End Your Marketing Reliance on Facebook & Google’s Duopoly

Rand Fishkin, Founder & CEO @ SparkToro
Sales & Marketing Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

[00:00:00] Howdy, folks, I’m Rand Fishkin, co-founder and CEO of Sparke Toro, and before that, some of you might know me from Mars. And I am here to talk about how we can end our reliance on Facebook and Google to apply now. Look, I think a lot of marketers invest a ton of money, a ton of time and attention with these platforms. They can produce returns.

[00:00:22] I’m not denying that, but I have some arguments that I think you’ll find compelling. Three core arguments against relying exclusively on these two platforms. The first one is this.

[00:00:35] These are not reliable, friendly, in your corner marketing partners. Right? They’re just not. You can’t get the competitive advantage on Facebook and Google that you can get from other, more diverse, more spread-out sources. And number three, when you build brand equity in other places, these platforms, Google and Facebook specifically become better marketing channels. The ads you place there, the organic work that you do to rank in search engines or to get your Facebook likes to come to your website. Those work better, too. So I’m going to dive into these three reasons. Then I’m going to get into some strategy and some tactics.

[00:01:17] Number one. So when I say that they’re not in your corner, what I mean is that I don’t know that these companies are forces for good in the world. I don’t think they’re good macro economically. I don’t think that they are good for income inequality or for helping us break out of our filter bubbles or all sorts of ugly externalities from, you know. Google uses your work, the work that you do, producing content and building websites. Right? To addict people to their platform. So you went and let’s say you own one of these small businesses, small local businesses. You wouldn’t have done all this work to build up your Google my business profile so that Google cannot send people to your website and instead get them addicted to and accustomed to visiting Google Maps and Google Maps profiles. And good luck finding the website. You go and create a bunch of great YouTube content showing people how to fix a hole in the wall, for example. And what does Google do? They extract out the little clip, see that they cut off the first thirty three seconds. They cut off the end of the video. Why do they do that? So that you don’t get any branding benefit from this. Right. They’re just showing the piece of this short, short YouTube clip that you oh let’s only watch these ninety three seconds so that you don’t accidentally find out who it’s from or get their branding. It sucks. Right. That’s YouTube getting all the value. You they do this in sector after sector, all of the celebrities, TV, movies, books, news personalities, they do it in the featured snippets. Right. You make this great article about breast feeding tools and Google extracts out the featured snippet and shows the list so that you don’t get for it. They mislead and they don’t have any accountability for it, you know. So Google says, oh, keyword not provided will never be more than ten percent of searches. Of course, today it’s ninety nine percent. Right. Oh Google treats subdomains and subdirectories the same. Yeah. But then if you move from a subdomain to a subdirectory what do you find? Oh traffic went way up. Why could that be Google? Was Google misleading me? Yes they were.

[00:03:32] They lie about user signals. Like, it sucks. The more lucrative your sector looks, by the way, the more likely it is that Google is going to come into it. The hotel space, flight space, jobs, credit cards, mortgage rates, speed tests. Right. Internet speed test. They’re just entering sector after sector after sector and competing with the properties that that we all create. And that, in my opinion, is essentially using their search monopoly power. Right. They have ninety five percent of the market to unfairly compete in these other markets. They don’t have to have the best job search results. They have to have the best hotel search results. They can just take their property and put it at the top. They don’t have to compete with the rest of us. That’s no fun. Facebook is no different. Facebook used all of us to build their platform. Right. They claimed, oh, put these stickers, you know, put like us on Facebook, on your on your menus, at your restaurants, on your walls, at your place of business. Drive people to your Facebook page because then we’ll show your content to people when they come visit Facebook. And we’re growing so fast. And what happened? Right, what happened, we went and made all these great pages right, we gave them all our free labor and now the fan bases that we built on Facebook are nearly meaningless. This is data from rival IQ, who does a great report on social media engagement rates across brand pages every year. And they’re showing here, right, that essentially the median across all industries, zero point zero nine percent. Awful, awful. These algorithms, you know, on Facebook, on Instagram, on other platforms that the social media giant owns, they’re optimizing for engagement. And when you optimize for engagement and addiction, you get polarization, misinformation, hate for profit.

[00:05:31] And this is why, you know, you see a ton of this accelerating trend in politics across the world, not just here in the United States, although especially prevalent here in the United States that have these problems and issues. Right. It’s really it’s really dangerous. It’s not good for our society. I think we know it and we’re trying to do something about it. But we just can’t let people fall into these algorithmic holes because these algorithms are powerful and marketing through them is powerful. Much like income inequality, it’s just a tiny fraction, a few winners get all of the traffic benefit advertising dollars, right. And and the rest of us are scrounging for scraps. Google, YouTube and Facebook alone account for more than 75 percent of all traffic to tech sites, according to a similar Web.

[00:06:23] That’s brutal, brutal.

[00:06:26] And when they get more power, these companies, Facebook and Google in particular, lobby governments to prevent competition. What is GDPR? GDPR is essentially, initially, the EU wanted to create more privacy for their citizens and what they ended up drafting. Unfortunately, thanks to intervention by lawyers and experts and analysts from Google and Facebook or paid by Google and Facebook was a law that prevents anyone except Google and Facebook from ever collecting or using personally identifiable information to market and advertise to you, essentially meaning that in the EU, no one will ever compete with these properties. Right. That seems weird. I can’t imagine why you would get together and draft a law like that. But it happened. And look, these are these are just a small sample of the problematic issues that that these platforms create so far from alone.

[00:07:22] I don’t think fundamentally these are the partners that we want.

[00:07:25] But let’s say you’re unconvinced. Let’s say you think Facebook and Google are forces for good. You don’t really care about the polarization. You don’t care about the misinformation. You’re not worried about income inequality. You’re not worried about giving them money or power. OK, that’s fine. We could agree to disagree.

[00:07:41] I still have two more points.

[00:07:43] I don’t think it is possible to build a true competitive advantage, right, a competitive marketing advantage if you exclusively use Google and Facebook, and that is because advertising on the duopoly kind of works like this. You buy ad impressions, right. And, you know, whatever sorts of advertising you do and each of those and or the conversions cost dollars. And efforts that you might make to improve your ahli are usually counteracted by increasing competition, rising prices, changes in inventory right from these. And when Facebook and Google need to show Wall Street some growth, you end up paying more. Great example was recently just, what was it, September 1st, Google made a change such that your paid search ads no longer show you all the keywords that send you traffic. And so. Right, of course, this means I think they removed about 28 percent of that data, according to a senior interactive piece. And those that, twenty eight percent was what we use to do negative keyword matching and better exact match targeting or attempts at it. Frustrating, right? This is what I call Boulder pushing marketing.

[00:08:53] Every step of progress requires the same amount of effort. There’s no gain in efficiency over time. And if competition comes in right into your space, into your advertising or external forces, reduce our line, every step gets harder and harder. The converse, right? The the opposite of that is using a marketing flywheel, which can create a competitive advantage. But it’s really tough to do if you only have Google and Facebook. Right? The idea behind that is you do a marketing thing, you boost that, things reach, you engage and grow your audience, then you improve your algorithmic signals. Right? The tweet you sent reaches more Twitter users. The email you sent you now have more subscribers. The Google rankings you are in got more links. And so now it’s going to be easier to rank in the future. And so you get higher return on investment next time. And this is not easy if it’s even possible with exclusively Google and Facebook, because their dominance in their respective social media advertising and search advertising fields make it such that they have pricing power over the market. They can determine how costly it is for you to attract traffic and of course, your competitors as well, especially if they’re earning higher returns or doing other sorts of marketing things, they can price you out. You are also on these two duopolies.

[00:10:16] You’re competing with everyone at every single company out there, every marketing agency out there, every search expert, every social expert. They are all on these platforms. Doesn’t matter what you’re looking for. I literally ran a search for you’re going to run ads for this on Google and Youtube, Tik Tok is advertising for that.

[00:10:37] Right, because they’re put out there on alternative channels. Right? I’m smart. Toros in the Market Research and audience intelligence field, I found this great research live Web site. They have two advertisers and they take op ed, too. So I could get my message onto this platform and not compete with anyone except a few people who happen to find this. It’s very, very different. Right? I could do an email newsletter, sponsorship with them, yet reach the 11,000 market researchers who subscribe to research. That’s that’s an incredible draw I and the competition is much, much lower than it’s going to be if I’m bidding against Google and Facebook. It’s unique. It stands out. It gives me the potential for competitive advantage. It’s also true that most marketers value really trackable investments instead of high return on investment ones. So let’s say you go find a podcast that reaches the audience that you want to reach, which is awesome. And you pitch to be on that podcast or you sponsor it or run a co-branding arrangement, whatever it is. When someone hears about you on that podcast, what happens, they go to Google, they search and Google gets the credit, not the podcast Google. Now, granted, there are some ways to work around this right time series tracking and brand lift and all those kinds of things. But it’s hard. It’s tough to do it that way. Right. And so if you want to make marketing a core strength, one that gives you a competitive advantage over the rest of the players in your field, you need to invest where others don’t in ways that they won’t, with generally harder to attribute, but increasing return on investment. That’s how you get there. That’s how you get there. And Google and Facebook alone just just can’t provide that. Number three, if I haven’t convinced you yet, my last argument is if you are going to be spending a lot of money on Google and Facebook, putting a bunch of effort into that, let me still encourage you to look elsewhere outside of these two platforms because they become better channels when you invest in growing your brand. I’ll show you what I mean with a story.

[00:12:50] So I am a little obsessed with pasta, probably more than a little obsessed with pasta. And a couple of years ago, I visited Genoa, which is in Italy and the birthplace of pesto, which is which is one of my favorite pastas. And so I, I try it there. I loved it. I come back to the states. I want to, you know, I want to make it at home. So I go and I read the Serious Eats article from Daniel Gratzer here about how to make great pesto. And according to him, you need a mortar and pestle specifically. I think he was recommending one from this this firm, Nuovo Minamo Technica.

[00:13:27] OK, you know. So I keep looking around and browsing like I don’t want I don’t have a giant mortar and pestle. Is there some way to make it with a food processor or something? So here I am. Oh, let’s see. Kitchen detail, says Modano Technica. Huh? All right. Apparently, I need this this mortar and pestle from this company, Marmol Technica by brand impression number 16. Again, this is Small Kitchens website. They also recommended the Nuovo Minamo Technik, a mortar and pestle. All right. Huh? Huh. Fine. You know what?

[00:14:04] I’ll give you two hundred and twenty dollars for that silly pesto rock and stick. And I, sure enough, I did order one. You can see my my order in my email there and had it delivered. And it’s pretty magical. It’s a lot of work like making pesto is a lot of work by hand, but it’s pretty fun if you do sweat and it’s good for your arms, but it makes delicious, delicious pesto. So what happened here? Right.

[00:14:32] Essentially this brand, Nuovo Marmo Technica, built-up brand affinity by being in all these places across my search and social and content consumption journey. Right. And as I was learning more and more about pasta, I kept seeing them mentioned. And so now when I do a search for morter. For pesto. Right.

[00:14:51] And hey, wait a minute. I know that brand Nuovo Marmo Technica, that’s that’s the one that everybody talks about.

[00:14:59] I do not pay the for the 30 centimeter six hundred and eighty dollars one, but not someone recommended on all the entire recipe sites.

[00:15:06] Right.

[00:15:08] Brands that only invest in ads and don’t have this coverage and get brand impressions and build affinity there like beef cart. No offense to beef cart but I’ve never heard of them. So my likelihood of clicking on them or converting is extremely low compared to the brand that I’ve heard of.

[00:15:27] Even though it’s, you know, 20 times the price, the more you put into other channels, the better. Google and Facebook ads. So let’s talk about how to expand beyond these places. It’s really remarkably simple.

[00:15:46] I’ll get into the tactics, but really it truly is. You want to figure out who are your customers. Do they have describable characteristics? Do they have job titles? Do they have interests and passions? Do they talk about things online? Who are they? What are the messages that resonate with them? Right? What’s going to help them get over the border from “I have heard of you. I’m aware of you. Oh, I’m interested in you. Oh, I think I might buy from you.” What are the sources that influence that audience? What what publications do they read and pay attention to? Who do they follow and trust online? What what podcast do they listen to? What YouTube channels they subscribe to? What events do they go to? What webinars do they watch? Right? All of those things. OK, and where do they engage? Where can I find them and reach them through those sources of influence? And finally, I need to amplify the messages that I learned worked in the places that my audience pays attention. It’s not that hard, right? This is marketing 101. But if you do this outside of Google and Facebook, Google and Facebook themselves will work way better.

[00:16:56] So let me let me walk you through some tactical tips for how to do some of this work.

[00:17:03] First off, I strongly recommend whenever you can, using other people’s platforms to drive traffic to your website, right? So if you have the option, you’re mentioning your business on your podcast, on a podcast. You are getting a magazine article. You’re writing an op ed for someone. You are being mentioned in someone’s blog. Someone’s talking about you on social, whatever it is, right. Whatever activity you’re doing.

[00:17:28] Do you want to drive people to your website? Right. Let’s say you are doing marketing for the inn at Langley, or do you want to drive them to your Google my business page. And my recommendation is send them to your website. There’s only two marketing channels that you truly own and control: your website and your email list. Everything else is out of your control or not completely within it.

[00:17:52] And so I would urge you to drive everything from other people’s platforms back to those you want to learn where and how your audience’s buyer journey starts. Right. So when it comes to, you know, if I’m running a hotel like the inn at Langley and I’m doing marketing for them, well, where do people start to have the experience around that? Right. There’s sort of the early journey, like my early journey with pesto, right. Of, oh well, people think about getaways and weekend trips. And now that it’s during quarantine and coronavirus. Right. It’s what’s where’s a safe vacation spot?

[00:18:27] And then I want to find the publications that either trigger or nudge along those journeys. Right.

[00:18:34] So that could be I search Google News or I use a tool like Barsoum to try and find that Masimo didn’t actually return great results in this case. I think the keywords just didn’t surface that stuff. But Google News, service line, good sources. Right. And then I want to find where my audience pays attention. So this is SparkToro. But you could use other tools for this as well, right? So I looked at, OK, people who talk about Whidbey Island, what do they visit, what do they read? What are they engaging with? And it turns out, you know, no surprise, right? It’s a bunch of news websites, travel related websites, a lot of stuff around Seattle and King County, which is near to the end at airline brands like Alaska Airlines and would be coffee. Great. Awesome. This is this is where I can reach an audience who talks about that topic. I also recommend I really like using your own analytics. Right, diving into your analytics or if you’re doing marketing for someone else, their analytics and looking at the sources that previously worked. So if I see right in here that. Oh, yes, sweet. Look at that free account. You know, my goal that I set up in GI is showing that this was a really good traffic source. Boom. I can plug that into a service like similar web, which is free. By the way. You can go to similar web, plug in a website and it will show you other similar sites visited by visitors to that website. Similar web is tracking that through clickstream data. I really, you want to then go use. I don’t have time to get into them all here, but I did write a blog post about this. I urge you to check it out with a bunch of unusual but highly effective outreach tips like ways to go after whatever it is that you’re seeking coverage or the opportunity to write or pitch so that you can get into these platforms that reach your audience.

[00:20:25] Number two, if you’re going to be buying ads, you’re going to be spending money on whatever it is, Facebook or Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn or Reddit or any of these. I highly recommend that you know your audience better than your competition. So one of the ways to do this is to get some basic stats for the survey.

[00:20:44] We ran a survey for SparkToro, you know, asking our free users and customers: What did you? What are you? What does your organization do? How would you describe your role? Right. So now we’re getting into the “Oh, OK.” This person’s a marketing analyst. This person’s a principal trainer on sales, marketing and accounting. This is someone who works at a consulting firm. This is, you know, how did you first hear about SparkToro? They heard about it on a webinar.

[00:21:11] Oh, look at it on a webinar right now. Right. And then and then we asked them how they would describe it to people you don’t have to do. Let’s see. I really like adding to your survey data interviews as well, because you get the color from the personal connection and relationship that you can’t get with a survey alone. So, you know, I go to my local Jewish deli, Schmaltz, and I say like, oh, well, you know, they can ask me what brought you in today? What have you tried before? What did you like? What do you want to do with delivery?

[00:21:48] You can ask these questions over video interviews, over calls, you can ask them over emails, I do this all the time. Was Botros for users, right? They’ll reply to an email from me and I’ll say, like, hey, yeah, tell me about things that, you know, resonated with you.

[00:22:03] Audience intelligence tools can help, too.

[00:22:05] So, again, I’m showing SparkToro, but you could use something like Audience or Helix or other kinds of things. But essentially, you know, I want to see what my audience talks about, how they describe themselves, what words and phrases appear in their profiles and bios, what are the hashtags that they use online? What are the words and phrases that they use? Where do they visit that? That data is also really valuable for advertising. And then you can plug that information that you learned from surveys, from interviews, from audience intelligence into your advertising tools so that your targeting is better, more refined, more exact, more opportunities to experiment with different groups than what your competitors are doing.

[00:22:49] Number three, if you want to draw traffic off of the social sites. Right. And into or YouTube or even Google. Right. And onto your website. My recommendation, the way it is working right now today is engagement streaks, that is what social platforms and algorithms, machine learning algorithms are rewarding primarily so.

[00:23:14] Basically, so, you know, you can see the basic story here is that we’re trying to give the networks what they want, what their algorithms are seeking, so that they will show our content to more and more of our following over and over again. This is from my Twitter analytics. Right. I’ll show you some Facebook, too. But, you know, these networks are really similar. LinkedIn works like this. Facebook works like this. Instagram works like this. Twitter works like this. Content that keeps users on the platform, i.e., does not contain a link. Right. That tends to be the preference Twitter. You can see it very easily that they’ll show that to Morphos posts that earn either reply’s or repeat visits and clicks. So if you are asking folks to like, help you share a piece of content on a social network, my advice is don’t ask for a you know, two or three years ago, I would have said ask for a tweet or a share on Facebook or a repost or whatever. Now, I would say ask for a comment, especially an engaging comment and see visual and video works really well, which I’m sure all of you know, shocking headlines work really well, emotional stuff, surprising and unexpected stuff. These are concepts that work really well and followers to. Right. So this is my Facebook analytics and you can see consistency of focus. Unfortunately, I don’t actually take this advice myself, but it is the case that people followed you for a particular reason. And if you deviate from the initial reason that they think they followed you, you tend to lose engagement. So if you’re building that up on a brand side, be aware of that high controversy, especially belief reinforcing high controversy. Content tends to earn amplification following. This is precisely why the polarization of politics, stuff that I talked about earlier is so effective.

[00:25:09] Not easy to consume, easy to process, so shorter, more visual, more emotional that all tends to work really well. And so the idea here is that we’re going to engage, draw traffic and repeat. So I do a high engagement, non promotional post another one. Then I might use some of that and do a promotion.

[00:25:28] Then the high engagement on promotional post, non promotional posts. These ones, white and blue are designed to earn brand exposure and new followers for me. And this one is capitalizing on the algorithmic reputation I built up to send traffic back to my. Number four, viral, where the Brandell visuals, I’m sure all of you in marketing have seen it, marketers work, right, that that red, black and gray worked really, really well. I love this from Liz and Molly, who wrote the book, No Hard Feelings, which you kind of. Yeah. Hey, there’s no no hard feelings. Terrific book. Again, using visuals, branded visuals so that you have this familiarity with them. This is Food 52, does the same thing. These are super effective for drawing traffic from the social sites and getting amplification on them. And it works really well for small local businesses, too. So this is not just a publisher centric thing. You can you can use this in a bunch of ways. I tried a miniature version of this experiment with my own blog, so I did this sort of whiteboard series of photos that I posted along with each of the things I did. It worked quite well. And you can see 35 percent lift on my traffic drawn from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit.

[00:26:50] You should also, number five, use the news. Use the news, especially right now if you’re a business owner. Oh, my God. The news is dying to write about how you’re doing it. Coronavirus types. And there’s a formula for this. You take a word that describes your business sector or climate plus your city name. Search for that and you will get topics that can get you coverage. Right. I’m learning that from from looking at the results here, publications that are likely to cover you and types of stories that earn coverage.

[00:27:22] So now when I go do my PR efforts, when I go do my amplification, when I try and earn press and coverage from these publications that my audience reads, I know what they want. Once you’ve got a topic and pitch targets, the outreach section gets way easier. Right now, I know how to pitch King five. I know how to pitch KOMO News. I know how to pitch in style or the Stranger or Kaira seven. That’s the key. And thanks to feed personalization, I don’t know if you saw this with just a couple of weeks ago, Google News for U.S. became the primary way that they are showing us stuff. It’s the default in all of our phones now. Alright, No.6: email. Oh, my God. Capture every email you possibly can. E-mail open rates. Here’s MailChimp data versus that that rival IQ data email operator. Two hundred and fifty times higher than Facebook page engagement. I would rather have one email than a thousand new Facebook likes. Seriously, I would. I would take. There’s also huge pent up demand in consumer and in B2B right now. And as is literally showing here, and you can execute on that with emails, that email is a great way to build up pent up demand and then get conversions in the future. If you’re a pro, an email I really like and we use here as part of our MailChimp and nailgun. And if you’re new to email marketing, I love Tydings, you can connect that right into your social account. It works beautifully well, very affordable. Tip number seven. Last but not least, audit those ads. You’re spending a bunch of money on Google and Facebook. Don’t don’t rely on brand safety tools. If they’re pitching you on saving money, they’re generally not that is. I don’t recommend those. I do recommend services like check my ads. This is from one of the co-founders of Sleeping Giants. And I also love Sears Tool specifically for Google called Saving Benjamins. And what you can do is take the money you saved and put it toward the beyond the duopoly, beyond Google and Facebook investments. All right, thank you so much, the slides and links are going to be available soon. And if you’d like, you can give SparkToro a spin. And my email is [email protected] if you’ve got any questions. Thanks so much.

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