Converting SaaS Trials from Organic Search with Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo


Tim Soulo is CMO at Ahrefs, an industry-leading keyword research tool. With nearly 10 years of experience in SEO and digital marketing, Tim speaks at conferences around the world and publishes content on the Ahrefs Blog.

He’s also authored SEO research studies and digital marketing guides. In this interview, we discuss AI, domain authority, and conversion rate optimization.

Ahref’s has been upgrading their hardware and investing in AI, because “it really does give you and edge.” As big data processing gets easier, search engines will get “smarter and smarter, being able to factor in more ranking factors and blend them in a more sophisticated way.

So basically, the word ‘more’ is what AI means to SEO.” While everything will be more complicated, hopefully, it will be more useful, too. But Ahrefs needs more processing power, which means more hardware on the backend, to get there.

While neural networks that make decisions in specific scenarios aren’t that intelligent, Tim doesn’t see that as a limitation for Google when it comes to applying AI to its search algorithm. On the other hand, the raw amount of data that must be processed is a real challenge.

Ahrefs is currently working on a metric that calculates how hard it would be to rank for a search query based on how many backlinks the top ten pages have. This has to encompass hundreds of millions of queries, which is hard enough to factor for backlinks. The formula demands exponentially more processing power.

In their page quality rater’s guidelines, Google uses “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness” to rate the quality of webpages. Tim says that no one’s quite sure about how Google exactly defines “authority”, but it’s probably not as simple as the number of backlinks a given page gets.

Tim speculates that the algorithms also factor in how many times authors are mentioned on other pages, or how many people search their names, follow or write about them on social networks. But no one knows how Google prioritizes these signals.

In terms of which online outlets SEOs should be pitching, Tim says, “it boils down to what you have to say, and is the publication that you want to get a link from interested in that?”

Regarding domain authority, Tim reflects that Ahrefs’ approach is somewhat removed from that concept, stating that the rank boost you get from backlinks doesn’t come from domain authority, but from page authority. For instance, if you publish at TechCrunch and nobody reads or links to it, that page will have very low authority. 

There are no shortcuts to creating content that withstands the test of time. But consistently valuable content is the goal. Slow and steady wins the race. When it comes to leveraging AI, the lack of regulations around digital privacy in China means they have more data to inform algorithms than we do in the west. So I asked Tim if he thought the Chinese would dominate in AI. For his answer, listen to this podcast on SaaS marketing through SEO.

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