Creating Better Products Through Marketing with Tim Soulo of Ahrefs

Episode #084

"Whenever you work for a big company and they don't help you work on your ambitions, you start doing something on the side. That's what always happens." In this episode, Tim Soulo (@timsoulo) details the winding path he took to quit his job, build his own profitable online businesses, and eventually become the Product Advisor and Chief Marketing Officer of Ahrefs, which generates over $1M in revenue per employee.

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    Good props to segment, I've used in the past it's awesome. Also, I would point out that most developers don't want to do SEO because it's not actually technical at all it's just it's just an ass pain, hence why you get a lot of pushbacks from devs if you're an SEO agency / consultant putting forward recommendations.

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      Seo is sort of an art in an of itself. Seems easy when you look at it from afar but then you realize its a whole domain just like programming. Yes this episode was great and this is clearly one of the best bootstrapped companies out there.. amazing

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    So cool you're using OCaml. I'm using F# for www.tewtin.com

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    My Main Takeaways:

    • Get really good at your craft: The founder of Ahrefs, Dmitry is a technical guy who made a great product but needed a marketing person. So he spotted Tim online and saw his portfolio, he also saw that he was from Ukraine. He reached out to Dmitry and they began working together.

    • In a small company you can apply your talent onto multiple different roles. But this isn’t necessarily the same at big companies.

    • Work and learn from side-projects: Tim started working on side projects (his blog), because the companies he worked for wouldn’t give him any creative power. Through this he learned, SEO, marketing, product development, growth, etc.

    • Before doing content marketing, Tim used to be a fairly popular DJ in his city.

    • Share your knowledge (you may even build a following).

    • Develop Grit: Coming from Ukraine (A not-so-developed country, as Tim says), you have to have grit to persevere in anything because you don’t have the luxury to determine what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. It was because of this that Tim learned the grit required to push through any endeavour he undertook.

    • ”The only way to succeed is to push yourself through some things that you don’t like, in order to be able to do things that you do like.” - Tim Soulo

    • You never know what you can achieve if you just push yourself: Before college, Courtland saw himself as lazy. But the hard work required to get through college (MIT) shaped Courtland’s identity into a hard working person.

    • Don’t be undervalued by your boss: Tim’s first product idea was launched within a company he was employed at, it was a set of Facebook Business page templates. He launched the product for the company and it did very well, becoming a top selling product. But he only got a one-time-bonus of $100. So, he quit. And started his own store with a friend who also worked there. And within 3 months, they were making $2000 per month revenue.

    • Tim leveraged Content Marketing and Word-of-Mouth to build his Facebook Business Page template business. (This is also what he does at Ahrefs now.)

    • Be careful of who you trust: Tim’s first business partner who he built the Facebook Business Page template business with eventually changed all the passwords and ran away with it.

    • Tim didn’t want to just be a marketer. He wanted to do marketing and create an amazing product that customers want.

    • Words do not equal action: Don’t just listen to what people tell you about your product, watch what they actually DO with your product.

    • Tim didn’t think about competitors when working on Moz, he just focused on his own product (Ahrefs).

    • Hire talented, highly skilled individuals.

    • Target specific niches at a time, rather than a broad audience.

    • Do customer support to better understand your customers.

    • Tim says that Ahrefs don’t overly obsess about analytics, they focus on making an amazing product.

    • Don’t track any metrics that are not actionable.

    • There are 3 ways to reach people online***: (1) They search for you. (2) Ads. (3) Word-of-mouth.

    • Educate people about how to use your product first, i.e. YouTube videos and blogs, and THEN sell them on it. Not the other way round.

    • Tim says that SEO is the best distribution channel for small bootstrapped startups. (Get yourself in front of people who are searching for you, whether that’s using paid ads or free SEO.)

    • Killing the “SEO Marketing is too hard and too saturated” argument: When Tim started, he was competing in an already highly competitive field (SEO) against the biggest SEO companies, and he grew Ahrefs from 15k visitors a month to over 200k visitors a month. So if Tim could do this given his niche, if the average user goes to a smaller niche with smaller competitors, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to rank well.

    • ”Killing the SEO is too technical” argument: Tim didn’t even know HTML when starting SEO, you don’t need to be technical. You just need to (1) do keyword research, (2) write articles targeting these keywords, phrases and topics. And (3) get quality backlinks to your website.

    • When starting a website, you don’t need SEO experts. Use the above instructions. However if you’ve been running a website and it has lots of pages, you may need an SEO expert to show you what mistakes you are making and how to fix them.

    • SEO is a slow process, but it’s free and fairly simple, so you may as well go for it.

    • You don’t need to create lots of pages. Just make pages that are targeted to key search terms.

    • Major key: A way to quickly enable your product to benefit from SEO, is to leverage “second-hand SEO traffic”. This means to leverage the websites that are ALREADY ranking for your desired search term (usually review/affiliate marketing websites) by sharing your product with them so they have more content and/or can make commissions by selling your product on the website.

    • Advice for beginners: Be an action taker, don’t obsess about finding the next best idea or growth hack. And connect with people who are at your stage, or 1-2 steps ahead of you (Tim did this, he connected with someone who was in a position he wanted to be in 2 steps ahead, now they are friends to this day).

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    GREAT podcast. Tim brought passion to the podcast. Enjoyable listen.

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    interesting tips of starting with SEO

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    Very cool interview, like always. Many things resonated with me. Inspiring!

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    I really liked this podcast, and I like the harsh look of Tim where he basically says doing tough work is what will get you ahead, I'm also of the similar opinion whenever I see people just avoid doing stuff that's boring or tough and just focus on what they enjoy doing.

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    That was a great interview! Thanks for sharing

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    I believe that in order to engage in online marketing
    You need to explore not only the promotion of the site, but absolutely any brand. For example, Timur Artemyev(https://www.instagram.com/timurartemev/?hl=en) is now a very famous businessman. But a few years ago almost no one knew about him, but since he approached the business wisely and hired good marketers, they found out about him as a good businessman and philanthropist.

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