Balancing personal and company brands: inspired by Tim Soulo of Ahrefs

Tim Soulo
READ TIME – 9 minutes

To quote Seth Godin, “Those brave enough to seek weird will thrive.”

One thing that makes people special is that they doubt the norms, which most of the time leads them to discover something great.

It’s clear that if we all made things the same way, we wouldn’t have the breakthroughs and innovations that drive progress and set companies apart.

So, sometimes it’s best to think things in an unconventional way, as it can lead to unique solutions and significant improvements.

Challenge the norms and think unconventionally

It’s needless to say that unconventional thinking helps you stand out from your competition.

But the best part of thinking outside the box is that you develop your creativity and innovation to design new products, services, or new business models.

It makes you more adaptable and resilient which in today’s constant marketing change helps you be prepared to pivot or change your strategies with more ease.

And chances are customers will develop a stronger emotional connection with your brand because it dares to be different, leading to increased loyalty and long-term success, just think Apple, Airbnb, or Tesla.

Or maybe I want to go far, but think of Slack, HubSpot, or Ahrefs.

At Ahrefs the combo between the company’s CEO Dmytro Gerasymenko who was against best marketing practices like Google Ads and Tim Soulo led Ahrefs success despite doing things differently.

How did Tim Soulo influence Ahrefs’ success? I’ll tell you after we talk a bit about who Tim is.

Who is Tim Soulo?

If you’re in marketing, maybe you have heard of Tim Soulo, but you definitely heard about Ahrefs.

Well, Tim is the underdog that made Ahrefs one of the top tools in the SEO industry.

He’s been Ahrefs CMO since 2015.

When he joined he was the first marketer in a team of 16, and in 2023 he helped the company cross the $100 million in ARR.

Before he joined Ahrefs he ran a personal blog called BloggerJet where he used to write about marketing, SEO, CRO, and more.

Even though he doesn’t write on his blog anymore, he still likes to spend his time sharing his knowledge publicly.

He constantly writes on his LinkedIn and X where he grew an audience of 27.754 followers, and 48.000 subscribers.

Why is he a B2B creator?

  1. Associates his personal brand with Ahrefs
  2. Not afraid to experiment
  3. Brings up new talent

A. Associates his personal brand with Ahrefs

If you simply look at his LinkedIn and X profiles, he has the same banner for both of them.

The banner represents him very well – a person who likes to share his knowledge.

But the banner also associates his personal brand with Ahrefs because you can see the little company logo in the right corner.

There is the title “Unconventional marketing” written on the banner which is what Ahrefs did that propelled their brands on top of their competitors.

Tim also uses his X and LinkedIn accounts to talk about Ahrefs new launches and new features.

The reason he does this is because he wants to create a connection between his followers who are interested in content marketing and SEO and Ahrefs.

In the beginning his favorite social media platform was X where he started sharing his thoughts way before 2014 since he created this article about how to get more retweets back in 2014.

On LinkedIn he started posting every now and then in 2017 and 2018, and in 2019 he started posting more frequently, and also started seeing more traction.

Now he publishes similar content on the two platforms.

Let’s take for instance the posts about Rand Fiskin who was a guest at Ahrefs Podcast.

He created a video post talking about who Rand Fishkin is and that he’ll be the next podcast guest.

On LinkedIn the post had 210 reactions, 30 comments, and 4 reposts, and on X it had 8.100 views and 52 reactions.

What I noticed is that Tim’s posts with high engagement on LinkedIn are about Ahrefs.

The post with the highest engagement had 8.963 reactions, 593 comments, and 132 reposts.

It was about Ahrefs hiring policy which states that every new marketing hire has to spend two months working in the Customer Support team to better understand the clients and the product.

The reason the post got so many reactions is because people had different thoughts about this process and started to share their minds which brought a higher visibility to this post.

Surprisingly, the same post on X, had a better reaction from the followers where most of them agreed to this policy and found it smart.

It had 95.500 views, 638 interactions, 58 saves, and 37 comments.

Another post that had high engagement on LinkedIn was about Ahrefs bootstrapped which had 2,763 interactions. 

And the last one in the top three was about new hires.

The reason for this is because Tim actually hired new people in his team, so he did not post on LinkedIn just to mention it.

All in all, we could say that Tim managed to connect his audience with Ahrefs, and he also became the face of the company.

B. Not afraid to experiment

Tim is not afraid of experimenting and the new things he tried had a great impact on the company.

It may come as a surprise, but Ahrefs doesn’t have Google Analytics installed, doesn’t do A/B testing, retargeting, or gated lead forms, and doesn’t have any sales person.

So what marketing strategies did they implement that helped them bootstrap Ahrefs to $100 million in ARR?

When Tim joined the company in 2015, he didn’t spend Ahrefs money on marketing like other companies did, instead he focused on the product-led marketing.

In an article, Tim says that “it’s hard to succeed in marketing if your product is awful. You should care about the product first; then, the marketing will almost take care of itself.”

The product-led growth refers to the strategy where the product is used as a primary driver for customer acquisition, activation, and retention.

So, Tim and the marketing team improved Ahrefs’ features and user experience together with the product and support teams.

Besides the product-led growth, Ahrefs also used the product-led storytelling, a term coined by Victor Eduoh.

Product-led storytelling is about educating your users on how to get the most out of your product using marketing channels like company blog, YouTube channel, and social media.

So what were some of Ahrefs’ unconventional marketing approaches?

If you want to deep dive into nine unconventional marketing strategies you can go ahead and listen to The Confessions of a B2B Marketer.

Out of all of them, I want to state some that I found really interesting.

1. Focusing on business metrics

In a world where every SaaS tries to remove friction from their trial signups, Ahrefs used to charge you $7 for their 7-day trial back in 2022.

The reason behind encouraging people not to start a trial it’s because Tim believed that “My theory is that people don’t sign up for your tool and then learn how to use it. My theory is that people first learn how to use your tools, and they sign up because they know how to use your tool”.

He also thought that the number of trials doesn’t mean much if they are not paying customers.

If people sign up for a trial over some pretty marketing you made, and once they’re inside you leave them on their own with little educating material, they won’t stay a customer for long.

With Ahrefs product-led storytelling they were constantly educating people on how to use their tool or make the most out of their Ahrefs license.

Ahrefs changes their trials and pricing over the years, but they still do things differently.

For example you can sign up for free for their Webmaster Tools (a Google Search Console competitor) and improve your website’s SEO performance and improve traffic.

The reason? They know some of their potential customers don’t have the budget to buy their product now, but they are willing to help them for free.

This makes you trust their company and will make potential customers consider buying their product later on once they will have a bigger budget.

2. Doing what your audience wants

Well you might say all SaaS are doing what their audiences want, but Ahrefs went that far to give up creating SaaS “best marketing practices” such as: Google Ads, lead forms, retargeting, churn follow ups, and so on.

Most of them were actually banned by Ahrefs founder so the marketing team had to adapt.

They could have kept these a secret, but because their business is doing well without any of the above mentioned they are not afraid to talk openly about it.

And the lesson is that you should not be afraid of how you do things and talk about it.

It may be helpful for others as well and if they agree with your statements, who knows maybe you’ll invent a new marketing strategy or coin a term.

3. Power of focusing

First of all, Ahrefs doesn’t bother creating content for different funnels since they are a product-led company.

All they care about is the business potential and spend their time educating their audience on how to do SEO with Ahrefs.

Furthermore, they have been in the market since 2010, but they did not write millions of articles about the same thing just because the market tells you that if you’re in a highly competitive niche you should have at least 1,000 blog posts.

They have 250 blog posts that they update any time one of them is no longer ranking on the first position on Google.

They are focused and don’t spend time on unnecessary things.

Since we’re talking about focus, I find it cleaver how Tim used his personal brand to get more attention depending on what was trending.

A few years back everyone was doing podcasts and conferences, so Tim spent his time joining as a guest to podcasts and as an event key speaker to discuss marketing and Ahrefs.

After the pandemic, he did not join so many and switched his focus posting more frequently on X and LinkedIn.

Same as Ahrefs focuses on quality content and SEO, Tim now focuses on spreading the word about Ahrefs and about his marketing knowledge on social media.

4. Ahrefs’ advertising podcast

Speaking of experimenting, this year Ahrefs just launched their podcast.

It’s a podcast where Tim interviews people from online business and digital marketing.

One of the reasons for this podcast is to make their audiences connect more with Ahrefs and to learn more about the people they also admire.

As Tim said in a X post, “most of the time I’m not their only “admirer,” which is how the podcast slowly grows an audience of listeners.”

So far the podcast has almost 6.000 subscribers on YouTube in just one month.

I am curious to see how fast things will escalate with their podcast, so I’ll keep an eye on it.

C. Brings up new talent

At Ahrefs, Tim did not hire people for specific roles, he and his team search for people who are smart and figure things out fast.

In his post on Medium, he says “All I need are people who are capable of getting important work done”.

When he was looking for new hires, he just posted about it on his social media accounts.

He did not post just to get the attention, he actually found people and hired them.

Such an example is Ryan Law, Director of Content Marketing which was hired by Tim and created a post to announce the new role and thank Tim Soulo.

In this article he wrote on Medium he gets into details on how he approached and hired the first people in his team.

But basically, he hired them based on the company needs not on the positions opened, prioritized the best talent even if remote, and focused on hiring people whose skills could help them figure things out.

What can B2B Creators learn from him?

1. The fairly unconventional marketing approach

If you want to build your marketing strategies based on what Tim did with Ahrefs, maybe they won’t all work, but there are definitely some things you can take from their unconventional approach that will help your company.

For example, think about how your business can benefit from the product-led approach and what are your values and beliefs as a company, and find a way to put a highlight on them.

2. Use your audience to bring people closer to your company

When you align your personal brand with your company’s brand you can reinforce your role as an industry expert and a representative for your company.

So, share stories, insights and updates from your company that you might think that your audience will find valuable and interesting as it will strengthen the connection between your audience and your company’s.

3. Be a talent magnet for the company

Take it from Tim and look for individuals who are smart, versatile, and capable of learning quickly rather than just filling a specific role.  

It will make your team more dynamic and adaptable to the constant marketing changes.

Plus, be flexible in your hiring process, and don’t limit yourself to hiring people from your city because you cannot always find talent in the backyard.

Final Thoughts

Tim definitely was the right fit for the CMO role at Ahrefs.

He perfectly adapted to the CEO’s unconventional marketing ideas, and even found ways to create even more out of the box strategies that led Ahrefs to be a strong competitor in the world of SEO tools.