Rand Fishkin

For most companies, it’s absolutely vital to show up towards the top of Google’s search results. Being on the first page can send millions of people to a company’s website and propel meteoric growth, while showing up on the second page is almost equivalent to not being listed at all. Millions of dollars each year are spent on search engine optimization (SEO) in an effort to make websites more appealing to Google’s ever-changing search algorithm. But it’s always been a kind of dark art…until Rand Fishkin came along. Through refreshingly open videos delivered in his signature candid style, Fishkin blew the doors open by shedding light on just how search engines work. Through his personal research, he made it clear what people could do to improve their sites. Even in the way he ran his company, Moz, Fishkin has helped usher in a new era of transparency, humility, and personal values that is influencing the way the most influential companies are now doing business.

What has been the biggest surprise over the years doing Moz? The complexity and challenge of scale has surprised me the most. I assumed that the hardest part of a startup would be the early phase in making something work. Instead, the work gets more complex and harder as you grow. I believe that’s mostly due to working with people. Getting hundreds of people working together cohesively and consistently over many years, producing high-quality work that scales and functions well, while preventing communication breakdowns and interpersonal conflict, is immensely challenging.

What have you learned about yourself through the years and transitions, the ups and downs? A lot. Most salient is that I work best when I’m focused on one, or a few, things rather than being torn in many directions, and that I love email and written communication. The ability to be careful with your words, to retrieve and reread things—even if it takes more time than an in-person conversation—means that vastly greater clarity is possible. I’ve figured out more about what kinds of people I love to work with. In particular, those who share my values, style of work, and who focus on the big picture more than the details.

What advice would you give to someone starting a business? Self-awareness is a super power. If you can discover what you love, what motivates you—what makes you put your whole heart into an effort for months without feeling tired or overwhelmed—then you’ve got a huge lead on those who don’t. All that’s left is to center your business practices and processes to accommodate those strengths and weaknesses.

What are the joys and frustrations of turning over the helm of Moz, a company you founded, to Sarah Bird? Joy—it’s wonderful to be free from the mental and emotional exhaustion of responsibility that comes with the CEO role. And to see Sarah embrace that responsibility and execute from day one as if the company were hers. I was very impressed with how she stepped up and was instantly the clear leader in the organization.

Frustration—it’s certainly sad to lose the influence and input level that a CEO has, as a founder and as someone whose identity is so caught up in the company. I sometimes wish I could still have veto power over certain types of decisions, yet it’s been healthy for me to learn to step back and let someone else take that role.

What are you working to maintain in your personal life? A great marriage, first and foremost. My relationship with Geraldine is the most important one in my life. I don’t ever want to take her for granted or let my professional life dominate that. 

Is there a philosophy or thought that you return to that points you to your true north? Nothing specific, though perhaps the core values of TAGFEE—transparency, authenticity, generosity, fun, empathy, and the exception—fit that somewhat. 

What intrigues you in the future of SEO marketing? Voice search is rising fast, but I think it’s filling a role different to most of the searches we’ve done with our fingers. Voice is more about getting an immediate, short answer—like “play this song” or “how tall is this building” or “give me directions to XYZ.” Versus the more exploratory, in-depth kinds of content and activities that typed searches usually have—like “let me navigate to this website” or “I want to learn more about this subject” or “I’m trying to book a trip and want to see all the options.”

I suspect we’re going to see voice search cannibalize a portion of typed search, but also that it won’t cut into the overall amount of traffic that web search sends to sites. Instant answers and mobile and all these other improvements have only driven more search activity, so I think voice will be the same way. 

What song/band is playing in your life now? Elvis Perkins’ “Shampoo.” Can’t get it out of my head. Perkins has been cagey about the meaning, but I like to think there’s a strong element of reinvention and reimagining what the past meant and what you can expect from the future.


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Join Rand when he presents at Startup Grind’s Global Conference in Silicon Valley on February 12-13. Designed for startups everywhere, led by top CEOs and influencers and attended by over 8,000 entrepreneurs, the event provides access to invaluable resources, dynamic networking events, meetings with investors and more. Pre-registration takes place on February 11. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Original Print issue SOLD OUT.

Written by Daniel Codella

Photography by Scott MacDonald

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