In this in-depth digital content strategy case study, you’ll learn the secrets behind Ahrefs massive $100 million Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR).
They get a staggering estimated 1 million organic visits per month.
Want some intel on their content strategy secrets?
How did the brand become a household SEO SaaS tool in just a few years?
Glad you asked.
That’s what this guide is about.
In this revealing web content strategy case study, I will show you exactly how Ahrefs, or Hrefs as people call the company, crush it with smart SEO content that dominates search engines.
Meet Ahrefs, The David That Brought Down 2 Goliaths In The SEO Space
First things first.
What Is Ahrefs?
Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset for keyword research, backlink analysis, rank tracking, competitor analysis, website audits, and content analysis.
In short: Ahrefs empowers business people with the knowledge, data, and tools to do SEO better and grow their businesses.
Who Is The Owner Of Ahrefs?
Who Are Ahrefs Competitors?
When Ahrefs arrived on the scene back in 2011, they found two market leaders already established in the crowded cut-throat SEO SaaS tools space.
Moz, which started in 2004, and SEMrush launched in 2008, had a head start of several years. But within a few years, Ahrefs caught up with the giants and staked its claim as one of the leading SEO tools.
Ahrefs’ Digital Content Strategy Case Study By The Numbers
Ahrefs boasts some imposing figures:
- Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) $100+ million.
- Year On Year (YoY) Growth 65%.
- Organic Search Traffic 1,1Million.
- Organic Keywords 221K.
- Rank front page for 31,000 keywords.
- 37,6 Million backlinks from 70,8K unique linking domains
Pretty impressive, right?
The company achieved all these jaw-dropping results with a small team of around 80 people.
A super-smart SaaS content strategy.
Ahrefs Digital Content Strategy Case Study: Succes Secrets Revealed
Before we get into the core let’s get the basics out of the way.
Digital Content Strategy Definition
A content strategy is an overarching plan for the creation, distribution, and promotion of content that aligns with business goals.
It’s a framework that manages all facets of a company’s content. It answers the what, why, and how of a brand’s approach to content marketing.
The Content Marketing Institute reports that 62% of the most successful B2B brands have a documented content marketing strategy. Most B2B marketers will tell you that without a solid content strategy roadmap guiding you, you won’t make sales with content.
I’ve summarized Ahrefs’ digital marketing strategy success formula into 6 pillars:
- Smart Keyword Research.
- Blogging Strategy.
- Content Creation Workflow.
- Link Acquisition Assets.
- Content Distribution & Promotion.
- Consistency & Patience.
#1. Smart Keyword Research
Ahrefs are intentional about the topics they cover.
They don’t publish topics nobody is searching for. The company creates hyper-focused content based on search queries that have traffic potential. This underpins its digital content strategy.
Let’s face it.
If nobody is searching for your topic, ranking for it won’t help your business one bit.
To succeed in digital marketing:
- Know what people (potential customers) are searching for concerning the problems your business solves.
- Write about those topics.
Keyword research is a vital element of the digital content strategy matrix. Mess it up and you diminish your chances of success. Nail it, and you are well on your way to achieving superb results through content marketing.
Writing Content That Has Business Value
The company doesn’t shy away from mentioning its product in its content.
The content team picks topics that make it natural for them to mention their product without forcing things.
Whenever they discuss a potential new article on a certain topic, they ask:
- How do our tools, services, and data fit into this article?
- Is it an irreplaceable solution?
- Is this something we can mention?
- Or there’s no way to mention it at all?
They’ve come up with scoring criteria that measure the business value or commercial intent of a topic.
All told, at Ahrefs, they:
- Write about topics people are searching for,
- Rank for target keywords and drive search traffic as a result,
- Present their tool as a solution to readers’ problems in their content—and
- Convert readers into paying customers.
That’s the company’s digital content strategy in brief.
No pricey paid advertising or winding webinars.
No complex retargeting funnel or social media campaigns.
No fancy email marketing strategies or complex lead nurturing sequences.
Just superb SEO blog content that’s aligned to business goals and potential customers’ needs.
They focus on two simple things in their content plan:
- Write about topics that people are actually searching for.
- Make sure these topics are something where they can naturally mention their tool.
To win with content don’t be obsessed with high search volume. Focus on business value keywords instead.
#2. Blog Content Strategy: The Anatomy Of An Ahrefs Blog Article
Next, let’s move on to the content itself.
Ahrefs articles have these star attributes.
Ahrefs is a sophisticated tool.
So the purpose of their content is to break it down into simple steps users can grasp easily.
That’s why super detailed step-by-step guides that teach users how to do specific tasks dominate their articles.
Peruse Ahrefs articles and you will realize they mention their product in all of them.
Not just a cursory mention. But a full-blooded reference that showcases the tool’s brilliance.
They give specific use cases showing their product in action, solving real SEO problems their target audience faces every day. The examples are 100% user-focused. Plus, they zero in on specific product functionality for specific buyer personas at different stages of the funnel.
Here’s a case in point below:
Each article on their blog doubles up as a landing page that sells their software.
They blog to promote their product, not just to tick off items in their content editorial calendar.
Because they realize their product is complex, Ahrefs do everything in their power to make it simpler for users.
- Use simple words.
- Explain technical terms.
- Give step-by-step instructions.
They value succinctness and clarity over unnecessary wordiness.
Content refreshes are a vital part of Ahrefs digital content strategy.
Sometimes their great content doesn’t perform as expected. It doesn’t rank nor drive search engine traffic.
So the team does a content audit on existing content. They brainstorm ideas on where they missed it and how they can improve the piece.
Here’s how they refresh and optimize old non-performing content:
- Study the top-ranking posts to spot the gaps in their article.
- Dig deep so they understand the searcher intent of the leading posts.
- Explore different ways they can use to make the article better.
- Revamp certain sections to make sure they align with searcher intent.
- Republish the article using the same URL.
- Promote it again as if it’s a brand new article.
Content refreshes work.
Here’s an example of the traffic bump one of their updated posts got.
Traffic skyrocketed overnight and kept climbing.
Besides traffic factors, they also republish posts so they stay fresh and accurate.Ahrefs don’t let their non-performing content die—they resurrect, refresh, and repromote it, so it eventually ranks.Click To Tweet
#3. Content Creation Workflow
Content writers are a crucial part of Ahrefs’ phenomenal success. Here’s how their writing team produces superduper content.
Ahrefs has an in-house team of content writers. An important part of their content creation strategy workflow is peer review.
Every piece of content they publish gets reviewed by fellow team members.
From the topic choice to outline and examples, other team members have a say. They critique the piece and make suggestions for improvement. Therefore, the finished product becomes well-rounded and sparkles more.
Collaboration takes their content up a few notches because of different voices that weigh in on the piece.
Not only do they critique each other’s work content in-house, but they also rope in external experts.
They often reach out to their Facebook or Twitter community and ask for help from anyone with the expertise they need for a specific piece of content.
Tapping into the expertise of people in their circles makes their content richer, authoritative.
A winning digital content strategy is a team game, not a one-man show.
Hiring And Working With Writers
Plus, they hire freelance writers to supplement their team’s efforts.
They don’t hire cheap writers from Fiverr. The company hires the best writers who have first-hand knowledge of the topic and their tools.
In essence, they don’t just hire writers. They rope in online marketing experts who are knee-deep in the SEO trenches daily.
This explains why their content is:
You won’t find rehashed SEO advice on Ahrefs. They only have rich pillar content written by experts.
Guiding Freelance Writers
Freelancers get detailed instructions, so they stay on target. Their thorough 7-page blogging guidelines to direct writers. For that reason, their freelance writers produce content that hits all the right notes.
Here are 6 standout points about their guidelines.
#1. They provide a topic and an outline with subheadings.
#2. They include notes with what to include under these subheadings.
#3. They give writers creative freedom to include what they think would be the best information to include.
#4. They share the things they value in their content:
- Simple examples.
- Whitehat tactics.
#5. They share formatting guidelines.
#6. They unpack their style—the type of language they like and the expressions they distaste.
With such meticulous guidance, there’s no chance for writers to go off the rails.
On the whole, Ahrefs wins with SaaS content marketing because they don’t stint on content creation as Tim Soulo, their Chief Marketing Officer, explains:
“The main takeaway from our marketing strategy in these 5 to 6 years is our willingness to put more effort into every single piece of content than anyone else in the industry. Many people are looking for shortcuts. They try to invest the minimum amount of effort to get to the top. In our case, we invest more effort than needed to reach the top.”
Source: Green Arrow Digital
This means investing MORE towards content production (and distribution):
- More financial resources.
- More human resources.
- More time resources.
This investment helps them produce best-in-class content that helps users and trumps the competition.A vital cog of Ahrefs’ digital content strategy that drives their impressive 8-figure AAR growth is their willingness to invest in top-notch industry-dominating content. They understand quality content is an investment, not an expense.Click To Tweet
Ahrefs obsess over content quality.
Joshua Hardwick, Head Of Content, shows us a glimpse of their commitment to content quality:
“I’ve always loved creating things, so nothing is more rewarding for me than having the freedom to create top-notch content from scratch on a regular basis. Ahrefs are super-focused on quality, so each post probably takes me 10-20 hours on average. Sounds crazy, but it works for me.”
Source: Content Hacker
To put things in perspective, the average content creator takes 4 hours to write a typical long-form blog post.
Source: Orbit Media
So spending 10-20 hours on a single post is off the charts.
It speaks of their dedication to excellence.
#4. Uncovering The Twin Superpower Link Acquisition Assets
Ahrefs has two secret weapons for generating links:
Free tools and data & studies.
Ahrefs has an impressive ever-growing array of free SEO tools to help people rank higher and drive more organic traffic to their websites.
From Keyword Generator to Backlink Checker, from SERP Checker to YouTube Keyword Tool and more, their free suite of tools is enough to help business owners do basic SEO without paying a dime.
So they are sought-after. They rank front-page for vital queries and drive tons of traffic and links.
Free tools make up 80% of Ahrefs top pages and drive 55% of their traffic. That’s 300k visitors per month.Like Ahrefs, if you can build a useful tool or template that solves a nagging problem in your industry, you will attract traffic and links like moths to flame on a dark night. Click To Tweet
Once people get a taste of the awesomeness of these free tools, they are more likely to sign-up for the free trial in the future.
Data & Studies
Original data and studies play a pivotal role in Ahrefs’ content strategy.
They provide fresh insights people can’t get anywhere. Therefore, they attract tons of organic links. So impactful is original research that they have a dedicated section for them on the main menu.
Their data and studies posts are powerful link magnets for them. They are perceptive, well-formatted, and, importantly, contain lots of visuals. They attract hundreds of links, as shown by the one below.
While the research articles generate little traffic, they are a superpower for attracting links. Because Ahrefs is a popular brand with a solid reputation for producing useful content, SEOs, marketers, and bloggers link to them in their articles.
This boosts their site’s Domain Rating (DR) or Domain Authority (DA) as Moz calls it. With the backing of a strong DA, ranking for their target keywords becomes easier. That’s because Google favors high domain authority sites, all things being equal.
The studies also establish thought leadership.
The research pieces are choke-full of referenceable visual elements that drive organic links:
These make it easy for SEOs, marketers, bloggers, and influencers to reference the research articles. Therefore, they get tons of links without asking for them.Free tools and original research studies are some of Ahrefs’ secret linkable assets that drive their rapid growth.Click To Tweet
#5. Content Distribution & Promotion Strategy
Ahrefs dice content into multiple formats and promote it aggressively to increase brand awareness.
They repurpose content because they realize there are a ton of ways people consume information today.
- Visual content.
- Case Studies, etc.
So they reach everyone on their favorite social media platform and dish out content in their preferred format.
Content Distribution Strategies
Here’s how Ahrefs distribute content to increase brand awareness.
Ahrefs have fine-tuned and scaled their guest blogging strategy into a sleek link-harvesting machine. They’ve earned juicy backlinks from all the top SEO and business blogs on the internet.
They use their tool to:
- Identify ideal guest posting targets fast.
- Scale guest blogging campaigns.
- Spot low-hanging keywords for guests.
- Pinpoint the type of content that resonates with host sites.
Talk about eating your own dog food.
And, of course, guest posts introduce their brand to new audiences.
Besides guest blogging, Ahrefs also conducts link outreach to entice website owners to link to their content.
They don’t ask for links outright.
But they tease prospects by showing them how valuable and beneficial the post may be to them. They then ask prospects to check the post out. This subtle method works well. They’ve got tons of social shares and links through the tactic.
YouTube tutorials allow Ahrefs to discuss a specific product feature and show people how they can use it to improve their SEO performance. They’ve grown their YouTube channel to a whopping 200k subscribers.
Therefore, it drives tons of traffic for them.
Video marketing campaigns have certainly played a key role in spreading their content to a new audience.
Interviews are another effective content distribution for Ahrefs.
Podcasts help them reuse their content in audio form. They maximize the opportunity by sharing links to strategic content pieces.
Content Promotion Strategies
Here are the tactics the company uses to attract more eyeballs to their newly published content.
- Email List
Ahrefs sends a teaser email to their email list whenever they publish new content. Subscribers amplify the content or sometimes link to it.
- Social Media Marketing
Next, the company shares posts with its social media followers on Facebook and Twitter.
With a combined social following of over 251k on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, this spreads their content far and wide.
Not only do they use official company accounts, but they also leverage their team’s following. Their social media promotion includes:
- Resharing content, so many people see it.
- Retweeting their tweets.
- Turning key points into snackable soundbites.
- Emailing people they’ve linked to in the post.
- Submitting posts to niche online communities, e.g. Reddit and FB groups.
- Answering relevant high-trafficked questions on Quora and linking back to their content as part of the answer.
Free content promotion is significant.
But it can only get you so far.
For some vital content assets, you must dig into your pocket to spread the word about your brand. That’s where paid promotion using low-priced PPC ads such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook ads like the one below come in.
By promoting their newly published posts on Facebook and other channels, they:
- Reach a targeted audience that’s interested in the topic.
- Attract more eyeballs to their content.
- Increase chances of getting links.
- Position their content for organic growth.
Paid promotion = Instant targeted traffic.
See the cost breakdown of their paid ads below:
- Facebook ads @ 15-30 cents per click.
- Twitter ads @ ~30 cents per click.
- YouTube ads @ 5 cents per view.
They compound the impact of paid promotion by using their company social accounts and their team’s personal accounts for maximum exposure. Here are some numbers that compare the Twitter promotion via the branded company account and their CMO’s account.
Distribution and promotion give content legs. It goes much further and reaches more people.
#6. Consistency And Patience Are Key
Look at the Ahrefs organic traffic growth trajectory.
Do you see they’ve been at it for so many years?
They consistently put in the hard yards towards ranking year after year.
Even when the curve was flat, they still:
- Stuck at it day in day out year after year.
- Invested in high-quality content to help their users and prospects.
- Poured money into paid promotion through FB ads and Twitter.
- Reached out to niche influencers to promote their content (tool).
Ahrefs didn’t start their SEO and content marketing strategy today and began ranking the next day. It took them five to six years to get to where they are today.
They won because they understood SEO isn’t an instant magic wand strategy. It’s a long-term game. So if you’re unable to outrank your giant competitors today, don’t give up. Keep doing the right things. Eventually, you will topple them and enjoy success.'SEO-driven content marketing is a long game. If you are impatient and unwilling to invest in A-level content and distribution for months before seeing results, forget it. Try another marketing strategy.'Click To Tweet
The good news?
When results eventually come, they:
- Come fast.
- Last longer.
How To Build A Profitable Digital Content Marketing Strategy The Ahrefs Way: 5 Key Takeaways
Here’s what we can learn from Ahrefs’ success.
#1. A stellar product is key.
There’s no doubt that Ahrefs is an excellent product.
People love the tool and happily recommend it to their peeps. That’s the foundation of it all. If you have a lousy product/service, forget it. No content or SEO tricks, no matter how brilliant, can save you.
They value their product above everything. So they make sure it adds value to users’ businesses.
If you don’t work on your product, nothing works. Your product must be superior to that of the completion. At least as far as your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is concerned.
#2. Listen to your customers.
At the heart of Ahrefs’ business philosophy is listening to their customers.
They take their customers seriously. They talk to them constantly.
- Whenever people do the trial, they survey them.
- They connect with existing and future customers on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
- They engage with customers in their private Facebook group, Ahrefs Insider.
They are close to them and incorporate their ideas and desires into their suite of tools. They constantly add new features to serve their users. Customer feedback is a key growth lever for content idea generation and product development.
They talk to:
Existing customers: what do they love and want more of? What do they need more help with?
Reason: to produce educational content that helps them maximize the tool, improve the product, and keep them as customers.
Prospective customers: what do they search for and where do they gather? What are their pain points?
Reason: to produce content that’ll attract their attention and lure them into becoming customers.
This completes the content loop that covers everything:
Demand and lead generation. Customer acquisition. Customer retention.
#3. Produce only useful content.
Every piece of content on their blog helps readers with an SEO-related problem.
They don’t publish for content’s sake.
Because their content is useful and solves nagging SEO problems, readers naturally take the next step by subscribing to the tool or signing up for the $7 trial.
They are already sold because they know the software will solve their SEO issues.
#4. Convert traffic to customers.
It’s not enough to drive massive traffic to your site.
That’s half the battle.
For you to profit from the traffic, you’ve got to turn readers into customers.
By unashamedly mentioning your product in your content. No, you don’t have to be salesy. Just make sure you produce useful content. As long as your content is truly helpful and the context is right, readers won’t mind.
Instead, they’ll be happy to take the next step because you are not being pushy but helpful.
#5. Do what works for you.
Ahrefs is unique.
They don’t track the typical key performance indicators (KPI’s) that other SaaS companies follow religiously:
- Lead velocity rate (LVR).
- Lead-to-customer conversion rate.
- Marketing qualified leads (MQL)
- Sales qualified leads (SQL)
- Churn rate, etc.
In your content marketing efforts, learn from industry best practices. But chart your own path. Your company and its business objectives are unique. Identify your northern star metrics (AAR and YoY Growth in Ahrefs case) and ignore the rest.
What’s the ROI Of Content Marketing For Ahrefs?
In a recent tweet, Tim Soulo, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Ahrefs, outlined the top 10 benefits they get from their successful content strategy:
- Their content brings in new customers.
Ahref’s articles rank well in Google and generate a consistent stream of relevant leads.
- Their content boosts customer retention.
By educating users about the intricacies of their product, they get them to stick with Ahrefs longer.
- Their content helps reactivate past customers.
By promoting new features in their content, they win back lost customers.
- Their content inspires existing customers to buy more.
When users read about new useful functionality that’s not in their plan, they upgrade.
- Their content fuels Word-Of-Mouth Marketing.
Happy users who’ve learned something cool about the product itch to share it with their friends.
- The traffic generated by their content makes prospects become familiar with their brand.
The more eyeballs they get on their articles and the more we mention our product within them – the more “familiarity” we create in the minds of prospective customers.
- Their content helps them establish authority in their field.
By publicly sharing their knowledge, they promote themselves as credible experts that prospects can trust and buy from.
- Their content doubles up as a paid acquisition channel.
So instead of creating dedicated “sales pages” and sending paid traffic there, they simply send that paid traffic to their blog articles.
- Their content lightens the load on their customer support team.
The more educational content they create, the fewer support requests they get.
- Their content helps them get featured organically.
Because they create interesting content, people reference it organically in their blog posts and newsletters.
In short, content is EVERYTHING for Ahrefs. 🙂
It’s the vital hub on which its entire multi-million dollar business revolves. It’s the brand’s content marketing Swiss army knife.
Ahrefs Digital Content Strategy Case Study Wrap Up
In closing, Ahrefs gets outstanding results because of seven pillars:
- A superior data-rich product.
- Excellent expert-level SEO-driven content.
- Link and traffic-generating free tools and studies.
- Commitment to engaging and serving customers.
- Long-term investment in content and SEO.
- Clever use of paid ads to drive instant traffic.
- Content repurposing for greater brand awareness.
That my friend is how you generate a multi-million ARR from your SaaS product. Use the insights from this digital content strategy case study to brush up on your digital content strategy.