty and four hundred. I mean a good number, we certainly haven't made a killing on the services at this point, but, it's very nice to know that there is at least a few thousand dollars are coming in, and that can help us cover the hosting costs and cover a lot of the time that I put into the blog, and that Matt puts into the tools, and everyone else here puts into everything,.

Eric Enge: Right, to me this is sounds like a great progress really. It seems to me it is going be a material part of this year's revenue for SEOmoz, which is great.

Rand Fishkin: Yes. We really would like to see this become something that is a major revenue stream for SEOmoz, and allows us to concentrate even more on the site, and take on fewer clients at high price points as opposed to lots and lots of clients; not that client work is terrible, but certainly it is very time consuming and occasionally inconsistent with how much the folks here enjoy it. So, I think that we'll be looking to continue to do what we can do and enjoy passionately.

Eric Enge: Right. So where would you like to be in a year, in terms of a number of subscribers?

Rand Fishkin: Content wise I would love to see that a year from now we have at least a dozen premium articles, which could hopefully make a thirty-nine dollar subscription price very, very sensible. And I would love to see that we would have somewhere between six tools and ten tools as well, and hopefully a few thousand subscribers. I look at the feed readership of SEOmoz which is somewhere around nine thousand or ninety-five hundred RSS subscribers right now, and about ten thousand to twelve thousand unique daily visitors to our the website itself. I think that those numbers are good, but certainly they are relatively small in the tech world, a lot of big tech blogs have fifteen thousand or thirty thousand RSS readers and fifty to a hundred thousand unique visitors a day. So I think that hopefully we can grow into a bigger resource; I would like to see that.

Eric Enge: The other thing it does is that it allows you to fund the R&D work which you really need to do in basic SEO anyway. There are always new things you are needing to learn and if you can get funded for doing that it's great.

Rand Fishkin: Yes, you and I are both big passionate advocates of doing those types of projects, and it's what we love to do, and I think we are good at it, both you and I, and so I would love to see that this be a way to monetize and help to grow those services that we provide.

Eric Enge: Let's talk a little bit about the user generated content. How is that going?

Rand Fishkin: Rebecca just authored a post yesterday about YOUmoz's progress and how that's been taking off. I am very interested to see how it's grown, I think that's the quality of posts are generally pretty good, the quantity is very good, and the interaction is also really positive. We launched it a couple of months ago, and I think we have had a hundred and sixty some odd submissions, and we have accepted about ninety of them. I think that's terrific to see, because that's a lot of additional content that folks can access. I think it's also exciting to me that we are able to offer a reader base to folks who maybe either don't have a blog, or have a very sparsely read blog, and would like to get a little bit more interaction, or participation; and the commenting at YOUmoz has been very active, so that's nice to see.

Eric Enge: Yes, I think it's great; I will tell you from my perspective, that I began blogging in the middle of last August, and just started putting stuff out there and said okay, how are people going to notice me, am I going to wait for people to find me in Technonrati or what? That's a very slow process.

But, as soon as I found situations where I was able to do guest posts, I did, and it turned out to be an extremely effective way of growing the visibility of what we were doing. For example, John Biundo (of Stone Temple) and I did a blog post for Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped.

That was one of the things that helped to raise our visibility to another level. So when I look at YOUmoz to me it seems like, if you are a blogger out there; as you said who has limited visibility, you are just getting started, and you want to get that exposure, YOUmoz is a great way to do it, you can get it published on SEOmoz and, while there are tech blogs that have more readers than yours, it ain't bad to reach an audience of ninety-five hundred.

Rand Fishkin: Yes, I know. I think we are one of the largest in our space. We are probably behind only Search Engine Watch, and obviously Danny's Search Engine Land is catching up very, very quickly and maybe it's already overtaken us, but, SEOmoz is a very big blog in the SEO space anyway. I think that one of the best things that you can do is, if you look around there and you say, my blog content is way better than any of these guys, then write a couple of posts on YOUmoz. If they are really great, they are going to get pushed to the SEOmoz blog, in which case they will go out to all of our readership, and you get to promote yourself in there. At the bottom of your post, you can definitely say, I am so and so and I blog at this site regularly, and I think that's a terrific way to show readers who may not be familiar with your brand that you really know your stuff, and you know what you are talking about it, and you can put it together in a great way. It's a great market to be able to get in front of it, and I think that is something that a lot of blogs offer informally. Like you said, you talked to Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped, and guest authored a post there. And this is just a really easy and simple way, to do it with SEOmoz.

Eric Enge: You might create some future rock stars of the SEO world.

Rand Fishkin: I would love to see that, I would love to see some more people emerge. I was looking around the other day, and someone linked over the bluehatseo.com; I hadn't read this blog before, but his stuff is very, very black and grey, including a lot of affiliate marketing and personal monetization techniques, but incredibly good material. I thought; Man, I would love to get that guy to write for here, that would be terrific. One of the things that's been interesting at YOUmoz, I don't know if you saw it, but Aaron Wall had written just yesterday a little bit about YOUmoz in a post called the Ups And Downs of Socializing your content, and wrote a bunch of things about how it could hurt the brand potentially, or spread us too thin. I haven't felt that too much yet, but those are the things to watch out for.

Eric Enge: Have I left anything out in terms of major aspects of the shift that you made?

Rand Fishkin: Well, I mean we changed our design and our commenting system, we added the thumbs, but the thumbs have not taken off. I am not exactly sure why that is, I thought they were going to be a really great technique to help people to tell us what they liked in blog posts, but pretty much every blog that we write gets between ten and twenty thumbs up. There is really no clear indicator, where this one got a hundred thumbs up that one got twenty five thumbs down, or something like that. I was hoping we could use it to get meaningful user feedback; but we haven't been able to so far. So there has been one failure in our testing.

Eric Enge: Yes, it's very interesting that that hasn't been picked up on more than it has.

Rand Fishkin: The way that it has been successful is that we used the thumbs to apply to comments as well, just like at Digg, where you can thumb up or thumb down someone's comments and then that will show in your browser. We don't hide any content when people thumb things down, but we definitely have a MOZ point system, and for folks who generate a lot of MOZ points every month, we offer free premium membership. So, you know if you are a very, frequent commenter and contributor we figure hey, the least we can do is give you free membership since you are providing so much extra content for us. I think that there are a few folks who have taken advantage of that, and certainly we appreciate their contribution and that's a good way of giving back, so that the comment, the thumb system has working great for comments, but not so well for posts which is unfortunate; I thought that it was going to be the opposite.

Eric Enge: So what's coming down the pike, what's next with SEOmoz?

Rand Fishkin: Next week we are going to see the Search Ranking Factors report, so I think that's going to be just amazing, the number and quality of people participating is really, high, the data itself is just fascinating to look at. One of my favorite things, isn't even looking at what everyone votes as the most important, because I think, if you have been in the SEO sphere; you can guess what the top are going to be, they are not going to be particularly different than last time. Things like keywords in your title tag, anchor text, inbound links, and a strong domain; but what is fascinating is to see where there are big disagreements, and so the standard deviation shows us that. A lot of people voted one or two for some items; like this was not important that all or only slight importance, and then a bunch of people voted four or five for the same item; i.e., very important, or extremely important, and so to see that dichotomy I think is just fascinating. Another great part is that you get to see everyone's comments about each factor, and a lot of people left really, good comments about each of these factors. So people would say, domain strength really matters, or .edu domains are great, and this is why it's a value or not, and keyword stuffing is this kind of a problem for this. So I think that that there is just a tremendous amount to learn there. I learned a ton when I saw everyone's responses, so I imagine that other folks will too. Further down the pike, I think that we are hoping to get a few more tools launched, and we have been talking about some very exciting undercover super secret stuff, so I will just share with you the fact that I am hoping that SEOmoz eventually will offer more in terms of a destination for search and tech folks in general, and not to say exactly how that's going to be done, but just that we are thinking about playing in that market.

Eric Enge: So broadening beyond just pure SEO topics?

Rand Fishkin: Broadening beyond SEO topics, and maybe broadening the ability of what the blog and content type articles can do, and venturing into something else.

Eric Enge: We will just have to ponder what that might be. One last question I have to ask you is, are you going to get into the conference business like everyone else?

Rand Fishkin: No, oh no, definitely not, God no, I got invited to do a couple of the recent private small ones, and they looked like good money earners and definitely positive, but I had to say no, my travel schedules are ridiculously overbooked. I wouldn't even be going to Munich this Friday, if it wasn't for the fact that my new fiancÚe's father lives there and we need to do something before the engagement and see him.

Eric Enge: Excellent! And congratulations on that engagement by the way. Very dramatic, and very fun to watch.

Rand Fishkin: Yes, it was great to be able to share it with so many people, friends and families, and folks in the industry.

Eric Enge: And the whole internet. Well great; thanks for talking to us today, Rand, I think it was great.

Rand Fishkin: My pleasure Eric, take care.

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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