Ahrefs’ Tim Soulo on Achieving SEO Excellence [INTERVIEW]
Stratabeat had the privilege of interviewing Tim Soulo, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Ahrefs, on the latest episode of B2B Marketing Tech Talks. Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO suite of tools to help organizations achieve better organic rankings and traffic.
The platform helps you to research keywords, competitors, and technical SEO issues within your website. It also helps you to identify popular content and link opportunities.
Ahrefs is a data junkie’s dream come true, enabling you to examine data from many angles. For example, even just with keyword research, Ahrefs empowers you to explore potential keywords by search engine (even YouTube), country, with phrase match, with terms match, or simply new related ideas. You can slice and dice the data by search volume or ranking difficulty or expected traffic.
Essentially, Ahrefs primes your business for greater SEO success. This explains why it’s one of the most popular tools in the entire SEO community.
Grab your coffee, sit back, and hit play to meet Tim and learn more about achieving SEO excellence with Ahrefs.
The following are excerpts (slightly edited to help you save time), talking points, and takeaways from the interview with Soulo.
Tom Shapiro (Stratabeat): Tim, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Tim Soulo (Ahrefs): As many people in the U.S can hear, I’m not a native English speaker. So I come from Ukraine where I lived most of my life basically up until I got found by Ahrefs CEO and founder Dmitry, and got hired and brought to Singapore. And this is one of the reasons why my English accent isn’t improving much because in Singapore people speak what they call singlish.
Yeah. So this is a little bit of background on my experience and then where it is coming from. Before Ahrefs, I had all sorts of marketing related jobs. I worked at a few different companies and I was trying to bootstrap my own projects. And then Dmitry came with an offer I couldn’t refuse. And I ended up being the first marketer at the time in the team of 16. When I joined the Ahrefs there were 16 people and they did do marketing before me. But at the time when I joined, I was the first kind of dedicated marketer, the only dedicated marketer in the team. And from there it just kept escalating. We were doing more stuff. I was hiring people and we got to where we are today. That’s basically the short version of the story.
Shapiro: Fantastic. And how many people are you today?
Soulo: Today we are about 70ish, which is quite small actually, because our main competitor, which is SEMrush, they have over a thousand people. So we compete with kind of 1/10th less staff. You can think of how effective and efficient we are. And Moz, which is our kind of second largest competitor, I think they have around 300 people or something. So I had to put this in perspective to show that it’s not that we are a little company it’s that we are efficient company. We manage to do more with less people.
Shapiro: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Ahrefs and the different tools that are included in the platform?
Soulo: So, Ahrefs used to be a tool for SEO professionals—so people who do SEO as their job to make money. But right now I think we are quite well known in the industry of SEO professionals. And so we are kind of expanding to digital marketers in general, because if you’re a digital marketer, you have to understand how SEO works. Even at the fundamental levels. How to get traffic from Google, how traffic from Google is different from other sources of traffic, et cetera, et cetera.
And actually, we also try to reach pretty much any website owner, any solopreneur who is interested in growing their search traffic to their website. So this is why we have lots of educational materials. Ahrefs used to be just a tool, not just the tool, a pretty awesome tool. But today we are a tool and free education. Because by educating… SEO is not rocket science thankfully. And by educating more people how to do their own SEO at the fundamental level, of course you cannot do the same level as some SEO professionals, but at the fundamental level you can do a lot.
And we teach people that. And we give them our tools and data now, and this is what Arhefs is. We kind of empower people with knowledge, data, and tools to get their SEO right. And to get more traffic from Google.
Shapiro: Tim, can you tell me more about the specific differentiation of Ahrefs? How are you different from others in the market?
Soulo: So I think the main point of difference is our founder actually, because he’s a very technical person. And he was working on the issues of web crawling search, storing large amounts of data, processing large amounts of data way before he founded Ahrefs. So I think even in his university, his diploma work was something related to web search or something like this. So he has been doing this for many, many years, and this is why he has tons of expertise in those things. And he’s actually a very hands-on CEO. So he’s not just running the company kind of as a business. He’s actually in the trenches, he’s digging into the code. He’s making sure that we are using all the latest hardwork. He’s investing millions, tens of millions of dollars, into our hard work to make sure that we are running all the latest CPU cores, all the latest SSD drives, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So the main differentiation is that we are super technical and sophisticated on our backend to make it easy for people on the front-end. So, for example, I’m hearing a lot of claims from our competitors. Everyone’s trying to measure how good is their link index. So, one of the main things that Ahrefs does is shows you, your links or the links of your competitor, and you have to crawl the entire web for that and see which websites are linking to which websites to be able to produce what is called a link graph.
So everyone in our space is kind of trying to compete who has more links, who shows more linked data. But then if you go to the actual interface, if you go to the actual tool and you try to use the online interface to slice and dice this data, to get some meaningful insights out of it, like, what can you filter? What can you sort? What kind of data points are there?
Ahrefs trumps everyone, blows everyone out of the water. And that’s because we, like our founder and CEO, over the years, he was investing most of the effort into making sure that we have sound data, that we have sound servers, which the data is running on and all that stuff.
So, yeah, I think our main differentiation is the way we can operate with large data. I don’t think our competitors are capable of doing what we are doing. So you have the raw number. It is one thing to crawl the entire internet once. It is another thing to crawl the entire internet regularly and make sure that all your data is fresh. And there is a third thing to give people access to. There’s data in a way where they can slice and dice it any way they want and the system won’t crash.
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Tim, can you share a tip with our audience for getting more out of Ahrefs?
We have Site Audit tool, which crawls your website and reports all issues that you have on your website, all technical issues that might be preventing how Google crawls and understand your website. And there are quite a few sophisticated features. Again, sophisticated filters, sophisticated reports, which you can use within site audit tool if you know what you’re doing.
But to give people a pretty simple tip in regards to using the tools and data in Ahrefs…is understanding which pages on your website have the most links.
And we have a tool called Site Explorer. You put your website there and there’s a report called best by links. And it shows you which pages of your website have the most links. Or which pages of your competitor website have the most links for that matter. Because links is what is helping your website rank higher in Google. And if you know which pages have the most links, it means you can produce more of them. Or if you see which pages of your competitors are producing a lot of links, you can create them.
Links is basically what people love you for. What is a notable thing that you have on your website that people from other websites would link to? So this is very important to understand what content, what pages on your website are attracting references, mentions, links from other websites. So this is a very useful report.
Tim, changing the subject a little bit, I’d like to look at the way that Ahrefs markets itself. I love your blog; I think it’s fantastic. It covers SEO topics in sophisticated detail. It’s really well thought out. And so I was wondering if you could share what you and Joshua have been doing with the blog in terms of your content strategy.
So, we eat our own dog food, as they say. And our content strategy is fully based on SEO. So we do extensive research of what people are searching for in our industry. What our potential customers are searching for in Google. Then we create this content for them on our blog. And we try to rank for it in Google, so that people who have problems related to SEO, digital marketing ranking in Google and all those things so that they would land on our blog and within our articles, we will show them how to use the Ahrefs to solve their problems. Because Ahrefs is basically an irreplaceable solution for many of the SEO issues that people are having. So, yeah, our blog strategy is entirely based on SEO. We do keyword research and we cover the things that people are actually searching for.
And then in terms of making sure that our content is great. I think one of the main things about it is peer feedback. It’s not that we do keyword research. We list a bunch of topics that we won’t cover it on our blog. And then we go on Fiverr, hire some like $5 per a hundred words person. And then they write an article targeting that keyword. This is not how it happens. So we make sure that people who write articles for us, and we actually employ them. We have in-house marketers who do this. Then they have firsthand, actual experience with the topic that they’re writing about. They’re not a writer, they’re actually an expert. So we employ marketers and we have them write for our blog. So this is the first thing. And the second is peer feedback. We show our work to each other.
So, for example, when I want to write an article or record the video, I would show my script or my draft to Josh or Sam. They would give me feedback. I would rework it. If someone else, Josh looks over the content that is published in our blog. So he gives feedback to other members of the team. And Sam also consults with myself or Josh, whenever he’s unsure about some stuff that he’s saying in his videos. So we often give each other peer feedback. And we also, whenever we can, whenever we feel that within our team we are lacking expertise over a certain topic, we would go out and ask our community. “Hey guys, who is knowledgeable in this topic or that topic?” Or, I might tweet a request like I’m looking to interview people who did this or that. And we will talk to actual experts, to actual practitioners and create content based on real things and not just rewrite content that we’ve seen from other websites.
So, these are two things that we do first. We make sure that our content has expertise behind it. And second, we make sure that there is some peer feedback so that it’s not just a single person writing and publishing an article but someone else look at this article before publishing it.
That’s great. And yeah, that is one thing you mentioned about the originality of the writing and the content. It comes through very, very clearly. It’s experts writing excellent content.
Similarly, I’d like to talk about your YouTube channels for a minute. You have over 200K subscribers, I believe, to your main YouTube channel. Can you speak to how you and Sam Oh have built the YouTube channel and built such a loyal following?
Great question. You have to probably invite Sam and interview him on this topic alone. Because I only started the channel myself. So shortly after joining Ahrefs I realized that we don’t have YouTube channel. I realized that I watch YouTube quite frequently whenever I needed tutorial for something. And I basically took my iPhone and I started recording myself. The first videos on our YouTube channel were recorded on iPhone. And since I am not a native speaker my English was way, way worse six years ago than it is today. And it took me three hours to record a six minute video because of how many failed attempts I had, how many takes I had to take.
So this is how the YouTube channel started. I just started posting videos. And then Sam came as a savior, and he took over and he basically dedicated most of his time into researching what resonates with people and how to better present our content.
At the same time, the video animator, whom I hired back in the day to work with me on those first clumsy animations. He was also learning all the time, taking courses, progressing. And so if you go to our YouTube channel saw videos by all this first and compare the first videos that you publish, the animations in those videos, my terrible English and even content, the content wasn’t good and I was aware of that. Which is why I called our first video series “Oversimplified SEO”. So I was worried that a professional SEO would grill me for saying something stupid or for giving content that is not new or not impressive. This is why I kind of safeguarded myself by calling my series Oversimplified SEO. If you’re looking for something out of this world, you probably go to some other channels. I’m just sharing simple things.
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Tim, can you speak to where you feel the SEO technology market is heading. There are tons and tons of tools flooding the market, but where do you think it’s all going?
So, like I said, initially, Ahrefs was a pretty specialized tool, which was only useful for hardcore SEO professionals. But right now we covered most of the market and we made a lot of progress since then. And we understand that there are lots and lots of people who own websites and who want to get more traffic to their websites. And we want to empower them. So I’m not sure about the entire industry. I’m not sure where they are going, but I can definitely tell you where Ahrefs is going and what we want to do. We want to simplify our tools.
So, while we were making our data more sophisticated on the back end, we want the front end to be more simple. More user-friendly, more self-explanatory so that anyone, even the person who doesn’t call themselves an SEO, would be able to open Ahrefs, plug in their website, and get some actionable insights of how to improve something on their website, on how to create the content that people want and get search traffic from Google. So Ahrefs is going into the direction of helping people without SEO knowledge to get more traffic to their websites.
Great. Thanks for that. And so Tim, where can people find you? Where can they find Ahrefs online? Where should they go?
And if people in your audience want to start learning SEO if they want to get some SEO fundamentals, so that at least understand what they’re talking about if they need to hire an SEO professional, we have created a pretty cool educational resource for beginners. And the URL to it is also quite convenient. It is ahrefs.com/seo. This is basically an entry page to the world of SEO. We created a simple guide with all the fundamentals that pretty much every website owner needs to understand about SEO if they want to get more traffic from Google. So, I invite people to check it out if they want to dig a little bit into the fundamentals of SEO.
Excellent. I encourage everyone as well to visit Tim on Twitter and visit ahrefs.com. Test out the tool. Again, Stratabeat uses it all the time. I personally use it every single workday. It’s a very powerful tool. So Tim, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Thanks for having me.