Digital marketers face many challenges in trying to differentiate their respective brands, but there are still many ways you can stand out from competitors.  

Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz and SparkToro, spoke on the AMPUP Your Digital Marketing Podcast about these challenges, and what marketers can do about them. One example Fishkin detailed is the growing complexities with SEO, and how those who struggle with SEO can fall behind those who master it.

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Fishkin shares his advice on how to handle challenges marketers face, the one area he sees marketers in all industries need to improve on, and the challenges he faced in the early days of Moz before growing it to a $50 million a year company.

Q: Why was there a need for Moz in the beginning? What prompted you to go down that path?

rand headshotRand: That was really my own need. We were doing SEO consulting and needed tools to make ourselves more efficient. It was just ridiculous trying to check rankings or crawl – look at the view source on every page of someone's website to try and figure out what problems might be lurking there, or try and do keyword research, or try and do link analysis. We needed tools, so we built them for ourselves.

When we made those tools public, we grew subscriptions very quickly and we saw that there was a big market need there. So we decided that we would go full bore down the tools and software path, shut down the consulting business and became a software-based company.

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Q: Innovating in the search engine world is a bit of a challenge because you have to understand where the search engines are going, and you also have to have some degree of prediction. How did you deal with that in the early days?

Rand: I often worried about that. And I think that was a dumb mistake of mine to worry about. Because what we should not have spent any time doing was trying to predict what Google, Bing or Yahoo are going to do next and how do we plan for that.

It seemed like staying ahead of that innovation was important, but in fact, all that time and energy, I think was a total waste.

I'll give you an example. We thought, “Oh, Google is going to make a huge bet on Google+.” We had a small team doing a bunch of work with Google+. Then Google+ basically died, and all that work was wasted.

What we should have done is wait until it was a mature product that was clearly going to be part of Google's future that they were using directly in search all the time. Then we could have started baking some of that into our products.

I think being an early adopter rather than a rapid follower of what the search engines do is not so smart.

Q: One of the challenges that most digital marketing folks are dealing with is figuring out where they should prioritize, but it gets harder and harder as things progress. How do you help someone through this challenge?

Rand: The more challenging any field of digital marketing becomes, the more of a competitive advantage it is for companies who invest in it and do it well.

So, whenever a practice becomes more difficult, you know some people are going to stop doing it or stop doing it well. And that's going to leave room for those of us who are willing to do whatever it takes to have advantages and beat our competitors.

I always see this as an opportunity as well as a frustration. And I think you can message that to your clients, your teams and to your bosses as, “Hey, yes, it's gotten a lot harder to do this particular thing in SEO. It's gotten a lot more competitive. But that means if we win, there's actually a competitive barrier to entry and an advantage for us that is valuable long-term.”

Q: What’s the one thing that you would suggest that people could put into action today that would really have an impact on their digital marketing?

Rand: This is entirely situation-dependent, but one very common theme that I've seen many companies struggle with is that they execute tactically, they might even have a good strategy, but they are poor storytellers.

I think that digital marketers – and I am definitely part of this – because of how we came up in the field, we got away from telling a great story about our brand that makes it resonate with people, that's emotional, that's personal, that sticks in their mind, that makes them remember us, know us, like us and trust us.

When you can add that element of great storytelling into the rest of your digital marketing, whether that's on the advertising side or the content side or on your website, that can hugely impact the results of your efforts in all sorts of good ways. Increase your conversion rate, increase the rate of retention of customers and increase the degree of amplification that people give you.

But a great story has to be told again and again and refined based on what works, so I would urge digital marketers to get good at that practice. That's an extraordinary way to stand out in your field.

To listen to the full interview with Rand, visit the episode’s podcast page.  

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