Rand Fishkin’s 11 Startup Tips to Get Free Customers

Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz presented at Grow 2012 his top 10 ways to get “free” customers. He says that $40 billion is invested annually into paid marketing online, which represents just 10% of web traffic. Inbound marketing, meanwhile, accounts for 90% of traffic but sees just $5 billion.

“Whenever I see something where everybody else is overspending on something that probably doesn’t deserve it and getting marginal value, I think: ‘Oh, sweet. There must be opportunity on the other side where nobody is spending money and nobody is thinking about it.’ This is what entrepreneurship is all about,” Rand said.


1. Be willing to fail repeatedly.

“SEOMoz is doing pretty well. It is going to do $20 million in revenue this year, maybe a little bit more than that. There are 86 of us in the office now, going to 90 in a few days. But that’s not the important part of the story. This is the important part of the story: for five years from 2001 to 2006 we did nothing but dig ourselves into debt, credit card debt. We didn’t even raise money. To this day, my personal credit score is so low that I can’t rent a house, I can’t buy a house, I can’t buy a car. When I got married to my wife, her credit was great and then it went to shit. I feel terrible, but that is the important part of this story. You have to be willing to do that.”

2. Don’t build just a blog. Build a content strategy.

“Can you reach the right people? Why are those people going to care about you, and what are you doing to earn their interests? And what incentive do they have to share? It is usually not financial. It is usually about making them look good, or feel good, making them look better in their community. Having a great answer to that is really important.”

3. Put all content on one domain under one brand.

“Can you imagine if Facebook decided: ‘Hey, after we go out of colleges, let’s not be Facebook anymore. Let’s be Foot Magazine.’ Ah no, it’s Facebook. People know it. The name carries over, and the same thing is true with SEO and domains.”

4. Content is more than articles and infographics—be creative.

“Build interesting stuff. Blog posts are fine. Articles can do well, interactive stuff can do well, video can do well. Be creative. Where other people aren’t investing, invest in it.”

5. Experiment with different networks and channels.

“You could think to yourself, ‘Twitter is really crappy to me.’ Reddit might be awesome for you, depending upon who you are. A former Mozzer, in fact one of our first employees ever was Matt Inman, who is the guy who is The Oatmeal, and he worked for us for four years of those five shitty years. And he’s killing it on Reddit. Reddit has been amazing for him.”

6. Build relationships with influencers via three tools.

“Google Reader, FollowerWonk, and FindPeoplePlus.”

7. Combine keyword research and shareable titles.

“Take those keywords that you are researching … and then try to make the keywords for those fun and interesting, and repeatable. Think about what would get lots of great Tweets, if you had that handle on Twitter. And then write that piece of content, and answer those questions for people. This will work phenomenally well.”

8. Don’t ignore advertising. 

“If you go to SEOMoz, we will follow your ass around the Web. Seriously, like a lost dog, we will follow you around the web. It almost gets a little annoying at times. I am not saying ignore all advertising, just be creative. Do it the right way.”

9. Determine when your community is online.

“For years, I’ve been trying to convince Geraldine, my wife, that she needed to Tweet more than once with her articles. And she was like: ‘No, I don’t like to. But you publish them at like 12 a.m., and no one is online, honey.’ Data to the rescue. I don’t just mean Twitter. This is Google Insights for search, and it will show you when a keyword is getting really popular. You know what is really popular today: Todd Akin. It was not popular three days ago, no one was searching for that dude. Today, everyone is searching for that dude, because, well, he’s a douchebag. Sorry Todd, but I think you are a dick. But this tool will show you those spikes, so you can write about stuff when it is just starting to spike.”

10. Use rel-author from Google and post to Google+.

“This puts a picture by the search result for your content on Google. Users think ‘picture = good, me click picture.'”

11. Combine the above 10 points for maximum impact.

Photo: John Koetsier, VentureBeat. Chart: Rand Fishkin