Spending $800K on Marketing Ideas: Lessons Learned

We spent over $800,000 on marketing campaigns
with zero tracking and zero expectations for ROI. Was it a waste of money? Let's find out… Starting with this Google ads campaign where we
spent around $16,100 to try and earn backlinks. Because backlinks help a page rank higher in
organic search, we wanted to test if you could Earn these backlinks simply by paying your
way to the top of the search results with ads. To test this, we bid on keywords that were
relevant to our content and noindexed these Articles so the only way to find
them would be through our ad. We let the ads run and monitored backlinks
to these pages using Ahrefs' Site Explorer. And in total we got 101 backlinks from unique
websites which works out to a cost average of $159.31 per referring domain. Not bad. But only 36 of these backlinks were actually
good, bringing our cost average for decent Referring domain to $446.94. Not great. This is the short version of the story. We actually have a video that shows exactly
how we ran this campaign and how we got Links for as low as $49.17 per 
referring domain. Link in the description. Now let's rewind back to 2020. This was our homepage. It's about as standard as you can get and not
much changed on this page for close to 5 years. It was time to redo it. Now, there wasn't anything wrong with
the page, but we wanted to add some Personality and rethink our messaging. So we actually hired not one, not two
but three different copywriting agencies. Each agency went through a few weeks
of market research, dozens of customer Interviews and several Skype calls. And after they'd done their copywriting magic,
hey sent us mockups of what they thought Would portray Ahrefs in the best way possible. And in total, we spent around $33,000
for their services. Now, an interesting thing that happened is that
all three home pages were drastically different. As such, we didn't choose a single agency's
work as the so-called "winner" because they All made great points. So our team kind of "Frankenstein" our
current homepage together which we were

And are still pretty happy with. Now, if you think 33K for a homepage
is a lot, wait until you hear about our $52,000 podcast experiment. Now, $52,000 on podcast ads might
not sound like a big bet, but in 2018, Podcast advertising wasn't exactly
popular – at least in our niche. Plus, there really wasn't much information
around it so we were kind of going in blind. Here's how our journey began: we started
by sponsoring five podcasts, which cost A total of $14,200. From these ads, we got a total of just
339 pageviews and 11 trial signups. That's basically the equivalent of $41.89
per click or $1,290.91 per lead. [You can't be serious!] It was then that we discovered how foolish
it was to expect a substantial ROI from cold Ads to a complex product like Ahrefs with a
30-second pre-roll ad in a 30 minute podcast. In fact, the results were so bad that we
almost pulled the plug on the campaign. But something that Tim, CMO at Ahrefs
discovered was that people would frequently Tell him at conferences and meet-ups that
they heard about Ahrefs… yeah, you guessed it, On a podcast. It was then that we realized that podcast
ads were more a tool for gaining exposure And brand awareness rather than lead generation. So we spent another $37,775 on
round two of our podcast ads. And in total, we sponsored six more podcasts. And we didn't even bother tracking clicks or
sign-ups because what's another 40 grand? Now, podcast ads are just one way
that we've sponsored creators. In December 2021, we moved our Google
and Facebook ads budget of around $200,000 To support and sponsor creators in our space. Now, before I tell you the details about
our ad spend, some context is due. We've all gotten used to a model where 
search engines and other ad platforms Earn more revenue from content than the
creators themselves, which is arguably unfair. And if you know anything about Ahrefs, then you
know that we've created our own search engine, Yep.com, from the ground up so than we can
give 90% of ad revenue to content creators. So reallocating our ads budget to
sponsor creators made a ton of sense. So what does 200k buy you? Well, we sponsored 72 videos, 108 podcast
episodes, 138 newsletter issues, 11 standalone Projects and events, 9 sponsored blog
posts, and 7 social media campaigns.

Now, something that I thought was super cool
about this project is that for 11 of these creators, Ahrefs was their very first sponsor. Again, we didn't try and measure ROI or
clicks for these campaigns so I can't share That information with you. But to give you an idea of the amount of work
that's involved to run these, I can tell you that Our partnership manager, Igor, sent around
2,000 emails and had around 20 hours of Zoom calls to make this all happen. And he's continued this effort throughout 2022
where we spent an additional $400,000 or so on Creator sponsorships. Now, in addition to individual creator
sponsorships, we also spent around $100,000 in conference sponsorships in 2022. And this only accounts for the actual
sponsorship fees to organizers. So no airline tickets, hotels, or swag
were accounted for in this number. So based on these marketing activities alone,
we spent roughly $838,875, which excludes Salaries and other expenses. Now, old Sam would look at these campaigns,
roll his eyes a few times and ask… where's the ROI? But new Sam, who's now worked at Ahrefs
for over five years has three takeaways. #1. When possible, make your
marketing campaigns multi-purpose. So as a company that sells software to marketers,
pretty much all of our marketing experiments and Campaigns can be turned into case studies. This is a type of content that's harder to replicate
and our customers love hearing about them. Let's take our podcast ads experiment for example: If we expected to get at least $52,000 back
from our 52K in ad spend on podcasts, It would have been a great failure. But we wrote a case study on this project
which got hundreds of backlinks. It was shared by influential people in our industry. And it also led to Rebekah getting some
of her own airtime on industry podcasts. Plus you just heard about the experiment
if you didn't already know! This kind of secondary brand exposure makes
a lot of our marketing ideas actually worth Trying because if the results are sub optimal,
at least we still get content from it. PS. We're hiring. Takeaway #2 is to accept that
ROI is not always trackable. Take our conference sponsorships for example. Let's say we created a special landing page and
used campaign parameters to track the so-called

‘effectiveness' of our presence at a conference. Now, if someone signs up from that special
link, can we really say that they signed up Because we sponsored the conference? Maybe they had a conversation with another
attendee who had been a lifelong customer. Now, what if three months passed by and
then they signed up through that link? Do we know any other interactions that they
had with our blog posts, with our videos, Social content or organic mentions
from others in the industry? What about our backlinks experiment? What is the ROI of a backlink? The bottom line is that attribution
is kind of a nightmare. And if we're just counting touchpoints, we're
at best guesstimating the value of an activity. I love data just as much as any other marketer
but making assumptions based on bad data Will most likely lead to bad decisions. So I guess lesson 2b is that common
sense can sometimes be the better bet. Alright, the next lesson I learned is
to spend on things you believe in. As cheesy as this may sound, spending on
things you believe in just as we had done for Creator sponsorships and events,
gives more meaning to a campaign. In fact, it almost feels weird to call it a "campaign"
because things like ROI are no longer the focus. Now, the marketing dollars that went into
these campaigns pales in comparison to What we put into our product-led content 
marketing efforts which we've been pursuing Heavily for over 5 years. If you want to see how we use product-led
content marketing to grow our business and How you can do it too, then watch our tutorial on
product-led content which will walk you through Our process step-by-step. I'll see you there.

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