Ahrefs Review: Keywords, Backlinks, And Ranking Made Easy?
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As more and more sites pop up on the internet, income-generating niche sites are faced with ever-growing competition. Growing a niche site isn't as easy as finding an exact match domain and tossing a few articles on a page anymore.
Long tail keywords with high buying intent and low competition are more important than ever.
Backlinks are becoming the name of the game for anyone who doesn't already have an established site.
Ahrefs works as an all-in-one SEO tool. It can explore your competition's websites, help you find backlinks, and allow you to target the right keywords. You can get a measure of how competitive you're going to need to be to rank and what you can expect to earn if you're in position #1.
The Ahrefs SEO tool has become the darling child of the internet marketing community (but there are notable Ahrefs alternatives). It is powerful, flexible, and backed by literal trillions of pieces of data. We don't deny that. But in this Ahrefs review, we're going to ask the question: is Ahrefs the best SEO tool for you?
Click here to get started with Ahrefs and follow along with us in our review.
Ahrefs is the most powerful market research tool available today. It packs in a ton of features, but is a little pricey for anyone who doesn't have an established business of $1000 profit per month or more.
- In depth site analysis
- Great keyword research tool
- Watch SERPs and optimize your site
- More tools than you could ever need
- Good customer service
- Not great if you only need one tool (like a keyword research tool)
- No budget plan available
- Not great for multiple users
- A bit of a learning curve
- Ahrefs Review
- Ahrefs Pros and Cons
- Ahrefs Price
- Is Ahrefs The Best SEO Tool For Me?
- Your Next Move
The First Glance
At first glance, the Ahrefs dashboard looks pretty clean. This is the screen you'll see after you sign up for the trial.
One thing I love about Ahrefs is that it allows you to track “projects”. These projects monitor pretty much everything about any given site. At a glance, you can check “Ahrefs Rank” (similar to Alexa Rank), domain rating, lots of backlink info, monthly organic traffic, estimated traffic value, and how many organic keywords you're showing up for.
I have a Niche Pursuits project, and it's a super easy way to get a glance at my metrics on the fly. Clicking on your project takes you to Ahrefs Site Explorer, where you can find some more detailed metrics.
Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool
You can get detailed metrics on any site you're looking at. Ahrefs presents so much information at once that you'll be able to choose what metrics you want to see. You can look at the domain rating, backlink data, organic search, and paid search. Right now, I'm looking at my project (NichePursuits.com), but you can get this analysis on any website.
You can even take a look at specific URLs of any given website. TheWireCutter.com get volunteered for this kind of thing a lot, and I already analyzed their Best Humidifier page when I reviewed KWfinder.
Let's take a peek again.
Check out all that backlink analysis data. This is helpful if you're trying to build backlinks to a certain page. One feature that I really like is that on the left side of the page, you can get very detailed metrics. Maybe you're looking for backlinks, or only want the referring domains, or even want to see the internal backlinks.
But here's what I love. If you click on “Link intersect” on the left side, you're brought to a screen where you can input competitor articles.
This metric shows you who is linking to competitor articles but not to the current article that you're looking at. This is more useful on informational posts (“how to” guides, questions, etc.) but works on any post type.
For your website, you can put your own URL into the “But doesn't link to” field. You can see who is linking to your competitors but isn't linking to you. That type of information has a name.
Ahrefs shows you the root domains by default, but you can open a little box that gives you the exact URL. These URLs that are linking to your competitors but not to you are ripe for link-building. Because they have linked to your competitors, you already know these websites are willing to give out backlinks.
You just have to convince these wayward web pages that your content is better than your competitors. It answers users' questions better, and the website you're reaching out to will benefit linking to you because you are a better authority than your competitor. It helps people's reputation to link to you instead of the other page.
One more feature in the site explorer before we move on. Let's take a look at the Organic Keywords feature for a minute.
This section shows you all of the keywords the URL is ranking for, along with their search volume, keyword difficulty, and search traffic. You can see that for TheWireCutter; there are quite a few. When it comes to estimating search traffic in Ahrefs, I've found that exercising a bit of extra caution with the traffic statistics is advisable.
The Organic Keyword metric will be most helpful for you if you are trying to rank for a certain phrase that your competitor beats you in the SERPs for. Ahrefs's measure of organic keywords can help you target secondary (or long-tail primary) keywords that you want to rank your article for.
Throwing more secondary keywords (“best humidifier for bedroom”, “best ultrasonic humidifier”), helps you build traffic to your main keyword by use of long tail keywords. If you target longer tail keywords than your competition, you can often outrank them for that phrase even if they have more domain authority and backlinks.
Ahrefs Content Explorer
Next, we're going to take a look at the Ahrefs Content Explorer within the suite of SEO tools.
We won't spend a lot of time here since it's not the most feature-heavy side of Ahrefs. It is a nice addition to the whole package and has its uses though.
The content explorer can be used to show you a graph of how many new pages have shown up in SERPs. You add in your keyword like “best protein powder for weight loss”. It's best to target whatever keyword you're trying to rank for in the near future.
You get a graph and results page like this:
You can see the graph of how many new pages and republished pages have been placed on the internet in any given month. This gives a good estimate of what kind of competition you'll face going forward. If the trend line is increasing, there's a good chance that you will face ever-increasing competition.
The most useful feature in the Content Explorer is the “Details” page that I've boxed in on the image above. If you click the details page, you get a whole slew of metrics to choose from.
I should specify that all of those metrics are for the exact URL that you input, not for the root domain. So yes, Women's Health Mag has an article targeting a long tail keyword that ranks for 6311 total keywords.
Excuse me while I make myself a note to avoid keywords about protein powder and weight loss.
That's about the full extent of Content Explorer. It has its uses and helps me predict how much competition I'm going to face moving forward. But it's not vital to the success of any niche site. Let's move on.
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Tool
Let's be real for a minute. Keyword research may be the most difficult part of building niche sites. This is one arena where Ahrefs shows that it's a powerhouse of the industry. Their keywords explorer function is one of my favorite tools, and I probably use it at least once a day for something or another.
Once you type in your keyword, you're brought to a page with loads of stats. I stuck with our example, “best protein powder for weight loss”. Here's what you'll see in the keywords explorer results.
At the top of the keywords explorer page, you have options to look at keyword difficulty, search volume, estimated number of clicks, and global search volume.
One super handy feature in the keywords explorer is the section on Clicks. You can see that Ahrefs breaks clicks down into paid and organic. If you go under KEYWORD IDEAS and click “All Keyword Ideas”, you get even more details regarding clicks.
A few things I want to look at here. First are the results I outlined with a red box where it says Volume distribution. This metric is very important. It shows you how many of the total results get clicks. This can help you determine whether or not you want to target a certain keyword.
Let's start at the top of our list. “Protein powder”. Less than half of the results in the SERP that show up for “protein powder” get clicks. Why is that? It could be that about half of the people who search for protein powder aren't wanting product recommendations but want pictures.
Let's use another example. “What is whey” gets a measly 26% of clicks. That means that the majority of 12,000 people who search for “what is whey” will never see your website, even if you rank for #1. Wanna know why?
Because Google answers people's question before they ever have to click on a result. Further down the page, Google gives the entire nutritional value of whey. No need to click anywhere. It's all automatic.
Having the ability to see what gets clicked on will help you see what keywords are worth targeting. It won't do you any good to spend days and years working on targeting a keyword just to have it blow up in your face when Google doesn't need you.
The volume distribution tool is super helpful.
Another thing that I love about Ahrefs is the sheer number of new keyword ideas that they throw at you.
9019? Holy mother of SERPs.
Sure, some of these are kind of similar. “Protein shake” and “Protein shakes” are both counted as separate results. But let's take a look at other keyword finders and see what they come up with.
|Ahrefs||KWFinder||Long Tail Pro||SEMRush|
|keyword ideas “best protein powder for weight loss”||9019||511||557||5276|
Not only is Ahrefs ahead of the game, but they also return almost 2x as many keyword ideas as their nearest competitor. They show a whopping 1669% more keywords than KWFinder.
It is worth saying that as long as we're talking about relevant keywords, then more is better. But how much better?
If you have 9019 ideas from one long-tail seed keyword, that's pretty epic. But ideas are only good when you put action behind them. Are you really going to write 9019 articles targeting all of your keyword ideas?
I'm going to take a bold guess: no. No, you're not.
Are you going to write 511 articles? Still no. You probably won't.
So there is an absolute difference between 9011 and 511. But what is the functional difference? How much impact is an extra 8500 keywords going to make on your business if you never act on them?
No difference at all.
So Ahrefs is a beast at keyword research. But this doesn't mean you should toss all your other keyword research tools out the window. Spencer still uses Long Tail Pro. I use a combination of KWFinder and Ahrefs. Because even more important than the number of ideas is how accurate these ideas are.
How Accurate Is Ahrefs Keyword Explorer?
Ahrefs defines their keyword difficulty scores by one metric and one metric only: inbound external links. How many websites are linking to this page?
Links are the number one ranking factor used by Google. But links aren't the only ranking factor. Brian Dean has uncovered more than 200 other ranking factors. So to base your entire keyword difficulty score on one factor, no matter how large, makes me a little nervous.
Spencer and I know from experience that articles targeting long-tail keywords without links can outrank bigger sites that have links. I think Ahrefs's difficulty score is fine for longer-tail keywords. But I think that as tails get shorter, there are a lot more factors that play into ranking than just inbound links.
I compared Ahrefs to other common tools to show you the differences in keyword difficulty scores.
|KWFinder||Ahrefs||SEMRush||Long Tail Pro|
|best protein powder||39||26||77.78||49|
|best protein powder for women||32||10||71.51||47|
|best protein powder to gain muscle||42||20||75.92||46|
|best protein powder for weight loss||43||16||75.92||46|
Does this mean that Ahrefs gives false difficulty scores? No. It just means that in Ahrefs's opinion, building the recommended number of links to your page will influence all the other factors enough that you will rank. Building 10 links to your single page will increase its page authority and your domain authority. You will be likely to end up closer to page 1.
That's what their keyword difficulty scores mean.
Overall, I love Ahrefs's Keyword Explorer. It spits out tons of ideas and more raw information than any other competitor. I do wish that their keyword difficulty score accounted for other factors, but it's not a big deal. It is more than plenty accurate for the long tail keywords that we recommend you target.
Unless you have a monster site and target short tail, super high competition keywords because you're a boss and no one can stop you. Then the difficulty scores may leave some to be desired.
Ahrefs Rank Tracker & Site Audit
Ahrefs Site Audit tool and Rank Tracker are more detailed reports of things we've already looked at within the suite of SEO tools, so I won't go into too much detail here.
Rank Tracker allows you to create “projects” where you track a certain website. You can input competitors and keywords you want to watch the SERPs for. Ahrefs uses this information to monitor the SERPs and send you notifications your keyword rankings in the search engines.
It's a helpful feature since it can help you figure out what articles for what keywords need to be updated. Ahrefs lets you know your position in the SERPs, and if it needs to be improved, you can go back to some link building or finding more secondary keywords.
Site Audit asks you to put in a site that you would like to check. You don't need to verify your ownership, but verifying ownership helps Ahrefs audit your site faster and allows them to give you some more detailed technical seo audit reports.
Ahrefs can show you reports about your site speed, content quality, file size, and so on that may affect SEO performance. This is a useful tool for people interested in optimizing their site to maximum capacity. But plenty of sites run fine without the special audit.
We recommend focusing more on your keywords and consistent application of work than spending all your time “optimizing”. If your site isn't making money, put more energy into content than site auditing.
Ahrefs Pros and Cons
Ahrefs has a lot that it gets right. A whole lot. There's a reason that it's the darling child of the internet marketing community. Let's go over some of these pros before we get to the cons.
In-Depth Site Analysis
Site analysis on Ahrefs takes place within the Site Explorer and the Site Audit tools. The Site Explorer is by far my favorite one of these and is much more powerful than competitor tools.
You can check a site's traffic, its domain authority, its backlink profile, what keywords it's ranking for, how many keywords it's ranking for, and more. There is no stone that Ahrefs leaves unturned. It's a super useful feature for stealing backlinks, targeting keywords, and beating your competition.
The Site Auditor helps you see what's going on with your own site. It gives you speed recommendations, shows you your organic traffic, what you're ranking for, and a few other metrics. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, so I'm glad it's present even if I don't use it.
Excellent Keyword Research
Ahrefs is a bit of a keyword research monster. Their Keyword Explorer gives more keyword ideas than any tool I've ever seen. In fact, Ahrefs gave more keyword suggestions than Long Tail Pro, KWFinder, and SEMRush gave combined.
Ahrefs lets you see SERPs in a fast drop-down window. You can check how many clicks are going to each result, ratio of organic/paid clicks, and there are plenty of filtering options. The filtering is nice since you are bombarded with literally thousands of options. It's good to cut out the white noise.
Their keyword difficulty score is great for long-tail keywords, but I have my doubts about short-tail, high-competition keywords. Overall it's a beast of a keyword research tool.
Track SERPS and Your Ranking
Another feature I love about Ahrefs is that you can track SERP results for specific keywords. You can also use this feature to track your own website. Ahrefs can give you an overall measure of how your site is showing up in SERPs, how many organic keywords you're ranking for, and how much traffic you're getting.
You can target specific keywords that you want to track (after this article is published, I'm going to track “ahrefs review”). You can use this to see how your articles are ranking over time and how you can make them rank better in organic search engine results.
More SEO Tools Than You Could Ever Need
There really is a whole SEO tool suite included in all Ahrefs subscriptions. It is almost impossible to use all of them. But I like to have the option to use any of these tools (like Site Audit) in case my strategies ever change. I won't have to look for other products to fill any gaps. Ahrefs has it all.
Good customer service
I had to contact the customer service using a chat box a few times during this review. They responded within about 15 minutes to my first messages and then within 2 or 3 minutes to any subsequent messages. They were always friendly and helpful.
Not a bad experience at all.
The Not So Good
Ahrefs gets a lot right, but it's not perfect for everyone. Here are a few areas I think it might fall short in.
Not Great If You Only Want One Specific Use
Let's say, for example, you just want to do keyword research, or you just want to build links. Ahrefs is built and sells as a suite of SEO tools. It's all or nothing.
This leads to the unfortunate consequence that if you are looking for one specific use like keyword research. Ahrefs will still charge you for all the other things it provides, even if you never use them.
No Budget Plan
This may be the main downfall of Ahrefs. There's no option for a budget plan. The smallest plan starts at $99 per month or $82 per month if paid on an annual basis.
That's a little bit of cheddar.
The other side of this is that Ahrefs provides a lot of tools and data, so we can't say that the pricing isn't justified. It just may not be the best fit for a budget buyer.
Not The Best Plan For A Small Agency
If you run an agency where multiple people will need to be using Ahrefs, you may be in for a big tax write off.
(That means you're going to be spending a hefty chunk of change).
If you run a small agency where you aren't rolling in the dough but need multiple users on Ahrefs, you may be out of luck. KWFinder offers a more budget plan for multiple users starting at $69 per month or $39 per month if paid annually.
a bit of a learning curve
Here's one of my bones to pick with Ahrefs. The tool can be a little bit hard to use.
Now this isn't really Ahrefs's fault. They have the most data out of any tool on the market. But the tool can have a learning curve for new users.
There's so much data there that it can be a bit hard to manage.
Ahrefs's plans are named Lite, Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise. They no longer offer a free trial.
Lite costs $99 per month or $990 per year. This plan allows you to track up to 5 projects (websites) and track 750 keywords per project. You can search 25 batches of keywords per day, but you can search up to 10,000 keywords per batch. I like to use it to search multiple ideas for long tail keywords at once, so I don't use up all my searches.
You can get up to 2,500 rows of data per report from each website, although you can export 500,000 rows/mo. This is the plan I use, and one thing I don't love is that I can only have 5 lists of keywords (I have 11 in KWFinder, but don't know the limit).
Standard costs $199 per month or $1990 per year. This plan allows you to track up to 20 projects (websites), and you can track 2,000 keywords per project.
You can get up to 30,000 rows of backlinks per report from each website, and you can update 1000 SERPs per month. You can have 20 keyword lists (that's more my style – I'm very organized with this type of thing).
Advanced costs $399 per month or $3990 per year. This plan allows you to track up to 50 projects (websites), and you can track 5000 keywords per project. You can search 200 batches of keywords per day.
You can get up to 50,000 rows of backlinks per report from each website, and you can update 5000 SERPs per month. You can have 100 keyword lists.
There is no trial for Advanced. It costs $999 per month or $9990 per year. This plan allows you to track up to 100 projects (websites), and you can track 10,000 keywords per project. You can search 1000 batches of keywords per day.
You can get up to 100,000 rows of backlinks per report from each website, and you can update 20,000 SERPs per month. You can have 250 keyword lists.
You can view Ahrefs's full pricing page here.
Need More Users?
All plans allow you to have 1 Power user who can consume up to 500 credits per month, although additional users on all plans are charged on a pay-as-you-go basis at either $20/mo for a casual user (100 credits) or $50/mo for a power user (500 credits).
Is Ahrefs The Best SEO Tool For Me?
Ahrefs has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Whether or not it's best for you will depend on who you are.
Beginner Bloggers or niche site builders
Ahrefs packs a lot into all of its packages, so it is a complete solution for all your site building needs. You can do keyword research, build links, and track your site. That's not even including the incredible level of detail you get with Ahrefs.
That said, Ahrefs may not be the best option for beginners. If you're just getting started and haven't proven to yourself that websites are a viable source of income, I don't recommend you go the Ahrefs route. Don't get caught up in shiny object syndrome. Yes, Ahrefs costs more than other tools. Yes, it is stronger and fancier.
That doesn't make it better for you though.
For a beginner, I recommend that you start with a simple keyword research tool. I love KWFinder and Spencer uses Long Tail Pro. Either one is fine. Both are less expensive than Ahrefs, and neither will give you information overload.
People with established businesses
Ahrefs is more of a benefit if you already have an established business. It helps you crank up the volume of your keyword research and link-building.
Ahrefs's SERP watcher will help you stay in the game. Their Keyword Explorer is a super powerful tool for locating secondary keywords that you can rank for. The Site Explorer helps you to steal your competitor's backlinks.
Ahrefs has a ton of value for you if you're in the established business zone. But does it provide more value for the cost?
It depends on the size of your operation, but I think you could get just as much value out of the Mangools Suite. This is the group in charge of KWFinder. But you can also take advantage of their SERP watcher and LinkMiner, and SiteProfiler features since you have an established business. They aren't quite as powerful as Ahrefs, but they get you 90% of the way for about 50% of the cost.
I say “marketing agencies” as a bit of a catchall. Ahrefs will work great for you whether you are in the content niche, SEO niche, link-building niche, or whatever. This type of high-income, high-production group is where Ahrefs begins to shine.
You can take full advantage of the libraries of information hidden within Ahrefs. Find all the keywords you could ever use, spend your life building links and master SEO. Ahrefs is right up your alley.
Ahrefs was made for the Link Building Monster. This is the kind of person who lives and breathes SEO. If you don't have more referring domains than Amazon itself, it's not good enough.
Do you live and breathe link building? Was “skyscraper” the first word out of your mouth as a child?
If so, Ahrefs is your home, your forward operating base. Why are you even reading this review? You just want to gloat over us all (and you can because you're always #1 in the SERPs). Go back home, Link Building Monster. Ahrefs is for you.
content production machines
If you are producing massive amounts of content, you will be welcomed with open arms by Ahrefs. Don't place yourself in this camp by accident; when I say “massive amounts of content”, we are talking millions of words per year, thousands of articles. This is the kind of person who can use 9011 long-tail keywords and still need more.
Ahrefs is a good place for the Content Production Machine. No other tool out there can produce as many keyword ideas.
What About me?
If you are a fledgling business owner or just getting started in your website, we don't recommend Ahrefs. KWFinder or Long Tail Pro will give you more than enough content to use. When you've gotten in the high double digits of content (50+) and are making $1000 or more per month, then take a look at Ahrefs for your business.
If you are an established business owner and over the $1000 per month mark, Ahrefs may be a good fit for you. But you may be able to get the same value out of KWFinder. Take a look at your business. How many keyword-targeted articles are you producing? How many links are you trying to build?
If you can make do without 9000+ keywords and aren't building more than a few links per day, then Ahrefs may not be necessary. Go for a less expensive option like KWFinder for your keyword planning and link building.
If you are an agency, a Link Building Monster, or a Content Production Machine, then Ahrefs is a good bet. These types of SEO professionals won't be able to get the same amount of power out of other tools. At this point in your business, price shouldn't be as much of a problem. Get on board the Ahrefs train.
Your Next Move
Thanks for reading our Ahrefs review and tutorial! I hope it's been helpful to you. If it has, please let me know in the comments. If it hasn't, will you take a moment to tell me why not? Your feedback helps improve everything we post on Niche Pursuits.
As long as you aren't an agency owner, Link Building Monster, or Content Production Machine, then there are probably more cost-effective options than Ahrefs for you.
If you do find yourself in one of these categories, then Ahrefs will be your best option.
You can click here to get started with Ahrefs if you're an agency, Link Building Monster, or Content Production Machine.Click here to get started with Ahrefs
If you aren't one of those things and are just now starting your business or are under the $1000 per month mark, I recommend that you take a bit of inspiration from Spencer's story: how the road to entrepreneurship isn't easy, but it's worth it.
KWFinder is a good fit for those who aren't at the $1000s per month or higher mark. It's part of a suite of tools that allows you to find keywords, track SERPs, get alerts for your site, spy on your competitors, and take competitor backlinks.
It's a little more cost-effective than Ahrefs.
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