The Only Guide to Ahrefs You Will Ever Need

One of the most common troubles affecting internet marketers and website owners currently is not the tools at their disposal. There are plenty of tools flooding the markets, all providing different spins on the same thing. No, the true struggle comes in the need to learn how to truly utilize the tools that they own. A highly comprehensive tool that is no stranger to this issue is the titan that is Ahrefs.


Explaining Ahrefs and an Overview

Ahrefs is by far one of the most comprehensive, all-encompassing social media and search engine optimization (SEO) software suites on the market today. Most SEO professionals simply know Ahrefs as a program to check and commandeer competitor backlinks and keywords. They put Ahrefs in the same bucket as such programs like Majestic, or standard analytical tools with far lower indices like SEMRush and Moz.

However, simply using Ahrefs as a check for backlinks and keywords is an incredible undersell for the tool as a marketing suite. And at the price point Ahrefs comes in at, most would be amazed at the feature-rich options available to users and subscribers.

The feature sets of Ahrefs are so vast that one can easily get lost in the noise, eventually pushing everything else aside and just tracking a few websites and keywords. This is a fool’s errand, and is the equivalent of using a supercomputer to check email. We used to do the same, until we dug into the true power of Ahrefs. It is from this research that we have developed this guide, the ultimate guide to using Ahrefs to its maximum potential.

Focus overviews in this guide include:

  • The main dashboard
  • Site Explorer for Link Data
  • Site Explorer for Search Data
  • Content Explorer
  • Keyword Explorer
  • Additional tools provided by Ahrefs

Without any further ado, let’s dig right in!

Our Overall Ahrefs Review

When compared to other SEO tools on the market, based on our work with Ahrefs, it cannot be beaten. We were requested to put together an Ahrefs review, and the results are unbeatable. In the end, Ahrefs is truly a Swiss Army Knife of a marketing tool.

While Ahrefs might lack the reporting features and management of keywords that Moz Pro might have, it is still an all-around winner. Also, while Ahrefs might lack the high-quality user experience, and instead is more minimal and spartan than SpyFu, again it remains the overall winner.

It can do plenty of things well beyond the crawling that it is known for. Ahrefs can truly be the end all be all marketing tool in your arsenal. They have proven their worth as well by investing their time and funding into improvements in interfaces, advanced reporting features, and incredibly strong keyword management.

Glossary of common Ahrefs terms

Software as extensive as Ahrefs will generally have their own jargon, definitions and terminology. These terms will be a commonplace through this guide, so it is important to familiarize yourself with what they mean. Here are some of the most used terms that are unique to Ahrefs, link building, and search engine optimization.

DR (Domain Rating)

A measure developed by Ahrefs to quantify the quality and number of links that point to an entire domain. These quality and quantity correlation show higher rankings for all URLs in domains across search engines, and are quantified with a DR between zero and 100, where the higher the DR is, the better a site’s links are.

UR (URL Rating)

A measure developed by Ahrefs to quantify the quality and number of links that point to a specific URL (not an entire domain). These quality and quantity correlations also show higher rankings for a target URL across search engines. UR is quantified with a ranking between zero and 100, with higher generally being better.

Ahrefs Rank

Ahrefs has their own system of ranking domains when compared to other domains on the Internet that have passed through their databases. The lower the number, the higher your rank.


A backlink is the name for a hyperlink on an external website or internal site page that points to another page on a website in question.

Referring Pages

This refers to the number of web pages with hyperlinks that point to a specific URL. Pages can have multiple referring links.

Referring Domain

This refers to the count of unique domains with hyperlinks that point to a specific URL. Domains can have multiple backlinks and referring pages.

Referring Content

This is Ahrefs’ own measure based on relative traffic numbers that unique pieces of content push to a chosen URL. This is based on simple popularity metrics of referring content.


These represent the different types of anchor text that are used within the backlinks of a URL that is searched through Ahrefs.

Not Sitewide and Sitewide

This is Ahrefs’ own categorization of links, showing whether it is shown in the same area on all pages of a referring domain, or if it is only present in one or a few of the pages of a referring domain.

Ahrefs Fresh Index

This index contains all links that have been seen on Ahrefs’ live crawl in the past three months. This includes those links that were considered dead on the most recent re-crawl of the links.

Ahrefs Live Index

This index contains all links that are considered live as of the most recent Ahrefs re-crawl.

Top Pages

This term refers to the top web pages for some of the above terms based on the criteria that has been selected for sorting.

Diving In: The Ahrefs Dashboard

Ahrefs’ dashboard is the center command. This is the location where all the most important, high level data for your Ahrefs account and selected projects can be kept and displayed in a succinct manner. Some of the more high-value metrics and numbers that are tracked through this dashboard panel are:

  • Technical crawling errors
  • Newly obtained backlinks
  • New referring domains
  • Ahrefs’ URL and domain ratings and rankings

Additionally, this dashboard keeps track of content-based alerts, keyword rankings, and potential links for self-disavowal (which we will cover later in this guide).

Primary Features of the Ahrefs Dashboard

Two of the most important features of the Ahrefs dashboard to many users are the content alerts and keyword ranking factors. While rankings may not play as large of a role as they used to when organic search traffic was king, they are still an important metric to follow and indicator of growth of a site.

Also, as tracking of rankings is something embedded within Ahrefs’ dashboard, it is definitely worth loading in some of your known critical keywords to maintain a solid viewpoint on ranking changes and potential issues.

Alerts are highly useful for many facets of Ahrefs analyses, namely competitor analysis and outreach planning. Users should focus on multiple key phrases that play direct relevance to their website. This will allow the user to obtain a feed and an alert whenever new pieces of content have been published focused around those keywords or key phrases.

The alert area allows you to add a search query, determine if they should be searched for everywhere, in the title, or just in the content, which language should be targeted, and if the interval should be daily, weekly, or in real time.

Pro-tips for Ahrefs Dashboard Alerts

Email notifications are no longer the sought-after alert feature that most people look for. We are growing more and more averted to spammy, non-personalized emails and notifications. However, setting up email notifications and following them religiously when the sender is Ahrefs is a solid method to get in the habit of utilizing Ahrefs data.

Do you have the discipline to check your alerts after a long day of working on your web properties? Us either. Unless you possess that level of methodical discipline, it is common for these monitoring habits to fall to the wayside. Looking for a solution? Look no further than Google Analytics intelligence alert integration.

While Google Analytics intelligence alerts are not specifically a piece of Ahrefs as it pertains to this guide, it is incredibly helpful when done in tandem with Ahrefs email notifications. Setting these two alert types up at readable and not incessant intervals will assist you as a user in never missing a beat.

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer (for Link Data)

Site Explorer is the true core of Ahrefs’ feature-rich draw. This explorer allows users to enter a URL, and then glean an entire subset of backlinks for that URL. As of 2016, this has been expanded to new levels as well. Users can also see organic keyword rankings, social data, and PPC data. For the purposes of this section, we will focus on Site Explorer’s usage for link data.

Ahrefs obtains this data through running crawlers all over the Internet. This is much like how Google and other search engines dispatch their crawlers or spiders across the Internet to check for new pages. To be honest, all backlink checkers you see online, including Ahrefs and all competitors, attempts to replicate the methods Google uses to crawl and index the links they find.

Please note, no backlink checker is equivalent to Googlebot. Also, no crawler, not even Google’s, can scour the entire Internet. No backlink checker can come close to Google, but per multiple analyses, led by some of the strongest authorities in search engine optimization, Ahrefs is far above their competitors.

But why is this the case?

Through Ahrefs’ Site Explorer feature for link data, users not only have massive indexes of links that closely replicate Google’s own crawlers. They also can overlap, extract, and join to provide different and extra data.

Ahrefs strips out anchor texts (which are the texts displayed with a hyperlink), as well as type of backlink, follow status of the link itself, IP addresses, social metrics, and HTTP statuses. This extra information, when added to a massive index of links, works to set Ahrefs apart, converting it into a true suite for marketing.

However, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for link data is very much the most complicated of all the tools bundled in with the product. This is simply due to the wealth of information. This being the case, what can be considered its most important features? Let’s dig in.

Most important features in Site Explorer link data

There are four incredibly important features in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for link data are inbound links, top referring content, top content, and broken links.

  • Search engines utilize inbound links as proxies for real-time human endorsements of websites. The higher the number of links from trusted sites on pages with relevance leads to more assumed organic traffic numbers. This feature enables users to pull all links from specified URLs, and from there sort and compile to obtain the information being looked for.

  • Another important feature is top referring content. This Ahrefs feature shows users what content online has a link pointed at the URL being examined. It also grabs the estimated share and most links and shares. This provides a ballpark estimate for what links can send referring traffic to the URL being examined.

  • Additionally, top content features of the Site Explorer allow users to inspect how certain pages of a URL have performed. Users can sort by shares, number of links, or weighted Ahrefs scores.

  • Also, the broken links feature is key, and makes appearances in both outbound links and inbound links. This option shows users the links that are linking to or linking from a URL that no longer exists.

Things that can be done with Site Explorer Link Data

Whatever you might be currently using with alternative backlink checkers, it can be done with Ahrefs and more. There are an incredible number of things that can be done straight from the main part of the Site Explorer. However, there are also exports to Google Sheets and Excel for a more dynamic and customized working environment.

Some of the many things that can be done with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for link data include:

  • Determining which marketing tactics have worked well for your competition
  • Analyzing what content performs well in your niche
  • Identification of easy link building opportunities
  • Identification of influential prospects for marketing purposes
  • Conducting campaigns for broken link building

Determining which marketing tactics have worked well for your competition

Ahrefs users can take the link data and other information of their competitors (regardless of size) and determine where they are obtaining their links from. With this, a user can attempt to try and obtain the same links. An alternative option, which is typically more recommended by SEO professionals) is to take this information, and use it to get an understanding of what has been working for power players in the niche in question. This information can then be utilized to develop tactics unique to a particular site.

Additionally, users can inspect competitor’s referring domains. This will take the same information, and group it by domain, for a more high-level example of insight.

Analyzing what content performs well in your niche

Everyone browses their own version of the Internet, living in a filtering bubble all their own. At some point, it can be difficult to imagine that one of your most loved, most visited websites is not more well-known outside of your own little circles.

On less granular levels, many internet marketers are of the belief that the content that causes shares to be generated will also lead to links being created and cultivated. Through Moz’s own analysis of over a million links, this could not be further from the truth.

As author Steve Rayson puts it:

What we found is that the majority of content published on the internet is simply ignored when it comes to shares and links. The data suggests most content is simply not worthy of sharing or linking, and also that people are very poor at amplifying content. It may sound harsh but it seems most people are wasting their time either producing poor content or failing to amplify it.

But what does Site Explorer do to assist?

Ahrefs Site Explorer allows users to utilize the top content reporting. This helps users to understand what is working well and what is falling short. With this, you can understand the pages that are getting links through the organic presence of the page alone. You can also determine what gets shares, and the types of content that are being picked up.

The Top Content feature of Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for link data can also answer a multitude of other questions, including:

  • Do press releases truly matter to my link presence and ranking ability?
  • Do infographics work for my audience to build links?
  • What content for my competition is a major driving factor for their links, traffic, and shares?

Identification of easy link building opportunities

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for link data has reports that provide intersects of links. This lets users input multiple URLs to discern the types of websites linking to industry sites or competing sites, but not linking to your target website.

This same data set can be obtained by exporting sets of multiple links from several different sites and running them through some Excel lookups and suck. However, the handy link intersect tool performs these tasks far faster and more effectively.

Just a few questions to scratch the surface of what answers the link intersect tool can provide are:

  • Are there industry publications that provide links to multiple competitors, but have forgotten to link to your site?
  • Are there reporters or blogs that are focused on your niche and have interviewed competing websites, but have not yet reached out to yours?

Ahrefs’ link intersect tool can uncover the answers to some of these questions, and provide some fast links that can assist in giving your site the edge over your competitors.

Identification of Influential Prospects for Marketing Purposes

Users can quickly and easily utilize combinations of the report for Top Referring Content, and reports for inbound linking. This report combination will assist in identifying websites that are truly influential in a user’s chosen niche. Additionally, these websites already are linking to industry publications and alternative competition.

However, users can also take things one step further. By sorting by URL Rating or Domain Rating, they can discern which of these influential prospects matters most to search engines and ranking. With today’s world of limitations in time and resources, prioritization matters. But, make sure that you note down what your goals are. You don’t want to be spending hours sorting and sifting through data without a clear end goal in mind.

There are times that some of the strongest influencers are found in markets that may not be the initial expectation. For example, some of the largest influencers for a large outdoors retailer are not the hikers and bikers expected. Instead, some of their strongest potential influencing parties are those in survivalist and travel hacking niches.

Conducting campaigns for broken link building

By far one of the most effective, consistent tactics for building links through search engine optimization is searching for and harnessing broken links. The concept is simple. Find web resources that do not exist any longer. Then, rebuild them. Finally, submit to get these links directed to broken resources pointed to your own instead. Conversely, one can correct any kinds of broken links that their own site has.

This process can be performed manually, of course. However, in the vein of effectiveness, broken link reporting through Ahrefs allows users to build from broken links effectively and efficiently.

Three Tricks with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for Link Data

There are endless tips and tricks that can make Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for Link Data work to your advantage. Three of the most useful tricks include:

  • Effortlessly locating broken links that are worthwhile
  • Explorations of top publishers and Wikipedia
  • Narrowing of potential results

Effortlessly locating broken links that are worthwhile

Find a massive website and check out their list of broken links on the Outbound side. Quickly, and without much effort, you will receive a gigantic list of broken link resources. Now, take those same URLs, and then check out their Inbound links. See the sites that link to the broken URLs? Those websites are potential prospects for a large-scale broken link building campaign.

This works great in reverse as well. Take a massive website with plenty of pages of resources, and then pull that site’s broken links on the Inbound side. Then, grab the links that point to those broken Inbound URLs. These can also be a potential prospect for a large-scale broken link building campaign.

Explorations of top publishers and Wikipedia

Ahrefs users exploring the Site Explorer for link data can pull metrics for links from URLs found on Wikipedia as they relate to their specific niche. From here, these results can be searched by subfolders as well, assisting in developing marketing plans centered around the results.

For example, you can also take publisher-focused websites relating to the target industry, and then pull down a top content Ahrefs report. This gives you the opportunity to skim past any content that you clearly know works and works well. Additionally, you will receive countless opportunities for links that are outside the scope of what your competition has.

Another option is to do the same as above (grabbing niche-relevant Wikipedia pages or industry websites), and pulling a report for top referring content. The result of this is likely going to be a list including publications on mainstream media sources (news sites, etc). From here, you can put on your investigative hat and perform some research into the author of the news pieces in reference.

Narrowing of potential results

As mentioned above regarding Wikipedia, it is vital to not forget that you can still perform searches through Ahrefs Site Explorer for link data for:

  • Subdomains of a specific website
  • Subfolders of a specific Wiki or niche site
  • Specific URLs on publications

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer (for Search Data)

The Ahrefs Site Explorer for Search Data was once referred to as Positions Explorer. This piece of the Ahrefs package dives into the keywords that domains are ranking for. From here, the results provide some estimation for the types of traffic that the pages of a domain (and the domain itself) are obtaining organically. Organic traffic comes from visitors searching for specific or broad terms through search engines, and ending up on a target website.

Additionally, this section of Ahrefs tracks paid search positions. This is something that alternative search tools generally do not track, regardless of the price point for the tool.

The Ahrefs Site Explorer for Search Data will crawl through the SERPs (Google’s search engine results pages) to aggregate data in a more informative, useful output that can be analyzed to determine trends and actions. Additionally, this service obtains search volumes through Ahrefs’ Keyword Planner. Once this is grabbed, the service pinpoints the organic traffic that is flowing into a domain or link, based on the click through rates that are standard for that specific spot in the rankings.

Points of Note on Search data

However, there are some things that need to be noted about this piece of the Ahrefs tool. Remember, everything that is spit out as a result with this is a ball park estimate. This is the case with all tools that estimate traffic, like Compete, SimilarWeb, SEMRush, and more.

For this reason, it is not recommended to use tools such as Ahrefs for strict reporting purposes on traffic estimates. There are far too many variables that can change numbers from the reality. Each of these variables come with their own margin of error. Do not let the precision of displayed search data trick you into an incorrect sense of accuracy.

Remember, Ahrefs pulls its keyword data faster and far more frequently than its competitors. It is important nevertheless to inspect important rankings on your own, and also against what is displayed on the up-to-date Ahrefs Keyword Planner for those specific individual search terms. A little bit of deeper research can go a long way in making the most of Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for search data.

This being stated, it should be noted that the Site Explorer for search data is by far the most underrated tool that comes with the Ahrefs suite of internet marketing tools.

Most important features in Site Explorer Search data

One of the most apparent features in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for search data is a relatively accurate estimate for the number of keywords with a search volume that a domain or URL is ranking for. Additionally, this number includes a traffic estimation as a basis for those keywords.

While the overview features in search data provide interesting data, it is not incredibly useful without diving in for some context through other pieces of Ahrefs.

When looking at true utility of the features Site Explorer provides for search data, one piece clearly reigns supreme for usability and effectiveness. That feature is the Top Pages, super useful for both Paid and Organic search segments.

An additional extremely notable feature is Top Competitors. This provides the domains that are shared most frequently, and have similar search results to URLs and domains that you are analyzing. Also, this can be done for pay-per-click (PPC) ads, showing users a sample of the advertisements that are showing up near the top of the search results pages.

Things that can be done with Site Explorer Search Data

Whatever you might be currently using with alternative backlink checkers, it can be done with Ahrefs and more. There are an incredible number of things that can be done straight from the main part of the Site Explorer. However, there are also exports to Google Sheets and Excel for a more dynamic and customized working environment.

Some of the many things that can be done with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for search data include:

  • Analyses of top content occurring from other websites
  • Performing stronger keyword research best practices
  • Stronger research into competition
  • “Sniping” of working advertisements for competing search terms
  • Discovering competitors for keywords and link research

Analyses of top content occurring from other websites

While we have mentioned that the true numbers in Ahrefs’ Positions Explorer can be very inaccurate at times, the differentials and relationships amongst the pages and keywords are fairly accurate, and can be used for proper decision making.

What this means is that, while specific URLs may not drive a specific number of visitors each month, if they are listed as top organic pages, that position should be accurate. The difference cones in the traffic, as the change in traffic between the first and second URLs in this Top Organic section is also accurate. These accuracies are for two different reasons:

  1. Even if numbers for traffic are not ideal, the relative volumes of those numbers are accurate. Broad range search terms will obviously show higher volumes than their long-tail counterparts.
  2. On the level of a landing page, almost all website traffic conforms to what is known commonly as the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 Principle. 20 percent of pages are drivers for 80 percent of traffic.

But why is this important? This data comes at a wonderful advantage, as users can find and build from competing websites and industry publications. With these tools, a user can learn from all their related content, and then move directly for the strongest search terms.

Performing stronger keyword research best practices

One of the most difficult challenges in all of keyword research is the ability to think laterally. It is a struggle to transcend from differing variations of one single keyword to keywords that are complementary or semi-synonymous. These alternative keywords are reflections of the true intent of your audiences.

An example of this, is the conceptualization of hopping from keywords such as:

  • Bathing suits
  • Women’s bathing suits
  • Women’s swimsuits

To “bikinis”. Basically, taking niche based keywords, and instead of hopping from the same variation of one keyword (both in broader and LSI versions), to something completely different, but still related in the same niche.

These kinds of transitions can be difficult to attain. The Keyword Planner from Google is not that wonderful at its job. Oftentimes, this means needing to utilize tools such as Google Correlate in non-traditional fashions. Or, there’s Ahrefs.

Through Ahrefs’ Positions Explorer, the issue is solved. By allowing users to take Top Pages, and then view what other keywords those same pages are ranking for, users obtain a stronger and more robust list of relevant keywords, introducing further diversification into keyword research processes.

Stronger research into competition

Typically, in most cases real world competition is far different than other competitors regarding search results. It can be incredibly difficult to track down who your true competitors are in the search engine results pages. At least without a little help. With Competing Pages, Content Gap tools, and Competing Domains, Ahrefs comes in handy yet again.

These tool sets are massive, and are an incredible help. If you know who one of your competitors is in search results, you can easily locate all the rest. From that point, you can determine what content should be targeted more effectively to get a leg up on your competition.

“Sniping” of working advertisements for competing search terms

Positions Explorer’s paid section can be used effectively to snipe advertising concepts from your competition. If you can see the benefits and concepts that your competitors are utilizing, you will quickly gain a direction to either:

  • Directly copy the ideas that your competitors are using, or
  • Spin their ideas into versions of your own, stronger concept

Discovering competitors for keywords and link research

Most search engine optimization professionals are more than familiar with explaining to their clients that search engine competition is completely different than real-world website competition.

However, outside of scraping the internet for a few focus terms or vanity keywords, it is extremely difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to discover your search engine (SERP) competition systematically. However, users can utilize Ahrefs’ Position Explorer to add a few new competitors to a growing list for analysis and “stealing”.

Two Tricks with Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for Search Data

For internet marketing professionals who are adept in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet tools, there is a wonderful feature present in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for search data. Within Ahrefs, you can export tons of keywords under both Organic Keywords and Top Pages for analysis and deeper dives.

Additionally, if you are looking to remove useless search terms, like brand based terms and noisy keywords, there is a quick and simple workaround. Simply go to the Organic Keywords section, and then filter by both phrase length and then keyword included.

It should be known that longer phrases will typically provide deeper insight into things people are searching for and questions they are looking to have answered.

Ahrefs’ Content Explorer

When it comes to creating marketing content, developing mass quantities of copy is one thing, but crafting effective content is an entirely different—and more elusive—beast. Ahrefs’ Content Explorer tool can be a useful resource for marketing writers who want to make sure that every word counts.

Content Explorer allows users to search the internet to find the most-shared content related to a given topic. Simply enter a keyword or website into the search field, and Content Explorer will churn out a list of articles ranked by three main performance metrics: social shares on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest; organic search traffic, based on the number of monthly clicks an article receives based on user searches; and referring domains, a measure of links to the article from unique sites.

While this basic functionality is in itself useful (and fascinating—you can spend hours going down rabbit holes with this tool), you can further expand its value by mining Content Explorer’s key features.

Key Features of Content Explorer

Content Explorer’s functionality is quite simple: enter topic, find content. However, incorporating the tool’s newly-improved advanced search filters and Boolean operators can help users refine and customize their results to identify the most relevant content available online while also sifting out “junk” results like clickbait.

Content Explorer’s Advanced Search function allows you to shape your search with the following filters:

  • Site: limits results to specific sites or domains (.com, .edu, etc.)
  • Author: limits results to pieces by a single author or a select list
  • “Or” and “And”: narrows or expands the focus of a phrase
  • Fuzziness: Includes results from similar words or phrases; useful if you’re unsure of a keyword’s spelling
  • Proximity searches: Finds documents that include the given keywords with a set number of other words between them
  • Boolean operators: Sets specific parameters for words to be included or excluded from a phrase or document
  • Grouping: searches for more than one term based on grouping by parentheses

While it can be entertaining and informative to experiment with these filters and browse various results, this tool is most effective when combined with a specific goal, such as publishing an article that elicits Facebook likes or developing seasonal content that inspires sharing. Once you’ve established the purpose of your search, it becomes much easier to tailor your approach to achieve it.

Using Your Search Results from Content Explorer

Once you’ve conducted your Content Explorer search, you can use the information you’ve gleaned to accomplish a variety of outcomes:

Brainstorm New Content Ideas

This may be the most obvious use of Content Explorer, but it’s a valuable one. To keep your content fresh and relevant to your target audience, you can use Content Explorer to search for new and trending takes on a given topic and further refine them to fit your strategy.

Guide Your PUBLIC RELATIONS strategy

Drafting a generic press release and blasting it to every media outlet you can think of is both inefficient and in most cases, ineffective. If you want your piece to run in a major publication, you’ll need to adapt it to the preferences and style of its editors and readers.  

Content Explorer can help you discover what type of content a specific publication tends to run and which pieces have historically done well with its subscribers. Truly savvy marketers can even narrow their searches to a select list of journalists and appeal to them based on their past successes with particular articles and subjects.

Gain Insight into a Topic

Even if you’re an expert on a niche topic, like hydroponic gardening or Nashville tourism, your understanding is still limited by your individual perspective. Too many content marketers fall victim to this so-called “curse of knowledge” and achieve mediocre results because of it.

Content Explorer combats the side effects of this “curse” by expanding your views on a subject. By tweaking your search terms, you can learn how different groups of people experience a topic and then craft your final product based on their wants and needs.

Finesse Your Format

Content Explorer can reveal commonalities between successful posts and identify elements that appeal to target audiences. Perhaps an infographic is perfect for an audience on LinkedIn, but falls flat on Facebook. Or if every top-performing post combines minimal text with an eye-catching video, adjust your content accordingly.

Set Realistic Benchmarks

While every marketing writer dreams of their piece going “viral,” unless their last name happens to be Kardashian, it’s probably not going to rack up millions of views. A comprehensive study by BuzzSumo and Moz looked at the success of over a million online posts and found that more than half of them had two or fewer Facebook shares—and most of them had zero shares.

It’s important to keep in mind that your subject matter, format and audience will greatly influence the numbers your content can realistically achieve. For example, posts by consumer-facing brands like Taco Bell will almost always outperform posts by equally successful brands that operate “under the radar,” such as Boeing. Certain types of posts, such as research-based content and opinion journalism, generate both links and shares, while formats like quizzes and videos may get thousands of shares but no links.

Content Explorer can help you establish what kind of metrics pieces like yours have achieved in the past and set a bar for measuring success. If your desired outcome is shares and the leader in your industry achieved 10,000 shares with a recent post, your measure of success may be 1,000 shares.

Likewise, Content Explorer can help you determine the type of content that will deliver the best ROI for your campaign. If your goal is to increase organic traffic to your site, base your search on links and not shares to find out what kinds of pieces performed well in this area.

Next Steps after Content Explorer Research

Once you’ve gleaned your key takeaways from your search results, the following functions can boost the effectiveness of your follow-up efforts.

Content Analysis Breakdown

One of Content Explorer’s most useful features is the content analysis breakdown, which illustrates a piece’s performance over time, including the number of referring pages, specific backlinks, number of shares and every keyword for which the piece ranks.

This information shows not only how often a piece of content is shared, but how well it is performing in search engine results pages (SERPs). Content with substantial organic traffic and backlinks can provide an excellent guide for marketers in crafting their next pieces.

Click-Through to Author

Content Explorer results include a click-through link for specific authors, which not only allows you to review all their content to tweak your pitch, but also identify potential opportunities for guest posts or freelance gigs.

Export Twitter Sharers

Your Content Explorer results also allow you to view and export Twitter users who have shared a specific piece of content within the last seven days. You can leverage this data in several ways:

  • Identify a receptive audience—users who shared one piece of content on a topic are likely to be interested in a similar piece.
  • Create lists of influencers for follow-up research and outreach.
  • Enter it into a Twitter analysis tool to identify related interests and followers, optimal times to tweet and more.
  • Sort sharers by retweet ratio; users with a high ratio are more likely to retweet your links.

Exploit URL Data

Content Explorer results include a drop-down menu that shows detailed link information, including keywords most likely to be associated with specific content. This data can help you develop more robust and effective content of your own.

Subscription Pricing (as it Pertains to Content Explorer)

Ahrefs’ tools are by subscription only, and once you’ve given them a week-long test drive with their “seven days for $7” trial promotion, you’ll have four options for long-term use:

  • Lite ($99/month): Designed for one user; Content Explorer component includes 50 reports per day, 1,000 rows per report and 50,000 export rows per month.
  • Standard ($179/month): Designed for one user; Content Explorer component includes 100 reports per day, 5,000 rows per report and 250,000 export rows per month.
  • Advanced ($399/month): Designed for three users; Content Explorer component includes 500 reports per day, 10,000 rows per report and 1 million export rows per month.
  • Agency ($999/month): Designed for five users; Content Explorer component includes 2,500 reports per day, 25,000 rows per report and 5 million export rows per month.

Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

After an analysis of usage statistics revealed that Keywords Explorer was among Ahrefs’ least-used components in its content marketing toolbox, the company completed a comprehensive, from-the-ground-up renovation of this underappreciated resource. Since the launch of Keywords Explorer 2.0 nearly two years ago, users have leveraged the tool’s huge keyword database and powerful features to drive impressive results in their online marketing campaigns.

In short, Keywords Explorer allows users to generate keyword ideas, check keyword difficulty scores, analyze clicks and other advanced metrics, review SEO history for top-performing pages and more. It’s like Ubersuggest and, but is much more versatile in terms of functionality. Let’s look at the program’s essential features.

Essential Features of Keyword Explorer

Massive Keyword Database

While the original version of Keywords Explorer operated with a database of roughly 300 million keywords, the revamped program increased that number tenfold using the most recent clickstream data available, based on the terms that millions of global users were searching on Google. The database is updated monthly with new clickstream data, expanding the number of overall keywords as well as identifying trends for existing search terms.

The new database also incorporates keywords from more than 100 countries. The U.S. ranks at the top of the list with more than 1.2 billion keywords, with Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy, Mexico and Poland rounding out the top 10.

Search Volume Accuracy

Unlike Google Keyword Planner, which only offers non-advertisers broad ranges for search volumes, Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer delivers precise search volume measurements through a proprietary model that incorporates Google Keyword Planner data and clickstream data and tracks both local and global search volume for almost any keyword imaginable.

Keywords Explorer also tracks the return rate metric, which offers insight into how frequently users search for the same term over the course of a month. This number indicates how closely people tend to follow news about a certain topic, which varies based on how often the searches deliver fresh results. For example, “Donald Trump age” is a query with relatively stagnant results, while the results of “Donald Trump staff” tend to change on a regular basis.

New “Clicks” Metrics

As seasoned SEO professionals know, search volume doesn’t always tell the whole story when it comes to a keyword’s potential to generate traffic. For example, users may search for a word that’s difficult to spell, or an obscure term used by a public figure, but then may not click on any of the results for that term because they are able to access the information they need based entirely on the Google knowledge card or preview generated by their search. As a result, such terms may show a large search volume but a low click rate.  

The “clicks per search” (CPS) metric in Keywords Explorer helps you sort through the noise by measuring how many results users click on when searching for a specific keyword; the higher the CPS, the more likely it is to generate traffic.

Keywords Explorer can also help users differentiate between organic and paid clicks by showing what percentage of total clicks go to ads and then refine their keyword searches accordingly.

Proven Keyword Difficulty Score

One of the most challenging aspects of keyword research is determining how whether your website can realistically achieve a high ranking for a specific set of keywords. If an area is nearly impossible to penetrate, it makes little sense to invest your resources there; if you can make inroads, it’s essential to find out which factors can help you get there. That’s where keyword difficulty scoring enters the picture.

Both the revamped Keywords Explorer and its original version use the same highly-regarded keyword difficulty scoring tool, which measures the number of referring domains needed for a keyword to rank in the top 10 results. Currently, this metric is driven entirely by backlinks, although future revisions may incorporate on-page factors as well.

To unlock the full range of data available in the keyword difficulty tool, you’ll need to click on the “Get Metrics” button. Due to technical and financial constraints, Keywords Explorer automatically updates only about 10 percent of the best keywords in its database of more than 3 billion. Clicking on “Get Metrics” forces a refresh with the most recent data, giving you the most accurate results available.

Ahrefs keyword difficulty scale

It’s important to keep in mind that comparing Keywords Explorer’s KD tool to other companies’ KD metrics is largely a fruitless exercise, because nearly every system uses a different combination of factors to determine KD. Keywords Explorer’s scale is not linear and is made up primarily of “hard” and “super hard” keywords, which may or may not translate to other scales.

However, Ahrefs’ scale will clearly show the average number of referring domains associated with top-ranking pages on Google, letting you know how many backlinks you’ll need to outperform your competitors. And because it’s driven entirely by backlinks, the scale is straightforward and easy to understand:

  • KD 0 = 0 referring domains
  • 10 = 10 referring domains
  • 20 = 22 referring domains
  • 30 = 36 referring domains
  • 40 = 56 referring domains
  • 50 = 84 referring domains
  • 60 = 129 referring domains
  • 70 = 202 referring domains
  • 80 = 353 referring domains
  • 90 = 756 referring domains

Effective Keyword Suggestions

Obviously, with more than 3 billion keywords in its database (and new ones being added every month) Keywords Explorer provides a wealth of keyword suggestions for you to consider. However, the program offers more than just raw numbers; with its wide range of filters and other tools—including Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty—it allows users to refine their searches to identify the most relevant keywords for their needs.

Keywords Explorer also incorporates the old-school concept of multiple “seed” keywords popularized by Google Keyword Planner to generate effective keyword ideas. The program allows you to enter as many as 10 “seed” keywords to target the results of your search—for example, adding “sports nutrition” and “vegetarian diet” to the original keyword “blogging.”

Keyword generation metrics

Keywords Explorer uses four methods for generating keywords:

  • Phrase match: This search identifies keyword phrases that contain a specific seed phrase. For example, if the seed phrase is “ugly sofa,” your search might return suggestions like “how can I cover up my ugly sofa” or “why is this ugly sofa so popular.”
  • Same terms: This search is similar to the previous one, but also includes keyword phrases that incorporate the terms in the seed keyword, regardless of order, such as “why did my sofa come with these ugly pillows” or “this sofa makes my wife look ugly.”

  • Also rank for: This search singles out top-10 ranking pages for the seed keyword and teases out other keywords for which the pages rank. If you enter “Tom Brady” and click on the “Also rank for” report, you might see suggestions associated with the New England Patriots, the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick and Gisele Bundchen.
  • Search suggestions: This search provides keywords generated by Google’s “autosuggest” function, returning results very similar to the “phrase match” search, but also incorporating keyword suggestions that include your seed keywords with no spaces between them (“uglysofa”).

Parent Topic Feature

Because a single page can rank for multiple keywords (and generate significant traffic as a result), “top pages” is often a more useful metric for assessing organic search traffic than “organic keywords.” For example, a successful blog post may rank for hundreds of different keywords, with the most popular keyword typically pointing to the topic of the post.

This concept of valuing broad topics over individual keywords was the inspiration behind Keywords Explorer’s “parent topic” feature, which allows users to rank for multiple keywords within a single post instead of creating separate posts for each keyword. This feature helps you to more efficiently plan posts by identifying how many posts you’ll realistically need to create to hit all the keywords for which you want to rank.

SERP Summary

Even with the constantly-improving accuracy of Keywords Explorer’s keyword difficulty score, examining the rankings on Google’s front page remains a valuable metric for determining keyword difficulty. The program incorporates every conceivable SEO metric into its breakdown of the SERP, including:

  • The number of organic results
  • Number of distinct SERP features
  • Domain- and page-level backlink metrics
  • Each page’s approximate organic traffic
  • Number of keywords for which each page ranks
  • Top keyword for which each page ranks;
  • Number of social media shares for each page

This tool provides a concise overview of every basic metric associated with a given keyword.

Keyword Position History

Because Keywords Explorer regularly updates the keyword difficulty for about 10 percent of its top keywords (totaling roughly 300 million terms) and caches it for easy access, the program can also illustrate the position history of pages with top five or better rankings.

This data can help you determine whether the SERP is relatively fixed and difficult to penetrate, or if Google is regularly updating its algorithm to provide searchers with more satisfying results. Some pages will show a stable SERP history, while others (for example, the keyword “iPhone X”) may be more volatile at any given time.

Diving Deeper into Keywords Explorer

While the previous list of features is in itself more than sufficient to justify the cost of an Ahrefs subscription, be sure you’re making the most of the Keywords Explorer tool by directing it toward the following objectives:

Set Priorities to Maximize Return on Investment

Estimating ROI for SEO marketing is a vexing, if not impossible task. But without some sort of guidelines to shape your strategy, you’ll almost literally searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Keywords Explorer’s tools—especially the Clicks, Clicks Per Search and Return Rate data—can at least help whittle that haystack down to a manageable size and provide you with a clearer picture of the outcomes you can expect if you achieve a good ranking for a particular keyword.

Seize “Lateral” Opportunities

In keyword research, your surest path to success is by identifying a related but still relevant target keyword that is less competitive than the original. The data provided by Keywords Explorer can help you avoid alternative keywords that are neither obvious or competitive and zero in on those that are.

Identify Your SERP Competition

In the world of SEO, your industry competitors may be an entirely different group from your SERP competitors. By taking advantage of the Traffic Share function in Keywords Explorer, you can create a list of domains related to the general topic for which you’re trying to rank. Once you’ve established this list, you can mine these sites for new keyword opportunities.

Modify Your Searches

While a bit counterintuitive, this approach is highly effective. Search for a modifier instead of a keyword, and then incorporate Keywords Explorer’s “include” and “exclude” filters to identify and subsequently rank for high-volume keywords. It’s simple, but it works.

Subscription Pricing (as it pertains to Keyword Explorer)

As with the Content Explorer tool, Ahrefs’ four monthly subscription options include increasing quantities of data and access within Keywords Explorer:

  • Lite ($99/month): Includes 100 keyword batch analysis; three keywords lists; 500 credits for advanced metrics; 1,000 rows per report; 100,000 rows per month; and 10,000 export rows per month.
  • Standard ($179/month): Includes 250 keyword batch analysis; 10 keywords lists; 5,000 credits for advanced metrics; 5,000 rows per report; 200,000 rows per month; and 50,000 export rows per month.
  • Advanced ($399/month): Includes 500 keyword batch analysis; 50 keywords lists; 15,000 credits for advanced metrics; 10,000 rows per report; 2 million rows per month; and 500,000 export rows per month.
  • Agency ($999/month): Includes 1,000 keyword batch analysis; 100 keywords lists; 40,000 credits for advanced metrics; 30,000 rows per report; 5 million rows per month; and 2 million export rows per month.

Some Solid Link Building Strategies to use with Ahrefs

As should be obvious, the link building process is anything but simple. Ahrefs is a major key to assist in the process, but it still requires some knowledge. It is for this reason that many search engine optimization worker bees experience struggles when pushing links to their sites.

Curating tactics and opportunities that work universally on all sites is also difficult. It is for this reason that we have cultivated a list of some proven link building strategies that Ahrefs can be used to push your link building to the next level. Those strategies are:

  • Guest post outreach processes
  • Casting a wider net with guest blogging
  • Further diving into broken link building
  • Pursuing mentions that do not have links
  • Reclaiming lost links

Guest post outreach processes

Most white hat link building strategies have guest posting outreach as a core process. This entails reaching out via email or other contact method to authorities in your selected niche, and providing them with your content.

However, there is a nuance. You don’t even need to have content; sometimes, simply having a product, business, service, or brand that is determined to be worthy of a link is all that is needed.

Remember that outreach is almost always more effective when working with linkable assets. Linkable assets include things like long-form blog posts, infographics, and useful tools.

Some of the strongest sources for reaching out include people who have mentioned a specific keyword inside their own articles, and those who have linked to articles that are similar and on the same topic. Ahrefs’ Content Explorer tool is a solid method to find those who have used specific keywords in their own articles.

How to find guest posts

All one needs to do is search for an appropriate and relevant term, and then hit the check box for “one article per domain”. This will spit out a list of individual sites to reach out to. Then, all that will need to be done is to contact the owners of those websites.

Regarding those who have linked to articles on a topic that is similar, this is also quite a simple process. Utilizing filters in Content Explorer will allow you to filter down to pages with a high number of referring domains (typically, more referring domains means more clout).

Then, find a relevant page, select referring domains report, and see all the websites that are currently linking to that page. This is a list of prospective bloggers and webmasters to reach out to.

Casting a wider net with guest blogging

Yes, guest blogging is mainly old hat. A user writes articles for other websites in their niche. The other website owner publishes the article and links to the writer’s site inside the article itself. The end.

There are many options on the table for discovering strong prospects for guest posting. A lot of people who don’t have access to Ahrefs utilize the typical advanced Google search queries such as “topic + intitle:”guest posts”. This uncovers pages where users can submit guest posts.

But since everyone and their mother is doing that, these sites are likely bombarded with spam. A great way to switch this up is to just solicit sites, regardless of if they have the guest post notation or not. Ahrefs’ Content Explorer can do this. If you search for “link building” there are a ton of results.

Check one article per domain, and then filter out any sites you don’t want to see with the filters. Check for ranges of domain ratings, and then export, and you have a solid list of prospects to contact.

Further diving into broken link building

Let’ s go back to broken link building for a bit. It’s a three-step process:

  1. Discover a relevant broken link
  2. Create something like the broken resource
  3. Ask those linking to the broken link to link to you instead

By pasting a URL of a broken web page into the Site Explorer through Ahrefs, you can quickly discern who links to that page. These links are all potential locations for those looking to change their dead link to your working link.

Discovering these broken links is best performed by searching for broken pages on competitor sites. This is done using the Best By Links report in Site Explorer. To do this, enter a competitor domain, Best by links, add a filter for 404 not found. The exported report shows the amount of referring domains that point to those broken pages, users can easily discover wonderful opportunities for broken link building.

Pursuing mentions that do not have links

There are times that brands are mentioned in web pages without there being links to their sites. This is a very common occurrence, and leads to potential link juice that goes completely unutilized. To find these, you can once again go to the Content Explorer. Search for your brand, and then use this trick to discover highest priority unlinked mentions.

Select one article per domain in the Content Explorer filter. Then, utilize the filter to highlight unlinked domains. Then export only those domains with highlighted pages by hitting the export button and export “only the highlight unlinked domains”.

The results will be a list of web pages that contained unlinked mentions to your brand or search term of choice. These websites can be reached out to in the hopes that their unlinked mention can turn into a link.

Reclaiming lost links

If you have spent any amount of time on Ahrefs’ dashboard pages, you know that you are likely losing backlinks all the time. One way to counteract this is to build constant streams of high quality, new links. But, sometimes it is simpler to try and reclaim lost links compared to building completely new ones.

The two main reasons why these links disappeared are that the linking page completely disappeared altogether, or the link was removed from the page from which it was linked. If it’s the former, there isn’t much that can be done. However, if it was the latter, you can discover how this happened through Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

These can be checked in the Lost backlinks report by entering your domain, then going to Backlinks, then Lost, and then look for specific instances where the link was removed. Sometimes it is because the content was rewritten, but there are many reasons why a link can be removed.

If it was rewritten content, you can easily reach out to the site owner to see about getting the link reinstated.

Taking the Plunge into Ahrefs

Compared to alternative internet marketing tools, Ahrefs can seem a bit pricey. However, the arsenal of features and resources available through Ahrefs is massive. Much like most other tools for internet marketing, the utility of Ahrefs is limited only by the creativity and understanding of its users.

Ahrefs should be approached with set in stone, measurable goals for your marketing efforts. Doing this ensures a far better value out of its usage. Don’t just use Ahrefs as a backlink checker. Especially after reading through this guide and seeing the extensive usage that the tool offers at the same price point.

Ahrefs Compared to Competitors

There are many similar marketing tools available online. Ahrefs is by far the champion of them all in almost any respect. However, they all seem to follow the same suit of having a single specialty, with a secondary specialty right behind it. Here are Ahrefs and its main competitors, with their primary specialty and secondary specialty:

  • Ahrefs: Primarily specialty is search engine optimization (SEO) with both social media components, and some pay per click related data.
  • Moz: Primarily analytical and educational information, with secondary search engine optimization and social media components.
  • SEMRush: Primarily focused on pay per click advertising, with some secondary search engine optimization components.
  • BuzzSumo: Primarily centered around social media focuses, with some additional search engine optimization components.
  • Majestic: Almost exclusively dedicated to search engine optimization, with an additional deeper focus on analysis of penalties. Majestic is a strong complementary tool to get even more out of your Ahrefs work.
  • SpyFu: Primarily focused on pay per click advertising analytics, with some search engine optimization components.
  • Raven Tools: Primarily focused on analytics and reporting, with components of both social media and search engine optimization.

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