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Tim Soulo, Ahrefs CMO, on What Drives Content Marketing Success—And How to Learn From Failures

Photo of Tim Soulo looking away from camera, tie undone.
Tim Soulo shares his three principles of content marketing success. (Photo: timsoulo.com)

Tim Soulo got his start in marketing in 2009. Two years later, he founded BloggerJet, a blog where he shared information about online marketing and search engine optimization.

Today, Tim is head of marketing at Ahrefs. He gives live talks at digital marketing conferences around the world and has written data-driven marketing guides and research studies.

The article below is an edited and condensed version of an interview with Tim that originally appeared in The Daily Interview in 2014, reprinted here with permission.

With that brief intro, I’ll let Tim take it from here … in his own words. —Dave

My 3 Principles of Content Marketing Success

Hi. Tim here. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many cool companies and projects and now have tons of amazing experience.

But let’s be honest from the start: People don’t actually care about me—they care about themselves.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s how things work. I also care about myself in the first place.

So let me talk about some principles that have led me to certain success. Hopefully, these principles will be of some benefit to you, the reader, and this doesn’t come off sounding like I’m just bragging about it:

Principle 1: Hard work and hardcore research are the fundamentals of amazing content.

Everyone can do a 500-word article on almost any topic just out of their heads. But only a few of us have heads smart enough to be able to produce something valuable out of nowhere (sorry for the harsh truth here).

So most of the time, to produce a compelling piece of content, you will have to work hard and research your topic super deeply.

Derek Halpern got so popular so quickly because he was reading tons of psychological studies and sharing what he has learned there with others.

My content marketing success story based on this principle is about the first article I published online. “Facebook Marketing: Ultimate Guide” was published at Moz, a community of online marketers, and I was so afraid to fail with this post that I spent tons and tons of time researching and writing it.

But to my sincere surprise, it became a massive success and ended up being one of the year’s best-performing posts. So, hard work can easily beat experience or talent.

Principle 2: Accountability pushes you forward.

I started BloggerJet in a “blogging race” with my good friend Dainis Graveris.

We had a bet about who could attract more traffic to a completely new blog in three months. This was quite a motivation for me, and I was working on my blog like crazy (and won the bet).

For years after that blogging race, I would still have a weekly Skype call with Dainis, where we would discuss our weekly goals and if we’d succeeded in achieving them.

I’m a lazy person, and if there were no accountability I would just lie around and watch TV all the time. Since most people are just like me, I think this principle of accountability can really help them get their butts off the sofa.

Principle 3: Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

There’s an extremely long road till your brain can generate masterpieces out of nowhere. Until then, you have to learn from a few folks who are already successful.

Don’t be afraid to copy their work. This will build the neuron connections in specific parts of your brain, and sooner or later you will start producing great stuff on your own.

Meanwhile, you can get amazing results with “stolen” stuff.

Back in the days when I was working on a photography blog, I was obsessed with finding viral topics.

One tongue-in-cheek post, “3 Tips to Ruin Your Photo With a Watermark,” did go viral for us. The idea for it was stolen from a Russian blogger. Of course, we didn’t just translate the post and steal it as it was. Instead, we created a piece of our own in our own highly sarcastic manner. It brought us a huge spike in traffic.

You might think we just got lucky. And at some point you’re right, because not every post you “steal” will take off. But one out of 10 will take off.

And as I said, when you’re “stealing” ideas from others and rewriting them in your own manner, you’re actually teaching your brain to produce successful content.

Close-up photo of a burglar wearing black clothes and leather coat breaking into a house using a red crowbar.
Find content marketing success by “stealing” inspiration from others who have succeeded. (Photo: Sebastien Decoret)

Failures

Content marketing success is great, but failure is where the real learning opportunities lie.

The biggest failure of my life was not having a concrete goal.

Back when I started BloggerJet, I had a clear goal to win that blogging race. And once that goal was achieved, the blog was abandoned. That is lame … very, very lame.

So if you have a blog, or you’re creating a content marketing strategy, think of where you’re going with it. What are your plans for the next year? Five years? Ten?

And why are you doing this? Maybe you don’t even need that blog to achieve what you want. Maybe there’s a better way to get there.

To summarize, my advice here has two steps:

  1. Think of why you’re doing this.
  2. Focus on the things that will bring you closer to your goal.

When I set my own goals, I outline the exact steps that will help me achieve them. And each week, I put a few of these steps on my to-do list and make sure I mark them as done by the end of the week.

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, an industry-leading, all-in-one SEO tool for growing search traffic and optimizing websites. As CMO, Tim gathers customer feedback and helps brainstorm and develop new tools and features. He also writes blog posts, like “How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views).”

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Dave Baker

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Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

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