For the serious SEO practitioner, Ahrefs is a tool and brand that we’re already well aware of. It’s a powerful platform for many things, including competitor analysis and keyword research. As you can imagine, an awesome marketing tool like Ahrefs needs an awesome chief marketing officer, and that’s where Tim Soulo comes in. Tim is a digital marketing thought leader, a frequent speaker at events around the globe, and a publisher of cutting-edge research and opinions on the Ahrefs blog.
Before taking on the CMO role at Ahrefs, Tim forged his own path in the digital marketing world for more than a decade, building successful online businesses, and becoming an expert in SEO and the process. On this episode number 195, Tim and I will be delving into the most pressing issues in SEO right now, including best practices for link building, content creation, building authority online, and featured snippets. If you want the latest on SEO from the CMO of one of the biggest online digital marketing tools, stay tuned.
Tim, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Thanks a lot for having me, Stephan.
You’re talking to me from Singapore right now, correct?
Why Singapore? Did you grow up there? Did the business bring you there? I’ve never been. I’ve heard good things but I haven’t been.
It’s the latter. It’s the business bringing me here because I was born and raised in Ukraine. I lived there for 29 years of my life. In Ukraine, I was working in digital marketing, I had my personal blog about digital marketing. Eventually, I connected with Ahrefs’ CEO and Founder Dmitry. We did a few small projects together, and he invited me to become the head of marketing at Ahrefs. They invited me to relocate to Singapore.
For me, between Ukraine and Singapore, the choice was kind of obvious, especially since the political situation in Ukraine is unstable. I was happy to move here and here is where Ahrefs’ head office is. The larger part of our team, the core of our team is located. I’ve been here for almost five years already.
Very nice. I got to ask this because you pronounce the company name as H-REFS but I pronounce it as A-H-REFS. I think it’s very confusing for people to hear the name H-REFS and the URL is ahrefs.com. That doesn’t make sense to me, so I always pronounce the A in the company name. What’s the correct spelling and what’s the discrepancy here? It just doesn’t compute for me.
The correct spelling is, of course, the way you spell it. You need to pronounce all the letters so people would be able to then write it in their browser, in Google or whatever. But the way how our CEO and founder Dmitry likes to hear and say it is H-REFS. Whenever we record some instructional videos or whenever I go to podcasts and stuff, it is just easier for me and for other team members to say H-REFS than all the time to say A-H-REFS. Within our company, we call it H-REFS but a lot call it A-H-REFS. It’s not that we’re offended about it because it actually helps people to type it correctly into their browsers.
Because if you type in hrefs.com, without the A, you end up on a malware infected website. It’s not good at all. Have you ever tried to acquire that domain? To buy it aftermarket? hrefs.com without the A?
Yeah. I think, just three weeks ago, we were discussing that on Slack. I just don’t remember if it was about hrefs, the dotcom domain, or some other misspelling of our company name, but we were contemplating in acquiring some kind of typo domain names and redirecting them to our site. But we have to make sure that those domain names don’t have any bad history, so we wouldn’t redirect any bad website to us and tell Google that we are doing something shitty or something.As an expert, the goal is to provide the best information for Google to identify that you have the best information and show it to users. Click To Tweet
Right, but you can do that in a way that doesn’t pass any PageRank. You send it through two redirects and one of those redirects is on the site that has a robots.txt disallow, and you cut off all PageRank. You need to own hrefs.com without the a because this is not a good experience. It’s like, “Update your Flash Player. Install.” And it’s on an amazonaws.com URL.
Anyways, just a tip for you. If you do reach out to the domainer who owns that site, make sure you don’t let them know that it’s your company. The price will go sky high if they know they have a live one. Get somebody who knows how to deal with domainers and how to negotiate and who won’t tip his or her hat to let them know that.
Thanks for the tip.
Alright. Let’s talk about what Ahrefs. What is it about Ahrefs that really adds to the SEO ecosystem? I’ve got my opinions about it. I think it’s an amazing tool. I mean, you’re here on the show, so it’s pretty obvious, you made the cut. But what is it, from your standpoint, that adds significant, unique value to the SEO ecosystem that all the other tools out there aren’t providing?
I’m sure that it’s the quality of data because this is how Ahrefs came to be in the first place. I only joined the company five years ago. Before I joined the company, I didn’t have any kind of solid marketing vision and execution. They were growing purely by word-of-mouth and the quality of their product. The day that Dmitry, our founder, launched Ahrefs, the data in our tool was already better than those of our competitors.
The way Ahrefs was able to grow without any marketing and with less than 50 people on our team while our competitors, most of them, have around 200 people. SEMRush, I think they’re over 600 people. We joined the SEO tools market the latest. The way we compete with them is just with the quality of products.
We are obsessed about making a quality product. We are obsessed with collecting the best data in the industry. We are obsessed with creating the kinds of tools and features that work with the data that our competitors cannot duplicate because they are just too technically challenging. This is what makes Ahrefs unique. More or less, the functionality of Ahrefs, Moz, SEMRush and other similar SEO tools is similar so we have a lot of overlapping features. But the way that the data behind our features, the execution, the way our features work in our toolset is what makes us superior—well, in my biased opinion, of course. But the way we’re growing year over year, I feel that we have support from the SEO industry. It’s all about the quality of data and the quality of features that we provide.
I would agree with that. I think you have an incredible, powerful toolset. Before we get too far into the weeds into what all you can do with Ahrefs, I would like to take it from a 30,000-foot view angle, and see what are some of the opportunities—some of the low hanging fruit opportunities—for SEO in your opinion?
Yes, probably the lowest hanging fruit opportunity is when you plug the website of your competitor into Ahrefs and browse their pages, you’ll see what pages of their website are generating them the most traffic from search. You are basically kind of spying on their search strategy. What is bringing them traffic from Google? What topics do they rank for? What pages are ranking for the topics? Where do those pages get backlinks?
Basically, Ahrefs allows you to analyze your entire competitive landscape. Just go to Google search for the things that you want to rank for, find the websites who are ranking for it, then plug all of those websites to Ahrefs and analyze everything. Analyze what kind of traffic they’re getting, what kind of pages, which pages are bringing them the most traffic from search, where do they get their backlinks, etc. From there, once you learn what’s happening in the entire landscape of your niche, you know how all of your competitors get traffic, how they get backlinks. You can structure your own marketing strategy in a way that will help you grow in that competitive niche.
We are an amazing example of that. When I joined Ahrefs the search traffic to our website and blog was super low and I was up against big SEO companies that are the best in the world SEO professionals. One would say that there’s no opportunity for Ahrefs to grow their SEO traffic within the SEO and marketing space because all the best marketers have already coined all the best keywords and are already ranking for all the best topics. But if you go plug ahrefs.com website into our own tool, you’ll see that our search traffic is growing at a quite high pace and this is due to us executing the exact strategy that I just explained.
You analyze what is happening within your competitive space, what your competitors are ranking for and what kind of pages they have, and then you just build your own strategy. You start from those low hanging fruits, you find topics where you can easily outrank them. Then, you go for topics that are harder and harder and harder and finally, you end up with enough kind of power, resources, or size to target even the most challenging topics. It worked for us then it should work for pretty much anyone.
Some people would argue that you guys are pretty sophisticated when it comes to SEO. Somebody who doesn’t really know much about SEO doesn’t stand a chance, even if they’re in a not very competitive niche. I’m not saying that that’s true. I’m just saying that some people are going to be skeptical with that statement that you made. What would you tell somebody who’s like, “Yeah, easy for you to say, you live and breathe SEO. I barely know what SEO stands for, so how do I stand a chance?”
I actually don’t consider myself to be SEO and I don’t have SEO written in my title. I’m the chief marketing officer. At Ahrefs, even though we build an SEO tool—one of the best SEO tools in the industry—in our own team, in our own marketing department, we don’t even have a single person who has SEO as their title. In our company, we don’t have any SEO professionals. Because of the way I look at SEO, it is a mixture of different parts of knowledge.
SEO is partly knowing how websites work technically, how do we optimize them for speed and how do you organize these structures. Then it’s part design and usability because you have to know how users will navigate your website. Will they find what they want? It’s part copyrighting because you have to know how to structure your texts, engage users, and put the right call to actions. Finally, the actual domain expertise of whatever the topic your website is about.
If you want to create a website about dentist stuff, you have to be a dentist. I don’t have any knowledge about teeth, healing teeth and all those technologies related to dentistry, so I won’t be able to create this kind of website. But if I, for example, partner with someone who is a dentist and who has a lot of knowledge and a lot of unique content to put out, it would be super easy for us to launch a website. You won’t even need a lot of technical SEO knowledge. Because most of the success in Google and with getting traffic from Google comes from putting out unique, valuable content that no one else is able to produce.
This is why I’m saying that if you have domain expertise, if you have something unique to talk about, if you have authority in your niche, you will naturally be successful with SEO without even having any super technical knowledge because you’re able to publish pages with unique and amazing content that people want to see. You can address the things that people are searching for with amazing content that they want to read, end to their friends and link to from their websites. That’s basically the essence of SEO because, if you think about it, the end goal of Google is to provide satisfaction to people who are using their search engine.
Whenever you search for something, you want to get a satisfying answer, solve your problem and get the best information. If you’re an expert in that field and you’re able to solve the issue of the person who is searching for something in Google, it is Google’s job to figure out how to help you rank there. It is not your job as an expert to figure out what bells and whistles you can tune and what buttons you should press to make your website go higher in Google. Your job as an expert is to provide the best information and Google’s job is to identify that you have the best information and show it to users.
This is why I’m saying that to be successful with search traffic from Google, you don’t have to be an amazing SEO, but you have to be an amazing and knowledgeable person in your field. It’s like the debate about talent and hard work. Some people say that you get successful in life if you’re talented, but most actually people who are successful in life will tell you that talent is just a small part of their success. 90% of their success is due to hard work. Same here. SEO is just 20% of your success and the 80% is actually creating something of value that people would be glad to find in Google.Majority of the success in Google comes from putting out unique and valuable content that no one else is able to produce. Click To Tweet
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Let’s say that you have a podcast, for example, that has a high value, has been going on for years and has some of the best subject matter experts in the area of marketing for years like Seth Godin, Jay Abraham, and Dan Kennedy. I’m hinting at my podcast here. And yet, I don’t have anywhere near the reach that I would like. The traffic volume isn’t what I think it should be, the reach in terms of numbers of downloads and so forth. I get these comments so many times that I lost count.
Basically, it goes like this, “Stephan, you have such a great podcast, it’s amazing. I can’t believe that it’s not as popular based on the quality.” This happens a lot based on the subject matter expert, let’s say a dentist, who is one of the top dentists, a bit of an unknown and doesn’t have a big reputation but is amazingly good at their craft and writes great content on that topic. When they post it to a blog that has very few links pointing to it, they’re just going to be invisible, blend into the woodwork and nobody’s going to find them on Google or anywhere else. It does not just create great content, that’s world-class content that by itself can…
This is an amazing question and it comes down to essentially two things. First of them is, I was talking specifically about success with Google and success with search traffic and not that kind of overall success. I don’t remember the right English word but the crucial part of success in Google is to make sure that the content that you’re putting out is something that people are actively looking for. I’m afraid we’re recording this interview with you but no one will go to Google within a few weeks from now and search for Stephan Spencer interviewing Tim Saulo. If they will do that, they will find our interview and you will get search traffic from Google because this is your business model, you do podcast interviews with different guests, with Seth Godin, etc. But people are not looking for that information.
We’re talking about SEO specifically, so people might look for, “How do I do SEO for my website?” But they won’t land on this interview, because this interview is basically of me and you, and it covers a lot of topics other than SEO. But if they look for, “How do I do SEO for my website?” They would probably land on Ahrefs blog because we have a lot of content that is relevant to the search query.
My point is, you may have the greatest content on your podcast, but it is not optimized and not targeting any specific topic. Optimize is actually a bad word because some people will think that optimizing means doing something specific to your content, but it’s actually not targeting any single topic. In the course of this interview, we’re going to talk about a lot of things. Google won’t be able to rank our interview for any specific topics out of those that we are going to cover.
This is why podcasts are a very bad strategy for getting search traffic. If you want to get search traffic, you have to do some basic keyword research. There are a ton of keyword research tools where you put any keyword that you want to rank for. For example, “How to build a website?” If you want to create a resource on how to build a website and you want to know how much traffic you can potentially get, you can use a keyword research tool to plug any keyword in the search query that people might put into Google and see how much searches it gets per month. This will give you an idea of the amount of search traffic you get. That’s the first thing, podcasts are a bad way to get search traffic from Google because each podcast episode will go into so many different topics and Google won’t be able to assign a single topic to a podcast interview.
The second thing, I regret that I don’t remember the actual name of the article, but just recently I read an article something along the lines of, “Why Podcasts Don’t Go Viral?” If I remember it correctly, it was actually giving an example of Joe Rogan’s podcast as one of the very few podcasts of thousands and thousands of podcasts that you can find online. I’m not sure what’s the number but the number of the podcast that got a lot of traction and went really viral is very small and Joe Rogan is one of them. The reason why that happened, what the article was explaining is that podcasts they don’t have the so-called shareable sound bites.
For example, throughout this interview, we’re going to talk about quite a few interesting things and interesting concepts. You might say something super interesting, valuable and catchy. I might say something along these lines but if one of the people who are listening to the podcast right now would like to share that with their friends and followers, they’ll just quote us, instead of letting people listen to an hour-long interview. They might say, “The interview was great, they might listen to it but I enjoyed the specific thought that X…” and people will be satisfied with that and they won’t have to listen to the interview.
I should probably try to find that article and send it to you and include it in the show notes. Hopefully, I will find it because there’s a very interesting explanation of why it is hard to get traction with a podcast and why podcasts are not as shareable as videos on Youtube or specific articles.
Okay, that would be great if you could find that article. I’d love to include it in the show notes. Let’s keep going with this concept though. Let’s say this hypothetical situation, you’re a subject matter expert, you don’t have any links or have a very few links currently to your blog. Let’s say it’s not a podcast. Let’s say that you’re a dentist and you’re putting all these time, effort and expertise into your articles – your blog post. You are doing keyword research and figuring out what is popular and what’s not in terms of search volumes in Google. You’re writing articles around those topics and you’re not seeing traction because even though your articles are amazing, you don’t have the links. It’s more than just great content. You got to do something about your link authority.
That’s true of course. I suggest you change the expert from dentist to at least fitness expert because I don’t even have any English vocabulary to support the topic of dentistry.
But I think I can comfortably talk about fitness expert. You’re absolutely correct. If you’ll just publish great content on your website, nothing will happen because if no one sees your content, it cannot go viral, so you have to bring people to your website. You have to let them know it exists.
And to rank in Google, you have to have backlinks. Where do backlinks come from? They come from people with websites linking to you, referencing you in their own articles on their own websites. If backlinks come from people who are referencing you and your work, linking you from their own articles and websites, it means that the resources, articles, and stuff that you have on your website have to be worthy of a link. It has to give people motivation to why they should link to you. What’s in your content? What’s unique about it? What’s shocking about it? What’s valuable about it? So, they would want to share it with their own audience.
Let’s take our imaginary fitness expert. There are tons of websites and blogs about fitness. There are tons of tutorials about fitness. It is true that it is incredibly hard to stand out and that’s actually okay. It’s the same if I decide to be an actor and get a sponsor in a Hollywood movie. It would be incredibly hard to do because there are a ton of professional actors. A ton of people who are doing the acting classes and sacrificing all their life to become an actor, and here I am, I cannot just go and take a few acting courses and land a spot in some Marvel movie. That is just impossible. Same with almost any niche on the internet where you want to become visible, where you want to become popular. If you want your website to get attraction in a competitive niche—and fitness is an incredibly competitive niche—you have to do something outstanding.
For example, if I were the aspiring fitness expert and I needed to get traction, I needed to get attention from people in my industry to get links from them. One way to do this is I would find some common fitness advice. For example, someone would say, “If you do 20 push-ups a day for 100 days, you will be able to get fit or you will get some specific result.” What I would try to do is, I would try to do an experiment. I would try to go and find 100 volunteers who would stick with me, who would be ready to be accountable for 100 days to do that exercise and they would actually perform small research to show how that fitness exercise across 100 people—it’s almost like scientific research actually. And they would publish my results and they would create an article that no one before me has ever created it. The article would be about a specific exercise.
If I were targeting push-ups or pull-ups and I would have 100 people perform X push-ups for that many days and I would also supply the information like, “On a sample of 100 people, I would see what kind of mistakes that people are making when they’re doing push-ups. What other things influence them. Some other people sleep well, some people don’t sleep well, some people have other fitness routines. Other people are doing nothing but push-ups.” I would have a lot of data and information to write an amazing article about pull-ups or push-ups based on my experiment with 100 people, and that would be incredibly unique. I will easily get backlinks from other fitness experts in the industry because fitness experts, they also need something to talk about. If I do the job for them, I would create something interesting to talk about. I would get a ton of mentions.
If you do something notable, don’t just write your own thoughts. Everyone can do push-ups, so you can have your own opinion about push-ups and you can write an article about push-ups because it’s not rocket science, it’s not what Elon Musk is doing to send people to Mars. That doesn’t have any value unless you do something that no one is willing to do unless you do some incredible research and collect some incredible data. This is how you get traction in your industry and this is how you land backlinks.
Again, it is not that much about SEO, it is not that much about putting your keywords in specific places or optimizing your website speed. It’s about actually creating something incredibly notable in your industry, which will make all people link to you, and which will make people actually want to read your content because it is so outstanding.
If you create this wonderful piece of content, like you said, involving 100 different people and maybe it has before and after photos, and all sorts of great research and insights that came out of the research. Don’t you have to outreach to experts to notice this piece of content?
Yeah, I got too carried away explaining how to create an amazing piece of content that I totally forgot that. like I said in the beginning, people won’t know that your content exists unless you reach them somehow and there are generally two ways to reach people.
One is advertising. For example, you can just throw money to Facebook ads and you can get a lot of cheap clicks. You can similarly advertise your content in Google for whenever people are searching for. In our case, push-ups, you can put your guide at the top and with a catchy title like, “Here’s an Amazing Research: Tracking 100 People for 100 Days Doing Push-Ups” and it will attract clicks, so people will learn about it. You can also go to reddit, you can post it and reach people there. But outreach is the most effective for building links because, in advertising, you’re reaching everyone. If you want to rank in Google, you have to get backlinks and put your content in front of people who have websites. Unless a person has a website, they have no chance of linking to you, unless they hang out on some fitness forum and drop your backlink on that fitness forum like, “Hey guys, check this out. This is amazing!” And you’ll get a link.
But mostly, you have to be proactively reaching out to other people in your industry with your content, given that your content is amazing and they will be interested to see it because it is something they have never seen before. I get a ton of emails with all sorts of SEO articles, and there’s nothing new for me in those SEO articles, but sometimes—once in four to five months—I get an email with an incredible gem, incredible masterpiece, where someone would carry out an amazing and super interesting experiment and I will be happy to tweet that article. I would be happy to include that article in one of my future articles. I would be happy to talk about that article in my interviews if it is relevant to what I’m saying.
You have to reach out to people with websites and show them your content, given that your content is worthy of attention and worthy of being mentioned. If you’re only creating your content based on things that you’ve learned in reading contents of others, that content has no value and people won’t reply to your messages – some of them will mark you as spam.
Even something of real value is probably insufficient too, right? Because if I get an email from somebody who wants to let me know about their article that they wrote that is potentially very good, I’m probably not even going to look at it because I’m busy and I get pitched all the time and most of its garbage. Whereas, if somebody reaches out to me with a gift, they want to somehow add value to my life and my business, then I’m much more inclined to do that. If they wanted to have me come speak at their conference and pay me for it, of course. Those sorts of things that are going to, I guess, it scratches their own itch, the expert’s own itch, to take action and link to you or to give you a shoutout. Those are the best kinds of pitches, I think.
I absolutely agree. I once took a course by Neville Medhora, he’s also known as a friend of Noah King, the expert copywriter guy. He has a copywriting course—it starts with a K not C, both words. I took it six years ago and the first lesson that I’ve learned from his copywriting course is, “People don’t care about you, all they care is themselves.” All they care about is themselves, so when you’re reaching out to people, you have to be reaching out from a position that they don’t care about you, they don’t care about what you have, they don’t care about what is happening in their life, they only care about things that could be valuable for them and could be useful for them, which is exactly what you just said.
One interesting thing is that, when your content is incredibly notable and outstanding, you’re actually helping them because I can tell this from my own experience. I have a Twitter account and have Twitter followings, I have to “entertain” my Twitter following with some interesting information. I also have to keep the mark of sharing stuff that no one learned about before. I don’t want to be the last one to share some incredible experiment or some amazing news.
If you’re reaching out to me, and you’re showing me an incredible case study, incredible experiment, incredible piece of information or incredible statistic; I would be among the first ones to know about it and share it with my audience to provide value and show them that I’m a thought leader and expert. I’m at the edge of all things by sharing these amazing piece of content, you’re actually helping me and you’re doing a favor to me. As I said, it all comes down to the value, uniqueness, and awesomeness of your content.
Again, if you create, if you’re a fitness expert and you have created a guide with push-ups, it can have the most unique, amazing, incredible, innovative thoughts – your thoughts of how push-ups should be done or should not be done. Unless you actually break it up with something incredible and something no one else is willing to do, take 100 people and track them for 100 days. You have to do hard things. If you’re doing something that anyone can replicate tomorrow, it won’t make the cut. If you’re doing something that 99.9% of people will say, “I don’t want to replicate this,” you’ll be successful.
Actually, I read a book about stories, I think it was called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. I read a book about what makes a good story, the most important thing that makes a good story is a challenge.
Think of all the stories that you’re telling your friends when you’re having beers or dinner with them. What makes an interesting story? If your flight was severely delayed and you had to struggle but you still made it to whatever you wanted. You still were able to do the stuff despite the delay, that makes an interesting story because there was a challenge. If you went to Bali and were hanging out and having a good time and was drinking pina coladas, it’s not a good story. It won’t resonate with people because there’s no challenge there. If there’s a challenge in your content, if there’s a struggle in your content, if there’s a lot of sweat and tears behind your content, it is likely to be interesting to people who you are reaching out to and they might be interested to tweet it and to share it with their audience. If you’re doing a commodity, something that anyone can replicate tomorrow, it won’t make the cut.
That sounds pretty daunting probably for a listener like, “Oh my goodness, how many hours do I have to spend writing a single piece of content?”
I’m sorry guys, this is how life is. You have to work to achieve some result. Don’t look for easy cuts. I know that, coming from Ukraine and living in Ukraine for 29 years. I know what hard work is.
I bet you do. The book is called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: How I Learned To Live A Better Story. It’s by Donald Miller and he is fantastic. He’s got a great podcast called Building A Storybrand Podcast and his other book that he is famous for is Building A Storybrand. Excellent book.
I’m literally ordering it after our interview. I’m literally doing it because I enjoyed the first book so much.
It’s a game changer. He talks about things like, try not to be the hero in the story because the reader needs to be the hero. You’re just going to be the guide. You’re the sherpa. You’re the sidekick. That is a game-changing concept right there. If you can tweak your marketing stories to be more, “I’m the guide, I’m the sherpa. You’re the hero,” and focus that heroic journey on the reader, that’s going to be much more effective.
I’m curious, are you using a particular tool to do the outreach? Like, Pitchbox for example. Are there any capabilities within Ahrefs to do the outreach to the experts? Because you don’t want to just outreach randomly, you want to go after those experts who have high authority and are considered important in the eyes of Google. You want to go after people who are influential, right?
In Ahrefs, we have an amazing tool to find the people – the prospects. The tool is called Content Explorer. Basically, you can think of Content Explorer as Google. But while you search for something like fitness blog in Google, it will only give you 10 pages of search results, with 10 search results on each, so that is like 100 pages, so it is kind of limited. If you go and search for fitness in Content Explorer, we’ll give you all the pages that we have in our database and because we’re crawling the web almost on the same scale, if not on the same scale as Google crawls the web, we have a ton of content for you.
What you can do in Content Explorer, you can find all articles that mentioned fitness in their title. What you can do is you can refine and limit your results to articles that are coming from unique websites because you don’t want to get 20 articles that have fitness in their title from the same blog. Since you’re prospecting, you’re looking for unique blogs and unique people to reach out to, not reaching out 20 times to the same person.
What you can do with Content Explorer, is you can find all blogs from all around the web that have at least the single article that mentions fitness in their title. From there, we have a metric called Domain Authority. On a score from 0-100. it basically shows you how many backlinks from other websites each of those blogs have. High domain rating, if it is 90 or 80, it means that this blog is super authoritative that it has backlinks from thousands and thousands and thousands of other websites. If the domain rating is 20 or 10 or 5, it means it is probably up and coming or sometimes, an abandoned blog which doesn’t have a lot of backlinks from other websites.
You can play with domain rating filter, to filter domains from 30-40 or 40-50, and see what kind of websites you can get and what kind of websites you’re comfortable targeting because it depends on the awesomeness of your content. If your content is amazing, if you’re putting a lot of sweat and tears into your content or article, you can pretty much reach out to the best fitness websites, blogs, and publications in your industry. Be sure they’re going to reply your emails because they rarely get to see content like you have there. But if you’re just starting out and you’re not ready to invest a lot of resources into a single piece of content and your content is good and nice but it’s not outstanding, you can probably try to reach out and connect with smaller bloggers, with those up and coming bloggers and talk to them and establish connections because they would be more likely to reply. Since they’re small and they don’t get as many outreach emails as the bigger guys.
Ahrefs has the tool for finding people at scale because we crawl the entire web, and we save the content in our Content Explorer database, which is refreshed pretty much almost in real time. We continuously crawl the web and expand our database and ask for tools to actually send emails, there are many of them. Originally, Ahrefs’ own marketing team, we were using Buzzstream which is quite a popular tool for sending emails. So you can export leads and URLs from Ahrefs, import them to Buzzstream, and it will organize them into a database. It let you craft an outreach template, personalize it with some personalization fields and send email to those people at scale. But lately, we’ve moved outreach operations to Pitchbox because I made friends with Pitchbox founders when I was traveling in the US. One of the Pitchbox founders is from Ukraine and another one is from Russia.
Generally, we actually enjoy the Pitchbox more than Buzzstream but don’t take my word for it. Take a demo for both tools and see which one works for you best. Because Pitchbox is more oriented towards scale, so when you have a lot of outreach to do because it’s actually more expensive than Buzzstream. But if you’re just starting out or a small blogger, there are quite a few entry-level outreach tools to send emails at scale. I think one of them is Mail Shake. I also think GMass is some kind of plugin probably for Gmail for sending a lot of emails. Just search in Google for outreach tools and you’re likely to land on some article explaining what kind of outreach tools are available today. How to use them, what are the pros and cons, what’s the prize, etc.Every niche's content marketing end goal is to provide satisfaction to people who are using the search engines. Click To Tweet
Very cool. I’m happy to hear that you moved from Buzzstream to Pitchbox. I’m a big fan of Pitchbox, I’m friends with the founders and in fact, do you know how I heard about Ahrefs for the first time?
From Pitchbox founders?
Yes, from Michael Geneles. He’s a good friend. Years ago he told me about Ahrefs and he was raving about it back then and I don’t think you guys knew each other back then.
I think we properly established a connection only in January this year. Before that, we only knew that we exist, we knew our names, our faces, but never connected personally.
Yeah. That’s how I knew about Ahrefs, it was from Michael. He was glowing about how amazing your toolset is and that was years ago.
Now I’m glowing how amazing their outreach is. Well, that is actually sincere. It is well deserved because we were actually using Buzzstream before that and they gave us access to their tool to try it out. We started setting up out our outreach campaigns there and I asked on Slack on our team, “What do you guys think? Which tool do you like most?” Everyone just agreed that Pitchbox was more powerful, more organized and more efficient. Again, I don’t like to downvote Buzzstream because I’m sure there are people and use cases where Buzzstream could be better. I encourage people to try both tools before they make a decision.
Very diplomatic. So let’s talk about some other metrics that are behind the scenes in Ahrefs that power some of the decision making that SEOs have to make on some of the decisions around, who to target, which keywords to target, which influencers to outreach to, which competitors are the up and comers and which ones are potentially winning or fading out into the distance. All that sort of stuff is powered by metrics, so you got to build a comparing contrast. You mentioned the domain rating, DR, as one of those metrics. There’s also UR at the page level, UR rating. You have other metrics as well that we should probably talk about like the Ahrefs rank, AR. What would be some of the metrics that our listeners most need to know about?
The metric that listeners who are interested in SEO should know about and should look at first is they’re getting search traffic of a website that they’re looking at because you can actually have a high DR. You can have a lot of backlinks from other websites, which means you have a high domain rating. But you might be not using that potential with proper content and the search traffic to your website can be low.
This might actually happen with the websites of podcasters because you might have a lot of great episodes and people who you interviewed might actually link to those episodes that you did with them, so your website can have a lot of backlinks and thus have a high domain rating. But because all that content is not targeting any specific topic but rather interview of two people, there’s nothing that Google could rank your website for and send you traffic for it.
The best metric that I always look at whenever I plug in a website to Ahrefs is their search traffic. This is the first thing I look at. If they have a lot of search traffic, I would dig deeper. Of course, I’m doing SEO for clients, I would also look at domain rating. If I see that the domain rating is high, and the traffic is low I would rub my hands because there’s a ton of opportunity to quickly help them because requiring backlinks is quite hard. If they have a lot of backlinks already, all they need is a proper content strategy to create some proper content targeting some things that people are searching for and their traffic will go up.
Now, let me give you a use case, you might prematurely be rubbing your hands or say that it’s the opposite side, or rubbing your hands together. Let’s say that you have a prospect that you’re talking to, your consultants are on SEO and they have high DR but they also have high traffic and high DR and you think, “Oh, this isn’t a good opportunity.” But then you dig deeper and see that all of their top performing keywords are brand keywords. They have no non-brand keywords.
So then, you’d also be rubbing your hands together saying, “Oh boy, what a great opportunity.” For example, when I worked with Chanel, I was helping them with SEO and what was happening was kind of tying their hands behind their back was the brand guidelines that prevented them from having much any text on any of the pages. There are certain page types that were critical to the SEO success at category pages and product pages in there. No capability to add any text to those pages because of the brand guidelines.
There’s nothing I could do about that. Like how am I supposed to SEO page that can’t have any text on it. That’s kind of ridiculous. That’s an opportunity that wouldn’t be identified just by looking at the DR and the organic traffic. What could be an example case where the DR is high and the organic traffic is low and the opportunity for SEO is very low? Right?
For example, I’ll just be extreme about it and say we don’t have any budget. They’re going through receivership or bankruptcy, they’re not going to have any money to hire you. What was one of these popular, once in a day popular brands that went through bankruptcy and they closed all their stores and I don’t know, I forget which ones. But anyways, there are plenty of these retail chains that went through big problems financially and couldn’t afford to hire any SEOs. They tried to dig themselves out of a hole but without any marketing budget. That would be an example where it’s not a good opportunity yet. Can you think of another example where would actually not be an opportunity for an SEO practitioner or consultant to go after? High DR and low organic traffic?
Not that I cannot think of another example because yours is pretty perfect. I can just generalize it into saying that a website might have a lot of backlinks from other sites and thus high DR—an indication that a website can get a lot of traffic from Google. But if the traffic is low and you start talking to that business to that prospect and you realize that they don’t have resources or they don’t have faith in creating a content, running a blog, or they don’t want to hire SEO or train people or they might be eager to hire SEO and to hire copywriters but they might not be eager to contribute their domain expertise.
Because you have to be creating content that has some domain expertise behind it and if you’re the business owner or some kind of expert or a very qualified person in your business, you have a lot on your plate. You have to actually run a business. You can not just sit all day with copywriters and tell them the ins and outs of your business and your industry to help them create good authoritative content.
This is the problem I’m seeing. I’m actually seeing the problem with some of our competitors, with some of the other SEO tools. Actually, Pitchbox is a great example. They’re looking for someone who will take over their blog and create content for them. But the guys, Michael and Alex, they are actually the domain experts. They know a lot about outreach, about scaling it, about sending the right emails that won’t get into spam and about scraping the web for opportunities. It is them who should be creating if they find time to write articles. Obviously, they will need some help with copywriting because if they never have created content before, the information in the content might be amazing but the articles might be super hard to read because they don’t have experience of putting their thoughts on paper.
What I’m saying is that they are the people, they are the most qualified people in their company who can create amazing content on the topic of outreach and totally dominate the niche with their expertise. But they have too much on their plate to do it themselves, so they need a person who would act like a journalist, who would interview them, take the content out of their heads and put it into an amazing well-researched article.
This is the problem I quite often see when a website has a lot of authority because of the actual product. Pitchbox is a great product so they naturally get backlinks to their website because their product is awesome and people are eager to link to it and suggest their product to other people but they don’t have content because there’s no one to create that authority content for their website. This is the niche where it will be hard for you as an SEO to work with that kind of company if you see the problem with creating that sort of authoritative content for their website.
Yeah. Well, I think a pretty universal problem that the subject matter experts, the real visionaries and pioneers in the business are usually pretty busy and they don’t have a lot of time to do content creation. I’m pretty prolific with my writing, I’ve got three books published by O’Reilly, I have articles that come out regularly at Search Engine Land and Adweek and so forth. I have a regular blog post every week published on stephanspencer.com. I’m tweeting seven or eight times a day, but you know what, it’s not all me. It looks like it’s me but I have ghostwriters to help me.
Because I can’t scale and this is the only way I can scale. I can’t scale myself. I can’t clone myself. I don’t even track what I’m saying on Twitter. Occasionally, I’ll go have a look and see that “Oh yeah, this is good. Keep it up! I didn’t even know about that article.” I know that my Twitter account is in good hands and I have 150,000 or 160,000 followers to appreciate what I put out there. I get over 1 million impressions a month for Twitter. I don’t have time to deal with my stuff so I got to be able to delegate. A true leader who knows how to scale, knows to do as little of themselves as possible because it’s a person who tries to wear all the hats that always has the small little business, like a little hamburger shop on the corner and never grows to two establishments whereas the Ray Kroc‘s of the world build up the McDonalds equivalent huge multinational brands. Where was I going with this? Okay, so let’s circle back to this…
Let me actually add. I love the topic. I’d love to add because a lot of people think that if they use a ghostwriter or partner with someone, it would be inauthentic. The way some people do it is really inauthentic and it really hurts their reputation but most of the great work that you see in our world wasn’t created by a single person. When you look at the latest video or song of Beyonce, it’s not Beyonce doing all of the work. She has a huge team, she has a ton of songwriters, she has a ton of sound producers, she has a lot of directors for her music videos. She basically just acts like a manager who is putting all the talent together. Even with her singing, she has singing coaches. She has a team of people who help her create amazing content.SEO is a mixture of different parts of knowledge. Click To Tweet
On a super small scale example is myself. I write for Medium and I try to publish a new article every week and I also don’t have a lot of time to do this entirely by myself. We figured that the way for me to do it is that, I will brainstorm a topic, I will write an outline with my thoughts like, “This is my opinion. This is what I think about. These are examples of my experience.” And then, I would give it to a member of our team, I would like to actually record this Screencast of me going through those bullet points and explaining what I want to see in the article, and they will create the actual article.
This is not only good because it saves me time. But writing that article—because I’m not even a native speaker—so I would obsess about making the wording right and double checking if that phrase even exists in the English language or not. But it actually uses the expertise, because some people in my team are much better writers and storytellers than I am. Even though I have some unique knowledge and experience to share with the people via my Medium articles, I might not have the best voice and style of writing to engage people and to make people read my articles. I’m kind of producing content with the help of my team.
I think it’s not a secret that these days, most of the books are not written by their authors entirely. Almost everyone is using the help of editors, who help structure that book, who help find the places where the book is weak and you have to add there or find places that are boring that you have to take out. When you’re reading a book, you’re not just reading the work of a single person who is listed as an author. There might be quite a few people behind that book and it’s actually a good thing. Because if each person had to create something entirely on their own, humanity wouldn’t advance as fast as we’re advancing.
Yeah, I totally buy into that concept. In fact, every weekly article or blog post that I publish at stephanspencer.com is ghostwritten by a member of my team. A full-time staff person who’s amazing and gets my voice, he does not even base it on an outline or on a Screencast or a Loom video or anything that I create, he just takes as the raw material what’s in my Pocket account.
The bookmarking tool pocket that I add interesting things to and he knows from seeing all these other documents, over the many months he’s been working with me. He’s seen countless deliverables that I’ve created for clients and everything. He’s able to create really great blog posts.
That is you, that is you basically.
He’s kind of an extension of me. So that worked out really well. In fact, people compliment me all the time about my Thursday three newsletter, that was this guy’s idea and he writes every single one. I don’t even know what I’m posting in my Thursday three newsletter every week but it is awesome. If you’re not a subscriber, by the way, listeners, you’ve got to subscribe to that newsletter. If you go to the show notes page, I would add a subscribe feature function or you can just go to stephanspencer.com and sign up that way, but it’s a great newsletter. Really cutting at stuff. He uses my Pocket account as the starting point for it. So that’s part of my secret weapon.
Okay, that’s an interesting fact.
I know we’re running short on time here. I wanted to ask you about a couple of other metrics that I don’t see in Ahrefs and I was wondering if they’re in development or you just made a conscious choice not to include them. One is a trust metric. With Moz, there is MozTrust. With Majestic, there’s Trust Flow. There’s LRT Trust and linkresearchtools.com. But you guys just have DR and no distinct metric for trusts. Is there a reason for that or is that on the pipeline?
We’re experimenting with ways we could either introduce another metric or make our DR metric better by including trust into the calculation. I think some of the listeners might not know the concept. The concept of trust is that there are a number of websites on the internet that you consider objectively trustworthy. Let’s say like, Wikipedia, or I won’t say Forbes, because these days they publish everything and anything. But yeah, there are some websites that are trustworthy. Maybe BBC or government websites that clearly wouldn’t publish anything bad or sketchy.
Then what search engines might be doing because it’s not confirmed, it was found in some of their patents of how their algorithm works. They might be calculating the “distance” from those trustworthy websites to your websites. It’s how that theory of that Five Handshakes, that in five handshakes you can reach the presidents of the United States. In the same way, how many links hops through how many websites you’re linked to those authority websites. This is the concept of trust and it makes sense because the further you are for the trust, transport trustworthy websites, then to link to trustworthy websites, so this is the concept.
If you’re far away from those absolute trustworthy, the highest in the pyramid trustworthy websites, it means that the website is not so good and you need to move higher up the ladder. Yes, we’re experimenting with those concepts and many other concepts. For example, we’re experimenting with the concept of the actual search traffic where we’re trying to see if backlinks from websites for search traffic are any more powerful or valuable because websites that have search traffic and the audience should be more valuable than websites that don’t have any traffic and are not visited by anyone.
Search engines should potentially value the links coming from websites with traffic more than the links that are coming from the websites without traffic. We’re running experiments, we’re crunching data, we’re trying to identify if these theories have ground. Then we’ll be integrating either into our existing metrics or releasing new ones but overall, we’re not very pressed to do that because we like our metrics as is. We know that our metrics are helping people tremendously as is.
It’s not that we’re pressured to release those metrics because we don’t know what would be the margin of improvement once we do that. We also don’t want to over complicate our interface and our data by releasing more metrics. Because every day, a lot of people enter the world of SEO and they want to learn SEO, you don’t want to overwhelm them. You want to make sure that they have faith that they can learn it all. Yeah, we are hesitant how to go about it but we do an experiment in this direction.
I wish it would have a trust metric because I want it so badly to include it in my recent Search Engine Land article which by the way, listeners, you should read that, it’s really good. There’s no shortcut to authority: Why you need to take E-A-T seriously—that’s the name of the article. I’ll include it in the show notes but trustworthiness is the T in EAT so, Expertise Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. A great way to gauge trustworthiness is how much trust you’ve acquired based on approximation of the TrustRank algorithm as Tim was just describing. So yeah, good article. Wish I could have included Ahrefs in that article. But c’est la vie.
I know we’re short on time, so let me just ask you one more thing that I’ve been dying to ask and that is, how do I get featured snippets reports out of Ahrefs? I want to be able to get a list of keywords that competitor is ranking in the featured snippet position zero four. But from what I see the tool allows you to specify by filtering that featured snippets is a SERP feature that’s there but not that the competitor specifically has that featured snippet. I don’t care if Wikipedia has a featured snippet, when the competitor who I’m trying to analyze and figure out what their featured snippets are, which keywords, so I can get and target those keywords and steal their featured snippets.The most important thing that makes a good story is a challenge. Click To Tweet
Yeah, I know what you’re talking about but I think we do have a kind of checkbooks that target domain must-be featured–I think it’s named like this. Whenever you go to the keywords that your competitors are ranking for and you used a filter to only show you keywords that have featured snippet in the search results, you also should have a checkbook there, the target domain must be featured.
Ah, you know what, I see it now. Only linking the target.
There we go. Excellent.
I think we need to update our UI because whenever people don’t notice something it is often our fault, not their fault. I will bring it up with our product design department and see if there’s a way we could make it more obvious.
You know, there are times where it is a little checkbox or a little nuance like that makes all the difference and the tool is infinitely more powerful. Like the content gap tool. I love your content gap tool.
But it only is valuable to me when that little box is checked or selected and says at least one of the targets should rank in the top 10.
It makes the results much better.
Right. Because you’d be amazed at what kind of websites rank for the most irrelevant keywords because they have the most authority on the internet. I don’t care if it’s on page seven for a particular keyword, and that keyword has nothing to do with the business, or the content of what they offer, or anything. I always tick that box that made all the difference.
Anyways, I know we’re out of time. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to chat with me and with our listeners and share some great tips and tactics for SEO and some powerful features of your toolset which I highly endorse. I think Ahrefs is a fantastic toolset and have thought that for years ever since I learned from Michael about the tool. If folks want to sign up and try the products, is there special sign up page or any kind of, any special offer you wanna make or you would just send them all to ahrefs.com.
First of all, thanks a lot for having me on your show Stephan. It was an amazing conversation. You were asking one of the most challenging questions about SEO and marketing that I’ve ever been asked on a podcast and I really enjoyed that. I hope the audience also enjoyed how sometimes deep our conversation went. Thanks for that. If anyone is looking to either upgrade their SEO knowledge or gain that SEO knowledge almost from scratch, I always recommend our YouTube channel, so go to Youtube and search for A-H-REFS and you’ll find our Youtube channel with a lot of amazing how-to tutorials. They’re pretty detailed, visual and have some humor in them. I’m sure you’ll enjoy checking out our tutorials and learning from us how to do keyword research, how to do link building, how to do website audits and etc.
Awesome. I’ll include the link on that Youtube channel in the show notes and ahrefs.com is the toolset. Thank you, Tim. Thank you, listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. In the meantime, have a fantastic week.
- Tim Soulo
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Publish unique, valuable content that readers or site visitors will appreciate and find useful. Marketing should be about providing solutions to different types of niches.
Build authority in my niche. Provide people with answers to what they’re searching for while creating a name for myself in the industry of my choice.
Always conduct keyword research before content creation. With the help of many SEO tools, I can predict if my content will work well or not.
Proactively reach out to people online and offline to create more awareness on what I am putting out there.
Be social and engaging to the comments and feedback I get from all types of media. Be as accessible as possible through email and social media.
Always bear in mind my audience when creating content. It shouldn’t be about me when it comes to writing or shooting a video. My main goal is to be helpful rather than self-promoting.
Utilize SEO tools that can help me when it comes to keyword research, site audit, analytics, etc.
Utilize outreach tools to promote content to a broader audience and steadily improve my lead generation.
Consult with an SEO expert for technical advice, especially when I am building my website, buying a new domain, or doing a massive site migration.
Check out ahrefs.com and boost my knowledge about everything SEO.
About Tim Soulo
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 eagerly shares his knowledge by giving live talks at various digital marketing conferences around the world and publishing blog articles at Ahrefs Blog. He’s the author of many data-driven SEO research studies and a number of detailed marketing guides.