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7 min read

SMX Munich 2019: Rand Fishkin – The Four Horseman of the Web Marketing Apocalypse

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Rand Fishkin opened SMX Muenchen today with a keynote in the main auditorium. Rand is a great digital marketer and having read his blogs and guides and followed his digital marketing insights for the 5 years I’ve been in SEO, it was great to see him speak today.

The SEO + Content playbook

The SEO + Content playbook was what marketers used, knew and trusted from 2009 – 2016. This old methodology worked and is outlined below:

  1. Choose high volume keywords
  2. Create good content
  3. Promote content on social media
  4. Grow followers on social
  5. Earn links and amplify content
  6. Use ad platforms to drive content

These practises that we were so used to and were a fundamental part of most digital marketing strategies stopped working.

So what happened?

Rand gave a summary of some of the key changes that have made the old SEO + Content playbook redundant:

  • Facebook killed organic reach
  • Outbound referral traffic fell even further
  • Declines in Facebook referral traffic
  • Instagram has maintained some level of organic reach and has always limited outlinking
  • Twitter & LinkedIn changed algorithmic policies. They have an algorithmic system where if you post a tweet with a URL it will not get as much reach because they want to keep you on the platform
  • YouTube cuts off descriptions whenever you click the URL to avoid making links visible in the default view

Who still does send web traffic?

After a quick digression about UK and German politics, Rand then went through the top traffic referrers and the difference between traffic from the same referrers between Oct 2016 and Feb 2018.

Google for the first time ever has started sending less organic traffic. This was first noted in 2017. This is because Google is solving more & more queries without clicks. For example, when searching for ‘best movies on amazon prime’ Google will scrape and aggregate the top results.

‘Lego star wars figuren’ example:

  • Paid – 6.4%
  • Organic – 64%
  • No click searches – 0%

Whereas on Mobile, organic is only 37% and no click searches are over 50%. Google is now solving the query for you and this is bigger than ever and very prominent on mobile.

Rand explained how Germany’s Mobile CTRs are higher than the US but falling. We can expect to see other EU countries CTRs falling.

“Zero-click searches are up 30% in two years”

A tweet that Rand received when he was tweeting about Google displaying content without the user having to click “Solves for the user though doesn’t it? That’ll always be Google’s first customer.” Short term Rand agrees, but long term this is questionable.


Influencer marketing is on track to be a $10million a year industry in the next few years as it has become progressively popular over the past two years. However, a lot of influencer marketing has been declared as fake and no longer as genuine as it used to be.

A quote from an influencer around how they work with brands included this statement: “less than 50% ever want to know what’s happened”. This quote demonstrates how brands aren’t that interested in the metrics, they are more interested in who is representing them, showing how brands still aren’t focusing on the key metrics and data that are prominent in a digital marketer’s workflow.

Rand ran a fake followers audit and influencers can have a higher percentage of genuine followers. People such as Donald Trump have over 60% of fake Twitter followers. This suggests to me that we are perhaps putting too much trust into channels such as Twitter and Instagram and trusting a number of followers rather than identifying the quality of those followers first

Rand then shows a diagram that outlines how there are 10-15 sources of influence but influencer marketing is only done on YouTube and Instagram.

Investment dollars aren’t seeking profits they are focusing only on new users. Similar to influencer marketing, there are marketers that aren’t accountable to metrics. Ad costs have gone up and ROI has gone down.

Rand explained how it’s become more and more difficult for a business that is not already known for its brand in its field to become profitable through ads.

So what do we do?

The SEO & content playbook has been torn from us so how can we respond? Rand believes people are already making positive changes and will explain how to tackle this.

Revisiting the SEO + Content playbook in 2019

Rand then revisited the SEO + Content playbook and explained really well how we should, as marketers, tackle the playbook today and offers alternatives for each of the 6 elements of the 2009-2016 playbook

1/. Choose high volume keywords –> centre marketing on your website

Make your website (and email list) the centre of your digital campaigns. Emails are easier to reach your audience than social media now.

Some notes on what should be preferable in a marketer’s strategy:

Emails > followers

True fans > website visits

Click volume > search volume

You should let your competitors chase high volume terms so that you can chase high CTR terms.

“38% of all searches still receive <50 searches a month!”

2/. Create good content –> invest in the right marketing flywheel

A flywheel is a classic machine from the industrial age used to store energy and this is what should inspire our content marketing strategies. Content marketing flywheel is commonly known but a PR + Ads flywheel is also incredibly viable. Events + Sponsorship flywheel. It’s hard at first but it gets easier and more profitable at scale.

3/. Promote content on social media –> market where your audience already pays attention

Everyone is on Instagram and Twitter now, so this is not targeted enough. Discover your audience’s true sources of influence, so marketers will perhaps look for specific bloggers and target those. This isn’t targeted enough still. You need to find the publications that food bloggers are following.

4/. Grow followers on social –> balance social engagement vs. drawing clicks

When you have low engagement on posts, your next post will get even less reach. On the flip side, when a post gets high engagement, Facebook boosts the reach of the next post unless this post starts to show poor engagement too. All social media channels now reward high engagement streaks. Social algorithms want to engage, addict and retain us.

To benefit from this system marketers need to create a: High engagement, non-promotional post x 4 –> promotion with a link –> high engagement, non-promotional post x 4 –> promotion with a link. These capitalise on your algorithmic reputation for high engagement & direct traffic.

5/. Earn links and amplify content –> broaden content & outreach campaigns

Successful content does something more than just converting people. There is content that your customers care about and then there’s content that influential publications care about.

6/. Use ad platforms to drive content –> use ads to reach your audience

The challenge is that there are a lot of ads in one place trying to drive converting traffic. First: organic + brand; Then: ads + CRO. If you’re not yet known and trusted ROI sucks. If you are a known and loved brand ads is incredibly profitable.

How to win at digital advertising:

1/. Earn brand exposure

2/. Get >1 organic visit

3/. Advertise to those who already know you

My key takeaways

All in all, Rand’s talk was a great, holistic summary of the key changes that have happened in search over the past 10 years.

My key takeaways from Rand’s talk:

  • Brand exposure is key to get the most out of all channels
  • The return on influencer marketing is not as data-driven as expected
  • When targeting publications in outreach don’t target your ‘audience’ but target the publications/channels of your audience
  • No click searches are very prominent and a lot more so than on desktop
  • As over 38% of searches have a volume of less than 50 searches a month, so having a layered targeting strategy is more important than ever for both SEO and PPC