The Future of Advertising and Why Net Neutrality Matters with Rand Fishkin

Fine Point Grey Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz

The Future of Advertising and Why Net Neutrality Matters with Rand Fishkin

(50-minute podcast)

 This week we’re joined by Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz explaining what Net Neutrality is and why it’s important both for digital marketers and for each of us as citizens. We then dive into a report from Forrester heralding “The end of advertising as we know it!”, and on to the future of advertising in a post-interruption, post-popup, mobile and voice centered world. We also consider Google’s ‘Project Owl’, a much-needed attempt to improve the credibility of search results and crack down on fake news.


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Featured Expert:

Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz

Guests and Experts


Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz

Bio: Rand Fishkin goes by the ludicrous title, Wizard of Moz. He’s founder and former CEO of SEO software startup Moz, host of Whiteboard Friday, co-author of a pair of books on SEO, co-founder of, and serves on the board of the presentation software firm, Haiku Deck. Rand’s currently writing a book for Penguin/Random House on the ups and downs of startup culture, due out in 2018.


Maureen Jann, Director of Marketing, Point It Digital Marketing

Bio: Maureen Jann is a veteran B2B marketer whose career in Digital Media has grown up with the Internet. A self-described jill-of-all-trades, Maureen has elevated creative problem solving to an art form and enjoys the daily challenges of driving business results in unexpected ways. Her skills as an entrepreneur, content marketer, creative director and passionate people manager set her apart from the pack. Maureen has worked in every corner of marketing making her a skilled tactical resource as well as a strategic partner.  Recently, she was the captain of the marketing ship for an award-winning professional services firm and is currently creating a content marketing strategy for Point It, a digital marketing agency.


Tim Mohler, Sr. Marketing Manager, Point It Digital Marketing

Bio: Tim Mohler is a multichannel marketer with experience building campaigns for travel, CPG, food, beverage, and technology companies reaching both B2B and B2C customers. He’s passionate about building marketing experiences & partnerships that are relevant to a brand’s message, exciting for the customer, and most importantly deliver measurable results. At Point It, he develops digital, social and content campaigns as well as managing on a day to day basis.


Maureen Jann: Hi there and welcome to fine point digital marketing updates, a weekly podcast of the latest happenings and interviews with expert guests from across the spectrum of digital marketing. I’m Maureen Jann, the director of marketing at Point It, a digital marketing agency here in Seattle, Washington and I’ll be your hostess. I’m joined by podcast engineer and senior marketing manager Tim Mohler, who will be joining in throughout the podcast. Hey, Tim.


Tim Mohler: Hey.


Maureen Jann: Today we have Rand Fishkin, founder and wizard of Moz. We’ll be covering some headlines and then talking with him about net neutrality. How are you today?


Rand Fishkin: Very well, thanks for having me.


Maureen Jann: I’m so glad you could make it, I feel a little special because I know you’re highly in demand for speaking engagements.


Rand Fishkin: Well, it is highly convenient that Point It happens to be just a 30 minute walk down the street from Moz.


Maureen Jann: Oh, you walked, such a nice day for walking.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, indeed.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, fabulous. Great well before we dig into the slightly depressing topic of net neutrality, let’s talk about what’s going on across digital marketing. So a few things that we’re seeing is advertising revolts, results, maybe both. And then Google’s project Owl, and then obviously the net neutrality update and then we’ll dig into net neutrality and the impact on digital marketing. The first article is “Pause that Depresses.” Forester sees advertiser revolt as beginning of the end, it’s all very doomsday.


Rand Fishkin: Sounds kind of ridiculous to me. I read the piece obviously before coming here and let’s hope no one from Forester is listening but … So Moz has participated in some of their research in the past, we’ve also been highly critical of a bunch of their research. I suspect that in some arenas, they have really good data. I think in the digital marketing world their data, which is mostly through surveys and interviews of people that they select through a process that I don’t understand, it doesn’t seem completely random, it doesn’t seem highly distributed, it doesn’t seem to be a good sample set, and it’s kept mostly private unless they invite you. All of which contribute to making me question the validity of this entirely.


Maureen Jann: Granted, but they are respected for the most part in the industry and as an ex advertiser with them or maybe an advertiser’s not the right word, sponsor, that’s the right word. So as an ex sponsor at Forester, I can honestly say heavily influenced by the sponsor, right? That’s also a thing.


Rand Fishkin: Interesting, yeah, that makes sense.


Maureen Jann: Anyway so they’re predicting the end of advertising as we know it which was an interesting and doomsday type of prediction. The report predicts that big advertisers will pull 2.9 billion out of digital advertising next year, which is contrary to what we’ve been reading where digital marketing is growing and growing and growing so that’s why I thought was actually pretty interesting, right?


Rand Fishkin: But where are they going to put the money? They still need to reach people and this is the only place to do it [crosstalk 00:02:58] and no one’s watching TV anymore, well okay a few of you, I know.


Tim Mohler: Even the people who are watching TV, they’re not watching commercials. They’re watching Netflix, they’re paying their five bucks for Hulu to get it without ads, they’re subscribers to Amazon Prime so they watch all their TV through that. It is a shrinking and shrinking portion of the population that watches television with commercials. It’s basically just live sports that are left as the true commercial options.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, it’s true. They have a hold on it which we like to talk about on the show every time.


Tim Mohler: And Twitter’s grabbing that, thank you Twitter. No longer have to watch anything on the TV.


Rand Fishkin: That actually would be really nice, I would love that.


Tim Mohler: You can do it while tweet chatting.


Rand Fishkin: Perfect.


Maureen Jann: Super sports [inaudible 00:03:40].


Rand Fishkin: So the one thing in the report that I found somewhat credible was this idea that a lot of traditional online display advertising was going to go away and I think that is absolutely correct and that’s been going that way for a long time.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Rand Fishkin: And the reason it’s been going away is because you can now do so much more intelligent targeting through display, right? Whether it’s retargeting, or social ads, or remarketing, or Google just launched that couple days ago, the similar audiences feature.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Rand Fishkin: Right, where I can upload a bunch of cookies or send a bunch of cookies to my Google ads account and now they’ll show ads to people who had search histories like the people of those cookies, which I thought was great, right?


Maureen Jann: Super great.


Rand Fishkin: That’s brilliant, that gets me in front of, it’s very much like Facebook’s look alike audiences, right? I think digital advertising is definitely going in those directions but in my mind, that makes the market bigger, not smaller.


Maureen Jann: I would agree with you and especially as you’re doing that programmatic media buying and what media looks like gets wider and wider and there are more options, there’s audio, there’s more traditional level advertising. I mean, you’re just looking at more options across the board. But what Forester was saying which I think was interesting and up for debate I might add, the transition is gonna be towards interruptible friendly devices, which they’re claiming are those personal assistants, right? I’m not saying that personal assistants aren’t a great new way to advertise; although, that makes me kind of want to kill myself because I don’t really want that in my house but they are very interruptible, right? That’s a space where you’re open to that on some level.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing right, because I think that I would be personally shocked … I think that the way that technology has traditionally gone is it goes in first with phenomenal user experience and it’s only after it gets adoption and addiction that it starts to become a major advertising platform.


Maureen Jann: Well said.


Rand Fishkin: My suspicion would be that an interruptible friendly device like a personal assistant, like a Siri or your Google home device, your Amazon Alexa.


Maureen Jann: Sure.


Rand Fishkin: Right now, today, those are kind of nice to have, not essential. They’re a little bit fun but I could see five years from now how they could become addictive and part of everyone’s daily life and I can’t really do the normal things that I do. Just like Google search is today, I can’t imagine that if it becomes an advertising platform first. That will [crosstalk 00:06:20] if I am asking [crosstalk 00:06:22]


Maureen Jann: Straight up like this is just gonna go back from the beginning.


Rand Fishkin: The key word there was interruptible.


Maureen Jann: Not crap.


Rand Fishkin: I think one of the things that Forester is probably pulling on here is the fact that consumers are reacting to anything that interrupts their flow so I think we’re going to see more native advertising and I think as we look at advertising on devices that are talking to you, interruption is not acceptable to the market anymore.


Maureen Jann: No, I agree.


Rand Fishkin: The challenge for Google and for Amazon and for Amazon, this is very natural, is how do we monetize in a way that does not interrupt the consumer. So expect to see preferential … Angie’s List just got bought out by IAC, I believe.


Tim Mohler: 500 million dollars, not too shabby.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, quite good. Ironically the same offer that they got a year ago but I have to tell you, I worked for a IAC owned company before and the funny thing is, Angie’s List to me was almost like consumer reports. And now I’m wondering, are advertisers going to be able to purchase preference. I think that’s what we’re gonna see in the advertising space, it’s just more purchased preference. So the first listing, the first two listing or whatever and I mean, bought and paid for essentially.


Tim Mohler: I’m with you but I would also argue that when the delivery is through voice or through audio as opposed to visually, the challenge is that that preferential treatment does still interrupt the user experience, right? So instead of being able to say Amazon always gives me the best this, it’s hang on you’ve got to listen to the third and the fourth one. Because Amazon’s always going to preference to be advertiser first so you can’t really trust them. I think that trust really, if it doesn’t exists at least in the first few years of that platform, it’s gonna be lost before it’s ever gained.


Maureen Jann: I agree.


Rand Fishkin: So I wonder if this goes back to Facebook, like if your ad is clicked on more often, you pay less for it essentially, right?


Tim Mohler: Absolutely.


Rand Fishkin: So I wonder if there’s going to be a balancing act that Google in particular has to play with this. Oh you’re a really good advertiser and people are actually going to want your thing versus the spammy one. So for you, the spammy guy, it’s going to be $30 to get one placement. For this other guy, five cents because you know what, you would have been number three anyway.


Maureen Jann: It’s all about user experience, right, and that’s fair no matter what platform you’re talking about. I think really the key to this article is that it’s advertising as we know it, right? It’s changing.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, for sure.


Maureen Jann: You’re right Forester, it’s changing.


Rand Fishkin: I think if we were at Alexa today and talking about how should we make advertising possible, I think it would be much less about how to we interrupt or how do we give preferential treatment and more, hey how we do announce to users that this new thing is now available, this new functionality is now available thanks to this sponsor?


Maureen Jann: Right.


Rand Fishkin: And the functionality itself serves the sponsor in some positive way, right? Like hey, Amazon in the north west is now partnered with Alaska Airlines and you can now book an Alaska flight directly. So tell us your MVP number now, and any flight you book will give you double credit, right? Something like that. Now oh, okay, that’s very convenient. I do book a lot of flights with Alaska, Amazon makes sense for them to have a relationship with them in the Seattle area, this is their hub. Okay, now you’re starting to get into a … You have added something to my life and yes, Alaska’s probably paying Amazon for it.


Maureen Jann: That’s okay.


Rand Fishkin: I didn’t say tell me about flights to Denver and you said, “Here’s our sponsor, Alaska’s rates. Ask us about the other rates later or don’t ask at all.”


Maureen Jann: Yeah, I think that goes back to just having a good user experience, adding value to people’s lives. I have notes in here around the case for native ads because as long as it’s built into something that I’m interested in, and it’s relevant, and it’s timely, I feel like that’s a value ad to me. Advertising isn’t bad unless it’s crap.


Rand Fishkin: Quote of the day.


Maureen Jann: The second article is Google’s Project Al, a three pronged attack on fake news and problematic content. I guess this kind of just goes into that user experience even more, that Project Al is to battle the search quality crisis by creating opportunities for feedback on auto-complete search suggestions, which is a feature I use constantly.


Rand Fishkin: You have no choice.


Maureen Jann: And I love it, it’s very helpful when I’m doing research for content information and stuff like that. The feedback for features snippets, answers and a new emphasis on credible and authoritative content, which, haven’t they been moving towards this forever? Isn’t this the direction we’ve been going?


Rand Fishkin: Well certainly, there was that NPR piece a couple of years ago, I think it was 2015 or 2014, and it talked about how Google’s engineers were working on a way to rank the information that came back to you based on its truthfulness and accuracy.


Maureen Jann: Not to be confused with ‘truthiness.’


Rand Fishkin: No, no not that. I think that’s what ranks now and that’s the problem, right? It feels true, but it’s not true. And basically they’ve described this system where essentially they would have a seed set must like TrustRank, right? The old Yahoo paper from back in the day. They’d have a seed set of trusted authorities on a bunch of subjects and then they would compare the accuracy and consistency of those answers, of sort of the facts that came from those many sources against what appeared in the results.


So for example, if you were to say something like, “Climate change is caused by the changing orbit of the moon, right? Around the Earth, and that influences tides,” which is a common sort of climate science denial point that’s made. Google might go out and look at the BBC and the Economist, and they might look at the scientific journal of science, they might look at National Geographic, they might look at The New York Times, a bunch of these sources that they sort of have faith and trust in. And then they would say, “Gosh, of these twelve sources we can’t find one where this lunar orbit theory influencing climate change is real, therefore even though this page has lots of links, high click through rate, lots of good engagement, all of the ranking signals that we like to see.


It’s highly relevant, it’s got the keyword well done, it’s easily [inaudible 00:12:53], whatever, blah blah blah blah blah. You know what? We are ranking it lower, we are not putting it on page one because the facts don’t fit.


Maureen Jann: Sure.


Rand Fishkin: What was crazy is that was years ago and we have not seen … We haven’t felt it in the search results, certainly. It feels like it’s just as easy to rank with a piece that’s like, whatever politician so and so had their ex-husband or wife killed by their bodyguard that they hired from Russia, whatever it is, right? Insane theories that propagate on the internet. But you start searching, I pointed one out the other day about Hilary Clinton where you start typing her name in and you will get search suggests that are insane, like just ludicrous, right? Whatever that algorithm is, it either didn’t work, they didn’t work on it, or they didn’t like the results of it.


Maureen Jann: Well it’s funny that you say that because one of the things that they mentioned was that they considered this a small issue for so long. What I was noticing, I was like, as marketers we know better, come on. A small issue or a small problem can have huge impact, and to understand this … The only reason it’s a big issue now is because of the election, right? I mean, that’s the only reason we put a spotlight on this.


Rand Fishkin: Oh yeah, you change 77,000 votes in three states and I bet Google isn’t talking this at all.


Tim Mohler: Right, they knew this. They knew this when it came to Google News. I look at the news when I’m logged in and I am historically Republican, so I get a particular slant to my news.


Rand Fishkin: Sure.


Tim Mohler: I tend to go into Google News on Incognito mode specifically because I want outside view points. I don’t want the news that I’m getting to be doctored for my own personal viewpoint. However, for most people …


Rand Fishkin: You are very rare.


Tim Mohler: True, but I mean most of your educated class are going to … You’re going to be looking for that outside information, and that bubble effect was something that was called out when Google News was first created.


Rand Fishkin: Was first personalized.


Tim Mohler: First personalized, you’re correct. And I have to think, Google’s in an awkward position where they want you to spend more time on Google, and you’re more likely to stay on Google if Google tells you what you want to hear.


Maureen Jann: Oh gosh.


Tim Mohler: So I think there’s a creepy magic mirror effect going on here.


Maureen Jann: Right now a single tear is falling down my face.


Rand Fishkin: I might disagree with that. I would say you’re absolutely right in the world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, those platforms are really stay on us. But Google is a ‘come to us, get your answer, go away’ and the come back because we know that if you have a successful experience then you will come back.


Tim Mohler: Easier as a monopoly?


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, yeah, much easier. A, much easier as a monopoly which, I think Google … You could argue that Google is a natural monopoly, right? Not that they have used, at least in search, not that they use a monopoly, they’re good at what they do.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Rand Fishkin: [crosstalk 00:15:54] Yeah right? They created a great brand, they created a great experience, I think where I struggle is, can you argue that Google has never leveraged their monopoly position to enter other markets or to compete unfairly against anyone else? And there I kind of have to like … Well, never?


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Tim Mohler: They’ve been pretty careful though.


Rand Fishkin: They’ve been careful … I think Google Maps might be kind of an exception, right? Where they had a lot of options and I think they used their monopoly position in search to compete a little bit unfairly against everyone else.


Maureen Jann: They do that all over the place.


Rand Fishkin: Well you know, it’s one of those natural things, right? They’ve understood that local is gonna be important for search for a very long time, so it just naturally makes sense to get into maps and certain other local business data and that sort of thing, because they know over time this is where we’re gonna move to. To some extent this is a cleanup issue to the, I think Google’s in the middle of a lot of cleanups, advertising popups, all these different things. I think they view, they own or control or have interest in so much of the internet that they have both an obligation and it just naturally works out that they need to play police a little bit across the entire internet, and I think they’re feeling that position.


I think … Look at Chrome, right? It’s cleanup time, they know that, the advertisers are sending the message as Forester has pointed out and they realize, they’re getting the bulk of those advertising dollars and it’s just time to clean house a little bit.


Maureen Jann: With great power comes great responsibility.


Rand Fishkin: And more advertiser dollars, keep at it Google.


Tim Mohler: I do think, I think the other thing that Google sees is a true competitive threat, so if a Bing or a DuckDuckGo or someone like that can say, “Hey, Google is very susceptible to inaccurate information, they can be gamed, we can’t be, come use us instead.” That actually … What’s interesting about it, particularly with the election is now you start to have a, oh got it, Google is the whatever, the Fox News because they’re mostly influenced by, people with this perspective and DuckDuckGo is this other thing right, and you start to have separation.


I think Google is terrified of that and they want to nip it in the butt as quick as they can, and one of the best ways to do that is to say, “Hey we’re going to prevent … ” because I’m well known as someone who’s extremely liberal, but I will freely admit that there are a lot of liberal viewpoints and perspectives that are totally biased and based on wrong information and if you research down the wrong rabbit hole or click the wrong links on Facebook you’ll get just as much crap as you will from the other side.


Maureen Jann: 100% yes.


Tim Mohler: I think that this is an important point for Google, that they don’t want the market to become [inaudible 00:18:45] by political affiliation, which I think is something that’s possible in the United States.


Rand Fishkin: Do they have the sensitivity to be able to pull that off and not to … I see them skewing, if they play the credibility card too hard and in the wrong way of becoming marginalized like a CNN and falling into that category because they’re pulling from Economist, NPR, whatever. Do you see them … How do they navigate this? This is so difficult today.


Tim Mohler: Here’s the challenge, I think it is dramatically easier from a marketing and a user growth perspective to say, “Google is too right or too left, and therefore pole your polarized group towards something else.” I think it’s much more difficult to say, “Google is too balanced, some with me to the one side or the other.” It doesn’t create enough anger and frustration, right? I don’t think the challenge is, “Oh you know what? I’m looking for my news to be more biased.” That’s not what anyone thinks or says, right? Everybody, including folks who get very biased things think that they are getting accurate information because of the sources that they know and like and trust.


Rand Fishkin: My truth.


Tim Mohler: Yeah.


Maureen Jann: Right, yep it’s true, gosh.


Rand Fishkin: I’ll be interested to watch this, and best of luck to Google, I really think this is an important, important thing and kudos to them for taking it on and good luck.


Tim Mohler: Yeah, please work faster.


Maureen Jann: Well, I think the big thing that’s worth mentioning too is how they’re doing the right amount of transparency around it to keep people informed about the steps being taken to combat the issues right? I don’t think they do it with everything, but I think in this particular case they’re putting the right information out there at the right time to make sure people know that it’s being handled, right? It’s not being looked over.


I don’t keep as close of tabs on Bing, but I don’t see as much from them when it comes to solving challenges like this. I don’t think they have the same challenges clearly, because they don’t have as much of a stake, but I don’t know, it feels like they’re the right amount of transparent about it.


Rand Fishkin: It would be nice to feel like Facebook was doing the same thing. And they’ve made some announcements as well, but it has felt both opaque and sometimes countering their own points which gets a little irritating.


Maureen Jann: Historically I feel like they contradict themselves quite a bit.


Rand Fishkin: And Facebook’s incentives, to your earlier point …


Tim Mohler: Setup differently, it’s so much more personalized and they can’t get in there and mess with your feed and what your friends are sending to you. I think there’s a little bit … It’s more challenging for Facebook to police, and to some extent they shouldn’t be, they shouldn’t be interfering in private conversations.


Maureen Jann: [crosstalk 00:21:44] Yeah …


Rand Fishkin: Boy, I’m gonna go with, I think that Facebook has an obligation to do what, in one of their statements they said they were gonna do, which is when content is shared on the network that they know to false, that they can reliably prove to be false, that they can put a message in there that says, “Hey feel free to enjoy this content, click on it, do whatever you want, just know that reliable fact checkers have confirmed that the information in this piece is not credible and not correct, and I think that’s a great little notification. Like, hey you want to go read fan fiction about politics go for it.


Tim Mohler: I love that, fan fiction about politics, that’s fantastic.


Rand Fishkin: I mean, I think that’s what fake news is, right? It’s fan fiction about politics.


Tim Mohler: Except so much of the fan fiction is coming true. I love the whole feedback mechanism that Google was talking about in this article, just the ability to throw up a flag and say, “Yeah, by the way this is not okay with me,” and then somebody has to actually go and check that, obviously. But just the ability to say, to give feedback to Google will make them appear to be more neutral, and if they become that neutral space … I was a network administrator and there was a saying, ‘nobody ever got fired from Microsoft.’ And I think that as an advertiser …


Maureen Jann: Wait what


Tim Mohler: Like Microsoft’s servers and things like that because everyone does it, right? So it’s safe.


Rand Fishkin: And I think 40 years ago the same with IBM correct? [crosstalk 00:23:07]


Tim Mohler: Yes, so if Google can become that space for advertisers where it’s safe, advertisers are looking for safe places to spend their dollars, where they can go, “Yeah, not our fault, Google said it was okay.” And if Google becomes that space then that’s an incredible position to be in, and possibly one that only they can defend, only they have the money to check all these sites to look into all that credibility.


Maureen Jann: My word of advice is take more risks. On that note, let’s talk about net neutrality. As the FCC balances pressures about net neutrality and Title II, Verizon decided to weigh in on the issues with a video interview with Craig [inaudible 00:23:53], Verizon general counsel. And I think Tim said it best, I’m sorry I’m not being very neutral at all about this right now. I think you said it best when you watched the video about this general counsel, what was the general counsel? I’m not gonna say it for you because it’s silly.


Tim Mohler: As a brand, if you need to put your general counsel on a video, you should rethink what it is you have to say, just in general.


Maureen Jann: It’s a really good point. And who was that interviewer? Who is that guy? Jeremy? Like, “Hey dude how’s it going? Let’s go grab a drink?” I don’t know.


Tim Mohler: He looks like I guy I would go out and get a drink with.


Maureen Jann: He does look like an every man, right? He’s like Jeremy Everyman.


Tim Mohler: I had this thought earlier this morning that Verizon, of all the telecoms, is probably one of the few who actually has a real brand to defend. Comcast is well known for their customer service issues; AT&T, who I personally love, also has certain issues and they’re known to be one of the old bell companies, so them taking an anti competitive stance is really not big news. Verizon on the other hand has a very passionate customer base and I wonder if this video wasn’t targeted directly at their customers to reassure them and to avoid backlash.


Maureen Jann: ‘It’s okay, we’re not the bad guys, let’s hug.’


Tim Mohler: Exactly. They’re not gonna win the whole market with that video, but the …


Maureen Jann: The whole market is looking at the video, let’s be honest.


Tim Mohler: But the portion of the market who is a Verizon customer and possibly not quite as informed about the issue, that video might be enough.


Rand Fishkin: For our listeners, maybe you can tell them. What did they say in the video? [crosstalk 00:25:24]


Maureen Jann: I was like, wait wait wait wait, back off buddy, back off. The video states that Verizon is not trying to avoid … Well, it’s not really Verizon. The video states that this shift in the position with net neutrality is not trying to avoid or overturn net neutrality rules, the video uses the analogy of sidewalks, private property, and the relinquishing of control of that private property to describe the issue at hand.


Rand Fishkin: It’s a good analogy, but what’s being relinquished is control of the sidewalks.


Maureen Jann: Yes.


Rand Fishkin: Right? Not control of the private property.


Tim Mohler: Now you have a troll on your sidewalk who gets to decide whether or not someone gets to visit your house, that’s the boil down version.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Tim Mohler: The real version is [crosstalk 00:26:07]


Rand Fishkin: And you have to pay them more money to visit certain houses than other houses.


Tim Mohler: They charge the house, they charge the people trying to come down the street, they turn certain people away, this is not a troll I want to meet.


Maureen Jann: And the hard part too is like, you made a good point when we were talking about this originally was a lot of this is public land, like a good portion of it is public land, so you have your stuff in our ground. How’s that going for you?


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, for anyone who needs a very broad view, so net neutrality is this idea that all internet traffic should be treated the same, that basically if your ISP or if anyone’s ISP gives them access to the internet, that’s your cell phone provider or your home internet service provider or your one at work, that you should never have to pay them more money to visit certain sites than other sites, or to use some internet connected devices versus others.


And it’s not the case that Comcast can say, “Oh man, you want to install an Alexa Amazon home device? We view that as actually really dangerous and competitive to us, so we’re gonna charge you $500 if you want an Alexa connected to the internet,” they can’t do it.


Maureen Jann: Or you’re gonna slow your internet way down so it crawls along and you can never watch another show on TV or Netflix.


Tim Mohler: They did this to Netflix. [crosstalk 00:27:26] I remember Comcast doing this to Netflix.


Rand Fishkin: Yep, and they got in trouble and the FCC cracked down on them and because of net neutrality laws they had to make it such that we could all watch Netflix at normal speed, which I think is fundamentally fair and creates a more even playing field, not an even playing field, there’s no such thing, but a more even playing field. I think the other big thing that net neutrality prevents that many people have used as a counter argument, is net neutrality prevents an ISP from doing something which you might think sounds really nice, like providing you with free access to certain things.


So T-Mobile for example a few months ago said, “Hey we want to give you free access to this streaming music service to watch these certain movies on T-Mobile and to access these few websites. It’s for free, that means we won’t charge you anything, it won’t go against your data cap, we’re doing this nice thing.” Well guess what? That nice thing means that people who can pay T-Mobile, like that streaming music service, can get yes, T-Mobile gives it to everyone for free, but then little guy, new streaming music service that you just started out of your basement because you’re like, “Screw Spotify man, I’m gonna take on the streaming music world and I’m gonna build something better,” which is awesome, that’s something the United States and the world’s economy should encourage, is this disruption and this idea that anyone can compete.


They will end around that by saying like, “Well yeah I guess you could pay for the internet and get that guy, but we, T-Mobile are offering it for free through this.” So neutrality is this idea that you can’t bias that data and just to be clear, the two prior US, American administrations had supported net neutrality, some a little bit more than others, including even during Obama’s term there was a real fight, I don’t know if you remember. All the black banners all over all those websites saying ‘support net neutrality’ and tons of people called the FCC, so this is not an issue where historically one party’s always been better than the other.


In fact in the United States today, well as of a few months ago, more Republicans than Democrats supported net neutrality, so this is a very bipartisan … And we’re talking in the high 80’s for both parties, it’s like 84% and 87% or something.


Tim Mohler: This is an anti-democratic fight really, not the political party, I mean as a political system.


Rand Fishkin: Against democracy, yes.


Tim Mohler: Yeah, I mean this is lobbyists and big money and it’s nasty stuff.


Maureen Jann: I’m learning so much, I don’t even have a lot to say because I’m just taking it all in right now. It’s such a big conversation, right? It has a lot of depth and you get a video like this and if you don’t know about it, it sounds reasonable. And then you start digging into it and you start learning what’s going on and you go, “Oh crap, this is much bigger than you would ever expect.”


Rand Fishkin: As digital marketers we are … The few digital marketers among us who work for big companies, we are gonna be positively effected if net neutrality goes away. Big companies will have a much easier time competing against anyone else, incumbents will rule the day, money and influence, power with Washington, that is gonna be who wins on the internet, and that sucks for almost everyone but it is really awesome if you are a big, rich company already.


Maureen Jann: But we already have big problems with those folks, there’s already enough going on there.


Rand Fishkin: My general feeling, and I know that generally speaking conservative and liberal folks in the US disagree about this, but my personal feeling is that there are many advantages baked into being a big, powerful corporation with lots of money and lots of influence and they don’t need another leg up. I would generally say that, conversely, small business, mid-size businesses, start ups, mom and pop operations, a restaurant that wants to put up their website, they will be really hurt, they will be really hurt, as will consumers who can’t access those things.


So what you would probably see, the logical outcome of this is, hey you know what? No more internet, no more registering a website and owning that, we’re all just gonna create pages on like Facebook or Google because that’s who has preferential treatment, that’s who has enough influence, so all of our web content will live there, rather than on our own websites because we just can’t afford to go to every ISP in the country and make a deal with them and pay them all these extra money in order to get access or free access or whatever it is.


And that is a scary, crappy world. I don’t want someone else owning my UX, I think that the web is this weird magical thing where with radio and television and all other forms of transportation and communication prior to the internet, you had massive bias to a small number of organizations. It’s like okay, you five companies get to control the airwaves in the US.


Maureen Jann: Totally.


Rand Fishkin: And I love that the internet doesn’t do that, I think it’s brought about a ton of creative endeavors.


Maureen Jann: We were just talking about the beauty that came with Netflix and Amazon Prime creating their own content and how they’re not beholden to advertisers and how we have a pretty incredible opportunity to see shows that we probably never would have seen, and I don’t had traditional television been the mainstay, continued to be the mainstay, which I get really excited about, because I think that as a creative myself, having more stuff that is more interesting and more edgy and more dependent on whether or not the Charmin company approves of your TV show is significant, it really opens up the conversation that you can have around diversity, around gender stereotypes. What was it, 13 Reasons? We were talking about that the other day and the fact that … We were talking about suicide, like really talking about suicide, that’s crazy, that’s just not something the Charmin company would be into.


Rand Fishkin: NBC would never have broadcast that in 1998, right? It would never have happened.


Maureen Jann: They would’ve dumbed it down to the worst after school special, right?


Tim Mohler: This comes down to truth does not always have the big budget and oftentimes does not. If you think about Spotify, Pandora, I forget, Real Audio, I forget who all has [crosstalk 00:34:07]


Rand Fishkin: What, here in Seattle? Rhapsody, [crosstalk 00:34:08] is not … They bought that old one that rebranded.


Tim Mohler: Oh yeah. Wasn’t it Real Player? I don’t remember.


Rand Fishkin: Oh shoot.


Tim Mohler: But none of these would have happened. The music industry would have shut them down, you would have been stuck … Napster, that’s right. That was smart branding by the way.


Maureen Jann: That’s adorable.


Tim Mohler: But you know, Netflix would not have happened, because you have to remember, these TelCos, all of them own cable companies for the most part or one of these giants, they wouldn’t have allowed a Netflix, they would have charged them through the roof, Netflix would have cost you $90 a month, just like cable.


Rand Fishkin: And I think we never would have gotten Google, right? Yahoo was the big player back in the day, they would have paid off the right ISP’s, they would have lobbied in the right places and there never would have been a Google, or even an opportunity for Google and I think web search and many parts of Google’s endeavors would never have existed as a result. It might have been Microsoft, you could argue, but one of those two.


Maureen Jann: As the hostess of the show I’m going to reign us back in a little and just introduce the other …


Tim Mohler: Aw, so much fun.


Maureen Jann: I know, you know …


Rand Fishkin: Well done, [inaudible 00:35:14].


Maureen Jann: Yes, I see it with love. We’re moving on because we’re gonna talk about net neutrality some more, only at it from a different angle. You all know we’ve been hearing from Rand Fishkin, the founder and current wizard of Moz, so when we talked you said you love to travel with your wife and you speak all over the world about digital marketing, which is pretty exciting. You’re also the reason we started the net neutrality updates, so we just talked about … We’d been sort of framing up what this section of our podcast looks like to be useful and helpful to people, and I forget that I have to recap what net neutrality is every time, so I’m gonna have to put that in.


Anyway, but before we go on to talk about digital marketing and net neutrality, which was the point of having you here, was let’s hear a little bit about Moz and what you guys do and how that [crosstalk 00:36:03]


Tim Mohler: And why we have such an interest, yeah. I started Moz because I was so frustrated with the search engines, this is back in 2003, it’s a long time ago. So frustrated with the search engines being opaque or inaccurate with information about how they worked, I wanted to help my clients, I was a consultant at the time but I also wanted to help this broader field of people who wanted to understand how SEO worked and Google, Yahoo at the time, MSN Search were very tight lipped about this stuff, and it was incredibly frustrating.


So I started this website called SEO Moz, taken from a bunch of other open source and open, transparent information projects like DeMoz, which many folks might be familiar with, the Mozilla foundation, which obviously runs Firefox. At the time there were others like [inaudible 00:36:59] and ChefMoz, most of them all disappeared except for Mozilla and us, so we bought the domain name and moved to that a few years ago. But the primary thing that Moz does is still to help people understand how SEO works and then to help them do it, and today we do that with software, we switched to being a software company in 2007 so we’re not consultants anymore but we work with a ton of consultants, small businesses, mid-size businesses, startups and yes, plenty of Fortune 500’s too.


Moz has like, something over 35,000 paying customers, so it’s very broad. But the mission remains the same, we are trying to make SEO accessible to everyone. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible, our mission is to organize all of Google’s information and make that universally accessible. This is the perspective that I come to this discussion with, and because I really care about and believe in both personally and professionally giving little guys more of an even playing field over big guys. I’m likely to cheer for underdogs in sports competitions, you can guess what kind of person I am.


Maureen Jann: That’s fantastic, you go Bears. All right great, that’s perfect, I think that gives a little bit of a framework of why this is so exciting … Exciting, that’s not the right word, you’re passionate, I think that better describes it. When we talk about this … And where do you feel, when you talk about digital marketing as an industry, how does net neutrality and digital marketing, where do they overlap? Where do they conflict? Give me some more information about that.


Rand Fishkin: Sure. Basically, net neutrality has allowed for the creation of millions, hundreds of millions of websites all around the world with essentially equal access, at least on your ISP’s side, to each of those websites, and obviously digital devices and all sorts of web connections also apply to this. But I think one of the wonderful things about that is you can go anywhere in the world, right? Over to your friend’s house and connect to your wifi, to your office, get on a ferry from one part of Japan to another and you will find the same internet. You can access the web in the same sorts of ways, with a few exceptions and I think those exceptions are actually pretty terrible.


For example, Turkey, I was just there, and they recently blocked access to Wikipedia. They basically said, “Nope, there’s too much,” I mean, I’m paraphrasing, [inaudible 00:39:58], the president who has sort of assumed many more powers than most presidents in Turkey would normally have, including …


Tim Mohler: So dramatic.


Rand Fishkin: Well, you know, I would like to go back to Turkey and I think [inaudible 00:40:12] is likely to be there for a long time. He basically said, “Wikipedia contains too much inaccurate information that’s biasing our citizens’ point of views and therefore at the country IP level, shut it down.” I was in China in 2008 and China did this very interesting thing where if you went to Google, this was true when I was in Beijing and Shanghai, it wasn’t true in Hong Kong.


But if you went to and you searched for something, you would be redirected at the government ISP level to Baidu’s Results, which is a phenomenal way to make that Baidu, the Chinese search engine has vastly more market share than Google does, and to keep our competition. But I’m not sure that’s the best thing for people. I can understand being nationalistic and sort of saying, “Hey I want our search engine to have a chance, and to win,” but I’m not sure that’s the best way to go about that.


Maureen Jann: Sure.


Rand Fishkin: And other folks might disagree, there might be plenty of pro-Chinese nationalist folks to are like, “No, I think a country should be able to determine who wins and loses.” Okay, all right, we can disagree about that. My bias is for this openness, and I think that openness is what’s created tremendous amounts of digital marketing opportunity, created tremendous economic opportunity for small and medium businesses and startups and projects of every kind alike, and I don’t want to see that end.


Maureen Jann: I think that’s fair, me neither. I think that we have a lot of S&B’s that are feeling somewhat threatened about that and it’s a shame, it’s a shame.


Rand Fishkin: And they should feel threatened, I think one of the biggest problems that I have with net neutrality is how poorly, you could say this about many causes that are worthy of investment, but it’s been poorly marketed, right? Net neutrality has been this sort of like, [crosstalk 00:42:12] understand it? Is it left or is it right? And the answer is, “No, actually it’s both,” right? [crosstalk 00:42:22] There’s lots of real issues that are …


But there’s no disagreement from people on either side of that political spectrum, they’re both sort of like, “Yes, internet access good,” right? And fair internet access, balanced internet access also good, you just have a small number of folks who, I think, understand it really well, a small number of folks who are promoting it and as such, it gets tough to fight.


Maureen Jann: Yeah.


Rand Fishkin: And there’s a lot of things we’re fighting right now, right? There’s a lot of fights to be had in the political spectrum, so net neutrality’s flying under the radar in a way that it didn’t a few years ago under the prior administration.


Maureen Jann: They need a better agency.


Tim Mohler: That’s so true, many agencies have adopted causes here recently. They do need a better agency, because if there’s been one thing we’ve learned recently, it’s that the little guy versus big guy fight is hot, regardless of what party you are and so I think positioning us as, this is important, as regular, normal people this is incredibly important and this is your issue, versus it just being Electronic Frontier Foundation and those folks who are having to continue what has been a constant fight. I can’t remember a time when this hasn’t really been a tug of war.


Rand Fishkin: It makes sense, right? You have money on one side because these ISP’s can make a tremendous amount, they feel like this regulation is holding them back from being some of the most powerful and influential folks that [inaudible 00:43:56], they see the rise. [crosstalk 00:43:58] Yeah, they see the rise of the internet, they see all this money being made by these internet companies and they say, “We can’t get hold of that because you won’t let us restrict and constrict and get pay offs from these different companies to provide access in different ways, you’ve made it illegal,” and therefore they’re gonna lobby, they’re gonna fund campaigns, they’re gonna do what big business needs to do in the United States to try and influence the outcome.


Tim Mohler: If they win this war, Google will have internet to our doors within five years, 10 years max, maybe not so for small this is a much bigger issue, but I wonder if Google’s wandering into broadband is partially as preparation.


Rand Fishkin: I mean, I think Google back out of that right? They kind of shut down a lot of their project investments around this.


Tim Mohler: But the learnings.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, we’ll see.


Tim Mohler: The learning’s still there.


Rand Fishkin: We’ll see.


Tim Mohler: Balloons and wireless maybe.


Maureen Jann: Reigning us back in.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah, I guess I would just point out that it is possible, yes, it is possible that some big company … Google could do it, Microsoft could do it, a number of others … Apple could decide that they want to get into this business, numerous others, right? Elon Musk could say, “Hey you know what? Tesla’s gonna provide free internet,” whatever. The problem is, if you take away this regulation, a few years after whoever the savior is comes in, they will be pressured by their shareholders to make more money and this will be a route for them to pursue. And I think it behooves us all to say, “No, this is not an option. This is not the way that you can get growth by restricting the freedom of the internet.”


Maureen Jann: It’s true. That’s my intelligent conversation on that.


Rand Fishkin: And no, I am not running for anything, I want to be totally clear.


Maureen Jann: Hey, you know what? You have a responsibility.


Rand Fishkin: I’ve heard that from a lot of friends, yeah, no.


Maureen Jann: Well you’re well educated, you may or may not have a responsibility. I don’t know.


Rand Fishkin: I dropped out of college, I am poorly educated.


Maureen Jann: That means nothing and you know it.


Rand Fishkin: I will have you know, most of my coaching comes from [inaudible 00:46:10]’s worst enemy, Wikipedia, so you can’t trust me at all.


Maureen Jann: I barely graduated from college, I have nothing to say to you about this.


Tim Mohler: Now that we have the internet, college, eh, redundant.


Maureen Jann: Yeah, right? All you need is work experience and some innovative spirit and you’ve good to go. However if the net neutrality goes not good then that might not be the case for everybody, right?


Tim Mohler: Especially if we can’t get to Wikipedia. What would students do?


Maureen Jann: Or speak full sentences. That’s a really good point.


Rand Fishkin: Libraries would get popular again.


Tim Mohler: It’s true, it’s true.


Maureen Jann: Good lord, stop. Okay, so last question because we’ve run out of time. If net neutrality goes away, what impact would that have on advertisers? And then we talked a little bit about this from a business perspective. If we talk about this from a paid search or SEO to a degree, but social advertising, all that good stuff.


Rand Fishkin: For advertisers in particular, I think one of the most interesting things about net neutrality going away is the … Essentially you’ll see what is today a massive, huge set of disparate websites making up substantive portions of internet traffic. That will almost certainly constrict massively, so it will be a lot more like television is, where a small number of players control the vast majority of the eyeballs.


So for advertisers, that’s gonna mean some simplification of their platforms, right? They won’t be completely reliant on programmatic solutions, you could go directly to the 20 websites that will probably control 80% of all internet traffic. That’s kind of a slight benefit, the downside is cost is gonna go way up for you because those 20 entities will have massive pricing power, they will be able to set much higher prices per eyeball, they won’t need to provide nearly the detail in terms of analytics and reporting that they do today. It will be just much more similar markets, magazines and television and radio, these more controlled mediums where distribution is much more difficult.


Tim Mohler: Dying mediums.


Rand Fishkin: Magazines are doing well.


Tim Mohler: Magazines [inaudible 00:48:24]


Rand Fishkin: Podcasts are growing like crazy, radio you could argue yes, is going downhill, but podcasts are rising.


Maureen Jann: But even radio has 90% of the market at least some portion of the day. [crosstalk 00:48:40]


Tim Mohler: You don’t need to listen to the radio anywhere you are, you can listen to FinePoint.


Rand Fishkin: Yeah what are we broadcasting on?


Maureen Jann: Oh this gets distributed [inaudible 00:48:48] like all the standard podcasts.


Rand Fishkin: My point is, it gets distributed through the internet and that’s the only way that you’re able to listen to this because the radio airwaves are controlled by the FCC and by a few narrow bands, not everyone can broadcast on the radio and therefore not everyone can be accessible. The only reason this is accessible is because of net neutrality. Don’t kill us.


Maureen Jann: Don’t kill us, we have [crosstalk 00:49:13]


Rand Fishkin: Unless you really want [inaudible 00:49:12] channel.


Maureen Jann: Oh lord, or the worst eight songs you’ve ever heard over and over again for now until eternity. Don’t worry, there’ll be new awful eight songs in just a few moments. Great, that’s …


Tim Mohler: That makes it clear right there, now we understand. If you don’t want to just be listening to eight songs, be pro net neutrality.


Maureen Jann: There you go, bottom line facts.


Tim Mohler: Well said.


Maureen Jann: All right friends, it has been lovely and educational for me, I’ve just taken it all in. I’m probably the most quiet on this podcast as I’ve ever been on any of the podcasts to be honest, so anyway thank you for coming in.


Tim Mohler: My pleasure, my pleasure.


Maureen Jann: It was super nice to meet you in person. And for you guys out in podcast land, thank you for joining us, it’s always a delight to have you along. Hopefully you survived this particularly long, awesome podcast. But any links we mentioned today will be in the show notes for your convenience. And if you like the show and you want to make sure it sticks around, please make sure to rate us on your favorite podcast platform. Follow us on Point_It on Twitter to get the latest podcast, content, live events and more. Thanks for coming and for now, stay on point.


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