Masters of SaaS

What many companies get wrong about SEO – with Tim Soulo @ Ahrefs

August 17, 2020 Tim Soulo Season 1 Episode 2
Masters of SaaS
What many companies get wrong about SEO – with Tim Soulo @ Ahrefs
Chapters
Masters of SaaS
What many companies get wrong about SEO – with Tim Soulo @ Ahrefs
Aug 17, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Tim Soulo

Be honest: how many times have you worked on a content piece that you thought was great, sunk hours into it, only to get zero engagement on it? 

Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs and our next guest is convinced that it's because you're not saying anything new. He learned that after asking Rand Fishkin, co-founder and CEO of SparkToro for a tweet to share his work.

Rand's feedback was incredibly insightful and ended up being more than just a fail story!

We cover all this plus:

- How a SaaS company with limited resources should approach SEO
- The framework to select and create content around business potential 
- The three variables required to gain links to your content 

Links >>
Upraw media: https://uprawmedia.com/
Episode transcript: https://uprawmedia.com/blog/seo-ahrefs

Show Notes Transcript

Be honest: how many times have you worked on a content piece that you thought was great, sunk hours into it, only to get zero engagement on it? 

Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs and our next guest is convinced that it's because you're not saying anything new. He learned that after asking Rand Fishkin, co-founder and CEO of SparkToro for a tweet to share his work.

Rand's feedback was incredibly insightful and ended up being more than just a fail story!

We cover all this plus:

- How a SaaS company with limited resources should approach SEO
- The framework to select and create content around business potential 
- The three variables required to gain links to your content 

Links >>
Upraw media: https://uprawmedia.com/
Episode transcript: https://uprawmedia.com/blog/seo-ahrefs

Todd Chambers :

Hey guys, welcome to the masters of SaaS podcast brought to you by Upraw media, a growth marketing agency for SaaS specialising in paid media content and conversion rate optimization. I'll be your host, Todd Chambers. I have the absolute pleasure of chatting with really smart people from the SaaS industry. The goal is to extract as much value as possible. What are their strategies, the tactics, the failures, funny stories, key learnings? All of this can then be used to help you grow and scale your own SaaS business. In this episode of the masters of SaaS podcast, I speak with Tim Soulo, the chief marketing officer and product advisor at Ahrefs, an industry–leading SEO tool powered by big data. Tim is the author of many data-driven SEO research studies and a number of detailed marketing guides. He really is one of the SEO industries will leading experts, so it was great to pick his brains in a bunch of different areas. To give some context into the size of Ahrefs In 2018, Dimitri, the founder tweeted their revenue had reached 40 million ARR (and at that time they were growing 60% year over year). We discuss a wide range of topics from why they move the company from Ukraine to Singapore, how the company has responded to COVID-19 and how Ahrefs ate their own dog food and grew their own business using content and SEO. Tim explains how they use a simple framework to select and create content around what he calls business potential xand the three variables or prerequisites that are required to gain links to your content. My favourite part of the interview was a story Tim shared about Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. Tim spent an entire month, creating a piece of content that he believed was his very best work. He reached out to Rand and asked for a tweet to share This amazing work. The feedback Rand provided was incredibly insightful and a powerful lesson Tim has carried with him ever since. I really enjoyed the conversation with Tim. And I hope you guys enjoy it, too so without further ado, let's jump into the episode. Tim, welcome to the show!

Tim Soulo :

Hey Todd, thanks a lot for inviting me!

Todd Chambers :

Cool. Let's start off with the intros. Maybe you can explain for the audience who is Tim, and how did you end up at Ahrefs?

Tim Soulo :

So Tim is the person in charge of marketing of Ahrefs and Ahrefs is a tool said that you need if you do search engine optimization. If you do search engine optimization and you don't use Ahrefs, you're missing out big time, mark my words. And the way I ended up being in charge of marketing at Ahrefs is actually quite boring because I was simply the first marketer that our CEO and founder hired.

Unknown Speaker :

I joined the company when the total team was, like 15 people, so I wasn't technically the first marketer. I mean, by the time I joined the company, I was the only marketer, and I slowly grew my way to being in charge of, I guess, our CEO and founder was happy with how I was handling the marketing for the company. And so he didn't put anyone above me, which I'm glad about.

Todd Chambers :

And maybe to give some context as well, for people that aren't familiar with Ahrefs: What is the kind of/ how do you quantify the company? What is maybe the revenue or the headcount or anything you're comfortable sharing?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, so we are not a public company, so we don't really share our business numbers, but two years ago in 2018, our CEO and founder Dmitry has tweeted that we've crossed 40 million in annual recurring revenue and that we are growing at approximately 60% year over year with a small team and a small team is around 50 people. So these are more or less the numbers two years ago. You can extrapolate and guess where we are today.

Todd Chambers :

No problem. So you're originally from Ukraine, I believe. Is the original founder also from Ukraine?

Tim Soulo :

Yes. Dmitry is also from Ukraine and yes – the fact that I'm from Ukraine, as well is one of the reasons why I was hired to work at Ahrefs, and this brought me to Singapore.

Todd Chambers :

That was actually my next question: the company's headquarters are in Singapore. How did that manifest, and how did you end up in Singapore?

Tim Soulo :

So as far as I know that story, Dmitry was choosing a place where to have the headquarters of the company, and he was looking at places like Hong Kong, some of the cities in the US like San Francisco, Singapore, and he seemed to enjoy Singapore, most of all, because of the many factors like weather, ease of doing business, and many, many things. So it's actually not a question for me. It's more a question to our founder. Why Singapore? And because the headquarters were in Singapore when Dmitry hired me to join Ahrefs, he brought me to Singapore because like, no matter what they say about remote work, face to face communication is quite productive. And they think that when the team is together, you can get a lot more things done and more quickly than when you are working remote.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that always amazes me about Ahrefs is the kind of the technical accomplishment of actually what Ahrefs does. And I was reading your website before this and correct me if any of these stats are wrong, but you guys have one point, almost 2 million to 2 trillion backlinks indexed in Ahrefs? Is that correct?

Tim Soulo :

I don't even keep track of that number because it's, it's at the point where it is incomprehensible. So you kind of see this number, but your brain doesn't register it so you don't have anything to compare it to, you don't need those numbers in real life. So yeah, it's like trillions, I'm not even sure like how big that is at this point.

Todd Chambers :

It's huge, it's this black hole of the internet, and you guys are out there scraping and crawling and collecting all that information into libraries that we can all then use. So how did the - you obviously weren't with the inception of Ahrefs. But how did the company get started? I don't know if you have the kind of the story of Dimitry and how it got going, but huge technical accomplishment to do that, how did it start?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, I know kind of the basics of that story. So Dmitry himself has a technical background, he was a web developer or like a developer in general. So he's very, very smart. And especially in the technical side of things, and he had some of his own projects in the SEO space. And then he was looking to launch another project. And I believe he needed a database of all PDF files. I think he was he wanted to launch a Search Engine for PDF files or anything along those lines. So he reached out to one of our today's competitors - Majestic, who also have a database of backlinks. And he inquired about the price of API to get it to get that data consistently from them. And they quoted him, I don't remember what but he thought the price was too high and that for this kind of monthly retainer, he would be able to build his own link index. So he tried, because he already had a small team, like with very smart people who could help him build this whole thing. And he tried building the link index. It turned out pretty good, and he thought "looks like I can do this probably better than those guys from Majestic. Why don't I turn this into a product?"And this is how Ahrefs was born.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, it's incredible. And I'm sure the tool has developed so much since those early days, it does so much now. How would you kind of summarise what Ahrefs does now for people looking to tackle SEO?

Unknown Speaker :

Yeah, to summarise, Ahref does almost everything that you need if you're doing SEO. So, yeah, I won't go into details because we can easily spend like hours and hours of me describing what kind of tools and reports we have at Ahrefs and what are the use cases of those tools and reports. So if you search for Ahrefs on YouTube, you'll find our channel. And we have a lot of videos that show people how to do different SEO related tasks with the help of Ahrefs tools and data.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, thanks. COVID-19 – we're living in a really strange world at the moment, and you guys are based in Singapore. I'm really interested to understand how, if you're willing to share anything, how has that affected Ahrefs, and how have you maybe change the company structure to combat that?

Tim Soulo :

Yes, so even before COVID, half of our team was remote. So we have half of our team here in Singapore, and the other half is scattered. around the globe. Someone is working from Canada; someone is working from the US; someone is just travelling around the globe. But because of COVID, all the people who were in the office had to go work from home, which was quite a problem at first until everyone got used to the remote work to being stuck at home to your wife, kids, and all that. And in terms of business, I don't think we are slowing down in our goals at this time. But the thing is, Dmitry wanted to support our customers because a lot of them were having a bad time with their own businesses. They were losing clients; they were losing their revenue. So what Dmitry decided to do is add a button within our interface where you can request a free extension of your account and depending on the size of your account, like which package you're at, (there was a different kind of extension because we didn't want to go broke as well), offering that to all of our customers no questions asked. So yeah, and a lot of people actually requested this thing, and we're pretty happy about it. So yeah, it's not, we didn't wait for people to contact our support team to fill in some survey describing what happened to their business and why they deserve to have an extension. So we decided to treat all our customers equally and trust them. And actually, so there were two buttons: one button was "Yes, please extend my account!", and the other button was "No, I'm OK at this time". And a lot of people, a lot of our customers actually clicked the I'm OK button.

Todd Chambers :

Why?

Tim Soulo :

So yeah, they could get a free extension of their account, but their honesty didn't allow them to do this because they saw that their business is actually doing well, so they don't need this which was pretty cool. And I'm, I'm super happy that we have so many amazing people among our customers.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, I think so many people in the world, as well as companies, are transitioning to remote working. It seems like you're in quite a good position because approximately half the company was already remote. But have you taken extra measures to like, how is Ahrefs structured now to kind of get the best out of people now you're working remotely?

Tim Soulo :

I don't think we did anything different from how we were operating before that. Well, we make better use of our team collaboration tools – like I know, Basecamp, Slack, or like Figma, or whatever tools we use for designing things and whatever tools developers use for collaborating on the code. So I think this is one of the things that we started doing more of. And yeah, that's pretty much it.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah. Okay. One of the big things that strikes me as well about Ahrefs is that your competitors understand SEO really, really well. So I'm not sure when the company was founded, but many, many years ago. How do you think that Ahrefs managed to kind of break out among such fierce competition? Do you think it was the fact that the product was so inherently good? Or was there some particular growth leavers that Dimitry managed to leverage to help the company grow?

Tim Soulo :

This is a great question. And I would love to turn it the other way around and have our competitors here and ask them: how did you let those guys from Ahrefs grow while you have the SEO tools and you have dominated the market all this time. So yeah, I think one of the answers to that is our competitors did lead us to do this. So if they were hardcore with their SEO strategies, with their content strategies, we wouldn't be able to do this. So if I were to guess, and give you an answer, like How Ahrefs was able to grow our search traffic to grow our reputation and such. The reason for that is that as the company is growing, and the founding members of the company, who are kind of the most invested in the business and who are the most knowledgeable about the business, they start doing more management and less actual work. And so you hire, for example, for content, you hire writers who don't have the kind of expertise that you have, but they still have to write for your blog. So I think this is what this is my theory. I think this is what happened to Moz. So, people like Rand Fishkin had less time to contribute to the blog and come up with amazing content ideas, because he had all the all those other tasks on his plate. And in our case, Dimitriy, his idea of growing Ahrefs as a company, one of the things that he stands for is to keep the headcount small, which means you have to hire very intelligent and very experienced people. Otherwise, you cannot build a great company with a small number of people. So I guess this is how we, instead of hiring a lot of people to fill every little position we have, like one person to work on our Twitter, one person to translate our articles, I don't know, we have just a few people who are very knowledgeable in the field. And I guess this is what allowed us to outperform those other companies, where people who run their content marketing, I'm not talking about all of them, but quite a big chunk of people who do their content marketing and write articles for them are not as experienced as some of our our team members. So this is my theory, but I would love to hear from those companies. What is their take on why we were able to grow while there were on the market all this time.

Todd Chambers :

If I ever I have any of them on the podcast, Tim, I'll make sure I ask

Tim Soulo :

Please do.

Todd Chambers :

Let's talk about the bulk of the interview now. I'd like to discuss search engine optimisation because I know you have a really long history in SEO and obviously Ahrefs is a tool that helps the SEO industry. So what I'd like to maybe discuss is SEO from the kind of the ground up, but maybe through the lens of a SaaS company that has limited resources, doesn't have a huge team doesn't have tonnes of funding, they need to be resourceful. So it's my understanding that the mistake that often people make is that they try and go and create content, and they create content around things that they like to write about or what they think people will need, instead of kind of starting with understanding, what are people actually searching for? So would I be correct in saying maybe the starting point is keyword research, understanding the kind of the volumes and the competitiveness, but what are your thoughts on that the starting point for maybe a new SaaS company?

Unknown Speaker :

Yeah, for a new SaaS company, the first thing that you need to determine is if the SEO is even a channel that you need to invest in. Because for many SaaS companies, people are not aware of the problem that this company is solving. They wouldn't search for anything that there is even remotely related to the problem. So there is no way for you to create content, and get traffic from Google, get passive traffic from Google. And finally, towards your business, your product. In our case, Ahrefs has a lot of topics related to SEO, where Ahrefs can help you, where our tools can empower you. And this is why we were able to grow our traffic and leverage SEO to the maximum. So this is the first thing, yeah. Study what kinds of things people might search that is relevant that is related to the problem that you're solving, and what is the depth and breadth of those topics. If it makes sense for you to invest in SEO, or should you focus on the paid acquisition on doing webinars and doing partnerships? There are many other marketing strategies that you could use to grow your product.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, because SEO is very much the long game, right? You need to invest a lot of resources and time and energy into content link building, which we'll get onto in a second. So yeah, just actually deciding whether you think SEO is the right path for you to take from the beginning. And just to clarify, you think it kind of starts with understanding, are people proactively searching on Google around the problem that we're solving? That's kind of like the prerequisite, right?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Todd Chambers :

Okay. What are your thoughts on how closely the keyword that you choose should align with the product or the service that you're actually offering? Do you think it has to be super closely aligned? Or are you able to kind of branch out a little bit if there's maybe not so much volume?

Tim Soulo :

Now, this is a great question, and we developed kind of our own score. We call it business potential score; for every topic that we consider targeting on our blog or with landing pages of our software. So the thing is, usually marketers when they decide among the topics that they want to cover on their blog, or the pages that they want to create on their website, they have this concept of buyers journey of how the person goes from our problem unaware to problem aware solution aware, to fully aware. Different marketers will actually give you different stages of the buyers journey, but one of the most common concepts is TOFU/MOFU/BODFU: top of the funnel content, middle of the funnel content bottom of the funnel content. But when we try to apply those things to the topics that we were considering to target on our blog, we had a lot of arguing like, is this topic like keyword research? Is this top of the funnel keyword for us? Is this middle of the funnel? Or is this bottom of the funnel? So it is very confusing like where in the buyers' journey is the person who is searching for keyword research or like, for example, keyword tool or link building tool. So it was quite hard to map our keywords to those concepts, which is why we went a different way, and we developed this business potential score, and it is very easy to use. Basically, it is a simple score from zero to three, where three means that your product is an absolutely irreplaceable solution to the problem. So, for example, if someone is searching for how to lose weight, the absolutely replaceable solution is diet. So you cannot really lose weight unless you eat less. This is like a proven fact. The business potential score of two is where you're solution is very helpful, but people can do without it. So if you have a diet, you can add to that, for example, exercise or some supplements or some surgery, I don't know. So things that are helping you to lose weight but are not necessary. A business potential score of one, if your product can be mentioned, but it's not immediately relevant to the problem that people are trying to solve (for example, back to the weight loss example) that could be some workout equipment. So you can work out at home, and it would help you to burn calories and lose weight, but it's not essential in any way. So it is relevant, you can still mention it in the article, but the chances that people would be interested in buying it by reading that article are slim. And the business potential of zero means that there's no way to mention your product within the article. So back to weight loss article, something that you cannot mention, I don't know, paper towels. I know how is that related to weight loss. So this is the score business potential score that we developed. And whenever we create our content calendar, whenever we choose how we should prioritise the keywords that we've chosen to target, we try to assign the numbers based on how well we can pitch our product in that content.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, that makes total sense. Going back to our kind of looking through the lens of a new SaaS company, and when they're looking there, maybe find, okay, these have good business potential, there's a good amount of volume here. I think we can create a really great piece of content around this. But it's super competitive. And I know Ahrefs will obviously give you these scores, and you can now help rank those things. How should they tackle in the very beginning where you have almost zero domain authority? How should you then choose those keywords balancing what you just said?

Tim Soulo :

This is a great question, and I don't think there's an answer to it. The way we kind of did it if we look retrospectively to what we did, we simply targeted all the topics regardless of how hard they were. So even If we knew that we would publish an article, and we won't be able to rank for that keyword, within a year, we would still write it, because we need it. So because we think forward, and what we're going to do next, in about a year from publishing the article, we would go back and rewrite it applying more knowledge and more experience that we have around this topic, coming up with more examples pitching more of Ahrefs use cases. And over time as we were updating those articles, making them better and as we were writing new articles and growing our domain authority, getting more backlinks to our content. So as time went by, we were starting to rank for those challenging topics. The thing is, if the topic is challenging if the competition is high, and you understand that your chances to rank for the topic right now are zero, it doesn't mean that you need to put down for later because that later can might never come. So you should target it right now knowing that you won't rank for it, but at least by trying to rank for it. You will get a little bit of backing, so you'll get a little bit of exposure, a little bit of credibility. And then you can tackle this topic again and again and again. Finally, if you punch enough, you're going to break that wall.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, that makes sense. What do you think about Cornerstone content? And I'm no SEO expert. And maybe I've got the terminology wrong, but kind of creating this kind of cluster of content around one big theme. Do you think that's valuable as well when you're starting to maybe kind of map out what the roadmap of all the articles are and how they all fit together? Does that make sense?

Tim Soulo :

I think there are different names for this strategy, like hub and spoke strategy, something along those lines. To be honest, we were able to grow our traffic without it. But right now, we naturally arrive at the idea that we have a lot of content on our blog that is related. And we have to give our visitors some kind of entry page that would guide them towards all the individual articles from the same topic – for example, keyword research. If you want to learn keyword research, you want to learn about keyword difficulty, you want to learn about search volume, you want to learn about keyword research tools. And it is simply convenient if people can arrive on a single page on your website, and that page will show them what other resources – it will give them like some general idea. Keyword research is about using the tools is about understanding the metrics, it's about prioritising your keywords, and then it will give you additional reading because if we just give them a guide that will take them 20 hours to read, they won't read it. Some kind of entry page with general information and links to further content would be useful. Right now we're doing that mainly from the user experience, perspective. If it would help our SEO, great! But overall, I'm seeing that we were able to grow our traffic without necessarily mapping out our content from the start. So we first created content. And now we're trying to map it into clusters.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, that makes sense. How, Tim, do you scale, really good content? Like this is the really, really hard thing. And this is a challenge that I face personally. Because in our business, the people that are usually subject matter experts are really busy, right? They're either managing clients, they're running the business, they don't have time because creating this amazing content takes so much time. How do you find subject matter experts but then kind of also balanced SEO best practice? Like how do you scale really good content?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, so that's the thing I don't think we ever managed to scale our content because even today we struggle to release two articles per week. It's mostly like one article per week. And we only have one, two, three and a half people who write for our blog. So in five years of me running marketing for Ahrefs, I manage to hire only, again, three and a half people who are experienced enough to contribute the kind of content that I think would be valuable to our prospective customers. So yeah, there is no way to scale content if we're talking about content that requires a lot of knowledge and expertise because the number of people who have the required amount of knowledge and expertise in every field is very small. Most of these people who have a tonne of knowledge and expertise are probably doing their own thing. And they're not very interested to join your business and become people who create content for you.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, it's really tough. By the way, I'm intrigued who the half writer is, by the way, if you want to name that person.

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, I can easily name him named him. This is one of the latest additions to our team. It's Patrick Stox. He's one of the top technical SEOs in in the world. And the reason why he's half is because the other half of his time goes into advising on the product development. So he plays with our product and with our data. And so he participates in both teams in the product team and in the marketing team. So it's not because he is bad. It's because he only devotes like half of his time at best to our blog.

Todd Chambers :

Okay, hope he's listening. Very good. So, someone starting out again, using the same lens, they decided what content they need, they can hire the right people to write the content. You then have this whole domain authority, reputation, trust. I'm not an SEO expert, but I believe link building is a super important part of this. So your contents ability to rank in a search engine is often predicated on how many people link to that article or the link to your domain. Maybe you can kind of explain the importance of domain authority and how that plays into it.

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, this is the fundamental thing behind Google. So Google was started with page rank being at the core of its algorithm, and page rank basically calculates how many backlinks from other pages your page has. The page with the most backlinks from other pages would be considered the most important, and therefore it would outrank all other pages. This is very, very simplified, oversimplified look at how Google algorithm works. But this thing even like years later, the page rank algorithm is still at the core of Google and all the other rankings factors. The ranking factors are only added on top of it.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, so links are obviously incredibly important. And I think one area I really want to focus on is link building. And this is a personal challenge that I've had. We've created, I think, really good content, we've kind of followed the best practice to the point that you've just discussed. We have had some links ourselves. I think they've just kind of happened naturally. But we've spoken to several link builders, and when we really, really dug deep, what's ended up, what we found is that they're often paying for links, which I don't think Google particularly likes. Using the analogy again of that new SaaS business: they've created some amazing piece of content, what do you think are the best ways for them to approach link building?

Tim Soulo :

So you said an interesting thing. You have created content that you think is, is great. So the thing is, it's not up to you to decide if your content is great. And actually, the thing is, links are what determines if your content is great. If other people are willing to link to your content, then your content is great. So if you're promoting your awesome piece of content, and no one is linking to it, it means your content is not awesome. So this is the first thing that people need to understand. If no one is linking to their content, the problem isn't link building the problem is their content. So there's, for some reason, there is no motivation for people to link to a piece of content. And there are like a few variables that your content has to meet, in order for people to link to it in order to be considered notable. So first of all, are you saying anything new? Because if you aren't saying anything new, if your content just mimics what you've read on other blogs, people won't be motivated to link to it because they can read the same content on another website. Second, do you have the credibility to talk about the topic? I can create an awesome article about how humanity can colonise Mars by reading all sorts of articles on the topic. But if Elon Musk would write an article about how humanity can colonise Mars, he will get all the links, and I will get none. So why would people listen to you? Who are you in the field? So you have to be building your credibility, and this doesn't happen in a day. And yeah, basically, the third, the third element is if you are even able to write well. Some people might have all the knowledge in the world and all the credibility in the world and all the best unique ideas, but their writing can be boring. So people would open their page, read the first few paragraphs, lose in their flow of thought, and close the page. So you have to know how to write well how to make people interested in your copy, how to write simply so people would understand you and would want to read the next paragraph. So those are the three variables: do have anything to say, do have the credibility to say, it and can you say it well? This is basically it.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, you said something interesting as well. You said about promoting it. Because let's assume that you did have something interesting to say. You tick all those boxes, you create this amazing piece of content through through those variables. Then other it's kind of like the chicken and egg, right? You need to get your content out there. So what do you think about getting that initial traction and promoting it? How do you get people to see it, that they will then want to link to it?

Tim Soulo :

Yes, so initial traction is incredibly hard to get. I guess this is by definition, what initial traction is. So to get initial traction, you have to hustle. And what you do, you just create the best content you can. Then you reach out to people, and then you run ads on Facebook, on Twitter to get more eyeballs to this content, and you build your reputation. So when people see one good article from you, another good article from you, one interesting idea another interesting media, they will become more and more receptive to the content that you're putting out. In the early days of Ahrefs'blog, it was super hard for us to make people listen to us because no one was really paying attention to what Ahrefs' blog was publishing. Most of the articles were similar to what all other blogs were publishing; our content was no different. So it took quite some time for us and quite a few original ideas, original research for people to start regarding our blog as the source of some interesting information and start giving us the credibility we deserve.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, understood. Would you say leveraging other people's audiences is a legitimate tactic when you're starting out so for example, you're doing this podcast now I guess, because it's highly relevant to SaaS. I see Tim, you and all sorts of other blogs and webinars and podcasts. Do you think maybe that's a good place to find out where your potential audience hangs out and then try and get in there first to get your foot in the door? Do you think that's a good tactic?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, of course. But the podcast is actually a great example. So you can get links podcast interviews, but the thing is, shortly after joining Ahrefs, no one was interested in doing a podcast interview with me. To be fair, I had little to offer to those people who are running podcast because I didn't have a track record, I didn't have credibility. I didn't have the kind of brand behind my back that even if people don't know me, they would know the brand that I represent. So with my first podcast, I had to hustle to lend myself even like the basic interviews on the podcast that are not super popular in our industry. Right now, I actually receive invitations to be interviewed on a podcast. It's the same with content. So at first, you're going to struggle to put your content in front of people. I actually an old blog: bloggerjet.comc that I started before joining a trip They have an article there, something along the lines of what they learned about influencer outreach after reaching out to Rand Fishkin or something. Back in the days when I was running my personal blog, I wrote an article about strategic writing. So I tried to collect all my knowledge and all the best tips that I know about writing articles that would generate backlinks, that would teach people, so I simply hoarded all the best advice I had about writing about content marketing into one article, and I thought it was my best piece ever. It was my best article that they have ever produced. I worked on it for a month, literally. And I decided to reach out to Rand Fishkin, and show him that article and ask him explicitly for a tweet, which is what I did. And in that article on my blog, I actually showed the screenshot of the email that I sent to Rand Fishkin. So I sent him something along the lines of "Rand I'm asking for a tweet explicitly. I have an excuse to ask you for a tweet, because I once wrote a blog post for Moz, and that blog post for Moz was a huge success. I won some awards that year, blah, blah, blah. I wrote another post for my blog; please check it out. And if you like it, please tweet it to your audience." What Rand replied to me was actually, it changed my perspective for the next many, many years. Because what he said is that "your article is good. It is well written, it has a lot of great advice, but I don't really see any original ideas in it. And I'm very picky about my social sharing because my followers expect something new for me. I cannot just tweet platitudes all the time, so I have to come up with interesting things. Otherwise, people just will stop listening. So I'm sorry, but I cannot read your article". So this is the story that happens to most people. If you don't have unique ideas and you reach out to people in your field. That's what they're going to say to you: your article is good, but I'm afraid there is nothing unique that I would be interested in share with my audience. That's the story.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, original ideas, guys. If you're looking to create content, it must have an original backbone to it. It's great advice! What do you think are some of the best – if someone's looking to learn SEO? Maybe they have some basic understanding. What do you think are the best resources for someone to learn SEO and really take off?

Tim Soulo :

Oh, that's easy. I already told you. You just go to YouTube, you search for Ahrefs. And you find our YouTube channel with a lot of videos that actually show you how to do things with screencasts with animations and stuff. The second best way if you're not like a visual type person if you prefer reading to watching is, of course, our blog. And like we just discussed with hubs. Right, now our blog is not very organised. So if you land on it, you will see a couple of the latest articles, and we also have on our blog homepage. Not too many people do this, but I suggest them to pay attention. So now we're on the homepage of our blog, we list some of our best articles broken down into topics. So we have some of our best articles link building keyword research, etc. And we're looking to expand the section to be kind of an entry point to all the resources that we have on our blog. So yeah, instead of going to our blog, you can search for almost any SEO related topic in Google. It is very likely that an article from Ahrefs would be somewhere in the top five. If it is not, you can just append the word Ahrefs. For example, keyword research Ahrefs, link, building Ahrefs, SEO audit Ahrefs, and you will inevitably find some of our articles. I am sure you're going to like them because we spent a tonne of time writing those articles, then rewriting them again until they're perfect.

Todd Chambers :

One of the underlying things I'm getting from you, Tim is advice for people that are looking to approach SEO is how incredibly hard it is and how much time and effort energy it will actually take. If you think you can just do some keyword research, create, you know, a half baked piece of content and you know, keep your fingers crossed and hope it's going to rank, that's really not the case. You really need to know that. It's going to take years in most cases and a lot of energy a lot of time. So I think that's a really good message.

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, but let's, let's focus on another message. I don't want to scare people away from SEO because it is hard, it is true, but it is also incredibly rewarding. So back when I joined Ahrefs, their blog was doing 15,000 visits per month from Google. Right now, we're doing almost 700,000 visits per month from Google alone, not counting referral traffic, direct traffic from tweets etc. So imagine every month 700,000 people land on your content, where you can teach them about your product about your business. About your services. So this is why here at Ahrefs we don't have a sales team. We don't do any product demos; we don't do any sales calls. People discover our content by searching for it on Google or YouTube. They land on our content, they educate themselves, and they become customers without us having to persuade them to do so. So SEO is very hard. It is a long term game. But at the same time, the person who wins the game gets a huge reward. So let's focus on the reward and not on the hard stuff that that is.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, understood. And I would just like to add to that as well. On the positive side, not only is it incredibly rewarding for your organic rankings, but your content can then be used in a whole bunch of other channels. So for example, in paid media, instead of just saying like, "Hey, running ads on you know, hey, buy my ship", it's like we have actually good content that we can use for paid which I think is also a prerequisite if you want to scale your paid media. Also in your Social Media Marketing, you actually have some interesting things to say, you can repurpose your content, you can chop it up, and you can use all these other channels. So not only is it incredibly rewarding from that perspective, but it fuels the rest of your marketing as well.

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, we actually don't do any paid acquisition directly to our product directly to any landing pages related to our product. The only paid acquisition we do is to drive paid traffic to our content. Because again, we spend so much time and effort so many sweat and tears into creating each piece of content, that it is almost a crime, not to pour some money to promote it so that more people would see it.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, makes total sense to me. If you don't mind, I just like to switch gears for a second and maybe ask you a few more kind of personal questions. And my first question to you is, how do you protect your time? Because I'm sure you get many requests for different podcasts, people want you to do different events. You have requests coming at you from the internal team. How do you decipher what is an opportunity or not? Like a distraction in disguise? How do you protect your time?

Tim Soulo :

So this is a great question, and I'm actually terrible at that because I was the kind of a yes person. I would open every email I get, and I would reply to almost 100% of all emails unless it is like blatant spam. But lately, I've started to understand like, as you get more traction, as the company that you work for gets more traction or like the content that you produce gets more traction; as your name goes out there, the amount of requests becomes overwhelming. So I am at a point where I'm not able to handle them anymore, and it's fun, but your podcast is the last one that I'm going to do this year till the end of the year. I'm not going any new interviews because they want to focus on actually creating my content. And yes, prioritisation is about saying no to people and I just realised that because I do so many podcast interviews, because I answer so many emails, I don't have time to create content as much as I wasn't creating it a few years ago. So this is why I decided that right now, I'm going to focus on creating content. And next year, I'm going to go back to podcast interviews, I'm going to batch them together and do like dozens of interviews in a few months. So this is one tip and another tip related to emails, I actually tweeted about it, and a lot of people were laughing at what I suggested: so I created a folder in my Gmail that is titled "can wait". So if I get an email from a random person, and its not spam, so I kind of should reply, but at the same time, I don't owe them anything, or I don't see a huge opportunity in it, I move it to the "can wait" folder. I don't delete it, I move it to the "can wait" folder, but I never go back to my candidate folder. So It kind of feels good that I'm not deleting a person. I am telling them to wait, but I don't see myself returning to that folder anytime soon. So this was a funny hack that they shared with people on Twitter.

Todd Chambers :

Well, I'm really grateful that we were the last people this year to have you on a podcast. That's good news. Let's talk about – do you have any unusual habits or interests outside of work? Like what is there something else you're passionate outside of a Ahrefs?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, I'm a fan of boxing. I was doing some MMA myself before I moved to Singapore. Here in Singapore, the work is a little bit overwhelming. It takes most of my time, so I don't have the capacity to do as much sports as I used to. So this is the sports side of me. There is also a nerdy side where I would be collecting the Magic the Gathering dragon cards. So I have the collection of Dragon cards from Magic the Gathering, so this is quite a nerdy thing. Yeah, those two things.

Todd Chambers :

How is the how's the boxing going, are you regularly in fights or is it just more of like training for boxing?

Tim Soulo :

Training, just training. Yeah, I'm not sparing, like professionally or even semi– professionally, just like the kind of like fitness. And I also like watching the boxing bouts, especially some of the Ukrainian boxers because they are on top of their game right now. So I feel proud to be Ukrainian and have some kind of association with those guys that are at the top of their game.

Todd Chambers :

What is some bad advice you often hear? And that can maybe be an SEO or it can be personal but yeah.

Tim Soulo :

To be honest, I cannot say that any advice is bad. The bad thing about a tonne of advice that I'm hearing is that it is pulled out of context. So a lot of people would advise doing things based on their situation. And other people who are in a completely different situation would think that this advice applies to them because they don't know the context. They will try it, and they would think it was bad advice. I think this is the problem with getting advice from like a short tweet. So someone tweeted that you should do this. And now you think that is the right thing to do, no. Actually, because I started to see this more and more, where people would disagree with other people who are advising something, I started to pay attention to it myself. Now whenever I am creating my content, whether it is videos or blog articles, I try to give people the context they need to understand in order to understand if the advice that I'm giving would apply to them or not.

Todd Chambers :

Do you have a favourite failure and by favourite failure I mean, either it's funny, or you had some kind of failure, and there were some key learnings that have like helped you over the last several years.

Tim Soulo :

Probably the failure with having Rand Fishkin to read my article. You see, I'm still using that failure on podcast interviews.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah. Okay. Is there anybody you look up to and aspire to and to be more like them? And it doesn't have to be in the SEO space?

Tim Soulo :

Ah, it's a hard question. I don't know. I don't think I have like one idol. But what I'm doing right now is, I'm trying to connect again, because of the COVID situation. Everyone is sitting at home now, and it's easier to jump on a call with them. So what I'm trying to do right now is connect with more people from the industry, but not for a podcast interview, but just to chat, like talk shop, and discuss, like what they're doing in their business, what we are doing in their business, how can we be helpful to each other and stuff. So yeah, I'm just trying to connect with the people in the industry who have done something interesting to me personally and discuss those things.

Todd Chambers :

Yeah. My last question to you is just going to be around Ahrefs. Is there a goal for Ahrefs? Or is there some change in a product tool or some kind of North Star that you're working towards in Ahrefs that you can share?

Tim Soulo :

Yeah, right now, we actually kind of announced that little shift in our direction. So Ahrefs was originally positioned as a specialised tool for HR professionals. But now we believe in those years we have improved our interface, expanded our offering, and created so many learning materials, that we no longer think that Ahrefs's tool & platform is only accessible to people who have lots of experience in SEO. So now, previously when you go to our homepage, it was saying tools to help you get more traffic, outrank your competitors and dominate your niche. So it was focused on tools for like SEO professionals. And we were bragging about our big numbers, which you mentioned previously that we have like trillions of backlinks, thousands of servers and all that kind of nerdy stuff that only professionals are interested in. Right now, if you go to our homepage, the headline says "You don't have to be an SEO Pro to rank higher and get more traffic". So what we're trying to do with that headline and with the rest of our new homepage, is we're trying to tell people who are interested in figuring out SEO, but they are afraid that it is too complex for them, they wouldn't be able to do it, they wouldn't be able to grasp it. We were trying to tell them that at Ahrefs we will help you to become the SEO, you won't be a professional, but you will have enough knowledge to start drinking higher and getting more traffic, and from there, you can consult with professionals hire professionals or whatever. So yeah, our direction is we are trying to make SEO accessible to more people so that people would be able to at least take care of their basics until their website grows into something so large that they would need the help of a real professional.

Todd Chambers :

Understood. And if people want to follow you communicate with you, I think you're going to be protecting your time for the rest of the year. But is there a best place where people can follow updates from yourself?

Tim Soulo :

Well, I'm quite active and responsive on Twitter. So yeah, just follow me on Twitter. Reply on my tweets, let's talk because I am trying to ask interesting questions and have discussions on Twitter with people whenever they replied, what I'm asking.

Todd Chambers :

Great. Thank you so much for your time, Tim. It was a really good interview, and I appreciate you doing this.

Tim Soulo :

Thanks a lot for inviting me!

Todd Chambers :

Yeah, you're welcome and hopefully, speak soon. Thanks for listening to the podcast, guys. If you want to get links to any of the resources we discussed in the interview, head over to uprawmedia.com/saas-podcast.