Ahrefs: The Definitive Guide

Ahrefs: The Definitive Guide

This is a complete guide to Ahrefs.

In this new guide you’ll learn everything there is to know about this popular SEO tool, including:

  • Key features
  • Real-life use cases
  • Advanced tips
  • How Ahrefs compares to similar SEO Tools (like SEMrush)
  • Lots more

So if you want to get the most out of Ahrefs, this guide is for you.

Let’s jump right in.

Ahrefs – The definitive guide

Chapter 1: Intro to Ahrefs

Chapter – Intro to Ahrefs

What is Ahrefs?

Ahrefs is an SEO software suite that contains tools for link building, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking and site audits. Most of the features inside of Ahrefs are designed for marketing professionals.

In short: Ahrefs is a popular SEO tool that people use to get higher Google rankings.

What is Ahrefs Used For?

Ahrefs is mainly used to analyze a website’s link profile, keyword rankings, and SEO health.

Ahrefs – Backlinko overview

You can also use Ahrefs to conduct keyword research for Google, YouTube, and Amazon.

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer

And many people use Ahrefs to find content that’s performed well (in terms of social shares and/or links) on a given topic.

Ahrefs – Content explorer

When Ahrefs first launched in 2011, it was mainly a tool to analyze a site’s backlinks.

Ahrefs – Old homepage

And its feature set has grown A LOT over the years. In fact, I’ve been an Ahrefs customer since 2013.

Ahrefs – Backlinko account history

Over that time I’ve seen Ahrefs grow from a link analysis tool into a fully-featured SEO suite that now competes head-to-head against Moz Pro and SEMrush.

Today, Ahrefs is mostly used by:

  • Small business owners that do SEO for their own websites
  • SEO agencies that work with multiple clients
  • “In house” marketers that run marketing for their employer’s site
  • Affiliate marketers that run several different sites
  • SEO consultants that advise clients on their SEO strategy

How Much Is Ahrefs?

Ahrefs’ pricing depends on the plan that you choose. And whether you go with monthly or annual billing.

Here’s a breakdown of Ahrefs pricing.

Ahrefs pricing table

While Ahrefs doesn’t currently offer a free trial, they do have a 7-day trial for $7.

Is Ahrefs Better Than SEMrush?

I recently wrote a review that compared Ahrefs vs. SEMrush.

Backlinko – Ahrefs vs. SEMrush post

So if you want a deep dive into how these tools compare, I recommend checking that out.

But the short answer is that I prefer Ahrefs over SEMrush. Both tools are excellent (in fact, I subscribe to both). But I like Ahrefs’ UX a lot more. Otherwise, the tools are very similar.

With that, here’s a quick breakdown of how Ahrefs compares to SEMrush:

Ahrefs and SEMrush compared

To be clear: this guide isn’t an Ahrefs review. But a lot of people ask me if I like Ahrefs or SEMrush. So I wanted to quickly answer that here.

Chapter 2: Ahrefs Terms and Metrics

Chapter – Ahrefs terms and metrics

If you use Ahrefs for more than 30 seconds, you’ll notice that the tool contains A LOT of different terms and metrics.

(Like “UR”, “Ahrefs Rank” and “CTLDs distribution”)

And, to be honest, Ahrefs doesn’t do a great job of explaining what these things mean in plain English.

For example, they describe Domain Rating as: “the target URL’s backlink profile on a 100-point logarithmic scale (higher = stronger).”

Huh?

So before we get into all of Ahrefs’ key features, it’s important to learn how to “speak Ahrefs”. I’ll also translate any technical stuff into easy-to-understand terms.

Common Ahrefs Terms

Here’s a breakdown of the terms that you’ll run into as you use Ahrefs.

URL Rating (UR): The link authority that a webpage has. Calculated as a combination of the quality and quantity of backlinks that point to that page.

Domain Rating (DR): URL Rating applied across an entire site (this is basically the equivalent of Moz Domain Authority).

Anchors: A breakdown of the most commonly-used anchor text in a site’s link profile.

Referring Domains: The number of different unique websites that link to the page or site you’re looking at. A high amount of referring domains correlates with higher rankings in Google.

CTLDs Distribution: A breakdown of a site’s links by top level domain (.com, .edu. .de etc.)

Ahrefs Rank: A worldwide ranking of a site’s link profile. Like with Alexa ranking, the lower the number, the better the link profile.

Parent Topic: The broad topic that a keyword falls under (for example, “link building” falls under the Parent Topic “SEO”).

Traffic Potential: The amount of traffic you’d get if you ranked in the #1 spot for that keyword.

Keyword Difficulty: How hard (or easy) it will be to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword.

Also Rank For: A list of keywords that the top 10 results also rank for (for example, pages that rank for “content marketing” might also rank for “what is content marketing”).

With that out of the way, let’s get into the features!

Backlink Profile

To look at a site (or page’s) links, just pop a homepage or page URL into “Site Explorer”:

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Backlinko

And you’ll get a dashboard with info on that site’s backlinks, metrics and organic traffic.

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Dashboard

(More on that later)

To deep dive into that site’s link profile, hit “Backlinks” in the sidebar.

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Backlinks menu

And you’ll get a full list.

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Backlinks

If a site has a ton of backlinks, I recommend going to “Link type” → “Dofollow”.

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Dofollow filter

That way, you don’t have to sift through tons of semi-worthless nofollow links.

For example, my site has 196,849 backlinks.

Ahrefs – Backlinko backlinks

But if you only look at dofollow links, that number drops to 163,629.

Ahrefs – Backlinko dofollow backlinks

Still a lot of links. But it’s a lot easier to manage.

I usually also hit the “One link per domain” or “Group similar links” button here.

Ahrefs – Site explorer – Filters

That’s because, most of the time, you don’t want or need to see every single link a site has. It’s more to get a general idea of WHO links to that site and why they link to it.

And when you add the “One link per domain” or “Group similar links” filters, you get that information… without having to sift through as much noise.

So:

Now that you have a complete list of a site’s dofollow backlinks, what can you do with this information?

What You Can Do With This Report

Here are the two main things you can do with the Ahrefs backlinks report.


1. You can find pages that link to your competitor… and that might also link to you.

For example, when I looked at the links pointing to Ahrefs.com, I found this page:

Smashing Magazine – Technical SEO article

And when I look at the page, I can see that it links out to lots of different websites:

Smashing Magazine – Article links

(Specifically, websites that write about technical SEO)

So if I had an article on my site about technical SEO, I’d want to pitch my post to the person that runs the page.

Rinse and repeat this process until you’ve gone through your competitor’s entire link profile.


2. You can use their link profile to get an idea of WHY people link to that site.

For example, let’s look at Moz’s link profile:

Ahrefs – Moz backlinks

I notice right away that a good chunk of their links point to studies that they’ve published on the Moz blog:

Moz backlinks to studies

So if I wanted to get links from these same sites (which I do), I just learned that original data and research is a great way to do it.

Now that you’ve seen a site’s overall link profile, it’s time to start digging deeper into the data using some pretty cool Ahrefs features.

“Link Intersect”

This is an awesome feature that not that many people know about.

Here’s how it works:

In the top navigation hit “More” → “Link Intersect”.

Ahrefs – Link intersect – Menu

Then, put two or more competing sites into the fields:

Ahrefs – Link intersect – Input sites

And voila! You get a list of sites that are linking to all of the sites you put in.

Ahrefs – Link intersect – Results

Why is this helpful?

Well, if someone links to one of your competitors, it doesn’t tell you much. It could be because they have a relationship with that particular site. Or maybe they got lucky.

But if a site links to THREE of your competitors (and not you), this shows that they have a tendency to link to websites in your niche.

And if you use the same approach that your competitor’s used to get their links, they might be willing to link to you too.

Best By Links

“Best by links” = pages on a site that have the most backlinks.

And I can tell you from experience that this is one of the BEST features in Ahrefs’ entire toolkit.

I’ll explain with an example.

A few years ago, I put Moz into Ahrefs and looked at the “Best By Links” report.

Ahrefs – Best by links – Moz

And I saw something that shocked me.

A good chunk of Moz’s most linked-to pages were huge ultimate guides.

In fact, their 2nd most authoritative page is their Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

Moz – Beginners guide to SEO

This page had more links than their free SEO tools, their popular blog… and tons of other pages that I thought would have more links.

In fact, this single page has 114K backlinks.

Moz – Beginners guide to SEO – Backlinks

(That’s more than most entire websites have).

That’s when I realized: “I need to publish more definitive guides!”

And a few months later, I published my first big guide: “The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research”.

Backlinko – Keyword research guide

And it was a huge hit!

To date, this guide has 4.45K backlinks from 1.47K domains:

Keyword research guide – Backlinks and referring domains

In fact, a lot of the sites that linked to Moz’s guide now also link to my keyword research guide:

Ahrefs – Link intersect – Moz vs Backlinko

This approach works so well that I’ve started to double down on definitive guides.

Backlinko – Definitive guides

Which is one of the main reasons that our organic traffic has grown by 19.92% over the last 8 months.

Backlinko – Traffic increase

And it all started from the insight that I got from the “Best by links” report.

“New” Backlinks

This feature gives you a list of sites that just linked to your site (or a competitor’s site).

Ahrefs – New backlinks

Why is this helpful?

Because it shows you link building opportunities that are working right now.

For example, here’s an old backlink to my site:

Backlinko – Old backlink

I got that link 5+ years ago. You MIGHT be able to also get a link from that page.

But as time passes, it’s less and less likely that person is going to go back to an old page and add a link. Plus, SEO techniques change all the time. Specifically, strategies get overused and no longer work.

Which means that it’s entirely possible that the approach I used to build that link no longer works.

On the other hand, here’s a link that’s only a month old:

Kyliesaunder – Backlinko backlink

The person that wrote that new article is going to be MUCH more receptive to adding your link vs. someone that published something 5+ years ago.

Bottom line? “New” backlinks can help you identify fresh link building opportunities that you can tap into right away. They also help you see what’s working best in terms of link building right now.

“Lost” Backlinks

Lost backlinks is just like it sounds:

You get a list of pages that used to link to you… but recently removed your link.

Ahrefs – Lost backlinks

This is helpful for “Link Reclamation”… or getting lost links back.

For example, I recently lost this link:

Cision growth hack article backlink

Well, if I can find out why that person removed my link, I can sometimes get that link back.

That said: it’s normal to lose links. Sometimes scraper sites will delete a page. Or someone will update a post and remove your link because it’s no longer relevant. The idea here isn’t to obsess over lost links. Instead, use this as a way to get legitimate lost links back.

Note: Sometimes Ahrefs will show “link removed” even though the link is still there. So make sure to look at the page to confirm that your link was actually removed.

Chapter 4: Keywords Explorer

Keywords Explorer

Keywords Explorer is Ahrefs’ keyword research tool.

And it’s legit.

Why?

Because it gives you INSANE amounts of data on each keyword.

It’s like putting a magnifying glass (or a microscope) over a given keyword.

And in this chapter I’ll show you how to use Ahrefs for keyword research.

Keyword Overview

When you enter a keyword into Keywords Explorer, you’ll notice a bunch of cards above the fold:

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – Overview

This is the “Overview” section that gives you a high-level overview of the term that you just searched for.

If you’ve ever used a keyword tool before, most of this stuff (like search volume and keyword competition) should be familiar to you.

Keyword difficulty and search volume

This overview is helpful when choosing a keyword for SEO… or quickly deciding between two different keywords.

But what makes Keywords Explorer unique is that you get to also see a keyword’s “Return Rate” (how often people search for a keyword more than once):

Ahrefs – Search volume – Return rate

Number of clicks:

Ahrefs – Number of clicks

Percentage of people that click on paid vs. organic results:

Ahrefs – Paid vs organic clicks

And “Clicks per search”:

Ahrefs – Search volume – Clicks per search

Why is this stuff important?

Or, put another way: what’s wrong with just looking at a keyword’s search volume?

Here’s the explanation:

As you’ve probably noticed, Google has been adding more SERP features to the results every year.

Things like Featured Snippets, “People also ask…” boxes, additional ads, video carousels, and more.

Thanks largely to these new SERP features, according to Sparktoro, “no-click searches” are up significantly compared to last year.

Sparktoro – Data on no-click searches

Which means you can’t just go by a keyword’s search volume anymore. You also need to know how many people actually click on the organic results. Because in many cases, these two numbers are completely different.

For example, take a keyword like “Mount Everest height”.

According to Keywords Explorer, that term gets 4.5K searches per month.

Mount Everest height – Monthly searches

But those 4.5K searches only result in 763 clicks.

Mount Everest height – Clicks

Which is why many SEO professionals now focus more on “Clicks” over traditional search volume.

Keyword Ideas

This is a list of keyword ideas based on the seed keyword that you searched for.

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – Keyword ideas

In my opinion Keywords Explorer isn’t great at generating new keyword ideas. It tends to pump out simple variations of your seed keyword:

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – Similar keywords

But if you want to find long tail versions of your keyword, this feature isn’t bad.

Plus, you can hit the “All keyword ideas” link in the sidebar:

Ahrefs – All keyword ideas menu

Which sometimes bubbles up a handful of interesting keywords.

How to get backlinks – Keyword

SERP Overview

At the bottom of the page you’ll see information on the pages that rank in the SERPs for the keyword you’re looking at.

First, you have “SERP History”.

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – SERP history

This is a breakdown of how the rankings have changed since Ahrefs started to collect data on that term (this starts in 2016 for most keywords).

That way, you get some context around how pages have come and gone from the first page.

You can also see how much the results tend to fluctuate over time.

As you can see above, the keyword “link building” has been pretty stable over the last 3+ years.

(And it’s been super stable over the last year).

But if you look at a keyword like “creatine”, the results are all over the place.

Ahrefs – SERP history – Creatine

Why is this helpful? Well, if you see a SERP that hasn’t budged over the last 12 months, the chances of you coming in and mixing things up is pretty low.

(Unless you have a super authoritative domain)

On the other hand, if you come across a volatile SERP, that means that Google hasn’t found 10 results that they like yet. Which means you have a chance of cracking the top 10.

In addition to SERP History, Ahrefs also breaks down the 10 results based on Domain Rating, URL Rating, number of backlinks and more.

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – SERP overview

This is your typical SERP breakdown for SEO. The only interesting feature here is the “Top keyword“ column.

SERP overview – Top keyword

This shows you the keyword that brings that page the most organic traffic. In most cases, it’s the keyword that you’re analyzing. But in many cases, you’ll uncover a keyword that you wouldn’t have even thought of searching for.

For example, when I search for “SEO tips”, literally 10 out of the 10 results all have “SEO tips” as their top term.

SEO tips – Top keyword overview

Not super useful.

But when I search for “how to do SEO”, I get a list of top keywords that I may not have otherwise found.

How to do SEO – Keyword overview

Keyword Research For Other Search Engines

Ahrefs’ keyword tool now supports a bunch of different search engines.

Like most keyword research tools, you can search for keyword data for a bunch of different countries (like Germany and the UK).

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – Country option

But you can actually use Keywords Explorer for different search engines, including:

  • YouTube
  • Amazon
  • Bing
  • Yahoo
  • Yandex
  • Baidu

So if you do SEO for any of these non-Google search engines, you’re covered.

Keywords Explorer Mini-Case Study

Overall, Keywords Explorer has become one of my go-to keyword tools… especially during the later stages when I’m deciding between different keywords.

Let me walk you through a real life example.

A few months ago I was debating whether or not to target the keyword “SEO Audit”.

And to help me decide, I popped that keyword into Ahrefs.

Ahrefs – Keywords explorer – SEO audit

This single page gave me pretty much everything I needed to make a decision.

Specifically, I looked at the keyword search volume:

SEO audit – Search volume

(Which, at least according to Ahrefs, is more accurate than most other tools on the market)

And in my industry (B2B), 4.8K searches is pretty solid. So that was a good sign.

Next, I saw that the keyword difficulty was 61. And that I’d need backlinks from “134 websites” to rank in the top 10.

SEO audit – Keyword difficulty

So the keyword was competitive. But not insane. Another positive sign.

Next, I looked at “clicks” and “clicks per search”.

SEO audit – Clicks and clicks per search

And these two metrics told me that 91% of people that search for that term ultimately click on an organic result.

SEO audit – Organic clicks

Another great sign.

Then, I saw that the average cost per click for “SEO audit” was $19.

SEO audit – Cost per click

This told me that this keyword has strong commercial intent. In other words: people that search for this keyword are likely to convert.

And based on those numbers, I decided to create this post optimized around “SEO Audit”:

Backlinko – SEO site audit post

Chapter 5: Organic Keywords and
Organic Search Traffic

Chapter – Organic keywords and organic search traffic

This super helpful Ahrefs feature scrapes millions of Google results to see who is ranking for what keywords.

And when you enter pretty much any domain or URL into Ahrefs, you can see the exact list of terms that they rank for (and where they rank for them).

This allows you to quickly size up how your site compares to the competition.

You can also use it to keep tabs on how your own site is doing (the data updates so often that I basically use it in place of traditional rank tracking).

Let’s break down this useful feature in detail.

Organic Keywords and Organic Traffic

Ahrefs’ “Organic Keywords” and “Organic Search Traffic” features reveal all of the keywords that a domain ranks for… and how much search engine traffic that site is getting right now.

Ahrefs – Backlinko organic keywords and traffic

You can also see how these metrics have changed over time with this nifty chart:

Ahrefs – Organic traffic and keywords charts

How accurate are their organic traffic estimates?

Well, I decided to run a little experiment. According to Ahrefs, my site brings in 303K visitors from Google every month.

Ahrefs – Backlinko organic traffic

The real number (according to Google Analytics)? 342K.

Backlinko – Monthly organic traffic

Pretty close.

To be honest, there isn’t much actionable stuff you can do with this data. It’s more to benchmark where a site is compared to your site or other competitors.

The real value comes from the complete list of keywords that a competitor ranks for:

Ahrefs – Organic keywords report

You even get an estimate of how much traffic they’re getting from each term:

Ahrefs – Organic keywords traffic

So if your site has a similar Domain Authority, you have a good shot to rank for these keywords too.

In many ways, this shortcuts the entire keyword research process. Instead of typing a bunch of random keywords into a tool, you get a site’s entire keyword profile presented to you.

Traffic Value

This underrated feature shows you the approximate value of all the traffic a website gets from search.

Ahrefs – Backlinko traffic value

The higher this number, the more valuable the traffic is.

Why is this important to pay attention to?

Well, it’s one thing to get 1M visitors per month from Google. But if most of that traffic comes from keywords with little-to-no commercial intent, then it’s not super valuable.

On the other hand, if a site only gets 10k visitors per month, but that traffic is made up of people with strong buyer intent, this will show up in the Traffic Value report.

In fact, I tend to pay more attention to my Traffic Value number than anything else. As long as that’s going up, I know that the quality of my search traffic is increasing.

Example of How I Used This Feature to Find an Awesome Keyword

As you may know, my site is in the SEO and digital marketing niche.

And because my site has been around for 6 years, I’ve pretty much already covered the major keywords in my space (like “link building” and “on page SEO”).