We're interviewing Rand Fishkin, co-founder & Wizard of Moz. Moz is a suite of online marketing tools and software. Rand is an influential thought leader in digital marketing and has also co-founded a large community of marketing professionals at Inbound.org. Check out his advice on how you can make it in the world of digital marketing:
Hey Rand. You've built something pretty special with Moz. Let's start at the beginning. How did you gain the expertise you needed, both to start in SEO/marketing and then to build your business?
Funny enough, I actually started Moz (initially as just a blog) because I didn't have enough expertise or knowledge about SEO and found the learning process to be frustrating. The blog I created (originally at seomoz.org) was an attempt to share my experiences and show what I was reading, experimenting with, and discovering. Over time, however, it became a resource and a funnel, first for consulting, and then, years later, for our software products.
My expertise really came through trial and error, through pushing myself to learn so I could share with others, and through the writing process itself.
Beyond your marketing expertise, what traits or practices have helped you become a go-to thought leader in your space?
I suspect a big part of that is luck - being in the right industry at the right time, being surrounded by generous people who helped amplify my work, and being given opportunities to speak at conferences, to work with great clients, and to earn the trust of an invaluable community. Skill played a part, too, but I don't believe for a second that I could have become as influential in a field that didn't have all those aspects going for it.
I worry that this is one of the central problems with our professional culture - we push the belief that "hard work" and "brains" are all it takes to succeed, but in fact, chance plays a big role, too. When you look at those who've been most successful in your field, there's undoubtedly innate aspects that helped them reach those milestones, but vast amounts of luck have been on their side, too.
Today's web marketing world can be overwhelmingly large and hard to tackle. How do you advise people get started? What specific roles or job titles tend to be the best starting ground?
I think the best way to begin is to start your own website - a blog, a small content-focused site, or even taking on a website for a small business or organization with whom you have a relationship (your cousin's ice cream shop, your friend's nonprofit, etc). There's no substitute for real experience in web marketing, and starting your own site means you'll have complete freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
In terms of starting roles, I'd look for positions that focus on web marketing but specifically say "entry-level" or <2 years experience required. Many places that say 1-2 years experience are also available to newcomers if you've done your research, completed some personal projects, and are savvy about the worlds of search, social, content, email, etc.
You took Moz from a consultancy to a SaaS company over the course of many years. What personality traits did you look for and hone in on over time when hiring?
Values were hugely important to me - people who represented TAGFEE (Transparency, Authenticity, Generosity, Fun, Empathy, and the Exception). We worked to hire, review, and promote based on these core values, in addition to getting actual work done. One of the traits that best predicted success at Moz and cultural fit with us has always been humility. Humble people are my favorite kind to work with.
A few years ago, you launched Inbound.org with Dharmesh Shah. Can you talk a bit about how you see that marketing community playing a role in improving someone's career?
Inbound.org should be able to expose folks interested in the marketing world to what's happening right now, to great discussions and community participation, and to potential opportunities as well. Web marketers are in one of the fastest-evolving, most socialy active fields in the professional world, and Inbound.org is trying to be a place where we can all stay on top of our industry and connect with one another in meaningful, helpful ways.
How can someone in the digital marketing space stand out in a job application when so many people are applying for the same jobs?
Experience at a highly regarded company (e.g. Airbnb, Slack, Google, etc)
Relevant examples of projects where your work made a big difference and how you did it (you can explain the latter part in the in-person interview, but showing a project that's directly related to the work you'll be doing is huge)
Name recognition from public contributions in your field (blog posts, guest articles, presentations, a popular social media following related to your industry work, etc)
How important is tool-familiarity for both getting a job in online marketing and then succeeding within that job? Is this a career of tool science?
Tool-familiarity isn't essential in my experience. Because the marketing field has so many hundreds of software pieces and every company uses a different stack, knowing Marketo vs. Eloqua or Mailchimp vs. Sendgrid won't carry much weight. Being able to learn fast, understand features, and know what's missing and needed is, however, definitely valuable.
What's the balance of intuition/creativity versus data/analytics in digital marketing today? Is it possible to learn intuition/creativity?
Absolutely it's possible. Creativity is like anything else - with practice it will improve, and many folks who may be less innately gifted can train themselves to become as creative or more than their peers. As for the balance with data, I like to say that data should inform you and help you make decisions, but it should never be leading those decisions or in the driver's seat for strategy. Be data-informed, not data-driven.
Beyond Inbound.org and other online content, how else can a digital marketer today boost their career?
If you mean what should they be reading, I post my personal reading list here. I think a lot of those resources can be helpful to marketers seeking to be on the cutting edge of news and best practices.
Finally, what piece of advice do you have in general for job seekers and careerists alike?
If you're in digital marketing, you're in a field where talent is in far shorter supply than demand. Use that to your advantage and, if you're passionate about the industry, contribute publicly, build up a repertoire of content on the web, and watch to see what offers come your way as a result. Almost everyone I know in our world who's done something truly impressive that's earned attention has received multiple solicitations. There's no better way to quickly level up your career, in my opinion.
Image courtesy of Moz.