We kick off our new series of our digital PR podcast Outspeech with a new host (that’s me!) and a slightly new format of a maximum 30 minute chat with experts and pros from around the worlds of PR, marketing and more.

In the first episode of 2021, I spoke to Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs, one of the world’s best known and most loved SEO and PR tools.

If you’d like to appear on Outspeech, get in touch at laura@impression.co.uk and feel free to share any comments in the comments box below this post, or over on Twitter @lauralhampton and @impressiontalk. You can also follow Tim at @timsoulo.

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Transcript: Tim Soulo on Outspeech

Laura
Hi, everyone, and welcome to Out speech. This is the show where we invite guests from the world of marketing and PR to discuss digital PR and link building. And today, I’m really thrilled to introduce our first guest for this new series. And that’s Tim sullo from h refs. And Tim is the CMO, as I’m sure you’re all aware at hrs, which is a tool used by most of us in SEO and digital marketing. And he has over a decade of experience in SEO and digital. And he speaks at events about topics related to those things all over the world. And after having an awesome chat with Tim back in December about digital PR. I invited him to out speech. And I’m really delighted that he said yes. So welcome, Tim, thank you very much for joining me.

Tim
Hey, Laura, thanks a lot for inviting me.

Laura
It’s my pleasure. I really enjoyed talking with you before, before the Christmas break about everything to do with digital PR, and I understand you’re updating the guide to link building. Yeah,

Tim
I’m really excited. First of all, likewise, I also had a blast chatting with you and learning more about PR because like this is where you shine. And like I have kind of I have a breadth of knowledge, but not necessarily depth when it comes to certain topics. So yeah, thank you for helping me and Yes, that was for the link building guide. My goal is to create basically the best guide that newbies people who are new to link building and who have no idea where to start, or maybe people who have read some articles here and there to give them like a proper foundation. So yeah, that was my goal. And thank you for helping me out with that.

Laura
Absolutely, that’s my pleasure. And I think it’s really cool that you’re creating a resource for people who are very new to the industry is obviously digital PR is something that’s really evolved, particularly in the past kind of three or four years, I’d say it’s really starting to come into its own. But if we if we think about those kind of newbies and what you’re trying to cover off in your link building guide, what will be the main the main things that you want people to take from it? and What does linkbuilding mean to you in 2021? And beyond?

Tim
Oh, that’s a good question. You’re basically asking me to do a recap of my wishes now. 1000 words long guide in a few minutes. But yeah, so basically what what I’ve learned myself, because I interviewed about a dozen link building practitioners, like yourself from different fields. And I was trying to create the bird’s eye view of link building, like where like how does a person understand it as a whole, without going into any specific strategies. And for example, one of the so called breakthroughs, it’s not actually a breakthrough, but for me was that there are essentially four ways how people can create links to their websites, like all the link building strategies can be distributed into so called four buckets. So one bucket is when you manually add links to some websites, for example, that could be a business directory where you know, your competitors are getting some leads from like Local Business Directory, and you go there, you you publish your business there, and you get a link to your website. So this is adding links. The under the category of requesting links, this is when you are reaching out to owners of websites, and you negotiate with them, how you can get featured on their website. So there are plenty of ways to do that. For example, guest blogging is one of them. And I’d say that digital PR feeds into requesting links because basically you’re offering a story to some journalist and they they need to publish a story about you and therefore linked to the next category is earning links. This is when you create some something so good that it it gets links on autopilot without you necessarily having to manually add them or ask anyone to link to you. So basically, links appear just by themselves. Well, you you do need to promote your content, because people cannot link to the things they don’t even know exists. So you need you need promotion, but you don’t necessarily need to ask anyone personally. And the final group is buying links, which is against Google guidelines, but people have to know that this market exists and that people are buying links, and they managed to get away with this. So yeah, those are like four buckets, the the bird’s eye view of how links are being built. Nice. That’s

Laura
a really great summary. And I do agree with you, I think, you know, buying links is is something that might be against Google’s guidelines from an SEO perspective, but there are there are certainly advantages for those businesses who can place links in appropriate places to drive traffic. To make sure that they’re in front of the right of the right customers, right?

Tim
Yeah, of course, of course.

Laura
Definitely. And in terms of what you believe the impact of link building to be on on kind of SEO specifically, I know that’s that’s your background. Do you think link building today is as important as it’s always been more important, less important?

Tim
Well, that is a good question. And I believe that the SEO industry is trying to predict the demise of links, or maybe the demise of the value of the links for the past few years, but that demise isn’t coming. So. But I think there are like multiple, multiple opinions on that. And I’m sure that if I would try to tweet this question to my following, and there are many, so people among my followers, I’m sure, like, it would be quite a controversial question, because a lot of people would have clashing opinions. But still, I would, I would actually agree that well, at least they would agree with the fact that Google is trying to diminish the value of quantity of links, and move more into the quality of links. So it will be about kind of output link, building your competitors, building more links than they have. But it would be I think, in the end, it would be about getting a few links that are so good, they are so relevant, and they are from such authoritative and trust trusted websites, that they can Trump like hundreds of what is considered good link right now. So yeah, it is very hard like by the nature of the Internet, and by the nature of how Google works and how it ranks pages, it is very hard to find a signal of content quality that would be similar to backlinks. So I don’t see it, I don’t see them. And they don’t think any other SEO professional seed. So links are here to stay. But it’s about the quality of the link, I think Google will be getting more and more sophisticated, in how they determine if that link is a is high quality or low quality link.

Laura
Definitely I completely agree with you. And I think the the focus on quality has always been, in my mind the the kind of key metric when I’ve been link building. And I recognize that there are certainly industries or specific setups, where volume is going to be the key to success. But more and more we’re seeing that quality is is the real focus. And I think that’s where it can get tricky for those of us who work specifically in digital PR, because quite often what we see celebrated at conferences and awards is the kind of PR coverage that lands you national press coverage or international press coverage, but the the timestamps nature of media coverage, and you know, the fact that if you’re in the New York Times or in the Washington Post, or in kind of a UK magazine, it just the relevance of that publication is going to be far less than if you were featured by a website, which is within your own niche. And I think that’s where people are starting to look more at the broader benefits of digital PR, and how we can measure the kind of visibility impacts and the brand awareness that we get from it, as well as the links did that kind of come out in the in the interviews that you did and building your link building guide. I mean, how how important did digital PR appear to be from those conversations that you had?

Tim
So first of all, I think digital PR is the kind of the strategy that would lend you an extremely high, I wouldn’t say necessarily, quote, quality, but high authority links that are incredibly hard to get. Because if you want those huge publications to do a story on you and to link to you, you have to work really hard. So first of all, you need to have a business or a product that is like interesting enough, and that deserves to be talked about, because you cannot really shoot shoehorn like some boring, mediocre product to a top level publication. No journalist would like risk their reputation to write such stuff. So yeah, the the authority of those links, the fact that such a high authority website is linking to you now is very high, but I’m saying not necessarily quality because what you said it’s, it’s about relevance. So the links that you may get with digital PR might not necessarily have any relevance with the page that you actually want to rank well. So for example, we we now have pure personality traits and she’s trying to make connections with journalists and get a trip get get a chef stories published on different publications. But that doesn’t mean that, for example, my specific link building guide will rank at the top about at the top of Google for the keyword link building, because you need to get relevant links pointing at this page, specifically, not links about the shapes of the general. But actually what you already said in your question. There are broader benefits of PR, and that is brand awareness. And that is traffic that is coming to your brand directly. And then you can funnel those traffic towards the content that you have show people what kinds of products you have services, and you can kind of enjoy a let’s call them secondhand links. So the links that will come from, from people coming from PR, and then linking to other stuff on your website. So this is very hard to measure, maybe even impossible to measure. But yeah, the the benefits of doing digital PR, go way beyond simply acquiring links, of course,

Laura
definitely, that that measurability is is the crux of it, isn’t it really, we’re all digital marketers, we’re all living in a world where everything is super measurable. And then you bring digital PR into the mix. And it’s so difficult. And you know, a lot of the time somebody will visit your digital PR content. And even if you’ve driven that traffic to your site, they might just enjoy the content and then leave and come back much further down the line and make a purchase and maybe not and that an attribution question is a is a much bigger one than I think we can probably cover this morning in the next 10 or 15 minutes. But it’s interesting to hear that you guys have bought in a PR person. And and yeah, I have a few questions off the back of that. But my first one is with it with a link building guide specifically that how how will you guys be building links to that piece of content? Or do you have a strategy href to do that?

Tim
Hopefully, we won’t. Because we are at the point where where we have a body of work that people respect us for and we have certain credibility in SEO related topics, where people would deem us deem us an authority, like, right out of the bed. And we have an audience of people like our email list our customers, our Twitter followers, people in our Facebook group, who we are going to promote that newly building guide to and hopefully we will be earning links, we won’t have to add them manually and we won’t have to request them. But if after publishing, or should I say republishing updating our link building guide and promoting it as hard as we can, by the way, we’re also going to invest quite a bit into ads to make sure that we are reaching as many people as we can. And then it’s up to them if they want to link to or it is up to our optimize my link building guide if I made it good enough for people to link to to make it notable. So yeah, if that wouldn’t lend us enough backlinks to rank, at least in top three. The next stage is requesting links, we’re going to be doing personal outreach to relevant people who might have missed our Facebook ads, Twitter ads and cetera who might not have seen the the guide. Now we’ll send them personal emails, tell them that what this guide is about what makes it unique, what makes it useful. And then it would be again up to them, if they’re going to link to we won’t, we won’t necessarily say please link to it. We what we’ll try to do is this is kind of what Leonardo DiCaprio was doing in the movie inception, we’ll try to put the idea that there is a great guide Beginner’s Guide about link building somewhere at the back of their head. And once they will be writing their next article or like discussing something on the podcast, they might mention that Oh, like Tim solo FROM HSN reached out to me and said that they published this link building guide, and they checked it out. It is very good for newbies, so if you have like a junior link builder, you should have them read this. So this is our goal. Yeah, like we think that asking for a link. When you ask for a link, you’re putting people into a little bit difficult situation because they often will have to say no. And like yeah, we don’t want to do this with people. We just want to show them the guide and then it is up to them if they want to link to it or not. or up to the guy that is worthy of the link.

Laura
I love that and I certainly won’t argue with a strategy that’s inspired by Leo. I think I think you make a really, really good point there about link earning. And I think that’s something that happens through a long term investment obviously href has been around for a long time and I know of you and your your many many followers now a few because you are out there talking about To end, creating fantastic content, and obviously a fantastic product that so many of us use. And I think there are, there are occasions where brands almost see digital PR as the silver bullet kind of a quick fix, they can just kind of jump in throw out a campaign about a denote the most enjoyed pictures of Instagram or some kind of data that reveals something. And they think that that will inherently because of the format, they’ve used land them links, but actually there is that kind of second layer behind it where you need to have a credible brand. And you need to be producing something that is of quality. And for me, what you’re talking about is is far more in the realms of kind of content marketing, and really, you know, getting to grips with who your audience is and creating something that is valuable to them such that they want to share it with their followers, and they want to link to it.

Tim
Absolutely. Well, if at this point, I’m thinking that it’s a bad thing that this is an audio podcast, because otherwise people would see me nodding all the time.

Laura
I’m glad that you agree. Let’s let’s talk a bit more specifically about Ahrefs product, if that’s okay. And of course, let’s promote your product. And the thing that I’m really interested in as their as, as someone who’s been in the industry for for over a decade myself, I’ve I’ve always kind of made use of the product. And I think I’ve got kind of favorite parts of it that I will gravitate towards if I’m preparing for a pitch or if I’m doing a quick audit for clients. And I’m really interested to hear from you. What you believe the the kind of most important features of hrs to be and and what do you do you guys have visibility over what reports people are making use of the most like what are the most valuable parts of your platform?

Tim
So that’s that’s an interesting question, because the reports that people are using the most often are not necessarily the most valuable ones, because people just might not know of some unique things that exist. At this point, I want to promote a fun page that we recently created. It’s a landing page. So it is located at a travel.com slash vs. Like vs. And it has it is listing seven unique features that are not available in any other tool. So if people want to learn about some absolutely unique things that a chef can do that no other tool can, I invite them to visit this page and check them out. But in terms of link building, two, or three of my personal favorite features. First of all, when I’m browsing a website, someone’s website and can be our competitor, or it could be whenever I’m helping one of my friends with various a strategy, I will take their competitor and they would go to our report called Best Buy links, which is basically ranking all the pages of a given website by how many backlinks they have. Because this shows me what is the most linkable. What is the most notable, or should they even say what is the best content on their website that is attracting backlinks. And then I can click on any of those pages and see the actual backlinks and figure out why people were linking to those pages. For example, if you if you put a travel blog into href and go to this report, you’ll see that our most linked two pages are data studies. So whenever we do data research, and we come up with some unique statistics or unique takeaways, people are linking to that as crazy. So yeah, this is the first step that I always do whenever I need to understand how people in a certain industry or how a certain website was attracting backlinks, what are their linkable assets. The next small feature that I really like is going to the backlinks report and sorting those backlinks by the search traffic linking page. This is something again, unique to h refs, no other tool can do this, at least as of time of us speaking. And this is pretty awesome, because this can show you the links that can bring the so called secondhand search traffic. So if a page that is linking to you is ranking in Google, it means it gets consistent traffic every single month. And this means that this should be a high quality link. If Google thinks that this page is so good that it ranks in the search results and gets traffic then the link from the page should also be very good. And and then again you like if you’re studying your competitors, you want to know about those links, because if some page that gets traffic is linking to your competitor, you might want to have your own link there. So if your competitors getting traffic or at least visibility if someone’s reading the article, and reading the name of your competitor, you want your name in the same article. And the final tool that I like a lot. Well, I like all of our tools, a lot of sports but the final one They want to tell the listeners about his content Explorer, and how you can think of it as Google. But with SEO metrics, so what we do we crawl the entire web just like Google does. And we save all the content of the pages. So we basically create another version of Google, like searchable database of pages. But every page has SEO metrics, like how much search traffic it gets, what is the domain rating of the parent domain, and how many backlinks that page has. So whatever your topic about, let’s say, you have a blog or a website about parenting. So what you can do is you can search for the word parenting in our database, not in Google, and then filter those pages or search those pages by the amount of backlinks they have. So instead of checking out and instead of researching linkable assets of a single competitor of yours, and seeing which pages have the most links on their website, you can see among all the pages on a given topic, what are the pages that got the most backing, so you can like search for linkable assets in the entire internet. So this is pretty valuable.

Laura
Nice I I’m I use, I use all of those features. That my favorite one is Best Buy links, I’m the same as you, I always go to that kind of first off. And that last one that you just mentioned, the content Explorer, I find can be really inspirational for the kind of content that you want to produce, or even looking at things like content that’s expired. That’s always quite simple. There’s something that’s got lots of links, but it’s a couple of years old. And it sounds like there’s been a lot of focus for H refs on the quality side of things. And I really like what you were saying about the tool you mentioned, where you can see the the rankings of the pages that are linking and how much traffic they’re getting. Have you? Have you got any plans for 2021? To expand on that at all? I know, for example, there are other tools out there that are building parts of their tool to talk about relevance, and maybe topicality and things like that what’s hrs take on that?

Tim
Yeah, so here’s the kicker. A few years ago, our CEO, CEO and founder Dmitry has announced that he traps our long term plan is to build our own search engine. And while it is an audacious goal, a lot of people think that we are like, we want to become the next Google like 100 100 billion dollar company or whatnot. No, we just want to build a quality search engine, not necessarily like copy entire Google infrastructure. So So the thing is, Dmitri has a team that is working on that search engine. And while they are working on the quality of the search results, they need to tap into backlink data and to understand which backlinks would produce the best search results. So basically, while we are developing our own search engine, and while we’re trying to understand how to use all those backlinks that we’ve crawled to date, to produce better search results in our own search engine. While we are of course comparing to Google, like their results, of course, are by the right now, but we’ll get there. So the thing is, the more insights we get, we’ll get about figuring out which which backlinks help us produce better search results in our own search engine. We are going to use those insights in href tools and give people more functionality to kind of surface those backlinks on top of like 1000s, or sometimes millions of backlinks that are that are pointing at their website. So yeah, that’s basically the goal. While we are building search engines, we better understand how Google is using backlink data. And we are going to implement that in our main product, which is

Laura
nice, that makes so much sense that you are learning from it because you need that functionality yourselves to build your own product. So yeah, interesting insight. Thank you. And then the last question that I wanted to ask you is, is also quite a big one. But a little bit broader, obviously, is as the CMO of a global company, and somebody who is kind of overseeing marketing activity for a business with with huge goals. What do you see the future of marketing looking like and kind of specifically in 2021? Have you had to pivot your strategies based on what’s happening with the pandemic, which is ongoing at the time of recording this? Have you got any kind of key focuses that you’re going to be adding maybe new channels into your marketing mix and the thing that you’re going to be dropping? Just Yeah, tell us more broadly about your approach to marketing?

Tim
Well, in terms of pandemic, I’d say that nothing much changed for us because the most of our marketing is online marketing is digital marketing. We didn’t do so much events or any other like forms of marketing. So our strategy basically didn’t change. We’re just doubling down on what online What works for us. But in terms of kind of where I see marketing is going. So I’m not very good with predicting trends. And they’re not the the Gary Vee type of guy who would like advocates like Snapchat or whatever. But the the general kind of impression that I have of where of where kind of the world of digital marketing is going is that it goes towards simply creating the best product, and articulating the values of your product, the like, what makes the USP unique selling proposition, what makes your product best. And then the world is so connected right now, there are so many different communities and so many ways to spread the word. So many people are looking to to get recommendations, so many people are looking to make recommendations. And it is in everyone’s best interest in Google’s best interest in affiliates, best interest in customers best interest for the best product to win. So one thing is to understand what the market needs and the professional marketer is not necessarily to promote the product, otherwise, the professional would be called promoter. But the professional is called marketers. So you have to understand the needs of the market, and bring those needs to the product team that so that they would create the proper product. And then your your job is to articulate what you have, because people might not necessarily understand what they’re looking at. So you have to like you have to be really good with copy. And all that stuff, understanding people’s pain points and what triggers them and such. And then if you have the best product, and you can clearly articulate. So that those are the words, well, you can take the words of your customers, if there is one of the most popular copywriting advice, like use the words of your customers on your landing page. And then those right words will eventually spread if your product is good. So this is what I’m seeing the digital marketing is about studying the market better, and creating better product and then making content that will explain how your product is better.

Laura
Fantastic. I love that. I love what you say about where we’re marketers not promoted yet. Understand. Well, thank you so much for your time, Tim. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And I was I was on a call just before this one with our head of SEO Pete, who I’m sure will be cringing when I say it was very, very jealous of my opportunity to speak to you. And as I expected it to be it’s been an absolute pleasure. I think the insights that you’ve shared will definitely be useful to the people listening out there as well. If people do want to follow you and check out more of your content, where’s the best place to find you?

Tim
Well, first of all, thanks a lot for inviting me. You’re asking amazing questions. So I am hoping I was able to give meaningful answers to those to those pretty challenging questions. And the if people want to, to get more of my thoughts about marketing and such, they can follow me on Twitter. This is where I’m the most active and the most responsive. And yet speaking of responsive, if anyone has any questions they want to ask me, they can just tweet at me and I’ll be happy to give them some advice in what 270 characters

Laura
something like that. Brilliant and your link building guide will be coming out soon as well. Right. We should all link to it.

Tim
Oh yeah. I would appreciate it.

Laura
Wonderful. Brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, Tim.

Tim
Thanks for inviting me

Laura Hampton

PR Director

PR Director at Impression working with colleagues and clients to deliver link acquisition campaigns that support SEO visibility and wider marketing goals. Regular speaker at industry conferences and contributor to industry publications. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

Laura has specialist knowledge in Digital PR and Content Marketing.