Building a Marketing Flywheel – Whiteboard Friday By Rand Fishkin
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Building a Marketing Flywheel – Whiteboard Friday By Rand Fishkin

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition
of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk about a concept called the flywheel. For a long time, I’ve loved investing in channels
like SEO, and early in my career I didn’t really understand why exactly. Then as I became
a more, sort of, mature and experienced entrepreneur and a more mature marketer, what I learned
was a bunch of fascinating things, one of them being that the results in the SEO world
essentially have like a self-reinforcing effect. Let me describe what I mean. Let’s say that
you’ve got a website, and you’re trying to get rankings for a variety of keywords and
you notice something really interesting happens around those types of results. This has happened
on every campaign that I’ve ever worked on, as a consultant, as I’ve been an advisor to
companies, as I’ve grown Moz itself, which is your early efforts are incredibly challenging.
Earning those first few links, getting those first few rankings, getting that content that
actually works to approach the market, getting your first few email subscribers, getting
the first few people to follow you on Twitter, on Facebook, it’s just so hard. It feels like
it’s almost not worthwhile. It feels like, “Hey you know what, let me just throw some
money at paid search and at ads, and screw this whole inbound channel thing.” But a weird thing starts to happen. As you
earn links and build visitor loyalty, and increase your reputation and influence on
the web, your SEO starts to get easier. Suddenly you put out a blog post, you hit publish,
and wow, I’m already ranking on the first page. I publish a new product in my e-commerce
shop, and wow, I’m already on page two, like all of a sudden, just by adding it to our
products section. This is really interesting. This is the concept
of the flywheel, and it works in all of these channels. In social media, think what happens
as you earn more fans and followers. Essentially your social influence and authority goes up,
and now as someone looks at you, you’re more likely to get suggested on the sidebar of
Twitter. More people are likely finding your pages. More people are resharing your content
and liking your content, which means you appear in front of more people. Now if you do things
like Facebook advertising, you can appear to a broader audience because you already
have so many people who are your fans and who like your page. If you’re consistently engaging, people expect
you to reply. They reach out to you, they cite you when you produce content. If you
become a must read resource, suddenly in your industry, there’s almost this natural multiplying
effect of contributing, and your contribution, your marginal amount of contribution doesn’t
have to go up. In fact, it can go down, and you receive outsized results in all sorts
of these channels. Email it’s true too. You grow your email list,
and suddenly, after the first few hundred subscribers, it seems like man, it’s growing
faster than ever because people are talking about it. The open and click-through rates,
as those rise, your deliverability gets higher and higher, and you’re more likely to be opened
by the next set of people who come in. You have that reputation. All of this stuff, word
of mouth works like this. Branding works like this. All of this stuff is leveraging this
concept of momentum. Flywheels have this critical concept that,
as I turn the wheel, getting it started is incredibly hard. Those first few fans, followers,
links, shares, whatever it is, pieces of content, they’re incredibly hard to get going. But
after that wheel starts turning, I push just as much as I pushed in the beginning, and
the wheel goes much, much faster. It’s self-reinforcing. This is a powerful thing. I have three critical rules, though, if you
want to have success with flywheel kinds of marketing. Number one: You have to be willing
to invest more and for longer than in non-flywheel tactics. SEO and paid search are perfect examples.
So in the SEO world, in organic search, it takes a much longer time to earn rankings,
especially around competitive results. Building up your domain authority, building up your
page authority, building up the links and the anchor text, the ranking signals that
you might need to compete with the incumbent players is very challenging. But over time,
it gets easier and easier, and that’s why people who are willing to invest for the long
term rather than the short term tend to beat out those who aren’t. Number two: You’ve got to be willing, with
flywheel tactics, to invest and experiment and accept failure. This is really, really
challenging for a lot of executive teams at companies, for a lot of CMOs and VPs of marketing,
and for lots of people who hire consultants in the SEO and marketing worlds. Basically,
you hire someone and you expect them to do a job and have certain kinds of results. What
if those results take a much longer time? Well then, you might divest yourself of those
resources. You might decide not to continue that investment. This kills more potentially
successful campaigns than anything I’ve seen. Essentially, people are experimenting. They’re
trying new forms of content. They’re trying new kinds of social sharing. It doesn’t work,
and they essentially get thrown off the project. Okay, it didn’t work. Let’s try something
new. We’re not investing in this channel anymore. Looks like Twitter is not the place to sell
T-shirts. Are you sure about that? Are you totally sure? Did you accept failure? If you
didn’t accept failure and be willing to continue that experiment, I guarantee someone who is
willing to accept failure, they’re going to win in that channel. Then number three, the last one: Learn to
find the flywheel in everything. As you find it in these channels, you’re going to notice
it more and more in all sorts of channels. I just talked about how paid search is less
of a flywheel channel than organic searches, but quality score, at least in Google AdWords,
is actually a flywheel of its own. Think about how quality score works. As your ads get higher
click-through rate, as your brand becomes better known and more people click on it,
as people have more positive experiences on your site and going through whatever your
funnel is and all those kinds of things, your cost to acquire a click can actually go down
while the number of clicks that you acquire goes up. This is the flywheel in action. Remarketing and retargeting work just like
this too. More people visiting your site means that you can retarget and remarket to more
of them as you get better and better at those campaigns, and as the assisted conversion
goes up, retargeting and remarketing becomes a better and better channel to invest in.
No wonder you want to put more and more dollars to work there. Branding is the obvious one. Branding affects
every one of these channels. The bigger your brand is, the more well-known, the more well-respected,
the more admired, the better every single one of these channels is going to do. But
investment in branding is really tough, and a lot of people aren’t willing to do it because
it is so hard to measure. If you’re measuring across channels, though, and doing kind of
that classic, “Well, what was brand lift from this,” which is really hard to do as a small
business I recognize, it’s even hard at our scale, and we’re sort of in the almost medium
sized business now, I think. Outreach is one of the ones that separates
the flywheel SEOs from the non-flywheel SEOs. I really believe this. When I see folks who
are doing outreach and they’re essentially contacting someone because they want one link,
one time. That is non-flywheel SEO. That is non-flywheel marketing, because you are not
increasing momentum, and in fact, if you go back to that person later and ask them again
for a link, they’re like, “Dude, come on man. I already gave you something. What more do
you want from me?” As opposed to relationship building through outreach. When you relationship build through outreach,
as opposed to asking for something, you’re saying, “What can I do for you? How can I
help you succeed?” That relationship becomes one of reciprocity, and that reciprocity drives
the flywheel and earns the momentum. That’s why I think great SEOs, particularly great
link builders, really focus on relationship building through their outreach, not just
through getting that one link that one time. All right everyone, I hope you’re enjoyed
this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I hope you are super excited about the Moz launch
and the private beta of Moz in Linux, which will be opening to lots more people coming
up soon. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should go check that out. I’m sure there
will be a link somewhere. I don’t know. Maybe over there. We’ll see you again next week
for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

About Ralph Robinson

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