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013: The Long Game Podcast: A Fireside Chat with Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs

Ahrefs’ CMO Tim Soulo believes in practicing what you preach – and for good reason. Ahrefs is an SEO tool with a powerful content strategy.

The popular platform attracts traffic with a balance of keyword targeting and genuinely valuable content. How does Tim keep Ahrefs’ output ranking at the top?

By investing in new ideas and top-notch industry leaders to keep his content going. In this episode of Office Hours, Tim and Alex talk about how to win the content ranking game. The conversation touches on topics such as appealing to customer imagination, the importance of learning the SEO ropes, and how to hire click-worthy writers. 

The Long Game is hosted by Alex Birkett and David Ly Khim who co-founded Omniscient Digital to help companies ranging from early-state to scale-ups with growth strategy, SEO, and content marketing. Allie Decker, Head of Content, joins the conversation as well.

Connect with Tim Soulo on Twitter or LinkedIn 

Check out Ahrefs 

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Show Notes

Key Takeaways 

1:21 – Marketing to marketers 

How can you gain marketing cred from an audience of marketers? Challenge the status quo by creating hands-on content & testing unconventional marketing strategies. 

“The level of marketing people that we have in our company is super high because Ahrefs is in the business of teaching marketing to marketers. This means that being a marketer at Ahrefs you have to be one step ahead of everyone else so that other marketers would listen to you. Right now I’m in the process of hiring, but when I’m not – this is like most of my time because our team is quite small and we don’t have to fire people on the regular basis – I actually like creating content myself. This is something you talked about in the intro about me. I am a huge fan of sharing my ideas about marketing and sharing things that we learned while doing marketing at Ahrefs with other people and often challenging the status quo. We don’t necessarily believe this stuff that other marketers say or other folks leaders in the space say, so we like to challenge it. We like to test it. And we like to share our own experience with people so that they would get a different view of some of the conventional marketing wisdom.”

4:35 – Creating a content playground

Product-focused content captures audience imagination with click-worthy instructions, case uses, and solution demos.

“I’m not sure where I’ve heard this quote first, but it was something along the lines of, ‘the first time people use your product is in their heads.’ So what we were trying to do with our content marketing is we’re trying to create content that would incentivize people to imagine themselves using Ahrefs for solving the problem that they had when they opened an article on a certain topic. And this is why, like, as you mentioned, we have lots of screenshots of our interface and lots of step-by-step instructions of how to do something specific in Ahrefs. Because we want people to start using our product in their heads, so that when they would make a decision to sign up, they would know what to do inside.”

7:12 – Choose authenticity over hype

Worried about sounding sleazy by promoting your company? If you believe in your product‘s business-changing benefits, that integrity will show through your sales pitch.

“If your product genuinely helps people with their problems, helps them achieve their goals, you’re doing them a disservice by not trying to sell this product to them. So it’s all about integrity. It’s all about knowing that your product is actually helpful. Of course, if you’re selling something that people don’t need, you should feel bad about it because you shouldn’t make people spend money on the things they don’t need, but. Our product is inherently useful. We have a marketing tool. We have an SEO tool that helps people bring more traffic to their websites, get more customers, etc. So I don’t feel bad about selling our product to people. I actually feel good when I sell it to them. They’ll come and tell me ‘because of your content, I was able to grow my website. I was able to get more customers.’”  

8:44 – Want to maximize visibility?

Create problem-solving content to become a go-to resource and help your audience find you. 

“So it doesn’t matter if you’re already using Ahrefs, or if you’re thinking to use that, or if you’re looking for some SEO tool to help you with your website. Our strategy is to be discoverable. So whether you are our customer or you aren’t our customer, if you search in Google or YouTube for something like, how do I do link building, how to do SEO audit, how to do proper email outreach, blah, blah, blah. We want to be there for you. We want to be ranking at the top, so you will be able to find us. And we also want to build the brand and credibility where people wouldn’t even go to YouTube to search for those things, but they will actually search on our YouTube channel or on our blog for those things.”

10:34 – The 90/10 content strategy

Most of your traffic will come from smart keyword strategies, but giving some space to unique topics can help build your authority. 

“90% of our content strategy is based on keywords. So we do keyword research. We look at what kinds of things people are searching for in Google. What is the popularity of those things? Like what is the potential search traffic that we will be able to get if we would create content for it and rank at the top? What is the potential to showcase our product while addressing the issue while talking about the topic? Basically on those three things: what’s the popularity of the search query. What’s the difficulty of ranking, like who are the competitors? Would it be easy or hard to rank there? And what is the business potential for us to showcase how awesome our product is and how easily it helps you solve the problem? This is how we prioritize the content that we write about on our blog. So this is 90% of our content strategy. We want to be discoverable and whenever people search for relevant things to what our software does, we want to be ranking at the top…and then 10% is we’re trying to build our authority and credibility as thought leaders in the space. Which means that we want to talk about topics that no one is necessarily searching for, but should we write about them? And should we give people some unique perspective, unique insights?”

13:48 – How to build a content team 

Hire product experts that can innovate product use cases and strategy content. Then, let them write what they know with authority.

“We are in the process of hiring marketers. And this is a very hard thing for me to do because the people who create content at Ahrefs are extremely knowledgeable and extremely experienced. And they should know our platform in and out, and they should be able to themselves come up with unique ideas of how to use our software for solving some problems. Whenever I read some of the content that my fellow colleagues publish on our blog, sometimes they come up with tactics and strategies that I wouldn’t think of. So it’s not that we have a group of people who is responsible for coming up with use cases and then we have a group of people who is responsible for writing articles and supporting those use cases. No, it happens quite naturally. Our team members pick their own topics. So again, it’s not that we have like a senior strategists or blah-blah-blah who picks topics for so-called writers and they have to write some article on the topic. No, the members of our marketing department, they pick topics for themselves based on what they feel confident talking about.”

16:27 – Ideas > wordcount 

The best content comes from your most knowledgeable product and marketing team members – because expertise can’t be outsourced. 

“In our marketing department, content is the first-class citizen. I am a Chief Marketing Officer of Ahrefs. I’m the person responsible for running our entire marketing, but I myself, whenever I get a chance, go and create content. I write articles, I create videos, etc. Because I firmly believe that content should be created by the most knowledgeable person. I know that I have loads of loads of experience in digital marketing. I know I have lots of unique perspectives to share. So why would I try to outsource this to some, I don’t know, Fiverr writer who would write 100 words for like $10 or something? Why would I do this if I can create content much better than this quote-unquote writer because I have actually ideas? It’s not the words that you put on the page. It’s the actual ideas.” 

21:34 – Train with your tools 

The most expensive mistake users can make? Misinterpreting the data that their SEO tools give them. 

“Lots of people misinterpret the data that they see, or they don’t even know where to look. So it is very important to actually study the software you’re using well and understand what you’re seeing, understand the exact numbers. For example, we have a number for keyword difficulty, which kind of tells you how difficult it would be to rank for a certain keyword. We have it written in plain, plain English that this number identifies on average how many websites should be linking to your page to rank in the top 10. So if you’re ranked number nine at the bottom of the page, you qualify. But people don’t even look at the tags that are written right below the keyword difficulty number. And they think that our keyword difficulty tells them how easy it would be to rank number one, which is not true. So this is just like a very local example of how you can misinterpret data and why you need to have a deep understanding of the tool that you’re using.” 

23:00 – Expertise always wins 

No amount of SEO tricks can compete with content made by passionate, expert leaders in the long term. 

“Someone who has more credibility, more unique ideas will outperform you because of the credibility. To rank well in Google, you have to get links. And for example, if we’re talking about SEO, who would get more links – me writing an article about an SEO with over 10 years experience in the industry and credibility and all the following that I have? Or some new newbie SEO who just started their website? There’s no chance for them to outrank me because of all the body of work that  I have created till this date to get to where I am. So tanking in Google is not just about logging into a tool, looking at some metrics, and figuring out how to like rank number one by being smarter than the other person. It’s actually about being worthy of ranking number one. And this doesn’t necessarily happen in a day. Sometimes you have to spend years becoming worthy of ranking for a certain phrase.”

27:48 – Follow your content passion

When in doubt, aim to rank in the topics and industry that interest you – or your content won’t stand up to the competition.

“If I wanted to build a long-term business, a website that would work well 10 years from now, I would only start it in the industry that I’m genuinely interested in. Where I want to become an expert myself and probably build a personal brand or something. I actually tried starting websites in the industries that I’m not interested in and I thought that my knowledge of SEO and some like link building tactics, or how to create content, or how to create content for cheap and how to design your website better, how to improve conversion rate optimization and all that. I felt that it would be enough for me to create a website. And the ranking well in Google, it didn’t happen. I don’t even have the motivation to work on the website when I am not interested in the topic.”

Connect with Omniscient Digital on social:

Twitter: @beomniscient

Linkedin: Be Omniscient

Listen to more episodes of The Long Game podcast here:

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.