Yours in Marketing Episode 5 – SEO Tools with Tim Soulo

Yours in Marketing Episode 5 – SEO Tools with Tim Soulo

Blake Emal: Welcome to the Yours in Marketing podcast. On this episode, we speak with Tim Soulo, the Chief Marketing Office and Product Advisor at Ahrefs.

This episode of the Yours in Marketing podcast was really special because I was able to speak with Tim Soulo who is the Chief Marketing Officer of Ahrefs. Now if you don’t know what Ahrefs is, it is one of the, if not the, best SEO tools out there. It can help you find what kind of content to write, what keywords you should rank for, how many links you have, how authoritative your site is. It does it all, it’s very intuitive, it’s really simple to use and yet it’s so powerful.

Speaking with Tim was a pure delight because first of all, he’s a great guy, but he’s also so knowledgeable about SEO and marketing in general. So we talked about the future of SEO. We talked about how B2B leaders can leverage SEO tools to grow their businesses.

We also talk about this switch from Blogger Jet, which was the blog that he was running. To going to Ahrefs, and moving from the Ukraine to Singapore. Really interesting story and overall a fantastic guy and a powerhouse in SEO. He’s a great Twitter follow, he’s an even better person. I highly recommend this.

So here’s what you’re going to get from this episode. We start really heavy on SEO, obviously, and how you can leverage it as a competitive advantage for your business, whether you’re a small business owner, a B2B leader, a marketer, you’re just starting your career. This really dives deep into how to use SEO tools effectively for business plain and simple.

We’re also going to talk about career changes and how to go from running your own blog to becoming a CMO and what that looks like. We’re also going to talk about the future of SEO. So stick around. You’re going to learn a lot about SEO from one of the most brilliant minds out there.

Without any further ado, here is the interview with Tim Soulo.

Well, how you doing? It’s morning there, right.

Tim Soulo: Yeah, it’s 9:40. So I slept well. Rejuvenated and stuff.

Blake Emal: Is it Friday there?

Tim Soulo: Yes.

Blake Emal: You’re ahead of us. Okay, yeah. So it’s 6:40 pm here in California. So it’s like I’ve never done an interview internationally. I’m usually all in the United States. So this is cool.

Tim Soulo: Thanks a lot for accommodating.

Blake Emal: Thank you because I’m absolutely stoked to talk to you. I listened to your most recent podcast when you met with Pat Flynn on the Smart Passive Income. That was really cool.

I’m in SEO as well. We kind of have the same background. You’re obviously a notch above me for sure. So I’m really excited to talk to you.

But just listening to that podcast and having you simplify SEO was really cool for me because sometimes it’s just when you’re doing client work you just get so into it that you forget to take it back to the basics. And so it’s nice to have that reminder, especially coming from somebody that’s as technically savvy as you to hear how important it is to simplify.

Tim Soulo: I don’t consider myself technically savvy to be honest.

Blake Emal: Really? Well, all your posts and stuff, they come across as technical. So my first question for you would be for your personality, do you consider yourself to be more creative then than technical?

Tim Soulo: Yeah. I’m 100% more creative. Back in school I was one of the best in math, physics, chemistry and all that stuff. But over time I didn’t go the development and programming route. I did go the marketing route. So I think I developed the neurological things in my brain that help me with creative stuff and they don’t do that much of technical things. So whenever I publish all sorts of research when I share the blog, it’s actually my ideas of what I want to study and how.

But then we have a data science team, we have amazing developers who actually do the job. So it’s not me doing all the research. I’m just the guy who is creating those ideas, yeah.

Blake Emal: On your blog, you mentioned that kind of your motto about content is don’t write about marketing strategies that you’ve heard from somebody else. You should write about things that you’ve personally tried.

I really like that because it’s way too easy to just take what Tim said from Ahrefs and then copy and paste. It’s great to share other people’s thoughts. But at the same time, what are you testing? And that’s something that I think I could definitely do a better job of as well.

But what’s your process for that? When you’re looking at something that you want to test. How do you even find that idea to begin with? And then take me through your process of how you actually go about testing it.

“Don’t Just Say Things. Do Things.”

Tim Soulo: To be honest I don’t think we have any checklist or outlined process. Usually whenever we try to tackle a topic that we want to rank for, it is SEO related because obviously we want to squeeze mentions of our tools there and promote ourselves and our content.

So whenever we’re writing an article about something … for example, link building or broken link building specifically. Usually what 99% of bloggers would do is they would write either their thoughts, opinions, how they think broken link building should work. Or how they’ve seen others do broken link building. But whenever we do give some kind of advice, I usually tell my team or I do it myself, we actually want to perform an experiment.

So if we talk about broken link building, we want to build some of our own broken links and tell people, “Here’s how many emails we’ve sent. Here’s how many opportunities we were able to find. Here’s how we reached out to people. Here’s how many of them replied. And here’s how many links we got as a result.”

So quite often we are being 100% honest with our results. And we say, “Yeah, broken link building is like a high top strategy. Everyone is talking about it. But at the end of the day in our own experience, we acquired like 1% of links from all the opportunities we had. So you should lower your expectations and don’t blame us for doing broken link building and figuring out that you struggled to get those links. Yeah, you will get a few but not that many.” And this applies to pretty much every piece of advice that we’re giving in our blog.

Another interesting article is that we recently wrote about outsourcing content. How to work with outsourced writers, where to hire them, et cetera. Again, we could just go from our opinions or how we think it should work in our, I don’t know, imaginary world or something.

But we actually went and found different websites, different platforms where you can hire writers. We posted a job ad, we received a lot of applicants. We vetted them and we have created like a table, a spreadsheet with our results. So on Upwork you can get this many applicants and the qualities.

According to our standards, the quality is this. I’m probably going to get this and that. So whenever we create content, we don’t just express our own opinions or thoughts or whatever. We actually try to do stuff and give people the exact experiments, the exact data, the exact numbers of how it went for us.

Another great example that I often reference is everyone can write an article about unhealthy food and McDonald’s being unhealthy. But there was a guy who actually ate in McDonald’s for 30 days. Like exclusively ate McDonald’s. And his article went … I think he published it either on Buzz Feed or somewhere like New York Times … some super popular publication and this article went viral. It was trending on Twitter, it was trending on Reddit. It was everywhere.

Because the guy actually did something and he has proven … He measured his weight, he went to the doctor to measure his blood pressure, et cetera. But he actually ate in McDonald’s for 30 days, which is not something many people will do. And this is how you create great content. Don’t just say things. Do things and talk about your own experience.

Blake Emal: For business leaders that are listening to this podcast, if they’re looking for kind of a revamp of their current content strategy, you’d offer that the best way to really produce effective content is basically to go out and actually do something instead of just writing about things that everybody else is already talking about.

Tim Soulo: One philosophy that I’m trying to promote right now is that whenever you want to create content for your company, for your business, that will have business value for you and not just arbitrary traffic or whatever. Or like number of published articles per week.

The person who will be creating your content should be the most qualified person in your entire company. So usually what people do … For example, I have a construction company. I build buildings or whatever. And I would hire someone on Upwork who has experience in writing about pets, parenting, et cetera but zero experience in construction. And what this person would do. They would go research some other articles, maybe read some books if you’re lucky. And that’s a responsible person. And they will start writing your content about construction.

While as a business owner, I’m the one having a ton of unique experience, a ton of unique examples of how I was building those buildings. Of how I was making those contracts. Which roadblocks did they face? Et cetera. So it is me who should be writing that content.

So a lot of people use a workaround and they hire the so-called editor or ghostwriter. A person who is experienced in interviewing people and kind of getting the content out of the people. Because if I’m good at construction then they know all the bells and whistles, it doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily good at structuring my thoughts and finding a way to write a decent article with a good headline, with a good intro, a logical structure, et cetera.

But they can hire a person who can effectively get that information out of me in the course of a few interviews and create amazing content that would be still the author would be me because it’s all my content. But it was structured by an editor, it was structured by someone else.

And here at Ahrefs, we’re a perfect example of having the most qualified person create content because for the larger part of me being the Ahrefs Chief Marketing Officer, I was creating a lot of content and I was participating almost in every single article that was published in our book even if didn’t have my name on it. I was trying to help my coworkers to create amazing content. I was giving them my perspective, my thoughts, telling them how to run experiments, et cetera.

So unless the most qualified person in your business, whatever the niche of your business is, is participating in the creation of amazing unique content, you won’t really have an edge above competition who are just hiring copywriters to do that for you.

Blake Emal: So if I were to tell you I’m a new business, I’ve got a little bit of traffic but I haven’t really started creating content yet for my site. What kind of tips would you give me if I were starting at zero for building out my blog into something that would actually have an impact?

The Business Potential Score

Tim Soulo: Yeah, so, first of all do some keyword research because you need to know what people are searching for within your niche. And make sure that the topics that you will find in the course of keyword research are something where you can plug the mentions of your business.

So here at Ahrefs in our content team in our content roadmap we have a score called business potential. So what it is it’s a simple score from zero to three and we grade every topic that we are considering to write about.

So business potential three means that the topic that you’re covering … your tool, your product or service … is an irreplaceable solution within the topic. So whenever people will search for that in Google … for example, how to loose weight … and you have a magic supplement, amazing exercise course or whatever. And it’s better than anything else and they won’t be able to lose weight without it. I think that that would be actually a diet because dieting is the most essential thing for losing weight. But not I’m not an expert. Anyway.

So if your thing is absolutely essential, it is irreplaceable, it is business potential of three. Business potential of two it means that your thing is kind of helpful but it’s not essential in any way. So I just discussed supplements. Supplements are helpful but if you’re overeating, if you’re going to McDonald’s every day, you’re not going to lose weight. So that’s business potential two.

Business potential of one it means that you can mention your product within the topic. But it’s not essential in any way and the chances that people will be interested to buy it are slim.

So first, people will be super interested to research a nice diet if they’re looking to lose weight. They will be interested in supplements. They will take them to add to their diet. But if you’re selling kettle bells, you can mention kettle bells, that kettle bell is a nice thing, and you can do a lot of exercises and many of them will help you lose weight. But it’s not as essential as dieting or some interesting supplements, some interesting chemistry that helps to lose weight. In business potential of zero means that there’s no way to even mention your business within the article.

So this is what we’re doing. Whenever we do keyword research and we find different topics, some of them has huge search traffic potential. Some of them has medium search traffic potential. We always add the business potential score.

And sometimes we might ignore topics that promise us a lot of traffic if we see that the business potential of one. So we can mention our tool. We can mention Ahrefs. But the chances that people will be interested to try it out are slim because the actual article gives them other solutions to their problem.

So these are the two most essentials things for researching the kind of content that you should be publishing. And then, once you know which topics can bring you traffic while also having a lot of business potential for your website for a business, you should as a business owner, you should participate in creating that content. Or you should involve knowledgeable people in your company to help copywriters, to help editors to create that content that would be unique to your business, that would be unique to your experience.

And often times, if you really want to take it a step further, you will have to allocate a little bit of your business resources to running some kind of experiments to trying out things that you could write about.

This is something we’re doing at Ahrefs. We’re sometimes running some data studies. And we’re only running those data studies, not because they help us improve our tools some way, improve our business in some way. But because they help us create unique content that attracts attention that attracts back links, et cetera.

So that’s basically the process we are following. And that’s something that I advise to business owners if they really want to create the kind of content that will bring customers and sales to their business and not just arbitrary traffic numbers.

Blake Emal: Yeah. So you’re practicing what you preach. And I’ve followed the Ahrefs blog for probably four years now. I mean, it’s been a while. Probably a year after I got into SEO really, I started going heavy on reading Backlinko, and Ahrefs, and Moz. So it’s one of the top resources.

So if anybody’s listening that hasn’t looked at the Ahrefs blog yet, you should check it out. Because it ranges from really simple stuff like learning the basics of SEO. But then it also spans to highly technical things that you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out by yourself. It’s a really cool resource.

But, Tim, I want to take a step back. I want to start a little bit more toward the beginning for you and kind of go through your path. So you’re born in the Ukraine?

Tim’s Path to Becoming CMO of Ahrefs

Tim Soulo: And raised.

Blake Emal: And raised. And then you just recently moved to Singapore?

Tim Soulo: Yes.

Blake Emal: So you were in Ukraine for most of your life so far?

Tim Soulo: Yes, for 29 years or something.

Blake Emal: In Ukraine right now, is there kind of a tech vibe to it? Are the jobs there more digital focused like they are here in America? What’s it like over there because obviously I have no idea what Ukraine is like? I’ve never been there.

Tim Soulo: I think the tech vibe in Ukraine started quite a long time ago. Because in Ukraine as well as in ex-Soviet Union … like Russia, Belarus, and stuff … we have really good math, physics education. So we’re raising kids with a lot of brain circuitry around the logic, around math.

If you ask a lot of product people, a lot of SaaS companies, et cetera. A lot of them are using web developers and developers from Ukraine. Because we really have nice schools, we have nice universities. And overall people are eager to learn and eager to tap into those technical things.

And one final thing is that hiring a developer in Ukraine it is much cheaper than hiring a developer in the United States. It’s like levels cheaper. So this is why a lot of companies outsource their work to Ukraine. And this is why in Ukraine we have a lot of talent. Like tons of talent.

Blake Emal: Well, it just so happens that Ahrefs was founded in Ukraine, right?

Tim Soulo: Yes. Our founder is from Ukraine, our CTO is from Ukraine, and one of our chief developers is from Belarus.

Blake Emal: That’s kind of a big coincidence that you’re from Ukraine, Ahrefs is founded there. But now you’re in Singapore so I want to talk about that transition because to my understanding it wasn’t too long ago that you actually joined forces with Ahrefs. So how did they approach you? How did they convince you to come over to their side? And how did the move to Singapore all happen?

Tim Soulo: I initially thought that it was me who landed myself that opportunity because I was working on my personal blog. I was creating some content there. And I was doing outreach around the industry to get some links, to get some traction, to get some acquaintances, et cetera. So I reached out to Ahrefs because they published some article.

And back in the days … it was like more than four years ago … they were publishing the so called Link Roundup. So here are the best articles from the industry from last week. And I wanted to appear in that Link Roundup.

So the way I remember it is that I reached out to Ahrefs with my article and I got a reply from Ahrefs CEO Dmitry and he said that he reviewed my content and he wanted to work with me on a few projects.

But later when I talked to Dmitry, he actually said that that outreach email that I sent them, it was left without reply. He didn’t see it. But he noticed me online. There was a website community for marketers. It’s no longer live as far as I know. And there were different discussions of different marketing topics. People were sharing links. It’s kind of like Reddit but for marketers.

And there was an AMA by another Ukrainian marketer, Ann Smarty. She’s quite famous in the industry as well. And I was participating in that AMA. I was asking her questions again about being someone from Ukraine who is doing marketing for the US markets who moved US, et cetera.

And Dmitry was also … Dmitry the founder and CEO of Ahrefs … was also reading her AMA. He saw me, he checked me out. He saw that I had published articles on Moz, that I had my own blog, that I was doing my own word press plugins, I was launching my own online tools.

So he reached out to me asking me if I’m interested to do some projects with Ahrefs. And within just a few weeks, we figured out that we’re a good fit for each other. Because I’m super passionate about marketing product and stuff and he is super technical. So I think pretty much within three or four weeks, he invited me to come to Singapore and be in charge of marketing for Ahrefs.

Blake Emal: That is a rapid ascent to being CMO of Ahrefs.

Tim Soulo: Yeah.

Blake Emal: What was going through your mind when that was all happening so quickly? Where you just totally blown away that one second you’re just running your own blog and kind of doing your own thing, and now you’re the CMO of Ahrefs?

Tim Soulo: Well, to be honest CMO sounds like a fancy title but when I came to Singapore there were like 16 people in the entire team. And I was the only marketing person. So I was the CMO of myself since I was the whole department. And I had to build the entire thing from scratch.

And right now still our marketing team is quite small. We have like eight or 10 people. So I’m not the kind of CMO who runs like 50 people marketing team, et cetera. The entire team at Ahrefs is less than 50 people actually. I think we’re at 45 or 46 right now.

But, yeah, I was totally blown away by the fact that I had to move to Singapore, entirely changed my life. Because for 29 years, I didn’t live anywhere but Ukraine. So it was like a huge move to move my entire life from country to country.

Blake Emal: How’s the vibe different from Ukraine to Singapore? How does it feel different?

Tim Soulo: Everything is different. It’s much more safe here. It’s much more hot here. It’s much more expensive here. But it’s also much more convenient here. I like Singapore better of course.

Blake Emal: Sure. Well, Ukraine gets cold in the winter, doesn’t it?

Tim Soulo: Yeah. It gets cold and I’m really not a big fan of how the seasons change in Ukraine. From super hot in summer to super cold in winter. And some like moderate rain in between.

Blake Emal: Does it ever snow?

Tim Soulo: Yeah, but not as frequently as it used to snow when I was a kid. So something is really changing in the weather.

Blake Emal: Well, I’m from Utah in the United States and it’s kind of like that. It’s probably not as extreme. But the summers are 100 plus degrees and then the winters it’s snowing the entire time. And you’re just like what is happening? I can relate a little bit to that.

But for people listening here, it’s insane that you said you have a team of like 45 people working on Ahrefs right now. Considering how awesome that platform is … I’ve been using it forever … and considering how awesome it is, how much data you have, how well designed everything is, it kind of blows my mind that there’s not more people working on that project. So kudos to your team because it really is, I think it’s the gold standard for SEO tools.

Anybody listening to this that needs an SEO tool if you’re deciding between SEMrush, Ahrefs, whatever, Ahrefs is the best in my opinion. I don’t think it’s really even close.

Tim Soulo: Thank you.

Blake Emal: I’m not saying that just because you’re here. I will constantly put stuff out on Twitter from Ahrefs because I really believe in it.

I want to talk a little bit about the future of SEO. I know that you’ve talked a lot about where SEO’s at and you’ve laid out a ton of stuff in your blog and on Ahrefs over the course of time. As well as on your recent podcast episodes. But I kind of want to go into what it’s going to look like 10 years from now. Or even one year from now. What’s the future of SEO as you see it?

The Future of SEO

Tim Soulo: I don’t think I’m in a position to predict the future of SEO. But overall, I think Google must be working a lot on the behavioral side of things, on understanding if people like content or not, and experimenting there.

As much as I hate to say it, I think that the influence of links might go down a little bit. And the influence of quality content … content that is written by qualified people as I explained … the importance of that should rise.

But I’m not sure how long it will take for Google to identify original content that is written by kind of opinion leaders, by people who have practice versus content that people that is written by copywriters. Because just recently there was an article on Search Engine Land where a guy created an experiment. He ranked a Lorem Ipsum website with just one keyword and Google ate it.

So since Google cannot identify every topic and they can still rank websites with entire Lorem Ipsum and with just a few key placements of the keyword. It will still take them quite a while to figure out how to do this.

But overall, I can feel that they have a lot of motivation to do this. Because it is causing them a lot of problems that people can rank poor content with links. And good content is floating somewhere like out in the open.

Blake Emal: Yeah, it’s just like out in the ether. You don’t have any idea where the good stuff is sometimes.

Tim Soulo: Yeah.

Blake Emal: Yeah, kind of what you’re saying, the way that I see it right now … and I think it might continue this way … is that it seems like Google is just really putting an emphasis on the user experience over almost anything else.

And behavior is the same kind of idea. Just looking at is this actually relevant? Does it provide real value? And that, over time, is probably going to become more important than all of those technical things. The technical things won’t go away but if you just look at where the SEO in the past was where you could kind of get away with Black hat SEO for a little minute there. But now it’s like it doesn’t work. Even at this point you have to at least do something right to be able to rank. And going forward, Google’s only going to get smarter.

What are your thoughts on voice search? Do you think that that’s a viable thing that businesses should be optimizing for and worrying about right now?

Tim Soulo: I personally feel a little bit kind of left behind like an old dinosaur because I still don’t have any Alexa or Google Echo or whatever those devices are called in my home. And I’m not really using voice search in my iPhone as well. Probably because my first language is Russian and sometimes whenever I say something in English to my phone or any other device it just cannot recognize what exactly I’m saying. It’s not as good as identifying accents. Now, I think Scottish people might struggle as well with voice search.

But, yeah, I’m not the early adopter I would say. So there was a lot of hype around chat bots. I didn’t jump on that bandwagon. And recently, I saw some articles saying why chat bots has flopped, why they didn’t become the next hot thing. Similarly there was a lot of hype around Google Glass and it didn’t go anywhere.

So right now everyone is hyping up voice search because this is a hot new thing and people need to talk about something. If you’re a conference speaker, if you’re a thought leader, opinion leader, you have to come up with new things to talk about. You have to generate hype. So this is why a lot of people are talking about voice search.

But so far, I personally am not seeing it being integrated into our lives. For me it feels awkward. Like whenever you’re walking the street and you’re talking to your phone like, “Find me this. Find me that.” In the same way, at home I’m pretty confident that most voice searches at home are limited to, “Find me this video on YouTube. Find me that TV series on Netflix.” Et cetera.

So for global things I don’t think anyone would search like, “Find me how to SEO audits.” And I don’t know, you will watch it on TV or something. So I don’t see voice search as a big thing yet. Maybe it will become but, yeah, I’m not there yet.

Blake Emal: Yeah. No, that makes sense. For most people it’s just easier to see how it all plays out because a lot of this stuff flops before it ever becomes relevant. It seems like it should amount to something in the future. But I agree with you, I’m not sure that it’s really there yet.

I have an Alexa at my house. But I have no clue how it’s supposed to really make my life easier. I’ll use it to play Spotify or to set an alarm sometimes. But it’s like I can do that with my phone too. So it’s still the applications, I think it’s just kind of floating out there waiting to really be found how it’s going to really apply. So it might be a little bit too early for that.

If I give you a choice between all the social media platforms and you could only pick one and you could never use any of the other ones ever again, what would your ideal, go-to, social platform be?

Finding the Right Social Media for Your Business

Tim Soulo: Whoa. I can tell you that it’s definitely not LinkedIn. 100%. And it’s not Instagram because Instagram is mostly for people who have visual stuff or a like a fashionista or creates fan content that others like … Like comedians or stuff.

Yeah, but for many businesses, actually Instagram can do well. If you sell physical products that look good or have some kind of applications that look good in a video, Instagram could be a pretty good source. As well as working with influencers if you want to put your product in influencers hands, Instagram is probably the best platform.

For me personally, I’m torn apart between Facebook and Twitter. Because on Facebook, you have an opportunity to create those groups. We have a pretty huge Facebook community of Ahrefs customers on Facebook. And it is very helpful for us as a business in many ways.

For example, if you’re contemplating what kind of feature we would release next, I will just go to our Facebook community, launch a quick poll and get a lot of opinions. And it’s not necessarily the final decision what the group says. But it helps us understand the issue better and maybe make a more educated decision, or understand the consequences of what we’re about to do.

So Facebook Groups, I like them a lot. Plus I like a lot of the Facebook Ads. Even though people are complaining that Facebook is pay-to-play, that you don’t get any organic reach. Yeah, this is true. But still I think for businesses, if you’re running a business the cost of reaching thousands and thousands of people is pretty cheap compared to Ad Words. Ad Words is freaking so expensive. So you get so much more traffic from Facebook, even if it’s not as targeted as from Ad Words because people are actually looking for specific things. While on Facebook, you’re kind of interrupting them with whatever you want to show them.

But still I like the fact that we can run Facebook Ads and expose people to whatever we want to expose them for.

And Twitter, I like the platform because it’s a nice way to stay in touch with some key people from your industry. Quickly exchange opinions and maybe broadcast some of your own opinions there.

So I think for businesses, Facebook is better because you can create communities, you can run ads, et cetera. But for personal branding and for networking, Twitter is much better because it feels more genuine than Facebook. Kind of sending a person message on Facebook feels a little bit more personal and intruding than tweeting at someone like, “Hey, what did you think about this?”

So this is my opinion of the social platforms.

Blake Emal: I think that’s going to surprise a lot of people. It surprised me that you mentioned Facebook because a lot of people have just totally given up on Facebook because of the organic reach.

But me personally, obviously, when I post things on Facebook it just doesn’t go anywhere if you’re not running ads. But Facebook Groups is probably something that most people are not leveraging. But do you think it’s too late to get into that and start building a group now? Or do you think it’s still a good time to try and build that up?

Tim Soulo: Our experience with the Facebook Group is different from what might be with other people because you mentioned building a Facebook Group, which means that you want to create the community. In our case, Ahrefs has a community. So in our case, Facebook Group is just a platform where our community is hanging out.

So our group is closed. We don’t let anyone in. We only let our customers. So once you sign up for an Ahrefs account and pay for the first month of service, we’ll send you a link, “Here. You have become a customer so you join our Facebook community.” And we only accept people who are paying customers to our Facebook community.

So we don’t need to grow it in a sense as other people when you’re an independent blogger and you create Facebook Group, Facebook community about something and you naturally want that community to grow as much as possible so that you get more exposure on Facebook. That’s not our case. We have our customer base, we have our audience. So we simply funnel our audience towards Facebook because we’ve figured out that, for us, Facebook is the most convenient platform.

For example, before I joined Ahrefs, I think they also tried to create a community in Slack. And that failed miserably because Slack has so much conversations going, so much channels, et cetera. While with Facebook it’s much more simple and much more convenient.

So, yeah, we were not really trying to create any kind of community on Facebook as much as we simply use Facebook Group as a platform where our existing community is hanging out.

Blake Emal: There will be a lot of business leaders listening to this that may be able to leverage the same kind of thing. If they have a community that they already have just trying to switch it over a little bit and invite them to join a Facebook Group.

I think that’s a great idea because then, like you mentioned, when you have those things that you want to bounce off the customer and ask them, “Hey, what would you think about this feature?” Then you’re just hearing directly from people that actually care about that stuff instead of just guessing.

Which, again, ties back into that whole user experience thing. So it comes full circle. Whether you’re on social media, paid advertising, SEO, the better you can create a customer experience that is convenient for everybody involved, the more likely you are to sell to make more revenue, to get more leads, whatever your goal is. So I think that that’s super powerful.

I want to talk a little bit about your speaking engagements because you’ve done conferences before.

Tim Soulo: Yeah.

Blake Emal: What was your first conference? Were you nervous? Did you have anything that you were really worried about for that first conference? And where was it? What did you talk about?’

Tim Soulo: I don’t remember my first conference so let me talk about my first podcast interview. I was so freaking stressed that I asked for all the questions that the host is going ask me in advance. I wrote all the answers and then luckily we weren’t doing like a video call like we’re doing right now with you because I was actually reading all my answers from the piece of paper. And I was sweating like hell, and my voice was trembling.

I was so stressed out during that interview. But over time I think to date, I did over 30 podcast interviews, maybe even more. So I feel much more comfortable and natural. And I don’t stress out and I don’t ask any questions in advance.

So, yeah, for me the start was super intense and I’m not even a native speaker so it is easy for me when I’m stressed to start forgetting words, start forgetting how to construct sentences, et cetera. So it was super challenging.

So whenever someone is listening to our interview, and they are native speaker, and they are afraid of doing podcast, always think about me not a native speaker who tried to do this. How stressed I was to do this. So you guys have a huge advantage. So just start doing it and it will get better with time.

As for public speaking, like from the stage, I don’t really remember where was my first speaking engagement. Probably it was a smaller crowd. Maybe a crowd of 30 people or something, some local meetup or local event. And again, I was stressed as hell. I was going through my slides like a madman.

Actually, I think slides is a pretty nice hack to delivering your presentation because if you’re afraid that you’re going to forget things, simply create slides for every single talking point that you want to cover. It’s okay having 80 slides. But it’s pretty bad having like only five slides.

So if you go to the internet and search for advice on delivering presentations and such, everyone will tell you that it’s better to switch through slides fast and keep people interested than to turn on one slide and keep talking for five to 10 minutes with just one slide there.

So, yeah, for conferences I think I’m still stressed whenever I go on stage. But, again, not as much as I used to be. I think it will take me 10 or 15 more appearances on the stage to feel more comfortable with that.

And another thing is that, when I’m nervous on stage, I’m starting to do some walking routine. Like two steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, two steps back. And one of my friends, Matt Diggity, he’s also like an SEO influencer, a speaker. He actually took a video of me that he posted on Twitter a looped version of me doing that walk there and back. And he also put a Despacito song above it. So, yeah, he made fun of me big time.

Right now, one of my objectives for speaking in real life is to be conscious of not doing that walking/dancing routine. No two steps forward, two steps back.

Yeah, if anyone is looking to do more speaking engagements and they’re afraid, I think, from my experience, it is perfectly normal to be afraid. It is perfectly normal to be stressed as hell. It is perfectly normal to forget things during presentation, to say some stupid things. This is the only way for you to learn and get better over time.

Blake Emal: The reason I asked that is I just wanted to have your take on thought leadership in general because it’s something that you’re really obviously getting into now. As the CMO of AHRes, you’re in front of a lot more people, and so you are considered a thought leader. Whether you like it or not that’s how people will look at you and see your content.

So if you have any tips on people, the businesses particularly, that are looking to establish that thought leader, what’s the best way to present information so that you’re not stating the obvious? That you’re actually providing valuable information? How can people really master thought leadership?

Bringing SEO Down To Earth

Tim Soulo: I don’t think that stating the obvious is such a bad thing. I think that what seems obvious to you is not obvious for a lot of people. And you mentioned I did podcast interview with Pat Flynn and I talked about this super obvious, this super basic SEO concept.

So whenever any seasoned SEO expert will listen to that interview they will think that, “Tim is a dumb ass. He doesn’t know shit about SEO. Why did Pat even invite him to that interview because he talked about the very basic things that even like my grandma knows?”

But that’s the point. On Twitter there was a lot of buzz about this interview and people were thanking me for bringing SEO down to earth. And going from the complex technical concepts like, I don’t know, how to figure out canonical tags, how to implement schema on your webs, how to optimize for mobile, et cetera? How to optimize your Chrome budget? View your logs, et cetera.

This stuff is overwhelming to people and they simply give up on SEO and they say it was such a great channel. So I think of myself not as the thought leader who would push entirely new concepts like voice search, et cetera to people. I think of myself as an oversimplified SEO guy. Actually when I started the YouTube channel for Ahrefs, the video series that I was putting out every week were literally called Oversimplified SEO. And I was talking about the very basic concepts of SEO and that was getting a lot of views and a lot of positive feedback.

I actually think that talking about the very basic things is a nice thing to do because there are a ton of people who still don’t know the things that you know. And if you’re only going to cater for 5% people who are more or less at your level, all the other 95% of people won’t understand you.

And I actually kind of experienced that issue on one of the latest conference talks that I did from stage. Because I actually tried to bring the complexity down. I tried to include less research numbers, fancy graphs, et cetera. And I thought that when I was on stage, I was explaining everything in super simple way. And even though my English is not perfect, I am capable of explaining things in very complicated way.

But then after my talk when I saw that it was simple and obvious and a lot of SEO professions will say that, “Tim doesn’t know hell about SEO.” Some guys approached me and said like, “Tim, you have a nice strategy of talking from stage. You overwhelmed people with stuff that no one understands, and everyone is now thinking that you’re the god of SEO.” And I’m like, “Okay, that was totally not my goal. I was trying to make things simple as opposed to trying to look super knowledgeable and trying to prevent from stage like, ‘Here’s the stuff you will never understand but I will present it to you.'” So this is the thing.

Blake Emal: It’s kind of like back when you’re at school and a substitute teacher comes on or whatever and says, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions because somebody else might have the same question.” Then nobody actually raised their hand to ask the question.

But once some kid does and says, “Hey, I don’t understand this.” Then all of a sudden everybody in the room is relieved. So I like that.

I think that that really applies to almost anything in business or in life. Just simplifying things is so much more valuable than complicating them. Because if you can do one thing simply, it’s way better than trying to complicate your life with 100 different things. You’re just never going to get anywhere at all. So I really like that approach.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a stab at some rapid fire, quick questions. So I’ll ask you a question and you answer as quickly as you possibly can.

Rapid Fire Questions for Tim Soulo

Tim Soulo: Okay.

Blake Emal: These are not going to be SEO related whatsoever. They’re going to be kind of ridiculous questions. Totally unrelated. Just to kind of get a breather and maybe it’ll be a little bit of fun. So this is the rapid fire round. Here’s question number one: Do you prefer texting or phone call?

Tim Soulo: Texting.

Blake Emal: What’s your favorite day of the week?

Tim Soulo: Friday.

Blake Emal: Makes sense. What is your favorite city in the entire world that you have not lived in?

Tim Soulo: London probably.

Blake Emal: I love London. But would you have said Singapore if I let you pick any city?

Tim Soulo: I don’t know. That’s a hard question.

Blake Emal: What was the last song you listened to?

Tim Soulo: Some house music. I don’t even remember the name of it.

Blake Emal: Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world perfectly or be able to speak to animals?

Tim Soulo: Every language of the world, definitely.

Blake Emal: Interesting. Okay, so, what would be your number one language that you’d want to learn if you could easily learn it? Any language you want?

Tim Soulo: Right now I’d love to learn Chinese.

Blake Emal: Chinese, yeah. I mean that would be fantastic. That would open a lot of different avenues.

Would you rather be invisible or have super strength?

Tim Soulo: That’s a good one. Super strength.

Blake Emal: Everybody says invisibility. Everybody. You’re the first person ever to say super strength. Good on you.

Is there a book that you’ve read recently that it really impacted you?

Tim Soulo: Whoa, many. The most recent one is actually Bullet Journal. There is a book and there’s a mythology. There’s a lot of content about it on YouTube. Yeah, it’s a very nice book about productivity. And a lot of hacks that are actually applicable.

So often times, for example, when I read getting thing done, I never applied any concepts from that book. But from Bullet Journal, first of all it talks about all the same general concepts of productivity. And secondly, it offers quite a few small actionable things that are easy to implement. And they do improve your organization, your productivity and your life.

Blake Emal: Name one app on your phone that is not pre-installed on the phone that you use all the time.

Tim Soulo: Okay. Easy one. It’s called Seconds. And it’s for creating your own workouts. So whenever, I get up I have my morning routine.

And for example, I have my workout routine that is four minutes and 40 seconds, and it’s all outlined in the app called Seconds. So I need to just put on my headphones, turn play, and that will tell me what to do based on what I have organized in that small workout.

Blake Emal: Awesome. I’ll check that one out for sure.

All right. Tim, I’d love to give you a chance to talk about Ahrefs for a minute, what you’re working on right now, and just talk about how awesome Ahrefs is.

Tim Soulo: Well, Ahrefs is pretty awesome. To be honest I don’t even know where to start because Ahrefs is such a big business. So many different use cases and applications. So whenever I’m on a podcast the host gives me an opportunity to promote Ahrefs and to give people a call to action to go and sign up. Blah-blah-blah. I usually actually send people to our YouTube channel.

So if you want to learn about SEO tools and if you want to learn about how Ahrefs will make you like a super hero. It won’t give you invisibility or super strength but it will actually feel that you have them if you’re using Ahrefs and if you’re doing SEO.

Just go to YouTube, search for Ahrefs, A-H-R-E-F-S, and you’ll find a lot of content. A lot of that content was created by us on our YouTube channel. But a lot of other bloggers, marketers and marketing professionals have created their own videos, their own tips, overviews and workflows of how they’re using Ahrefs to achieve different things.

So, yeah, if you want to use SEO, if you want to get more traffic from Google to your website, I do recommend you to go to YouTube and check how people are using Ahrefs because immediately you’ll want to use it as well.

Blake Emal: Yeah. Guys, I can stress enough how awesome the tool Ahrefs is. Also the YouTube channel, I follow that closely. Samo is awesome. I love the videos.

Tim Soulo: Yeah, he’s the man.

Blake Emal: Yeah. No, it’s fantastic. All the resources … whether it’s the paid SEO tool, the free videos … it’s all totally worth it.

Tim, are you still working on Blogger Jet?

Tim Soulo: No, I have absolutely no time for it.

Blake Emal: No time.

Tim Soulo: Yeah.

Blake Emal: I imagine, yeah.

All right, cool. Well, Tim, it was a pleasure having you on. I’m really thankful that we were able to connect and to bring you onto the podcast. And we’ll talk to you soon.

Tim Soulo: Thanks a lot for inviting.

P2P Interview with Rhett Hartsfield

Blake Emal: And now it’s time to switch from a B2B mindset to P2P. That is peer-to-peer. I’m going to be interviewing people here at Directive Consulting … my peers, my colleagues … to try to find out what makes them tick. To see where they come from, what their goals are professionally. And give you an idea of what the culture is like here at Directive.

It’s going to be really interesting opportunity and maybe you’ll even find people that have your exact same job title, your same position or your same goals. Or maybe they just like the same music as you.

All right. We’re live with Rhett Hartsfield. Rhett, how are you doing?

Rhett Hartsfield: Doing great today. It’s a nice sunny day here in Irvine California.

Blake Emal: Yeah. So you’ve been here your whole life, right? Southern California.

Rhett Hartsfield: Yeah, Southern California. I was born in Newport Beach but I was raised up in Santa Cruz. So I spent a lot of time up in the Bay area during the whole tech bubble boom in the early 90’s.

Blake Emal: Very nice. Are you biased toward any particular tech company up north?

Rhett Hartsfield: Well, you know Google runs it all but so that’s a difficult question there. Biased? I’ve been up to visit to the people at Google. So definitely I think they have a pretty good pulse on what things going on up there.

But definitely want to check out the Apple scene too. I haven’t spent much time up there so can’t really speak on that behalf.

Blake Emal: Rhett, he’s a PPC guy. He’s like really innovative. That’s how I describe you. You think differently about it.

So, let’s talk about how you got your start in PPC and how you ended up at Directive?

Rhett Hartsfield: Start PPC came to me just through a friend. Graduated college, was doing operations privatizing municipal on street contracts for the parking industry. I did some really cool stuff with the city of Newport Beach that ended up … working with a company that got acquired there.

But after that exit it was a fun little time where I had some freedom and pretty much got in sync with some people doing some web development stuff. And first client I had was an addiction recovery center which we helped partner there really ramp up their efforts. And within three months I think we generated a solid six figure income off of our digital marketing efforts.

Blake Emal: Sweet. And then how does that translate into you getting to Directive? Because I know you’ve been several other places since then.

Rhett Hartsfield: Yeah, really I think about five years ago I started with another local agency there. I helped kind of build up the PPC department from the ground up and really kind of helped them get to that Google Global All Star top one percent of agencies in the area

I kind of out grew my stay there. Pretty much started working with some of their big clients. A couple of those got acquired after those. I was directly working with a couple people. It was a good little run.

But, yeah, basically was working with our COO Director about five years ago over at that other agency. Saw she connected over here and was just kind of curious what was going on. I saw her kind of moving up through the ranks and saw she was producing some good work.

So got done working for a startup that just got acquired last year. And I had some time on my hands to kind of look for the next big thing and wanted to get back in the agency space so I reached out. It’s been a great fit. But, yeah, it’s unique because I’ve done primarily PPC but I have a lot of SEO kind of knowledge under my belt too. But definitely a diverse little portfolio.

Blake Emal: So what’s the end goal? If I’m looking at what’s your dream job or how you want your career to end perfectly, what would that look like for you?

Rhett Hartsfield: Well, I think diversification is one of those things that everyone needs to look at, especially in a changing market. I’ve been a homeowner for the last 10 plus years now so real estate, I think, is a good end game for the retirement and income properties.

But realistically helping grow businesses online is something I’ve always been passionate about. So really continuing to do that with clients and companies. And really kind of mix the two.

I think ultimately though the next end game would be kind of something less involved. Would probably be something like real estate. But realistically for the time being it’s just working with clients and growing those people individually here.

Blake Emal: Are you more of the mindset like you want to own your own thing? Or you want to work within a structure? Because there are definitely people that fit into both of those.

Rhett Hartsfield: Yeah, so, I’ve actually started an LLC, had a partner, did that, generated revenue. It was one of those things where it’s a unique balance. I think working kind of as an individual contributor role within an organization that you run yourself is a little bit more stressful than kind of working with a more collaborative kind of environment.

So, ultimately, I think working within a big structure that has a lot of resources involved and in place, kind of like what we have here at Directive, has been a great fit. Ultimately, I think there’s always room for some little side things. But realistically I think being involved with people is a great end game for me.

Blake Emal: So having done your own side thing before or opening your own business period, if somebody wanted to start on a side hustle. Say somebody here working at Directive wanted to do a little bit of web design on the side or whatever. What advice would you give them on the best way to start?

Rhett Hartsfield: Set your prices high. Don’t start low. Realistically, really kind of come in at a value that really provides value to your client.

I mean, I think some of the challenges I kind of came to was kind of early on. Built a website that was ranking for addiction recovery terms with a partner of mind. And we built it for $1,500 and we split that. And that didn’t include hosting costs. So the costs-per-clicks for some of these keywords are ranking for $200 plus a click. I think they generated about over a million dollars in four months through our digital efforts.

But really kind of making sure you set the price right because when you do good work, you’ll get referrals and you don’t want to be kind of set in that kind of lower echelon of work that’s really the value add is really not reflecting that.

Blake Emal: Let’s take a step back. Going to … not even your childhood … But just when you’re growing up, even early in your career, who’s somebody you really looked up to that inspired you that you’re not related to?

Rhett Hartsfield: That’s a good question. I have a family friend growing up, Bruce [Hatchy 00:52:39]. He was the one that really kind of got me into computers I think early on.

He has since passed but really I was doing MSDOS monochrome screens and before really computers became big and broadband was a thing, or really even dial up. Got involved in that.

So I think from a high level, Bruce [Hatchy 00:52:59], he was there. Kind of a family friend and got me involved in tech. Obviously there’s a lot of big people in this space. Steve Jobs and so forth. But ultimately I think, really going back to the core of who brought me here and got me kind of introduced, I would say Bruce definitely was that individual.

Blake Emal: Yeah. I think everybody kind of has somebody … At some point on that path they’re like kind of pushes them in that direction.

If I were to take a poll right now, not asking you this question what you think. If I went around to all your coworkers and asked them, “What do you think Rhett’s spirit animal is?” What would they say?

Rhett Hartsfield: It would be probably a mythical creature. I would say kind of a hybrid between kind of a lion because I do kind of stand up and will be very vocal. But ultimately I think kind of a hybrid of something a little bit more between a lion and a rabbit. Because I think there’s the docile pieces and really kind of soft edges there.

But ultimately kind of having confidence in what you’re doing and kind of showing that you can kind of transpose that knowledge to the team. But ultimately trying to get to a way that that’s not offensive and really well received.

Blake Emal: I agree with that assessment. I think that’s fair. I definitely see the confidence. I see the tenacity. I see the intelligence. But then also I’ve never really seen you frustrated. So there is that side of you that’s also pretty even-keeled. So that’s fair. That’s a good job by you.

What’s something currently if … So I’m not asking what your weakness is. I’m asking something you really want to improve upon. This can be something that you’re already good at that you want to get better at. Or it can be something you stink at that you want to be come passable at. But what do you want to improve on in your life and your career or whatever it may be?

Rhett Hartsfield: I think it really comes down to building lasting relationships. There’s been a lot of relationships I’ve created … business and personal … that just were kind of a little more shallow.

Really I think more realistically building long relationships, deep relationships with like minded individuals is something that I’ve been focusing on. I think initially I got bit by the business bug a little too hard initially. So I was very data and kind of driven by other external factors but kind of honing down into those qualitative metrics in a relationship has really been on of those things I’ve been focusing on over the last quite some time. But one of those areas I think definitely you’ve got to make sure you recenter and align with.

Blake Emal: Definitely. I agree with that.

Are there any publications you follow regularly? Your go-to blog, your go-to newsletter.

Rhett Hartsfield: Yeah, Hacker News, Newswire Combinator. I really want to see who’s on the bleeding edge there. Some of my friends have gone through the accelerator programs. So your Newswire Combinator. Really Wall Street Journal. Some high touch post things.

And a lot of industry stuff too. There’s a lot of those SEM book and SEO book. There’s a lot of different … Search Engine Journal … and all these different efforts.

But really I think, when it comes down to it, just kind of getting pulse on everything is really hard to do now. So that’s one of the great things I like about working at the agency. You get all these different people that are following different things and they get brought up in a much streamlined manner than kind of having to focus on one piece of kind of following an engagement there.

Blake Emal: Definitely. Slack makes that easy.

Do you ever see yourself going back up to the Bay?

Rhett Hartsfield: I do and I have. I would say it’s a unique challenge now because it’s very saturated up there. The last startup I worked for had a hybrid office. We already had a team of about 12 to 15 developers up there.

Ultimately it’s a unique space. I think really people are so hyper focused on one discipline or vertical often they get kind of narrow sighted in that, which is unique. But ultimately, I could see it if the opportunity arises. But really the traffic is one the things I don’t really want to compete with.

I think really kind of the remote culture is more of the culture I’m sort of in align with now.

Blake Emal: Definitely. How good are you at hot potato?

Rhett Hartsfield: Hot potato? I think I’m pretty good.

Blake Emal: All right, because we’re going to do some mental hot potato. The rapid fire around here.

Rhett Hartsfield: Cool.

Blake Emal: I’m going to bounce some questions off you as fast as you can possibly answer them. Let’s do this.

Do you prefer texting or phone call?

Rhett Hartsfield: Phone call.

Blake Emal: Why?

Rhett Hartsfield: Text messages get misconstrued. It’s hard to have sarcasm, voice inflection. Really that personal connection. Especially now with iPhone, you see when someone’s typing and they don’t type.

I think really kind of getting that connection with someone I think that’s really quick and really understanding how they’re feeling on the phone. It doesn’t have to be even … There’s nonverbal on a phone call, which is unique.

Blake Emal: Favorite day of the week?

Rhett Hartsfield: I’m going to say Thursday.

Blake Emal: Thursday. Interesting.

What’s your favorite city in the United States besides any that you’ve lived in?

Rhett Hartsfield: Seattle.

Blake Emal: Good choice. I love Seattle too.

Last song you listened to?

Rhett Hartsfield: Don’t know the name but … Pass.

Blake Emal: It was Ariana Grande, wasn’t it?

Rhett Hartsfield: Good question, yeah. Whatever’s on repeat on my way into work from SiriusXM.

Blake Emal: We’ve got a SiriusXM guy over here. All right.

Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or be able to speak to animals?

Rhett Hartsfield: Every language in the world.

Blake Emal: What would be your number one fun language to learn?

Rhett Hartsfield: Mandarin.

Blake Emal: That would be a good one. That’d be cool.

If you could talk to any animal, which one would it be?

Rhett Hartsfield: Probably dogs.

Blake Emal: That’s the most wide spread.

Rhett Hartsfield: If you bought a lot of dogs I think you get to learn about the owners and it would be an interesting conversation there.

Blake Emal:  I’d like to talk to snakes because I think it would be interesting to hear how they feel not having any limbs and how their life actually is because it seems like a really boring life.

All right. Invisibility or super strength?

Rhett Hartsfield: Invisibility.

Blake Emal: Who was your favorite Avenger?

Rhett Hartsfield: I don’t know if they’re Avenger. Now I’m trying to figure out Avenger and Marvel. So that is a good one. I guess Thor if he’s one.

Blake Emal: Thor. Okay. All right.

And what’s your favorite movie?

Rhett Hartsfield: Favorite movie. Still have to go back to either The Goonies or Pirates of Silicon Valley. They boast to different kind of areas of interest but early on it’s been The Goonies. But Pirates of Silicon Valley has really struck a cord with me.

Blake Emal: You have one piece of advice to give the listener right now, what would it be?

Rhett Hartsfield: Just do what makes you happy and make sure you follow your heart. And don’t hold back on something. Don’t want to regret something by not making an action early on in your life or your career.

Blake Emal: Cool. All right. Well that’s it for the interview. Rhett, thank you for coming on. It’s been a pleasure.

Rhett Hartsfield: Thank you.

Blake Emal: It was an absolute pleasure having Tim onto the show. Please support him by following him on Twitter @TimSoulo. That’s T-I-M S-O-U-L-O. On Facebook, on LinkedIn, Instagram, wherever you consume content please follow Tim.

And check out Ahrefs on at It’s one the best, if not the best, SEO tools out there. I personally use it all the time and I love it. So please go check that out. Show some support to Tim and Ahrefs.

Thank you for listening to Yours in Marketing. I’m Blake Emal. If you would please do us the favor of subscribing to the podcast if you found value in this. And tell your friends. Tell other B2B leaders. Tell people that need to hear about this.

If you have a website. If you are in marketing or out of marketing. If you just want to learn how to build your website, how to build your business online. Or if you just want to learn more about interesting people in general in the B2B space, please subscribe to this podcast. You definitely will get your money’s worth because it’s free.

Blake Emal

Account Manager, Yours in Marketing Host
I love marketing. I love podcasts. I also love sports of all kinds, speaking French, and a delectable little pastry called Millefeuille.

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