Ahrefs: The Ultimate Guide

ahrefs

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.

What is Ahrefs?

Perform Backlink Audits

Auditing your existing link profile is a good first step for any new SEO campaign.

Ahrefs site explorer

Ahrefs will give you the data you need to make informed decision about your link profile.

Find Link Prospects

Extracting link opportunities from your competitors is one of my favorite functions of Ahrefs.

Ahrefs Link Prospects

I’ll be showing you how to not only find these link opportunities, but also how you actually land links that your competitors have.

Perform Keyword Research

Most people don’t think of Ahrefs as a keyword research tool, but these people are missing out!

Ahrefs KD

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.

Validate Qualify and Analyze Competitors

Finding keywords is easy, but the real magic happens when you understand how to qualify your keywords.

Ahrefs can help you achieve this goal. I’ll show you how to validate keywords in this guide.

Track Individual Keywords

Ahrefs keyword tracking is excellent.

Ahrefs Keyword Rankings

I’ll show you how to set it up later in this post.

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Only tracking individual keywords is an outdated strategy.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.

organic keywords ahrefs

But in addition to Google Analytics, you should leverage the “Total Organic Keywords” data inside Ahrefs. More on this later.

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.

Site Audits

Lastly, Ahrefs now has a site audit tool.

ahrefs site audit

This tool can help your technical SEO performance.

Ahrefs Terminology

Here is the Ahrefs terminology that you need to understand before using the tool:

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.

ahrefs rank

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.

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.

URL rating

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.

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 Ads cost-per-click (CPC) data. This is a useful metric because there is a correlation between CPC and organic search competition.

ahrefs traffic value

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”.

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”.

ahrefs 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 qualify your list of keywords.

How to Qualify Keywords Using Ahrefs

Building a big list of prospective keyword targets is an important first step. However, the real magic happens when you qualify your list of keyword targets.

What does it mean to “qualify” 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 “qualified”.

Here’s how to get started:

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:

“Hey [NAME], love your blog!
I blog over at [your blog] and I saw that you are linking to my article about [topic] (thank you).

I noticed that the link is actually broken. It looks like [insert issue].

When you get the chance, do you think you could change that link to this URL: [your correct URL] – I would be so incredibly grateful.

Thank you!”

Link Building with Ahrefs

How to “Steal” Your Competitor’s Links Using Ahrefs

There are many ways to find link opportunities, but one of the best methods is extract them from your competitors. The key to acquiring your competitor’s backlink is to have an effective outreach process.

Anyone can find link opportunities, but it takes a tested and refined system to acquire backlinks at scale.

That’s the focus on the video below:

The first step of this process is to open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and paste a competitor’s URL in the search bar.

After the analysis is complete, go to the “Backlink profile” section and click on “Backlinks”.

Now that you can see all of your competitor’s backlinks, it’s time to begin the link acquisition process. I’m going to give you a framework you can take action on today.

But here’s an important point:

You MUST test, refine, and improve your outreach process overtime. No outreach process is perfect. All you can do is test the process and improve it.

Here’s what my link acquisition process looks like (at a 30,000-foot view):

Your success in SEO (and digital marketing in general) is dependent on your ability to build relationships with the individuals who have influence (and established audiences) in your industry. It all begins with outreach.

The first part of this process that you need to understand is that your outreach process will vary based on the type of backlink you are trying to acquire. For example, the process of acquiring a backlink through a guest post is much different than trying to acquire a backlink through broken link building.

Here’s how you can find contact information using Voila Norbert:

Here’s how you can find contact information using Hunter.io:

The next stage is to begin the process of getting “your name out there” and building relationships with your prospects.

Let’s get one thing straight:

No bloggers likes cold outreach. In fact, it’s borderline disrespectful to reach out to a blogger who has an established audience and ask them for something. Why? Because you basically saying: “Hey, can I have all the benefits of your established audience that you probably spent years building without any work on my side?

Moral of the story:

Don’t cold outreach. It’s a dangerous game to play if you are trying to become a serious player in your industry. You do NOT want to burn bridges or repel the people who have the influence. I think you get the point.

So, you’re probably wondering:

HOW do you start the process of building relationships with your link prospects? The best way to hit the prospect on multiple fronts.

Some easy methods include:

  • Leaving insightful and well-thought out blog comments
  • Retweeting their content
  • Replying and engaging with them on their Tweets, Facebook posts, etc.
  • Sending them a complimentary email
  • Asking them a question (that requires their expertise) via email

I recommend using most of these strategies. The key is avoid being creepy and overbearing.

Spread these actions out over the course of weeks.

Otherwise, it becomes obvious that you are only engaging for selfish motives.

All that you need to remember is that effective relationship building and outreach is like how you build relationships in real life.

Take your time and be patient.

Also, always be thinking about how you can add value before asking for anything.

After you have spent some time building relationships with your prospects, it’s time to “test the waters”.

Here are a few templates you can use to “test the waters”:

Broken Link Building

“Hey [NAME], love your blog!

I blog over at {your blog}.

I was reading one of your articles and noticed that you had a few broken links. Would you like me to send the URL over?”

Guest Posting

“Hey [NAME], love your blog!

I blog over at {your blog}.

I was wondering if you are accepting guest contribution at the moment?
I have 3 ideas that I think would be perfect for your blog if are.
Please let me know, thanks!”

Replace or Complement

“Hey [NAME], love your blog!

I blog over at {your blog}.

I noticed that you are linking to {brand’s article about topic}.

I created a similar piece of content except it takes an entirely different angle.
In fact, it {argues|proves|disproves} that {insert why it’s different}.
Would you be interested in reading it?
Just let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you it over.
Thanks!”

All you need to do now is wait for responses (~1-2 weeks). Send your offer/pitch to those that respond and follow up with the non-responders. If you landed a guest post, write the guest post. If you are “paying to play”, then send the dough.

Now that you know how to find link opportunities, let me show you how to qualify them.

How to Qualify Link Opportunities Using Ahrefs

As I mentioned above, finding link opportunities is the easiest step of the link acquisition process. The next most important step is knowing what link opportunities are actually worth pursuing.

Here’s what you need to do to qualify your link opportunities (at scale):

The first part of qualifying your link opportunities is to go the “More” drop down in the navigation and click on “Batch Analysis”.

Then all you need to do is paste your list of link prospects’ URLs into the box. In this example, I’m going to analyze a list of guest post opportunities in the “fitness” niche.

After you have pasted the URLs, click the dropdown and select the “domain with all its subdomains” option.

This is important because we are qualifying the link prospect’s website as a whole (not just a single page). So, after the analysis is complete you will be presented with a large set of data like this:

The question is… what do you do with all of this information?

The first thing that needs to happen is to understand what we are trying to achieve during this process.

The first objective of this process is to eliminate opportunities that are low quality or do not meet your minimum criteria standards. After that, you then need to prioritize your prospects.

This is possible through the data that Ahrefs provides, but I also recommend using The Relevancy Pyramid as well.

You just need to figure out if you want to focus on the more challenging opportunities or the lower hanging fruits.

Websites is higher authority and traffic are harder to get link placements on, but they have a huge impact when you do successfully land one.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can focus on lower authority websites with a quantity focus.

Either way works, but I prefer focusing on the “harder” opportunities because they always seem to perform better (in my experience).

To begin the process of prioritizing these link prospects, you need to sort them by “Keywords”.

“Keywords” are how many estimated organic keywords the website is ranking for based on Ahrefs’ data. This is important for qualifying link opportunities because if a website is performing well in Google, it’s an indication that Google’s algorithm “trusts” this website.

Higher trust = better (and usually more impactful) link opportunity

The opposite is also true.

You should be concerned about websites that are NOT performing well in Google. All you need to do is sort your list in ascending order to find this type of link prospect:

Keep this in mind:

Just because a website doesn’t have great SEO performance, doesn’t mean that it’s a bad opportunity.

You have to remember that Google is just one website and one marketing channel.

The “value” of a link opportunity can’t be based on one channel.

There are a few ways to determine the “value” of a link opportunity outside of organic search traffic such as examining their audience size across multiple channels, examining the quality of their link profile, examining their social media engagement, and even examining their blog engagement.

I’ll get deeper into this process in a future blog post, but for now, the key takeaway is that a link opportunity isn’t “BAD” just because it doesn’t perform well in Google.

But let’s be honest… what I just explained is an optimistic viewpoint.

That’s because many of the opportunities you will encounter WILL be low quality and should be avoided.

All you need to do is examine the websites that have weak SEO performance and see if there is any way that these websites can add value to yours.

If you’re struggling to find any value in a link opportunity, then remove it from your list.

It makes much more sense to focus your time on the prospects that are clearly valuable.

The next step is to sort your list by DR (Domain Rating).

The validation step is simple:

Getting backlinks from websites with higher DR are going to be more impactful (in most cases). They are also harder to get placements on, so you need to keep that in mind as well.

You can then sort your list by Total Referring Domains (the number of unique websites that are linking to yours).

DR and Total Referring Domains are going to be correlated. For example, websites with many Total Referring Domains will usually have a high DR as well.

You can qualify or eliminate most opportunities just based on Total Organic Keywords, DR, and Total Referring Domains.

Some other metrics that you may want to consider are the quantity of .edu and .gov backlinks because this is an indication of trust.

Also, take a look at the Total “Linked” Domains (the total number of outbound links on a prospects website).

If there is a high number of outbound links, it can sometimes mean that the website is selling backlinks. It’s worth investigating if you see an alarming number of outbound links.

But, before you jump in, you need to understand how to optimize your anchor text.

How to Optimize Anchor Text Using Ahrefs

Understanding how to optimize your anchor text can improve your SEO results and keep your website safe from penalties. In the training video below, I show you how you leverage Ahrefs to optimize your anchor text the right way:

Let’s say I wanted to rank for the keyword phrase “healthy breakfast”.

In the example, below I found this keyword phrase while looking through Greatist’s organic keywords. You do an immediate examination, just click the SERP dropdown button.

From here, just click on the down arrow next to each competitor’s URL and open their “Anchors” in a new tab. I recommend doing at least the first five competitors, but ten isn’t a bad idea either. So, now all you’re going to do is get an average of exact match anchor text for this keyword.

This is important because you will be able to see what the “ceiling” is for exact match anchor text.

I usually cut the average anchor text in half and make that my ceiling just be safe.

For example, if the average exact match anchor text is ~10%, I would choose 5% as my ceiling. And as I’ve recommended since the first Penguin update, you should usually stay below 1% exact match anchor text.

This recommendation can change based on the scale.

One other important factor to consider when averaging exact match anchor text (and using it as a guide) is the competition. The reason is because higher authority websites can usually get away with more aggressive anchor text practices.

That’s why it’s a good idea to look at the EMA for the competitor’s that are in a similar authority range as your website.

You can go through the averaging process for partial match anchor as well.

So, at this point, you know how to find and validate keywords, how to find and fix technical SEO issues, how to find and validate link prospects, and how to optimize your anchor text using Ahrefs.

Now, I want to show you how you can monitor your SEO campaigns using this awesome tool.

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:

That’s It!

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.

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.

Nathan Gotch
Nathan Gotch

I’m the founder of Gotch SEO. We’re on a mission to help you enter the top 1% of SEO experts. The 1st step is for you to join our community of over 1,000 other experts inside Gotch SEO Academy.