EP 327 Transcript | SaaS Marketing with Tim Soulo

By Site Strategics
October 2, 2019

Tim Soulo Transcript EP327

Announcer: 00:00 On this episode of EDGE of the Web.

Tim Soulo: 00:05 Study the basics, the basics can get you very far, you don’t have to be like amazing technical SEO to get traffic from Google or other search engine. Study the basics, the basics are very simple and you will start seeing how your traffic is growing.

Announcer: 00:22 Your weekly digital marketing trends with industry trend setting guests. You’re listening and watching EDGE of the Web, winners of best podcast from the Content Marketing Institute for 2017. Hear and see more at edgeofthewebradio.com. Now, here’s your host Erin Sparks. 

Erin Sparks: 00:44 We do want to actually thank Ahrefs as returning sponsor too. Ahrefs makes competitive analysis easy. Their tools show you how competitors are actually getting traffic from Google, and why, so to speak. You can see the pages, the content that send most of the search traffic, find out the exact words they are ranking for, and which back links are helping them rank. From there, you can actually replicate or improve their strategies. 

We’re an avid practitioner of utilizing Ahrefs. It’s a fantastic tool from Site Strategics, we always recommend utilizing this as part of your portfolio, of course, in full disclosure. Tim’s the CMO of Ahrefs, but we’d have him on here regardless because it is a fantastic tool and these guys are building a strong community in their space. We want to make sure that you check out Ahrefs. That’s A-H-R-E-F-S.com. Start a free trial today, and you’ll swim in great data just like the team over here at Site Strategics. With that, we want to make sure that you join the EDGE of the Web newsletter. You can just text to the number 22828 the word EDGE talk, and you sign up right there. You can also go over to the edgeofthewebradio.com, and it’s right there at the top of the page. Sign up on the newsletter, you’ll never be spammed, you’ll never get anything but great digital nuggets of gold coming from the EDGE of the Web radio team.

All right, follow all the feature training topics over at EDGE of the Web radio. But now, let’s deep dive with this week’s featured guests. 

Announcer: 02:24 Now, it’s time for EDGE of the Web featured interview with Tim Soulo, CMO and Product Advisor at Ahrefs.

Erin Sparks: 02:35 Tim, you got introduced by the deep voice guy. Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, an industry leading SEO tool powered by big data with almost 10 years of practical experience in SEO and digital marketing. Tim, actually shares his knowledge by giving live talks at various digital marketing conferences around the world and publishing blog articles on Ahrefs’ blog. He’s the author of many data-driven SEOs research studies and a number of detailed marketing guides. Let me tell you some of the podcasts that Tim’s been on. He’s been on Marketing Speak, July 17th, this year. Nathan Barry’s show, May 6th, Smart Passive Income podcast on March 28th, the SaaS podcast, March 20th, Indie Hackers March this year. Fantastic shows among all these SEO groups and marketing groups. 

He’s about to speak in Pubcon, that’s October 7th, Brighton SEO Search Engine Marketing Summit in Australia, Digital Marketers, Australia, Melbourne, Chiang Mai SEO Conference in Thailand. That’s just in the last year. Tim, you’re a busy man. 

Tim Soulo: 03:48 Thanks a lot for the introduction. I think this was the best use of my personal page at [inaudible 00:03:54], you’ve read a lot of this [inaudible 00:03:57] big data, this is the first time someone would do it. So yeah, I’m happy. All my efforts in putting out this page and listing those things there [inaudible 00:04:06]. 

Erin Sparks: 04:06 Not a problem, not a problem. We just want to curate that content for our own use, right? All right. So that’s the official bio. Tim, can you give us your backstory and how you got into SEO, especially your role over at Ahrefs? 

Tim Soulo: 04:23 Yeah, so for the first, almost 30 years of my life, I lived in Ukraine, and basically, I started my IT career from working in customer support for a hosting company. And then as I realized that I don’t want to pursue the career of being a developer, I didn’t think that this is my thing. I was looking for other ways to progress, but I wanted to stay in IT, and at the same time I was a DJ. I was playing regularly in the biggest night club of our town, and basically I started a website and they started putting out my music selections and some random thoughts about music, and I realized that this website is not getting any traffic. So I started digging into how to get traffic to that website. And this is how we stumbled upon ACO, and then a friend suggested me that you should land a job in SEO because he knew some people who are getting some nice money in that industry, and the demand for SEO professionals, at least in our town at the time, and that was more than 10 years ago. 

Now, I was quite decent. So this is how I started … I found a junior SEO role, and I joined the company to start doing some basic marketing and I sell for them. This is how I tapped into SEO, and basically I started learning SEO from reading Moz’s blog, watching every Whiteboard Friday. It was actually my treat, and I have tremendous respect for all the work that guys from MOZ did over the years educating so many people. I think a lot of us were born from reading Moz’s blog and watching [inaudible 00:06:10] Whiteboard Fridays. So yeah, this is how it tapped into SEO, and then I just started doing a lot of my own stuff, some of my own projects. I actually wrote a few articles, a few guest articles for Moz as well. And this is how the founder and CEO of Ahrefs noticed me. He saw the work that I was putting out online, and he got in touch with me, and we started working on a freelance basis. But basically, it took him maybe two weeks to offer me a full time position and to bring me to Singapore. And now, for four years already, I’m living in Singapore because here … here at the headquarters of Singapore, or Ahrefs here in Singapore. 

We have headquarters, and half of our team is here in Singapore and another half is remote scattered around the globe. 

Erin Sparks: 06:58 That’s right. We failed to tell our audience that we’re 12 hours away. I mean, you’re in the future, we’re 12 hours away, literally around the planet on this show. So thanks so much for actually joining us, that’s a great story. And how long have you been with Ahrefs now? 

Tim Soulo: 07:16 Four and the half years, more than four years already. Yes. 

Erin Sparks: 07:21 All right. So for everyone who’s on the show, listening or watching, I haven’t experienced Ahrefs, and again, full disclosure, you are our podcast sponsor of the show, appreciate that. Let’s talk about the tool here real quick. It’s an inbound analysis tool of links and inbound factors, one of the best up to date awareness of the daily links that your domain is getting. It’s got site audits, it’s got keyword explorer, content explorer, all these great tools as well as a really good Chrome extension for being able to analyze the links that you have here. So briefly tell us about the tool itself, and then we want to unpack the concept of marketing for this tool. So roll with it in a two minute pitch about Ahrefs. 

Tim Soulo: 08:12 Yeah. What we’re trying to pursue with Ahrefs is we try to create an ultimate SEO tool. So if you are looking to get traffic from Google or any search engine to the tither, or if you’re looking to grow, if you’re already getting some traffic, but you want to get more, you want people to find you via search engines, we try to provide all the tools and data you need to be successful at it. So this is kind of the core of what we’re doing at Ahrefs right now with Ahrefs tools, and yeah, like you said, we have a bunch of tools within Ahrefs tool kit. Predominantly, people are using us to analyze their competition, what pages are bringing them the most traffic from search, what websites are linking to them, and therefore, boosting their authority or domain rating or domain authority, whatever you call it. How their website is structured, where they’re linking out to et cetera, et cetera. 

But with other tools, for example, keywords explorer, it lets you tap into the searches that people are making online, because if you want people to find you, you first need to create pages on your website that are tailored to specific searches. So we have a tool called keywords explorer for that. But you can research if the stuff that you want to write about in your website has any search demand at all. Because if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get any traffic. Then we have site audit tool, this is a classic tool for anyone doing SEO, especially as a freelancer for clients, because you do want to analyze their websites, you do want to find technical SEO issues. So we have a tool for that, with over 100 pre-configured SEO issues that we vet your site for. Then we have content explorer, that is basically a database of over a billion pages with content. It’s like a search engine, but for [inaudible 00:10:07] right now, we might expand that and create a bigger search engine, because right now we have some rigorous conditions for a page to be added to our database. 

For example, one of the main criteria is that someone has to share the page on social networks, because if it wasn’t shared on social networks, then we think that something is wrong with the content. And finally we have Rank Tracker, this is one of the five big tools in Ahrefs, and I don’t think I need to explain Rank Tracker to SEO people, actually you just keywords and track their rankings. So that’s it. That’s a very brief overview of what we have in Ahrefs, but like I said, we try to advance all the time, we try to improve the quality, depth, scale of our data so that our customers would be sure that with us, they’re getting the best data out of our industry, and we try to innovate, we try to create the tools that you cannot find anywhere else, that would be helpful for you and that would give you an edge. 

So yeah, we don’t try to become all in one toolkit in a sense that we would look for what other tools are doing, and we will try to collect all that functionality under Ahrefs, what we try to do, we try to come up with unique functionality that only Ahrefs can do because of our unique strengths. Like, we have unique data, we have amazing developers, so we try to squeeze out of our data what no one could do with their other platforms. 

Erin Sparks: 11:44 All right. That’s a great perspective of what Ahrefs does. We’ve obviously, like I’ve said before, we’ve been a client of Ahrefs for a very long. And on top of that, we’ve also been an accumulator of a number of different tools and been watching the entire SaaS tool environment mature. Ahrefs has been one of the ones that has really made a great over time, just like the SEMrush, just like Cognitive, there’s a number of really good aspects and you really need, as an SEO, to be able to find those key tools that can work together and give you a perspective. There’s a lot of tools that have gone to the wayside, there’s a lot of SaaS products that tried to do certain things, and tried to market themselves as something more than what they were. And in the marketing SaaS environment, and again, for our listeners, software as a service is SaaS, there’s so much noise. 

There has been so much noise for such a long time of tools and platforms that over promise, and have committed to a heck of a lot of users, we can see this, this and this, but the investment that good tools make into their backend, their software, their analysis, just the level of depth that they can actually analyze content, I mean, there is a separating of the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but in that noise realm, you still have to market yourself as a platform. You still have to get out there and make the message to that new SEO that doesn’t know these top tools or how long Ahrefs has been around. So, what you’ve done in Ahrefs, you’ve actually done something kind of unique, is that you’ve built your marketing firm internally from scratch. Now, as opposed to using outside resources, which could actually make sense, and a lot of times to be able to get to market and be able to utilize other marketing techniques, what are the benefits of growing a marketing firm in-house to be able to market to marketers? 

That’s the unique thing about this, is that you’re literally persuading the persuaders so to speak. So, what’s the advantage of doing that in-house? 

Tim Soulo: 14:13 This is a good question, and first of all, I would like to address the marketing to marketers thing. I actually think that our industry, creating tools for marketers, is an easier one to do marketing in, than any other industry. And the reason why I think so is because marketers are people with websites, marketers are people with audience, marketers are people with influence. So I am a parading in an industry where we have a ton of websites, a ton of communities, a ton of very active people on Twitter, on Facebook, et cetera. So if you tap into some other industry, let’s say dentists, I don’t think you have websites like inbound.org or Growth Hackers or so many different podcasts for dentists. So I think the fact that marketers are creating so much content than they are creating so many unique projects, even product [inaudible 00:15:19], that’s basically like a platform created by marketers and for marketers. Because people want to discover new tools there, and most of the people that are [inaudible 00:15:30] out on product hunt are in some way marketers. 

So yeah, I feel that actually to be in the industry of marketing and marketing tools, you have too many opportunities. So it’s just a matter of picking the right opportunities, because in other industries, there’s a lack of opportunities. And when we do our educational content, we try to distance ourselves from our own industry and the resources we have in that industry, and think about other people who might be operating in different niches, who might not have websites like Product Hunt, [inaudible 00:16:06] Growth Hackers, who might not have an abundance of podcasts to pitch yourself as a guest, et cetera. So, yeah, I do believe that marketing to marketers actually has a ton of opportunities and you just have to be smart with the way you tap into those opportunities. In term of-

Erin Sparks: 16:20 Fair enough. Go ahead. 

Tim Soulo: 16:24 In terms of building our marketing team in-house, yeah, this is an amazing question, and I actually tried to outsource some things here and there. So for example, when I took over Ahrefs’ blog, my immediate passion, my goal, my aspiration was to make it the best blog in the SEO industry, and grow its search traffic to surpass any other blog. I started working with freelance writers, and what they realized is they don’t have the kind of passion that I had for the blog, they were only there to write an article and get their payment for that article. Well, most of them, of course, there are people care about their reputation, who want to put out amazing content. But again, if you are at the level of Moz’s blog, when you are the industry’s most sought after blog, and everyone is going to your blog to read the fresh news, fresh tutorials, et cetera, you can attract the best people in the industry because they know they will get exposure in front of the entire industry, and they will try to do a good job. 

When you’re building a blog from the scratch, those high level people, why would they want to write for you? You won’t give them the kind of exposure, even reputation wise. Like four years ago, I’m not talking about now, I’m talking about four years ago. It’s one thing to say that I wrote for Moz’s blog and I was published at Moz’s blog, it would be entirely different thing to say, I wrote for Ahrefs’ blog, and people would say, “Really? Ahrefs has a blog? We thought it was just like at a tool, like for sales.” So yeah, it was incredibly hard to find people who would do good job, and this is why I realized that I need to try attracting people in-house, and I would try to find people who are passionate about what they do, and this is how I found Joshua, our head of content. Basically, the story of finding him is that I saw someone tweeting an article with link building strategies, and when I visited the website, I saw that it was a brand new blog with just a single article about link building strategies, but that article was I think 60,000 words long. 

Erin Sparks: 18:51 Whoa. 

Tim Soulo: 18:52 Yeah, it was a massive post. Actually what Joshua did, he wrote almost an entire article about each of the link building strategies he was discussing. So he had tutorials there how to … A lot of links, references, I think he spent around three months creating that article. So there was a tone of work there, tone of passion to be-

Erin Sparks: 19:17 Yeah, absolutely. 

Tim Soulo: 19:19 I noticed that immediately, so I wrote him a personal email, and I said, “I don’t know what’s your motivation behind creating a brand new blog, and publishing an article on a brand new blog knowing that it would be hard for you to get traction, with a brand new blog, you don’t have preexisting audience. I don’t think you have enough resources, would you consider doing that for Ahrefs’ blog? And whatever you’re trying to achieve, are you trying to become a well known name in the industry? Are you trying to … your audience to later create an info product for them? Are you trying to just do good work? We will help you with that, please come to Ahrefs, we’ll give you the resources. I like the work you’re doing.” And Joshua replied, “It’s nice to hear from you, I’m using Ahrefs blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I’m interested to write for you guys,” and this is how we started the relationship with Joshua. And from what I can tell, Joshua is purely driven by creating amazing work, by creating articles that would help people. This is what drives him, this is what motivates him. 

It’s hard to find that kind of person who would work freelance with you, you have to give them that attachment to a brand, you have to make them sure they are a part of the brand, that they’re doing something bigger than themselves as they say. So this helps tremendously with building in-house teams, and like I said, I tried on many occasions to use freelancers for doing different things. But what I’ve noticed is that there is no passion, there is no level of responsibility that I need, and they don’t care about our brand as much as people who work at Ahrefs, and they don’t feel the same connection. So this is we were trying to build our marketing department in-house. 

Erin Sparks: 21:09 So what you’re talking about here is not just marketing, you’re talking about an investment into your culture, into your organization, far surpassing marketing. You’re building not only subject matter experts, but you’re also building evangelists, people that are wanting to move the brand because it represents not only a tool for the ecosystem or for the market, but it also represents a number of people that are very passionate about what they do. Right? 

Tim Soulo: 21:43 Yeah, of course. It’s not just about tools, it’s about the … Well, if you’re talking about marketing, it’s either content that that allows people to find you in some way or advertising. Ahrefs’ marketing strategy from the start was to do content, to do great content, so we could just reinvest our profits into advertising, and buy all the ad space we can, and constantly get a lot of people, but what we chose to do is we chose to create what we’ve chosen, I think to do, is to create amazing content that would let people find us. I actually think that it’s harder to persuade people just from the cold ad, but it is much easier to give them amazing content and they will respect you for that. If your content is great, your tools must be great as well. 

Erin Sparks: 22:43 You’re earning authority. I mean, you’re earning value in the space, and that’s much more difficult route as opposed to buying a programmatic ad. 

Tim Soulo: 22:51 Yeah, I think that’s what Seth Gordon described as permission marketing and interruption marketing. So just before the show, we were making fun of search engine [inaudible 00:23:02] that they have, not one but two pop ups, when you visit the page. So this is interruption marketing, you kind of come to their blog to read the news they have, and they interrupt your experience by pushing something else that they need to push you. So we don’t do that stuff with Ahrefs’ blog, because we think that if a person was searching for something in search engine, and they landed on our article, we want them to read our article because we invest a lot of time into writing those articles, and we don’t want to interrupt their experience with anything. Even we don’t want to ask them to subscribe to our email list, as much as we want them to read the actual article, because the actual article would at some point talk about Ahrefs and the tool we have. So our articles are kind of the sales pitch for our tools and people are consciously giving us permission to educate them on how Ahrefs’ going to help them. 

And again, what is interruption marketing? This is whatever, they go to YouTube and they want to watch their favorite shows, their favorite videos, and we would interrupt them with pre-rolls and try to push Ahrefs down their throat. Or if they’re scrolling their Facebook feed and they want to see what their friends are up to, or what brands and communities they follow are up to, and we squeeze our ads, not for our content that might be interesting to them, but for our tool, our brand to again interrupt their experience and get them to our website, it is not as effective as actually giving people the things they’re specifically looking for. 

Erin Sparks: 24:35 There you go. And just to make sure that search engine [inaudible 00:24:40] knows that we weren’t really making fun of them, it was much more of an observation than anything else. 

Tim Soulo: 24:44 Okay. I can say that I am making fun of them. I have quite a hard opinion about those pop-ups, this is actually part of our company culture, we don’t [inaudible 00:24:58] ourselves, so we kind of try to point out whenever people do this, we are not [inaudible 00:25:03] of that. 

Erin Sparks: 25:03 And what you’re doing is actually distinguishing a particular separation and a particular mission, and I dare say maybe ethics, or a particular way you want to be perceived in the marketplace, and again, you’re right. Is that … you’re remarketing the marketers who are … I mean, they know the value, they’re more believers than anything else if you’re trying to actually market outside of a marketing channel of customers, but at the same time inside that, you can harm your brand by throwing too much and interrupting too much as opposed to giving content and giving well thought communication and concepts in all different manners of media. Not only blog, but video and podcasts and what have you. 

I’ve got a question for you from a development of your own marketing team. There are certain lessons that whenever you take on and build a marketing team from scratch, that you take on that you could avoid if you actually hired outside marketing folks who are maybe more experienced or have gone through the number of lessons to be able to get there. So taking on and investing in the marketing team internally, you’re taking on a heck of a lot of lessons to learn and experiments to run as opposed to trying to streamline it. Well, that said have, has development of your own marketing team, and the marketing lessons that have crossed over, has that actually affected your product? Product delivery, I mean, basically saying these are things that we should have, maybe that we didn’t have originally, but you’ve evolved your product based on the marketing that you’re experiencing? 

Tim Soulo: 27:00 Yeah, 100%. So from the start, as I joined Ahrefs to be their only marketer at the time, they had marketers before me, but when I joined, I was the only marketer, so some things didn’t work out with others. From the start, I felt that part of my job, and they still had [inaudible 00:27:21] my title CMO and product advisor, I was offering my perspective on what should be in our tools and how our tools should work. And that perspective had two sources, one of the sources was the fact that I was communicating with the community a lot. So I was browsing Reddit, I was joining all the Facebook groups, I was talking to people, having Skype conversations with them, I was talking to our customers, and I was trying to understand, to learn from our customers, to learn from our audience, to learn from SEO community, what kind of things they’re doing, and what features they need, and I was passing that to our product team. 

And then like you said, I was building my own marketing team, and we had our own needs, we understood that it would be awesome to have certain things, and we were in a unique position because when you talk to the community, they have no idea of your data, of what you can do with the data and of your kind of development resources. In our case, because we were frequently talking to developers, we had a decent, I would say decent understanding of what can potentially be done, or at least whenever we would have some crazy idea, it would take a minute to come up to one of the developers, and ask them if it is even possible to do it. So from the start, I was offering that kind of feedback to the product team, and what happened from their site is because they are developers, and they know how it all works and specifically our CEO and founder, who is also a huge contributor to the product.

So once, the marketing department would share the ideas of what we could add to the tools, they would reward those ideas based on what they know is possible with our data, so it’s kind of both of best worlds. So marketing department would offer what makes sense from the marketing perspective, what we see the community is doing, et cetera, et cetera, and product development department would offer things that are possible and ask them if we do this, does it make sense? And sometime, we would say we have no idea what the use case is of that, how to educate our customers to use it, and sometimes we would be totally blown away, like, whoa, we can really do this, of course, let’s do this because it has tons of value. So yeah, absolutely, being in the trenches, talking to customers makes a lot of input for product team. Yes. 

Erin Sparks: 29:53 Yeah. Well, I mean, listening to the users are one thing, but actually having that deep channel of knowledge and talking right to the developers gives you just that much more quick response back to the consumers, back to the community that this could very well happen, but along with that comes a good deal of development. Would you actually recommend different marketing staff platforms go through this particular process from a marketing standpoint or an R&D process, a research and development process? Maybe more than even a marketing process. If you actually internalize your marketing, you’re listening, you’re paying attention to customers, and you’re just that much closer to consumers that need your product, and will let deficiencies in your product, and would you recommend marketing SaaS programs do that regularly? 

Tim Soulo: 30:50 Of course. I do believe that customer support department, because like I said, I started my career from customer support department. They have a ton of insights about your software that you might not know yourself. So having some team meetings where people from the product department and people from customer support department would participate at the same time, would have a super positive influence on your product. But then again, it depends, like with Ahrefs, I already went from being a company of 16 people to being a company of more than 50 people. So I’ve seen how things work at a scale of like 15 people, into the scale of 50 people, and I’m sure that things work differently at a scale of 200 people. I’m not sure if we want to get there, I don’t think we are, because Mitri wants to keep the company small in terms of headcount. 

But yeah, when you’re small, it feels like you have those insights by default because each of the team members is wearing many heads, and like I said, although I’ve joined as a marketer, I was doing a lot of customer support because they just genuinely wanted to understand our customers, and our community better, and I was giving the product feedback. Right now as we are growing, we need to make those meetings more formal, so we need to specifically meet with heads of different departments and discuss those things. And as the company grows bigger, and the customer support department gets more and more detached from the product department, this is what happened to me back when I was starting my IT career. I was working in customer support, and they had a lot of, what I think great, they might not necessarily be great, but I think I had a lot of ideas of what we can do to improve our product, but I didn’t have any channel to bring those ideas in front of the people who were working on the product, and they feel the problem of every big company that has 200, 300 plus people. 

So if you’re in charge of such a company, take a look at how your customer support department and marketing department talks to their product department and see if you can improve that communication. 

Erin Sparks: 33:07 So it’s a feedback loop, and if you’re a smart marketer inside of a marketing technology SaaS environment, it’s a great listening fact feature to be able to invest in that and be able to see what your product needs and what the efficiencies are to be able to funnel that right back into the product. So it’s a great 360, or a great feedback loop. Now, let me ask you something more about the consumer that you’re marketing to, because your particular software has to … And I’m going to be careful here, but it actually is, I could be wrong here, but the consumer that you’re trying to reach inside of SEO, inside of marketing is analyst mindset. They are much more data oriented than would be a different type of digital marketer that would be much more engagement oriented or social media oriented. Your product is a particular scientific methodology resource as opposed to other types of digital marketing tools, which are much more maybe listening tools in the social media front or content focus. 

Your consumer, your marketer that you’re trying to get to is a different breed for lack of a different description. These are deep diving tools sets not for the timid or the undisciplined, and that is so … You’re trying to reach users and marketers that may not actually be conventionally reachable by social media, by more fluffy type of content. You’ve got to roll out content that is definitive, is factual. You can’t half cook a concept, you’re reaching … I mean, your consumers, as I understand them, are a good deal more serious than then maybe other digital marketers. And maybe I’m extending myself a little bit too much, but is that part of your understanding of your digital marketers that they are a good deal, more data driven? 

Tim Soulo: 35:34 No. 

Erin Sparks: 35:35 Oh, I’m completely, outside. All right, so tell me your consumers, who are you marketing to? 

Tim Soulo: 35:42 Generally, we try to describe our consumers, like I said, is just anyone who understands they want to get traffic from search. So you create a website, you put out some pages there. For example, you’re a small business, and you have a website about your coffee shop or whatever, and you have a few pages about the types of coffee you sell or like services, coffee, delivery in your area, et cetera, and then try to search for yourself in Google, and you don’t find yourself. This is when you realize you have to understand how it is done. And you’re absolutely right in a sense that Ahrefs has a lot of data that you need to analyze, that you need to understand, this is true, and you’d be like that, a person who just created their website, and they want to tap into it. So they would open Ahrefs, they would probably get overwhelmed by the amount of data that we give them, and they would just close it and try to hire a freelancer, or an agency to do it for them because it is just so overwhelming. 

That is the reason why we were, and are, creating so much content because essentially, the basics of SEO … I’m not talking about doing SEO for websites like Amazon com or Booking com, or rolling out like networks of sites and how they work together, et cetera, et cetera. I’m talking about doing SEO for your own website, and the basics, the fundamentals of SEO are super simple. Because checking if a keyword gets a certain amount of searching per month, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that, okay, this keyword is being searched only 20 times per month, so no demand for this stuff, and this keyword is getting 200,000 searches per month. So this is a hot topic and people are searching for it. So yeah, those things are very basic, and other than creating tools for SEO professionals or for people who want to grow the traffic from search, we are creating a lot of content that we try to make sure it’s accessible. 

So our goal, and the other day I was talking to Joshua, our head of [inaudible 00:37:56], our head of blog, and he said that in his own experience of learning about SEO, he was reading a lot of articles that were intimidating. So once he starts reading an article, it would have a lot of SEO terminology, it would reference a lot of Google updates or things that they’re doing, and it is hard to read for a newbie. So with our content, what you’re trying to do, we try to make sure that the content is more or less accessible for people who have no previous experience in SEO. So every individual article that you write, we try to make it simple for them. We also have a YouTube channel with a lot of tutorials where we actually would walk people through step by step, like with [inaudible 00:38:41] of where find what, how to work with this data, how to understand this data, et cetera. 

And as far as I can see, our growth numbers, how many customers we’re adding, how fast we’re growing year over year, it pays off, because with the vast majority of tools in our space, in the SEO space, be it outreach tools, be it analysis tools, be it Rank Trackers, et cetera, et cetera, I do believe that we are the tool with the most educational materials for our tool. And I think actually, we are now in the process of revamping our homepage, we didn’t take a look at it for three years or something, and I feel that the abundance of educational materials and the amount of education that we provide our customers with, we want to put it almost front and center on our homepage so that people that are visiting Ahrefs’ homepage would understand that Ahrefs is no longer just a set of SEO tools, they are also an educational resource, and we give out our education for free, why we make you pay for the tools. 

So yeah, this is why we put so much effort into education because I believe that the fundamentals are simple and people can get a lot of great results with just those fundamentals. 

Erin Sparks: 40:00 All right folks, I did not tee that up to Tim, man. And honestly, I was actually of the belief that the consumers, the customers of Ahrefs are a good deal more dialed in because of just the complexity of the tool, and the data that’s there. But you’re doing something actually even further. You are moving content out into that buyer’s journey minds that we always talk about, awareness, consideration, decision. You’re actually taking on, not just a marketing role, meeting an SEO professional where they’re evaluating tools, they’ve already been seasoned developer. You’re actually reaching out there a good deal further out to help educate and reset and calm people down in the SEO as they’re trying to understand the SEO. What you’re saying is that your content is developed in such a manner to be able to extend more like an educational bridge out there as opposed to meeting deep professionals inside of SEO that are looking at how best you are updating your database on an hourly increment, right? 

Tim Soulo: 41:16 Yes, exactly, you’ve explained it perfectly. Yes. 

Erin Sparks: 41:19 All right, well, I stand corrected, because I mean, I’m a geek. I’m absolutely … and I love Ahrefs because … and the number of tools that we look at, we look at SEMrush, we look at Cognitive, we use all of them in particular perspectives because of the rich tapestry [inaudible 00:41:37] data. But you have to be able to connect to that audience member, that business owner that doesn’t know where to go because there are so many confusing on-ramps or confusing access points to the start in SEO. So that’s even more of a challenge from a marketing standpoint, because you have to not just talk to one group, you’ve got to go out there and be able to connect where their education is just starting. Kudos to you for that, but my gosh, that almost triples the amount of workload to create content for meeting those different spaces. Yeah? 

Tim Soulo: 42:22 Yeah. And on our blog, we are addressing a lot of very newbie topics. People are searching for literally SEO basics, and we literally have an article with SEO basics, with the basics of SEO. And we want to rank for that, we want to collect that search traffic, and we do understand that the odds of a person converting from the SEO basics article to a software like Ahrefs, which you’ve mentioned is rich in data, it is rich on features, and this is overwhelming to a newcomer, the odds are quite low, but as you just said, there is a buyer’s journey, so people would learn from us about the basics of SEO, and we would already try to squeeze in that articles some use cases of Ahrefs to show them the basics. Like you’re looking for SEO basics, here are the basic use cases of Ahrefs that you can do right now. And then, they would search for something else. For example, they would search for keyword difficulty, they would hear the term from someone, they would want to research that, and we have an article about keyword difficulties. 

So they would read our vision, our explanation of keyword difficulty, and again, we would explain our data, we would show the use cases of Ahrefs, we would show our interface, so they will start to be educated on our tool set more and more, and eventually as they go deeper down in their buyer’s journey and learn more from us, they will choose our software because they understand it the best. 

Erin Sparks: 43:56 Very good. You also have another challenge just briefly, is that you have to be continually building your subject matter experts in-house as well, because you’re not only marketing to individuals that are experiencing the on-ramp, but you have to be continually talking truth into a space that has a lot of stigma to it from black hat work and shadiness inside of the SEO realm. So on top of everything else that you also have to make sure that the people that are talking on behalf of you, are also top experts. So briefly, how do you continue that education internally as well as attract more and more subject matter experts to come on board the Ahrefs’ brand? 

Tim Soulo: 44:54 First of all, we are not very big on hiring, like I said, Mitri wants to keep the company small and lean because the more people you have, the less effective it gets, because you need a lot of communication, you need a lot of team meetings, et cetera, et cetera, and it takes away time from actually doing stuff and building things. So we are not very big on hiring, but yeah, whenever we bring people on board, we need higher level marketers, like more experienced marketers than your general marketer. Because like you said, a lot of the content we create, the bigger part is still the content that we create for newbies because we want to attract anyone who is interested in growing such traffic to their website. But on the other hand, we also need to create reputation within industry because other than our own blog and our own channels, like I said, marketing industry is full of people who have audience, is full of websites, podcasts, et cetera, that have audience, and we need to have reputation there because we need those people to talk about us. 

And for those people to talk about us, we have to create kind of edgy things, like to be on the edge of the web, right? 

Erin Sparks: 46:12 See, he said it, right there. Very good. 

Tim Soulo: 46:17 This is why we like the top marketing people that they have in my team, are actually the practitioners themselves, and they still, other than working at Ahrefs, they still are having some side projects or they’re deep in the community talking to other people to continuously stay on the edge of things and be able to produce content that will impress other people. Because if you’re only rehearsing what other people say, [inaudible 00:46:46] have respect in the industry. This is why we have done so many research studies with our own data because we feel it is our unique competitive age, at the end of the day, we are the only ones who has our data. So we are the only ones who can tap into it at scale. We have API of course, but you cannot do with our API, the things that you can do if you have like actual access to everything. So this is why we invested quite a lot of effort into releasing many studies based on our data. 

And if you go to Ahrefs and if you put ahrefs.com there and see our most linked pages, a lot of them are those SEO studies, data-driven SL status. So we got reputation in the industry by tapping into our own data and by releasing unique things, not just rehearsing what other people say. So yeah, you’re completely correct, marketing to marketers, building reputation, you have to be one step ahead of everyone or there would be no respect for you. 

Erin Sparks: 47:44 That’s a whole nother space right there, is that you have to keep on investing in that talent and that expertise, and you can’t continue to practice. And that’s what’s actually unique, and in a lot of respects is that we’re seeing tools now and communities that actually are giving back to their communities. These brands that are truly coming from such a level of knowledge. I mean, it’s really impressive, it really is with these tools to be able to see a groundswell of subject matter experts in these brands. Tim, we could talk for days. We really could. But we do need to wrap up, and certainly would love to be able to have you back on the show and talk about what you guys are doing in your particular unique terrain of marketing to marketers, marketing to new SEO experiencers as well as keeping your powder dry, so to speak with constant expertise. I mean, that’s a threefold endeavor right there, that is very important to focus on. But I do want to swing around as we finish up the show and I ask you quickly, what bugs you about your industry right now? 

Tim Soulo: 49:04 What is bugging me the most is the dominance of Google. I think how dominant of a force they are, and we were discussing those news, like we have to follow all their updates, we have to know what kind of new technical things they are releasing and adopt those things. But the most of all, the way they kind of take traffic away from websites with the content that they display right in their search results. A lot of people spend, I don’t know, years and years of their life to create useful things, so that they’re able to get traffic from Google, and then Google basically takes those things from them, adds them to their database and start displaying them in the search results without letting people go to the websites [inaudible 00:49:56] have created those things. And actually, two weeks ago, I started using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine, and actually the first thing I realized is how useful and how convenient it is for users of a search engine to see those answers instantly. 

Though I do agree that Google is doing very good thing for its users, that they’re displaying a lot of information right in the search results, it saves so much time. You don’t have to like click all the pages and look where is the texts on the article. Then it is absolutely unfair to all the people who are creating that content. So Google has to find a way to give back to those people, then we will like Google a lot more. But right now, yes, it is incredibly useful, I felt it as I started using DuckDuckGo, all those instant answers, all those things that Google is displaying in their search results, it is absolutely useful. I feel that with DuckDuckGo, I’m a little bit less productive than I am with Google. Google, please find a way to give back to the people for feeding your database. 

And a little teaser, maybe you’ve heard about it, maybe not, Our CEO and founder announced that we are working on our own search engine, and we want to create a search engine which would share profits with the content producers-

Erin Sparks: 51:31 That’s right. 

Tim Soulo: 51:32 … so that people who are feeding information to search engine would get compensated for that. And soon we’re actually publishing some official articles on [inaudible 00:51:42] about our vision for that. I hope that viewers of your show and listeners of your show will get that content in front of them, and they will read our articles and they will spread the idea. Because if Google does figure out the way to give back to content producers, we won’t have to build our own search engine, because the essential goal is to create a more fair internet. 

Erin Sparks: 52:10 No, actually, we reported on that I think three months ago whenever the first information came out regarding what you guys are doing over there. And we’re wrapped with attention to see what rolls out, so let us know whenever we can talk about that as an alternative search engine because that’s a big undertaking. We understand more than most, what that entails. Certainly appreciate … Again, appreciate the time. And last thing, I got to throw out here, is you shared with us a bit of a fun fact for … you’re [inaudible 00:52:48

Tim Soulo: 52:47 Yes. 

Erin Sparks: 52:51 All right. All right, so I’m going to put you on the test here. What is a hula mug? Do you know what an hula mug is? 

Tim Soulo: 52:51 Hula mug? 

Erin Sparks: 53:01 Hula mug, yeah. 

Tim Soulo: 53:03 I’m a huge [crosstalk 00:53:06]. I’m a huge fan of the game button, but unfortunately, it is very time consuming, so to be in the know of everything that they release, because they regularly release new sets and such, it is very time consuming and unfortunately, I don’t have time for this. But I have a collection of dragons, dragon cards-

Erin Sparks: 53:29 All right. 

Tim Soulo: 53:29 And I think I collected almost all the kinds of dragon types that there are in magic today. So yeah, I’m proud of that little collection. 

Erin Sparks: 53:39 Very good, very good. And then sorry to spring it on you, I literally had asked my 19-year-old son, I got to ask … I got to asked him-

Tim Soulo: 53:49 [crosstalk 00:53:49] wait, your son and me, those are different [crosstalk 00:53:52]

Erin Sparks: 53:54 So just for everybody listening, it’s a being from space between planes and dimensions that feeds off manna. There we go. So he rolled that one out, and I was like, “I got to have something, I got to have something for the guy.” That’s actually an interesting marketing gimmick itself because every six months, they roll out a new set and if you’re a “professional” you’ve got to use that set to be [inaudible 00:54:23] worthy, every six months, you can’t use the old sets anymore. You talk about a game there, it’s a moneymaker-

Tim Soulo: 54:33 It’s like a SaaS subscription. 

Erin Sparks: 54:38 All right. 

Tim Soulo: 54:39 Though you can’t even use a combination, you have to [inaudible 00:54:42] all new-

Erin Sparks: 54:42 No, all new. I mean, you can still play, but you can’t play and rank professionally in the tournaments without that fresh new pack. 

Tim Soulo: 54:52 That’s crazy. I haven’t played since 1995. 

Erin Sparks: 54:54 No, no, it’s awesome. It can turn people off because they have to reinvest each time, but what a great gimmick. All right, what we do want to promote for Tim is his new YouTube series. You can go check it out on YouTube, second show. A number of cool things he rolled out regarding the new font for Ahrefs. I’m going to have to ask for a T-shirt because that’s too cool of a font shirt. There it is right there, look at that. That’s awesome. That’s awesome fun too. And there’s a number of things he was talking about specially doing 20 podcasts in four months, fantastic. And we’re actually not even in that basket, are we? 

Along with a number of things, check out what he’s talking about. It’s actually very well produced, and congrats on that because you’re doing a heck of a lot of neat animations that keep the audience entertained. So keep on investing in that, we need that type of conversation regularly in the biz. Is there anything else that we can actually promote for you today? 

Tim Soulo: 56:03 Maybe our primary YouTube channel. So if anyone … well, I doubt that this is the case, but if anyone in your audience is new to SEO, they might want to check out Ahrefs on YouTube. We have a lot of amazing tutorials, and actually for a lot of people who are already familiar, who are seasoned digital specialists, I’m sure we have a bunch of tutorials that would show you how to do things differently and maybe more effectively. So yeah, check out Ahrefs on YouTube. 

Erin Sparks: 56:32 Very good, very good. Well, we certainly want to let our audience know where to find Tim. You can find him on Twitter at @timsoulo, and that’s S-O-U-L-O, and on Facebook, Tim Soulo, LinkedIn, Tim Soulo, and Instagram Tim Soulo. So even if that’s a pen name, you’ve got all the socials covered. Any last final thoughts for that new SEO marketer that is trying to find their way into this mess? 

Tim Soulo: 57:01 Study the basics, the basics can get you very far. You don’t have to be like amazing technical SEO to get traffic from Google or other search engine. Study the basics, the basics are very simple, and you will start seeing how your traffic is growing. 

Erin Sparks: 57:18 There it is, there it is. Well, thank you very much for your time today, Tim, and thanks for getting up bright and early in Singapore to talk to EDGE of the Web. We really appreciate your time, especially, appreciate the insight from a marketing to marketers concept, because that can be very easy but also challenging, especially in this analytical market that we’re in. So again, thank you so much for your time today, Tim. 

Tim Soulo: 57:43 Thanks a lot for inviting me. 

Erin Sparks: 57:44 You’re more than welcome, more than welcome. Well, thanks for listening to EDGE of the Web Radio. A special thank you to our colleagues at Site Strategics for always putting on a great production before, during, and after the show. Make sure that you rate us in ACE. Hey, if you’re interested in what we’re doing on YouTube, because we’re going to be going live on YouTube regularly, smash that bell, and let us know that you want to get notified, and we’re going to bring you great content on a regular basis. Special thank you to our guest, Tim Soulo, and make sure you check out all the must see videos over at edgeofthewebradio.com, and all the insider information is over there. Join the newsletter and let us know how you want to be delivering that content. If we’re not on the podcast aggregator near you, let us know, we’ll get our RSS feed there. From all of us over at Central Phoenix at EDGE of the Web radio, thank you so much. Do not be a piece of cyber driftwood, we’ll talk to you next week. Bye, bye.

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