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Ahrefs:

The Ultimate Guide

Ahrefs is one of the most powerful SEO tools on the market. Today, I’m going to show you how you can use it to your advantage (and start getting better SEO results). I love this tool and don’t know how I could function as an SEO without it. That’s why I’m going to show you everything you need to know about using this incredible tool. Let’s jump in.

Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate of Ahrefs and will receive a commission. I genuinely believe Ahrefs is the best SEO tool on the market and wouldn’t have invested so much time into this guide if I believed otherwise 😛 – Enjoy!

Ahrefs Overview

What is Ahrefs?

Ahrefs is a robust SEO tool that can be used to:

1. Perform Backlink Audits

Auditing your existing link profile is a good first step for any new SEO campaign. Ahrefs will give you the data you need to make informed decision about your link profile.

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2. Find Link Prospects

Extracting link opportunities from your competitors is one of my favorite functions of Ahrefs. I’ll be showing you how to not only find these link opportunities, but also how you actually land links that your competitors have.

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3. Perform Keyword Research

Most people don’t think of Ahrefs as a keyword research tool, but these people are missing out! This tool has become one of my “go-tos” for finding keywords and content ideas. I will show you how to do exactly that later on in this guide.

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4. Validate Keywords and Analyze Competitors

Finding keywords is easy, but the real magic happens when you understand how to validate your keywords. Ahrefs can help you achieve this goal. I’ll show you how to validate keywords in this guide.

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5. Track Individual Keywords

Ahrefs keyword tracking is excellent. I’ll show you how to set it up later in this post.

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6. Track Total Organic Visibility

Only tracking individual keywords is an outdated strategy. The most important KPI in SEO is your organic search traffic data inside Google Analytics. But in addition to Google Analytics, you should leverage the “Total Organic Keywords” data inside Ahrefs. More on this later.

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7. Brand Management

Ahrefs allows you set up alerts for keywords or branded keywords. This is a powerful function for relationship building and brand management. I’ll get deeper into the tools alerts function in this guide.

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8. Site Audits

Lastly, Ahrefs now has a site audit tool. This tool can help your technical SEO performance.

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Ahrefs does have some paid traffic features as well, but I’m only going to focus on the SEO components of the tool. Before I can show you practical ways to use this tool, you need to first understand the terminology.

Ahrefs Terminology

Here is the Ahrefs terminology that

you need to understand before using the tool:

1. Ahrefs Rank

Ahrefs rank is their version of Alexa rank. In essence, it’s an attempt to rank websites based on their estimated traffic volume. The lower your Ahrefs Rank, the higher they believe your estimated traffic is. Take this metric with a grain of salt. Ahrefs doesn’t have access to your internal traffic numbers, so it’s not possible for their “Rank” to be 100% accurate.

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2. URL Rating (UR)

URL Rating (or sometimes called URL Ranking on different parts of their site) is Ahrefs’ metric for measuring the authority and strength of a single page. For example, my backlinks article has a ~ 44 UR. The concept of UR is similar to Moz’s Page Authority (PA) metric. Ahrefs has a much better crawler, so UR is probably more reliable.

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3. Traffic Value

Ahrefs’ “Traffic Value” metric is an estimation of a website’s organic search traffic value in terms of dollars. This is determined based on Google AdWords cost-per-click (CPC) data. This is a useful metric because there is a correlation between CPC and organic search competition. Meaning, if businesses are willing to pay a “high” (what’s considered to be high or low CPC is relative to the industry, the business model, etc.) CPC, there’s a good chance they are investing heavily into SEO as well. The only difference is that throwing more money at SEO doesn’t guarantee better results. If you really want to see how hard high CPC niches are from an SEO perspective, just attempt to rank for “city + personal injury lawyer”.

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Now that you have a firm grasp of what Ahrefs can do and understand the tool’s terminology, it’s time to show you how to actually it.
Let’s start with keyword research.

Keyword Research

How to Find Keywords Using Ahrefs

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Ahrefs? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t “keyword research”. Most people know Ahrefs for its backlink analysis capabilities, but you are missing out if you aren’t using it keyword research. That’s why I’m going to show you several ways you can use Ahrefs to find keywords. I’ll even show you one trick I use to find “untapped” keyword opportunities. Let’s jump in:

1. Analyze Competitor URL in Site Explorer

The first step of this process is for you analyze a competitor’s URL. After you have chosen a competitor, go the “Site Explorer” section and enter the URL.


After the analysis is complete, it’s time to move onto step two.

2. Go to Organic Keywords

The second step is click on “Organic keywords” under the “Organic search” section.

This where your keyword goldmine will be. Now, this section alone can give you tons of ideas, but to take your keyword research to another level, you need to filter these ideas. That brings me to step three.

3. Play with Filters

Using the filters is where the magic happens, but before you begin, you need to establish one thing:

What is your website actually capable of ranking for?

Meaning, do you have a firm grasp on the authority of your website?

The reason why you need to is because your site’s authority will determine what keywords you should to target.

For example, if you have a brand new website, then you need to target longer tail keywords. If you have an authoritative website (relative to the competitor you are analyzing), then you can target more competitive keywords.

For this example, I’m going to assume you have a new website. The first step is to filter your results based on “Volume”, or in other words, the average search volume per month.

I’ve found that targeting keywords in the 100 – 1,000 search volume range is a good target for new websites. That’s because keywords in that range are going to be less competitive (and longer tail).

Keep in mind:

This doesn’t mean you should target this search volume range forever. You should step into new higher search volume ranges when your website begins to build authority.

The next step is to mess around with is the “Words” filter. So, if you only want to see long-tail keywords, then you should set the “From” field

You could stop your initial keyword research at this point because of how much you’ve narrowed the results.

But I also like to use the “Position” filter as well. This filter will show where your competitor is ranking in Google for each keyword in your set. I like setting this filter from position 11 and to position 20.

Having this intel is important for a few reasons:

1. There’s a good chance that your competitor isn’t targeting that specific keyword phrase. The competitor is probably showing up for those long tail keywords just because of their page authority. Not because they are specifically targeting them.

2. Many long tails ranking on the second or even third page are going to be loosely relevant to your competitors primary keyword. That leaves an opportunity for you to step in and dominate that targeted long-tail keyword.

Now, I want to show you how you can monitor your competitor’s new keywords.

4. Monitor Your Competitor’s “New” Keywords

Click on “New” under the “Organic keywords” section.

So, you might be wondering why should you care about your competitor’s “New” keywords?

The first reason why you should care is because you don’t want them to get too much momentum.

As pages age, they will acquire more social signals, backlinks, and user signals. All of these signals will not only help your competitor rank, but will also solidify their rankings. And

I’ve noticed many times that there is a “snowball” effect when you hit the first page of Google. That’s because most people will not go beyond the first page when they are looking for resources to link to.

The key takeaway is that you don’t want your competitors to build to strong of a foundation.

You need to monitor what new keywords they are targeting and then make a concentrated effort to compete with them on those keywords. That means you need to create a page that is more valuable than theirs.

Now I want to show you how to find your competitors top performing pages.

5. See Your Competitor’s Best Pages

To find a competitor’s best performing pages (from an organic search traffic perspective), go to “Organic search” and click on “Top pages”.

This is one of favorite sections within Ahrefs because you will topics that have already been validated by your competitors. Backlinks and social signals are validation that the topic has value. It’s also validation that your competitor picked an attractive content angle for that topic.

Lastly, your competitors strong individual keywords rankings are validation from Google that they have fulfilled searcher intent the right way.

This section will give you the ability to create content and pages that your industry actually cares about.

You will also see what type of content you need to create to fulfill searcher intent (the way that Google wants).

Take advantage of the data in this section because it will eliminate a lot of guesswork from your keyword targeting.

Now I want to show you a quick way to find other competitors in your industry.

6. Find Other Competitors

To find your other competitors click on “Competing domains” under the “Organic search” section.

I recommend you go through the process above to extract even more keywords from your other competitors as well.

The next tactic I want to show you is the Content Gap Tool (love this tool).

7. Use the Content Gap Tool

Click on “Content gap” under the “Organic search” section to access this amazing tool.

This is an amazing tool because it will show what keywords you are NOT ranking for, but your competitors ARE ranking for. All you need to do is put your competitor’s URL in to the “Show keywords that any of the below targets rank for” section. You can add more than one competitor, but in this example I’ll only be using one.

Then, put your URL into the “But the following target doesn’t rank for” section and click “Show keywords”.

Now you will have access to keywords and content ideas that you aren’t currently targeting.

It’s your responsibility to compete for these search terms. That means you need to create pages that are much more valuable (and different) than your competitors for these keywords. Do not allow your competitor’s to have smooth sailing!

The last keyword research tactics I want to show you in Ahrefs is leveraging their Keywords Explorer tool.

8. Leverage the Keywords Explorer

To access this tool, click on “Keywords explorer” in the navigation.

All you need to do now is enter some prospective keywords into the field. In this case, I’m going to use a very general keyword “fitness”.

After the analysis is complete, Ahrefs is going to expose you to all kinds of data about this keyword. This tool is excellent for qualifying your prospective keywords, but in this case, we are only going to use for identifying more keyword ideas. To achieve this goal, go down to the “Keyword ideas” section.

This section is going to show all kinds of great keywords related to original seed keyword.

How you go about leveraging these keyword ideas will largely depend on the authority of your website.

For example, it would difficult to rank for a broad head keyword like “fitness” unless you had a super website. Most websites online are not capable of ranking for such a keyword.

That’s why it’s a good to target longer tail keywords like the ones that Ahrefs is providing in this section.

Now you have a firm grasp on how to find keywords using Ahrefs, let me show you how you can validate your list of keywords.

How to Validate Keywords Using Ahrefs

Building a big list of prospective keyword targets is an important first step. However, the real magic happens when you validate your list of keyword targets. What does it mean to “validate” your keywords? It means you’re going to narrow your list by running your keywords through a vetting process. The end result will be a set of keywords that have “validated”.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Analyze Competitor URL in Site Explorer

The first step of the keyword validation process is to click on the “Keywords explorer” option in the Ahrefs’ navigation.

Next, simply paste a prospective keyword in the field. In this example, I’m going to use the keyword phrase “what is creatine”.

As the analysis is complete, you will be taken to a page that looks like this:

Ahrefs’ Keyword explorer is going to show some useful data in this section. The first data point that’s worth looking at is the “Keyword

This a decent gauge of keyword competition. However, you need to remember that this metric is based on Ahrefs’ internal data. It’s not perfect. That’s why you need to always conduct your own manual research. But if you’re doing a quick analysis, the Keyword difficulty score will suffice in most cases.

The next metric that you should consider is the amount of searches that result in a click.

According to Ahrefs, the search phrase “what is creatine” produces 50% organic clicks. That means that out of the approximate 14,000 search per month, only 7,000 of those result in a click. This is often the result of featured snippets or other SERP features that answer the search query without a searcher needing to conduct any additional research.

Another area in the Keyword explorer that you should analyze is the Paid vs. Organic results for your prospective keyword phrase.

This is important for the same results above because more paid results will push the organic results further down the page. That will reduce organic CTR. So, you need to keep that mind when you are doing your research.

Now that understand some of these 30,000-foot view metrics inside the Keyword explorer, I’m going to take this process a little deeper.

Scroll down to the “SERP overview” section and click on the “Export” button in the right hand corner.

Open up the Excel sheet and delete every column except for: “URL”, “Backlinks”, “Referring Domains”, “URL Rating”, “Domain Rating”, and “Facebook”. Your sheet should look like this after you’re done:

The next step is go column-by-column and average out the numbers. Highlight the cells/numbers that need to be averaged and click on the dropdown arrow on the autosum button and select “Average”.

Here’s what it should look like after you have successfully averaged the column:

Repeat this process for all the columns. The next step is paste your domain or target URL in the “URL” column. Then paste your Domain Rating (DR) in the appropriate column like so:

In this example, I am making the assumption that you do NOT have a page already targeting the keyword phrase. The distinction is important because comparing DR is the only option in this scenario.

On the other hand, if you already had a page targeting “what is creatine”, then you would need to add data for every column to get a proper comparison.

So, in this scenario, Greatist.com has enough authority (DR) to compete for this keyword phrase. It wouldn’t be easy, but there are some obvious weakness in these results.

First, there is a YouTube video ranking.

That’s a good sign.

Second, both Blonyx.com and MyProtein.com have one or zero total linking root domains. That’s an indication that these pages are ranking well because they are fulfilling searcher intent the right way. But the biggest force driving their rankings is their overall website authority.

So, in the case of Greatist.com, this would be an attractive keyword to target because their domain is stronger than three of the ranking pages.

Also, Bloynx.com has the lowest DR, but is ranking almost in the top five.

So, this brief analysis is just the first stage of the process.

After you have confirmed that your website can compete (at least at a 30,000 foot view), you then need to analyze each ranking page.

This is critical because SEO isn’t just simple a game of metrics.

On the surface, Greatist should have no problem ranking for this keyword phrase.

However, that confidence can change like the wind when you analyze the ranking URLs on a deeper level. The biggest factor being the quality of the pages.

The main question you have to ask is:

Can you create a page that is MORE valuable and DIFFERENT than what is ranking?

Think about this question every time you want to target a keyword.

Now that you understand how to find and validate keywords using Ahrefs, it’s time for me to show you how to use this tool for technical SEO.

Technical SEO

How to Find Broken Backlinks with Ahrefs

Finding broken backlinks is one of the easiest ways to acquire backlinks. That’s because you already HAD the backlink. Plus, the “linker” has already made the decision to link to you. That means you can skip right past the relationship building stage of the outreach process. Here’s how you can find broken backlinks using Ahrefs:

The first step is open up the “Site explorer” tool and enter YOUR domain.

Now go to the “Backlink” section and click on “Broken”.

Now you need to go through each result, find contact information (Voila Norbert and Hunter), and then send each prospect a template similar to this:

Broken Backlink Template

Campaign With Ahrefs

How to Monitor Your SEO Campaign with Ahrefs

There are countless ranking tracking tools out there, but Ahrefs give you more than enough functionality to track individual keywords, track your overall organic visibility, and track your link profile. In the video below, I show you how you can use Ahrefs to manage your SEO campaigns:

Have questions?

I hope this guide helped you learn how to use Ahrefs to improve your SEO performance. Ahrefs is well worth the investment if you are serious about getting better SEO results.

Have some a question about Ahrefs or need more guidance?

Leave a comment below because I respond to every single one.

Also, if you enjoyed the videos, please subscribe to my YouTube channel because I will be producing an incredible amount of actionable SEO training this year.

Thank you for reading (and watching)!
Question Man

Comments

  1. Dropping knowledge son! I look forward to watching this video on roku tonight. I’m glad to see you posting more videos on your channel.

  2. Great guide Nathan.

    A lot of experts miss the “build relationship” part when writing outreach guides. Good to see that you got it covered. And thanks for the email templates as well 🙂

    PS. Love the design of the guide. Easy to read!

  3. Hey Nathan,

    Amazing content and overview on how to truly use AHREFS, thanks a lot. Sounds like you just need one tool for everything at least when starting out 🙂 Any complementary software you would recommend?
    Thanks again and Cheers.

  4. Hi Nathan, another awesome guide, I have been following you for years, and you always give every time very professional guide and tuts, good work!
    Maurizio

  5. Good post, but I’d recommend never using the angle of:
    “I noticed this on your site, I or created this, do you mind if I send it over?”

    Don’t waste my time with back and forth! Get straight to the point and send me what you want. Being upfront and honest about it instead of trying to be so polite and being “buddy buddy”, is likely to get you better results.

    Whenever I get a “do you mind if I send it over” email, I immediately mark as spam and delete.

    1. Hey Tyson,

      Thanks for the comment! I feel the same way you do, but a “primer” email has better conversions in my experience

  6. I have been doing SEO for years now and this is one of the best post I have ever ready. All the sections have been explained meticulously and in granular level. I have spend around an 1 going though the entire article and must say it’s worth it. Further, it also answered by query related to the anchor text percentage in the section “How to Optimize Anchor Text Using Ahrefs” – Great work!

  7. this is very informative article thanks it just opened my eyes on should I must work on my strategies.
    Keep posting good articles like this because I read your articles a lot and your blog is very helpful and I quickly get you points.

  8. Nathan, I never saw a post like this before… Belive me … I read a lot! Really well done! Really well organized… Congratulations man! You just blew my mind with that keyword research and validation… Do you know that feeling??? That… Something is missing… and you don’t really know what??? Yeah… that was it for me… I follow all of those other guys and nobody is actually breaking it down like this.. Showing off skills… I like your style! If you please please please… take a look at my website when you have a moment… I would love to get your feedback…. Rio X Marketing dotcom… Thank you so much and keep up the good work man! You Rock!

  9. Hi,

    It’s a huge post. All the essential topics are covered. After reading this article, I learnt a lot about Ahrefs. Using the Organic Traffic option we can find the ranked keyword. Have a look at my blog.

    Thank you

  10. Hi Nathan!

    Just wanna point out a mistake in one of your subheaders. For the validating KW section, the first subheader is “Enter your competitor’s domain in the Site Explorer” which I think was just copied and pasted over from the section about Keyword Research. Other than that, thanks so much for a thorough and helpful guide!

  11. Hello Sir,

    I am very happy after reading this detail article on Ahref, because I have heard about Ahref a lot but there is no one who explain Ahref like you.

    You explain each and everything very clearly. I hope it will help me a lot.

    I was planning to use Ahref but I didn’t have knowledge about it. Like how to use and get maximum benefit from it.

    But you cleared my all doubts and now I can use Ahref in productive way and get good benefit.

    I am, Jagmeet Brar , a YouTuber and I have 760K subscribers and fully successful as a YouTuber but I am struggling in blogging Since 2014.

    My blog Bollyhollybaba dot com is not getting enough traffic and I am not earning sufficient money from it. Although blog is 2 year old.

    After reading this post I get good knowledge about SEO and Ahref. Surely it will help me to get good traffic.

    Sir can you suggest me something that can help me grow my blog and support me in earning from Google ads. If possible please visit my blog Bollyhollybaba dot com

    Looking forward to hear from you soon!

    Thanks
    Jagmeet Brar

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