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SparkToro Review: Simplifying Audience Intelligence & Diversifying Marketing Investment

David Oltean | May 1, 2020 | Digital Advertising, Digital Marketing

The former CEO of Moz, Rand Fishkin, is back at it again with a new digital marketing analysis platform: SparkToro. Though unlike Moz’s SEO-centric features and tools, SparkToro is centered on market research, audience intelligence and outreach discovery.

Launched on April 22nd, SparkToro analyzes tens of millions of websites, social media profiles and podcasts to provide an instant snapshot of who and what your target audience engages with online. SparkToro is the brainchild of Fishkin and CTO Casey Henry, whose mission is to break up Facebook and Google’s duopoly over digital advertising by identifying other online entities that deserve marketing investment.

While much of SparkToro’s stated purpose is centered on diversifying marketing investment and identifying alternative advertising, partnership and sponsorship opportunities, the tool shines as a market research and influencer discovery platform. For any topic or query, SparkToro offers instant analysis of the social and digital landscape, including prominent social media profiles, websites, podcasts and YouTube channels.

The Climb Marketing team had an opportunity to dive into an early-access version of SparkToro and put the audience intelligence platform to the test. While SparkToro isn’t exactly designed for our agency’s core B2B and lead generation services, we still found a wide range of applications for the platform’s features. Below are some of our major takeaways.

An Overview of SparkToro’s Features

Audience Intelligence

SparkToro’s bread and butter is clearly their Audience Intelligence tool. By entering in a query, website, hashtag or social account related to your target marketing or audience, SparkToro offers a comprehensive overview of prominent websites, social profiles, podcasts and YouTube channels related to your entry. Additionally, SparkToro offers “Audience Insights” that highlight geographic distribution of the results, social network distribution, activity levels and common language and hashtags used by the audience results.

As a former marketer for the brewery supply industry, I put SparkToro to the test with a field that I’m familiar with. The video below shows the results of searching for “brewery equipment” within the Audience Intelligence tool:

Sure enough, SparkToro found quite a few industry organizations and publications that I had previously engaged with for advertising and sponsorship opportunities. While the list of Social sources was somewhat inundated by breweries with strong social media presences, it still offers a summary of major influencers within the industry. The Podcasts section was also particularly enlightening – this information tends to be harder to come by without diving deep into searches on podcast networks.

Compare Audience

The Compare Audience tool takes data from the Audience Intelligence tool and pairs it against another query or or brand’s website or profile. For example, let’s say you were an equipment supplier that worked with both breweries and wineries.

The Compare Audience tool analyzes similarities between the two queries using metrics like Behavior Similarity, Audience Size and Audience Confidence, and offers exportable CSVs for overlapping social accounts, websites, podcasts, geographies, hashtags and language used by both audiences.

It’s a helpful addition to expand targeting beyond a single topic, though this tool occasionally gives precedence to major publications and news outlets that may not be closely related to both topics entered. However, Compare Audience still offers a quick and powerful way to find overlapping audiences and behaviors between multiple subjects, even if it takes a bit of manual digging to find the juiciest results.

Profile Search

SparkToro’s Profile Search feature offers a more targeted view of an individual website or social profile. This section offers an overview of social media following and activity, related websites and profiles, relevant language used online and geographic distribution of followers.

Example of SparkToro Profile Search for the Brewers Association

The Profile Search tool is probably best suited for analyzing websites or social profiles with follower counts over 10,000 at least. We couldn’t always get consistent results within SparkToro’s index for Profile Search, and this was quite common with any profiles with a few thousand followers or less. The tool occasionally fails to link websites to various social media profiles or vice versa and also seems to struggle a bit with brands that have different handles across the various social media channels.

Lists

All of the various tools allow you to quickly feed individual sources into a “Lists” tab so you can view all of your outreach, advertising or partnership targets in one place. This section is designed for managing various projects or clients, and SparkToro offers a seemingly endless allowance for Lists. This section is particularly helpful for running multiple queries within the other tools and compiling a broad list of outreach opportunities.

SparkToro List Example

 

The Pros

Initial Research and Market Discovery

For any marketing agency, the immediate industry familiarity and understanding SparkToro can offer is a great way to hit the ground running with a new client. If you’re hoping to impress a potential client with industry insights or looking to drive results right away, SparkToro offers a very quick and effective way to get a lay of the land. SparkToro excels at discovering influencers and trade publications, analyzing top competitors and providing overviews of a new field or industry.

Advertisements and Sponsorships

SparkToro is true to its mission statement of helping marketers break outside the mold of relying on Google and Facebook for the bulk of their digital advertising budget. While it can take a bit of digging through results, the tool is very valuable for highlighting industry publications, trade magazines and relevant organizations with advertising or sponsorship offerings. It’s also not so often you see marketing tools concentrate on Podcasts, so that component of SparkToro offers a unique opportunity for expanding brand reach.

Outreach Opportunities

SparkToro also shines as a platform for discovering outreach opportunities and could be a valuable tool for advertisers, SEOs, PR firms and business development professionals alike. There are a wide range of outreach and targeting applications for SparkToro’s core Audience Intelligence tool. 

For SEOs and Public Relations professionals, the List function makes it easy to compile potential websites to pitch for content partnerships or backlink opportunities. Using the same tactic, sales and business development professionals could compile lists of potential sales prospects.

Social Media Marketing

SparkToro is tremendously helpful for getting an instant overview of the social media landscape within a market. Whether you’re exploring accounts to follow and target for a new social media profile or just trying to familiarize yourself with influential publications, organizations and individuals for a new client engagement, SparkToro offers an instant snapshot of the social sphere around the submitted query. 

This type of initial research is often done manually by sifting through hashtags, searches or related profile recommendations, though this approach can be incredibly time-consuming and haphazard compared to relying on a database like SparkToro’s.

YouTube and Podcast Analysis

Not many marketing platforms take deep dives into analyzing YouTube channels and podcasts. By measuring audience and channel data for relevant podcasts and YouTube accounts, SparkToro offers a unique vantage point for video and audio ad targeting.

We found immediate value in the YouTube reports by identifying relevant channels to target for our clients’ pre-roll advertising campaigns. For agencies or marketers that routinely use audio advertisements, the podcast reports offer instant ideas for placements.

The Cons

Local Limitations

SparkToro may not be as suitable for hyper-local campaigns where marketers are seeking nearby opportunities for sponsorships, partnerships or advertising arrangements. Using the “is located in” feature in the Audience Intelligence tool to set a geographical modifier doesn’t currently offer the granularity to seek out influencers within a specific city, county or even some regions. For Michigan, there are seemingly only three options, one of which is a statewide filter. The other two filters, “Greater Detroit Area” and “Greater Grand Rapids Area,” leave most of the state and the entire Upper Peninsula out of the picture.

The location filter also doesn’t substantially alter the resulting sources – many national entities are still prominent and most local sources were almost newspapers and press outlets which had no affiliation with the query we entered. As an example, we conducted a search for “SEO” using the “Greater Detroit Area” location filter. The “Social” sources tab was the only area where we could find any legitimate local influencers, but they were badly overshadowed by national entities and local news outlets.

While the location filters do offer some visibility into prominent local entities and influencers, it takes a deeper dive to cut through the national noise and all-purpose publications. Local outreach opportunities could be a key component of SparkToro’s mission of breaking up the dependence on major digital advertising platforms, so hopefully the location-based data, options and algorithms are upgraded as the platform matures. 

No Measures of Topic Relevance

One of the biggest challenges with SparkToro is that results are flooded by news outlets and publications with large social followings, no matter how relevant they may be to the topic entered. The platform tends to give precedence to any profile or website with substantial reach, and that’s often at the expense of highlighting highly relevant sources and influencers.

This problem is especially visible for location-based queries entered into the Audience Intelligence tool or for overlapping sources within the Compare Intelligence feature. SparkToro relies on a “Percent of Audience” measurement for ranking sources, which gauges the percentage of sources that interact with that website or social property. 

It may be helpful in many instances to have a measurement of the percentage of relevant sources compared to the profile’s total following. Just because most digital marketers in Michigan follow the Detroit Free Press doesn’t mean it has substantial relevance to “digital marketing.”

Inconsistency with “Profile Search”

We struggled to get consistent, accurate results with SparkToro’s “Profile Search” feature and it often returned “not enough data” messages for any brands with less than 5-digit follower counts. In its current state, it’s seemingly unreliable for many deeper niches and granular topics, and on top of that, it often misidentified profiles or returned incomplete data – even for incredibly popular profiles.

Take the National Hockey League for example, which uses standardized @NHL profile tags for all social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. SparkToro misidentifies its Facebook page as @nhlstorenyc despite the fact the official @NHL page has nearly 5 million followers. It also estimates the incredibly active profiles have an average of zero posts per week and per month.

Example of Profile Search bugs

It gets even messier and more incomplete for profiles with smaller audiences. For our agency, which operates predominantly in B2B fields, the vast majority of our clients’ websites and social profiles were returned without any results. When we did get results, the platform could seldom identify all social profiles despite using the same handle, and it often failed to tie websites to social profiles and vice versa.

So the Profile Search tool needs quite a bit of love in our opinion, but it doesn’t exactly operate around SparkToro’s core mission anyhow. It’s a nice bonus as a competitive analysis or audience exploration tool, but it needs some serious bug correction and database expansion before it’s reliable enough to depend on.

Our Team’s Takeaway on SparkToro

SparkToro’s core Audience Intelligence feature is an incredibly insightful, convenient tool that could offer value to any marketer trying to get a read on the industry landscape for a new client or company. While some of the secondary features could use some refinement, the Audience Intelligence tool offers a unique, comprehensive method for conducting market research and discovering advertising and partnership opportunities. 

The company’s mission of diversifying digital advertising is commendable too. It’s nice to see a software platform support independent advertising networks, brands and podcasts in a world where most SaaS marketing platforms are solely focused on Google and major social media networks.

Looking at the price of SparkToro, Basic plans start at $112 per month for an annual subscription, though this pricing tier is limited to 100 searches per month and only 50 results per search. Based on some of the mixed results we saw with sources and the fact that many searches found well over 1,000 sources, agencies would probably be better suited to opt in for the Premium pricing tier at $225 per month.

With the price of SparkToro in consideration, the platform is probably best suited for the following audiences:

  • Social media marketing agencies
  • Advertising agencies that focus on display or print advertising
  • Marketing agencies with a large number of clients or a quick churn rate
  • Public relations firms
  • SEO agencies focused on link-building
  • Business development or sales professionals seeking sales prospects or looking to quickly familiarize themselves with a new industry or field

SparkToro is probably not as cost-effective for the following groups:

  • Individual marketing practitioners or bloggers
  • Agencies focused on local campaigns
  • In-house marketing professionals, especially those familiar with their industry

All in all, SparkToro offers a very unique perspective on market research and audience intelligence. While the early-access version may not be perfect, we’d expect to see the platform refined and the index expanded over time. As digital marketers, we empathize with the company’s mission to expand marketing investment beyond the major search and social platforms that currently dominate the digital landscape. 

We’re looking forward to seeing SparkToro grow, and knowing Rand Fishkin, they’ll offer a treasure trove of free content and marketing insights along the way. You can check out Sparktoro for yourself here.

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