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Planning and creating content that ranks well on the search engines can be difficult. It comes down to keyword selection and use, but that’s not all. You’ve heard the expression, “content is king,” and that’s still true. Your success has everything to do with the value and uniqueness that your content has to offer the people who will be seeing it!
Today, we’re talking to Tim Soulo, the head of marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. Tim knows how to create valuable content, and he shares his best tips on finding keywords, promoting your content, and standing out from your competition.
Nathan: Planning and creating content that ranks in search engines can be difficult and even that seems like an understatement. How can you plan, organize, and execute the content that search engines will reward with that magical first result on the first search engine results page? It comes down to strategic keywords selection and use, sure. But to get even more specific, it has everything to do with the value and uniqueness your content has to offer the search engines users. What does that mean exactly and how can you put that general advice into actual practice?
Tim Soulo, head of marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs knows the answers and is sharing them with you in this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Tim has years of experience in search engine optimization. He’s helped tons of companies create super valuable content and he has created that at Ahrefs and well beyond. He is sharing his tips to help you find keywords closely related to your brand so you can attract an audience that is highly likely to convert.
You will learn how to promote your content to help you get backlinks, which helps its subsequently rank well. You will learn how to stand out from your competitions’ content that’s already wrecking for the terms you want to target. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. Now, let’s get to it with Tim.
Nathan: Hey Tim, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Tim: Hey Nathan, thanks a lot for inviting me.
Nathan: I’m really excited to be talking to you, Tim. You wrote a guest post for us a long time ago so it’s fun to bring you back.
Tim: Yeah. I do remember that. I have all the respect for your content and your blog even back then and I still do now. I see you guys doing a lot of awesome things. I’m also excited to talk to you too.
Nathan: I mean Ahrefs, you guys are doing some amazing stuff. Why don’t you kick it off by telling me about Ahrefs and some of the stuff that you guys are doing over there?
Tim: I’m biased but I will still say that I think that Ahrefs is one of the best SEO tools right now. We crawl the entire web to tell you the information about backlinks to your site, to your competitor’s site, as well as we know all the keywords that any website that you put into Ahrefs is ranking for. Those are only two core things that we do. We do much, much more. But even those two things help you tremendously in your SEO and they help you understand how to rank, what keywords to rank for, how to get traffic from Google and all this stuff. I can say that for marketing Ahrefs, I am using our own tools a lot.
Nathan: You guys are doing some amazing stuff over there. I’ve really enjoyed your content. We use the tool here and it’s really helped us a lot. Let’s talk about that a little bit. What’s been some of the most successful content you guys have publish over there at Ahrefs?
Tim: Define successful. If we were talking about the impact on our business, that would totally be targeting some keywords, targeting some topics that are closely related to what we do. For example, keyword research. I wrote a big guide about keyword research and it ranks in Google pretty well. I think it ranked, the last time I checked, at position number three for the term keyword research and it also ranked for thousands of different related keywords like how to do keyword research, keyword research guide and blah, blah, blah. It is bringing a lot of traffic from search and because in this guide I’m also showing how to use Ahrefs for keyword research, many of these people become our customers.
In terms of success for our business for our monthly recurring revenue, these kinds of articles work best. Those that rank well in Google bring us traffic and also promote our tools. But in terms of traffic, we have some articles that we’re specifically creating for broader audience. They bring us much more traffic from search but don’t convert that well because the topic is more broad.
For example, how to submit your website to search engines? Turns out, a lot of people are searching how to do that. We wrote a post about it and right now, I think it’s one of our top three best performing articles in terms of traffic from Google.
Same with website traffic. A lot of people want to know how to measure website traffic, how to identify how much traffic a website gets. We also wrote a guide about it and it gets a lot of traffic from search because this is a very popular topic and a lot of people are searching about it.
Nathan: I think that’s really interesting. Something that you mentioned just with the guide on keyword research is that you’ve figured out a way help that rank for not just one core keyword but for many related keywords. Do have any tips for people to implement something like that on their own website or blog?
Tim: Yeah, this is one of my favorite topics actually. The first advice that I can give for ranking for a lot of keywords is to pick the proper topic because there are some very narrow topics. For example, a squeeze page. This is a very specific thing and you don’t have much flexibility in searching for something like squeeze page. It could be like squeeze page or what is squeeze page or how to create squeeze page, not so much difference search queries that you can use.
But in terms of how to submit your website to search engines, there are a lot of different searches. Like how to submit your website to search engines, where to submit website, what for to submit website and blah, blah, blah. There are a ton of searches. The first advice I can give if you want to create an article that would rank for tons of keywords and bring you a ton of traffic, you have to pick a topic where that has a lot of searches around it. This is the first thing.
The second thing, once you know what topic gets a ton of searches. you need to study the searches so that in your article, you would answer all these queries because some of this search queries are highly related. You can only have one section in your article and it will answer a ton of related search queries. But some of the search queries can be not so closely related so you will have to create a few sections in your article so that to answer all this additional queries and have your article rank for this additional queries.
It’s all about studying, studying what people search for in terms of the topic that you are targeting. If there are a lot of searches, you might want to create an article that would cover most of them. If there are not so many searches then there is not so much opportunity to have your page rank for a ton of keywords and bring you a ton of search traffic.
Nathan: That makes sense. Tim, I’m wondering before you even think about keywords, sometimes, you gotta think about those content ideas or do you do keywords first? What does your process look like for coming up with content ideas?
Tim: I’d say it's both. I'm always on a lookout for topics to cover. For example, speaking of the topic about how to submit website to search engine? I was browsing some magazine that I bought in the airport and they saw that there was an article on the topic how to submit website to search engines. I was surprised because I didn’t know that people still struggle with that question. I used our keyword research tool in Ahrefs to see if this search query is getting any searches and how many related searches the top ranking pages for this query rank for.
I discovered that the top ranking page was ranking for a few thousand related search queries and it was getting, I think at that time, it was over 10,000 visitors from Google per month. This is according to Ahrefs which is almost always under estimation. It was getting even more traffic than that which motivated me to write our own guide and gets some nice search traffic.
The other thing I do is I research which keywords our competitors rank for and which pages bring them the most traffic. Whenever I see on Twitter, for example, or on Facebook some interesting article about SEO and the blog and they haven’t seen that blog before, I will always put that blog into Ahrefs to see what are their best performing pages, which topic bring them the most traffic from search because I might want to cover these topics on our own blog and get all the traffic to myself.
Nathan: I really like that idea, Tim, because it’s like understanding what the competition is doing and figuring out how to do it better. Do you have any tips when you do something like that for how you create content to outrank your competition?
Tim: I do have some tips but actually, I cannot call them hacks or anything like that because as for me, the only way to outdo, to outperform the competition is to offer something unique and something better than they have. Because a lot of people when they want to write an article about something and to rank high in the search results, what they would do is they would research what is already ranking and then try to create and article and crank everything that they have just learned into that article. They won’t be offering anything new, they will just create a copy of what’s already there. I see no reason for that copy to rank because there are already some great results ranking at the top search results so why would people be motivated to link to your post, to read your post, to pay attention to your post if you’re just saying the same things that everyone else is saying.
In my opinion, if you want to rank in Google, if you want people to pay attention to your content, to link to it, to share it with others, you need to offer something on top of that so you still have to do research. You have to know everything that ranks for the topic that you are targeting. You need to research even more but then, you don’t need to create the same article, the same research. You have to offer something entirely unique or at least, you should pick another angle.
For example, one of my favorite ways is to turn 180 degrees and challenge the status quo. I like to question what the top ranking results say, do my own research, do my own experiments, and then tell if I agree or disagree with what is conventional knowledge on some topic. These kinds of things, they usually attract a lot of attention. People like to link to these things and this how you get to the top of Google and this is how you outperform the article that already ranked.
Nathan: At Ahrefs, you guys are publishing amazing content. I’ve been a fan for a while and I was wondering, do you have standards of performance or qualities that every piece needs to meet before you publish them? How do you make sure that you are providing that additional value?
Tim: I’d say that there is kind of nothing magical about it. We just try to follow the simple plain logic. We research before we start writing an article. After we pick a topic, we would research the top ranking results. We will decide what would make our article better than the current results. Of course, we are not considering that making a longer article or a more detailed article would be better. We are really looking for another angle or we are looking for something entirely unique that wasn’t mentioned in other articles.
It is hard to [00:13:23] with some step by step formula but really, what you need to do is you need to understand if you have something to offer which wasn’t published, which was not said before you. For that, you usually need to be at the forefront of your industry, you need to be the so called thought leader. It’s easy for me to say because at Ahrefs, I’m sitting on a ton of data and I work with super smart people. If I want to do some research in terms of SEO, or backlinks, or keywords, I just go to our data science team. I ask them to do research and they get back to me with the results so I can publish totally unique content which no one has ever said before.
I think that everyone has an opportunity to do at least something. For example, back in the day when I had my personal blog called BloggerJet, I wanted to publish an article on the topic of guest blogging. There were quite a few big guides on guest blogging on big blogs like Kissmetrics, I think Brian Dean has his ultimate guide to guest blogging and back then, I wasn’t working at Ahrefs. I was just a newbie blogger so I need something that would differentiate myself from these other big publications.
What I did is I reached out to over 500 bloggers and asked them about their results like what kind of traffic they were getting from their guest articles and how many did they publish and if they are going to publish more. I did some research like a journalist because this is what journalists do. They check facts and they reach out to authorities to view some credibility to what they write. This is how I published a pretty good article about guest blogging, kind of the truth, which shows the real ROI of the articles that you submit to other websites, the guest post. That generated quite a buzz. There were a ton of comments. Some of the comments were from top bloggers in the industry and it generated links from I think over 60 different websites so we performed rather well and it was done on a blog that wasn’t popular so I wasn’t using any big brand behind me or anything like that.
Essentially, I think that anyone has the power to do something on top of what was already done on any topic that you choose and then create an article that would be entirely unique and will offer a lot of unique things on top of what is already there.
Nathan: I think that’s amazing advice, Tim. Something that you mentioned in a lot of these examples is that it goes back to almost doing some of your own original research. I just want to pick your brain on that. Why do you think that that is so powerful for an SEO play to provide research that no other blog or no other article on the internet has in your content?
Tim: Of course it is. The answer is super easy because this is kind of bullet proof way to get links and as you know, links is one of the primary factors that get you to the top of Google. I mean if you go and read some content on any topic, you’ll see that most of the time, many of the articles which reference the same study, the same research, the same statistic or the same case or the same company of that did something.
If you do something unique and share it with the world, you will then get credit for doing it. Because most people are lazy and then don’t invest their time and effort into actually doing something, by creating something unique, by doing something, by being that case study, by being that research that everyone would reference, you’re putting yourself to a place with almost no competition.
You can crank up the article in one or two hours and compete with hundreds or thousands of bloggers who also crank their articles in one or two hours or you can spend a month on it, you can do research, you can reach out to authorities, ask for their help, ask for their advice and then create something that would be super unique and that everyone else would then reference.
Nathan: Something else that you said that just really stock out to me is that you’re not shooting for length. You are not saying that length is an indicator of quality or length is an indicator that things will break in search engines. I just want to pick your brain on that. Could you tell me more?
Tim: Yeah. This is another favorite topic of mine to talk about. If you remember the movie Matrix, when Neil had to learn Kung fu or whatever, he just uploaded it to his brain. People are lazy. I’m repeating this. People don’t really want to read. For example, I have 50 or maybe 70 books on my to-read list like business books, marketing books, psychology books and I don’t like to read. It is tedious. It takes time. If I was given the choice to upload this books to my brain right now or to see it and read them like during the next I don’t know, three or five years, I would of course pick to upload these books to my brain and just get this knowledge.
The same with the content that is published online. People don’t want to read. They want to get the knowledge. They want to get the answer to their question. They want to solve their problem. If you’re solving their problem with 10,000 words, they would be reluctant to solve it this way. They would give preference to an article that would solve their problem in 500 words. It's not about length, it’s not about trying to crank everything you can into the article, it's about delivering the value and persuading the people that you can solve their problem in as less words as possible.
Nathan: I love that. Anytime I get to hear an analogy that goes back to the Matrix, it's like my favorite day so thanks for that. Just to dive a little bit deeper into that. Because I’m seeing just massive articles, these ultimate guides that are just massive, there is no way that I’m going to read these sources. What would you recommend if I want to target a keyword that might be a little bit difficult, that I have all of these related search terms I want to target and my piece is getting along or I’m starting to write that outline and starting it long? What could I do to shorten it up or break it up into multiple pieces? What advice do you have there? Should I explore a micro site? What would you recommend?
Tim: This is a pretty hard question and the answer of course would be, it depends. Of course, it depends on the situation, on the keyword, on the content that already ranks there, on the ideas you have that you want to squeeze into your article, on how you’re going to differentiate it, your article, but then I like the concept of micro site. I think I saw some great guides from you and I even tweeted because I like a lot one of your guides. I think it was guide to content marketing or something. When you created kind of a resource with unique design and deep hit chapters.
I think this is one of the best ways to do it right now. If you feel that the topic is lengthy and you cannot really cover it short, you need to put a lot of information for people to be able to grasp and rub their head around the topic, I think the best way is to create a resource that would have chapters, that would be logically separated so that people won't have to go through it in one take. They will be able to read a few chapters today, read a few chapters tomorrow, and it will be easier for their brain to grasp the information. Generally, I think the answer is it depends, it depends on which topic you’re targeting.
Nathan: One other question based on this is we’ve mentioned backlinks throughout this conversation. After you invest your time into this, you had suggested maybe focusing a month on something if it needs that sort of time. Once a piece is published, how do you promote it to help it rank? What are some of your tactics or what tips would you recommend to promote a big piece?
Tim: There are two kinds of categories of people. I think also two categories of listeners. Some of them work for companies that have audience, like I work for Ahrefs, you work at CoSchedule. We already have some readers. We already have email lists. We already have some budget for promoting content. For example, here at Ahrefs, what we do is we send email to our email subscribers, we let our customers know about the new piece that we have published and we also put some money into Facebook ads.
All of these things get our content some reach and because of their reach and because of the awesomeness of the content, because of the uniqueness, naturally it gets links because the more people will see your content if it is worthy, the higher the chance that some of them will then reference and link to it and it will help it rank better.
But then, there is another category of people. The category of people who are only starting out. They don’t have an audience yet who will promote and link to their content, and they don’t have the budget to simply stroll within Facebook and get a few thousand people to see their article. In that case, what I recommend is to do everything anything. If you can submit your article to Reddit, Inbound, Growth Hackers, Facebook groups, post it in the comments to other people’s blogs, do outreach to bloggers, do outreach to people who write about the same things, do everything because while you don’t have an audience who you can read with your content, you have to be building that audience. Any tactic, anything you can do, anything counts. Don’t discount any tactic, try everything, see what bring you more results and double down on the things that work best and discard things that don’t work for you.
Nathan: Wow, Tim. That is amazing advice and I think that’s a perfect place to end this episode. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, for sharing everything you know about keyword research and helping content rank. It was super fan to pick your brain today.
Tim: Thanks, Nathan.
Nathan: I honestly went into this interview with a bunch of questions drafted that I never even asked. I had this amazing opportunity to pick the brain of someone who is amazing at search engine optimization so I just rattled off what I wanted to know thinking that you would want to know it too. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and as you can imagine, we will be implementing a ton of Tim’s genius ideas here at CoSchedule so I want to say thanks Tim for sharing your advice today.
You just heard from Tim Soulo, the Head of marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. Tim’s show notes and full transcript are available at coschedule.com/podcast.
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Alright, friends. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I will catch you on the next episode.
Nathan is the head of marketing at CoSchedule. With the help of an awesome team, he’s helped CoSchedule attract more than 65 million marketers, convert 10 million email subscribers, and support 300,000 software users. Nathan has 15 years of proven corporate and startup marketing experience and continues to venture off the beaten path. When he’s not marketing, you’ll catch Nathan canoeing in the Boundary Waters or training for his next ultra marathon. Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.