Ahrefs Review: How-To-Use (& How-We-Use) Ahrefs For SEO
Ahrefs (pronounce: h-refs) is one of the most complete tools for SEO & content marketing. You can check, monitor, and track backlinks; see your competitor’s top keywords, keyword rankings over time, and their ‘superfans’; find low-competition topics, broken link-building opportunities, local citation opportunities, and dead internal links; see which of your pages and your competitor’s pages get the most organic traffic; find which keywords your competitors rank for, and you don’t; fill content gaps in existing content. (And so much more).
To sum up, “Ahrefs is an SEO tool that helps you to grow your search traffic, to research your competitors, and to dominate your niche”.
Note: at some point in the article you will see numbers (numbers of backlinks, numbers of organic traffic volumes). Keep in mind that the numbers Ahrefs uses are estimations, not exact numbers.
One of the best ways to grow your search traffic is by growing your backlink profile. You can get ideas of which pages to collect backlinks from, by spying on your competitors’ backlinks. Enter your competitor’s (blog) URL in the ‘Site Explorer’ bar, and go to ‘Backlinks’ under the ‘Backlink Profile’ section. To only view the dofollow links, set a filter for ‘Link Type’.
Now go through the list and check the links pointing to your competitor’s pages. One of the backlinks they got, redirects to their ‘indoor plants’ article - something we just wrote a blog post about on our own website, too. By clicking on the linking domain, I see that the site links out to various other sources already; a page about plants that boost productivity, that cleans the air, and so on - perhaps, it would consider linking to our blog post as well.
(a) Find backlinks using ‘best by links’:
What you could also do, is head over to the ‘Best By Links’ tab, under the ‘Pages’ section. Here you’ll find which of the pages on your competitors' websites received the most backlinks. If that post is doing so well, maybe you could write a similar blog post about it.
(b) Find backlinks using ‘link intersect’:
Another way to find backlink opportunities is by using the ‘Link Intersect’ feature (you’ll find this at the top menu, by clicking ‘More’). With this tool, you can find the domains that link to your competitors.
Whereas a site linking to one of our competitors won’t say much on itself, a site that links to 3 of our competitors' sites but not to our site, is a missed opportunity. If they’re willing to link to these competitors, they might probably be willing to link to ours too.
In this feature, you have to write down at least two websites in the ‘Show me who is linking to these domains or URLs’ section. To see which of the domains do not link to yours, you write your own URL in the optional ‘But doesn’t link to’-field.
Any data you can find on Ahrefs about your own site, you can find about your competitors too. See what they did well, did not do well, and learn from that. Find what their weaknesses are, and take advantage of that. And the same goes for their strengths; just ‘copy them’ (if it works for them, it may work for you too). By learning how your competitors are doing, you can develop an even better marketing strategy for your business.
To do a competitor research, you first have to find out who your competitors are - your SEO-competitors. For this, you fill our own website URL in the Ahrefs Site Explorer tool, and head over to ‘Competing Domains’ on the left, under Organic Search. (If you are trying to rank for a single keyword, unlike e-commerce stores or blogs, you may also search for your main keyword on Google Search and consider the top 3 to 5 as your competitors).
Now analyze each one of those. What you’d want to know, is (1) their domain rating and number of referring domains, (2) their backlink growth, and (3) organic traffic volumes and featured snippets. For this, you can use the Quick Batch Analysis feature (at the top in the Ahrefs tool, click ‘More’, ‘Batch Analysis’).
(1) Domain rating & referring domains:
When a website has a high domain rating (DR), it means it has a strong backlink profile. The DR score is given on a scale of 1-100 (in which 100 is high), and is based on the number of websites linking to that domain + their backlink profile strength. Referring domains show the number of unique referring domains to the website.
Let’s say our furniture website has a DR of 65. Looking at our analysis, we see that 3 out of our 5 competitors have a higher DR compared to ours - meaning, our website should definitely focus on increasing content creation and link building.
Besides that, we check the number of referring domains each competitor has - and especially, we’re interested in the number of dofollow links. A dofollow link is a backlink that passes link juice to yours, and results in a higher page rank; a nofollow link on the other hand, is also a backlink but does not bring any SEO value to your website. (Keep in mind, both dofollow and nofollow links are important to your site).
A high number of referring domains usually shows that a site is a strong site. However: use the number of referring domains always in combination with the DR. If the DR is low but the number of referring domains is high, it may be that the site has a lot of low-quality, spammy links directing to the site. (You can investigate the links a site gets by clicking on ‘Referring Domains’, in the menu on the left. Further explained below).
(2) Backlink growth:
Next thing we want to know is how many backlinks our competitors gained on average, per month. We do this by checking each competitor individually; add the URL to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and hit the enter button. Take a look at the ‘Referring Domains’ graph on the overview page, and set the time-frame to one year. Move your cursor from the end of the graph (take the number you see), and to the beginning of the graph (again, take the number you see). Subtract these numbers, and divide the amount by 12. Now you’ll know the average number of links they gained per month.
Do this for all your competitors. Knowing how many backlinks your competitors get on average per month, you can set your goals and aim for beating your competitors in their backlink-earning speed - but don’t just blindly follow your competitors.
When you see that a competitor has a sudden, short-time spike in backlinks it could mean a couple of things. It could be the result of a seasonal PR campaign, for example. But it could also be a spammy backlink effort. That’s why it’s important to check and focus on competitors that show a moderate but persistent increase in backlinks. To deep dive into the types of referring domains one competitor gained during that seasonal spike, go to ‘Referring Domains’ > New, and select the date range you want to investigate.
(3) Organic search volumes & featured snippets:
Your competitors try to rank for the same keywords as you do. But which keywords bring the most traffic to their websites? That, we can view in the Organic Keywords tab, under ‘Organic Search’ on the left.
- For ecommerce: here you’ll mainly discover which keywords of products or product categories your competitor is ranking for, is bringing in the most search traffic.
- For blog posts: here you’ll mainly see which keywords of topics your competitor wrote a post about, is bringing in the most search traffic.
- For service providers: here you’ll mainly see for which service-related keywords your competitor is ranking, that are bringing in the most traffic.
Are there keywords you haven’t thought of before? Non-branded keywords we could be targeting too? Keywords that we could also mention on the homepage, and keywords that we could be writing a blog post about? (Make sure to exclude the branded keywords, as that’s not something we would want to rank for: in the field ‘exclude’ write your competitor’s name and click ‘any target’ where you deselect ‘URLs’).
While researching your competitor’s organic keywords, also check if they have any featured snippets. (With a featured snippet, you can steal (on average) 8.6% clicks from the first organic listing).
The number behind the country flag shows the number of featured snippets they have in that country (in the UK: 604 featured snippets, in the US: 95 featured snippets, and so on). Clicking the number behind one of the flags, you’ll find which keywords show as featured snippets in that region.
In the Ahrefs keyword tool you can fill your keyword (or multiple keywords at once) in the search box, and the tool will give you a lot of insights in return. Here you can further investigate the keywords in terms of keyword difficulty, average monthly search volumes (by region or globally), click-through rates, return rates (how often the same person searches for the keyword, within 30-days), and more.
Let’s say we added a new product category to our collection and opened a page for it: sofa beds. On Ahrefs, we will try to find keywords that we’d want our new page to rank for. How do people search for sofa beds online, how many clicks do these keywords get a month, and is it easy to rank for? That and more, you can easily find out with Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer.
To get keyword suggestions, go through the tabs in the ‘Keyword Ideas’ section on the left. Here you can find (1) phrase match: search terms that include your exact keywords (for example, ‘pull out sofa bed’), (2) having search terms: similar to phrase match, but does not care about the word order (for example, ‘sofa corner bed’), (3) also rank for: pages that rank for ‘sofa bed’, also rank for these keywords, (4) search suggestions: keywords suggested via autocomplete, that include your keywords, (5) newly discovered: keywords that entered the Ahrefs database recently, (6) questions: question-based search terms regarding your keyword (for example, ‘where to buy a sofa bed’) - or view everything at once, by clicking the ‘all keyword ideas’ tab.
If you already have a list of possible keywords you would like to target, you can also write them all at once in the keyword explorer tool (separate keywords by comma). Rather than doing individual keyword researches, you’ll get to see all keywords and keyword suggestions in one overview - making it much easier to identify keyword opportunities.
You can use the keyword planner to explore keywords on Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu, Daum, Naver, and Seznam.
(a) Low competition keywords based on KD:
Ideally, the search term you want to rank for has a high search volume, and a low keyword difficulty. The keyword difficulty (KD) says something about how difficult it is, on a scale of 0-100, to rank in the top 10 with that keyword.
To find these high volume, low difficulty keywords you can set a filter. For example: KD of max 10, and a minimum of 500 searches per month for the volume.
Seems like ‘chair bed’ is a good keyword to consider - a keyword with a monthly search volume of 12K, and a difficulty of 5. Meaning, we only need about 6 backlinks from websites to rank in the top 10 *. (You can get information on how many keywords you’ll need to rank in the top ten, by clicking on the keyword and going to the ‘Overview’ section).
* the numbers Ahrefs uses are estimates, not exact numbers. The average monthly search volume may be higher or lower, and it may take more or less backlinks to get into the top 10.
If you have a topic in mind but not sure what to write about it, the ‘Content Explorer’ tool from Ahrefs can help you out. Ahrefs is just great as it will (1) save you lots of time in coming up with a content idea to write about, and (2) you will be sure to drive traffic to your site. (If you do not have a topic in mind yet, check your competitors’ organic keywords and see what they rank for).
So having a furniture store, one of the topics we want to cover with a blog post is about indoor plants. What you then do, is to go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and enter your topic. After you hit the search button, you get to see an overview of the ‘pages over time’. This table shows the number of pages published each month.
Seems like there is an upward trend for pages about indoor plants published, and at the moment there are already 42+ thousand pages about this topic - great, I’ll sure get some content ideas from here.
What I now do is further filter the results. I only want to see the posts that brought in a minimum number of organic traffic per month; let’s say 500 visits to start with. By clicking ‘+ Add filter’, I select ‘Organic Traffic’ and write 500 in ‘from’. After this filter, 732 published pages are remaining*.
* the numbers Ahrefs uses are estimates, not exact numbers. There may be more or less published pages.
To score well in a non-competitive setting, you can set the maximum number of referring domains. Do this by clicking on the ‘+ Add filter’ button, click ‘Referring Domains’ and fill 5 at ‘to’, for example. Now you’ll see the pages that reach an organic traffic volume of 500+ a month, with only 5 backlinks or less*. By creating better content and obtaining slightly more backlinks, we should be able to outrank those.
* the numbers Ahrefs uses are estimates, not exact numbers. The traffic volumes may be more or less, and the backlink numbers are not complete (simply, because Ahrefs does not have unlimited crawl budget). To find new backlink ideas - ideas which are not shown by Ahrefs - you could also use Google Analytics or Google Search Console (view section 12 in our Google Search Console guide, to see how and where to find the backlinks (or, external links) report).
What I so far understood from my research, is that the lists-posts are performing well. By creating a similar piece of content that’s up-to-date, more engaging, includes more insights, better images - and by building more backlinks to it - we should be able to outrank those existing pieces. (How to build backlinks to it, you’ll find below).
(a) Low competition content ideas based on DR:
An additional filter that you could add, is the ‘Domain Rating’ filter. By setting the filter of DR to be lower than the DR of your own websites, the number of ‘Referring Domains’ to 1, and the organic search traffic at a minimum you want to reach, you’ll get a list of content ideas that you quickly could outrank.
For anything we want to know about a website and its SEO, we go straight to Ahrefs. It’s a tool that helps us to find new content ideas, new keywords to target, gives us a clue of how we’re doing SEO-wise compared to our competitors - and lands us on new ideas to beat our competitors. Seriously: we couldn’t do without Ahrefs anymore!
Ahrefs offer four different pricing plans. To test the tool first, you can buy a 7-day trial for $7. The trial will give you access to all the features.
- Lite: $99 a month
- Standard: $179 a month
- Advanced: $399 a month
- Agency: $999 a month
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