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How To Earn High-Authority Links That Drive Rankings



How To Earn High-Authority Links That Drive Rankings

The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

My agency, Fractl, was founded at the dawn of content marketing, when Google launched its war against paid link networks, and SEOs were scrambling to figure out how to earn domain trust signals. At the time, I was heavily invested in viral marketing research, seeking to understand the intricacies of what drove readers to share and, more so, how to pitch journalists to earn media.

Our case studies grew rapidly as we built Fractl’s research-backed Digital PR processes, and we quickly earned a reputation as “The Michael Jordan of Link Building,” as claimed by our client, who just renewed an annual quarter-million investment in our services. Yet, the industry hums with debate on this recent Ahrefs post along with the quote: “I think SEOs may overvalue links from media sites. They really don’t seem to have much impact”.

For starters, let’s trust Google’s own search experts:

Screenshot of a tweet by John Mueller noting that digital PR is just as critical as technical SEO

Next, let’s consider several other industry studies and thought leaders:

  • “Obtaining links from more authoritative sites has more value than obtaining a large quantity of links” – Eric Enge

  • “Sites with better quality sites linking to them tend to be higher in rankings” – HubSpot

  • “One good link from a big news site can be more impactful than millions of low-quality links” – John Mueller

Clearly, we’re already building a solid case for how a diverse, authoritative backlink portfolio could help a brand drive its site authority, trust, and organic search rankings. But how can you consistently earn media coverage and avoid spammy link networks?

Ten years ago, I presented viral marketing case studies at MozCon, and while I agree viral marketing isn’t as easy as it used to be in a more saturated industry, I disagree that this kind of ‘earned media’ isn’t valuable to SEO. In my clients’ experience, if “Content is King” then “Digital PR is Queen,” and when executed perfectly, KPIs across SEO, Digital PR, Social, and Sales will all soar.

Fractl's SEO case study results for Paychex

How to earn high-authority links that drive rankings

When I first built Fractl’s Digital PR team, I created a resource for tracking all the publisher feedback we received, which we still utilize today to continuously analyze and refine our processes for earned media. I also spent hundreds of hours interviewing editors and conducting digital PR research to learn: How can we be more effective at creating newsworthy content that breaks through the noise of your inbox?

As content marketing and digital PR go mainstream and more amateurs enter the market, the findings from my research are more important than ever for establishing our industry’s value to publishers versus eroding it with low-quality research and spammed pitches. Here are the four most important lessons I’ve learned over the last decade that will help you execute newsworthy research that publishers love to link to.

Fractl's Digital PR campaigns have been featured in hundreds of high-authority news outlets

1. Your success relies on your ability to educate your client on how to create truly newsworthy research

When it comes to content marketing and digital PR, the most successful teams walk a thin line between creating newsworthy content that writers actually love to cover versus a campaign that will be perceived as sponsored content that will be routed to advertorial for a $100k budget and a minimized link value.

If you want to earn high-authority links, you need to focus on creating content that publishers will perceive as newsworthy: research that is relevant to their readership or the mass consumer, is emotionally compelling and often surprising, is generally tangentially related to your industry and product vs. advertorial, and is educational, or better yet, actionable.

If you’re producing truly newsworthy research, then your pitches will routinely elicit positive responses from writers similar to the ones we receive each week:

Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns
Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns
Publisher feedback on Fractl's Content Marketing campaigns

For example, imagine you’re a HR management tool, Paychex. You have a traditional PR team that’s pushing your product releases and providing executive interviews to select writers who cover brands in that fashion, so your goal in digital PR is to reach new and engaged readers. What topics are tangentially relevant to your brand that the broader consumer would care about, that you could provide research on, and which high-authority publishers would value?

Content marketing campaigns can take many forms and generally comes down to your budget and talent across data journalism, design, editorial, and PR. Over the last eight years, some of our most link-worthy Paychex research has explored:

  • Analyzing the rise of polywork

  • Job search red flags

  • Employer transparency

  • Remote HR issues

  • Mental health at work

  • Employee discrimination

  • Team morale before & after COVID-19

  • Taking flex-schedules into the future

  • Remote employee benefits

  • Build a retirement fund

  • Retirees rejoining the workforce

  • The onboarding crisis

Our campaign Employee Regret After the Great Resignation is an excellent example of how brands can add value in a breaking news cycle by producing research and providing commentary on trending stories relevant to their niche. This campaign earned hundreds of pickups, with a small sample of high-authority links and brand coverage from:

  1. Business Insider

  2. Fortune

  3. Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

  4. Computer World

  5. HR Morning

  6. Refinery 29

  7. Clever Girl Finance

  8. Fox Business

  9. Harper’s

  10. Huffington Post


  12. Her Money

  13. The Guardian

  14. Yahoo

  15. iHeart Radio

Ultimately, you should always vet your ideas by asking, “Is this something interesting that I would read, or that I could see myself sharing with a friend?” After all, the best content marketing case studies are legitimately “cool pieces of content.”

John Mueller comments on a cool list of Digital PR campaigns

2. Level up your research by adding actionable quotes from clients or industry experts

Once you understand the foundational principles for creating newsworthy research for your brand, the next most valuable thing you can do is to make it actionable. The #1 piece of feedback we’ve received across all of our campaigns has been: “Can I interview your client to go along with my story?”

While research can be interesting and valuable, it often lacks the “actionable” hook that writers know their audience needs. To solve this, writers may send a short Q&A for our client based on the broader theme or takeaways from our research, or they’ll request to hop on a quick call with our data journalists to answer more open-ended questions to expand on our methodology and findings. Here are some examples of requests we’ve received from writers when pitching our campaigns:

“I actually would love to learn more about this. Is someone available to speak with me this week or next?” – CNN

“After speaking with my editor I can confirm interest in moving forward with a story about the four-day work-week, and whether or not it is an inevitability, based on this data. If possible I’m hoping to connect with a spokesperson at some point next week.” – Fast Company

“I am interested in covering this study. I would typically ask some HR analysts at research firms for their input, but I’m certainly interested in what Paychex has to say on the issues of better onboarding processes. That would certainly add color to any article.” – Computer World

Generally, it’s most effective for your digital PR team to field the writer’s Q&A directly since clients are often tied up with their own objectives, and writers expect a near real-time response to secure coverage. In these instances, we typically only comment on our research versus speaking to a broader theme on behalf of our client.

Ideally, instead of being reactive to these requests, you’d solicit a dedicated client PR stakeholder during onboarding and make it clear you need them to commit to a same-day response on high-authority publisher interview requests that are more brand-specific. You would then elicit quotes from this stakeholder during the final draft review stage of any campaign, so your PR team can proactively weave these valuable assets into their pitch.

These interview opportunities can be very exciting to client executives who are eager to build their individual authority and thought leadership in their industry. For example:

Client Coverage on CNET:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on CNET

Client Coverage on Kiplinger:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on Kliplinger

Client Coverage on USA Today:

Fractl's Digital PR team leveraging client quotes to earn coverage on USA Today

Interview opportunities go a long way in helping your brand provide value to each publisher’s specific audience, so always evaluate how to go the extra mile to deliver actionable advice along with your pitch. In certain circumstances, you might even need to contact external sources, such as nonprofit organizations, who can provide knowledgeable and unbiased opinions in cases where your client isn’t the expert. A great example of this is a female trucker research we produced for a surety bond client, where nearly every editor requested an interview with an actual female trucker. A quick Google search led me to the ‘Women in Trucking’ association, whose board members were more than happy to lend their expertise along with our research:

How to utilize nonprofit associations to add expert commentary and authority to a client's Digital PR campaign

This on-the-fly partnership helped us land over 170 pickups for our client on both mainstream news sites and niche-relevant publishers:

Clearly, the source can come in many forms, but the quotes can be necessary for your success. When in doubt, I always encourage our PR team to include this CTA in the closing paragraph of our pitch: “I’d be happy to offer you an exclusive interview with the CEO, expanding on this research and its implications, if you’re interested”?

3. Always pitch an ‘exclusive’ and preferably password-protect your landing page

While tech publishers are more accustomed to an embargo period on emerging products from Fortune 500 brands, most digital PR teams have the opportunity to provide value in an entirely different way: the ‘exclusive’.

Publisher compliments Fractl's Content Marketing campaign

I’ve done a lot of testing over the last decade leading Fractl’s digital PR department, and I’ve consistently found that an exclusive, password-protected landing page generally yields the strongest interest from the most authoritative writers. A password strategy ensures publishers perceive your research as ‘breaking news’, which they have ‘the exclusive’ first rights to release. This can be tantalizing in the editorial world, where pay is often correlated to pageviews and engagement, and breaking news can represent the lion’s share of a site’s engagement.

Whereas an embargo sets an industry-wide deadline for writers to adhere to, an exclusive allows the writer to be the architect of a unique breaking story that doesn’t have to be crammed into their editorial calendar based on an external deadline. It’s also generally more engaging to write a unique story instead of racing a dozen other editors to write the punchiest headline on the same embargoed facts.

One journalist tweets about his disdain for PR embargoes.

Lastly, an exclusive makes a writer feel special since you’ve hand-selected that person instead of using a poorly targeted mass blast approach, which is far too prevalent in the PR industry. In fact, the ‘spray and pray’ tactic will often leave you in an agency-wide ban folder if you’re targeting isn’t on point. I’ve heard about this very real danger in writer interviews I’ve conducted, and Michael Smart attests to this same jaw-dropper in his recent PR newsletter:

Screenshot showing Michael Smart's opinion on off-topic pitches.

In the dawn of artificial intelligence (AI), your time spent investing in meaningful relationships with relevant writers in your industry will be critical to your success.

4. Investing in relationship building by personalizing your pitch vs the ‘spray and pray’ approach

With newsjacking or reactive PR, it’s essential to quickly scale your pitching efforts to provide value in a rapidly evolving breaking news cycle. However, when you’re pitching more evergreen research or working in-house or for a select number of clients, it’s far more important to build a meaningful relationship with a writer by taking a moment to connect with them on a personal level.

These are the primary data points I seek out when first attempting to personalize my pitch:

  • What does their author bio say about their personal interests?

  • Where do they live?

  • Where did they go to school?

  • Do they have any kids or pets?

  • Have they celebrated any major milestones recently?

  • What topics matter to them based on what they post and engage with on social media?

  • What is their tone like in their writing, and how can I match that in my pitch?

While a few people may gasp at this in-depth personal research, stating, ‘I don’t want to be perceived as a stalker,’ I have hundreds of receipts where writers praise our team for taking the time to personalize a pitch:

High-authority publishers compliment Fractl's Digital PR campaigns

I often find that if a writer is ‘putting it out there’ they generally appreciate you taking the time to research those facts and connect with them personally on it when relevant. Need inspiration for how to personalize your pitch? Check out some of the writer responses from our personalized subject lines and intros:

Writer Responses to Fractl Pitches:

  • I appreciate you checking out my Twitter.

  • LOL hair trauma! So much of it!

  • I am a huge sucker for dog photos.

  • It’s a pleasure to (virtually!) meet another habitual cleaner!

  • Hahaha, love it! 80s songs are the best!

  • Ah yes, truly addicted to Love Island. So here for the drama!

  • So glad you noticed the skyline and got a little hit of nostalgia!

  • Always happy to meet another Ravenclaw meets Slytherin!

  • Always good to know there are other eyeliner-loving, cheese-eating gals out there!

  • Glad I’m not the only dessert fan. 😉

  • Nice, I’m headed back to Michigan for the first time since leaving.

  • Thank you. You sound like a great mom!

  • I’m sure you can do a marathon, too! It’s all about prepping for it!

  • I’m always glad to hear from another skee ball fan!

  • I strongly agree, it took me a while to not regret my college choices!

  • Thanks for your kind words… I was born with a ton of energy!

  • I appreciate your affinity for Baby Yoda.

  • I, too, am pretty big on Scotch.

  • *laughs* Naturally, one can only do so much sassmouthin’.

By differentiating your pitch with personal connections for that individual writer, you’re also quickly demonstrating that you likely did in-depth research to ensure you’re pitching something relevant to this writer that they would value and avoiding journalist pet peeves.

Fractl's Digital PR research on the top 10 worst pitching offenses, ranked

In practice, a well-personalized pitch can look like this:

An example Digital PR pitch Fractl sent to earn client coverage on a content marketing campaign

And the Huffington Post writer’s response says it all:

Writer response to Fractl's Digital PR pitch

The KPIs of digital PR and earned media

When executed exceptionally well, this style of PR research can consistently earn high-authority links that drive trust signals and organic search rankings, which can offer a higher ROI and more long-term value than paid channels that require the faucet to constantly be ‘on’ to deliver value. Beyond SEO metrics, this strategy also creates a platform for industry thought leadership, exposes new customers to your product, drives consumer engagement, and produces content that can be repurposed to provide cross-channel value across your social media marketing (SMM), pay-per-click (PPC), and email marketing strategies and throughout your buyer’s journey.

Any SEO professional that’s not a snake oil salesman will tell you that link-building alone is not a silver bullet for organic search rankings. The most effective content marketing and digital PR teams deliver a comprehensive organic search strategy, where they’re focusing on both on-page and off-page strategies to drive organic search growth:

Content Marketing and Digital PR Buyers Journey

While the increasing lack of attribution for organic search will forever be a struggle, these are the KPIs our clients use to evaluate our work, which we solicit at the start of each engagement so we can report on the KPIs that matter to each of our clients:

  1. Imagine we are at the end of our statement of work (SOW) together. What does success look like to you?
    1. “As many do-follow backlinks from top tier domains as we can get, resulting in an overall increase in website keyword rankings and traffic growth.”

    2. “High quality/quantity links, great content/studies, and rankings.”

    3. “Acquiring high authority links at a velocity that will allow us to reverse the organic traffic trend we’re currently seeing and get closer to early 2021 levels.”

    4. “A high number of top authority placements across all of our campaigns. We want to be able to show notable growth in our backlink portfolio.”

    5. “Minimum success threshold is 100 linking domains across the five campaigns, comprising a mix of authority and follow/nofollow. Strong success is 200+ linking domains and meaningful referral traffic from those links.”

Most of our clients are founders, SEO directors, marketing directors, or PR managers who are aligned on these same goals, now more than I’ve seen in the last ten years of running Fractl. What’s enabled us to remain a clutch industry leader as competition heats up? Our ability to consistently produce content and PR strategies that drive organic search and the bottom line:

Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [HR Vertical]
Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Home Vertical]
Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Security Vertical]

Fractl Content Marketing Case Study [Health Vertical]

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Comparing Credibility of Custom Chatbots & Live Chat



Building Customer Trust: Comparing Credibility of Custom Chatbots & Live Chat

Addressing customer issues quickly is not merely a strategy to distinguish your brand; it’s an imperative for survival in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace.

Customer frustration can lead to customer churn. That’s precisely why organizations employ various support methods to ensure clients receive timely and adequate assistance whenever they require it.

Nevertheless, selecting the most suitable support channel isn’t always straightforward. Support teams often grapple with the choice between live chat and chatbots.

The automation landscape has transformed how businesses engage with customers, elevating chatbots as a widely embraced support solution. As more companies embrace technology to enhance their customer service, the debate over the credibility of chatbots versus live chat support has gained prominence.

However, customizable chatbot continue to offer a broader scope for personalization and creating their own chatbots.

In this article, we will delve into the world of customer support, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of both chatbots and live chat and how they can influence customer trust. By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of which option may be the best fit for your business.

The Rise of Chatbots

Chatbots have become increasingly prevalent in customer support due to their ability to provide instant responses and cost-effective solutions. These automated systems use artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to engage with customers in real-time, making them a valuable resource for businesses looking to streamline their customer service operations.

Advantages of Chatbots

24/7 Availability

One of the most significant advantages of custom chatbots is their round-the-clock availability. They can respond to customer inquiries at any time, ensuring that customers receive support even outside regular business hours.


Custom Chatbots provide consistent responses to frequently asked questions, eliminating the risk of human error or inconsistency in service quality.


Implementing chatbots can reduce operational costs by automating routine inquiries and allowing human agents to focus on more complex issues.


Chatbots can handle multiple customer interactions simultaneously, making them highly scalable as your business grows.

Disadvantages of Chatbots

Limited Understanding

Chatbots may struggle to understand complex or nuanced inquiries, leading to frustration for customers seeking detailed information or support.

Lack of Empathy

Chatbots lack the emotional intelligence and empathy that human agents can provide, making them less suitable for handling sensitive or emotionally charged issues.

Initial Setup Costs

Developing and implementing chatbot technology can be costly, especially for small businesses.

The Role of Live Chat Support

Live chat support, on the other hand, involves real human agents who engage with customers in real-time through text-based conversations. While it may not offer the same level of automation as custom chatbots, live chat support excels in areas where human interaction and empathy are crucial.

Advantages of Live Chat

Human Touch

Live chat support provides a personal touch that chatbots cannot replicate. Human agents can empathize with customers, building a stronger emotional connection.

Complex Issues

For inquiries that require a nuanced understanding or involve complex problem-solving, human agents are better equipped to provide in-depth assistance.

Trust Building

Customers often trust human agents more readily, especially when dealing with sensitive matters or making important decisions.


Human agents can adapt to various customer personalities and communication styles, ensuring a positive experience for diverse customers.

Disadvantages of Live Chat

Limited Availability

Live chat support operates within specified business hours, which may not align with all customer needs, potentially leading to frustration.

Response Time

The speed of response in live chat support can vary depending on agent availability and workload, leading to potential delays in customer assistance.


Maintaining a live chat support team with trained agents can be expensive, especially for smaller businesses strategically.

Building Customer Trust: The Credibility Factor

When it comes to building customer trust, credibility is paramount. Customers want to feel that they are dealing with a reliable and knowledgeable source. Both customziable chatbots and live chat support can contribute to credibility, but their effectiveness varies in different contexts.

Building Trust with Chatbots

Chatbots can build trust in various ways:


Chatbots provide consistent responses, ensuring that customers receive accurate information every time they interact with them.

Quick Responses

Chatbots offer instant responses, which can convey a sense of efficiency and attentiveness.

Data Security

Chatbots can assure customers of their data security through automated privacy policies and compliance statements.

However, custom chatbots may face credibility challenges when dealing with complex issues or highly emotional situations. In such cases, the lack of human empathy and understanding can hinder trust-building efforts.

Building Trust with Live Chat Support

Live chat support, with its human touch, excels at building trust in several ways:


Human agents can show empathy by actively listening to customers’ concerns and providing emotional support.

Tailored Solutions

Live chat agents can tailor solutions to individual customer needs, demonstrating a commitment to solving their problems.


Human agents can adapt to changing customer requirements, ensuring a personalized and satisfying experience.

However, live chat support’s limitations, such as availability and potential response times, can sometimes hinder trust-building efforts, especially when customers require immediate assistance.

Finding the Right Balance

The choice between custom chatbots and live chat support is not always binary. Many businesses find success by integrating both options strategically:

Initial Interaction

Use chatbots for initial inquiries, providing quick responses, and gathering essential information. This frees up human agents to handle more complex cases.

Escalation to Live Chat

Implement a seamless escalation process from custom chatbots to live chat support when customer inquiries require a higher level of expertise or personal interaction.

Continuous Improvement

Regularly analyze customer interactions and feedback to refine your custom chatbot’s responses and improve the overall support experience.


In the quest to build customer trust, both chatbots and live chat support have their roles to play. Customizable Chatbots offer efficiency, consistency, and round-the-clock availability, while live chat support provides the human touch, empathy, and adaptability. The key is to strike the right balance, leveraging the strengths of each to create a credible and trustworthy customer support experience. By understanding the unique advantages and disadvantages of both options, businesses can make informed decisions to enhance customer trust and satisfaction in the digital era.

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The Rise in Retail Media Networks



A shopping cart holding the Amazon logo to represent the rise in retail media network advertising.

As LL Cool J might say, “Don’t call it a comeback. It’s been here for years.”

Paid advertising is alive and growing faster in different forms than any other marketing method.

Magna, a media research firm, and GroupM, a media agency, wrapped the year with their ad industry predictions – expect big growth for digital advertising in 2024, especially with the pending US presidential political season.

But the bigger, more unexpected news comes from the rise in retail media networks – a relative newcomer in the industry.

Watch CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose explain how these trends could affect marketers or keep reading for his thoughts:

GroupM expects digital advertising revenue in 2023 to conclude with a 5.8% or $889 billion increase – excluding political advertising. Magna believes ad revenue will tick up 5.5% this year and jump 7.2% in 2024. GroupM and Zenith say 2024 will see a more modest 4.8% growth.

Robert says that the feeling of an ad slump and other predictions of advertising’s demise in the modern economy don’t seem to be coming to pass, as paid advertising not only survived 2023 but will thrive in 2024.

What’s a retail media network?

On to the bigger news – the rise of retail media networks. Retail media networks, the smallest segment in these agencies’ and research firms’ evaluation, will be one of the fastest-growing and truly important digital advertising formats in 2024.

GroupM suggests the $119 billion expected to be spent in the networks this year and should grow by a whopping 8.3% in the coming year.  Magna estimates $124 billion in ad revenue from retail media networks this year.

“Think about this for a moment. Retail media is now almost a quarter of the total spent on search advertising outside of China,” Robert points out.

You’re not alone if you aren’t familiar with retail media networks. A familiar vernacular in the B2C world, especially the consumer-packaged goods industry, retail media networks are an advertising segment you should now pay attention to.

Retail media networks are advertising platforms within the retailer’s network. It’s search advertising on retailers’ online stores. So, for example, if you spend money to advertise against product keywords on Amazon, Walmart, or Instacart, you use a retail media network.

But these ad-buying networks also exist on other digital media properties, from mini-sites to videos to content marketing hubs. They also exist on location through interactive kiosks and in-store screens. New formats are rising every day.

Retail media networks make sense. Retailers take advantage of their knowledge of customers, where and why they shop, and present offers and content relevant to their interests. The retailer uses their content as a media company would, knowing their customers trust them to provide valuable information.

Think about these 2 things in 2024

That brings Robert to two things he wants you to consider for 2024 and beyond. The first is a question: Why should you consider retail media networks for your products or services?   

Advertising works because it connects to the idea of a brand. Retail media networks work deep into the buyer’s journey. They use the consumer’s presence in a store (online or brick-and-mortar) to cross-sell merchandise or become the chosen provider.

For example, Robert might advertise his Content Marketing Strategy book on Amazon’s retail network because he knows his customers seek business books. When they search for “content marketing,” his book would appear first.

However, retail media networks also work well because they create a brand halo effect. Robert might buy an ad for his book in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal because he knows their readers view those media outlets as reputable sources of information. He gains some trust by connecting his book to their media properties.

Smart marketing teams will recognize the power of the halo effect and create brand-level experiences on retail media networks. They will do so not because they seek an immediate customer but because they can connect their brand content experience to a trusted media network like Amazon, Nordstrom, eBay, etc.

The second thing Robert wants you to think about relates to the B2B opportunity. More retail media network opportunities for B2B brands are coming.

You can already buy into content syndication networks such as Netline, Business2Community, and others. But given the astronomical growth, for example, of Amazon’s B2B marketplace ($35 billion in 2023), Robert expects a similar trend of retail media networks to emerge on these types of platforms.   

“If I were Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, HubSpot, or any brand with big content platforms, I’d look to monetize them by selling paid sponsorship of content (as advertising or sponsored content) on them,” Robert says.

As you think about creative ways to use your paid advertising spend, consider the retail media networks in 2024.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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AI driving an exponential increase in marketing technology solutions



AI driving an exponential increase in marketing technology solutions

The martech landscape is expanding and AI is the prime driving force. That’s the topline news from the “Martech 2024” report released today. And, while that will get the headline, the report contains much more.

Since the release of the most recent Martech Landscape in May 2023, 2,042 new marketing technology tools have surfaced, bringing the total to 13,080 — an 18.5% increase. Of those, 1,498 (73%) were AI-based. 

Screenshot 2023 12 05 110428 800x553

“But where did it land?” said Frans Riemersma of Martech Tribe during a joint video conference call with Scott Brinker of ChiefMartec and HubSpot. “And the usual suspect, of course, is content. But the truth is you can build an empire with all the genAI that has been surfacing — and by an empire, I mean, of course, a business.”

Content tools accounted for 34% of all the new AI tools, far ahead of video, the second-place category, which had only 4.85%. U.S. companies were responsible for 61% of these tools — not surprising given that most of the generative AI dynamos, like OpenAI, are based here. Next up was the U.K. at 5.7%, but third place was a big surprise: Iceland — with a population of 373,000 — launched 4.6% of all AI martech tools. That’s significantly ahead of fourth place India (3.5%), whose population is 1.4 billion and which has a significant tech industry. 

Dig deeper: 3 ways email marketers should actually use AI

The global development of these tools shows the desire for solutions that natively understand the place they are being used. 

“These regional products in their particular country…they’re fantastic,” said Brinker. “They’re loved, and part of it is because they understand the culture, they’ve got the right thing in the language, the support is in that language.”

Now that we’ve looked at the headline stuff, let’s take a deep dive into the fascinating body of the report.

The report: A deeper dive

Marketing technology “is a study in contradictions,” according to Brinker and Riemersma. 

In the new report they embrace these contradictions, telling readers that, while they support “discipline and fiscal responsibility” in martech management, failure to innovate might mean “missing out on opportunities for competitive advantage.” By all means, edit your stack meticulously to ensure it meets business value use cases — but sure, spend 5-10% of your time playing with “cool” new tools that don’t yet have a use case. That seems like a lot of time.

Similarly, while you mustn’t be “carried away” by new technology hype cycles, you mustn’t ignore them either. You need to make “deliberate choices” in the realm of technological change, but be agile about implementing them. Be excited by martech innovation, in other words, but be sensible about it.

The growing landscape

Consolidation for the martech space is not in sight, Brinker and Riemersma say. Despite many mergers and acquisitions, and a steadily increasing number of bankruptcies and dissolutions, the exponentially increasing launch of new start-ups powers continuing growth.

It should be observed, of course, that this is almost entirely a cloud-based, subscription-based commercial space. To launch a martech start-up doesn’t require manufacturing, storage and distribution capabilities, or necessarily a workforce; it just requires uploading an app to the cloud. That is surely one reason new start-ups appear at such a startling rate. 

Dig deeper: AI ad spending has skyrocketed this year

As the authors admit, “(i)f we measure by revenue and/or install base, the graph of all martech companies is a ‘long tail’ distribution.” What’s more, focus on the 200 or so leading companies in the space and consolidation can certainly be seen.

Long-tail tools are certainly not under-utilized, however. Based on a survey of over 1,000 real-world stacks, the report finds long-tail tools constitute about half of the solutions portfolios — a proportion that has remained fairly consistent since 2017. The authors see long-tail adoption where users perceive feature gaps — or subpar feature performance — in their core solutions.

Composability and aggregation

The other two trends covered in detail in the report are composability and aggregation. In brief, a composable view of a martech stack means seeing it as a collection of features and functions rather than a collection of software products. A composable “architecture” is one where apps, workflows, customer experiences, etc., are developed using features of multiple products to serve a specific use case.

Indeed, some martech vendors are now describing their own offerings as composable, meaning that their proprietary features are designed to be used in tandem with third-party solutions that integrate with them. This is an evolution of the core-suite-plus-app-marketplace framework.

That framework is what Brinker and Riemersma refer to as “vertical aggregation.” “Horizontal aggregation,” they write, is “a newer model” where aggregation of software is seen not around certain business functions (marketing, sales, etc.) but around a layer of the tech stack. An obvious example is the data layer, fed from numerous sources and consumed by a range of applications. They correctly observe that this has been an important trend over the past year.

Build it yourself

Finally, and consistent with Brinker’s long-time advocacy for the citizen developer, the report detects a nascent trend towards teams creating their own software — a trend that will doubtless be accelerated by support from AI.

So far, the apps that are being created internally may be no more than “simple workflows and automations.” But come the day that app development is so democratized that it will be available to a wide range of users, the software will be a “reflection of the way they want their company to operate and the experiences they want to deliver to customers. This will be a powerful dimension for competitive advantage.”

Constantine von Hoffman contributed to this report.

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