Ahrefs creates a search engine and has already invested $40M in it

In March 2019, a founder of Ahrefs, Dmitry Gerasimenko, talked about working on an ambitious new project — a search engine that will give content creators 90% of the profits. His main goal is to make the market fair, given that 92% of it belongs to the giant, Google. The company promises to put together a working version of the search engine and begin closed testing as early as this year.

AIN.UA talked to Gerasimenko to find out why Ahrefs decided to create its search engine, what is the essence of its business model, and how it plans to compete with Google’s monopoly.

Ahrefs is a mini search engine

Ukrainian Dmitry Gerasimenko began working on the future marketing and SEO service Ahrefs in 2010. The company’s product portfolio now includes a set of different tools that together help tens of thousands of clients across the world (Facebook, Netflix, Uber, Ukrainian RozetkaMacPawReface are among them) to get more traffic from search engines. According to Tech in Asia, Ahrefs annual revenue as of July 2021 was about $100 million.

Dmitry Gerasimenko. Photo provided by the interviewee

“Ahrefs quickly became popular because it had unique data that SEO specialists needed,” Gerasimenko told AIN.UA earlier. Competitors updated their index once a month or even rarely, Ahrefs — every 15 minutes. Now the company’s crawler, AhrefsBot, indexes the Internet around the clock and is already the second after GoogleBot by activity on the Internet. The company says it indexes 30 million new pages every 24 hours.

Using the crawler, Ahrefs creates a digital library of information about web pages that stores data about active websites: how they refer to each other and what keywords they rank for in search results, as well as how these and many other metrics change over time.

The same principle works for search engines. In fact, the index created by Ahrefs is their miniature version, only for searching for links. On this basis, creating our own search engine seemed like a logical step.

The alternative to mercantile Google

Google earns $100 billion from its search engine annually, consistently remaining the market leader. “It is difficult to offer something different from the monopoly search engine because it is free and everyone likes it,” reasoned Dmitry Gerasimenko when thinking about the alternative version. Then the Ahrefs founder turned his attention to Wikipedia, which annually has to raise money from people who care about the project for its infrastructure. Then he found a niche where he could compete with mercantile Google — profit sharing. The entrepreneur believes that the only one that can be better than a free search is the one that shares profits with creators.

We want to reward the creators more fairly by letting people do what they love and earn their living from this. We expect that the first million users will confirm our expectations soon after release.

Gerasimenko publicly announced his idea to build a “fair” search engine in 2019 and began building a team at the same time. After a year of work, the pandemic changed Ahrefs’ ambitious plans. So, the company focused on the main product and released Ahrefs Webmaster Tools for those business owners and marketers who do not yet have the budget for professional SEO tools but need to sell through the site.

The team was able to get back to the development earlier this year. Now the company is working on a mobile version of the search engine for Android — design, branding, as well as actively promoting the idea of profit sharing. Soon, Ahrefs plans to have a series of silent launches, which will allow to build a working version of the product and prepare for closed testing. Ahrefs has already invested about $40 million cumulatively in the search engine project.

Business Model & Monetization

The main competitive advantage of the Ahrefs search engine over Google will be the profit-sharing model, in which 90% of profits will be paid to all creators, as well as the privacy of personal data of the users.

“Our search engine business model is designed to encourage valuable content creation. The 90/10 profit-sharing model rewards experts, independent journalists, and passionate people for their work and encourages them to produce high-quality content that will make up any search results page,” Gerasimenko explains.

Accordingly, Ahrefs will earn 10% from its search engine. The company will make profits through advertising and ad-free subscription plans. The entrepreneur marks that the advertising will be relevant to the user’s search queries. The search engine will not earn money from collecting and selling personal data to third parties — Ahrefs does not use third-party search indexes or cookies.

The company truly believes that the business model of its future search engine will revolutionize the search engine market: “When creators realize they can earn real money from an alternative search engine because their content is good and helps other people, there will be a real storm in the search engine market.”

And there’s a real reason for that. Before the company announced the project, Google ex-executives contacted Ahrefs. They wanted to explore the possibility of using the service data in the development of the search engine Neeva. It is fee-based, has no advertising, and its model is based on 20/80 profit sharing. Ahrefs rejected the future competitors. Besides, the company made sure that it was on the right track.