On the May 30 edition of Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares insight on how to add energy to your marketing “flywheel” and how and when to release it.
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.