Warrior Podcast: Tim Soulo From AHrefs.com on Keyword Research
Transcribed from the interview:
Marcus: Hey Warriors and welcome to another exciting episode of Warrior Podcast. I’m your host Marcus and the topic of the day is an area of SEO that most of us have familiar with but only some most of us have actually truly mastered, that is keyword research. Now, alongside me today, I'm very happy to announce a special guest all the way in Singapore at the moment podcast with the Tim Soulo from AHrefs. So welcome Tim, how are you?
Tim: Thank Marcus! I’m fine, thanks a lot for inviting me.
Marcus: [Laughs] you’re welcome! Now Tim you are currently the head of the Marketing at AHrefs, and I've known you for just over a year now, I think it all started from a code rich email that I think we sent out to you. Before we dig it to keyword research, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Tim: Yeah well, basically I’m in charge of marketing and kind of product strategy at AHrefs for about 2 years now, and I think that’s pretty much the most interesting fact about me. Apart from maybe that I have a quite interesting background I worked with like big company’s they tried to bootstrap my own little products I tried to do consulting, so I’ve seen a zeal like from almost any angle you could imagine.
Marcus: that was awesome man! okay, well I guess you’ve got a really big background in keyword research I know you recently publish a couple of articles around keyword research this year and analyzing all the keywords and the results from that as well, so I guess to start us of with the keyword topic of the day we know that keyword research its the pretty hot topic for a business old and new, you know everybody needs to do proper keyword researching I don’t know anyone else doesn’t want to bump their ranks on google or any search engine really, so at this point in want it to find out from you, since you are the master of keyword research is it really a point A to point B process? So what do we mean by that, is there a step by step guide on how to actually do a keyword research and to actually get results?
Tim: I'd say that keyword research is actually both, it is a step by step process and it’s also a highly kind of situational process and it has a lot of it, it depends to it. so you mentioned to my keyword research guy that, "thanks a lot for that", and one of the biggest problems I had when kind of writing it and structuring it, is that I wanted to create the kind of ultimate guide to keyword research but there are like, so many angles to it, so many used cases, so many situation that it was just hard for me to kind structure at all in a way where it would make sense to everyone.
Whatever you're doing make it relevant to you, so yeah, keyword research it might seem kind of step by step so first you kind of, need to figure out kind of what topics you want to write about, like what people are searching for and all that stuff, then you need to drill it down to some very specific keywords that people are putting into google and what’s the search volume and how hard it would be drunk and then you need to create the kind of content that it would be relevant to this keywords and promote it so it would get enough backlinks and enough exposure to be able to get to the page one. But yeah each of these steps it kind of sound super easy when you put it this way, but then when you try to go more granular into each of them, there lots of question.
Marcus: Okay Cool! yeah, I was actually really interested in the actual article itself because you know through the points where you’re going through starting with seed keywords, generating keyword ideas, understanding the metrics, and you know grouping list of keywords then prioritizing, what I found most interesting was the fact that it actually did something ultra-massive which was comparing this article to Moz I actually found that really funny, and you know a lot of my colleagues were like that’s hilarious! because the actual ranking for the AHrefs keyword research ,you know, so , the way where we standing from is actually a lot higher than the one that Moz does, so, you know we were very surprise to actually see the results you know from the actual article itself , it sort a stood itself up in that regard. So I guess going through the process, are there anything that you find people should stop relying when it comes to keyword research? You know, is there anything you used to see people doing today would basically call out an abomination SEO these days?
Tim: Well, first of all I think, one of the things that people are overlooking the most, is that, finding which is the kind of relevant keyword to a piece of content that you already have or that you are about to write. I can tell you a simple situation, we had a guest post request for AHrefs blog, we don’t usually accept guest articles especially from people we don’t know, but still the guy was suggesting to write a piece about using AHrefs for doing advertising in Google like research keywords that your competitors are bidding for, and all that stuff, and when I ask one of the guys in our team to research this topic and see if it has any good search potential, and suggest some keywords that we could up potentially optimizes this guest article for, he suggested the keyword advertising research.
And I was kind of, I don’t know, maybe a little bit offended by that, that the person [inaudible]... what was suggesting this kind of keyword because when you do an article about using AHrefs for a google PPC research, you kind of business the keyword you want to target like PPC research, Google PPC research, Competitor PPC research, Pay-per-click advertising research or something like this, it’s not about advertising research. Because advertising is far more general topic, there’s like TV advertising, Radio advertising, Podcast advertising and all that stuff. So yeah, I see people do this mistake a lot, they just don’t pick the proper keyword for the article they already have or for the article there about to write. So this is the first big mistake that I see, and i think I will share three. So the second biggest mistake is that people rely to match on the search traffic of a single keyword they pick for their piece of content or the page or the product or whatever they want to write in google.
So, again I have another cool example here, so there's a keyword "I’m sorry flowers", so basically, when someone wants to say sorry with flowers, this is what he searches for and this keyword doesn’t have a lot of searches per month, so it might seem that if you are an owner of a flower store, it might not seem that this keyword will bring you a lot of like targeted customers and a lot of sales. But when you actually go to the top 10 ranking results in google and plug them at all like AHrefs that will show you all other keywords that this pages rank for, you will see that a page that ranks number 1 for Let’s say flowers, also ranks for like hundreds if not thousands of variations to ask this same questions to google, like which flower will say I’m sorry, like which flower say I’m sorry , apology flowers, how to apologize this flowers and all this variations and because this page ranks for so many irrelevant keywords and still ranks if not number 1 in top 3 for sure and getting all this relevant traffic. So if you are just looking in the search volume of a single keyword how many times people search for it per month, you would be overlooking a huge opportunity of the whole topic like what are the other ways that people would search for the same thing and if the same page has the potential of ranking there.
So right now when I do keyword research like for AHrefs blog or when I help some customers whenever they have questions, I kind of, don’t even pay attention to the search volume of a keyword, I immediately in AHrefs keywords explorer I immediately scroll down to the first, we have like the surf overview where we pull first 10 pages from google and we show like how many backlinks they have and how much search traffic they get and how many other keywords they rank for. So I don’t even really look in the search volume of an individual keyword I scroll down immediately there and I look at how much traffic this pages are getting and how many other keywords they rank for and I do this so much.
Today that I am even thinking maybe we should change the UI the interface of our tools somehow to reflect this kind of traffic potential better than we have right now and I’m thinking that probably we will do that sooner or later. the third problem is that when people try to estimate the ranking difficulty, they make like probably quite a few different mistakes and again I have an article which is entitled dedicated to Keyword Difficulty because this is a big topic and again it has a lot of it depends to it, but one of the biggest mistake I see is that people focus to match on the so called domain authority like how powerful is the domain.
Because actually the data shows that you can easily outrank bigger authority domains if you just build more links to your page and if you just have a better content than they have. I’m not necessarily telling that you will always do that but I just want to say that people should not be afraid of like big authority sites ranking in the top results if they don’t have a lot of links pointing to the exact page. So if you can get more links then you might be able to outrank these big guys.
Marcus: Okay, so I mean looking over that, so to understanding a little bit easier. So search volume isn’t everything, so it’s really important to identify the backlinks, and most specifically looking for the keywords to rank for, and I guess from that you can also compare yourself to little websites with massive domain authority and actually perform them with really good content quality backlinks and obviously pointing back to that exact page that you want to rank, right. Yeah, okay great! I think a lot of people are still doing a lot of not necessarily the best skills when it comes to keyword research, for instance, obviously people are still using google trends to identify some of the most powerful keywords and you know for instance if you would look up Neil Patel for instance you know he's turning up into the moment so obviously people are trying that around to topics such as that. So going back to your keyword research report for a moment you have mentioned the term seed keywords focusing on building your seed keywords as a foundation, could you elaborate a little bit more about I guess the importance of seed keyword and what that actually means for people doing keyword research?
Tim: Yes, seed keywords is basically the very very first step of your keyword research and it mostly applies for people who are just starting their first website online or people who are going to enter a new niche and build a website there. So basically seed keywords are the keywords that show the general kind of topics that people would search for in this niche. So basically if I were to create a website about wave boarding, so the primary kind of seed keyword that would kick start my research would be wave boarding. Also like wave boards, how to wave board and anything I could think about along the lines of wave boarding that people might search for. And from there seed keyword is useful because you have all this keyword research tools.
So basically with AHrefs for example you can enter the keyword wave boarding and out of our like monsters database with billions of keywords, we will pull you all keywords, like keyword phrases all the search queries that have the word wave boarding in them, so basically all you need to do is to specify a single word and we will pull all the keywords that contain it and give you all the metrics like search volume, clicks and all sort of stuff, so if you want to kick start your research on a certain niche, you just enter a seed keyword, and a keyword research tool like AHrefs or pretty much any other will use that keyword to give you keyword recommendations.
Marcus: Okay, yeah its really good insight in to a keyword research from the perspective of how to obviously start a foundation. I think wave boarding is really a great example because a lot of people hearing, in the office we could also understand wave boarding, you know, we're all Sydney side, let's all go the beach! its sort of what we do in our culture. Yeah so, I want to focus this topic, because obviously we know keyword research, its draining, it a very very long process for a lot of people and obviously what to do with that afterwards. So I wanted to focus a little bit more on good keyword research practices taking the essential steps necessary to look for those keywords. So what would you say are the essential steps, like if you want to break it down into the simplest form, what would you say are the essential steps necessary to look for available keyword to rank for?
Tim: Yeah, there are generally 3 strategies that you can do keyword research. The first one is the one we already talked about, brainstorming if you kind a very general seed keywords putting them into keyword research tools and scrolling through like huge list of keywords suggestions or maybe using filters if you want to focus on keyword for example that have only 3 to 4 words in them or if you want to focus on keywords that have a specific number of keyword difficulty like specific keyword difficulty score and all that stuff. So for example for anyone having website in the SEO space, you can just like enter SEO and we will pull like a lot of lots of keywords suggestions for the keyword SEO.
So this is the first thing, the second one is probably even better; it is researching your competition. Because like, there are quite a few tools, AHrefs are being one of them, who can show you all the keywords that your competitors are ranking for. SO basically if you'll know the websites of your competition and again you can easily get them by using google to search for your seed keywords, so if you enter wave boarding into google a few websites will pop on the first page, and you can put them in AHrefs and research all the keywords that there rank for. so basically this is great, because if you want to start a website in a new niche you can easily research where your competitors are getting traffic like which pages are ranking in google, how much traffic they get and what keywords there ranking for. And actually I would like to focus on the word pages, again because like I said, right now I don’t really look at the search volume of a specific keyword I scroll down in nature of internet explorer to see the top 10 ranking pages with this keyword to see how much traffic they get.
You can do the similar thing with your competition, so in AHrefs we have a report called top pages, which basically shows you which pages on a competitor website get the most traffic from google, like what is the estimated traffic that they get, and how many keyword that they rank for, and you can click the drop down button and see all this keyword. SO this is very cool, you don’t have to replicate all keywords of your competition, you can just replicate there best pages, which from my marketers perspective much easier because if you have like 200's of keywords to go through this might be kind a upsetting, but if you have 3 pages that you know, you generate like that ton of traffic for your competitor you can easily recreate those 3 pages and maybe you even make them better.
So this was the second way, research what your competitors are ranking for, which pages brings them traffic. And the final one is to simply kind of participate in your niche, see what people talk about, collect kind of keyword ideas that people might be entering into google and then use a keyword research tool to pull all this metrics to the keyword, see which pages ranked and what kind of traffic they get. a good example is simply going to websites like quora or yahoo answers, and looking at what kind of questions people ask along the line , like what your website is about, what other people answer them and all this stuff and one great example is, when I was travelling the other day in the airport I saw a magazine, it was a, I don’t know, maybe it was a PC Mag, I don’t remember the name but it was kind a special edition called " How to start an online business". I immediately bought it with a single purpose, I was going to scheme through and outlined different kind of phrases that people would potentially put into google and I would have not thought of them otherwise.
So I basically took a pencil, I skimmed through this magazine. I outlined a few great keyword phrases related to starting an on line business and then I entered them into AHrefs and estimated the traffic potential and right now were going to write a few articles along this lines, so to get this research traffic to us. So there are 3 ways, the first one is to start from general seed keywords and scroll through the keyword suggestions that you get pretty much from any research tool, the second one is to put the website of your competition in a competitive research tool like AHrefs , which will show you all the other keyword they ranked for and which pages bring them the most traffic from search and third is to simply study your niche, read books, read blogs, read magazines. And try to kind a remember or note down some interesting phrases or some interesting questions that are related to this niche and then research them with the keyword research tool to see what is the traffic potential of this topic.
Marcus: Okay, cool! So I mean from that, I think the important thing for a lot of people to sort of recognizes was I really like how you sort a breakdown, first and first most buying an actual book about online marketing, to actually have a physical live, you know paperback book about online marketing. Number 1 is hilarious not only ironic, but it is extremely ironic actually. but to go through and actually highlight the keywords to then applied unto trying to look at the actual traffic that it could potentially bring in, I think that’s really valuable for anyone really looking in any nature or any industry, really for their own traffic. I've gone through the keyword research report; I'm adamant I've gone through at least 4 times in my life if not more, especially with my team. You know, I treat it like a really really good approach with good practices and it really identifies the importance of how to actually understand the data that's inside. from that I wanted to find out from you, how would you identify the importance of each keyword and research result and to take that one a little bit further, how do you dictate what is a vanity metric and what's actually important?
Tim: yeah like I said, the first and foremost vanity metric is the search volume working individual keyword, because like I said a page that will rank on top of google for that keyword is highly likely to rank for thousands of other keywords. and actually we did a research in AHrefs and published the results and the average top ranking page will rank for a thousand other relevant keywords so it is effect that any top ranking page will rank for tons of other keywords, so it doesn't make sense to just look at the search volume of individual keyword, you should look at the kind of traffic potential of the whole topic. So the next metric that I would focus is the kind of buying potential or value that this keyword, that this topic brings to your business and again I have a great example that illustrates it, The other day I was researching Hub Spot blog and what kind of articles bring them the most traffic from Google, because of course I wanted to beat them at this content and get all this traffic to myself and I found that the top performing article that brings them the most traffic from Google, It pulls them almost 100,000 visitors from Google per month.
Marcus: Wow! Okay
Tim: 1 Article, yeah this is crazy, just from one article, but the topic of this article is how to make a gif, how to make a gif image
Marcus: wow that's really basic [laugh] to be honest with you.
Tim: yeah, so then I thought then from one hand you can get tons of traffic if you create a good resource on how to make a gif and out rank Hub Spot, and so on the other hand if you have 100,000 visiting you blog every single month even if you convert like 0.1, 1 percent of them that's still like some money. So yeah, in terms of business are wide, you should think about like what are your resources, like how many people are in your team, on your SEO team, on your content marketing team and if it makes sense that you go after this keywords or if it makes sense that you go after that keyword, for example AHrefs is previously small company, we are under 40 people, that's 40 and we would like to stay small so we have to be like laser focused and we have to pick topics that would drive our business forward. So I’d say that traffic is also kind of vanity metric. It doesn't make sense to grow your traffic from google if it doesn’t grow your business.
Marcus: Okay, That's a really good point for a lot of people and to understand that even if your gaining traffic to your website, the most important thing is, is that they are buying your services, your brand, and your product and investing in you. I think that's the key goal for any business really is to actually make money. So that's something that a lot of us always end up over looking when it comes to doing other prerequisites of, you know, SEO, email marketing, AdWords, growth hacking, all of this little things, it's very easy to forget that the sole purpose of having an online business is for people to actually come in, buy your product, and actually appreciate what you’re doing online as well.
Alright Tim, I really appreciate your time for today. Going over the highlights of our conversation today and your points specifically I want to sort of identify and make note that obviously search volume isn't everything. Don’t be afraid of some of the biggest sites with a big domain authority. You can always outperform them with good quality content and it’s true that if you build good quality content with a substantial amount of back links set up quality, not just spam on every website pointing on the same page. I think it's important for people to recognize the purpose of keywords as well, so if you're trying to get someone to buy a product your specifically targeting that specific keyword and think you label that really well the "I’m sorry flowers" I think that's a really good example that you've used there. Is there anything else you sort a want to add to listeners today, you know, where they can find you fourthing around these days?
Tim: Well, the only thing they can ask for is for your listeners to google keyword research Ahrefs or keyword difficulty Ahrefs, and read those articles because they might go a little bit deeper than what we discussed right now because we are limited in time and in this article say had more, like opportunity to cover more different aspects and give more interesting thoughts.
Marcus: Okay great, look, what I’ll do is I’ll link everybody to the 2 articles, on the keyword research and the analysis as well. I'll be sure that all of our listeners will have access to those 2 articles that you've created this year.
Tim: Awesome, Thank you!
Marcus: Alright Tim, thank you very much for your time today, for everyone listening, Tim is a very good friend of mine, that I’ve known for just over a year from Ahrefs and yeah, enjoy the keyword research ahead! Thanks a lot Tim!
Tim: Thanks Marcus!