How We Grew Traffic to Ahrefs’ Blog by 1136% (and Got Thousands of Paying Customers)

I checked the time: 9pm.

I’d just finished writing (what I thought was) my best article to date.

Following countless hours researching, polishing my copy and fixing typos, it was perfect. All the fundamentals were covered. This had to work.

So, I hit publish. And… crickets.

A week later… still crickets.

OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating. That article did get a bit of traffic, a bunch of tweets and even a few email signups. But did it have any significant impact on the bottom line?

Nope.

Worst of all, this exact thing had been happening to me for six long years. My hard work just wasn’t paying off, and my attempts to figure out how a blog could help with business growth were verging on desperate.

Enter Ahrefs’ blog: (lucky) #8 in my content marketing journey.

Back when I joined Ahrefs as a CMO, this blog was far from popular. It had ~15K visits per month, and traffic was plateauing, despite publishing three new articles every week.

Today, we publish ~2 posts per week (in 2016–17, we only published ~1 post per week) and our blog traffic has grown tenfold.

But arbitrary monthly traffic won’t pay the bills.

Instead, my primary KPI has always been ARR.

I’ve never tried to measure how well Ahrefs’ Blog performed as a customer acquisition channel, mostly because I don’t believe that conversions happen in such a linear fashion.

But if you look at our ARR graph for the same period, you can see it correlates nicely with the popularity of our blog:

We’re not sharing our revenue numbers publicly at the moment, but we might do it soon ;)

And I have zero doubts that content marketing is one of the two most significant customer acquisition channels for Ahrefs (the other being “word of mouth”).

So, let me share four core principles of our content marketing strategy — the same strategy that has helped us increase our blog traffic by 10x and get thousands of paying customers along the way:

1. Focus on organic search traffic ONLY

It can be tempting to write about whatever currently excites you.

Perhaps a hot industry topic, an exciting feature release, or even just a random rant.

Resist temptation!

Why? Ask yourself this simple question:

Will this article send me traffic two years from now?

Nine times out of 10, the answer is no.

Here’s an example: this recent post from E! Online about Kim Kardashian’s post-pregnancy diet.

This is a classic illustration of ‘temporal content’: current, topical and relevant right now, likely to generate a sharp spike in traffic.

But do you think people will still be searching for this in two years time?

Absolutely not!

Because of the post’s short shelf-life, interest will quickly fade to nothing.

Yes, you could combat this by publishing temporal every day like E! (a celebrity news blog) does.

But this would only give the illusion that your blog is growing.

And when you paused to focus on something else, traffic would nosedive, bringing you back to square one.

The diminishing results of publishing hot topic after hot topic.

Not to mention all the time, resources and energy spent constantly churning out fresh content.

But there’s another way…

Search traffic!

Step 1: Write about topics that people are searching for month after month.

Step 2: Ensure your article ranks in Google for relevant search queries.

That way, you’ll receive organic traffic, every month.

No need to publish 10–15 new blog posts every month; you can publish 10–15 articles in total and then take a vacation, leaving your blog traffic to grow passively.

The results of publishing posts around topics with high search traffic potential

That’s the beauty of SEO.

At Ahrefs, we have almost zero flexibility with the topics we write about: no following trends or covering random topics we find interesting.

We ONLY publish posts with organic search traffic potential.

So, that’s the general strategy explaining WHAT you need to do to grow your blog traffic.

Now, how about some specific tactics that will teach you HOW to do it — step-by-step?

Good call!

However, I couldn’t possibly explain everything you need to know in this article; there’s too much advice.

That’s why I’ve spent the past ten months creating a detailed video course that explains almost every single actionable tactic that got Ahrefs’ Blog to where it is today.

You can sign up here: https://ahrefs.com/blogging-course

2. Focus on topics with high business potential

Traffic is a vanity metric (have I mentioned this already?)

It barely means anything for your business.

Unless that traffic consists of people who are specifically looking to solve an issue that your business happens to be an almost-perfect solution to.

In other words, if you want your content to bring you customers, you need to write about things that are closely-related to your business.

Take a look at the topics of the articles that bring the most Google traffic to Ahrefs Blog:

Let’s say you Googled “how much traffic does X’s website get?”

Naturally, you click the first result — this post from the Ahrefs blog. It talks about the various methods you can use to estimate website traffic.

In “Part 2 — Organic Traffic Estimation Tools,” we mention Ahrefs.

Done.

We’re teaching people how Ahrefs’ can be a solution to a problem they’re ALREADY looking to solve, directly within our content.

Yes, we could publish content unrelated to Ahrefs that would get us a ton of traffic, as some companies do — but we would struggle to convert these visitors into paying customers; this tactic doesn’t make sense to us from a business perspective.

Instead, I assign a ‘business value’ score to all our article ideas:

  • “3” — our product is an irreplaceable solution for the problem;
  • “2” — our product helps quite a bit, but it’s not essential to solving the problem;
  • “1” — our product can only be mentioned fleetingly (mostly for “brand awareness,” rather than “sales pitch”);
  • “0” — there’s absolutely no way to mention our product.

We try only to cover topics that score 2–3 and never publish anything that scores zero.

You might be thinking: “But aren’t you being too salesy? Don’t you turn people away from your blog by talking about your product all the time?”

Funnily enough, I’ve never received such complaints from our blog readers.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

We would be doing our readers a disservice if we didn’t tell them how Ahrefs could solve the problem they’re struggling with.

And aside from the random people finding our articles on Google, we have thousands of paying customers who want to get the most out of our toolset. And these customers are our priority.

By publishing content related to the core functionality of our toolset, we’re educating them on how to use our products better, and get more value out of them.

3. Prioritize the “QUA” of your content: Quality, Uniqueness and Authority

It’s crucial that you focus on both the search traffic and business potential of topics.

But there’s one final ingredient:

Great content.

Without this, you won’t see any success.

But I know what you’re thinking:

“Oh, ‘publish great content?’… I’ve never heard that advice before! #sarcasm”

I hate this kind of vague general advice as much as you do; it usually leads to more questions than answers.

What is ‘great content,’ anyway? And how do you know when content isn’t ‘great’?

Well, here are three actionable concepts that I believe all great content must embody:

#1. Quality

This can be quite subjective.

But when people talk about the quality of their content, I’ve found they’re often referring to the following traits:

  • Visually appealing
  • Well-written?
  • Problem-solving

I know a lot of people who immediately close a website if it looks bad.

This is why we sometimes invest in cool featured illustrations for many of our posts.

And I know even more people who lack the patience to read a whole article — unless the author makes a conscious effort to keep them engaged from start to finish.

Most importantly, an article needs to address the search query you’re targeting properly.

Neglect this, and the way your post looks and reads won’t matter.

To ensure that every visitor sees your content as high-quality, you need to nail all three of these aspects.

#2. Uniqueness

Here’s the thing: someone has already published an excellent article on the topic that you want to rank for.

Hundreds of people probably have.

So why does the world need yet another article on that same topic? And how is that new article going to stand out?

Your first thought might be: write an article that is 100% unique. And you’d be right. Uniqueness is important.

But achieving uniqueness is also hard (unless you’re at the very forefront of your industry and all you do is innovate).

Do you fall into that bracket? I know I certainly don’t!

Apart from that, the only way to publish something unique is to use your own personal experience.

If you’re a company, not an individual — that’s even better. You can talk about your unique business experience, or your unique conversations with customers, partners, competitors.

Take GrooveHQ, who started a blog documenting their journey to $10M/year in revenue.

They rarely published anything ‘new’, but the fact that it was all based on their personal experience made it highly unique.

The final option is to try explaining something better than others.

If there’s already a ton of content on a topic, you could try to distill all that information in a single article. That would hammer the point home better than any alternatives.

#3. Authority

Would you prefer to read weight loss advice from a shredded person or an overweight person?

The answer’s obvious.

We want to learn things from people with authority.

But how do you become an authority?

Although you may not be the best practitioner, you can be a great writer, researcher, and storyteller.

Malcolm Gladwell didn’t become famous for sitting in a lab.

He became famous curating the research of other smart people who weren’t as good at writing as him.

At Ahrefs, we often lack the necessary practical experience to write about a topic.

But we have two loopholes:

  • We crowdsource opinions;
  • We interview experts.

We always try to avoid (what we call) ‘opinionated writing.’

That’s because we can’t risk giving people advice that doesn’t work, or that will only work under a specific set of circumstances.

We don’t care about impressing people with ‘smart secret ninja tactics’; instead, we focus on creating epic content around more conventional strategies with proven results.

4. ALWAYS promote your content

So, your content:

  • has organic search traffic potential;
  • has high “business potential”;
  • is high-quality and unique.

That’s enough, right?

Not so fast.

To stand a chance of ranking for your target search terms (and attracting organic search traffic), you also need to promote your content.

This is because more eyeballs = more backlinks.

More backlinks = higher rankings.

And higher rankings = more passive organic search traffic.

Here are a few ways to promote your articles:

  • Send a newsletter to email subscribers;
  • Post on social networks
  • Submit to Reddit and any other relevant forums/communities;
  • Reach out to everyone mentioned in the article

But while such promotion is certainly worthwhile, there’s one big problem:

You can only do these things ONCE… so they’re NOT scalable.

We get a nice spike in traffic when we promote newly-published posts to our newsletter subscribers.

But this traffic spike isn’t replicable.

That’s why the primary goal is always to rank high in Google, to send passive search traffic to your article.

And you shouldn’t quit promoting your article just because you’re out of items on your content promotion checklist. You should only stop once you’re ranking on Google.

So, what scalable strategies can you use to promote your articles and build backlinks?

  1. outreach
  2. paid promotion (Facebook ads, etc.)

Don’t have the money for paid ads?

No worries. Focus on outreach.

Make sure you get your content in front of those who (a) are likely to find it useful, and (b) have the power to link.

And remember: the quality of your content plays a vital role in the success of such promotion strategies.

When you have amazing content, you don’t need to promote it that hard — it spreads like wildfire all by itself.

Back to you

Of course, there’s more to increasing blog traffic and creating a robust customer acquisition channel than the four concepts I’ve outlined above. But I firmly believe that they form the very foundation of your success.

It took me a few years to figure out how content marketing translates into business growth, mainly because there’s so much misinformation on the web.

That’s why I’ve decided to share our story with Ahrefs’ Blog in a [no longer free] video course.

I pull back the curtains to reveal every strategy we’ve used to turn this very blog into one of our most valuable business assets.

So, if you want to learn more about building a successful blog, I recommend that you sign up for my [no longer free] course. :)

Originally published at ahrefs.com on May 3, 2018.