What Is Ahrefs?
Ahrefs is an SEO software suite that contains tools for link building, keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking and site audits.
Backlink analysis is Ahrefs’ bread and butter feature.
To use it, just pop a site’s homepage into the “Site Explorer”:
And you’ll get a dashboard with info on that site’s backlinks, metrics and organic traffic.
(More on that later)
To deep dive into that site’s link profile, hit “Backlinks” in the sidebar.
And you’ll get a full list.
If a site has a ton of backlinks, I recommend going to “Link type” → “Dofollow”.
That way, you don’t have to sift through tons of nofollow links.
Now that you have a complete list of a site’s dofollow backlinks, what can you do with this information?
A few things…
First, 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:
And when I look at the page, I can see that it links out to lots of different websites:
(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.
Second, 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:
I notice right away that a good chunk of their links point to studies that they’ve published on the Moz blog:
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.
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”.
Then, put two or more competing sites into the fields:
And voila! You get a list of sites that are linking to all of the sites you put in.
Why is this helpful?
Well, if someone links to one of your competitors, it doesn’t tell you much.
But if a site links to THREE of your competitors (and not you), they’ll probably 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.
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.
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.
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”.
And it was a huge hit!
To date, this guide has 3,200 backlinks from 999 domains:
In fact, a lot of the sites that linked to Moz’s guide now also link to my keyword research guide:
This feature gives you a list of sites that just linked to your site (or a competitor).
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:
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.
On the other hand, here’s a link that’s only a month old:
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.
Lost backlinks is just like it sounds:
You get a list of pages that used to link to you… but recently removed your link.
This is helpful for “Link Reclamation”… or getting lost links back.
For example, I recently lost this link:
Well, if I can find out WHY that person removed my link, I can sometimes get that link 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.
Keywords Explorer is Ahrefs’ keyword research tool.
And it’s legit.
Because it gives you INSANE amounts of data..
Sure, you get the usual stuff like search volume and keyword competition:
But what makes Keyword Explorer unique is that you get to also see a keyword’s “Return Rate” (how often people search for a keyword more than once):
Number of clicks:
Percentage of people that click on paid vs. organic results:
“Clicks per search”:
You even get a breakdown of the first page SERPs for that keyword.
This is all VERY helpful when choosing a keyword or deciding between two different keywords.
The only negative is that Keyword Explorer isn’t great at generating new keyword ideas. It tends to pump out simple variations of your seed keyword:
But overall, Keyword 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.
This single page gave me pretty much everything I needed to make a decision.
Specifically, I looked at the keyword search volume:
(Which, at least according to Ahrefs, more accurate than most other tools on the market)
And in my industry (B2B), 4.3k 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.
So the keyword was competitive. But not insane. Another positive sign.
Next, I looked at “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.
Another great sign.
Then, I saw that the average cost per click “SEO audit” was $19.
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”:
Ahrefs Terms and Metrics
If you use Ahrefs for more than 30 seconds, you’ll notice that the tool contains A LOT of terms and metrics.
(Like “UR”, “Ahrefs Rank” and “CTLDs distribution”)
Here’s a breakdown of what these terms mean:
- URL Rating (UR): How authoritative a webpage. Calculated a combination of the quality and quantity of links that point to that page.
- Domain Rating (DR): URL Rating applied across an entire site (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.
- 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 Alexa, the lower the number, the better.
- Parent Topic: The broad topic that this 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.
- 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”).
Organic Keywords and Organic Search Traffic
This feature figures out all of the keywords that a domain ranks for… and how much search engine traffic that site is getting right now.
You can also see how these metrics have changed over time with this nifty chart:
Even though the data isn’t as up-to-date as SEMRush’s version, it’s still pretty good.
The #1 reason to use this feature is to see every keyword that a competitor ranks for:
You even get an estimate of how much traffic they’re getting from each term:
So if your site has a similar Domain Authority, you have a good shot to rank for these keywords too.
Yup, this is a goldmine.
This report gives you a list of domains that are trying to rank for the same terms.
For example, this report lets me know which sites are competing against me in Google’s organic search results:
So I made a note to hate those sites 🙂
But seriously, this feature isn’t super useful to use for your own site. After all, you probably already know your SEO competitors like the back of your hand.
Competing Domains is more helpful if you just launched a new site or you took on a new client.
That’s because this report can show you the SEO landscape for that site in a few minutes.
For example, you can see if the competitors are rinky dink blogs… or Fortune 500 companies.
You can also check out the “Best By Links” report for some of the competing sites.
That way, you can learn what types of content works best in this space.
Content Gap shows you keywords that your competitor’s rank for… but you don’t.
In my experience, this is more helpful than analyzing a single website. Because if you find TWO competing sites that rank for a keyword, there’s a great chance you could rank for it too.
For example, I put two of my competitor’s sites into this feature:
And I also made sure to put my site in the “But the following target doesn’t rank for” field.
I get a list of 12,000+ keywords that I could probably rank for.
This is basically a web-based version of Screaming Frog.
To use it, pop in your site’s homepage:
And give the site auditor time to do its thing.
(Depending on how many pages your site has, this can take a few minutes to several hours)
When it’s done, you get a thorough technical report on all of your site’s pages:
Even though Ahrefs is designed first and foremost for SEO, it does include a few features to help with PPC campaigns.
To use it, put a competing site into Ahrefs. And hit “Paid Search”:
And you can see which ads generate the most traffic for that site:
(Which is a GREAT resource for writing your own ads)
Keywords that send them the most paid traffic:
And landing pages that most paid visitors end up on:
Alerts is helpful if you want to stay on top of a site’s SEO.
That’s because you can ask Ahrefs to send you an email every time you or a competing site gets a new backlink… or starts to rank for a new keyword.
Here’s where you compare 2-5 sites head-to-head.
Why is this useful?
It’s a great way to see how your site compares to the competition.
For example, when I put some of my main competitors into the Domain Comparison tool, I can see that I’m behind when it comes to “referring domains”:
So instead of cranking out more content, I might want to put more time into link building.
If I just looked at my site’s links in a vacuum, I’d see that I have 14k referring domains and think: “That’s a lot!”.
But in an insane competitive space like SEO and digital marketing, 14k referring domains is good… but not enough to dominate the search results.
Ahrefs Content Explorer is designed to show you content that gets lots of social shares… not necessarily backlinks.
(Basically, it’s a mini version of BuzzSumo)
So pop a keyword or topic into Content Explorer…
…and you’ll get a list of articles that got tons of shares on social media:
If you want to dig even deeper, you can sort by date, language, word count and more.
There’s no doubt about it:
Ahrefs is a feature-rich SEO tool designed for SEO pros. And it has the price tag to match.
So, is Ahrefs worth it?
It’s hard to say because it depends on how many features you’ll actually use and your marketing budget.
So my recommendation is to take advantage of their 7 day trial for $7 (they don’t offer a free trial).
Poke around. Try some of the features I outlined here. And see how it works for you.
If you love it, you can upgrade to a paid plan. If not, you’re only out 7 bucks.
Tips and Advanced Strategies
- Find Broken Links: Ahrefs takes a lot of the grunt work out of Broken Link Building. That’s because Ahrefs shows you all of a site’s broken links:
(So there’s no need to run Check My Links a million times)
- Analyze Anchor Text: Keyword-rich anchor text can improve your Google rankings… to a point. If your anchor text is too optimized, you could find yourself with a Google penalty.So check out the “Anchors” report to make sure that most of your anchor text is made up of generic and branded anchors:
- Best By Links Growth: This shows you pages that are getting links right now (specifically, within the last day, week or month)
Super helpful for figuring out what people in your industry are linking to.
- Batch Analysis: If you’re doing SEO at any sort of scale, Batch Analysis is for you. Instead of analyzing URLs one-by-one, you can get analyze up to 200 URLs in one go:
- “Top Content”: This is basically “Best By Links” for social shares. In other words, you can see which pages get shared most often on social media:
There’s can a BIG difference between content that gets linked to and content that gets shared (source).
So if your #1 goal is to get shares and referral traffic, you’ll love “Top Content”.
Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker Overview and Tutorial: How to setup and use rank tracking in the Ahrefs platform.
How to “Steal” Your Competitor’s Links with Ahrefs: An in-depth tutorial on using Ahrefs to analyze and reverse engineer your competitor’s link profile.
How to Find Guest Blogging Sites and Easy Keyword Targets with Content Explorer: How to use Ahrefs to find sites in your niche that accept guest posts.