Interview with Rand Fishkin

A brief interview with Rand Fishkin.


He co-founded Moz, left, and is now working on Sparktoro, a search engine for audience insights. If you are the type who goes to conferences, it’s likely that you’ve seen him speak, probably a couple of times. Amid his incredibly busy travel schedule, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions for Conversion Gold readers.

A large part of your inbound strategy over the years has been based around providing high end content for free to build awareness and fill the funnel. What do you think about the rise of paid/premium newsletters, communities, and publications? A few that come to mind: The Information, The Athletic, Stratechery, (and ahem, Conversion Gold).

I’m a big fan. I think those who produce valuable information, reporting, data journalism, etc. and can build a subscription business from that are in short supply. Honestly, I’d love to see thousands more emerge. 

Sustaining reporting and content with ads is a model that has some ugly externalities (conflict of interest, subservience to the ad platforms, etc). Being loyal to your customers/readers > advertisers is a far more compelling model in my view.

What’s your general internet device usage breakdown? I’m going to guess 75% mobile, 25% desktop.

Personally? I use my laptop and desktop for ~90% of my “work.” My mobile is mostly just reading and keeping up on things, plus replying to short emails.

Does that differ when you shop online?

Yeah – 95%+ of my transactional experiences online are done with a desktop. The mobile device simply isn’t as good, and I don’t like having to compromise when the big screen is so easily accessible.

My wife and I are completely different internet citizens. What are the primary differences in the way that you and Geraldine see the web?

I suspect Geraldine and I are relatively close. We both use the web as a tool, as a source of information, entertainment, productivity, distraction… It’s like life itself 🙂

I’m probably overall more short-term pessimistic and long-term optimistic about the web (and the world) than Geraldine. It’s a decent balance.

This is a ridiculous question, but I’ve got to know. What’s it like to browse the internet as Rand Fishkin? How many observations about a site do you walk away with after visiting for the first time? What kind of stuff throws a flag for you? Do you register for industry related things with a throwaway email address?

I don’t think my Internet usage is all that different from everyone else’s. I might have some more technical savvy about how or why a site does what it does, frustrations about how much worse GDPR has made the web browsing experience for virtually no consumer gain, that kind of thing. But I’m not overly cerebral or analytical about much beyond Google searches and the occasional very good or very bad marketing campaign.

And no, I either use my real email address if I’m truly interested or I don’t use anything and don’t submit 🙂

Inclusivity and diversity is something that I think we both believe is very important. In what ways can marketers (and CROs) help make the web a more welcoming place for everyone?

Making the web more accessible and more diverse is a huge part of how marketers and web builders can help make the web better. That means amplifying diverse voices and creating things that serve diverse groups. The great part is that the more you do these things, the larger the audience you can potentially serve, so it aligns (mostly) with capitalism-based incentives.

Do you have any war stories about changing this or that on a site, testing this or that, and seeing significant results (either positive, or negative)?

Sure! One of my favorite stories was from my time building Keyword Explorer at Moz (in my last couple years there). A couple of times, I snuck in some changes that I kept seeing frustrate users when I’d show them in person or see on Twitter. 

The team, who had a good and well-thought-out process for changes, was relatively infuriated. I went behind their backs and asked one of our engineers to just ship the change without anyone else’s involvement. Even though the results were good (30% lift in usage of one of the tool features that wasn’t getting seen from just a navigation visual shift), the internal strife it caused was painful, and I created an environment where certain folks didn’t really want me having that power+influence on a product.

I suppose in retrospect it’s a good sign that it’s time to leave the larger company and go do something small 🙂

You can find Rand over at twitter: @randfish

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I'm a developer, marketer, and writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin.