SparkToro review: finding influencers made easy

SparkToro is a new tool launched by Rand Fishkin and Casey Henry. I was able to get my hands on a press version pre-launch. This post is based on the pre-launch version.

Problem to be solved

Let’s say you’re launching a new product designed for avid knitters.

If you take the traditional digital marketing playbook, you’ll probably choose one or more of the following options:

  • Run Google AdWords ads with keywords related to knitting.
  • Run Facebook ads and try to use Facebook’s tools to target knitters.
  • Upload your customer list of current knitting customers and use Google’s and Facebook’s tools to target them and automatically generated twin audiences.
  • Since you know the knitting scene, you might place some ads on Ravelry, given that’s such a popular site for knitters and they have their own ad tools available.

This is where SparkToro aims to provide another option.

You can use the tool to find out:

  • Which accounts on social media knitters follow
  • Which websites knitters frequent
  • Which podcasts knitters listen to
  • Which YouTube channels knitters follow
  • Get insights about knitters as an audience

With this information on hand, you can appear as a guest on the right podcasts, get the right bloggers to review your product and sponsor the right YouTube channels in order to reach your target audience.

Sounds good, right? Let’s see if the tool can deliver.

Taking SparkToro for a test ride

I used SparkToro to test seven different cases:

  1. I wanted to know where I can reach people who talk about product management.
  2. I wanted to see if there was a difference in people talking about product management vs product launches.
  3. I wanted to know where I can reach people who talk about knitting.
  4. I wanted to know which type of people read the site
  5. I wanted to know where I can reach parents of twins.
  6. I wanted to understand the difference between people who characterise themselves as founders vs entrepreneurs.
  7. I wanted to know what type of people talk about sketchnotes.

Let’s look at how to do this with SparkToro.

Using SparkToro

There are three ways to use SparkToro:

  1. Audience Intelligence, where you search for information about your audience (more on that soon).
  2. Compare Audiences, where you see differences between two different audiences (same search operators as in 1).
  3. Profile search, where you can find information about audiences that interact with a specific website or social profile.

I’ll walk you through these functions one by one and then look at what I learned from the different test cases.

Audience Intelligence

I started by testing the Audience Intelligence functionality. I used it for use cases 1, 3, 5 and 7.

You can search for audiences base on:

  • what they talk about
  • which words they use in their profiles
  • which social account they follow
  • which websites they visit and which hashtags they use

I couldn’t find a use for the hashtag function, but the rest made sense for me and my test cases.

The results page shows a summary of:

  • how large the audience is
  • how similar or diverse it is
  • how much confidence SparkToro has in the results

The results page also show summaries of findings about:

  • social
  • websites
  • podcasts
  • YouTube
  • audience insights

You can expand and explore each of these sections.

When you expand a section, like Social above, you see all the results and you can filter the results, export the results as a csv or add them to a list in SparkToro.

When you export something, the resulting file has a meaningful name. This is a very nice little usability touch, especially for heavy users working in bulk.

Compare Audiences

The audience comparison functionality let’s you compare two different audiences. I used this for use cases 2 and 6.

You can use the same search functions as in Audience Intelligence to compare audiences.

You could compare audiences that talk about product launches with audiences that talk about product management (like I did above).

But you could just as well compare audiences who have ”VP Marketing” in their bios with audiences that talk about product launches.

The results show you comparison along the familiar data axis:

  • Behavior similarity
  • Audience size
  • Audience confidence
  • Social accounts
  • Phrases in bio
  • Podcasts
  • Websites
  • Geographies
  • Hashtags

Profile search

Profile search lets you start with a website or social profile and see what the audience for that is. I used this for use case 4.

I tested this functionality by looking at the audience of the personal finance site

Unsuprisingly, the top social profile followed was that of the founder, Ramit Sethi.

Summarizing results and verdict overall

I showed you earlier the seven cases I used for testing. They were the following:

  1. I wanted to know where I can reach people who talk about product management.
  2. I wanted to see if there was a difference in people talking about product management and product launches.
  3. I wanted to know where I can reach people who talk about knitting.
  4. I wanted to know which type of people read the site
  5. I wanted to know where I can reach parents of twins.
  6. I wanted to understand the difference between people who characterise themselves as founders vs entrepreneurs.
  7. I wanted to know what type of people talk about sketchnotes.

Let’s look at them in turn.

  1. I found helpful results to where I could reach people talking about product management.
  2. I found results for the differences between people talking about product management and product launches, but since the audiences where quite similar, the results weren’t that meaningful.
  3. I found where I can find people talking about knitting. Unsurprisingly, Ravelry was at the top of the list. I did, however, find it surprising that the Philosophize This podcast was highly popular among knitters!
  4. I found helpful results when analysing the audience of
  5. I completely failed when trying to find where to reach parents of twins. The tool offered me results about the Minnesota Twins, the Twin Cities and the Dolan Twins. But nothing related to twin children.
  6. I found helpful and meaningful results when comparing people who describe themselves as founders vs entrepreneurs. The difference was bigger than I expected.
  7. I found helpful and meaningful results when searching for information about people interested in sketchnotes. Spoiler: they mostly seem to be teachers and students.

My overall finding is that SparkToro is a well designed and well built tool. Even if I was testing the pre-launch version, I didn’t encounter any bugs or anomalies.

There are, however, challenges.

The example about twins shows that context is hard. Google has put on a lot of work to provide the right context in search and made advances.

SparkToro still needs to figure this out.

I also tried to use the tools in Finnish and Swedish. The results where poor. To be fair, that’s what I was told to expect.

Conclusion: the product does what it promises and seems more mature than it is. Contextual ambiguities and major issues with other languages than English should be expected.

Goal setting: a guide to setting meaningful goals & measuring progress

Goal setting is an art of it’s own.

We all set some sort of goals.

Do it right and it helps you make progress and feel great about the progress you’ve made.

Do it wrong and it can make you feel like you’ve made progress when you, in fact, haven’t.

Why do we need goal setting?

We set goals to clarify where we want to go and to define what success looks like.

It might feel clear what ”earn more” or ”lose weight” stand for right now, but in a few months, you won’t feel the same.

You might make a ton of progress, but feel like you’ve made none. The underlying phenomenon is called the Hedonic Treadmill, i.e. our tendency to get used to a new normal very quickly.

By setting goals with absolute measures, we make it easier to see if we are making progress and when we have achieved our original goals.

Goals tend to change as we go along, and that’s ok. But in order to have realistic data on progress, you should know if you’ve reached your earlier goals or not.

Setting goals that work: defined, measurable and time-bound

What’s a good goal?

In my opinion, a good goal is defined, desired outcome. Plain and simple.

A goal is a defined, desired outcome
A goal is a defined, desired outcome

If we want to make the goal more actionable, it also needs to be time-bound.


Because you would have to do different things in order to earn $1M in one year vs earning $1M in 10 years.

A goal is measurable and time-bound
A goal is measurable and time-bound

Which brings me to the thing separates goals from dreams. That’s a plan how to achieve said goals.

Without an action plan a goal is just a dream
Without an action plan a goal is just a dream

There are many different frameworks that help with setting goals. The two I’d recommend as further reading are:

  • SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)
  • OKRs (Objectives and Key Results, a goal-setting system used by the likes of Intel and Google)

(Note: I’ve used action and activity interchangeably in this post and the accompanying images.)

The difference between goals and todos

A goal is a desired outcome and an action plan is a collection of activities we believe will give us the desired outcome.

It’s important to note that plans are based on beliefs of what might or might not help you reach a desired outcome. Most meaningful goals require that you figure out what works, even if there are blueprints available to guide the way.

Let’s say you set as your goal to bench press your own bodyweight by the end of the year. Then this is your desired outcome.

In order to reach your desired outcome, you need to make a plan.

An action plan makes goals attainable
An action plan makes goals attainable

The plan is based on which actions you think you will need to do in order to reach your goal.

This might mean bench pressing exercises 2x per week together with some isolation exercises to fix weaknesses holding you back.

At this stage, you can’t tell whether your actions will lead to the desired outcome. They might. Or they might not.

You will need to start implementing your plan and measure progress. When you see progress over a longer term, you can adjust your plan accordingly.

Which brings us to the next subject: what to measure and how.

Measuring progress towards the goal you set

In an ideal world, progress would happen one small step at a time, just like we plotted in our plan.

Ideally, one would make linear and steady progress towards a goal
Ideally, one would make linear and steady progress towards a goal

Too bad reality doesn’t work this way.

Instead, we’ll make some progress, stall, make some more progress, stall, regress, stall, make some progress and so on.

In reality progress towards a goal is messy and inconsistent
In reality progress towards a goal is messy and inconsistent

This has implications for what to measure and how to measure it.

Actions can be performed neatly according to the plan. It’s within your power to do so. This means that it makes sense to track progress on our actions day-to-day.

Deviations should be acted upon immediately, or we risk the desired outcome. Why? Because we believe we need to take all the actions in our action plan to reach the desired outcome, i.e. the goal.

Let’s say you insist on measuring progress towards your desired outcome day-by-day instead.

Take a look at the graph showing how progress usually looks like. If there was no progress today, should you change your plan? Probably not. What if there was no progress during the entire month, should you change your plan then? Yes, you probably should.

You should measure actions consistently, but progress towards your goal more seldom
You should measure actions consistently, but progress towards your goal more seldom

Hence, you should only care about outcome measures on a cadence you feel comfortable changing your action plan on.

Would you change a 1-year plan daily? No.

Weekly? Probably not.

Monthly? Definitely.

You get the point.

You can only manage actions, not outcomes

A common mistake managers do is to try to manage an outcome instead of managing actions.

A sales director can see her sales decreasing and push her sales team to sell more. But that’s useless.

Instead she needs to figure out which actions need to be changed and how. She can look at the sales funnel and see her people are meeting too few new prospects. With that data in hand, she can require her sales reps to meet a minimum number of new prospects each month.

After those changes are made, the sales director will see if they had the desired effect or not.

You can only manage actions, not outcomes
You can only manage actions, not outcomes

Since most goals require complex actions, it makes much more sense to manage the actions than to manage the outcome.

Actions are easy to understand and implement. The changes in actions let you learn how they effect the desired outcome in your unique situation. Hence, actions are a better way to manage.


A good goal:

  • Is desirable
  • Is well defined
  • Is time-bound
  • Comes coupled with an action plan

When working on the goal you should:

  • Remember that your action plan is just a best guess of what might or might not lead to the desired outcome
  • Focus on measuring progress by comparing what you’ve done to what you planned to do day-to-day
  • Measure progress towards the goal only as often as you feel comfortable changing your plan
  • Remember progress isn’t neat and linear, but messy and incremental
  • Remember you can only manage actions, not outcomes
Goal setting summary
Sketchnote summarizing the main points from this blog post

The Copy Machine Experiment gives advice for getting your requests granted

We all ask for favors. We all make requests. Some are big and significant, some are small and mundane.

Nevertheless, we hope these favors and requests are granted.

If you’re in sales or marketing, your livelihood depends on getting a ’yes’. So pay attention.

In order to maximize our chances, we should take advice from social scientists about how to get our requests granted.

The Copy Machine Experiment

Sketchnote summary of the 1977 Copy Machine experiment by Ellen Langer et al.
Sketchnote summary of the Copy Machine Experiment and most interesting results.

In 1977, Ellen Langer, Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz arranged for an experiment at the Graduate Center City University of New York.

They wanted to study how people respond to requests.

In the experiment, the experimenter asked to cut in line at a copy machine.

(Note: this was a loooong time ago, so people studied in libraries and made paper copies of things they wanted to keep.)

The experimenter had three kinds of requests:

  1. Just ask to cut in line with no specific reason.
  2. Ask to cut in line and give a non-reason, like ”because I need to make copies”.
  3. Ask to cut in line and give a valid reason, like ”because I’m in a hurry and I need to make copies”.

The had some other variables to test as well:

  • Small request vs big request. This was measured in amount of pages to copy. They tested with 5 pages and 20 pages and classified requests as big if the experimenter had more pages than the subject and small if the experimenter had less pages to copy.
  • Man vs woman. They had two different experimenters make the requests.

Results from the experiment

The results where surprising.

  • 60% of the subjects given no reason said yes.
  • 93% of the subjects given a non-reason said yes.
  • 94% of the subjects given a valid reason said yes.

These are staggering numbers! Almost equally many granted the experimenters request given any reason, valid or not.

This means we should always couple our asks with a reason for why we’re asking. The reason can be almost anything.

Important caveat

But… There’s a big but.

This part of the results is often neglected when the experiment is presented.

This result is only valid for small requests. When we look at the numbers for big requests, the results change significantly.

  • 24% of the subjects given no reason said yes.
  • 24% of the subjects given a non-reason said yes.
  • 42% of the subjects given a valid reason said yes.

The conclusion is that for larger requests reasons still work, but the reasons need to be valid.

It’s also worthwhile noting that the female experimenter got more requests granted than the male experimenter.

References and links

References: the paper published, the full text.

SEO4LIFE sketchnotes

I attended the SEO4LIFE live stream today and made some sketchnotes.

I had to step out for an hour, so not all the talks are sketched, but the ones that were, are available for your enjoyment below.

You can also download a pdf including all the notes.

Aleyda Solis

Aleyda Solis on migrations

Hamlet Batista

Purna Virji

Kevin Indig

Kevin Indig on search engine to answer engine

Cindy Krum

Cindy Krum on fraggles

Jono Alderson

While the other sketches are quite traditional notes, during Jono’s presentation, I did a lot of reflections while he talked. So this note is a mix of Jono’s presentation and my reflections on what he was talking about.

Jono Alderson on changes in Googles approach

Examples of business’s recession pivots

There has been a huge change in customer behavior in just a few weeks. It would have been impossible to prepare for a shock like this, but it’s possible to adapt to the changed customer demand.

Screenshot from Google Trends comparing the search terms ”restaurant” in blue and ”delivery” in red. Results are for the UK. Screeshotted on April 1st, 2020.

Quite a few business’s are, indeed, changing their business models to better fit the current climate.

Here are some examples for ideas and inspiration.

Zalando becomes a marketplace for small shops

Zalando has announced that they will open up access for smaller shops to sell on their platform.

With the Connected Retail program, physical retailers can connect with the Zalando platform and sell their products directly to our online customers

Carsten Keller, VP Direct to Consumer

It’s clear this isn’t just to help smaller shops or to adapt to the changing marketplace, but following in the footsteps of Amazon and claim more ownership over end customers while providing broader inventory for shoppers.

For small business’s this might still help bridge the gap from pre- to post-corona times.

Zalando press photo

Finnish taxis doing grocery runs

Helsinki based Taxi Helsinki launched a new service where their drivers can do your grocery shopping or go to the pharmacy for you.

The service isn’t exactly cheap, but it will help you stay home if you don’t want to go out.

It will probably also contribute some new revenue to a company which I’d guess is losing revenue right now given people are encouraged to stay at home.

McDonald’s is borrowing employees to Aldi in Germany

In Germany, fast-food chain McDonald’s and grocery store giant Aldi have made a deal that enables Aldi to use McDonald’s work force to help with their surge in demand.

This is a win-win since it also helps McDonald’s keep their employees and the employees keep their pay checks.

Employees are re-deployed between the companies depending on demand.

Restaurants convert from dine-in to take-out

Most restaurants that are still operational today have converted from dine-in to take-out.

Suburban restaurant Keittiö & Baari Kulma have changed their opening hours from 4pm onwards to 11am to 7pm and are selling only take-away.

The entrepreneurs state that with a shift to home office and home school, there has been a surge in demand for lunch, even if the suburb used to see the demand come during after-work hours.

Helsinki based Michelin star restaurant Ora have changed their concept from fine dining to sushi.

Other restaurants have found a new delivery channel in grocery stores. One grocery store in Töölö sells foods from several restaurants including grubs from renowned chef and restauranteur Henri Alen.

Screenshot from Facebook post where the grocery store announce their upcoming menu for the week.

How to sell in a recession: 10 tips from experts

Amidst the coronavirus turmoil, it seems inevitable that we’re about to enter a global recession. Stocks have already taken a huge hit, but the real economy is just starting to see the effects.

This means now is a perfect time to start reading up on how to sell in a recession.

How to sell in a recession in retail

During the financial crisis, management consultants Ken Favro, Tim Romberger and David Meer published a piece in the Harvard Business Review about selling in a downmarket.

They use Starbucks as an example of companies hit hard, which feels a bit off in retrospect, given what a massive success it became in the following decade.

This choice of case strengthens two key points to remember:

  1. Starbucks did many things right during the financial crisis
  2. There are opportunities to dramatically improve your business during a downturn

Let’s explore what learnings the management consultants derived from Starbucks and other retail companies they studied.

1. Go where there is market to gain and avoid excessive action

First and foremost, rushing to action has a low likelihood for success. Managers typically feel the need for broad and immediate action, but focus yields better results.

Retailers should focus on where they can grow market share, which the authors call headroom.

We define “headroom” as market share you don’t have minus market share you won’t get.

Favro, Romberger and Meer

For retail, the headroom often lies with non-loyal customers.

When times are good, loyal customers are often the most profitable and the easiest to grow. But when spending goes down across the board, it goes down also with loyal customers.

Non-loyal customers, on the other hand, are spending only part of their money at any given retailer. So even if their spending goes down, you can grow by capturing a larger part of their total spend.

2. Understand what the non-loyalists want and give it to them

Gradual optimisation will not help you capture growth from the non-loyal customers. They are not loyal for a reason and you need to understand what the reason is.

The authors give the following example about Starbucks.

Many coffee drinkers want a self-serve food experience much like that offered by such outlets as Pret A Manger. Coffee connoisseurs want the espressos, cappuccinos, and experience that can be found in Italy’s best coffee bars. And many just want their original Starbucks back—the socially responsible “third place” between the office and home.

Favro, Romberger and Meer

The gap between what the switchers want and what you offer can also be found in product categories, such as in the example below.

However, this retailer’s headroom in apparel was disproportionate to the sales it was realizing. Even its most frequent shoppers were going elsewhere to purchase their clothing.

Favro, Romberger and Meer

These gaps are, of course, difficult to capture in data, since data mainly shows you what has and hasn’t worked historically.

You need to combine historical data with inputs on possible growth segments (i.e. headroom) in order to identify which categories could serve those segments.

3. Take out bad costs

Every business has both good costs and bad costs.

Good costs are the ones which drive things customers are willing to pay for. Depending on your business, this might be convenience, speed or assortment.

Bad costs don’t add anything to the business that customers are willing to pay for. Every business has bad costs. During a recession, these need to go.

Another example by the authors on Starbucks below.

Starbucks’s bad costs might involve too much seating in stores used primarily by take-out customers, or unnecessarily extended hours in certain local markets, or too much inventory and space dedicated to accessories (those coffeepots, movies, and whatnot) that few customers purchase.

Favro, Romberger and Meer

The need to cut bad costs isn’t specific to retail. In my experience, all businesses need to go after bad costs relentlessly. It’s a grateful job, since margins go up and the negative consequences are minimal, usually limited to some individuals getting upset.

During good times, companies just tend to focus much more on growth and much less on cost, so the bad costs keep creeping up, a little bit at a time.

Recessions force most to cut out this fat and improve the health of the business.

4. Cluster stores and not just customers

All retail locations are different, but many of them share traits. By understanding which, and clustering together similar stores, decision making and optimising become easier.

In theory, stores could be clustered just by clustering customers and then comparing customer profiles, but this is often impractical if only for the reason, that many customers don’t fit neatly into given customer profiles.

The store clusters can be used to figure out which type of “headroom” exist for which cluster.

5. Adjust research and KPIs

During a recession, retailer’s research should focus on finding headroom and understanding what these new customers want and how to give it to them.

One supermarket chain we know of, for instance, routinely asks patrons, “Did you find what you need?” at checkout. But when the answer is “no,” the next question clerks ask is, “Did you ask for help in finding it?”

Favro, Romberger and Meer

The same goes for KPIs and performance management. The normal measures won’t help you understanding if you’re nailing headroom and closing the gap.

How to sell in a recession in B2B sales

B2B sales has a very different dynamic than consumer facing retail and hence the toolbox for B2B sales reps and managers will differ significantly from that of retail. Let’s dive into what previous downturns have taught us about this craft.

1. Risk-aversion does up, which means you should focus more

In the wake of the financial crisis, CBS news interviewed sales recruitment and sales training experts to figure out how to win in a downmarket. The key finding evolves around risk.

During bad times, people become more risk-averse. This means potential problems matter more than potential upside. If someone is scared for their livelihood, they will do whatever it takes to avoid bad decisions.

Adjust your story and focus accordingly.

Focus on risk slows down decisions. This means each prospect or lead needs more contact points to close a sale than during good times. In sales, you should focus more time on fewer leads, even if the default tendency would be to hedge bets by working as many leads as possible.

2. Change your attitude

Sales consultant Liz Wendling writes about attitudes.

When the going gets rough, we need to up our game to make it. In sales, the good news is that every sales rep can affect their outcomes, even when circumstances are bad.

In order to do this, you need to focus on your work instead of your circumstances. Up your activities and commit to getting deals.

3. Challenger sales methodology was created to sell in a downturn

The challenger selling method was created when the consultants behind it noticed, that some reps were able to keep hitting their quota while the majority underperformed during a recession.

So they dug into it and identified five different seller profiles:

  1. Hard worker
  2. Lone wolf
  3. Problem solver
  4. Relationship builder
  5. Challenger

The conclusion was that the challenger was the most likely to keep getting results in tough environments.

The challenger model builds on three fundamental parts from an individual sales reps point of view:

  1. Teaching
  2. Taking control
  3. Tailoring

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Teach for differentiation

Key concepts for teaching are insights and reframing. What the challenger seller does, is to teach the customer something about their own business that they didn’t previously know.

One way of doing this is by reframing the customer’s problem or their proposed solution, or how they view their entire business.

Take control

The challenger will have control over the dialogue, push customer to action and resist any requests for discounts, expensive tailoring of the solution or other bad terms and conditions.

Pushing the customer to move is especially powerful in a downward market, since customers are more risk aware than normal.

Tailor for resonance

Tailoring doesn’t mean the solutions you sell need to be tailored. It means the messaging needs to be tailored and the customer needs to feel like they are getting something that’s as good a fit for them as if it was tailored.

In order to increase sense of tailoring, use the same reframing techniques as when teaching.

More information about challenger selling and rolling it out can be found in e.g. this Gartner summary and this Pipedrive summary.

Conclusions about how to sell in a recession

Selling and succeeding in a downward market is possible, but requires different tools and methods compared to selling and succeeding in a normal or growing market.

How to sell in a recession is different.

Because downward markets stir everything around, it can give a good opportunity to reposition your company for growth down the line. Like for Starbucks during the financial crisis.

There’s always business available somewhere, it’s just harder to find now.