Ahrefs Review & Tutorial: How To Create Content That Sticks & Build Links That Count
Review of: Ahrefs
Use: SEO and social media insight
You will learn a LOT and make better marketing decisions
Not cheap but worth the money
Ease of use
Takes some adaptation but great UI
Great answers but some delays.
- The in-depth Site Explorer
- Content Explorer for finding new ideas
- Rank tracker and crawl reports
We Don't Like
- The keyword tool is very rudimentary
- A bit on the pricier side for the standard plan (our recommended plan)
Summary: Ahrefs is the closest you can get to an 'essential' tool if you are a serious content marketer or SEO. It will give you tons of insight into your competitors and you will make much better marketing decisions.
To help you understand how competitor research can help you find new opportunities, I put together this review that walks you through all of Ahrefs features. If you're serious about marketing, you'll learn a lot from this review. Enjoy !
You know that creating content is essential for getting traffic. HubSpot data shows that the more content you publish, the more traffic you'll get:
The truth is though, not all content succeeds. Far, far far from it. And if you have been in the business, you know that creating (great) content doesn't come cheap.
Yet, people keep pumping out post after post in the hope that maybe out of 20, a couple of them will 'stick'.
Roughly 80% of your traffic will come from 20% of your content. As with most things, the Pareto Principle applies here as well.
I say this from experience: even after creating tens of posts for Health Ambition, only a few articles actually account for the bulk of our traffic.
As a marketer, your job is to improve the 'hit rate' of your content. You can never really guarantee that a post will succeed, but with the right insight, you can create content that has a higher chance of getting shares and search traffic.
This is where a tool like Ahrefs comes in handy.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive suite of social media and SEO tools that helps you understand your competitors' and your own content better.
I have been using it for quite some time and it is one of my favorite marketing tools out there.
And since here at Authority Hacker, we're committed to helping you make the most of your time and money, I thought it would be appropriate to review this marketing intelligence tool.
As always, I'm not going to sell you the tool. Instead, I'll do a deep dive into why you need insight into your own and your competitor's content.
As I do that I will zoom in on individual tactics you can use for your site using these features. I'll close with some real life case studies of results from the software.
The links to Ahrefs in this review are affiliate links though so if you learned something useful and are interested in the tool, feel free to buy through it to support the site.
Let's dive in!
Why You Need Marketing Insight
How would you fare if I asked you to shoot a target blindfolded?
What if I also spun you around a few times before so you had no idea what direction you were facing?
This is exactly what marketing without insight is like. Sure, you're pumping out keyword-oriented content, but you have no idea of what actually works for you or your competitors.
There are countless reasons why you need marketing insight, but the four most important ones I can think of are:
1. Keep an eye on the competition
What kind of content are your competitors creating? How is it performing in search and social media? What keywords are bringing them big profits?
Finding answers to all these questions will help you create content that actually gets traffic. If you see that a particular keyword brings in tons of visitors to your competitor, you can be sure that targeting similar keywords will do the same for you.
2. Find new content ideas
Knowing what kind of content actually gets shares and search traffic will help you find ideas for your own site.
For example, if you see that list-based posts targeting specific interest groups (like the "10 Things Only Gamers Will Understand" posts you see on Buzzfeed) get a ton of shares, you can create more content in a similar vein and get a slice of the traffic.
I have used this tactic multiple times both here and on Health Ambition with great success.
3. Build links and increase shares
What websites are linking to your competitors? What kind of content gets the most backlinks? Who is sharing your competitors' content on social media?
Once you have answers to these questions, it becomes much easier to build backlinks. For example, if you see that a competitor gained a link from a 'Resources' page, there's a good chance you can jump in and get a backlink as well.
4. Engage with people who promote your content
People who share, retweet and like your content are your most important assets. If you can find out who these people are and engage with them, you can multiply your network manifold.
The Dangers of Investing in Information Tools
Look, Ahrefs is a fantastic tool, to the point where it's the ONLY SEO and content marketing insight tool we use here at Authority Hacker because it does everything we want.
But there is one thing it does not do: It does not do the work for you.
This is the main issue when you invest in analytics and market research tool. All they do is they give you information and data.
This data is of amazing value for anyone who knows how to read it but most importantly who takes action on it.
I have seen soooo many people buy these kind of tools with great intentions then they never do anything about the data collected.
These people spent a tremendous amount of money while their business did not see any benefit from it.
Don't be that guy.
If you buy Ahrefs or any analytics / market research tool, you ALSO need to set time aside to train yourself (and/or your team) at using it and more time to execute on the information extracted.
Inside this post I will teach you things like:
- How to 5-10x your content hit rate with Ahrefs.
- How to make keyword research a breath
- How to find tons of white hat link building opportunities (so you can finally ditch those stinky PBN's)
- How to understand how your competitors got where they are and how to emulate them.
and more. But the truth is, if you make no time commitment to actually do the things you learn you should do with Ahrefs, it won't do anything other than taking your money monthly from you.
Well, I guess if you are still reading, you want to learn how to do all these things using Ahrefs so let's get started (with some disclaimers).
Who is Ahrefs NOT for?
Ahrefs is a wonderful tool but it isn't for everyone. If you fall into one of the four categories below, you'll do better to avoid Ahrefs altogether.
As a casual blogger, you're not going to get much value from deep insight into your content. Plus, you're unlikely to make any profit from this insight.
You can't have data about a niche if the niche doesn't even exist. If you're in a completely new market (say, Uber), you won't see much use from Ahrefs.
Low Budget Marketers
At $99/month for the Lite plan, Ahrefs isn't cheap. If you're marketing on a tiny budget, you might see better results investing in content. .
Sites with Infrequent Updates
If you're one of those webmasters who updates his site once in a blue moon, Ahrefs isn't for you.
Ahrefs Video Review & Overview
What's Inside Ahrefs?
Ahrefs is a bit different:
Back in the day and for a long time it used to be a link index only, and a pretty good one at that. It has historically been battling with Majestic SEO at being the best index while Moz has always been behind in terms of index size and accuracy.
But recently the company expanded the functionalities of the software a LOT. Transforming it into a real all in one for SEO/Inbound/Content marketing tool.
I am pretty sure they stole a lot of ideas from their competitors but hey, that's how business works and Google or Apple won't argue with that.
Nowadays, Ahrefs is one of the only 2 SEO Tools we have for all our sites. It replaced everything else apart from what Buzzstream does for outreach.
Let me show you what is inside the tool and most importantly how we use it to run content marketing for our sites.
Follow the guide!
1. Crawl Report
After you add your site to Ahrefs, you can see a crawl report that will tell you how your site performs from a search engine robot's perspective.
For example, you can click on 'Performance' in the left pane and sort pages by how long it takes to crawl them.
A high crawl time means that there's something wrong with the page. This is bad for your users and bad for SEO since Google places a premium on site speed..
You can also use it to find pages with 4xx errors (such as 404 errors) and fix the broken parts of your site very easily.
Missing pages and error codes are bad from your users. If people can't find the content they're looking for, you can bet that Google won't be too happy about it.
A large number of 404 error pages can negatively impact SEO, so it's always a good idea to remove them or fix them as quickly as possible.
"High numbers of 404 errors can count against the quality metrics of your site and hurt your rankings"
The most useful feature, though, is the ability to analyse your entire content at a glance. This feature helps you find duplicate titles, missing meta descriptions, multiple H1 tags on a page, all these tiny 1% Onpage SEO Wins that can make a difference and are easily fixed.
I like to think of it as Google Webmaster Tools' crawl report on steroids with useful filtering and export options that speed things up tremendously.
2. Rank Tracker
Ahrefs rank tracker in depth review
This tool helps you keep track of a list of target keywords. You can track your site's progress for up to 250 keywords with the Lite plan and 750 keywords with the Standard plan.
You can also see how your rankings for a particular keyword progress over time.
You can instruct Ahrefs to send you a weekly or daily report of your rankings. I find that it saves me hours every month in manual reporting.
It's particular useful if you have a lot of sites or offer SEO services. On top of that, Ahrefs allows you to track your rankings in multiple locations (country level) and both for desktop and mobile.
It's still not perfect but give how poor the rank tracking market is in terms of product, this is certainly on par with the others and I personally like the mobile/desktop split, especially after the new mobile update.
3. Site Explorer
The Site Explorer is where you'll spend the bulk of your time. This is Ahrefs most comprehensive tool and offers deep insight into a website's top content, backlinks, etc.
Let's see what all the Site Explorer has to offer.
The dashboard shows data about a site in a single glance. You'll see your domain rank (which is Ahrefs version of DA), number of backlinks and referring domains, etc.
This is particularly useful for quickly analyzing competitors. For example, you can analyze the growth in backlinks and organic traffic for a competitor over time.
Limited growth in backlinks and traffic shows a competitor who hasn't actively promoted the site in some time. This makes it a great opportunity to strike and dominate the market.
If you scroll down on this page you will find a myriad of useful information such as:
- The number and types of backlinks pointing to the website
- The link growth velocity in linking root domains and unique pages
- Your estimated URL and Domain rating.
- An estimation of the organic traffic and organic traffic growth of the site
- A list of the top 5 pieces of content in terms of links and shares
- A map of the CTLD (country top level domains) distribution of the links pointing to the site
- A cloud of anchor text with usage %
- The URL rating distribution of the links pointing to that site
Usually you won't use the data on this page for anything else than getting a quick idea of where the site you are analyzing stands at in terms of SEO, content etc.
If you are doing analysis on the fly for clients on the phone or just looking for worthy competitors to analyse, this is the view you will use to make your own judgement of the overall situation of the site.
The top pages function as its name gives away allows you to view the best pages on a given domain based on their backlinks and social metrics.
As expected, this shows the top pages on the site. You can sort the results by social metrics or by backlinks.
This view gives you an opportunity to understand how a specific competitor builds the bulk of their backlinks and to what type of content (so you can replicate it or inspire yourself from it).
I mostly use this for our Skyscraper funnel and to create content that I know I can build links to in order to increase our domain authority and search traffic over time.
Top Grossing Pages
This section crawls a site and figures out the pages that are earning the most links right now.
See, content does not usually get attention in a linear fashion. It works more like bursts of links followed by quiet periods.
The top grossing pages function allows you to identify these bursts without this historical metrics and links on the way. This way you can identify the content that works for your competitors right now!
The main way to use this function is to identify new or old content on your competitor's site that gets traction because of some news or article on a big publication and replicate it in a timely manner followed by targeted outreach to get similar links to them.
It's a great complement to the top pages tool talked about earlier.
Here is a video of me using the site & link explorer to reverse engineer a competitor and shape the strategy for Authority Hacker:
This function is what got Ahrefs famous and to be honest it's their curse as well because people won't see it as anything else than a link checker (when it in fact is a great alternative to all in ones like Moz).
Think of it as the Open Site Explorer on steroids. You also get tons of data on new links acquired by a site, which is great for spotting opportunities. Plus, there's a tool to disavow links - great if you get lots of bad links.
Let's dive into each section of the link explorer in more detail.
Google officially recommends that you clean up any 'bad links' pointing to your site since it can negatively affect search results. If you can't remove the links yourself, Google offers a way to 'disavow' the link so that it doesn't have an impact on your site rankings.
This is an advanced tactic and should be used very carefully. In fact, Google even gives out a warning on its Webmaster support page:
Ahrefs offers a functionality that allows you to create a disavow file for you to upload to Webmaster tools.
It will also keep a tab of the links/domains you disavowed and not show them in the link graph results so that you get an accurate view at how Google looks at your site.
Disavowing a link in Ahrefs is as simple as selecting a link and clicking the 'Disavow URL' button.
If you want to do this in bulk, there's a way to do that as well with the 'Upload Disavowed Links' too. Just upload a text file with your links and Ahrefs will make sure that they don't leave an impact on your SEO.
Filtering Down Links
Ahrefs has pretty nifty tools for filtering links into different categories, as shown:
The link section of ahrefs allows you to dice and slice any website's link profile based on criterias such as:
- Nofollow vs Dofollow
- Sitewide vs Not Sitewide
- EDU / GOV Links
- Links by platform type (WordPress, forums etc...)
- Links by language of the linking page (new feature)
I mostly use this to dig into a link profile and find out what valuable the links that really make a difference for the site are.
This section will give you a list of the site's newly acquired and recently lost links. Ahrefs is very thorough with the filtering options - you can find links between a specific period, or sort links acquired in the last week, month or 60 days.
I like to use it to connect with the people who link to us and build a real relationship as well as save dropped links when possible.
- New links: If someone liked our content enough to link to us, it's a great opportunity to connect and build a relationship for repeated links, cross promotion etc (check our Buzzstream review for outreach tips)
- Lost links: People rarely talk about it but links DO go down. very often a quick email to notify the person linking to you will get it fixed and maintain your link equity. I suggest you check every few months and batch it up.
Here are some recommended templates both for the new links and the broken links:
I was just browsing my analytics today and noticed you recently linked to my content ([link]) from your site.
I just wanted to say thanks a lot! That's truly appreciated and I'd love to repay you the favour someday. Just let me know how I can help :).
The goal of that email is to bait a reply and start a discussion. Nothing more. Next time you have a piece they could link to, you'll be in a good place to ask for it ;).
My name is [Your Name] and I'm the main editor at [yoursite.com].
I am sending you a quick email to let you know that one of your link/pages just went down in case you'd like to fix it ([insert url here]).
Hope that helps!
Same here, the goal is to bait a reply or at least bait a fix of the site so you get your link back. When they reply you can pitch more links from your domain as well.
Ahrefs does a pretty good job of showing all broken inbound and outbound links on a site.
This is another great link building opportunity. If you REALLY want a link from a given site, simply find broken links on pages that could host links to your site as well and email the editor letting him know you found broken links on his site then pitching him your links when he replies.
Here are some recommended email templates for that:
Email 1 - Bait
I was browsing your site today and found several broken links on a few pages, are you interested in me forwarding those to you?
We're just baiting a reply here.
Email 2 - Pitch
Sure, here are the broken links I found:
- [link 1] on [page 1]
- [link 2] on [page 2]
- [link 3] on [page 3]
Additionally as I was browsing I thought maybe this resource ([URL]) would fit on this page ([URL]). What do you think?
At the same time, broken backlinks on your own site are bad from a user-experience point of view, so removing them is a good idea as well.
4. Content Explorer
There are three ways you can use the Content Explorer:
- Finding new content ideas: Search for your target keyword to find most shared content on it. Use this data to brainstorm similar content ideas.
- Find sharers and influencers: Ahrefs will show you who all shared a piece of content on Twitter. You can use this to create a list of influencers and sharers who you can tweet your copycat content to in hope for reshares.
- Find content for sharing: Curating relevant, high-quality content on social media is one way to establish yourself as a thought leader. Use the content explorer to find new and popular content to share on social media. If you combine it with Sniply it can even become a nice way to lead gen / generate traffic for your online business.
Let's look at all the Content Explorer features that will help you do the above.
This will be your bread and butter - type in a general query and Ahrefs will show you the most popular content for it.
The Advanced search option is pretty much like Google - you can use a bunch of operators to make your searches more exact.
Very nifty if you want content on a specific topic. For example, if I want content on "content marketing" that does not mention SEO, I can just do something like:
- "content marketing" -seo
I really dig Ahrefs filtering options, particularly the ability to filter results based on a specific date range.
It's especially useful if you are looking to do some "newsjacking". IE Riding the wave of viral news right now.
You can identify a topic that everyone talks about on Facebook or Twitter, create a short article based on it, sometimes just embedding a video talking about it and then use your social media following to seed it for traffic and shares.
This also works great for curation together with Sniply to generate site clicks.
This is one of the most useful features in the Content Explorer. Click the 'View' button under the Twitter icon for any link and you'll see a list of people who've shared it.
You can also sort the sharers by their retweet ratio. A high ratio means that they are more likely to retweet your links.
There are three ways you can use this feature:
- Find people to follow: In our Twitter guide, we talked about how important it is to follow targeted people. One way to do this is to find people who've shared content similar on a topic similar to yours.
- Demographic research: Once you browse a few profiles of sharers, you'll get an idea of what kind of people share content like yours. It's subjective, but it's handy when you're trying to get some insight into your target audience.
- Get retweets: Find people who retweet heavily, then request them for a retweet via email, DM or a tweet. If your content is good, you'll be surprised how many people will be happy to follow through.
Here is what I'd tweet to someone I found in there to tweet my content:
Hey @name, I just released this piece on x, I think you'll get a kick out of it: [URL], feel free to share if you like it :).
The main issue with this feature though is that it relies on the fresh tweets Twitter API and as a result, it only shows you the people that shared the content very recently.
This means that if the piece of content you are reverse engineering is older, you probably won't find many influencers.
I wish Ahrefs saved these people and showed them historically rather than doing a simply API call *wink wink Ahrefs developpers*, that would make that functions a lot more useful.
After talking to Tim from Ahrefs, he explained to me that storying that data was against Twitter's terms of service which is why it's not done. They are however working on an alternative solution that seems just as good, stay tuned on their blog to know when they release it :)
Content Analysis Breakdown
This is one of my favorite bits about this tool - the ability to see the content's performance over time at a glance.
Hit the arrow at the extreme right of a link and you'll see a screen showing the number of referring domains/pages over time, the exact backlinks, the number of shares and all the keywords that piece ranks for along with the progress over time.
It's a great way to see if a piece of heavily shared content is doing well in the SERPs as well. Strong organic traffic + backlinks means that you should create more content of that type on your own site to grow your authority.
How We Use The Content Explorer To Find Content Ideas
Ahrefs Content Explorer vs. BuzzSumo
The Ahrefs Content Explorer is very similar to Buzzsumo - both show you top content for a topic, its sharers, and give you the ability to filter down results.
The obvious question is: which one of these deserves your money?
- $179/month for ahrefs standard
- Offers backlink data on top of social data
- Better overtime performance graphs
- Queries the content ranks for on Google
- The rest of the Ahrefs tools
- $99/month for the pro plan
- Allows you to break down content types (infographics, guest posts, videos etc)
- Has better influencer data
- Can interact with Twitter (follow, tweet etc) directly from the app.
The main difference here is that the content explorer is just one of the tools Ahrefs offers while it's the entire product for Buzzsumo.
One thing I really miss from Buzzsumo inside Ahrefs is the breakdown of the types of content (Infographics, videos etc) but you can kind of make up for it with advanced queries.
Overall given the price difference, the awesome SEO tools and the overall usefulness, Ahrefs wins my money in this face-off.
5. Positions Explorer
The Positions Explorer gives you insight into a domain's organic keywords and rankings. Type a domain into the search box and you'll see a thorough analysis of the domain's top competitors, pages, content and growth in rankings/keywords over time.
This is a very neat feature you'll turn to time and again to brainstorm keyword ideas and spot opportunities. Let's look at in more detail.
This is the screen that will greet you when you type a domain into the search box.
You'll get an estimate of the number of organic keywords the domain ranks for, and the monthly traffic from those keywords. You'll also see top competitors, pages, the growth in organic rankings, and a heatmap of the domain's SERPs.
This is particularly interesting to observe this graph to understand if as a whole, the content strategy of a given site is working or not.
If it's working: inspire yourself from it, if it's not, stay away.
Clicking the 'Top Pages' link in the left pane will show you the top ranked pages from the site in terms of traffic or number of organic ranked keywords.
This is a good way to find out what kind of content actually ranks in SERPs and brainstorm some content ideas.
For example, our post on the top 23 bloggers of all time is one of the best performing pages on this site. If you're a competitor, you would want to create content on a similar topic to try and outrank AH.
This option is amazing because it takes long tail keywords into account.
Many pages will get the bulk of their traffic from long tail keywords and most reverse engineering tools will past right through without you being able to notice these pages because they report on keyword level.
The fact that they are aggregated on page level lets you discover these long tail keywords easily and be smarter with your content.
Here is a video I recently produced for Ahrefs that shows how we use this function to brainstorm a lot of our content:
This tool will show you recent changes in the SERPs for the site's content. You'll see what keywords the site has gained rankings for, and for what it has lost organic traffic.
I basically use this feature to mostly track our own sites and get a feel of their daily performances without having to add all long tail keywords to the tracker.
Want to know what keyword are actually profitable for a website? Simple: check what keywords it is actually advertising for.
This tool lets you do exactly that - it will show you a list of keywords a site advertises on Google for, along with the top pages from the site and a selection of ads.
Use this data to find profitable keywords.
For example, Airbnb has ads for keywords like 'flats to rent in Dublin' and 'short weekend breaks abroad'.
If I was an Airbnb competitor, I would create content for these keywords to siphon off some organic traffic.
Additionally this tool also allows you to uncover the ad copy and landing page URL. Perfect for reverse engineering Adwords competitor and piggy back riding the thousands of dollars your competition surely spent optimising their campaigns.
Ahrefs Position Explorer vs. SEMRush
The Positions Explorer is very similar in features to what SEMRush offers.
Obviously, you're wondering: which one should I buy?
Let's weigh in:
- Starts at $99/month
- Only covers the UK and US
- Finds up to 3x more keywords than SEMrush
- Daily Ranking Updates
- Starts at $69.95/month
- Covers over 13 countries
- Terrible backlink data
This one is a close tie and which one you should buy really depends on what you need. If you need SERP data outside the US and UK, SEMRush is what you should go for.
If you want to find more long tail keywords, want accurate backlink data and have a use for the other tools it offers, Ahrefs is a no brainer.
6. Keyword Explorer
The Keyword Explorer is Ahrefs keyword research tool. It was added very recently to Ahrefs and isn't nearly as feature rich as some of other standalone keyword tools out there. But it is quite handy to expand core keywords into long tail.
The good thing about this tool is how easy it is to use. You just type in a keyword and see a long list of long tail suggestions, sorted by estimated traffic.
Ahrefs will add more capabilities to the Keyword Explorer in the near future. For now, it's a good way to expand lists of keywords.
I won't compare it to any established keyword tool because it does not compare yet, treat it more as a bonus than a full feature.
Check it out : Side by side comparison of the best keyword research tools
7. Domain Comparison & Batch Report
With the Domain Comparison, you can compare up to 5 domains against each other.
You'll get in-depth data on their domain rating, social followers, referring domains, backinks, etc.
Use it to see how you fare against the competition (once every 6 months take a screenshot and compare over time).
Ahrefs also has a Batch Analysis tool for gathering intelligence on a list of domains. Just enter a bunch of domains or URLs and Ahrefs will show you their domain level metrics.
I use it extensively when building competitor lists of people within my Domain Rating range to reverse engineer them later.
8. SEO Toolbar
In addition to all the above, Ahrefs also has its own SEO toolbar for both Chrome and Firefox. This is like other SEO toolbars you might have used before, except it uses data from Ahrefs.
There are two ways to get data about a website with the SEO toolbar:
I. SERP overlay: Every time you search a query on Google, you'll see key stats about the URL right in the search results.
Very useful to replace keyword difficulty tools. You just need to google stuff and look at the metrics of the top 10 results to get an idea of how competitive the keyword is.
II. Domain/page level stats: While browsing the web, you'll see a small bar at the top of the page with detailed stats about the URL. This includes the URL rating, backlinks, referring domains, social shares, and domain-level stats.
Switch the toolbar on when you're doing initial competitor research. You'll save a ton of time instead of going to Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is the backbone of our SEO operations. I use it every day to keep track of our site rankings, to brainstorm content ideas, and to find new backlinking opportunities. It is the 'Swiss army knife' of marketing and is nearly indispensable here at AH.
Of course, starting at $99/month, it's not cheap and to be frank a lot of options we talked about in this review only really come with the $179/month option. but Ahrefs can replace multiple tools. A single subscription to Ahrefs can do the job of Moz, SEMRush, Buzzsumo and Rank Tracker combined. If you were to buy all these tools separately, you'd look at a bill running into $300+ .
What I like the most about Ahrefs is that the team is really dedicated to improving the product. The Keyword and the Positions Explorer, for example, were added very recently and are already as good as their competitors.
And because I talk regularly with their marketing team I can say for a fact that they have some pretty cool stuff about to be released soon (damn, I'm going to have to revisit this review a lot)
So if you are serious about marketing, you'd want to spend some cash on a Ahrefs subscription. It'll make you back the money - and more - within weeks if you actually act on the information you receive.
Summary: If there is one marketing tool that is truly indispensable to Authority Hacker, it would be Ahrefs. A must have for any serious content marketer or SEO. The reason we only give it 4 stars is because of the price.