In the podcast:
02:02 – Just how big is this company?
05:09 – A tale of two Ukrainians
07:40 – The content few companies are putting out
09:56 – Customer acquisition cost? Lifetime value? I don’t know.
13:59 – Headquarters and what working at Ahrefs is like
16:14 – How to get 100,000 YouTube subscribers
20:18 – Becoming and finding a CMO
24:06 – How Ahrefs keeps someone like Tim
27:46 – The stuff that’s making 2020 exciting
31:03 – Tools and the rules that go with them
33:29 – Why you must stay educated in this industry
36:07 – What a CMO does all week
38:38 – Where to scope out Ahref’s content
James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. This is Episode 717. And I have with me Tim Soulo from Ahrefs. Welcome.
Tim: Hey, James, thanks a lot for having me.
James: It’s my absolute pleasure. I should start out by saying that your name and the name of the business you represent are spelt differently than what they sound. So it looks like “Soo-low”, but it’s pronounced “So-low” for your surname. And, of course, Ahrefs a lot of people would probably call “A-h-refs” unless they’ve been educated, like I have been recently.
And what an amazing story you’ve got. We’re going to be talking about marketing today. In particular, I’m keen to know how you started out with Ahrefs when it was small, and you filled yourself into a role that would be represented as a CMO, I guess, and I’d love to know what that journey looked like. And also along the way how you grew the business, because I know you’ve specialized in content marketing, in particular. And it would be great if we start out, perhaps get a sense of the size of Ahrefs. Because I think a lot of people might be surprised about that. We probably use the tool, we have a subscription to it. So we’ve been funding it for sure. And with a long history in SEO, we’ve come to rely upon that tool and use it to tune our own site. And we used to use it for our clients’ sites. But how big is a Ahrefs?
Just how big is this company?
Tim: Yeah, so in terms of headcount, we’re in the ballpark of 50 people, but that’s not because we are like, thrifty or something, just because it’s the position of our CEO and founder Dmitry, who doesn’t want the headcount of his company to go like, beyond 50 people. So he likes to stay small, because he thinks that this makes us avoid some bureaucracy, some politics. And just like, we stay lean. So in terms of headcount it’s like 50 people. And in terms of annual recurring revenue in 2018, like, we don’t share our numbers publicly, really. But in 2018, our CEO himself tweeted that we have surpassed 40 million in annual recurring revenue with a growth rate of about 50 percent year over year. So that was 2018. Now we’re 2020. So you can like, do the math of where we are right now.
James: Well, thank you for sharing that. And it’s a huge staggering number for a team of that size. A lot of software as a service companies like to report on everything that goes on in their business. Some of the founders like to, they use it as a growth strategy, almost. I’m wondering…
James: …why the difference in the position? And by the way, I’m the same as you guys, I’m pretty private. I don’t feel compelled to share revenue reports and everything that I’m doing, because I still believe in trade secrets and having an advantage. And I think that’s what a lot of people actually pay me to help them with, is to do things behind the scenes with their business that are going to help them have an advantage over their competitors without publishing a playbook. Is that the same reason, or you got a different reason?
Tim: I don’t know, maybe we just don’t want to be primarily known for like, how much money we’re making, but mostly for the product. But at the same time, because we’re operating in MarTech industry, marketing tech, we are marketing ourselves.
Tim: And we want to be an example of like, an efficient company, of the company that doesn’t follow all those like SaaS playbooks, growth playbooks and does things our way. So we don’t have sales, we don’t generate leads, we don’t have CRMs and all that stuff. We don’t have funding, we’re bootstrapped. So we do a lot of things differently. And because, like, one of the positions of our CEO and founder Dmitry is that other than just growing the company, he also wants to help other bootstrappers. So this is why we still have to share our message. And for some credibility, we still need to share our numbers, our progress, now and then, so that people would know that we have something to back it up. We’re not just talking, we’re also growing our company this way and it is working.
James: Right. And I’m not saying it’s the same, but it does remind me of the positioning of Basecamp. Those guys are a little bit contrarian, and they like to zig when everyone else zags, and they do publish thoughts, and they have scrapped a lot of bureaucracy as well. So I really get behind that. I’ve had a strong influence from the Ricardo Semler style of business with our own team, where we don’t have hours or work days or any of that stuff. We have a very different culture than most.
A tale of two Ukrainians
James: Now, I can detect a slight accent you’ve got there. Where’s that coming from?
Tim: How slight is slight?
James: Let me put it this way. I think it’s to the extent where I’m going to mention that at SuperFastBusiness.com, we do publish the full transcript at Episode 717. So if we say anything, between my Australian accent and Tim’s nice strong accent…
Tim: It’s Ukrainian.
James: Right. If the Ukrainian accent is pretty strong, you can go and read the transcript if you want to catch something. Because I plan to get some gold from Tim today, because there’s got to be a story behind this growth. Because you were there from the early days, weren’t you, Tim?
Tim: Not like from the very early days, but let’s say I was from the days that Ahrefs started to care about their marketing.
Tim: So Dimitri found me at a time where he understood that his product and the technical side of things, the development side of things, was stellar. So he had a great product on his hands. But he needed to build a marketing department, that he was looking for a person who would be like, the first person to hire, and who would start building that marketing side of things. So this is when I joined the company, and it was five years ago, essentially, it was 2015.
And the story of how Dmitry found me is somewhat interesting in itself, because I never hid the fact that I’m from Ukraine. So like, now we’re talking and people can clearly get from my accent that I’m not a native English speaker. But when I write articles, it’s hard for people to notice where I’m from and all the people think I’m from the US or the UK unless I like, make some stupid statements. Anyway, so I was never hiding the fact that I’m from Ukraine. But at the same time, I was doing some marketing work and was writing some articles for different blogs in English. So this is how Dmitry noticed me. He saw some of my work on different marketing blogs. And then he found out that I’m from Ukraine, which is where he’s from. So this created some kind of a bond, because he himself usually speaks Russian. So he thought that it would be quite convenient to have a marketing person who he could talk to in his native language to properly explain himself, but then the marketing person could do the marketing stuff in English. So I think this was one of the factors of how Dmitry hired me. Yeah, and this is quite an interesting story.
James: It is interesting. And I could tell from your Twitter that you have Eastern European style. You’ve got this black-and-white, yes-no, on-off approach that is a unique flavor for that area of the world.
The content few companies are putting out
James: But I have seen YouTube videos with other characters presenting information on the product. Like, you’ve got other talent within your content team these days, right? Producing stuff.
Tim: Yeah. Yes, yes.
James: It’s one of the few email newsletters that I actually provide my students as a benchmark of some of the industry’s best newsletters. Like, there’s very few email newsletters that I would actually subscribe to, because they’re annoying or pitchy. I like the one from Ahrefs very much. It reminded me of the ones I was getting from Wistia, which were high-quality and educational. But there’s very few companies who are actually doing that, you know, a lot of people are not approaching it the same way. And often you’re sending people to YouTube editorial, you know, like, content that is helping people regardless of what tool or platform. It’s sort of like, giving them good ideas and techniques, and if they happen to use the tool, then that’s great. And I’m sure it drives sales and growth, but it’s the kind of subscription that someone would opt in for because, you know, you’re making them better off. I wonder, was that very deliberate?
Tim: Yeah, we’re putting a lot of effort in our content. And speaking of our YouTube channel, I’m actually now waiting for the silver YouTube button to arrive, because we surpassed 100,000 YouTube subscribers.
Tim: Thank you. And like, I should also mention that it’s all natural. So I know quite a few people in different industries, not just marketing, they can just go and buy YouTube subscribers to inflate their channels and like, look like they’re bigger than they are. But when you compare the number of subscribers that they have to the number of views on their latest published videos, you can quickly see that a lot of those subscribers are fake. So luckily, we never tried to buy any subscribers or anything like that. So It’s all natural, and I’m waiting for the silver button.
Back to the content. Thanks a lot for your kind words about our content. Yeah, so like I said, we don’t have a sales team. And when you read like, different marketing books and books on how to sell, I once had an amazing advice that stuck with me – it read something like this: “The first time people use your product is in their heads.” So in your marketing, in your marketing materials, in your marketing communications, you have to make people see themselves using your product. And I think content is an amazing way to get it done.
Customer acquisition cost? Lifetime value? I don’t know.
So in our content, we try to teach people to solve their problems with the help of our product. So whatever article you would read from Ahrefs or whatever video you would watch, from Ahrefs, we will try to help you with your problems, but we will also show you how our product is helping you. So I think this is how we were able to grow our company to where we are right now, without having a lot of headcount, without having sales people. We don’t even have paid acquisition.
So a lot of SaaS companies, when you talk about their marketing, they would sooner or later mention paid acquisition, like, how much does it cost you to acquire a lead? What’s the customer acquisition cost? What’s the LTV, lifetime value of a customer? Ask me, what’s the customer acquisition cost or lifetime value? I say, I don’t know. Because I don’t care. We get customers for free, because we create all this content, because that content ranks in Google. Thanks to SEO, I think our blog right now gets 350,000 visitors per month.
Tim: Every single month.
Tim: Three hundred and fifty thousand visitors from Google? Guess how many people is that every single month. And those people are being educated on our product. So these are free leads. We don’t pay for leads. This is why we don’t need to care about what’s the lifetime value.
James: You must have a content budget, right? Paying content creators or team members? Do you have in-house or contractors?
Tim: Yeah, we have, we try to keep all our marketing in-house, because in the course of my marketing career and my attempts to build our marketing department, quite a few times I tried to employ agencies, freelancers for different things. For content, for writing articles, for running our ads, pretty much, like for social media marketing. Name any marketing task, and I tried to work with freelancers or agencies on it. And what I figured out is that no freelancer or no agency would care about your business as much as you do, and as much as people who belong to the business, who have that connection with the business. So right now we’re trying to keep everything in-house.
And yeah, as for budget, for content, to be honest, our company is doing quite well where we don’t need to think about the budgets. So we don’t have, like, annual budgets, pretty much for anything. We’re just spending money. And if I spend money too much somewhere, my CEO will just message me on Slack and say, like, “Tim, are you out of your mind, spending this kind of money there?” But we don’t agree on any marketing budgets or prompts. And this is what makes my work exciting.
James: I think it’s great. I love it. I can really resonate with this. I went for the longest time without tracking things, like you talk about. I still don’t have a particular funnel or a free-plus-shipping book offer, or the usual sort of direct response stuff that I think is, I mean, it’s a bit vomit-worthy in a way, you know?
“You don’t necessarily have to get better at something by doing more of it, but you just have to get in early.”
James: Big typical meets, launches and stuff like that. I don’t like it. So, luckily for me, I got into podcasting early. That’s been my prime channel and obviously, we’re up to Episode 717 – probably proof that you don’t necessarily have to get better at something by doing more of it, but you just have to get in early.
James: Now, one of the things that you have lent some of your budget to, which I’m very grateful for, is you’ve taken a sponsorship of SuperFastBusiness Live 2020. So I’m looking forward to meeting you in person and hearing some of your SEO content marketing tips at that event. So that’s going to be amazing.
And I loved your motivation for coming. The reason you wanted to do it is just to come and meet people and create great relationships. And that’s very heart-centered, long-term thinking compared to your average person. And I think that’s to be commended. Same as when I asked, you know, what you’d like to talk about on this particular show, because that’s a courtesy most podcasters will offer you. And you said, let’s tell people about our YouTube channel that they can educate themselves about. I mean, that’s the right thing.
So I notice you’ve got a mug there, for anyone watching the video of this. You got a sponsored mug there. So getting that promo shot in there. I’m sure that was unintentional.
Headquarters and what working at Ahrefs is like
Whereabouts is your team located, Tim?
Tim: So, the headquarters of Ahrefs are here in Singapore, where I’m at right now, and this is why I don’t have any problems of syncing time with you, time zones.
Tim: You’re in Australia, I’m in Singapore, so it works perfectly. Not as much when I need to record the podcast with someone from the US. That’s terrible. So yeah, here we have our head office. And we have, I’d say 40 percent of all our employees here in our office. The other 60 percent are scattered around the globe, and they are pretty much working remotely. So they’re remote employees, but they are in-house employees.
James: Yeah. Nice. So it’s a good sort of load balance scenario. You’ve got the ability to take advantage of different geo-localities and cultures and specialties without them having to be in one particular place. But you also get that amazing ability to have hyper communication. And you know, when you’ve got a good core of people there together, things can happen much easier when you can walk over and have a meal with someone.
James: That’s why I meet my team all the time and why we run live events. I think bringing people face to face is not something you can substitute. Do you bring all the people together occasionally in the business?
Tim: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. We have the kind of program, travel to Singapore. So every employee that joins the company, once a year, they have a paid trip paid by the company with a two-week stay in Singapore, also paid by the company, where they would come and work from our office and hang out with our team. And actually, we just got back from a company retreat in France. We were skiing and the company also rented a hotel for all staff. And most people even brought their families. So there were a lot of Ahrefs people there. So yeah, we do understand the value of people being like, physically together and hanging out and studying each other’s personalities and bonding, and all that.
James: Well, you know, one thing I love about Singapore is it’s just four hours away from the Maldives. So if you want to rent a great boat there, it’s just a four-hour trip and you can have a beautiful live-aboard experience in the best surfing conditions in the world. So I’m frequently heading through Singapore for that.
Tim: Oh, okay.
How to get 100,000 YouTube subscribers
James: Look, I can’t ignore this YouTube achievement of 100,000 subscribers. If you had to strain it down to just a few sentences, because I’ve heard YouTube a lot in the last few weeks. I was speaking to Pat Flynn this morning. He’s chasing YouTube this year. He’s got a couple of hundred thousand subscribers. He’s keen on it. Another one of my students, Scott, has a bass guitar channel, he’s just absolutely killing it. Another one I’ve coached has almost a million YouTube subscribers. And I’ve heard from my lead gen experts, or people who are fantastic on Facebook ads, the new frontier is YouTube. That’s the place where you get the cheapest best traffic right now compared to anywhere else. And they’re hot. So what can I do to improve my channel? I think we’ve just cracked 4000 subscribers, so we’re a four percent of the way there to my silver button. What sort of things would you advise my content team to pay attention to?
Tim: So, two things you need to know about Ahrefs’ YouTube channel.
“The first thing that would set your expectations is the audience, the size of the audience that you can potentially target on YouTube.”
First of all, we are operating in the niche of SEO. And they would say it’s quite narrow, for example, if you compare it to travel or even motivation. So like, Gary Vee, his audience is much broader than our audience, which is SEO. So this is the first thing, which makes it tough for us to grow our channel. So the first thing that would set your expectations is the audience, the size of the audience that you can potentially target on YouTube.
And the second thing is kind of your resources. So I would, I would explain that for us, our channel growth and our channel, the quality of our content was a very gradual process. So I started our YouTube channel five years ago when I just joined Ahrefs, and I was practically shooting myself on the iPhone. I know it sounds like a story like any person who reached a certain level of success would say, “I was living on the couch, and blah, blah blah…” But I was literally shooting myself on my iPhone, and I was just putting out some ugly screencast video. So if you go to Ahrefs’ YouTube channel and you sort by oldest, you’ll see those ugly videos. They were terrible.
And at the same time, I hired my friend in Ukraine who I knew had very basic skills of video animation. But I told him, “Hey, like, my videos are terrible….” My accent was like, five times more terrible than it is today. So I told him, “No worries. Your animation skills are terrible; my video skills are terrible. Let’s work together and see if we can improve.” And this was a gradual process. So my video animation guy was getting more skills and was able to do better animations. I was progressing with, like, my camera gear. So I upgraded to GoPro; then I, like, bought a more fancy camera; then I bought, like, a microphone; then I bought some lights. So it was very gradual. But even like, if you do that with our channel, if you go to our channel and look up our first published videos, some of them have, like, tens of thousands of views on them even though the quality is terrible.
And right now, I’ve found a great guy from Canada who took over our channel. And like, while YouTube channel was one of my responsibilities, because I had to, like, do all sorts of marketing for Ahrefs back when I was like, a single-person operation. But right now is, we have like, team members, and each of them is responsible for their own channel. So that guy, he’s creating content, he’s shooting himself on camera, he’s creating scripts, but then he also has a designer who is helping him to create great thumbnails. So again, I would pat ourselves on the back on the quality of our YouTube thumbnails. And this is very important, because this is how you get clicks on YouTube whenever your videos show up as relevant.
Also, our video animation guy in those five years, he got to a pretty decent level. So the animations he’s doing sometimes, I’m just like, super impressed by what he’s doing. And finally, we also have like, an editor, who also minimizes the time that our video guy spends on creating the video. He adds, all sorts of different things, cuts, callouts, and blah, blah, blah. So right now, it’s three people working on each of our episodes, and we do one per week. So there’s actually a lot of work. So our secret to, quote unquote, success on YouTube, if 100,000 subscribers could be called a success, is gradual improvement. So we were gradually looking for things to improve, and it paid off.
James: Fantastic. That’s very useful.
Becoming and finding a CMO
Now, I want to shift over to your role as CMO. You weren’t always the CMO, you were the marketing department in the early days, right? You were the one guy. And I know a lot of people listening to this, they have a team, or a small team, like one or two VAs. They have a strong vision. They’re good at what they do, but where they get stuck is they just wish, gosh, if someone could just come in here and drive this marketing for me, like, why do I always have to make every decision? Why do I have to follow everything up? Why do I have to choose? You know, god, should I be doing many, ManyChat bots? Should I be doing a podcast? Should I make videos? Should I build my YouTube channel? What about content marketing? Like, it just gets overwhelming. How do they get someone like you? And what did you do? How did you architect your gradual rise from the guy to the leader of the team, and orchestrating a team? Like, what are the moves for someone to make from the early days on?
Tim: This is an amazing question. And I feel you should better ask this question to our CEO, because he’s the one who hired me. So he had some criteria, other than like, that we speak Russian. Most of us, he had some criteria that he thought was like, promising. But yeah, also in terms of how I was building marketing, it was also like, heavily influenced by our CEO.
So the thing is, I still remember like, in the first year, essentially in the first month when I joined the company, when you join, you’re given some kind of KPIs, like, what are the expectations from your role? Like, what are they going to pay you for? So I still remember that Dmitry told me that, right now we have like, 6000 customers at Ahrefs. How do we make it, like, 16 by the end of this year? So this was the only KPI he gave me. And even then, that KPI wasn’t like, carved in stone. Because some methods of customer acquisition are like, again, a number of customers is just number of customers. How do we get from 6000 to 16,000? Let’s drop our prices to $10 per month. We’ll get like, 16000. So it’s all like, kind of arbitrary.
So, at the end of the day, like, five years later, I don’t have any KPIs that my CEO would measure before. So, he doesn’t even look at annual recurring revenue. Because then again, we could do some tricky things to squeeze more money out of our customers. But we don’t want to do this, because it can come at the cost of our reputation.
So to answer your question, how does a business owner find a CMO for themselves? I guess the answer is just like you hire pretty much anyone else. You look for cultural fit, because the person should kind of share the same values as you are. Because it’s your company, it’s your vision, and that person would like, the marketing person only transmits your vision and your product further to the world. So if you see that you have the same values with a person, and if you see that, another good trigger, another good thing that I would look for is that before joining Ahrefs, I was starting to bootstrap my own business. And I think the experience of trying to grow my own business, from nothing to some revenue, and hiring my own people and reinvesting my own profits, and splitting my profits, splitting my reinvestments into marketing into further development of the product, etc., etc., It gives me a better idea of how marketing fits the entire picture of the business. I think this is invaluable, because before that, as I was working in different marketing positions, I could only see part of the picture, and this makes you a different kind of marketer.
So I would look for two things: first, did that person ever try to kick-start something completely on their own, and how far did they get with this? And secondly, do they share the same values that you have? Do they like your product? Do they seem like a good fit for your product?
How Ahrefs keeps someone like Tim
James: I guess it leaves the natural question, you know, how does someone like Dimitri retain someone like Tim for the long term? Like, what would you need to help a CMO with, for them to stay with you and to continue that mission beyond the first phase? Because naturally in this entrepreneurial space, people think, Oh, well, you know, I’ve built this thing. And, like, you’re actually, you know, very respectful and loyal of the owner. That can’t be said of all 2ICs or CMOS, where they’re going to, you know, I call it the Western way, but at some point, there’s a bit of an itch that they feel like they might want to scratch and do their own thing. You know, leaving a bit of a gap. So I guess a couple of questions there. Do you make sure that people can come up behind you, if you did want to do that, and what do they do to make sure you stay there anyway, if that is something you want to do?
Tim: Yeah, so there are lots of good books on what drives people, on like, how to motivate people, how to make them loyal. And like, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, compensation. And it’s not just compensation in terms of its size, but your ability to influence the size of your compensation. So if you feel you have control over your compensation, if you feel that as you’re growing as a professional, as you’re bringing more and more value to the business, you get, like, equal amount of compensation, that is a good sign. But there is also, like, quite a few psychological studies that say that at a certain point, compensation no longer plays a role. Like, another couple of thousand dollars doesn’t change anything in your lifestyle, so you no longer care. So how do you retain people at this point?
In my case, what I like about Ahrefs, and what I like about working with Dmitry, is that he gives me a lot of freedom. So like I said, we don’t have meetings, I don’t have any KPIs that he would kind of impose on me. There’s no expectation that Dmitry would have from me, other than expecting me to just do the best work I could do. And I’m free to pursue whatever projects I want to pursue. So if I want to connect with you and go to your conference and talk to the people there, if I want to spend my time doing this, Dmitry trusts me that this is a good use of my time, and it would be essentially good for the company. This is what I love about working at Ahrefs, that I don’t have to ask permission for every single decision I make. So essentially, I think I’m essentially an entrepreneurial type. And the way that Dmitry “manages” me is he’s letting my entrepreneurial character kind of thrive in that environment.
Yeah, I think you sound like a classic intrapreneur. You’re an entrepreneur within the company of someone else, but you’ve got all the same sort of benefits and upside, and no doubt you’re guaranteed a profit. Like, you can’t really lose money. Like, the founder or the owner might get sideswiped at some point. Employees or contractors, whatever the way they’re set up, they’re almost always guaranteed a profit. And if you’ve got that level of freedom, that’s fantastic.
James: You know, the true story behind how you ended up being involved with my event was, I approached only one or two people whose tools we actually use. We had an SEO business for seven years, and Ahrefs is the only subscription we have for SEO now. We had every single tool, I can tell you. We had every tool, because we had hundreds of clients who are generating lots of audits and reports and tracking and everything. After we sold that business, we were like, Okay, what tool do we want to use for ourself, for our own business? And that’s the one that survived. So I only want to bring things to my audience that represent value. So you’ve done a tremendous job of reflecting the high quality values across, and obviously the market’s rewarding that by subscribing to your content, and the revenue figures, etc. So it’s all very happy.
The stuff that’s making 2020 exciting
What are you excited about when it comes to this year? We’re recording this early on in 2020. What do you look forward to this year, obviously, aside from SuperFastBusiness Live, because that’s a given? But what sort of initiatives do you think are going to capture your attention?
Tim: This is a good question. So this year, we’re actually working on a book. And I think you recommended me a person that could…
James: Oh, absolutely.
Tim: Yeah, it was you.
James: A book is transformational.
Tim: I read your book, and I was like, super excited and blown away by the quality of it. Like, it’s quite thin, and the amount, like, signal-to-noise ratio is like, amazing. I think I’ve read more than 40 books last year, and a fair share of them was just fluff.
Tim: So I was pretty amazed at how good your book was. So I asked you, like, to connect me with a person, like with the editor who I could work with, who could help me create the same kind of book.
James: Well, more than even editing. You know, Kelly, put that book together for me. She got it out of me. It’s like, it was in me, but I have so much stuff. I’ve been prolifically creating stuff for so long, and I needed help to organize it and structure it and make it tight. And she had all the best resources, and that book would not have happened without her. In fact, it didn’t happen for five years prior, since I tried to do a book. So yeah, that was a pivot point.
And you know, speaking of going for delivering the quality over the short-term play, you know, the book plus shipping, all that sort of hoopla, the book is now selling better two years later upon release than when it came out. I really think it’s going to be a creeper, like Influence by Cialdini. That thing didn’t take off for years after it was published, and then it took to market. I wanted a book that I could hang my hat on and say, I’m proud of this. And I’ve dedicated it to my kids, like, “Kids, read this, because it took me a lot of time and energy to figure this stuff out.” So I appreciate the kind words and I think the book is a huge cornerstone for marketing, positioning and authority and education, which obviously your company’s all about educating people.
Tim: Yeah, well, in our case, our book won’t be as pivotal as yours, because it won’t be as unique. Your book is essentially your story and your life lessons, like your unique stuff that you’re going to share. In our case, what we want to do is we want to create a good beginners’ guide to SEO that people, that our customers, that our fans would give their, like, junior SEO people and they would know that Ahrefs is going to give you the best introduction to the world of SEO that you can possibly get. So this is our goal with the book.
So I don’t think that book would last five years or something, because things change in SEO.
Tim: So what works today might not work like, two years from now. But I think creating this kind of book and giving our audience, giving people who are using our tool already a good resource that they could pass to their junior employees would be a good marketing move for us. Good value move for us, I would even say.
James: Perfect. It’s a lot more like my second book, which is more tactical and currently in progress. So I think there’s a place for that, anything instructional. I would like to put myself down for that book you’ve described. I’ll be giving that to my team, for sure.
Tim: Awesome, amazing. I will send you a few copies.
Tools and the rules that go with them
James: We have tool rules. Right? We have three tool rules. One is, do we absolutely need this tool? Right? That’s the first line of selection. The second one is, if we do need it, is this the best tool of its type or breed, you know? And we check that occasionally. And then the third rule? This is the important one, which I think a lot of people forget, is do we actually know how to use this tool?
“This is the important one, which I think a lot of people forget, is do we actually know how to use this tool?”
James: Are we using it properly? Because I’m sure a lot of people churn or stop a subscription because they’re paying for something and not using it. So I encourage my team, like, watch the tutorials, ask them their support if you’ve got a question and you don’t understand it. Get in the newsletter and keep up to date with the upgrades they make, and, you know, keep updating it. And this is where we can get a lot from a little, by having those three tool rules. And I think this book, it really fits into that number three. Like, if you gave it to everyone who’s already got the tool, or they pay for it, or you get it in front of them, it’s definitely going to help them solve their problems better, longer, deeper and remain a steadfast customer. So I think it’s a really smart move, and I’m excited for you. I can see why you’re excited for that.
Tim: It’s amazing that you’re bringing this up. But actually, our book is a bit different. So we really want to give people introduction to SEO. Of course, we’re going to plug Ahrefs in there and show like, how Ahrefs is unique and why you should use it. But still, we want to give people a good introduction to SEO. But as for, like, using the tool, I absolutely like how you said like, go watch the videos, go read the articles. Because how do you know that your employees, who you’re buying that tool for, did that? How do they watch those videos?
James: The CEO’s not going to do it; the founder’s not going to do it. They’re busy doing every other thing. Making sure they’re compliant, making sure they’re staying in front of the market, making sure they’re doing networking or whatever. Like, the last thing they want to do is punch through tutorials on a tool that the team’s using. We have a very strong education emphasis in our business. We actually have core values, and one of the values we have is to be ninja-good. In other words, if we’re going to be in battle, we might as well be damned good at it. So that implies we need to stay on top of it. We got to be sharp. We got to know how these things work. And if we don’t, we hire contractors. And one guy we brought in to help us with SEO also uses your tool and uses it really well, so they can have that conversation and sharpen up with the help of a, like a sharpening stone.
Why you must stay educated in this industry
Tim: Yeah. So what I was alluding to is that we’re actually also working on Ahrefs certification course.
Tim: So while our book would teach you the basic SEO, like, if you’re completely new to this, we’re also creating a course that will teach you all the ins and outs of Ahrefs, and it would have like, a very tough quiz, like a very tough exam that you have to pass to get like, certified, so that business owners or like, people who make the decision to purchase a certain tool and give it to their team will also give this certification course and see if the people using the tool can pass this course and like, know the tool well. Know everything – all the metrics, how it works, where the data comes from, etc., etc. So this is another thing that I’m excited about, because we will give a tool for business owners and marketing leaders to evaluate how good their team is at using that powerful tool that we have.
James: Genius. I just started a project this month, and I put a feature request in for 10XPRO, the platform we’re using for it, for the ability for us to have visibility on the users, completion of the training, ticking the box certification achievements. Because our customer is the owner of the business, and they’re going to buy multi licenses for this for their team. And then we want to be able to send them a report and say, right, these three people have been through all of the training. These three have not started yet.
And in some industries, there’s actually legal requirements. Certainly in legal markets, accounting, financial markets and health markets, they have to do updated training as part of the ability to stay practitioning. So this is a great thing. When you take a professional education-level approach to training and making sure the tools that the business owner is buying are being used.
In fact, it. It’s a really funny story. The reason we have a regular event, SuperFastBusiness Live, is because in the beginning, I ran one event. And then my assistant at the time, Kerry, she said to me, “Why don’t we offer another event for people who already came to the first event?” Because I wanted to sell another event, but I was going to go out to market and sell it to a whole new bunch of people. And lo and behold, 50 percent of people came back. And I use the professional education arguments, like, in this industry, it’s not like you do one thing and you’re done. You got to stay educated forever. You need to keep coming back and refreshing, or else you’re toast. In fact, I’d say our market moves a little quicker than some of the other markets. Especially the industry I came from – the automotive industry is over 100 years old. This online internet industry, it’s pretty new in the general scheme of things, and it moves quickly, right?
What a CMO does all week
So you’ve been very helpful with giving us some tips here, some huge insights. To finish out, what are the sorts of things that you’re doing on your typical roster, as a CMO in the business? Like, where do you spend the majority of your week for example? Like, what sort of things are you focused on?
Tim: This is an amazing question, because right now I feel I’m in some kind of transitioning period. Because essentially, when I came to Ahrefs, I was doing everything myself. I was writing articles, I was doing research studies. I even created a premium course. Like, four hours of content, of videos, like, quite animated videos about content marketing and blogging, the way we were growing our blog. Some of these tips I will share on your event.
“The goal of the business owner or entrepreneur is to make sure that everything works without you, that everything works smoothly without you, so that you could focus on the next big thing.”
Tim: So yeah, I was doing a lot of things myself, there were a lot of things with my name on them. And right now, as the team was growing, as I was hiring more and more people, I started to understand the value of management and leadership, and like, helping people perform to the best of their ability, making sure like, all the connections are smooth between people, that they are not fighting for resources, and all that stuff. So right now, I’m actually shifting from doing stuff myself to being a leader and helping my team perform to the best of their ability. And I think this was one of the topics of your book, that the goal of the business owner or entrepreneur is to make sure that everything works without you, that everything works smoothly without you, so that you could focus on the next big thing so that you would have open mind for like, looking for new opportunities. So I think I’m exactly at the stage. And probably this is one of the reasons your book resonated with me so much. It was very timely. As I’m going through this exact period right now I’m, I’m doing less of the work myself. But I’m looking for ways to optimize my team and looking like what’s the next thing we can do? What’s the next big thing we can do?
James: That’s fantastic. It’s like you’re a high-performance Formula One team, and you can actually focus on innovation and making it all run smoothly and tightly rather than being sort of stuck in there, getting overwhelmed. And it’s amazing how time seems to slow down. You’ve got ample time to do things. You can anticipate stuff, you get less surprises. The performance of everyone lifts. Everyone’s calm and confident and feeling successful. And that’s a great way to end up.
I’m looking forward to your presentation, Tim. Thanks also for your support and the support of Ahrefs.
Where to scope out Ahref’s content
You’ve mentioned your YouTube channel. Why don’t you tell us the name of that channel so we can go and check out the amazing content there.
Tim: Actually, right now we have two YouTube channels.
James: Wow, okay.
Tim: The first one is YouTube channel of Ahrefs, where we basically share our SEO knowledge with awesome video tutorials. So if someone needs help with their SEO, if someone needs to figure out how to do keyword research, link building, blah, blah, blah, just open YouTube, search for Ahrefs, and you’ll find our channel with a lot of tutorials. The thumbnails are amazing, so I’m sure you’ll end up clicking something and watching our videos.
And the second channel, I launched it last year, because I think there’s some kind of a gap in YouTube in terms of, I would call it CMO content. So, content played for marketing leaders, and specifically people who do marketing for SaaS, software as a service business. So I started the channel that is called SaaS Marketing Vlog, where I’m sharing the stuff that we’re doing at marketing, some of our thought processes, some of our wins, some of our failures. I’m trying to publish a video every two weeks. But like I said, because these days, I don’t have much time to work on my stuff so much, I end up publishing a video once per month. But yeah, I’m trying to make every video high-quality and super valuable.
James: I’m going to head over there and subscribe there.
Tim: So yeah, Ahrefs YouTube channel and SaaS Marketing Vlog YouTube channel. Look them up.
James: Love it. Well, YouTube’s in my crosshairs now, so I’m going to go and learn from the master. Thank you so much, Tim, and I’ll catch up with you shortly at the live event.
Tim: Thanks a lot, James.
James: If you enjoyed this episode, Episode 717, share it with someone who could get some value from it. We’ve really covered a great range of content marketing and CMO stuff and a little bit of a success story, a glimpse behind the scenes from Ahrefs and the tremendous growth they’ve had, and it’s little wonder why. That’s it for now. I’ll catch you on the next episode.
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