Metrics & Chill Podcast

Growing Customers & Revenue (w/ Tim Soulo, Ahrefs)

Learn how Tim Soulo (CMO at Ahrefs) thinks about setting goals, measuring (or not measuring) KPIs, and using content to drive customers and revenue in a largely unmeasurable way.

Jeremiah Rizzo Jeremiah Rizzo on October 19, 2022 (last modified on October 14, 2022) • 5 minute read

The metric: Customers & Revenue

Learn how Tim Soulo (CMO at Ahrefs) thinks about setting goals, measuring (or not measuring) KPIs, and using content to drive customers and revenue in a largely unmeasurable way.

Insights Tim Shared

1. If you aim at improving a metric, your strategy will be optimized to hit that metric. And that might not be in the best interest of your company.

This often happens in marketing. Teams will hit their KPI, even if the work isn’t driving more important results down-funnel. For example, Tim said if he were charged with driving more leads ( = email addresses), CTAs and email signup forms would be everywhere across their content. He’d succeed in driving more leads and hit his KPI, but would compromise good user experience and brand in the process.

2. Have values you won’t compromise on, even to hit the most important metrics.

Revenue is one of the few metrics they do track and work to grow. But even that, they won’t compromise their values for. For example, they don’t believe in retargeting. They don’t want to invade users’ privacy and follow people around the web just because they’ve visited the site. Tim knows they’re leaving money on the table by refusing to do it, but it’s more important to maintain their values.

3. When you lack clear data, use a “common sense” approach to marketing by observing human behavior.

In the early days, Tim went to a conference wearing an Ahrefs t-shirt. A customer introduced himself, and then took Tim around talking up Ahrefs to their friends. Almost every time he introduced Tim to someone, he’d say: “their English isn’t the best, and their copy is a little rough… but they have the best data in the industry.” Tim realized the main message he needed to lead with: Ahrefs was the best because they had the best data. He came home, and immediately updated the messaging on the homepage to center around them having the best data in the industry.

4. Understand your content has ripple effects you won’t be able to measure.

A piece of content that gets traffic, talks about your product, and is helpful to readers, can’t not bring value. You often won’t see it drive immediate, direct signups. But behind the scenes, people are referencing it, sharing it, and coming back to it, and all of that is driving increased brand awareness, affinity, and trust. Most great content has “ripple effects” which are hard (or impossible) to measure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

5. Much of the value of brand marketing is the “Exposure Effect”.

The more people see/hear you > the more they “know” you > the more they trust you.

6. Use content to reduce strain on customer support.

Ahrefs serves tens of thousands of paying users, and hundreds of thousands of free ones, with a handful of support staff. How? Content.

Obviously, they have a great, easy-to-use product. But they’ve also invested heavily in creating educational content (via YouTube, articles, etc.). These have worked so well, they’re able to handle 100’s of thousands of users with a dozen or so support staff.

7. Measure things that will help you make actionable decisions.

Many teams measure things just because they can be measured. But when looking at the data, you should ask yourself: “so what?” If a number dips, or spikes, so what? What action will it drive?

8. If you decided to invest time and money in creating new features or content, you should put time and money into promoting them.

“If you cannot justify spending money to promote your content, how did you justify your effort to create it in the first place?” Tim says many companies invest lots of time and money in creating new content, but then never pay to extend its reach. Often, for just a fraction more than what they invested in creating it, they could amplify it to the right audience.

9. Use the “Business Potential” metric to help you determine what content you should create, and prioritize.

Business Potential = a score from 0 to 3, which gauges how easy it would be to promote a product, naturally & helpfully, in a piece of content. Here’s how to use it…

  • 3 = your product is an irreplaceable solution to solve this problem (topic of “backlink research” for Ahrefs)
  • 2 = your product helps a lot, but isn’t essential
  • 1 = you can mention the product, but it’s not related to solving the issue
  • 0 = no way to squeeze in a mention

For every idea in your “potential content” list, grade each one from 0 to 3.

10. Make sure your content creators are excited to tackle a topic.

Tim doesn’t want to force topics on writers. Most anyone can tackle a given topic, but they have to be genuinely excited to write about it. This results in better content, and happier creators.

11. Embrace holistic keyword research.

For Ahrefs, every piece of content still starts with keyword research to ensure they’re writing about a topic people engage with. But keyword research can mean a lot more than using a tool:

Holistic keyword research includes:

  • talking to peers
  • listening to sales calls
  • reading questions on social
  • scanning Reddit

Results

While Ahrefs may not measure a bunch of metrics or KPIs, there’s one they do measure: revenue. They just crossed $100m in annual recurring revenue (ARR).

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