Recently, I spoke about “Using SEO as a PR Metric” at the Measurement Base Camp Winter Session on Feb. 9, 2021. While I spoke on this topic last year, I wanted to update my presentation to include a new tool that was launched in April 2020, a month after the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Although it was launched at a very scary time in the world, SparkToro solves a thorny, expensive, long-standing problem in the market research world: How to discover the publications and people that influence any target audience online.
Now, some Digital PR professionals would have liked the early version of SparkToro, which crawled tens of millions of social and web profiles to find what (and who) their audience reads, listens to, watches, follows, shares, and talks about online.
But, most Digital PR teams will love SparkToro’s latest feature, which identifies the press accounts that are followed by and engaged with by their target audience. This includes thousands of publications across numerous segments of media.
Sometimes, a search will pull back mostly mainstream media at the top, as in these results for the query: My audience uses these words in their profile: Journalism.
Other times, you’ll see more niche specific publications, as in these results for the query: My audience frequently uses the hashtag: #NintendoSwitch.
Now, I’ve known Rand Fishkin, the CEO and co-founder of SparkToro for more than 15 years. He was formerly co-founder and CEO of Moz, and is the author of Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he is deeply passionate about helping marketers and Digital PR professionals to quickly and accurately identify where their audience spends time and pays attention, so marketing efforts can be better targeted and more effective.
I interviewed him for The Measurement Advisor. Here are my questions and his answers:
GJ: Let’s start with SparkToro’s backstory. What led you to develop a tool that makes the publications, people, and sources that influence any audience more transparent?
RF: During my last few years at Moz, I tried to help a lot of small and medium businesses for whom search (and SEO) wasn’t the right tactic, to get marketing traction. Turns out, that’s really, really hard when you don’t know where your target audience can be reached. SparkToro’s goal was to help solve that problem — to make it easy for anyone to understand an online audience: what they read, follow, listen-to, watch, and engage-with, without having to rely on inaccurate, time-consuming surveys or extremely expensive, professional market research projects.
GJ: Now, tell us about SparkToro’s latest feature, which identifies the media sources that are followed and engaged with by a targeted audience. How would Digital PR folks use this feature?
RF: Sure! It’s pretty simple. SparkToro has data crawled from tens of millions of public web and social profiles already. For the last 9 months (since launch) we’ve been showing data about YouTube channels these profiles engage-with, podcasts they listen-to, social accounts they follow, and websites they visit. In November, we realized that some of our users were specifically seeking out press and media publications, but it was a cherry-picking process of sifting through the social and website tabs. So, we decided to aggregate that information in a specific tab of its own inside the product, get more robust media/press account and website data identified and included, and release it as a new feature.
GJ: So, what can Content Marketers do with data from SparkToro?
RF: I’m guessing that many content marketers are already using audience research data to do all the parts of their jobs: determine what their audience’s interests are, find publications and accounts that are well-followed in their field, identify words and phrases the market uses, find places to pitch for editorials, story submissions, coverage, the lot. SparkToro makes the process of acquiring that information massively more accurate and nearly instantaneous. Say you want to know what architects in Los Angeles are reading, watching, listening-to, talking about, sharing, etc. The manual process is likely weeks of trawling through online conversations, following accounts, aggregating their behaviors (at least, if you want truly robust, high quality data). SparkToro can show you the intersect of what thousands of profiles that contain the word “architect” do online in a few seconds.
GJ: Now, tell me what Social Media Marketers can do with SparkToro data?
RF: Similar story here, though social media marketers are often doing different kinds of tasks: identifying sources of influence, uncovering engaging conversations, seeking out hashtags popular with an audience to follow, use, advertise against, apply to social listening campaigns, etc. SparkToro, again, makes what was a manual, time-consuming process much faster and more accurate.
GJ: Your website says that SparkToro can help SEOs to find “the link-likely, amplification-primed groups” they need to grow their visibility, rankings, and traffic. Seriously?!? Is this a White Hat tactic?
RF: Ha! Two things on that: 1) Yes, identifying people and publications that can help you earn links and amplification is a white-hat tactic (do SEOs and Google still use the white-hat/black-hat dichotomy? Feels like that went away 5+ years ago!).
Also 2) Even if it were a tactic Google considered manipulative or against their guidelines or whatever terminology they’re now employing to keep marketers from doing things they don’t like, SCREW ‘EM! I don’t know how Google ever convinced us (myself included in my early days) to adopt their terminology and avoid tactics that work just because Google’s engineers couldn’t figure out ways to avoid making them negatively impact their results, but we should be done with that. The Alphabet corporation has proven time and again over the past decade to be a force not for good in the world, but for the financial gain of its wealthy owners and shareholders. No one should feel bad or wrong about manipulating Google to earn traffic or customers for their business. SparkToro isn’t in that world, but if we were at all, I wouldn’t feel the tiniest bit of shame about it, and you can quote me on that. No marketer in history has ever been able to abuse Google 1/100,000th as much as Google’s manipulated markets, governments, politics, the law, ethics, and small businesses.