In today’s episode, my guest is Tim Soulo, Chief Marketing Officer for Ahrefs.com; an industry leading SEO tool, powered by Big Data.

During our pre-interview, Tim and I were working on figuring out what to talk about and he suggested that we do an interview about SEO. I immediately protested saying that SEO was too technical, I didn’t know how to do it, I, and all my listeners were likely too late to the party, and I doubt it could ever work for me – and that was when I realized that doing an interview on the topic of SEO was exactly the right thing to do.

Much to my surprise and delight, my conversation with Tim turned out to be incredibly interesting and full of actionable golden nuggets that I, and my audience, was fully capable of taking advantage of.

So, if you are an eCommerce store owner and you are looking for ways to increase your organic traffic, you are going to love today’s interview!

Full Transcript

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Trent:                  Hey, what’s up everybody? It’s Trent here, thank you so much for joining me again today for another episode of the Bright Ideas Podcast; I am here to help you to discover what is working in e-Commerce today by putting on experts to share with me their specific body of knowledge in such a way so that you can put it into action in your business today and that is exactly what we are going to do.

My guest is the Chief Marketing Officer for a company called AHREFS and his name is Tim Soulo, kind of like Hans Soulo and he has almost 10 years of practical experience in SEO and digital marketing and eagerly rather shares his knowledge by giving live talks at various digital marketing conferences and doing Podcasts like this.

So, Tim and I were just talking about well you know what are we going to do this episode about? Because it’s not your typical hero’s journey type story and he and he said, “Well, I love to talk about SEO” and I immediately said, “Well, you know Tim, SEO is too technical for me, I don’t know how to do it, I’m sure I’m way late to the party and I’m never going to get any results so and I bet you most marketers think about it in that way and right then I realized we need to talk about SEO because Tim did not agree with my conclusions and thinks that it is not as difficult as it is and it is possible for folks like me and I’m not too late to the party”

So, if you have an e-Commerce store and you are not getting as much organic traffic as you would like to get to that store, get out your pen and paper or whatever way you like to take notes because we’re going to do a knowledge jump. So, Tim thank you very much, welcome to the show.

Tim:                    Hey Trent, thanks a lot for having me and they think there is an amazing set up for the show and I’m sure the listeners are all of the eager to learn a thing or two about SEO.

Trent:         Well, I know I am so let’s dive into my objections.

Tim:                    Actually, you’re not the only person who has those objections; a lot of people say more or less the same things, maybe not in the same order of you did but you know late just recently like a few months ago, I was giving a small talk here in Singapore in the National University of Singapore. I was talking to a group of MBA students, they were doing a digital project so they were setting up their website in line; they were building their idea trying to get traffic etc.

So, I asked them how many of them are using SEO to bring traffic to their websites that will enable business idea, to make the first sales etc etc. No one raised their hands of people like a group of maybe 20 students, so I asked them why? Like how come they want to do like Edwards, they want to do Facebook traffic but not SEO but it’s always just almost free, traffic actually and free perpetual traffic through their website this is a great channel, targeted traffic and like one of the guys said like, “SEO it’s too technical”

So, I was like you’re all MBA students and you tell me that you’re afraid of technical things but it’s not even like it so it’s not even that technical to be afraid of it. Like I’m not a technical person myself and I’m quite successful at SEO and I know a ton of people who can barely do some simple stuff in Excel but they still get a ton of such traffic, so yeah, the first objection.

It is super easy to address and so is not technical that to a ton of people who make money online, created their businesses based on SEOs without any special technical knowledge; the basics are very, very simple.

Trent:                  So, we’ll dive into those in a minute but I want you to hit us another objection in that is you know hey, Google’s been around forever there’s a million articles and I’m sure there’s lots of SEO smart people out there and there are already targeting all those phrases and I’m just you know I’ve got my store and I’m starting now and I’m selling you know whatever kind of widgets.

How on earth am I going to possibly you know, I got out rank somebody because if I’m on page two it does no good, I really much need to be on page one. Do I have to go with these are really obscure long tail key words that are so far down there that there’s no search for human life more a bother but that’s what I think when I think about SEO.

Tim:                    Yeah, I can easily relate to that because when I just joined AHREFS as the Chief Marketing Officer, I was actually the only marketing person in the team of I think 17 people and AHREFS is an SEO tool, so we’re up against other SEO tools which means that to get search traffic, we have to compete with the most knowledgeable, with the most experienced people in the world.

So, I wasn’t— I didn’t even consider myself an experienced SEO, like I wasn’t known for like my SEO knowledge, I didn’t have much experience in it so and I was up against people who were creating building and promoting SEO tools as a knowledge and still in those legs circumstances, we were able to grow our blog back when I joined, we were getting 15,000 visitors per month from Google alone right now we get over 250,000 visitors and that’s like 4years later but still that’s a growth for almost 20times right there and we’re still growing. So, if I was able to compete against the best SEO people in the world and still find enough opportunities to grow our business, to get such traffic to our website, then people who are listening I’m sure that their competition is not as advanced as my competition was back in the days, so there’s a ton of opportunities.

To think about it, it is unlikely that any one of your competitors have covered every single search that people are making in line to relation to their business. So, there should be an opportunity other than that probably the search is the topics, the blockbuster ideas or whatever that they have covered like 2-3years ago have become outdated, so Google would rather would rather rank a fresh article other than some old article. So, there’s an opportunity right there.

And other than that, every single month, every single year, new trends emerge, new products appear so people start searching for entirely new things. So, you can just if you were the first to cover some things that that have been around for a while, you can be the first to cover some things that just appeared today. So, there’s a lot of opportunity and you can look at it from different angles and still win.

Trent:                  So let’s take the gloves off then and dive down into the weeds and I think maybe if it’s okay with you, I’d like to use my blog as a guinea pig for this conversation and the reason for that (a) I’ve never paid any attention to SEO (b) I did recently decide as an experiment and I’ve not really talked about it much on the blog, to– I hired a writer to write me an article a long one, on to target the phrase how to sell on Amazon because I looked at the search results that were there, I looked at the domain authority of those sites and it didn’t seem to me like I was going to be competing against you know major media properties for that particular phrase. So I thought, “Well, you know I maybe I have a chance” and so we wrote a really good article, we divided it into three parts because someone that I talked to who I’d interviewed on my show by the name Daniel Danes Hut who runs an organization called ‘Amplify my content’ it was his advice to break it up into three parts so we did that and that’s kind of where we’re at.

So far, I haven’t had the time to do much with it other than try and make sure the on page SEO which I know very little about is good and it’s a great article that has a ton of really valuable information for humans. So having set the stage with that, what would you— if you were if you were consulting with me on how to get our article to rank well, where would we start?

Tim:                    Okay, so you have set the stage but I’m afraid I’ll have to break it into pieces because like there are a lot of mistakes that you did there already. And all of these mistakes they aren’t really SEO and they are not technical and also don’t stick with me.

The first mistake that you did is that you hired someone to write that article; it is like a mistake right there and I’m going to explain why. Google their job is to give people the best possible search results and people want to learn from authorities, they want to learn from people who we have deep knowledge, with expertise etcetera. So whenever they learn in an article, they need to understand why they should care about the article, why some random person would teach them about something.

So as soon as you outsource your content to someone else, that person is not the most knowledgeable person about the topic, you are the most knowledgeable person about the topic, you want to write about.

Trent:         But their name is not on the article, my name is.

Tim:                    Still like the quality of the article won’t be as high as if you wrote it yourself because you have your first– or like, you could work with them super close and invest a lot of your time but that’s almost the same as writing the article yourself. So in our case, in the AHREF blog, I’m Chief Marketing Officer, I’m the product advisor AHREFS, I manage people, I hire people, I work on the project but at the same time, my name is on a lot of articles that we have published on our blog.

I have a lot of experience in the field and other than implementing my experience to grow AHREFS, to train the team and cetera et cetera, I actually produce content because I understand that my knowledge is what people will enjoy reading and my knowledge is what will bring us links, my knowledge is what will make people read the article from start to the end which Google can see and like in total, it is my knowledge that will help us, will help our article ranking to google.

So, as soon as people try to take shortcuts, as soon as they try to hire a “Copywriter” like go out on UpWork and look for someone almost totally random give them a topic and wait for them to create an article, like everyone else is doing that.

Trent:                  I didn’t do that in this case, this particular writer’s actually married to a friend of mine who runs a business like mine, so she had a much higher than normal level of knowledge about how to sell on Amazon and honestly, I think the articles are better than if I had written myself.

Tim:                    Okay, then that might cut it actually, but I’m talking generally, a lot of people when they think SEO and think about it so and when we think about creating content, they just go to UpWork, they go to blogger/jobs, they look for a copywriter to write about X, they hire someone, pay that person like I don’t know $200 to produce if use of content publish it and hope for it to rank.

But think about it like if five or your competitors will go to UpWork or problogger, find a copyrighter, publish an article on a given topic, there’s actually a chance that the same person will write a few of these articles for different people because they are a writer and these articles won’t be unique in any way. So, you have to be writing those articles yourself, these articles should have your own unique first-hand experience.

Because again, what a lot of people do, they or a lot of copywriters what they do they search for a topic that they need to cover, they open top 10 ranking pages in Google for that topic, they read them, they learn what’s there and then they create an article which is basically a re-read and copy of what’s already ranking there. There is no well even that. So, whenever people are searching for a certain topic, they would land on the first article, on the second article, they will see that these articles are the same and they will go any deeper.

So you have to offer something unique, if you don’t do this, nothing will work so the first advice which is not even an advice, if you want to attract visitors, if you want so attract views, if you want to attract links to your website you have to produce original content and this is something you can only do if you share your own personal experience does it make sense?

Trent:                  It doesn’t make sense; it’s surprising to me that Google is actually smart enough to determine whether this particular article was written by me or a hired writer like that just doesn’t seem possible to me.

Tim:                    It’s not Google actually, we’ll get into it later down the episode, there are clues that they get but one thing for sure is that Google can see how long people stick on the page. If people click on the search result and they quickly go back to the search results and click on something else Google knows it and Google can see that they article didn’t satisfy people so and we’re getting to a second point that I wanted to discuss about what I think you did wrong and that is you said that you wrote a long article, it is a three part article etc etc etc so what you did there, you said you kind of hinted people that long means good, this is not necessarily the case.

And actually, like I just said, Google can figure out how people behave after clicking on a certain search result; so whenever they click on an article they see that it’s super long, they might put it for later but then they will click search result number two, check it out and if it seems shorter, it has a few images, it seems digestible to read; so they will stick with it and Google will see okay, “So people prefer this article to the article that they were ranking so switch them and that short article with no record”

But at the same time, I’m not trying to say that shorter articles are better because people will prefer reading short articles; the answer still depends, you should not think about the length of your article, you should not think about the best of your article, you should you should think about satisfying readers. So for example, what you do it and we put a lot of thought there every time we publish an article in the introduction in the very first few paragraphs of the article, our job is to persuade people to stay and try to pitch them our article, we try to sell it to them, we try to make them stay. So, within the first few paragraphs, we try to explain people what’s unique and what’s awesome, what’s also outstanding about our article what they’re going to read so that they would stay. And from there, you should define what kind of length would be enough for you to deliver your ideas, your points, to teach people whatever we wanted to learn without putting too much text on the page.

So, I think it was Saint Exupery who said that, “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away” This is how you should write articles, they should be as short as possible while having all the information you need to teach people. So yeah and basically so far we are discussing the basics of creating great content. The first one was that you have to use your personal experience, unique experience; you have to use your knowledge that no one else has as the core of the article but what’s in it for people?

And the second, you have to learn to write well, you have to learn copywriting, you have to learn to persuade people to keep reading, to stay. And don’t think that longer article is a better article; think about the perfect length for teaching people what you want to teach them.

Trent:                  So in this particular example that we’re talking about choosing this phrase so let’s talk about the phrase first, was there any saying you know this phrase how to sell on Amazon because it’s a phrase I would like to rank for. Was there mistakes made in choosing that phrase? Is that too much of a head phrase? Like because again, I don’t even know that.

Tim:                    Yeah, let’s discuss the keyword research, which means choosing a phrase from the start so basically, the mistake that a lot of people who are creating content or who are running blogs or even who have e-Commerce websites, the big mistake that they’re making is that they’re not studying what people are actually searching for.

So what you did right there is that you actually started a phrase, a topic ‘how to sell an Amazon’ you used that you were to research tool, all of your choice there are some free ones, there are some paid ones so whenever you put the words that you have in mind into keyword research will show you how many people per month, how many searches per month are around the world happen to that keyword.

So for how to sell Amazon, I’m sure there are thousands and thousands of people searching for that thing; so you did research demand and you know that if you probably should not be on the topic and rank for it you’re going to get a lot of clicks. A lot of people don’t do that, if you go to the blogs of the other businesses, their topics are just random and if you tried to use keyword research tools to see if the topics that they were targeting have any search demand, a lot of them don’t.

A lot of people publish what they call ‘Opinion Pieces’ like if what our company thinks about, I don’t know Brexit or whatever so people don’t search for what your company thinks about Brexit or they don’t search for your latest corporate events or whatever. People search for problems related to your industries so the first role of a SEO is you need to do Keyword research, you need to use a keyword research tool to see what people are searching for as related to your industry like if you have a Shopify site and you might be selling snowboard in terms of informational content, what people may be searching for is, “How to pick the right snowboard size”

So, if you can create a group piece of content for that, you’re going to get a ton of visitors who are looking for the right snowboard size for their weight, for their height etc etc. And from that page, you’ll be able to funnel people towards your product so your keyword research is essential. But we’ve only discussed the search volume so far but what you also said is that there is competition; so not only you need to know how many people, how many searches happen for that keyword per month, you should actually know who you’re up against and you only mentioned the so-called domain authority which means on the surface level how big and popular the domain of the website is; usually it is measured by the amount of back links from other websites.

If you have three websites, the first website doesn’t have any back links at all from other websites, the second websites have back links from a hundred other websites and the third one has back links from thousands of websites, it is clear which one is the most powerful because if one thousand other websites have links to your website, that means it is powerful, it means there’s something unique about it, that means there’s something of value in it and that’s pretty much how Google works, how Google figures out what kind of content, which pages should rank of the top and which should rank at the bottom.

Because like you said in the beginning of the episode, people at home the world have covered— have created content for almost any imaginable topic out there and each topic has been covered hundreds and hundreds sometimes thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of times. So, how does Google know out of hundreds of thousands of similar pages on the same topic?  How does Google know which page has more authority? Because like you said, an algorithm can’t really figure out if there’s any knowledge or if there’s any expertise or you like you kind of certain piece of content; so they use links, they look if other websites are linking to that piece of content, like by giving their votes. So, if other websites are referring their visitors their readers to the piece of content it means there’s something valuable about it and that’s really how Google ranks pages in a general sense so there are a lot of other bells and whistles so it’s not as straightforward as getting more links than your competition.

But on the surface level, you have to get more links then your completion and this actually comes from the scientific field, so when Larry Page and Sergey Brin the creators of Google were figuring out how to make the search engine that would be able to find the best possible content, they looked at how the scientific research papers, their influence is measured and the influence of a scientific paper was measured by how many other scientific papers were referencing it.

So, they took this concept from scientific research papers and took it to the Internet and they created Page rank and they created Google. So yeah, you have to get links to your piece of content and this brings us back to creating an amazing piece of content. Because think about it, if your article doesn’t offer anything unique about the article that already is there, people who have no intention, people have no reason to link to it.

As soon as you offer your unique experience, your unique knowledge, your unique experiments, your unique numbers, people now like even it becomes notable; people want to reference it, people want to link to it, people want to send their readers to because the article in unique in some way. Think about the next thing what they said about article not being long enough or not being super sure but being just perfect and using the right kind of copywriting tricks and copywriting skills to keep people reading because if a person won’t read your article, they don’t know what is there so they won’t link to it.

So first, people have to actually read your article to like, to enjoy it and to later link you can refer other people so this is how creating amazing content transitions into links from other websites which Google sees as authorities of your page does this make sense?

Trent:         It makes total sense so far.

Tim:                    Yeah, so in terms of competition, you have to of course you have to look at the authority over domain; so how popular the domain is, how many other websites are linking to a domain or like what kind of domain authority, this is a metric that comes from a tool called ‘Moss’ or domain rank this is a metric that comes from AHREFS. So, what’s the magic how high is it? because you’ll be against these websites but you also need to look at how many back links are pointing to the actual pages that rank for your desired keyword?

So, the more back end, you also– you need to use a back end check or a [inaudible 25:40] but of course AHREFS is preferable because I come from AHREF. So yeah you need to check how many back links are pointing to this page and your goal is to build more backlinks are pointing to your page and you find it super hard to build backlinks if your content is so-so, if it’s not amazing, if it’s not unique, people will be super reluctant to link to it but if your content is outstanding, if it looks better, if it has more unique ideas than your competition, you’ll find it easy even reaching out to people who are already linking to pages that rank on top, reaching out to them and showing your piece of content and explaining them why the piece of content that you have created is like 10 times better and 10 times more valuable than other pages that they have linked to from their websites already, you may get links from them as well so next time they will write an article about the topic, they would rather reference your piece of content then the piece of content they previously linked to because your piece of content is better.

So, competition actually means nothing if you are convinced that you can create objectively better piece of content, it would be like 10 times better than what’s already there and be 10 times better again, I’m not saying longer, I’m not saying that you have to like read everything on the top you can squeeze it all into a huge guide but simply provide value to people, amaze people and make people want to send the link to their friends or link to that piece of content from their websites.

Trent:                  So how do you—I’ve got your tool up on my left screen here and I looked at the keyword Explorer and I typed in ‘How to sell on Amazon’ [Yes] you were difficulty of 40 it says, I need somewhere around 50 websites to get linked to me to rank in the top 10. It’s 58000 searches a month; so at the front end of the process when someone is deciding on all the things related to my topic I could write about and they’re doing this keyword research, you know some battles are going to be easier to win than others and some battles are going to have greater rewards than others how do you figure let’s dive into some specifics of how AHREFS helps me to solve this problem, so can you walk me through that?

Tim:                    Yeah, it’s actually quite interesting because usually, the keywords that bring you more rewards, the keywords that you’ll convert better, the keyword or that will send more traffic and usually think you are the harder to rank because a lot of people pursue them at the same time the keywords that are easier to rank for the keyword that will send you less customers are easier to rank for.

So, like it’s quite logical because if the keyword has a lot of money, you need people will pursue it so it will be hard for you to outrank these people. So usually, whenever you read an SEO article about cured research or like picking the right topics, people will tend to suggest you to look for low hanging fruit, so you have to look for your keywords that promise you a lot of traffic that convert well but at the same time are easy to rank for. Well, I’m afraid this is such a rare occasion, like you shouldn’t be actually looking for low hanging keywords, you should be targeting keywords that are essential to your business.

So, in our case in the case of AHREF’s blog, we have some pretty strong keyword for example keyword or research, if you if you search for keyword research, I don’t think we were on page one our blog article on page one. If you search link building, I also think we’re– actually I think we’re keyword were do search in top 5 but I think a lot of that position I’m not sure what’s the situation right now. For link building which is also essential for our business, we’re not in top 10 for sure. On the first page for keyword research right now for like building

Trent:         1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10th

Tim:                    Tenth, that’s pretty much ranking nowhere so my point is these are super competitive keywords and the fact that there’s a lot of competition and the fact that we struggle to rank there doesn’t mean that we don’t want to pursue them. So our strategy, we’re going to update these articles on keyword research and link building, we’re going to build more links to this article, so we’re going to reach out to more and more people and show them how our content is better and why they should link to it from their websites. So, we’re going to do that again and again we’re going to make our articles better, we’re going to reach out more people, we’re going to write some of our own guest articles link to our posts until we rank.

A lot of people think about creating content and ranking it to Google as like a one off thing, you write your article once, you do a little bit of promotion, you do some Facebook ads, you reach out to a few people in your industry hoping that they will link to it and that’s it and you want to link to another article. So usually, with the highest business potential topics that have a lot of traffic and that will bring you a lot of customers, you won’t be able to rank easily. So, like I just explained our strategy, our strategy is to go back to those articles the didn’t rank, update them, find ways, find like create some keyword experiments, run some data studies, ask experts etc. Like create some unique illustrations, anything we can do to make our article better, to make people stick, to make people enjoy it and to make people link to it from other websites; we’ll do it and we’ll update the article again and again and we’ll reach out to more and more people and tell them about our article until we’ll get to the top. So, this is the process and there’s nothing easy about it, there’s nothing a low hanging fruit about it, it’s just putting in hard work and creating the best, gradually creating the best piece of content and gradually building as many links as you can.

Trent:                  So with that in mind, would it make more sense for me to say or and when I say me, I mean anybody here in the situation, you know I could go and identify say 20 keywords that could be 20 articles and literally never write any more than 20 articles but treat those articles like a piece of software, where every single week, I’m looking for ways to update those articles, to add more value, to put results of experiments or interview clips and I never ever write a 21st articles ever; I stick with my 20 and I’m continually improving and promoting those articles is that the strategy that you’re advocating versus I’m going to write three articles a week and I’ll pump them out there.

Tim:                    Exactly! This is amazing that you said that and I’m breaking between are you so smart to figure it out as I was talking or I’m so good in explaining just things that you figured out. So this thing is, first of all when you analyze anyone’s website, AHREFS helps to see which pages are bringing the most traffic to a given website from search. So, if you plug any websites to AHREFS and look at their top pages that are bringing the most traffic, you’ll see that pretty much the famous the principle applies almost everywhere.

So, 20% of pages usually more or less are bringing them 80% of their traffic; so what you said there makes perfect sense and this is more or less the strategy that we pursue with AHREFS, we don’t create a lot of new content because we update our content so much so we want rank on a few topics but you want to rank well for them the other day one of my coworkers at the team, we are mostly targeting topics that are super related to our business, super related to SEO but we’re running out of them, should we go for like more general topics?

Right now, we’re teaching people articles about SEO audit, link building, keyword research, keyword difficult etc. the things that are highly related to SEO, the things that are highly related to our business, where we can kind of convert people to use our tool. So, he said that we’re running out of topics because there are just like about a 100-150 of them not more and he says maybe we should go more general, maybe we should talk about growth hacking, online marketing, digital marketing, maybe Facebook ads, Instagram ads etc.

And they said yeah, it is true that you’re running out of those topics that we should be covering on our blog because of how related they are our business but are we ranking number one for them? So, I’d rather push those topics more, I’d rather keep updating those articles and keep promoting those articles to make sure that all of our articles ranked number one and get as much traffic as possible than creating articles on topics that are not so relevant to our business.

So yeah, if you don’t have a lot of resources like some like super huge companies do, you should stick with just a few articles and like case in point there is a guy whose name is Brian Vim, his website is [inaudible 35:32] com, I think you can see less than 40 articles on his blog in total, maybe 35 or something like this and his website is a million dollar business; so he’s making millions out of his business, out of just like 35 or 40 articles so it is the right strategy other than trying to spread yourself too thin and publish more and more and more articles which don’t even end up ranking in Google, you’d rather focus on just a few articles, nail them and monetize them like to their highest potential.

Trent:                  So how does– let’s say that we’re going to go down the road of I’m going to do 20 articles and I’m going to spend the next 2 years or 3 years making those the best articles for topics on the Web [Yeah] I got to choose my 20 and being as I’m only choosing 20, I really don’t want to make any mistakes in the selection of those 20, how do we go about doing that in a systematic way so as to minimize the risk of just going down a route that we’re never going to win?

Tim:                    This is a great question; here at AHREFS like in our marketing department, we use a concept that we call ‘Business Potential’ so basically, every topic that we considering to cover on our blog will think if the topic will be able to convert readers into customers of AHREFS because you’re a business we need to make money, we need to attract customers to our tool set, we can’t just write content just for the sake of traffic; so traffic numbers means nothing to us, we can be getting like hundreds of thousands of users per month but if those users don’t convert into subscribers of our tool, what’s the point?

And actually it’s here I’m always making fun of a company called ‘Hub Spot’ they are one of the biggest brands in internet marketing niche; they have a CRM and marketing tools.

Trent:         I know them well

Tim:                    Yes, so Hub Spot, they have a huge blog with like thousands and thousands of articles but when they took their blog to AHREF to see what kind of articles are bringing them the most traffic, their number one article that sends them 100,000 visitors per month from a single article it’s, ‘How to make a GIF image’. The article is ‘How to make a GIF image’ so think about it, what kind of like buyers journey, what kind of customer journey, a person should take from googling for searching in Google how to make a GIF whatever they prefer, how to make a GIF image into purchasing into becoming a customer of [inaudible 38:10] yeah it’s almost no chance you know of course they have like a lead scoring, they have sales teams, they have several sequences etc

But still, the search are intense what the person is looking for and what they want to offer is too far away; so in our case at AHREFS, we have these kind of made up metric business potential and it’s a simple score from 0-3. Three means that your tool, your service or your product whatever you’re selling, is an irreplaceable solution for whatever people were searching for. So, if people were searching for keyword research, we know that AHREF has an amazing tool for keyword research and we have some functionality that no other tool in the market has, so we can easily sell people within our article so well reading the article who show people some use cases that they cannot achieve anywhere else other than using our tools. So, this is business potential of three were recalls to them that we can be our tool you know way that there is no way to do this other than by buying our tool business potential of two means that we can leg showcase our tool we can pitch it but there are other ways to do it.

So, people might use other tools or might even not use and it’s a little late do it by themselves; business potential one means that you can only mention mention that you have a relevant tool but it’s not essential for solving the topic; so it’s relevant you can mention it but people won’t buy it because they were reading an article about something else. And obviously business potential of zero means that there is no chance to even mention your tool, your business within the article. So here at AHREFS, we try to only target the topics that have business potential three or two.

So either, our product is irreplaceable and we can pitch some use cases, some examples, some features that people can’t find anywhere else or we can pitch some amazing use cases that people can find anywhere else but they rather would purchase our tool because they just learned how to use our tool. So, this is how you pick the few topics that you have to pursue. Think about your products, what you’re selling, are you selling a physical product? Are you selling info products? How are you going to sell? How are you going to persuade people to buy from you?  What’s unique about it? And then think if the topic is relevant to kind of your sales pitch to your offering?

If it is super relevant, if people should buy only from you when they’re reading about X, then you should target it, if there is a general topic where you can hardly squeeze or mention of your product, you shouldn’t pursue it even if the difficulty is low, even if the surge potential is high. Think about your business, think about the money that you’re going to make.

Trent:                  So on a score of three says for this topic, our tool is the only tool in the marketplace that can solve that problem that we’re going to write about, a score of two says that our tool does it but sort of some other tools [Yeah] and a score of one says our tool doesn’t do it and in fact you might not even need a tool so why would you write about that, did I get that right?

Tim:                    Almost, the business potential of one means that we have a relevant tool like— I’ll give you an example; so if someone is looking to burn belly fat and you sell Kettlebells, as far as my fitness knowledge goes, I don’t see many like exercises with a kettlebell that would burn belly fat. So, belly fat is a quite specific thing.

But still, belly fat is a fitness thing, so you can mention that, “Oh by the way, we have like a— I’m selling kettle bells and you have some exercises that kind of help you burn belly fat but not so directly” so this is business potential of one.

Trent:                  Okay and you mentioned in AHREFS is it site Explorer or context Explorer? If I want to know what are the keywords or articles driving traffic to a site, I use site Explorer?

Tim:                    Site Explorer yeah, if you put any domain name or any website in the site Explorer, there’s a report called top pages, it’s on the left side and it basically shows you a chart of pages and how much traffic they’re bringing.

Trent:                  OK so I’m saying I put in Hubspot.com just what we’ve been talking about so topic keyword so Hub Spot has topic keyword in the first result is Hub Spot surprisingly [yeah] second is Amazon associates oddly enough.

Tim:                    Well, using Hubspot.com I was using blog.hubspot.com but look I’m so you’re looking at the entire website, well I was looking at the blog only. I think their blog is on a sub subdomain.

Trent:                  I’m glad that you mention that because it’s important the details are important yeah there’s the shrug MOG Number 2.

Tim: Yeah, shrug MOG, they’re the next best thing

Trent:                  And then how to create a graph, free email, wow! none of this stuff is going to help Hub Spot sell anything.

Tim: Yes

Trent:                  So, it looks good on paper to the non SEO person, “Oh I get a lot of traffic but it’s garbage traffic”

Tim:                    Exactly! Well, try ahrefs.com/blog and you’ll see the kind of topics that we’re targeting.

Trent:                  Okay, free Keyword tool, website traffic, top Google searches, submit a website to search engines, find an email address.

Tim: Well, find an email address is not questionable.

Trent:                  Yeah but the first four are the buyers intent, the commercial opportunity of the phrase to use. Obviously, there’s a huge correlation between what your tool does. Okay so, when you decided to write an article about free Keyword tool, there’s a lot of free keyword tools, there’s nothing special about yours versus some other free keyword tool; so why the hell did you choose to write an article about free keyword tool?

Tim:                    Because there’s business potential in it so people who are searching for free keyword research tool, they might not have the budget right now to purchase AHREFS but they are in the stage where they learn about SEO, they hear a little thing here and there, they get the results, they get some money and they would like to invest into a premium tool.

So, what you do there and if you click on the target article, first we released some of our preferred keyword research tools and then we explain to people what’s the difference between a free tool and a premium tool and we showcase the power of our keyword explorer tool and explain why they should grab it.

Basically, whenever a person is searching for a free keyword tool, we give them what they wanted, we give them free keyword tools that they can use right now but we also educate them right there on why they might consider signing up for a premium tool. So, once they grow their website a little bit, once their cash flow starts growing, they will know why they might consider signing up for a premium tool.

Trent:                  So in the on page optimization for this article, you’ve got a top 10 lists you know with links to you know further sections, does the algorithm look at that and give you extra points for doing that or is that just because it helps humans to read more?

Tim:                    I don’t really believe in any specific things that algorithm would look into as much as they believe into things that will make people stick on your page, that will make them stick longer, read further and not click any other such results.

Trent:                  So is that one of the reasons for example why you have a video very near the top because videos are engaging and they’re likely to…

Tim:                    Exactly, exactly! So, if someone is not a big reader but they like just watching videos, it kind of feels like words but you still watching the video, they will just click play and they will stay on our page for long. So, Google will see that they’re staying on our page and Google will reward our article.

Trent:                  Okay, so here’s a great segue for me because— so I’m very interested in using YouTube and trying to get great videos as a way of building my brand and building my audience and in my space it’s very competitive. So if I was to for each video that I currently— I just published a video and I put it to YouTube and read an article about it so would it be, I’m thinking the answer is yes; so from an SEO perspective if I write an article on my blog and I put that video at the top, that’s going to help produce down straight and then I can get good quality video, good quality article and promote it properly, get some back links.

Am I going to get a double pay back because so some people are going to be finding my article and my videos through Google search they didn’t start on YouTube and then they’re not going to watch the video within the article on my blog which scores a view on YouTube; is YouTube going to start ranking that video higher just because it’s getting views even though it’s from the embedded version of that video on my blog and nobody typed a search into YouTube itself?

Tim:                    Yes, yes So this is something we’re seeing with our own YouTube channel but the only thing that I want to stress on is that you should start from picking the topic first; so what a lot of people are doing for example, when they’re doing Podcast interviews or something, they will just take that interview whether it’s a video or a Podcast embedded on the page and create a page with a transcript etc and hold it all trying. But usually, on the podcast as this one as well are not targeting any specific topic, so we’re talking about SEO but nothing in general. We’re talking about these a little bit, that a little bit. So, if you take this episode and create a page out of this episode, you won’t get any traffic because people are not searching for our interview.

Trent:         Correct! They’re not researching for interview with Tim.

Tim:                    Yes, but if you take the topic of how to sell an Amazon and then you create a video about it and the video and your article would cover more or less the same topic and you will embed a video to an article; first like you said it will improve the time that people will stay on your page because some people prefer watching a video other than reading.

And secondly, what we’ve noticed is that whenever you publish an article that has a video and people are watching a video that is embedded within an article, you’re getting those views on your video and YouTube sees that, they don’t really care where the views are coming from as long as you get a lot of views in those first 24 hours so YouTube needs to see that the video is resonating with people, the video is trending, it is getting views. So which does help your YouTube videos to get exposure on YouTube as you embed them in your low cost and get used this way.

Trent:                  So, with that said, it seems to me like it would also be a good strategy to go back and look at videos that I’ve published that have got more views than say the five most popular view in terms of view count and then go write an article about those videos and try and make those some of my cornerstone content until such time as maybe I decide I’m going to bump those and replace them because this whole concept of Cornerstone content, I guess your list of 20 could be somewhat of a dynamic list in that okay, so I’ve got my 20 but then I create this video and it just goes crazy so now I need to maybe not so I only have so many resources so article over 20, “Well you’re going to fall off the bottom” because now I’m going to make this new article cause this video really took off so very clearly resonated with people and I’m going to create a kick ass article to embed that video in and that has now earned its way into my top 20 of Cornerstone articles.

Tim:                    Yeah that’s more or less correct but you have to understand that your articles get such traffic from Google and your videos go viral and collect views on YouTube for different reasons. So, your articles rank in Google and give you traffic from Google because people are actually going to Google searching for something and finding your article.

With YouTube, they are incredibly good at exposing your video to the right audience if people keep watching. So, I find myself whenever I refresh a YouTube home page and see the recommendations, I quite often see the videos of topics but I have never searched for myself but based on other videos that I watched, YouTube knows that I’m going to watch this video that it will be interesting to me.

So topic that are covered in your video, you might have zero surge potential in Google so no one will look to you for example, “A cute cat jumping from a sofa” I don’t know won’t search for it but it might go viral if that kitten do a good job of jumping from the sofa [sure] you have to understand how did your you know generate those views and YouTube you gives you statistics. So, even if most users are coming from you could search if people are searching for it on YouTube and finding it then the chances are a lot of people are also searching for the same topic in Google so yeah it makes sense to cover the topic on both mediums and merge them within the article; yeah it’s a great strategy and this is something that we’re doing as you just have seen with our like our keyword research tools.

And we actually have created videos and embedded videos for a lot of our articles, so there’s a huge intersection between our YouTube channel and our blog and it is quite easy because once you create an awesome piece of content on your blog, you can repurpose it into a great video or whenever you create a great video, you can easily repurpose it into your article so it is easy to create the second version of your content on a different video as soon as you have the content for an amazing article.

Trent:                  Okay, so I still want to go back to the selection because it seems to me everything you’re saying so far makes perfect sense but it’s still the selection because we all have a finite amount of resources, so the selection of that first article and the second article and the third article are really, really important because if you start making mistakes in the beginning and you’re not getting results, you are going to give up, you’re not going to do it– the whole thing is a waste.

So, walk me through the process because I understood commercial intent and the score of 1-2-3 that all made sense but I could still have 20 or 30 keywords that were all a three according to your scoring system and some of them I would be foolish to pursue and others I wouldn’t, how do I figure out the difference?

Tim:                    I would just look at the number of back links to the top ranking pages so and I would compare so in AHREFS, you can plug your own website and we have a report called ‘Best Buy links’ so if you plug your own website and go to a report that is called Best Buy A links, you’ll see how many back links the pages of your own website have attracted.

So, you’ll see like how many— usually your home page is the page with the most links but from there you’ll also see some articles, some pedigree pages, product pages or whatever. So, these gives you an idea of how many back links you’re able to attract in a best case scenario and you probably know what you did for these back links to appear so if you have a piece of content and it has 20 back links and you only promoted it to your list, you know that you got these 20 back inks because like some people in your list have mentioned it on their websites and they actually you can click on the number of back links and see where they’re coming from.

So, where am I going with that? Once you research your own pages of your websites, your blog, your e-Commerce store etc and see where the back links are coming from so far and to go back in time to figure out what you did to acquire those back links, then when you’ll be analyzing the top search results for the keyword you wanted to pursue, you can see how many back links those pages have because you can plug any page into AHREFS and see how many back links it has and where exactly the back links are coming from and then you make a decision.

Are you able to get these many back links to your page or where are these back links coming from? Are they coming from bloggers? Are they coming from people mentioning that article in forums? So, can you acquire the same back links? So, it takes a little bit of trial and error to try to figure out like how to build back links, how to reach out to bloggers, ask them for a link, how effective that is and cetera et cetera et cetera.

But overall, the rule of thumb if you’re just starting out of course, try to target topics that have business potentials, that have business search volume and don’t have a lot of back links pointing to the top ranking pages because generating back links is quite hard but as you grow, as your business grows, as your audience grows, you’ll see that it becomes easier for you to generate back links because for example AHREFS is a brand already so people are kind of inclined to link to us because they know our brand they trust us, so they would rather link to us then to the other resource on the same topic.

So, eventually with time, you’ll find that it gets easier for you to generate back links because people in the industry know you, because people in the industry follow you but as you were just starting out, just try to go after topics that don’t have a lot of back links pointing at them but as we just discussed, it doesn’t mean that you have to ignore super competitive topics because usually the super competitive topics are the ones with the most ROI.

So, I still create those articles on the super competitive topics early, I still early try to reach out to people in my industry with my articles to see their feedback if they will say, “My, I don’t like this article, there’s nothing unique about it” okay then you’ll have to figure out how to make your article unique. What you can do to make those people interested in your article.

[Cross talking 57:19-58:21]

Trent:                  I got an article surrounding my pillar each of the 10 articles around my pillar there were relatively low competition, relatively easy to rank not a huge project and once I’ve written those 10articles, I suddenly I realized wow now I kind of know what my cornerstone topic is and I’ve got 10 different sources of content that I can use to drive traffic to that cornerstone piece and I could put a video in it so it all is in my mind as I’m having this conversation with you, it’s all sort of coming together; it’s a very methodical process.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a great strategy right there.

Trent:                  Okay, we’ve been talking for a good long time and this has been a very informative interview for me to say the least, I think we could probably end up talking for much longer but I also know that you have a YouTube channel that has a truckload of resources on it so at this point in time to continue the learning experience, let’s send the people there.

So, the YouTube channel is imagine they just go to YouTube and they type in AHREFS they’re going to find your channel.

Tim: Yes

Trent:                  Okay and if anyone is listening to this Tim and they want to get in touch with you to talk about you know a partnership of some kind or you know whatever, what is the one single easiest way to get in touch?

Tim:                    The single easiest way is to go to ahrefs.com/tim, this is the page where all my social media profiles, my e-mail and some of my best articles, some of my best Podcast interviews are listed. So, people can just go there, see some work I’ve done, maybe they’ll find out that there’s no not even point of reaching out to me because they will find an answer to their question on the page.

But yeah, everything is there so feel free to connect ask many follow up questions and be there I’m usually the most responsive on Twitter.

Trent:                  One last question before we go building a page like the /tim page that you just talked about, is there an SEO benefit to that, does Google look at that and go, “Hey, this guy’s got more authority because he’s been in all these videos and he’s been on these Podcast and he’s written all these articles,” does Google already know that?

Tim:                    So I have no idea if they do this or not so there is no SEO strategy behind creating that page as my kind of author or like person profile other than simply whenever I go to Podcast or whenever I go to conferences and do talks, I just send people to that page because that page is a good like good caption of what I’ve done so far in the industry and how to connect with me on all different mediums.

Trent:                  Perfect! I’m going to make one of those for myself [awesome] Okay Tim, thank you so much for being on the show it has been— it was far more interesting than I ever imagined it would be and I am I’m definitely going to be taking action on some of the things I learned from you and I hope the audience does the same.

Tim:                    Awesome, I think it would be cool if you do act on all the advice that we discussed today, I think it would be awesome to reconnect in like a year and see your progress and discuss like your mistakes and your achievements.

Trent:                  I will take you up on that and probably what I will do is send you a very short email that says kind of here’s my game plan over the next year and I would welcome your feedback on that and then I’ll just take an action with the game plan.

Tim: Awesome! I’ll be happy to help you.

Trent:         Wonderful! Okay, thank you so much take care.

Tim: Thanks, bye.

Questions Asked During the Interview

  1. Should we hire a writer to create original content?
  2. How does Google measure the quality of an article?
  3. Is a longer article better than a shorter one?
  4. How should the first few paragraphs be used?
  5. What are some best practices for keyword research?
  6. How important are backlinks in SEO today?
  7. Which makes more sense, writing more articles, or continually updating the articles that we have already written?
  8. How should we choose the 20 articles that are going to make up our cornerstone content?
  9. Tell me about a systematic approach to selecting my 20 articles.
  10. Is there value in putting a video in the top of your article to increase time on page?
  11. How does keyword research play a role in video topic selection?

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Today’s Guest

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.

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