Steal the nine strategies that drove Ahrefs’ gigantic growth to over $55M in annual revenue purely from SEO & content marketing strategy.
In less than 10 years, Ahrefs has succeeded in dominating the SEO industry. And they have the numbers to back it up.
According to supermetrics.com, Ahrefs’ achievements include:
We sat down to analyze their SEO and content marketing strategy and see what is driving this spectacular growth.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already an Ahrefs user, or have at least heard of the company. They receive over 695,000 visitors a month to their site purely from their SEO and content marketing strategy.
The company has managed to make a name for themselves despite the considerable competition in the SEO software space. We can break down their content marketing strategy into actionable lessons for those wanting to replicate their success.
Ahrefs’ product is seamlessly woven into their content, making it equally accessible for SEO veterans and less experienced marketers.
This article will walk you through what has worked for Ahrefs and provide key takeaways that you can adapt to fit into your business’ content marketing strategy.
Let’s dive in.
Before diving deeper into Ahrefs’ content strategy, it's crucial to speak about the importance of the product being among the best in the industry.
Tim Soulo, the company’s CMO, has spoken publicly about the importance of the product itself to a successful content marketing strategy. His conviction is that if the product is poor, no marketing efforts can help rescue it. Most marketers praise Ahrefs’ content strategy, but often neglect that the product itself is the cornerstone of that success.
Key takeaway: Your product is the key. Refine it until it speaks for itself. Otherwise, no amount of marketing will help it.
Finding topic ideas that you can write about isn’t difficult. You can monitor online communities (such as Slack or Facebook groups) or perform keyword research. You can even ask your customer support team or sales reps which questions they are frequently asked, or which objections they frequently confront. You can then address these same queries and concerns with content.
But how can you ensure that you’re laying the proper foundation for a successful sales-driven content marketing campaign?
You guessed it: it's the topic itself. Ahrefs uses a two-step framework to prioritize blog topics to suit their target audience and drive new leads for the business.
Many content strategists don’t pay enough attention to the “why” behind a topic idea. Too many prioritize based only on search volume and keyword difficulty.
Ahrefs’ content marketing strategy is product-led. It focuses on showing readers how to solve a multitude of SEO problems using their tools. Readers are encouraged to subscribe to Ahrefs to implement the strategies on the blog, where posts offer practical and straightforward advice.
The reasoning behind their product-led content strategy is that they rate the topics from a business value perspective before ever putting pen to paper.
Ahrefs rates topics from 1-3 based on the following criteria:
This business value prioritization framework helps them assign a value to the content.
For example, let’s pick a topic: “How to Do Keyword Research.” According to Ahrefs’ framework, this topic has a score of 3. This is because they offer a robust suite of keyword research-related tools.
You can use this same framework for your own business and start looking at keywords from the perspective of relevancy and conversion potential. This will improve conversions, compared with a less focused approach which leans only on keyword difficulty and search volume.
Now that you understand the business value of the topic, it’s time to consider the audience. Ahrefs uses an interesting approach to identify the search intent behind the keywords they choose.
They run the keywords through a three-part content qualification process. This process helps them decide if it’s worth it to invest the time and money required to produce the article in the first place.
Here are the questions asked to evaluate each keyword:
As you can tell, Ahrefs focuses on writing product-led content. They’re not interested in writing about subjects that don’t directly relate to their offerings. Instead, the ultimate goal is to showcase how their software can solve their target audience’s problems.
Identifying the search intent behind the keywords helps you to tailor the content to the searcher’s needs. If the intent behind the query is hard to discern, it can help to evaluate the current top-ranking results.
For instance, if the top results on the SERP page are all listicles explaining how to accomplish a task, it’s fair to assume that you’ll need to produce “how-to” content to compete.
Likewise, if all the top ranking results are comparing different product options, you can assume this is a commercial comparison query. In order to rank among those results, you will need to compare and contrast several solutions to satisfy that search intent.
Analyzing the SERP will give you hints about the type of content you should produce to own a place on the first page for that keyword.
Key takeaway: Keyword volume and difficulty remain good indicators to help you choose one topic over another. Try using Ahrefs’ framework to evaluate topics based on their relevance to your core product and target audience. If your content isn't turning readers into customers, the strategy isn’t worth the effort.
When you look at Ahrefs’ blog, you’ll notice that most of their content is written by a combination of staff and freelance writers.
Ahrefs uses a unique approach to produce blog content, including insights from all departments of the business. Although you may have talented writers on your marketing staff, it can be difficult to gather a team with expertise that spans the entire breadth of topics you could address.
If you have a great topic in mind, but no one on the marketing team is a subject matter expert, don’t just tell them to figure it out. Seek input from people in other departments of the company, or outside experts to inform the content from the beginning.
There are also freelance writers in virtually every field who write professionally on subjects related to their expertise. You can add a layer of depth to your content by giving those experts a chance to contribute to your blog.
Key Takeaway: Content writing and generating topic ideas shouldn't be left to the marketing team. Include both internal and external subject matter experts in the process to leverage their knowledge.
Ahrefs’ treats their content marketing strategy differently. Firstly, they don't follow the traditional marketing funnel (BOFU, MOFU, TOFU). Secondly, they don't focus on producing separate content for each stage of awareness.
Instead, they ask: How fast can we move a reader through the funnel to become a customer?
All Ahrefs articles have this formula — they make their readers aware of the problem and quickly offer solutions. Inevitably, the Ahrefs toolset is part of that solution.
But they don't stop there. They show you how to solve the problem using Ahrefs tools with integrated tutorials. The reader gains knowledge of how to use the tool to more easily solve their problem.
Ahrefs weaves their tool into every piece of content. This way, there’s an inherent soft sales pitch built into each post. By showcasing how the product makes user’s lives easier when compared with DIY solutions, readers are primed to sign up when presented with a CTA. In effect, the CTA exists within the solution.
In a recent Twitter thread, Tim Soulo highlighted the ROI of investing in product-led content for the company. According to Tim, here are some of the positive effects of a product-led content strategy:
Key takeaway: Every piece of content is a chance for a soft sale, but also an opportunity to offer solutions to the reader's problem.
Ahrefs doesn't produce new content every week. According to Tim Soulo, sometimes they publish just two articles a month. So, where do most of their efforts go? Updating their existing content.
Ahrefs spends a lot of time updating their old content. They will add new segments to old content, update old statistics, and add YouTube videos to the article to gain more views and cross-promote their channel.
Almost 90% of content on the internet gets unnoticed. Google loves recently-updated content, so updating content will help you rank higher overall.
When Ahrefs updates content, they send alerts to their email subscribers. This brings new traffic, signaling to Google that this content is still relevant. For queries that change frequently over time (where recency matters most) this is particularly important to maintain high rankings.
Key takeaway: Don't focus on the wrong metrics. Weekly published articles won't guarantee more traffic or higher ranking. Continually updating your best-performing content can help to lock-in good rankings, and expand the keyword footprint of already successful content.
Most SaaS companies have a presence on the major social platforms. Their customers engage with them on these platforms, and they often use these channels to promote their newly published content. But, the usefulness of social doesn’t stop there.
Social platforms provide opportunities to hear and understand users’ pain points. This is how Ahrefs stays relevant to their market. In addition, they get involved in online communities focused on marketing and SEO.
You will find Ahrefs in significant communities on Slack (Traffic Think Tank, Online Geniuses, etc), niche forums on Reddit, and many more. Engagement like this gives Ahrefs insight into the struggles of an average SEO or marketer. Then, they can either answer these problems directly on the platform or create a detailed article and promote it in these communities. It's a win-win situation.
Key takeaway: Use social listening to understand your audience’s problems. Then you can create stellar content to answer their questions.
Many SaaS companies just prepare a list of keywords by performing a high-level overview of the topic. Then they send that list to their content team without providing any further context.
This process isn’t ideal. How can you guarantee that the content is going to be well informed and in-depth based solely on a keyword? Will it be relevant to your core product, and solve your target audience’s pain points? Even a skilled writer who lacks context and subject-matter expertise can easily miss important details.
According to Tim Soulo, Ahrefs would ask the writer whether or not they are excited about the topic in the first place. They won’t assign a writer a topic unless they genuinely care. If they create content just for the sake of production, then the final product is likely to be mediocre.
That said, they will not assign the topic to their writers just because they are excited about it. There’s another crucial factor; the writer’s level of knowledge of the topic itself. Can they add a new take on the subject or write it from a different perspective?
Let’s be honest, only experts can tell the difference between good or bad information. Most content out there is simply recycled or rephrased. When that happens, it’s because the writer for that piece isn’t an expert — they’re likely just a writer with an assignment.
Ahrefs tests a writer’s knowledge of the topic by asking them to prepare a solid outline to see whether they have a detailed understanding of the topic or not. This is an excellent approach to beginning the drafting process. Leveraging expertise makes content strong and more likely to stand out among similar topics.
But they don’t stop there. When Ahrefs publishes an article, they make sure to acknowledge the people behind it:
The writer's bio builds credibility because it shows that Ahrefs treats every article or blog post with respect for the craft at multiple levels. There are real people behind the writing, and it becomes clear in the bio how the writer's proven experience, and that of the other contributors, informs the content itself.
Key Takeaway: Writers know how to write, but they’re not always experts on the topic they’re writing about. Hire specialized writers who know a lot about your industry or provide writers with subject-matter experts to interview to ensure that you’re producing world-class content.
Because Ahrefs has become one of the SEO industry’s biggest names, roughly 69% of their traffic is direct traffic. That being said, organic search remains their second-best source of traffic, driving 21% of their overall visitors, as displayed in the graphic below:
Ahrefs isn’t always aiming for viral content. Instead, they try to:
We could debate the importance of link building, but the facts remain. If you don’t get links to your content (specifically relevant links from authoritative sites), your website won’t appear at the top of the search results.
However, the market is bombarded with badly-written outreach emails asking outlets to link to their content. Writing a superb article isn’t enough. You have to go above and beyond for others to link to your content organically.
One way Ahrefs tries to do this is by producing original data that others would want to reference. In fact, Ahrefs even has a dedicated category on their blog just for data and studies:
Here are a few studies they’ve produced:
This type of content is more likely to gain links naturally. Ahrefs can pass authority and momentum through internal links to increase the authority of other pages they care about, which may not themselves acquire links as easily.
Most bloggers and journalists out there are always looking for fresh data they can use to back up their claims or add nuance to their content. For example, if you were working for an ecommerce-focused software company, you could use your internal data to produce hard-to-find studies like:
This type of content isn’t easy to produce. However, it can work wonders for your link-building strategy and your overall SEO performance.
Keep in mind, you should have a content mix in your strategy. Examples of content types include:
Based on Ahrefs’ strategy, all you need to produce valuable research-driven content is a controversial topic in your niche or an unrecognized pattern, which you can back up with data.
You don’t necessarily need a target keyword for this type of content. You just have to collect the required data to prove your conclusion. That’s a surefire way to create interesting and original content that others will want to reference.
Key Takeaway: Make your content interesting. Tackling controversial topics or finding new insights others haven’t yet discovered, and backing it up with data is one way to produce passive link building assets.
When Ahrefs started in the SEO software niche, it followed the norms of the B2B SaaS industry. They offered their users free access to their tools. Any user could try the tool for free and perform a few queries a day if they signed up using their email.
They soon realized they could do better if they created a sense of urgency by introducing a 14-day trial. This gave users full access to the toolset and created a frictionless upgrade experience to becoming a subscriber by asking new customers for their payment info in advance.
While this decision doubled trial sign-ups, many people abused the free trial, causing inconvenience to Ahrefs support team and overloading their servers.
Later on, Ahrefs decided to shorten the trial period to 7 days, and charged $1 per day. They noticed the number of trial sign-ups decreased, but the number of customer conversions increased. Now only serious customers will sign up for the trial.
This was a calculated risk. Ahrefs believed most of their customers were warm leads. The conversion wasn't a challenge because they invested in educating their customers on how to use their tool throughout their content.
Key takeaway: The paid trial method might not work for every company. But, if you find many users are abusing a freemium offering, it may be worth testing to see if it increases your free-to-paid conversion rate.
Ahrefs is doing content marketing right. The strategies we’ve explained are the driving force behind their consistent growth. If you’re looking to market a B2B SaaS tool like the one sold by Ahrefs, you now have a solid overview of their content marketing strategy.
In the end, it’s about understanding your ideal customers and how you can help them solve their problems. By evaluating the business case for each topic, and weaving your product into the solution, you’ll drive increased conversions.
Always analyze your results. Invest more in what works, and pivot away from what doesn’t work. This way, you’ll naturally refine your content strategy over time.
If you would like help building a content strategy for your own brand, our team at Conversion Media can help.
We can develop an effective content strategy for your brand and work with your subject-matter experts to produce informative and engaging blog posts, whitepapers, and interactive content that converts. Learn how we can help you reach more of your target customers today.