As more people understand the value of SEO, competition increases. In this podcast episode, Mike chats with Sam Oh, VP of Marketing at Ahrefs who offer a suite of SEO tools from keyword research to competitor analysis.

Sam discusses Ahrefs’ commitment to reliable data and how bad data can lead to bad decisions.

He also offers advice on how marketeers can approach SEO campaigns and how impactful SEO fundamentals and basics can be for companies.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Sam Oh – Ahrefs

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Sam Oh

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today.

Welcome to marketing B2B technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Sam Oh. Sam is the VP of Marketing at Ahrefs, an SEO company. Welcome to the podcast, Sam.

Sam: Thanks for having me.

Mike: It’s great to have you on. I mean, you’ve had a really interesting career you seem to have done, you know, everything, including founding companies, and yet actually, you didn’t start from a business background, tell us how you got to HR at fail your career developed?

Sam: Yeah, so I guess it’s run rather long story. So I started an E commerce in 2009. And I basically thought to myself, I’m young, and if I’m going to fail, then this is a great time to do it, when I still have my parents to help out. And if anything were to go wrong, then, you know, everything’s alright. I did decently. And a lot of that was through learning SEO, and the company was acquired in 2012. And I kind of just rinse and repeat it for several years, I started an agency, and eventually 2018, I tried to acquire eight trips as a customer. And it was a lead gen experiment that I was working through. And instead they got me as an employee. And since then, I’ve left my agency side work. And now I’m full time at ETFs and have been for now four and a half years.

Mike: Wow. So you’re gonna be a customer I liked so much you decided to join the company? Is that the story?

Sam: Yeah, they just treated me really well. And I think just the season in life that I was in, it was time to let go of the, you know, 16 to 18 hour days, putting out fires needed to come to a stop. And I was just, I was ready to just settle with where I wasn’t very happy with being at a dress.

Mike: That’s awesome. So I mean, the first thing to say is I introduced Ahrefs, as an SEO tool, there’s lots of SEO tools out there. So can you just explain a little bit about what Ahrefs does, and how it’s different to some of the other products?

Sam: Yeah, so we provide a suite of SEO tools. So that includes everything from tools for keyword research, for content for landing pages, whatever it may be competitive analysis. So if you want to look at your competitors, backlinks, their organic traffic, the keywords that they’re ranking for, to do website audits, you can basically just click a few buttons. And then we’ll check for over 100 plus SEO issues on your site, and kind of tell you how to fix them, where to fix them. In terms of differentiation. For me, personally, I was an HR Fs customer for maybe three years before I joined their company. And that’s why I was excited to actually try to get them as a clients, which again, didn’t work out. But I what I found, especially working here and understanding the intricacies of the tool is our commitment to reliable data. And a lot of this is because of the founder and CEO, Dimitri, he’s the technical brains, you know, behind everything. And basically, our crawler is the second most active only next to Google. And what that does for the quality of the data is because links on the internet are always die, they’re redirected that revive whatever, we’re able to report on fresh data. And so all the data that you see at Ahrefs, including keyword data, we have the largest US database of keywords, and we’re constantly expanding. And so yeah, I think just the commitment to reliable data is huge, which makes our tools I think, quite different from from other ones that are out there. We’re also very transparent about this stuff as well.

Mike: And also, you’ve been around for a very long time, haven’t you? I mean, you’ve had this track record of building up the crawler and making it the biggest other than Google.

Sam: Absolutely, yeah.

Mike: So one thing, I think, you know, a lot of people listening to this might not be SEO experts, I think, you know, what would be great is to have a kind of idea as to how people might approach putting together some sort of campaign to improve the search engine optimization of their site, you know, what would be the steps using a tool like Ahrefs?

Sam: Yes, I think it’s a little bit of a loaded question, because depending on what it is you want to do, that can vary quite a bit, and also depending on the site that you’re working on, but we’ll, I guess a kind of a basic example would be creating blog content and ranking that. So you might start off with keywords Explorer, which is our keyword research tool, and you can just enter in some keywords that are related to your niche. And then you go to a keyword ideas report and you’ll see millions and millions of keywords, which you obviously don’t want to filter through because who has the time to go through a million keywords. So you can use some of the filters. So you know, assuming you want to rank for some of the lower difficulty ones then you can set a Keyword Difficulty filter and you can find the low calm Position ones that you can actually start going after, and getting results much faster than trying to compete for, you know, some of the fat head terms. So, yeah, that might for, for example, like if you’re in the insurance business, you wouldn’t want to try and rank for insurance because you probably won’t be able to compete, unless you’re, you know, the cream of the crop and have the biggest budgets, basically. But you can find lower competition topics that you’ll actually have a fighting chance of ranking for, to get organic traffic. And then if you need to build backlinks, you can basically click through to different things within the tool. And that’ll send you over to Site Explorer, you can see who your competitors are getting backlinks from. And you can use that as intelligence to try and get backlinks for yourself.

Mike: I mean, that’s really neat, really simple to, you know, two areas to look at to start your campaign. It’s interesting, you talk about keyword difficulty. I mean, is it more difficult to do SEO today? Is there more competition?

Sam: Yeah, that’s that’s, that’s a little bit tricky. And I think this is like, I’ll try not to go all meta here. But I think, because there are more competitors. And because more people understand the value of SEO, that it is more difficult, because there’s just more people doing it. And naturally, there’s going to be more competition. But at the same time, I feel like the way that things are moving in terms of attention span, we’ve all heard stats, like, you know, the average time on site is decreasing by whatever percent or humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. But that leaks into our marketing, too, I think. And I think a lot of people are always looking for quick ways to kind of make something happen. And so they’re cutting corners. And so I think that opens up opportunities for people who are willing to create better contents, who are actually willing to put in the grunt work of building links to that page. Because as that happens, other people are not doing it, because everyone else is looking for a shortcut to get there. And so yeah, in some ways, it’s not as hard if you can just stay focused and keep your head down. But at the same time, because of the number of competitors, it is naturally a more competitive landscape than it once was.

Mike: And it’s interesting to talk about that, because, you know, one of the things I’m interested in is how much expertise do you need? I mean, you said, you know, it’s all about getting some links and creating great content. I mean, is it as simple as that? Or do you need to be an SEO expert,

Sam: You really don’t. So I created a, an SEO course, for beginners in our academy. Now, it’s been a year and a half. And I get messages from people who say, like, I never knew how to do SEO, now I know how to do it. And now I’m making multi six figure income from doing this, like affiliate SEO through their company. And they’re just grateful. And like, of course, I don’t know whether this is true. I don’t know why someone would, would lie about that. But, you know, these people are coming from nothing, and they’re just taking the fundamentals of SEO is all you really need to do is stick with the basics, keep your head down and get better at the basics. And as you do that, you’re going to get traffic. And if you’re going with a business approach in mind, then you’re going to generate revenue. And yet people who have never done this kind of stuff who were making, you know, 2040 50 60k are now making two $300,000 through their own stuff. And so yeah, a lot of potential there. You don’t have to be an expert. And I think pretty much anyone can do it now. It’s just mostly a lot of trial and error. But yeah, I really hope that people will, will actually give it a shot because it’s not as difficult, at least at a basic level to get into.

Mike: I’m presuming that applies to people who previously wouldn’t have thought that much about SEO. So for example, if you’re involved in media relations, creating press releases, I mean, is it the case you should be thinking about SEO in your press release, as well as your website content?

Sam: Well, I’m not, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert at all, when it comes to press releases. I guess it really depends on the purpose of that press release, I don’t think you need to really focus on ranking it well, because what are you trying to rank it for? Usually, it’s press releases or more announcements, I think of what’s happening in the company. And so if you’re a publicly traded company, people are going to see that press release. Because as you go to Yahoo Finance or whatever, Bloomberg or whatever, it’s all going to be listed under your stock ticker. Not so much for SEL, I don’t think it makes sense in the sense of ranking those those press releases.

Mike: So the message there is really focus on the content, you want to rank and spend the time optimising that

Sam: Yeah, so basically ones that are ideally going to be somewhat evergreen and that are going to drive business value, like for your company, because at the end of the day, like traffic without any kind of result, like without any kind of business value is just kind of pointless if anything, it’s a waste of money because now you’re wasting bandwidth.

Mike: That makes sense. I’m interested you mentioned So about, you know, checking for SEO issues, I mean, is that one of those features where you can actually get very quick wins on a website is where you’ve got issues that need correcting?

Sam:  Yeah, so that really depends on what the issue is. But yes, there. So we have a free tool called Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, which includes Site Audit. And you basically just verify your website just like you would with Google Search Console. And then you can run free audits on your website. And so depending on what you find there, it could potentially be a very, very quick and big win. So if you have, if you’re no indexing some of your important pages, and you’re wondering why it’s not ranking, we’ll find that out. And you can actually index the page or request for it to be indexed technically. And so yeah, it really depends on on what the issue is, like, if you’re going to be fixing some redirects. Depending on what those redirects are, that could potentially be a big win, or it could be a nothing burger. So it really depends on on your specific business issues. But regardless, I think that people should be auditing their websites regularly, so that they can find what these issues are. Because nobody knows what these issues are until you find them. And nobody can say how valuable or how important they are until you find that

Mike: Makes sense. I mean, again, going back to this desire to want to see quick results from something that’s inherently going to take quite a long time. I mean, are there big mistakes people are making maybe in terms of the shortcutting, you talked about, that mean that they they’re actually undermining their SEO, rather than improving it?

Sam: The shortcuts often mean that people are looking for hacks. And often when you look for hacks, you’re getting into a lot of technical details that do not matter. So we’re looking for these advanced hacks, and we see these tutorials and we’re like, oh, this is the same stuff that I’ve already seen before. Well, the reason why you’re seeing it, again, is because it works oftentimes, right. And people are just discounting it saying it’s not important, because it’s not advanced enough for me, I literally see comments in our YouTube channel sometimes that say, this is not advanced enough. But in my head, I’m just thinking, just stick with the fundamentals. And you will get very far and you won’t even be watching these tutorials anymore. And that’s fine with me. Because, yeah, that’s a good thing, it means that people are actually getting things done. So in terms of mistakes, I think overcomplicating is a huge one, and also trying to cut corners, looking for some kind of advanced hack, which ends up just being a waste of time. And then yeah,

Mike: Makes a lot of sense. I’m interested about, you know, measuring the value of SEO, because obviously, people tend to talk about growth in traffic. But that’s kind of unrelated to business. I mean, is there a way to measure ROI? Or does that vary from, you know, perhaps one industry category to another?

Sam: Yeah, so there are so many ways, and you might not like my answer, but I don’t think that you really need to measure strictly the ROI of SEO, because I don’t know if it’s possible to do properly. Like, there’s so many different attribution models like blast like position based, first click whatever, there’s just so many different attribution models. And so what we do is we actually don’t do things like goal tracking through Google Analytics, we don’t even have Google Analytics installed on our site. But we look at our annual recurring revenue. And if it’s going up into the right, that’s a good thing. So as our organic traffic probably works together, and I’ve just never seen an attribution model where like, I won’t have a million questions to doubt the accuracy of it, like how do we know why these people are converting? Are they converting from this page? Have they how many interactions have they had with the brand? We can’t measure that because it’s not always through things that we control? If it comes from bad data, it’s going to lead to bad decisions. And if it works, does that mean that it’s actually factual? Not necessarily, we just don’t know. And so when it comes to measuring the ROI of SEO, a lot of it is just common sensical. So if we’re creating content that has clear business value, so for Ahrefs, we have a keyword research tool. If we have content on a Keyword Research Tutorial, of course, we’re going to show people how to deal with our keyword research tool. If we’re getting a tonne of organic traffic to that page. Naturally, people are going to click and explore keyword research tool, it’s impossible to get a significant amount of organic traffic, where our product is really the star of the show, and to not get business value from that. So for us, we just keep creating content like that, but that has business value, and we get traffic to it. And our annual recurring revenue goes up. SEO is profitable for us in that case.

Mike: I think that’s a great way of looking at it. I mean, one thing, I guess might be worth exploring just a little bit is this idea of an attribution model. Can you just explain what you mean by that and why it is sometimes so limited?

Sam: Yeah, so we can’t track a full customer journey, I don’t think we can at least I’ve never seen a tool that can do it properly. Because now, like people, we interact with so many different channels. So you might, let’s say, for example, you want to even buying a garden hose. So you might buy a hose that’s, you know, 30 to $50, or whatever it is. But how do you actually buy that hose? Well, you might ask your neighbour for a recommendation. But then you go, and you don’t trust your neighbour fully. So you go, and you start a YouTube video, and then you search for best garden hoses in Google. And then you click through from that person’s page. And as the retailer, you see that you got referral traffic from And that person converted. So does that mean that is responsible for that conversion? Probably not maybe a little bit, we don’t really know what’s happening at the end of the day, is that there’s so many different variables, and now we’re bombarded with information from social media, from search from ads all around us from podcasts from everywhere, information is everywhere. And we hear these things. And now I’m talking about a garden hose. And somebody realises Oh, yeah, I need to go buy a garden hose now. Am I responsible for that conversion? Like, we don’t really know how this works, and like how there’s so many different touchpoints. Like for B2B, I think there’s like hundreds of touchpoints, before you actually become a customer of a company. And so if we can’t accurately attributed than, again, bad data leads to bad decisions. And so if our Garden Hose Company says, oh, yeah, it’s because somebody spoke about garden hoses. A person on a B2B podcast spoke about garden hoses. Yeah, then we should go and find more B2B people who will speak on podcasts about garden hoses. That’s a bad decision. All right. And so if we can’t properly attribute the sale to the source, it’s because there isn’t one source. And so yeah, that’s why I don’t think that attribution models, they usually don’t make sense, but especially at the enterprise level, they almost force it for reporting. But at least for us, we’re still a pretty small company and our CEO and founder, our CMO are all very much in agreement that these just don’t make sense. So don’t try to force something that way. Instead, we’ll keep it common sensical. And look at our revenue up into the right, organic traffic up into the right. Things are working, let’s keep going. And in not just that, but word of mouth. People will often say the great things about our content. And a lot of these people are our customers. So I think it shows that it resonates with them, and that it contributes to our bottom line.

Mike: Makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, you’ve explained how hard it is to work out what actually works and drive sales, although you did allude to the fact that, you know, you’ve seen pretty competent things like your blog, but what do you find the best channels or the best tactics to promote the tool? Well,

Sam: Yeah, so I think so for us, because we’re in SAS, naturally, people want to see how the software works, and not so much a software demo, but they want to see how it solves their problems. So for us, our two main channels are the blog and our YouTube channel. We’re obviously involved with social media newsletters, and sponsorships, and etc, etc. But I would say that these two are the biggest for us. And it’s kind of what our brand has become well known for. And literally like, we keep it so fundamental, we just think does this topic have business value? Does this topic have traffic potential? Yes, yes. All right, let’s do it. And so because we just trust that if we’re creating content that’s going to naturally in a very organically showcase our product, and it’s going to show people that by doing it this way, it actually solves the problem that you’re looking for, then people aren’t going to purchase and it doesn’t mean that they’re pushers right then and there. They might purchase tomorrow, a month from now, five years from now, whatever it might be, we’re planting seeds. And we’re just constantly planting those seeds. As they search for solutions to their problem, the more I guess, aware they become that our tool can solve many other problems, then it becomes worth the investment for people to try and to eventually, I guess, become long term advocates in our tool as well.

Mike: Yeah, that makes sense to me. I like that. I’m interested about you as a marketer. So from your point of view, you know, You’ve obviously done a lot of marketing in your career as well as building businesses. But what do you love about the marketing element? What’s the things you really enjoy?

Sam: I really actually enjoy the operations aspect. So I like creating systems SOPs, and basically finding ways to optimise that specifically in marketing so not so much in the other areas. But I also love just promoting a great product and the kind of sounds cheesy but you Like, there’s so many bad products out there right now that I would not want to be responsible for marketing it because I feel like I’m just lying. And so I think that has been a huge thing. Like our CMO once said something like your product is your marketing. And I didn’t quite understand what he meant when he first said that. But over time, it’s just become so apparent because like, the reason why I was happy to join Ahrefs, the company as an employee, after being self employed my entire adult life is because I just love the product. And all I was doing was just sharing what I was doing with the product before. And it just naturally was good marketing, because people were like, oh, like, I didn’t know you could do that. And so they have to try it themselves. And then they go and share it. Some people, like they’ll say, Oh, I learned this from Sam, other people will just share it as their own. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter because the company is now benefiting from these things being shared, because we’re just talking about how we use the tool. And I just love that. Like, we can market a great product just naturally, it’s like I would talk to a friend about it. But now we’re doing it at scale and reaching millions and millions of people doing that.

Mike: As that’s really interesting, I think that’s actually interesting marketing advice, you know that the product is your marketing, I think that that’s a great way to look at things. Are there any other tips or things people have said to you during your marketing career that you’ve really taken as being good advice, and you’ve used to drive your career forward?

Sam: The best, it’s not so much advice, but it was a question that somebody asked me. And that question was, who cares? So when you think about it, and you, like, as we write blog contents, as we’re going through the edits, or editing process, our feedback process is, is super, super, brutally honest. And it’s also strict. And oftentimes we look through it. And the question that will often ask is, who cares? So if you say a statement, and I look at that, and I say, Who cares? Then the author now needs to ask, Who cares? And if nobody cares, then it’s time to cut that. And I think it cuts out a lot of the fluff and the marketing that we’re very much used to. And now people are kind of intolerant of this fluff. And so I think oftentimes, when we ask Who cares, it also makes us think about who are our customers? And so, yeah, I find that that is a question that I just keep asking myself, whenever I’m doing anything related to marketing is, who cares?

Mike: I love that it’s really powerful. So um, I mean, I think the only thing is, I can imagine some people in your team submitting work and getting that question and finding it a tough one to answer. Sometimes.

Sam: It is. And I think we’re all the important thing is that within our within our organisation, we all know that, like, the criticism that we gave is constructive. It’s, we’re not there to hurt anyone, or to challenge anyone’s ego or anything like that. And like, we’re not just going to say to anyone who cares, like in such a way that would offend most people. But like, for me, like I review Josh’s content, he reviews mine, and oftentimes will say, Who cares? And like we look at that, and we’re like, good point, like, who cares? And I think just taking that as constructive feedback, as opposed to an attack that needs to be established within the company as well, before you can start doing things like that.

Mike: That’s great advice. I mean, we’ve created company looked at and gone. Yeah, actually, people really care about this. Are there any campaigns that you’ve driven from that, but you’re particularly proud of or have been particularly effective?

Sam: I did a case study, it was a three part case study where we created a statistics page. So SEO statistics, we wrote the content, we built backlinks to it. And we ranked him for a very competitive term in around two weeks. And so we did a case study on that. And I loved it, because it was a very different way of of creating content, it was very data driven. And we knew exactly who we were going to get links from before the campaign even started. And we just showcase literally everything. And it was so cool, because it was almost like I was in my agency days where we’re not allowed to share those secrets with people because then competitors can take it. But now that I’m on the tool side, I literally get to give an over the shoulder view of like, oh, this is what we’re doing. And it’s just like, we’re having these aha moments, kind of as we’re going and yeah, it worked out really well for us. And so I don’t know if we’re still in pole position, but yeah, we’re in position one or two, probably for SEO statistics. And it was yeah, the everything is laid out there and I just loved it because it’s also organic marketing because I’m just showing people what I didn’t eight trips because that’s what I did.

Mike: That’s awesome that, you know, you put this together you plan the campaign, and then it actually achieved the results. So I love that as a story. One of the things we’d like to ask people and particularly people that you’ve had a lot of experience in marketing, if you knew a young person was thinking about marketing as a career, what advice would you give them?

Sam: Oh, that’s a good question. I think the most important thing are results. And I think people often think of degrees. And I’m not saying that education is not important. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But people who actually go out and and get results is what’s going to get you hired. If a job is your goal, it’s what’s going to help you get better at marketing, is even just having a personal site saying I want to rank for this, or how do I do that, and then figuring it out, trying failing, trying failing, and then that’s actually going to make somebody much more attractive from an employer standpoint. And also, yeah, like, you’re just gonna get so much out of that just out of three months of just like, getting obsessed with ranking, or whatever it is that you’re going to do in marketing, I think is, is, is probably the best thing you can do for your career.

Mike: Amazing advice, I think that’s really quite inspiring as well, you know, that, that anyone can go out and try and learn SEO by by actually doing it, and then become successful. So I love that feels really inspirational. So I’m obviously mindful of time and, you know, really appreciate the time you spent with us. Is there anything else you feel we should have covered? Or anything you feel listeners would like to know?

Sam: No, I feel like we’ve covered quite a lot in a pretty short period of time.

Mike: That’s amazing. So if anyone listening to this, we’d like to find out more about Ahrefs. Or maybe ask you about something that you’ve mentioned on the podcast. I mean, what’s the best way to firstly find out about the product? And then also maybe get hold of yourself?

Sam:  Yeah, so you can learn about our product on our blog, You can go to YouTube and just search for Ahrefs, so A-H-R-E-F-S. If you have any specific questions for me, then you can tweet me. My DMS are open as well. It’s Sam SG Oh.

Mike: That’s amazing. That’s very kind to offer people to have the chance to DM you as well. So I know you’re probably incredibly busy. I really appreciate that. Sam, I really appreciate this. This has been fascinating and insight into SEO and particularly into the Ahrefs tool. So thank you very much for being on the podcast. Thanks for having me. Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.