The Internet really is a crazy place. If you just stop for a second and think about it you risk a mindblowing moment. So many domain names are being registered, new websites, new pages of content, new backlinks… that at this point in time, you would probably have to be mad to start tracking all that.

One of the wealthiest company in the world, Google, as other smaller search engines are doing just that. Obviously, that’s working out fine for them, but what about us? What about webmasters, SEOs, and other digital marketing experts? How are we suppose to find out which websites are ranking high, which have the best backlinks, which pages are getting the most search engine traffic and other juicy data that can help us make a difference to our website?

Interview with Tim Soulo
Interview with Tim Soulo

Luckily, companies like Ahrefs are doing the heavy lifting for us. In a recent interview posted here on Webmaster.ninja, Glenn Allsopp recommended Ahrefs, and I can also relate, as I have been using them for years. On and off I was a paying client because for some projects I couldn’t afford them (hey, they only have to pay 2500 servers to keep the thing running). But their free account is super, super useful!

Not only that, but Tim Soulo from Ahrefs has produced some really insightful content over the years. You can see me raving about it on Twitter just below. The data (as of September 2018, total content index size = 975 million pages) they gathered certainly did not go to waste.

Goran: Hey Tim, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for the loyal readers at webmaster.ninja. Can you share with us just a little bit on how and why you joined Ahrefs, and why you think the work at Ahrefs is so important to the community?

Tim Soulo: Hey Goran, thanks for having me!

I joined Ahrefs back in 2015 and it actually happened almost on accident. I was doing outreach for one of my projects and got in contact with Ahrefs’ CEO Dmitry. He offered me to do a bit of freelance marketing work for Ahrefs, which almost instantly turned into a full-scale product/marketing consulting. And after just a few weeks of working together, Dmitry offered me to become a marketing director for Ahrefs and move to the head office to Singapore.

Which I did 🙂

Goran: I’d like to ask you something I already asked you privately. I think that most businesses and webmasters struggle with this a lot, so I think it’s very much worth repeating. Every day we are bombarded with the mantra “content is king”, and we are inclined to generate as much of it as possible. How do you create content that’s shared, that converts and that people are “looking for”? How do we avoid generating content, for the sole purpose of content generation?

Tim Soulo: Well, if you don’t want to “create content for the sake of creating content,” you need to have a very specific goal in front of you.

  • Do you sell banner ads and you need the kind of content that will generate huge traffic?
  • Or do you want to grow your email list, and you need the kind of content that will effectively convert readers into email subscribers?
  • Or maybe you want to sell your product, and you need content that will persuade readers to buy it?
  • Or maybe you’re just looking to share your thoughts with the world and educate people in your niche, with a goal of becoming a well-known thought leader in your industry?

See where I’m going with this?

Depending on the goal that you want to achieve, you will have to create a different kind of content.

Goran: That makes sense, so a website owner has to have a strategy in place or a plan about doing things before diving in. We can talk a lot about this and go in many directions, but I don’t want to ask a broad question, so let’s focus on one of those. How do you create content that will persuade readers to convert?

Sure! That is one of our main priorities at Ahrefs Blog actually.

In essence, all you need to do is pick the right topic. When we do keyword research for Ahrefs blog, we don’t only look at the search traffic potential of a keyword, but we also assign each topic a so-called “business potential.”

We like to use a simple scale from 0 to 3:

  • “3” – our product is an absolutely irreplaceable solution for the problem that people are looking to solve;
  • “2” – our product helps quite a bit, but it’s not essential to solving the problem;
  • “1” – our product can only be mentioned fleetingly (mostly for “brand awareness,” rather than “sales pitch”);
  • “0” – there’s absolutely no way to mention our product.

My favorite example is this article on Hubspot blog on the topic of “how to make a GIF image.

If you were in charge of content marketing at HubSpot, how would you rate the business potential of this topic?

Let me ask a more direct question: How easy would it be to pitch HubSpot marketing software to a person who is looking to make a GIF image?

I’d say the business potential here is 1 at best. And only because this article has some downloadables that generate leads for HubSpot sales team.

And once you find a topic with a high search traffic potential where your product can be mentioned as an irreplaceable solution – it is a real breeze to convert readers into customers.

Goran: What are three tools that help you bring traffic to Ahrefs.com or that help you grow the business? How big of a role does Ahrefs (the tool) play at Ahrefs and bringing traffic to your site? More importantly, does Ahrefs explode, after you type in ahrefs.com into ahrefs.com search bar?

Tim Soulo: Ahrefs is the marketing tool that I use 90% of the time.

After the GDPR hype, we had to remove Google Analytics from our website. And you know what? I don’t feel helpless without GA as long as I have Ahrefs. I get enough insights from our own tool to know if our SEO/content strategy is working and if we’re succeeding at it or failing.

Other than Ahrefs, I might use SimilarWeb from time to time, as they provide some cool traffic data that we don’t have in Ahrefs.

As for our marketing team, they enjoy using Buzzstream for doing outreach (PitchBox is awesome too btw) and they also use some social-media automation tools like Buffer, MeetEdgar, Hootsuite, etc.

Goran: How does your process at Ahrefs work for growing traffic? I remember seeing some at the Blogging For Business course that’s being sold for $799 at the moment, so perhaps we can give some insights for free to our readers?

Tim Soulo: I’m afraid there’s no silver bullet that I could give to people. Our SEO strategy is very conventional and straightforward:

  1. Keyword research – finding awesome topics with solid search traffic potential (that are relevant to our business)
  2. Creating amazing content – we always try to create something original, that would be based on our own experience. Rehashing content from other people will get you nowhere.
  3. Promoting content – we promote content to existing Ahrefs audience, we put some money into Facebook/Twitter ads and we try to distribute our content to all sorts of communities. The more eyeballs you’re able to get on your piece of content, the higher the chance that some of these people will link to it naturally.
  4. Building links – if we see that content promotion didn’t bring us enough quality links to rank well in Google, we might do some targeted outreach to relevant people who might link to that article. We also have a small guest blogging team who try to feature our content in their guest articles.
By looking at the total search traffic to each of the top-ranking pages, you can make a rather accurate prediction of how much traffic you’re going to get to your own page.Click To Tweet

Goran: In an interview with Spencer Haws, Spencer says that niche selection and keyword selection is the most important step. This is essentially your source of traffic and hopefully revenue, so of course you need to know the demand before diving in. How can Ahrefs help us in finding what are some keywords with high volume?

Tim Soulo: Yes, knowing what people are searching for is where SEO actually starts.

Ahrefs has a great tool called Keywords Explorer. All you need to do is type any “general” type of keyword (like “cats”) and this tool will show you all search queries that contain your word in them.

Look:

Keywords explorer example

That’s over a million keywords that contain the word “cats” in them.

But let’s say “can cats drink milk” keyword piqued your interest. It gets 3,500 searches in the US according to Ahrefs. But how much traffic are you going to get if you rank for it?

Well, if you put this keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and scroll down, you’ll see this:

How much traffic do top 10 pages get
How much traffic do top 10 pages get

This is called “SERP overview” report, which pulls the top10 ranking pages for your keyword and shows you how many links each of them has and how much traffic each of them gets from Google in total.

I mean we all know that a page doesn’t rank in Google for just a single keyword alone. It automatically ranks for all sorts of relevant search queries (see my research here).

So by looking at the total search traffic to each of the top-ranking pages, you can make a rather accurate prediction of how much traffic you’re going to get to your own page, should it start ranking for that keyword.

When we look for topics for our own blog, we rarely look at the search volume of an individual keyword (here’s why), but we rather open the SERP Overview report and examine how much search traffic the top ranking pages get in total.

Goran: That just blows my mind. I recommend the pages you shared there so that the reader can better understand what is going on behind the curtain! Just this one sentence I found sums it up nicely and would make everyone think about their content strategy: “According to our data, almost 75% of pages that rank in top10 for a given keyword doesn’t have even a single mention of that exact-match keyword anywhere on the page.”

According to Ahrefs data, almost 75% of pages that rank in top10 for a given keyword doesn’t have even a single mention of that exact-match keyword anywhere on the page.”Click To Tweet

Last question. Where do you see SEO and website creation, in general, going to be in 5-10 years from now? Is the direction security, privacy, speed, UX, owner reputation, or something else without me listing many possibilities? Do you see websites losing ground compared to various social media platforms? What kind of impact do internet penetration and generation change have on this?

Five years is a VERY long time, so I prefer not to plan this far and just roll with whatever the industry will throw at us.

As for “websites losing ground compared to various social media platforms” – yes, this is definitely happening to a certain extent. For example, I’ve seen a ton of cases where people would build an entire business off their Instagram account, and they don’t really care about launching a website.

But overall my prediction is that websites aren’t going anywhere in the next 5-10 years. 🙂

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