Marie Tepman and Brittany Jones are on The Property Management Show, interviewing Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz and founder of SparkToro, about the changing landscape of digital marketing.

This is only Part 1 of our discussion, which includes a look at the shift from SEO-centric strategies to a more diverse approach, the distinction between platforms of influence and entertainment, and the challenges of marketing attribution.

Introducing Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin is a name that’s synonymous with the world of SEO and digital marketing. He founded Moz, which revolutionized SEO tools and education for marketers. He wrote a book called Lost and Founder, an honest take on what it’s like to be part of the start-up world and follows the journey of a founder.

Recently, he’s been making waves with his new venture, SparkToro, which is changing the way marketers like us understand and target different kinds of audiences.

butterflies changing through lifecycle

A Changing SEO Landscape

For the longest time, Rand was a prominent voice in SEO and content marketing. He was known to say that everything starts with keywords and data. Recently, there’s been a pivot to the opposite sort of thinking. We asked him to explain his pivot and his new view on digital marketing.

When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In the world of digital marketing, there are hundreds of channels and opportunities to reach an audience and build a brand and show off. Because he was addicted to and grew up in the SEO world, his focus was on:

  • Target keywords
  • Building links
  • Making website accessible to search engines
  • Optimizing everything

It was all viewed through the SEO lens when it came to marketing.

Two things happened to cause a pivot in the way he approaches digital marketing:

  1. Over the last six seven years, and especially since the pandemic, almost everyone is doing decent SEO. There was a big opportunity from 2000 to 2015. It was remarkable what you could do if you had any kind of savvy around SEO. You could be in the bottom 40 percent of SEO skills and still get a lot of traffic. Google was growing. There was more competition. Now, every smart business owner in every region and ever industry knows what they’re doing with basic SEO. It’s not the competitive advantage it once was.
  2. Demand is not growing. Google has acquired every human with an internet connection. There’s not a lot of growth left for them. They have 91 percent of the market share in the U.S. and about 95 percent of the market share globally. With no room for growth, Google has had to change the game. Now, we’re seeing Zero-click searches where people get information without even having to click on a link. Google provides it right there in the search results. That’s great for consumers, but frustrating if you’re a business owner looking for traffic. Google is using your own content and taking clicks and traffic away from you.

These forces combined to mean that SEO is not the golden opportunity it once was. If you’re creative and entrepreneurial, you look for other opportunities. That’s what Rand has done.

person on phoneDistinguishing Online Platforms: Influence vs. Entertainment

Let’s talk about TikTok.

This has been a rising trend, and there are also reels on Instagram and shorts on YouTube that are popular. These are not sources of influence for businesses; they’re very particularly focused on entertainment.

The content there is not similar to the content that you might see if you are doing SEO things or business to business marketing or even participating in other platforms like Reddit or LinkedIn or YouTube or Threads, which is more like the old version of Twitter.

Unlike entertainment platforms like TikTok, those other platforms are serving niche functions. You might find botanists in U.K. clustering around a few account on Threads and some YouTube channels and some SubReddits. They’re all following the same sources, and all of the conversations are focused in that field.

That’s not what happens on TikTok. There, you’re looking for distraction for 7 to 70 seconds. You see a series of videos to distract and entertain. The botanists don’t cluster there. They’re on TikTok, maybe, but they’re like the rest of us, watching a chipmunk dance with a squirrel.

On YouTube or on a SubReddit, you’re subscribing to get specific and curated content. TikTok is prioritizing not what you necessarily want to see, but what will guarantee that you stay on the site and scroll to the next video.

TikTok followership is the lowest value of any social network that has existed yet. That’s the entertainment mindset that drives people there. It’s not going to help a property management company find new owners.

When we talk about entertainment networks versus networks that are a source of influence, you have to think about the places where you’re having relevant conversations. If you’re a marketer in property management, you care less about reaching the broadest possible audience for a few seconds. You want to be present in a highly relevant space where important conversations are going on.

If you’re trying to attract property owners to your rental management company, Rand would put TikTok lower on the list of platforms where you want to appear. Try LinkedIn or Reddit or YouTube. Start an email newsletter and get on podcasts.

Service businesses have a specific market, so if you’re putting all of your effort into a platform like TikTok, do you really think those TikTok followers going to work with you?

Trends like TikTok do a great job of creating a psychological panic among marketers. They think they have to chase trends.

You don’t.

Remember this:

Marketing is fundamentally about going to the right places with the right message at the right time to reach the right audience.

So, you can wait. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s for you.

Attribution Challenges in Marketing

Marketing attribution is a complex problem, according to Rand, and relying solely on attribution dashboards can be misleading.

Channels that have an incentive from the platform or network to show you attribution with always be overweighed. Google or Meta advertising will show you fantastic data in the dashboard about every ad you buy. They’ll tell you who saw it, who visited your site, who converted. The tracking pixel shows you all that. Those channels look like they contribute a ton of new business to you.

BUT, here’s the thing.

You would have earned a lot of that business anyway.

Rand says that if you s hut off that marketing spend for a month, you’ll likely get 91 percent of the conversions that you were seeing with the spend.

These companies are good at knowing what the customer journey looks like.

They have data about where people go and what they do. So, they can do a great job of making sure your advertisement is seen. But, they’re taking credit for sales that were already going to happen.

These online advertising platforms do create a wider potential audience for you. But not as large an audience as they claim. Choose relevant marketing channels and focus on lift-based measurement rather than relying solely on attribution dashboards.

This attribution problem has always been a challenge. What actually changed a consumer or business owner and got them to buy? You can do all the sophisticated measurements you want, but Rand says he believes it often sounds like pseudo-science. If you’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in an advertising spend, you can make reasonable estimates. But the models are not compelling if you’re a small or medium-size business.

So, you don’t have to prove every attribution. We know marketing works. You know it too, even if it’s hard to prove.

There’s a great Wanamaker quote that goes: “I know that I’m wasting half my advertising spend, but I don’t know which half.”

Rand encourages you to waste half and not worry about which half is being wasted. Put it into channels that you think will reach your audience. Occasionally shut things off to see what happens. This is the only way to truly and logically invest.

Turn off any given advertising channel for 60 to 90 days in a business to business service world. See what happens.

numbers ranked by orderForget Keyword Ranking

Instead of obsessing over ranking for money keywords, focus on generating leads and increasing brand strength through diverse marketing strategies.

Everyone wants to rank for the money keyword. For our industry, maybe it’s property management in San Francisco or Austin property management.

There’s an obsession with ranking at number one. It doesn’t matter what you’re ranking. What matters is the business you’re generating. Focus on that.

That’s a far superior strategy. Get more leads and you don’t have to show your competitors that you’re ranking for the vanity terms that everyone is chasing.

That’s the strongest position to be in. You’re not only competing with other property managers, now. You’re competing with the zero click search or AI-generated results or the paid searches that always go above any organic ranking.

The obsession with being ranked at the first spot is vanity, and that’s a powerful psychology. Stop trying to look good and work harder at providing the best services.

That was a lot of information. So, we’ll pause. There’s a lot more to discuss with Rand. We’ll continue our discussion on money keywords, vanity metrics, and AI. We’ll also talk about how to make the immeasurable – measurable.

If you have any questions about this podcast or you need help with your property management marketing, please contact us at Fourandhalf.

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