Welcome to our AMA with Ryan Law, Director of Content Marketing at Ahrefs.
Ryan is one of the very best content marketers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He's the Director of Content at Ahrefs and still writing all kinds of good stuff. He's also released courses on How to Write Thought Leadership and How to Edit. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
I saw that stat and thought about it a bunch!
Something i have to remind myself (a lot) is that i am a content marketer surrounded by other content marketers, and usually marketing to other content marketerswe spend all our time thinking about this stuff, and after a few years, i think we all get pretty tired and jaded with the foundational parts of content - like writing for search and I think about our marketing at Animalz - our "thing" was basically that we were the content vanguard, the people right at the edge, seeing the cool trends as they appeared, thinking about thought leadership and media content so SEO seems dead to us - but all of us are really the bleeding edge of the bleeding edge and for the vast majority of businesses, SEO is going to be the type of content that pays their bills, and stuff like gen AI is just serving to reiterate that for whatever part of the market hasn't cottoned on yet
It has been super interesting joining a company that (unsurprisingly) cares a LOT about search. It's a super mature operation too, tons of great articles generating tons of traffic, and there is really very little low-hanging fruit. My approach hasn't changed, in the sense that i was probably hired very specifically for my approach. I think my goal is basically: how do we reconcile a huge powerhouse SEO operation with content that is actually interesting?every SERP Ahrefs cares about is contested by half a dozen huge brands, and those few new opportunities we find are virtually guaranteed to be contested in short-order, so if anything, I care less about building a moat at the strategy level (finding topics, keywords, etc) and more about building a moat at the article level (how can we execute on this idea in such a way that other companies can't compete? How can we bring something new to the table, something hard to copy?)
It's fun: i started out in content as a die-hard skyscraper SEO writer, pivoted 180 at Animalz into thought leadership, and now i'm trying to smush those two concepts together in a way that doesn't feel contrived or cost too much
I have many many manyI think i am just very tired with people thinking that they can write helpful content purely by reading other content marketing articles on the same topicthere are so many easy ways to create information gain: quick social media polls, interviews, reading non-marketing resources, collecting data, running experimentsi understand why people do it, and i used to do it myself - but we need to strive for better.
Personally, i think content gating is a hangover from old school "demand gen" playbooks and its last holdout is big enterprise companies that a) thrive on "concrete" performance data, even when they know it's nonsense, and b) are big enough to survive the inefficiencies it brings (i.e. losing prospects b/c no-one likes content gating)
I basically think that as soon as another company is willing to give away the thing you want to lock behind an email signup, content gating is done so there's an arms-race to provide value, and the most generous company will probably win.
You can justify it a little more if you're willing to create some best-in-class original data research report, but for most companies, you'd be better served just publishing the thing and trying to generate as much brand awareness as possible from it.
I am probably not the best person to talk about data-driven content (and one of the reasons I joined Ahrefs was their ethos to content attribution: they don't bother. They know it works!)
My personal belief is that if you need to worry about content attribution, then your content marketing probably isn't working very well. At every company i worked at (and with) that had a great content marketing operation, the impact of content was totally undeniable - everyone knew it and felt it.
If people need persuading of the value, if you spend a ton of time trying to back into ROI figures, I'd almost rather spend that time working out how to improve the content operation such that becomes unneccesary.
Something i learned fromthough was the importance of collecting qualitative feedback and treating it almost like quantitative data: count the number people that mention your blog posts on sales calls, save social media posts that use the language you coined in your writing, etc.
Good question, probably some combination of:
When i was job hunting, i specifically focused on jobs where i could keep writing. I've realized over the years that that's the part of the job i really enjoy, and I never want to give it up! Thankfully it was easy to find companies willing to accommodate it, because:
I think because Ahrefs has taken such a product-led approach to content (we generally only write articles that have a clear and obvious tie-in to the product), a lot of our content is basically agnostic to SMB/enterprise.
In the sense that most of the core processes, technologies, workflows, etc. we've written about can usually be useful for individual people at both stages. keyword research is largely keyword research.
That said, we did recently start an enterprise-specific line of content: https://ahrefs.com/blog/enterprise-seo/
My 2c, these articles offer largely the same core advice in terms of process, but they are framed slightly differently and sometimes focus on slightly different nuances.
tl;dr - i think we write largely about problems, processes and people, and there is a lot of overlap for those between SMB/enterprise.
I actually just shared some of my absolute favourites in this article: https://ahrefs.com/blog/content-marketing-examples/
Some stuff i love in particular:
Personally, i care more about each writer doing a good job at bringing out their own sense of voice and personality than i do thinking about brand voice.
It's probably a bias of mine from working with smaller/less corporate companies (although many animalz's customers had very detailed style guides that we had to adhere to).
As long as we mention product names consistently, we use screenshots in a consistent format, etc., i pay very little attention to brand voice.
I like the idea of brand being a composite of the personal brands of its employees.
I use ChatGPT and Midjourney/Dalle literally every day:
And the obvious omission there is "long-form writing". i think you can, totally, 100% write functional, rankable SEO content with AI very very quickly.
(And i have, for some personal projects: i built a website for my brother-in-law, a carpet fitter, and wrote ~40 pages of content for it using AI)
But the company i'm at now, the type of content i'm focused on, it's not so much the writing that matters as the idera, the research, the hook and angle. so i don't use it much for that.
Honestly: in-house has been simpler and easier so far.
There is so much added complexity at an agency, so many problems in addition to the actual content marketing part.
Few people that come to mind: