Metrics & Chill Podcast

Increasing Signups By 30% (w/ Rand Fishkin, SparkToro)

Learn how the SparkToro team invest in zero-click content and rely on so-called “vanity metrics” to drive signups and revenue.

Jeremiah Rizzo Jeremiah Rizzo on November 2, 2022 (last modified on November 1, 2022) • 4 minute read

The metric: Signups Driven By Social

Learn how Rand Fishkin and the team at SparkToro think about investing in zero-click content, and how they’re using it to increase signups.

How They Moved The Needle

Their focus on end-of-year profits drives much of their strategy. The SparkToro team doesn’t track many metrics. The big ones are MRR, annual profit, and monthly costs. This is due in large part because of their unique funding structure.

They aren’t VC backed (for more on that, see Rand’s book “Lost & Founder“), where after the initial investors are paid back, the whole team participates in profit share pro-rata. All this boils down to 1 thing: profit is the primary incentive.

Since they aren’t worried about raising their next round or focused on an IPO, they don’t optimize towards metrics that other VC-backed companies might. Why does this matter? Or rather, what does it have to do with increasing signups by 30% via zero-click content?

Simple: they can invest where they want, grow slowly, and focus on doing what’s best long-term. Enter, “vanity metrics”.

For years, marketers said things like visits, video views, impressions, follower count, size of newsletter list, and the like, were just vanity metrics. In other words, they’re fluffy, easily manipulated metrics that don’t drive actual conversions or revenue.

Rand disagrees. In fact, he’s fully embraced these so-called vanity metrics. He feels big tech networks that own distribution (Google, Facebook, etc.) have realized they can extract more advertising dollars if they make it hard (or impossible) to track organic traffic.

Under the guise of privacy, they don’t give the data to organic brand accounts – only to paying advertisers. They’ve removed things like referral or keyword data under the guise of privacy, but given it to advertisers. Due to cookie tracking losses and multi-device use, marketers can’t see visitors’ behavior as accurately as they could before.

Instead of fighting this losing battle, the SparkToro team is investing in creating content people love on the platforms they spend time on. In this case, “vanity metrics” are actually early indicators that people are consuming your content. And if they’re consuming, and the content is good, it’s having an impact. And so, it’s worth doing and will drive results, even if you can’t perfectly measure it.

By marketing this way, their customer acquisition cost (CAC) is extremely low. It’s essentially the cost of their salaries, along with any additional costs of creating the content. This philosophy allows them to invest in projects that they think are fun, helpful, or beneficial for their audience. Or, creative projects that just scratch their own itch (like a holiday gift guide, or a study about who the most accurate 3rd party traffic estimators are).

Will these things build awareness, boost their reputation, or lead to some signups? Maybe. Actually probably. But that’s not primarily why they’re doing it. They’re doing it because they want to, and think it’s worthwhile. So right now, Rand estimates that social makes up 20-30% of their marketing.

Enter zero-click content. The idea is simple: show up where your target audience is paying attention > deliver them valuable content, natively in the feed > without asking them to leave.

For SparkToro, this might be a video explaining a topic or breaking down a longer-form article. It requires nothing except that you stay on the platform you’re on. The social platform’s algorithms love this. They don’t want users to leave and seem to penalize or limit the reach of content that takes users away from the platform. But they love content that draws engagement and drives retention.

So Rand’s focus is simple:

Find topics that people have professional, emotional reactions about, and make zero-click content about it. For example, he might find a few posts where people are upset that Facebook is taking away data from organic pages, or that Google is hiding keyword referral data. They’ll tackle these topics via videos, lengthy LinkedIn posts, Twitter threads, graphics or visuals, etc. And each time, they deliver all the information and value natively within the feed, without asking users to leave.

They know that if 100 people consume something, even if there’s no link, they’ll eventually Google “sparktoro”, visit directly, or share it with a friend. And as a result, they’ll gain new signups and revenue. These behaviors are impossible to measure 100%, but Rand knows they’re effective.

Results

After implementing this strategy, they saw signups increase by 30% from June-August 2022. And their branded social channels gained a huge following, and drive incredibly high engagement.

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