How does Ahrefs work

2021 Review by Ahrefs: tools, tips and more [incl. Video]

Few tools make my day-to-day work in inbound and content marketing easier than Ahrefs. Not only do I discover interesting content ideas, but also save tons of time. Every day. I would therefore like to use this post to give you a comprehensive, personal review of Ahrefs. What is Ahrefs, why am I so enthusiastic about it, which things are not that great, what the price is Ahrefs, what alternatives are there, etc. If you are considering using a tool for keyword research or Ahrefs in general invest, then this post is ideal for you. First of all: This post was written free of charge - we at takeoff are simply big fans of this tool!

The creation of new, exciting content is often a challenge. What topics do we focus on? What do we start with? Does anyone even care? All of you have probably asked yourself questions like these who have to do with the development and implementation of a content strategy. At this point, Ahrefs can take on an extremely important supportive role and guide you in answering these questions. But back to the start again briefly:

What exactly is Ahrefs?

Ahrefs is an analysis tool for keywords, content, current rankings in search engines, on-page SEO and backlinks. I will explain the individual tools and features to you below.

Ahrefs CEO Dimitry Gerasimenko had a very keen interest in search engines from an early age. At the age of 15 he built his first document search engine. So it is hardly surprising that the company's motto is “First do it, then do it right, then do it better”.

Many keyword tools only aggregate data from Google and therefore offer little use beyond the Google Keyword Planner. Ahrefs also uses Google data, but combines it with so-called clickstream data and thus builds a more independent data model. Clickstreams are anonymized data from apps and plugins in various browsers.

The most exciting features in Ahrefs

The main menu of Ahrefs is quite manageable and consists of 7 menu items: Dashboard, Site Explorer, Keywords Explorer, Site Audit, Rank Tracker, Content Explorer and More. In this post, I'll cover the Site Explorer, Keywords Explorer, and Content Explorer. These are the three areas that I work with the most and to explain everything in detail is beyond the scope of this article.

Dashboard

On the dashboard page, you can see some of the most important website information at a glance. Here you can see an excerpt from our takeoff dashboard:

The tool has a health score based on the traffic light principle (green, yellow, red). In addition, you can see important metrics such as the domain rating, the number of referring domains, the number of backlinks, the organic traffic and the organic and tracked keywords in the respective countries in a set time frame.

I hardly ever use the dashboard because the numbers are not displayed here in any context and without further information. Nevertheless, it can be exciting for one or the other if you just want to do a quick quick check “whether everything fits”.

Site Explorer

The Ahrefs Site Explorer is a great tool to get a deep insight into the backlink profile and search traffic of any website or URL. You read that right: Any URL. You don't have to own a domain to analyze it here. Thus, with the help of the Site Explorer, it is very easy to see what the organic traffic of the competition looks like.

For now, I'll show you what Site Explorer looks like when I examine our own website:

Here we are on the overview page of Site Explorer. This page gives you an overview of some interesting figures. Unfortunately I cannot go into absolutely everything from the overview and in the left navigation column. I will pick out some particularly valuable insights.

Information on the overview page

  • Backlinks: The total number of links from other websites to the destination entered here in Site Explorer.
  • Referring domains: The total number of unique domains linking to your destination here.
  • Organic keywords: The total number of keywords for which your target was placed in the top 100 organic search results in all countries in the Ahrefs database.
  • Organic traffic: The estimated monthly traffic purely from organic search.
  • Traffic value: How much would it have cost to get the same ad serving traffic?
  • Organic search and organic keywords (graphics): The two graphics show how the values ​​have changed over time.
  • Box with the countries on the right: Here, the monthly traffic of the entered destination is estimated from the organic search based on the first 100 search results. You can also see how the organic keywords are distributed across the individual countries.
  • Box with competitors on the right: This shows websites that are found in the organic search results for the same or similar search terms as you in the respective country.

Even more exciting than this overview page are the many options that are offered in the left column. Here I present the menu items backlinks, top pages and content gap.

Ahrefs backlink checker

The relevance of backlinks from an SEO perspective is often discussed. Some think that backlinks are a thing of the past, others still rate them as an important SEO criterion. If generating backlinks is part of your SEO endeavors, Ahrefs' Backlink Checker is a great analytical tool.

Here you can see new backlinks to the entered target, lost backlinks and broken links. The tool also shows you whether this is a no-follow link or not.

Top sites

In the menu item Top Pages, a list of the URLs of the examined website is presented, sorted according to the monthly traffic from the organic search. The whole thing looks like this:

In Germany (in our case our strongest traffic source) we see our top sites. The figure given in% represents how much of the total (estimated) organic traffic is attributable to the respective page. You can also see how many keywords the respective page is ranking for and when the dropdown is clicked, the keywords are displayed. RD describes the number of individual linked root domains on a URL. The top keyword can be seen to the right of the URL, followed by the estimated monthly search volume for this keyword and the position in which the respective URL is ranked on Google with the top keyword.

Content gap

When I present the content gap to my customers in an Ahrefs training course, their hearts beat faster. Why? With this Ahrefs tool you can enter the domains of several of your competitors and see which search queries your competitors are ranking for in the top 10, but they are not. The whole thing looks empty like this:

In this way you can discover new content ideas or “steal topics” from the competition.

Here in this video I have provided you with a 4.5 minute short, practical guide on how to use Site Explorer in Ahrefs:

 

 

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Keywords Explorer

With the Keywords Explorer you can discover thousands of relevant keyword ideas including search volume and difficulty to rank for this keyword. The first step is to determine in which search engine you want to inspect keywords (Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex and More). Then you can still select the respective country.

I only entered one keyword here, namely HubSpot via the Google search engine in Germany. Here you can see what is now shown to me in the overview:

  • Keyword difficulty: How difficult is it to rank for this keyword?
  • Search volume: The average monthly search volume for this keyword
  • Clicks: The average number of monthly clicks from the search query that people make when they search for the search term.
  • CPC: The average CPC that advertisers pay for an ad click for the keyword in that country.

You can use the navigation tab on the left to get even more ideas about this keyword. The most interesting for me are:

  • All keyword ideas: All keyword ideas related to your keyword. There may be some helpful here, but often also some nonsense or out of context. For example, I did a keyword research for a customer who works with lathes in the automation sector, and I was often suggested keywords related to “building a lathe joint”.
  • Also talk about (new): This new category has been available in Keyword Explorer since the beginning of 2021. In this report you can see keywords and phrases that the top 100 pages of the entered keyword use frequently. Why can that be exciting? If you want to create a targeted page for a search term, you can identify in this way what the best pages are about and which aspects of the topic should not be despised for you.
  • Phrase match: Keyword ideas are displayed here that contain the targeted keyword or phrase in the exact order in which you entered them.
  • Having the same terms: Similar to Phrase match, but here the order of the words can be mixed up.

Here you can see a glimpse into “Phrase Match”. On the left is the keyword, then the difficulty to rank for it (KD), the monthly estimated search volume, the clicks and the CPC. Everything else is not directly relevant, except for SERP. Because if you click here, you can see which pages occupy the top positions for this keyword.

The small checkbox next to the keyword is worth mentioning. As you can see, some keywords have a tick and others have a plus. If there is a tick, we have put this keyword on a keyword list. That makes it easier for us to keep track of the top keywords.

This keyword list can then also be exported and uploaded to the rank tracker. At takeoff, we always do this work step in cooperation with customers when we jointly develop the customer's content strategy. Unfortunately, the number of keywords that can be loaded into the Rank Tracker is limited in our Ahrefs version.

Content Explorer

This last tool that I would like to introduce to you here is a bit comparable to Google Trends. Here you can examine how popular the topic is based on the pages over time that contain the keyword entered above in the URL, in the title, in the content or anywhere.

In this case, this graphic shows very nicely how rapidly the interest in the HubSpot topic is growing. The current crisis has of course played into the hands of this popularity, as digital lead generation is more important than ever due to the failure of trade fairs, events and face-to-face meetings.

You can also see valuable SEO insights on this graphic. For example, you can also set filters so that you are only shown posts with a length of 900 to 2,000 words, which is a typical blog article length.

Now you know some very exciting features and tools that Ahrefs has to offer. Let's move on to another important point about Ahrefs:

What does Ahrefs cost?

In my opinion, that brings us to the biggest disadvantage of the tool: the price. That is because it is very high. Look for yourself:



The price of Ahrefs goes from $ 99 per month up to $ 999 per month. This graphic also shows how the individual packages differ from one another. Namely mainly in the contingent in the individual categories. Click here for the ahrefs.com price page.

We at takeoff have the standard plan with a license. $ 179 is a lot of money for a small agency, but it's still worth it to us. We have already tested so many free tools or cheaper tools than Ahrefs and literally tormented ourselves with them. At the end of the day, it pays to "swallow the toad" and pick up that money. Which brings me to the next question:

Who is Ahrefs for?

For everyone who wants to bring as many visitors as possible to their website through content. It does not matter whether your goal is attention / awareness or whether you want to generate leads through your website. The funnel has to be filled to the brim and that is hardly possible without Ahrefs or a comparable tool.

I don't want to specify the size of the company, the industry or the number of employees. If the first sentence of this section applies to you and you are doing content marketing or inbound marketing, then Ahrefs or a comparable tool is necessary.

But what else is there on the market?

What are the alternatives to Ahrefs?

As you already suspect, I am an absolute Ahrefs fan. At this point, it should not be unmentioned: This post is not a cooperation with Ahrefs, no surreptitious advertising or anything else. This review was important to me because the tool is just great overall. Nonetheless, there are also some alternatives to Ahrefs that can do the same and sometimes even the same thing:

  • MOZ
  • BuzzSumo
  • Screaming Frog
  • ONMA
  • SimilarWeb
  • SEMrush

The best-known alternative is SEMrush.

SEMrush vs. Ahrefs

Since I have never tested SEMrush, I can only give you an assessment based on reviews. Some contributions declare SEMrush the winner, such as softwaretesting.com. Other posts comparing SEMrush and Ahrefs see Ahrefs as the winner like backlinko.com.

At Style Factory I found a very good, quite objective comparison, which I translated into German and shortened for you:

Ahrefs and SEMrush in comparison:

Benefits of AhrefsBenefits of SEMrush
The Ahrefs interface is easier to use.SEMrush also provides a lot of data apart from SEO, PPC for example.
It provides helpful estimates of how many backlinks you need to rank for certain keywords.SEMrush's domain database is larger than Ahrefs'.
Keyword research can be carried out for other search engines (YouTube, Amazon, ..) and not just for Google.SEMrush is much better at identifying toxic links.
The analysis of broken links is easier.The features in the “Site Audit” area are more understandable and easier to use.
With the higher quality packages you can. multiple users are using Ahrefs at the same time. With SEMrush, even the most expensive plans only ever include one user.You can create great link building campaigns without leaving the tool.
The cheapest Ahrefs package includes much more than the cheapest SEMrush package.SEMrush is much more generous in terms of the number of reports per day.

It is probably best to make up your own mind. You can test Ahrefs for 7 days for a symbolic $ 7, while SEMrush can be tested free of charge for 7 days.

Ahrefs as a replacement for Google Search Console?

No no no. Regardless of which of the alternatives or Ahrefs listed here you choose, I still recommend using the Google Search Console. After all, the GSC is the free analysis tool from Google and is therefore essential for your SEO efforts.

Similar to how it behaves with Apple products. If you have a Mac computer, an iPhone and an iPad, the interaction between the devices is much easier (and less annoying) than if you have a cell phone from Huawei.

However, you will not see some options and metrics in the Search Console. For example, you cannot conduct keyword research as shown above, nor do you analyze your competitors. Another minus point of Ahrefs at this point is unfortunately that Ahrefs often shows different positions in the SERPs than the Search Console. At this point, simply select a source of numbers and continue working with this in order to make your values ​​comparable.

The advantages and disadvantages of Ahrefs in a nutshell

This Ahrefs review has turned out to be a long time. Therefore, I would like to summarize a few advantages and disadvantages of Ahrefs here:

Benefits of AhrefsCons of Ahrefs
Very simple, anyone who has understood the keyword principle is guaranteed to get along with the tool.The price of $ 99 to $ 999 per month is high.
There are great explanatory videos from Ahrefs on YouTube that explain many features.There are counting differences in terms of the SERP positions compared to Google Search Console
Ahrefs is very useful in keyword research and therefore does an important job in creating and maintaining a content strategy.The contingent is limited in many areas, you are asked to buy more expensive versions.
With the help of the site explorer you can analyze your most important competitors. 

What now? The first steps with Ahrefs

I hope my review has helped you decide for or against Ahrefs.If you choose Ahrefs, the basic configuration is not difficult. If you would like to make use of all of the features and advantages mentioned, then we will be happy to support you in identifying suitable keywords and topics and developing your content strategy.