Ahrefs: Maximizing Podcast Sponsorships

In this episode, we chat with Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs, about the power of podcast sponsorships. Ahrefs is a leading SEO tool with about 75 employees and $100M in annual recurring revenue. Simply put, they’re one of the biggest brands in marketing.


Episode Summary

In this episode, we chat with Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs, about the power of podcast sponsorships. Ahrefs is a leading SEO tool with about 75 employees and $100M in annual recurring revenue. Simply put, they’re one of the biggest brands in marketing.

Tune in to learn why Ahrefs spent $214K in podcast sponsorships over the course of a year, how they measure ROI outside of direct sales and leads, how they use qualitative attribution, and so much more.


Name: Tim Soulo

What he does: Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs

Connect with Tim: LinkedIn | Twitter

Key Takeaways

If you’re looking to sponsor podcasts, make sure you pick shows with active audiences and credible hosts.

Make sure you’re not sponsoring a show with inflated numbers or a host who is simply doing this as a hobby for themselves and their friends. This is crucial to ensuring your sponsored message actually gets in front of the right audience and is worth your investment.

Podcast ads help you build brand affinity through the “mere exposure effect”.

The “mere exposure effect” is a psychological phenomenon where the more people are exposed to your brand, the more likely they are to develop an affinity for it. When the listener is faced with making a choice between your brand versus one not on their radar, they will choose yours merely due to the fact they heard about you numerous times on a podcast.

The best host-read ads come from hosts who’ve used your product.

When a host can give a more natural read of your product because they’ve used it themselves, the audience will listen more attentively because they already know and trust the host. Your goal is to partner with hosts who will genuinely recommend your product, regardless of whether you sponsor them or not.

Always negotiate sponsorship pricing.

Podcast sponsorship pricing is all over the map. The best strategy is to reach out to at least 20 podcasts, gather pricing information, and figure out averages before you commit to anyone. This will help you determine who’s pricing is above standard and who is undercharging so you can negotiate better deals for your brand.

Treat download numbers with suspicion.

It’s commonly known in the podcast industry that download numbers aren’t the most accurate representation of the number of listens per episode. When you consider sponsoring a show, make sure the host is well known in the industry. Look at their social following to ensure they have a loyal audience versus worrying about their monthly podcast download numbers.

Partner on a giveaway with the host in exchange for engagement.

You can offer the host a free version of your product to giveaway to their listeners, and in exchange, they can ask listeners to leave reviews or subscribe to their show. Not only will this get you extra air time at no additional cost, but it will increase the attention span of the listeners because they’re getting something of value for free.

Sponsor an interview question instead of a host-read ad for a more organic insertion of your brand.

Rather than paying for the typical host-read ad at the start, middle, or end of an episode, consider sponsoring an interview question instead. This will give you the opportunity to create a natural plug for your brand within the conversation and won’t break the attention of the listeners.

Convert hosts into brand advocates by offering them your product for free.

If you’re targeting hosts who are your ideal customers, offer them your tool or product for free for a limited time, help them set it up, and help them understand what it can do for them so they give you a more genuine endorsement on their show and continue to organically talk about you outside of your sponsorship agreement.

It pays to pay creators.

When you sponsor creators, you form relationships through the process of educating them on your brand. You pay them for their time and for their work, and if your product is good, you essentially turn them into organic fans. Meaning, even after you stop sponsoring them, they will naturally continue talking about you.

Think about sponsorships as paying for the creator’s work.

In 2022, Ahrefs is investing exclusively in creators versus big advertising companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Their philosophy centers around the idea of paying talented creators for their work, not their loyalty. Rather than investing in brand advocates, think about it as investing in a piece of work that would’ve otherwise not been created.



Tim Soulo: If you are spreading a message to an audience that should know are your potential customers, it can never be for you. It does help you in some way, maybe not in the very direct way that some people want it to be like, leads and customers. But it does help you.

Jeremiah: Hey, there, welcome to brands that podcast each week we talk with the people running podcast strategies at successful brands. So you can learn how to grow your company through podcasting.

Today's guest is Tim slow CMO at Ahrefs. For anyone who doesn't know age reps is a super powerful SEO tool that helps you audit and optimize your site. Improve rankings, find new keywords to target. See what content is performing best in your industry and a ton more it's used by brands like Facebook, Adobe, and Netflix to drive content and search strategy.

They have about 75 employees and it does from the best numbers I could find. About 100 million in annual recurring revenue as a bootstrap company, simply put they're one of the biggest brands in marketing. I really wanted to talk to Tim after learning that he and his team had spent close to $200,000 in podcast sponsorships in one year.

In our view podcast, ads or sponsorships are a really great way to make an impression on listeners quickly without needing to build your own audience or put in the hard intensive work to get booked as a guest. I was really curious to kind of results they saw and what they learned coming up from it.

In this episode, you'll learn how they spent $214,000 in sponsorships over a couple of years, how they measure ROI and it's not direct sales or lead. How they use qualitative attribution to learn the effect that podcasts were having on their business, how to craft a winning sponsorship, partnership insights for any brands who want to do this themselves and how they're planning on spending $200,000 a month on creators in 2020.

Okay, Tim, thank you so much for coming on brands, that podcast. I appreciate your time excited to chat with you about podcast sponsorship a little bit, and kind of your all philosophy around podcast sponsorship.

Tim Soulo: Yeah,

Jeremiah: absolutely complete honor to have you on anecdotally. We just signed up for Ahrefs at the end of last year and we are happy users.

I was a Moz customer for long before then and we had tested SEMrush and all the things and we love the user interface, user experience, the tools are just right for us. So if anyone out there is listening, give it a try. Okay. So I was compelled to chat with you for anyone who's listening. We're going to put a link in the show notes to a video that Tim and his team put out around their tests with podcast sponsorship, linked to an article and a video.

But in summary, you all got your start, correct me. If any of this is wrong, you started in 2017. You found five podcasts that seemed like a good fit to sponsor. You created a landing page with a special offer for that audience. You spent about $14,000 to get sponsorships and you tracked it all. And when you looked at all the metrics you have found, you had driven 339 site visits.

So that landing page 11 signups, which basically, you know, and you reverse engineer the math was $1,300 per trial sign up at a special discounted deal. So your takeaway at first glance was like, this is not effective. This is not a good channel to invest in. Yes. Just based off of that simple math, however, where I want to start the conversation is you said in the video that you put out that then it wasn't until at first you, your reaction was "Okay we don't want to sponsor any more." But then you went to some trade shows. And that's where people began coming up to you and saying, "Hey, you're sponsoring my favorite podcast. This is awesome. We're not in the market right now, but when we are, you guys are going to be top of mind." And that's when you had this light bulb moment that podcasting is not meant for direct lead acquisition.

Can you unpack a little bit about what you mean by that for marketers that are thinking of it the same way they would think about Facebook group?

Tim Soulo: Yeah, thanks a lot for referencing this story. Uh, it was really our first experience sponsoring podcasts, and I believe in 2017 in the digital marketing space, sponsoring podcasts was relatively new.

So it wasn't as common as today. We didn't have that many podcasts around. The sponsors, like whenever I was listening to some podcasts, I would hear just a few large companies that would advertise and I thought, okay, why don't we try it? And again, with all the obsession, with marketing analytics and such, which I kind of was going through back at the time, we definitely want to track it because if I wanted to get more budget from our CEO and founder Dmitry, I needed to prove that this is working because you can just throw money and hope it works. If you're a business. So the super interesting part of the story is actually the discount because historically Ahrefs doesn't give any discounts at all. So we decided that discounts make your product look worse because people will just expect discounts and they will think that paying full price for it is stupid.

If you can just find the discounted price and overall, it kind of undermines your work. Like what your product is so bad, you cannot sell it at full price? Or the full price is solely high or something. Like we're not a fashion brand that needs to release a new line of clothing every season. So they have to sell out whatever is left in their warehouses inside.

Otherwise there are no rats would eat it or something. So, yeah, we didn't have the problem. And we, we had a no discount, strict, no discounts policy, but for the sake of the experiment, I managed to persuade our founder Dmitry to do discount this one time and it failed. This is very interesting part of the story, because I know that if we just go to Reddit, so subreddit or like marketing subreddit and posts, that Ahrefs is selling packages and I don't know, 30% discount for the first six months, we will get many more leads from that then we got from sponsoring those five podcasts back in the day. So I think that the discount for people who were in the market for an SEO tool should have been a good trigger, but it wasn't, it wasn't. So. This is why we realize that for direct lead acquisition.

Like what else should we, should we tell people? We'll give you an iPhone if you sign up for Ahrefs? What would make them say that? So we knew those podcasts have an audience because we didn't just sponsor any podcast. That was our first time doing this. So I actually picked the podcast that I was listening to, that I knew that they have credible hosts.

They have great guests. They have very interesting episodes and I myself was among the audience of those podcasts. So we knew that they have listeners. I knew that people would hear our message, but no one was taking action. So, yeah, this is what we saw that probably podcasts advertising, people just don't care about your ad or something.

But then later as I was going to conferences and as I was meeting with people on the late back in 2017 Ahrefs wasn't that widely known in the SEO and marketing community. We we've grown quite a bit in those last five years. And this, I was meeting people and, uh, they were asking me, where do you work? Uh, I'm saying I working in, uh, at Ahrefs, an SEO tool, and they, oh yeah.

I think I've heard you on the podcast. So I don't need the SEO today, but I will definitely try it later. So yeah, that's basically the story.

Jeremiah: So that was the moment, I think you summarize it in the video as, the two main values you discovered was improving brand awareness and improving brand affinity. So you said you realized you were building affinity with people.

They were feeling the sense of like, oh, this company is providing our favorite show to us. So there was this sense of almost like not loyalty because they're not customers yet, but the sense of gravitation towards your tool, would that be fair to say?

Tim Soulo: Yeah. So, like I mentioned, I knew that those shows had an active audience and the credible host.

I think this is the most important part for anyone who is looking to sponsor podcasts. You have to make sure that you're not sponsoring someone whose numbers are inflated in any way, or like a person they're just doing it for like, I don't know themselves and their friends. So we knew that people would hear our message.

So then it depends if we're choosing the right audience. So if I would go and sponsor podcasts about, I know hiking, they're probably not in the market for SEO. So I knew that I need to choose the right audience. For us, these were website owners, online entrepreneurs, marketers, of course they were hearing our message.

So multiple things are at play here. One of them is the so-called "mere exposure effect." People who are not aware of it can search for it on Wikipedia. What this psychological thing says is that the more people are exposed to a certain thing or a certain brand in this case, the more they develop affinity for it.

So when they need to make a choice between a few options, and they've heard about one option before many times, while other options weren't anywhere on their radar, they would go for the option that they seem to know just with those fleeting mentions that they might hear on the podcast.

And then a lot depends on the message that the podcast host is saying and if they are themselves familiar with their product. Because it's one thing when they read a scripted message, like our show today is sponsored by Ahrefs, blah, blah, blah. It helps you with SEO. Uh, let's get on with the show. Or they might talk from their own experience. Like Ahrefs is a tool that I've been using for my own SEO for quite a while.

I've been recommending it to my friends. My friends were recommending it to me and it helps me get more search traffic. But what, so when it's more natural, people tend to listen more attentively. So when the host, when the person that those people trust, because every time they download the podcast episode and they want to listen, what's on the mind of this person.

When this person is giving almost like a genuine recommendation. I mean, the recommendation is genuine because they're using the tool is just, we're paying them for the time that we're taking from their podcast to talk about us. Otherwise, if a podcast host is already a customer, there is a perfect scenario.

So, yeah, uh, multiple things are here. People get exposed to our brand. The more they hear, the more the develop, the affinity, and we get associated with the host, a person that they know and trust. And overall, if you are spreading a message to an audience that you know are your potential customer, it can never be in any way to detrimental for you.

It does help you in some way, maybe not in the very direct way that some people want it to be like in leads and customers, but it does help you.

Jeremiah: I think that's one of the key things that I'm hearing you say and something we believe is if you know, the download numbers are there, you know, the type of people that are listening, you know, your messages getting out.

All you have to do then is say like, well, if no direct action is taken, do I still think it was impactful? And in what ways was it impactful? So I want to get to where you actually fast forward in a moment, I want to jump to where you spent $200,000 almost on sponsorships. Despite at first, what might've seemed like a failed experiment.

You realized that people are actually listening. They're resonating with the message. Even if it doesn't convert right away, you're realizing you're building this affinity and this brand trust. But for some practical takeaways for people, listeners like need to appreciate this. You did this really early. Like a lot of people are considering sponsorship now. 2017, not that many brands were sponsoring.

There were not nearly as many podcasts that have been developed in the past for. Did you choose all five based on ones that just, you were listening to? Like you were a fan of them. Okay. And how did you get their numbers? So you did this all internally, right too. You didn't hire like a podcast ad agency or something.

Tim Soulo: I did this all by myself. I reached out to those people. You mean the, do they get their numbers of downloads and such? Yeah, I was asking

Jeremiah: that you just said, can I sponsor this podcast? And, well, I'm curious, did they have, like, if I have found, if you go to like really popular blogs or like Instagram influencers or whatever, they have media kits and they're like, oh, we charge this much for this, this did the podcasters at that time, have pricing ready?

Or did you have to negotiate that with them and get numbers that they didn't offer you? This was

Tim Soulo: five years ago. I am not entirely sure in my answer, but I think none of them had any media kits. And they had to reach out and ask for prices and their download numbers and such. I also think that maybe one or two podcasts that we sponsored didn't even have any sponsorships before that at all.

So we were kind of the first people that they took us. But I may be wrong about this is just what my memory tells me. Yeah,

Jeremiah: yeah, no, totally understandable. And I think you said in the video, it ranged between five and 30 cents per download was like the number that it's somewhere arranged in there.

Tim Soulo: Yeah. I think that sounds about

Jeremiah: correct.

Okay. So then you anecdotally figured out what was a good fit. You were able to get them to share the numbers. You kind of agreed upon a price and then. You mentioned, I think you bought them in. Did you buy the sponsorships and packages or did you pay per episode or did you have a way of testing it or did you just kind of jump in and like commit to the ad spend?

Tim Soulo: So from our experience and we've sponsored quite a few podcasts so far in our space, I don't think there's a standard in the podcast sponsorship industry. Each host, each person would frame their pricing in different ways, whatever they think is correct. So the price per thousand listens, let's call it that, would be very different based on how the podcast host values their audience. So some might think our audiences like high profile business people, blah, blah, blah. This is why, even though the audience is not that big, I'm going to charge premium because they know these people have high purchase intent.

Also some people are dedicated to packaging their pricing and say, we're also going to promote it on social media. We're also going to send email newsletter, but on the other hand, I am paying to kind of tap into your audience. So if you are not sending your podcast episodes to your email newsletter, how do they know that a new podcast episode is out?

Because if you subscribe in the podcast app for a lot of episodes, uh, you kind of compete with many other podcasters and the less you get an email with the person you're following and they pitch, like, we had a great episode with this and that we discussed this and that. Yeah. It's one thing when a sponsored message is being included in the newsletter.

It's another thing when the podcast episode itself is being sent to their email newsletter. The terms vary a lot, the more podcasts you reach out to the more leverage you have, because between those people you start to develop the averages. And you know, if someone is trying to charge you way above the average, or if someone is charging you way low, but you usually don't tell them when they under prices

Jeremiah: themselves, but you kind of have that to anchor against.

So you can say, well, I've actually reached out to five other podcasts with the same numbers, and they're only charging blacks. Like you seem a bit high and you can kind of negotiate

Tim Soulo: exactly. This is why you shouldn't just pay whatever the first podcaster tells you. You should reach out to about a dozen and see like what's the average in your industry and then negotiate from there.

Again, you're not coming to, I don't know, Louis Vuitton store. I think they are known to not give any discounts or bargaining. You are talking to another person who wants to make money. So you can negotiate them. If they don't want to give you any discounts on the price, then you can ask for some, I don't know, extra tweets or an extra inclusion or their email newsletter, which in a way doesn't cost them much.

So yeah, you can be flexible and there's always room for negotiation. Unless of course they have a huge queue of people who are interested to sponsor their show, but you usually know it because if you reach out to them about sponsorship and they tell you, I'm sorry, like the first slot is six months from now, then you know that your negotiation tactics would be limited.

Jeremiah: Right. That makes total sense and something you shared, too, that was interesting to me was you made the point that even the download metric can't always be trusted because they like to give you this number. Like if you reach out to a show, they'll tell you, oh, this is how many downloads per month we get.

And they like to lump it into the monthly. But to your point, a lot of people, like if they're subscribed on apple, that downloads anyway, that doesn't mean that it listens though. Like, it doesn't mean that you're buying that many listens. So how did you think about that metric?

Tim Soulo: Uh, it's been quite a few years, but I feel that the podcasting is still a wild west in terms of working with marketers and sponsorships. Because back when I was researching downloads, yes, it's not only when your episode gets downloaded to people's phones. It is counted as one download. I think somewhere I was reading in one paper is that when collection breaks and it downloads like half of the podcast, and then you start listening and it, the loads, the other half, it will be two downloads.

So it's kind of per connection. I may be wrong about it, but I think I've read something about the downloads metric. I think if people would Google for how podcasts downloads are counted, they will see a lots of interesting. It also can be that if you have hype. IPhone and podcast type on your computer.

This could be three downloads because it downloads to each of your devices. So the, the, the loads metric is very sketchy. And when you reach out to podcasters and they give you the monthly number of the loads, rather than the loads per episode, and the specifically the latest episodes that. It gets even sketchier because what's the value for you in knowing how many podcasts, like hundreds of their previous episodes are getting per month.

If you're only going to sponsor your next episode and the exposure would be what is the, the load count of that average episode? And yeah, you should treat the, the loads number with a little bit of suspicion, because like I said, the loads doesn't mean, listen. It also applies to where your sponsorship messages at, because if the podcaster is only willing to talk about you at the end of the episode, then we have the drop curve.

When people start listening to the episode and the further it gets, the less people will get there. So the number of people that will hear your message at the very end of the show is even smaller. So yeah, I wish some standard would be developed where you would have precise analytics and then lots of people syndicate their podcasts to apple, Spotify for the fam.

And I believe there are many platforms that where you can syndicate your podcasts and each of them is generating a little bit of downloads for you and they believe there's some software that kind of show that can show you some aggregated. But still those numbers are very strange. So I would, first and foremost, I would look for people who are famous in their industry whole, or they have audience across a few social media platforms, because if someone is telling you that they have wildly popular podcasts, but then you check their Twitter following, you check their LinkedIn following or Instagram and there's like crickets there. Then they're podcasts downloads are probably not as good as they might want them to be, because if you have a huge audience that are listening to you, I am sure that a fraction of this audience would go and follow you on Twitter would go and follow you. And it's like, look at Joe Rogan.

The guy has like, anywhere, like whatever social network, if you would post something on tick-tock you would immediately get like hundreds of thousands of following there. So, yeah. Look at some other social networks as well, to validate that you're speaking to a person who really has a large audience.

Jeremiah: That's such a good tip because there's so many metrics that they could pool.

And one of the points you made in the video, people really need to watch that is that it also depends on the platform like that. The listener is listening to like how they aggregate downloads and listens and stuff. So, yeah, I love that tip to check out the rest of their platforms. So you all went on, despite this, once you realize that there was this affinity and brand awareness, I'm curious, what was the conversation like with Dimitri?

Because for those people who don't know, and haven't watched a video, you all went on to spend $200,000 in sponsorships, the following year from 14,000. So what was that conversation like? Although you couldn't tie exact direct revenue back, how did you kind of get buy in to go do that?

Tim Soulo: Uh, that's a great question.

And they don't think my answer would be any valuable for our listeners because I think, uh, Dmitry our CEO and founder, he inherently understands marketing, that's the first thing. I think he can see when something is BS or when something has potential to work. And like I said, she perfectly understands that if people have large audience or tuning in to listen to them, we can identify who these people are.

It makes sense. So ask these people to sponsor these people and to make them talk about our tool in terms of budget itself. Dmitry is, uh, he bootstrapped Ahrefs. So there's no venture capital involved. He is the only owner of the company. So he doesn't need to report to anyone and double check his decisions.

And given that our marketing spend, basically, since I joined, was relatively low for the company of our size. I mean, back in 2017 and 2018, the entire marketing department was four or five people and we didn't spend money on ads that much, we promoted our content a bit, but our paid traffic budget was, I don't know, maybe $5,000 a month or something.

And that's for the company that was making $50 million per year.

Jeremiah: That's

Tim Soulo: crazy. Our marketing was so organic. We were getting so much free traffic and our lead flow was basically all free. That Dimitri didn't really have any problems to allocate some budget, to start promoting us in places where otherwise it is very hard to get organic mentions because if, if bloggers are talking about SEO and they're writing articles about SEO, essentially all we need to do is, uh, create useful tools that they would want to talk about.

Create use cases that they would want to share with their audience. Uh, in terms of podcasts, when people are talking about online business, it's not always that they will talk about SEO because there are too many other things that they could be discussing, uh, along the lines of their business. And to make sure that we participate in this conversation, there is the message about Ahrefs.

Uh, you have to pay people, even though we do get quite a few organic mentions in the podcast in different podcasts. It is still not as many as we would have wanted it to be. So, yeah, I was in a very unique position. I don't think many companies are experiencing such a big incoming amount of free leads.

Inbound leads are getting leads and, uh, they are not venture backed. And the founder understands how marketing works and supports the initiatives just based on the fact that they make sense.

Jeremiah: Yeah. So the first tip for anyone listening is if you can't get by and go work for someone who understands marketing, and then you can get buy in for the things that you want to do, how did you choose the podcast for the $200,000 spent?

So you listened to the viewer, a fan of the first. Were you a fan of all the rest of them are at that point, did you kind of like apply sort of a bigger framework for what you would go find?

Tim Soulo: I won't play smart and they wouldn't say that we developed some sophisticated system. This was honestly a hit and miss. Looking back I think that the right strategy would be to first reach out to as many podcasts as we can to understand their audience, to understand if the host is even familiar with Ahrefs, because what you figured out is that when the host is already a user of your product are familiar with their product, the message gets so much better.

And when people sign up for Ahrefs, we have a small field, "where did you hear about us?" Uh, and many people will actually put the names of the podcast hosts. So they actual podcasts where they heard about us. Uh, so we, we do like track it in some way we can compare if we sponsored some very big podcasts and this super small podcast, uh, we, we might see how many people would mention, uh, the host of the podcast while registering for each.

So, yeah, I wish we would reach out to many more podcasts first to create that spreadsheet and to outline those different things. Like how much does it cost? How many downloads do they get per episode? How many episodes they released per week? That is also important because if someone is posting every day, then not every one of their listeners is tuning in.

If someone is posting like once a week, I think that's the better schedule. But, uh, yeah, we can debate about that and then. Yeah, how much does it cost? And like I said, if the podcast host is already a fan, and then by comparing those metrics and variables, we would pick the best ones, the lowest hanging fruit.

But in our case, we were reaching out to two or three podcasts in a row and negotiating with them and simply not sponsoring if someone has exorbitant prices or, or wasn't interested in, or like their audience wasn't a bad fit. So yeah, we didn't have a good strategy back then, but I would suggest people to reach out to at least two 20 different podcasts before choosing the first one to sponsor.

Jeremiah: It makes a ton of sense. And I imagine another metric you might want to look at is does that pricing. Uh, beginning ad or mid roll ad, or is it like you said before, like, is it at the very end, which if you had to choose a or B and B as, at the very end, you'd want to choose a, if it's a mid-roll ad and the price is the same in the downloads or the same.

Tim Soulo: Yes, yes, absolutely. One other hack I don't remember if it was mentioned in any articles or videos, which we wrote. But we came up with a hack that we can offer, uh, the podcast host to give away our tool on their show in exchange for engagement. So for example, a lot of podcasters, they want their audience to leave reviews, or they want their audience to tweet about the episode to spread the word about it.

So what we said is that we can give you a no three accounts or one account annually. Uh, and you can give it out to your audience in exchange for whatever you like. So it's up to you what would be the conditions of getting the account that they were usually asking for reviews of their podcasts or for tweets for some kind of engagement that will actually benefit them?

And for us, for the price of one annual account, we were getting about 90 seconds of extra airtime on their show. And also the attention of people was higher because it's one thing when you're listening to the show, when you just don't care about the sponsorship and they just want to listen to the meat of the podcast.

It's another thing when you are presented with the chance to get something valuable for free. So you listen carefully. Okay. So they're the sponsor and the, I can get it for free. So what is it? It's an SEO tool. Okay. Ahrefs, it burns into your mind, the idea, the brand and what it does a little better if there's an opportunity to get it for free.

So that was a little hack that we developed, but then we had to let it go because similar to our policy with discounts, we realized that creating giveaways of our software also kind of undermines it in a way. It's as if we are desperate to get leads. So we have to give it out for free. So right now we have a no discounts policy, but for any early stage company that needs to get traction on the market, I would definitely recommend when they're sponsoring podcasts, do a giveaway.

It gives you extra air time, extra time. For no additional cost in dollars. And actually right now we came up with another heck, I'm going to share it with the listeners. So again, instead of doing the beaten sponsorship message, blah, blah, blah, this podcast episode is sponsored by dah, dah, dah. They do this and that.

Okay. Let, let's go on. What we are now trying to do is pitch two podcast hosts, a sponsored question. So as they're talking with their guests, Uh, we would say so instead of doing a regular ed in your podcast, let's come up with some interesting question about SEO and the call it a question from our sponsor, anything about this show and then just in the flow of conversation.

They can literally ask their guests if they're using a or not, not a big problem with they're not using it's fine. And then they can ask them a question about SEO and frame it as a question from the sponsor. So you get a very natural plug of. Into the actual podcast and you get people, you don't break the attention of the people because when the ad starts, some people will, they will hit like fast forward 30 seconds to skip it.

I usually do that. Yeah. I knew that too. But if you hear that, it's a question from the sponsor and sponsor is Ahrefs. And so the question is about SEO. When you like quickly chat with your guests, if they are doing SEO, if they're using Ahrefs and all that, This is a sponsorship message, that it is hard to skip because it's part of the conversation.

So that is what we're studying right now.

Jeremiah: That is one of the most clever ideas I've ever heard. I've talked to a lot of people now at these brands, and I love this idea. This idea could be adapted in so many different ways, but what a clever, uh, so have you begun testing that yet? Has any like sponsored question?

Tim Soulo: Not yet. So we just started offering, because I don't think all of the podcasts hosts will agree to that, but we'll see, because we just started offering that. You can call it $200,000 idea because we didn't have it before we spent that much money on podcast sponsorships, lots of the same to get bored of it and start thinking creatively to figure out what else can you do?


Jeremiah: it's an expensive. One thing I want to talk about is crafting the actual message. So like you said earlier in the interview, you mentioned, and this makes a ton of sense to me. Like when I listened to ads, I would say probably one out of five. I listen to a lot of shows. So probably one out of five that do ads, the host actually uses the product and doesn't do an ad read.

They just authentically pitch it. And they're like, I love this and here's why. Do you have any tips for getting the host to try the product so they can do a more hearty, natural read and really believe in it. Does this involve like less scripting and more just giving them bullet points or letting them try them?

Like, what does that look like? How can people listening who want to do this get hosts to give a more natural endorsement versus just like, I'm going to read a script and get paid my money?

Tim Soulo: Other than offering them to. It's not a trick, but the way to get the whole talk about you naturally, the only way that I see is if they would use the product themselves, do they need your product?

Are they the target customer? If they are, which in our case, if the host has, I know a marketing agency, or if they have a website where they want to grow their traffic, Or if they own the company and they want to grow traffic to the company and they need our tool, then it is easy. They are either already using our tool or they're open to explore it and get almost like a free consultation.

You jump on a 30 minute call with them, you plug their website into your tool and you show them the stuff that it can do for you. So whatever tool you have, if you think that the podcast host would benefit from using it, just give it to them for free for like a limited period of time. I don't know, depends on your tool. Help them set it up, help them understand what it can do for them.

And that's it. If it would be useful for them, they would absolutely talk about it naturally without any scripts. And they would give a genuine endorsement. If they don't need the tool, there's nothing you can do. There is no way to persuade. They're just, it's like trying to sell something. A person doesn't need to that person.

Uh, you cannot do this. So, which is why I am saying that you have to reach out to at least 20. And give preference to people who already know you or use you, or at least offer them. Like, if you want to learn more about our software, it can actually be useful for you. It can do this, this and that. We can jump on that like 15 minute call.

I can show you how I can improve. I don't know. Your productivity, your website, traffic, your lead flow, your website, design, whatever your tool does your team communicate? Uh, if they would be interested to try it, you should definitely connect with them and spend that extra time to help them set it up.

Because again, you don't just think if the box of the single podcast sponsorship. You should think about them starting to use your tool and becoming a genuine advocate. And then you will get quite a few free mentions, whatever the context is, right. They would mention your tool, even if you're not paying them, because you already gave them your tool for free.

You taught them how to use it. They feel this personal, extra connection with your company. Because they, they're not just a random person who signed up from the website and never connected with any people in your company. You reach out to them, you show them everything, you help them set it up and it is working for them.

So other than those sponsorship messages, you can pretty much expect that they would give you a shout out on Twitter. Or if a friend asked them for a tool that does this, they would say, oh, like, these are great guys. They connected with me. They set it up for me, blah, blah, blah. So don't just think about the ROI you'll be getting from the call in terms of the podcast sponsor.

I think that you are making a person with a large audience, your brand advocate. Yeah,

Jeremiah: man, that is such a good insight. I think it's so wild to think about because you could pay for five sponsorship spots at a show. Maybe someone from the sales team spends an hour or two with them, feels like you're bending over backwards that you're not going to see.

But if they end up actually driving more traffic with Ahrefs, they're going to mention you for years to come. If you're their favorite SEO tool and you won't be paying for that anymore, you got that for paying for five spots and putting in a little bit extra work upfront, such good insight. My last couple of questions here is.

W you mentioned the attribution. So this is something we've added to our site is a required field, but it's just an open form. And just says, how did you hear about us? I think this is super important. I think your video had a screenshot of this, but you all do similar. And so if someone says, like I heard about you on the Pat Flynn podcast or something.

Does that connect to your CRM? So you can actually see like signups or close deals or anything, or you just kind of, it doesn't go that far, but you just get a good sense of where they're coming in.

Tim Soulo: It is ad hoc, usually whatever we feel, we overpaid for something, uh, we would then go and see how many mentions of the person or the podcast we got after the episodes go out. And if we feel that we didn't get as many mentions compared to some other people we sponsored who were cheaper but looked like they have a similar sized audience, we understood that our intuition didn't lie to us and we overpaid. So usually we don't even look there because we use all those other signs to identify if a person has a large enough and relevant audience, and then comparing to all other people in our Excel spreadsheet. We can see if we are paying the right time of money, who's sponsoring them. But once in a while, we will definitely wait. So it usually happens at the extremes. So if we overpaid or if someone is a huge fan and we listen to how they plug Ahrefs and they're doing an incredible job, you naturally want to eat feeds into our slack.

We have like a separate channel for lake registrations. You mentioned, we want to go to the channels, like do a search for that person's name and see. How did their message resonate with, with their audience in terms of the registrations that we've got, whatever something stands out or like, I know goes down how to say it.

We would go and check the, the amount of registrations, but we don't methodically track it all the time for every sponsorship.

Jeremiah: Okay. That makes a ton of sense. All right. Getting to the last couple of questions I want to respect your time. This has been super helpful. Something we say a lot is be the content, not the ad for the exact reason that you said, which is if people get familiar with the ad in this specific show, they just like, oh yep.

Here it comes in the middle add rate. Fast forward. I'm curious about this. I don't know. Is there such a thing as a sponsored interview, like you mentioned a sponsored question, is it possible that you could ever like sponsor and get Dimitri on or like you on a show? Go on and talk to, or have you not come across anything like that?

Tim Soulo: Definitely. Well, they are not common. Let's say this. Okay. If this is a quality show, They wouldn't have you just because you're paying the money. If someone is asking for money to feature you on their show, it's a bad sign. From my experience, it's a bad sign. So I had one show when I had to pay to appear there while I was getting lots of inbound invitations to come to someone's show and talk about marketing.

I wanted to get on one relatively famous show. And I pitched them and I realized that they're not taking any free guests at all. It was okay. I'll try to pay money and see how it goes. And the experience was horrible. Basically, they made me fill out a questionnaire with like five or six questions that I want to be.

And then when I connected with the host, I never heard from them ever since up until the call and whether we connected over the call, the host was asking me those questions, word for word, he was basically reading them from the doc. And that was even a little bit taken aback because they didn't expect that the guy would be asking me the questions in, in the exact way as I was wording them, because I was hoping that I will provide kind of the general direction of what we could talk about this specific question.

So it was very awkward. This was the only show, uh, when I had to pay, but I also had inbound invitations. Do we want to come on our podcast? I was like, okay, so the prices are like this, sorry. No, usually when this is a good show, you cannot get there just by paying your way. And if you do, from my experience, that doesn't work well.

Jeremiah: Okay. Okay. I can't believe that that's a thing that people would like reach out to you. And then be like, okay, but if you want to come on at cost this much, and like, you just have to answer these questions, they frame

Tim Soulo: it really. I cannot say nicely, nicely. It's a bad fitting word there. You can just say the word nice. I, in regards to that, but they frame it in a way and this small. We are only looking for sponsor guests. So if you're interested, you can review our, I know media heater, blah, blah, blah. So it takes you a few seconds to realize that they're actually want money from you. So they're not as blunt. Like if you want to come pay money, they kind of frame it in a way where it feels less upfront, but I don't know, still feels like.

Jeremiah: So my last few questions, are you planning to sponsor any shows? Are you currently are planning to sponsor any shows in 2022?

Tim Soulo: So actually I'm not sure if you've seen this or not, but in December early December, we have announced that we are reallocating our monthly paid traffic budget away from big companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, where we usually promote our stuff, because this is the platforms where almost every performance marketer goes to, to promote their stuff.

So our monthly budget for those platforms is around $200,000 because we are a pretty big company at this point. In December, we decided that we are going to take it away from those big companies and put it in the hands of individual creators, podcast people among them. So just in December alone, we spent $200,000 sponsoring, not podcasters only, but just people who have audience. Those could be people who have audience on Twitter. Those are people who have email newsletters, people who have blogs and podcasts. Of course. So in December alone we spent $200,000 on this campaign. We reallocated our regular paid traffic budget.

And then 2022. Yes. Uh, partnerships and sponsorships is going to be one of our biggest spending items in our marketing plan, uh, because they feel that it does pay to pay to individual creators. You form relationships in that process, you educate them on your brand, on your product and the process. So basically while otherwise those people are too busy to learn about your product and what you do while otherwise, if they will, they would get excited about this.

You can pay for their time, and essentially if your product is good, if you have some value to give, you can turn them into your fans. So, what we've experienced is that oftentimes even after we stopped sponsoring a person, that person keeps talking about us naturally. And this doesn't mean that, okay, this person is talking about us naturally, so we're not going to sponsor them again.

No, we are going to sponsor them again because they will talk more. So this is an interesting kind of dilemma, which we discussed in our team. If we're paying people to talk about that, How do we make sure that they won't stop if we stop paying? So it feels like a very transactional relationship. What we figured out is that we're not paying people to talk about us and to be our advocates, but we're paying people for their time.

So it's one thing if you're recording your podcast episode and you're just casually telling your guests that Ahrefs is a great tool and you've used them, blah, blah, blah. You have just the natural conversation. It's one thing. It's another thing where we ask you to create a Twitter thread with your best tips of Ahrefs and share it on Twitter because you wouldn't otherwise do it because why, and then you're getting paid for it. We pay you to create content. We pay you for your time. You pay it, you post it same with videos. We were sponsoring some YouTubers. It's one thing if you already have a channel about marketing and you casually mentioned some Ahrefs functionality, because it's almost impossible to talk about SEO and not mention something from Ahrefs.

It's another thing when we ask you, can you please record the video about this featuring Ahrefs? We're going to pay you. So what we decided that we're paying for is not for loyalty or being our brand advocates, but for their work, but for their work, creating something that they wouldn't otherwise create, because it takes too much time and attention from the other stuff that we have.

So that is more or less our strategy.

Jeremiah: Right, right. That's brilliant. I cannot wait to see some of the results from that. I'm sure you'll put out articles and videos about it. I'm going to check out. We'll have to link that article in the show notes. I did not see it. I'm curious to dig in more about why you're allocating the ad spend away from those big platforms, but I love it.

I love.

Tim Soulo: It's just one tweet and we've got a massive support from the community. We've got lots of people tack they're like, you should sponsor this person. You should sponsor this person. We've got tons of retweets, tons of likes. And then we also translate this way because we started doing a little bit of Spanish marketing and we launched the, almost a brand new Spanish Twitter account.

And our Spanish guy translated that tweet into Spanish and almost that Twitter account. Tons of engagement then collected with tons of people from Spanish marketing space. So it was a very, very good initiative for us to connect with people and start forming those partnerships.

Jeremiah: That's so incredible. I cannot wait to follow that and see what happens.

My last question is you've been on the sponsorship side of the shows. Have you considered it all? Is it in the plans at all that you'll ever, I'm kind of waiting for an Ahrefs like SEO podcasts to roll out at some point. Do you have any plans for it to, or not?

Tim Soulo: We are definitely talking about it for quite a few years now, but because our company vision is to do things in the highest quality possible right now, we just don't see how to make the kind of show that would stand out from everything else, like massively stand out..

So, which is why we don't want to launch a show that people will say, yeah, it's good, but it's no better than the other shows. We want to launch something that would be unique, original that's in the core of our marketing. We want to come up with something new. So, so far we didn't have, uh, no, we did have some ideas on how to make an absolutely unique show.

Something that hasn't been done before, but it required too much preparation. And, uh, too many people involved that we backlog this idea for later. And maybe once we grow our marketing department a little more, we'll be able to afford, uh, throwing a few people at this idea and seeing what we end up having.

Jeremiah: Okay. Makes a ton of sense. It's been exciting to see like what HubSpot is doing, just purchasing existing podcast to build a network, which is pretty unique. Like I've seen, I'll be speaking with Drift soon, like Drift and Salesforce are doing some exciting things where they're creating a podcast for each ICP that they're targeting, but this idea of purchasing existing podcasts and adding it to a part of a network is interesting.

So I figured you all must have ideas somewhere in that room, so it'll be cool to see what you come up with in the coming year. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, Tim, I'm going to let you go, but thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been incredibly valuable for anyone at any company who's looking to sponsor shows.

Thank you so much for your time.

Tim Soulo: Thanks a lot for inviting and thanks for asking super smart questions. It's been very interesting to answer them and I hope the listeners got some tips for themselves and will have more confidence about using podcast sponsorships as one of their marketing.

Jeremiah: Yeah, I'm going to break all these things out.

We're going to share them all these tips on our social accounts and stuff. These were amazing insights. So thank you. Sounds good. Thank you. All right.

Thanks so much for checking out this episode. If there's a company you'd like us to interview or a question you want us to answer on the show, just let us know. You can ask us at BrandsThatPodcast.com or DM or tag Lemonpie on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. And if you want to reach your audience on podcasts, that they're already listening to be sure to check out lemonpie.fm.

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