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Ahrefs: The Complete Review (2017)

Ahrefs: The Complete Review (2017)

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Ahrefs Review Intro

SEO is quite simple these days.

Google is no longer tricked by the seedy black hat methods of the past.

Ranking well is simply a matter of writing great content that people will share.

Simple not easy.

Of course, only 10 or less can make the front page.

So how can an SEO software help?

While a tool won’t write content for you, it will help you:

  1. Choose content topics more strategically and
  2. Find people and sites that are more likely to share it

SEO tools can help these two tasks with sophisticated analytics.

Ranking well is simply a matter of writing great content that people will share.

In this review, we will show you how Ahrefs can boost SEO through features like keyword research, backlink analysis, and content tools.

What is Ahrefs?

Ahrefs is an all-in-one SaaS tool that provides data and tracks your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts.

Ahrefs is a powerful all around SEO tool.

Ahrefs provides information to power the following SEO efforts:

  • Position tracking
  • Keyword Research
  • Backlink analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Technical SEO
  • On-page optimization
  • Content planning (ideation)
  • Link building
  • Organic traffic analysis

Ahrefs stands above the rest due to its vast backlinks database.

Ahrefs has a massive crawling setup (probably bigger than any other tool). This has many benefits. Crawling is what finds all the backlinks and mentions across the web that other tools miss.

The value of an SEO tool is directly related to the size of its web crawling robot. Ahrefs leads the pack of tools we’ve evaluated.

Ahrefs stands above the rest due to its vast backlinks database.

ahrefs-statistics
The impressive crawl statistics of Ahrefs

Of course there are other factors that affect the quality of an SEO software but backlinks is the most important factor.

Why are backlinks important?

Backlinks are the basis for so many key SEO metrics like keyword difficulty, domain rating, and anchor text analysis.

Ahrefs has an astounding Content Explorer tool also.

This content tool provides comprehensive information on articles for any keyword. Make sure to check out this part of our Ahrefs review below.

Ahrefs is a paid tool. Ahrefs’ pricing plans are more expensive than similar plans from Moz Pro or SEMRush.

Backlinks are the basis for so many key SEO metrics like keyword difficulty, domain rating, and anchor text analysis.

Related SEO tool reviews by MarTech Wiz

SEMrush Review: for deep PPC data, novel SEO metrics and Search Console integration

Moz Pro Review: for superior Keyword analysis and SERP feature analysis

Majestic Review: for extensive backlink data and visualizations

Serpstat Review: for an affordable, up-and-coming SEO tool

Ahrefs Features: What does Ahrefs have?

Ahrefs is a very comprehensive product with a strong database and vast feature set.

Here are some of the main features of Ahrefs:

  • Extensive backlink database
  • Possibly the most powerful SEO web crawler
  • Process to find keyword mentions quickly and comprehensively
  • SEO toolbar chrome extension (like MozBar)
  • Keyword database with clickstream data
  • Database of PPC (pay-per-click) text ads
  • Content tool with comprehensive social share information
  • Domain rank: see where your site is in relation to any other website based on backlink quality
  • Chat support

Ahrefs hits all the major bases that an all-in-one SEO software should.

Ahrefs Benefits: Why use Ahrefs?

On a high level, Ahrefs will help you improve your position in search engines results.

The business benefits of SEO include:

  • more website traffic
  • greater brand awareness

Ahrefs can also power competitor analysis and strategy with information such as website traffic and top pages.

Pros of Ahrefs

  • Probably the most extensive web crawler among SEO tools
  • Recent and wide-ranging keyword alerts sent to your email daily
  • Comprehensive social share information from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and Pinterest
  • Largest backlink database in our experience
  • User experience balances loads of information with clean design well
  • Interesting and novel metrics like return rate and clicks for SERPs
  • Parent topic lets you conduct topic research in addition to single keyword research
  • Advanced filtering options throughout the tool
  • Complete SERP analysis including SERP features
  • Ahrefs has detailed and novel metrics
  • Pages report shows the top visited pages of a competitor or any domain
  • Information is frequently updated and can be retrieved on demand
  • Keyword section includes clickstream data for more accurate

Cons of Ahrefs

  • Low limits and restrictions on the $99 plan make that plan not worth it
  • No integration with Google Analytics or Search Console
  • The ‘Domain Health’ tool (technical SEO and on page optimization) is currently down
  • Experienced getting no results returned in some sections of the tool
  • Keyword suggestions do not have a relevancy sore. You have to sort on things like volume which surfaces many irrelevant results.
  • No outreach tool (to be fair most similar SEOs tool don’t have this)
  • Web Traffic stats not as robust as other tools

Who is Ahrefs for?

Ahrefs is for any organization in any industry that wants more visitors on its website.

Ahrefs is powerful enough for enterprises and SEO agencies yet easy enough for small businesses.

Any marketer or businessperson with a baseline level of digital marketing savvy will be able to grasp it.

As long as you are able to find ~$150+ in your monthly marketing budget, you can afford it (we don’t recommend the $99 plan).

Like most powerful tools, there may be a learning curve for terminology and features. Nothing too difficult to overcome.

Usability: UX and UI

The user interface of Ahrefs is clean and logical.

This is not easy to pull off considering the vast amount of information provided.

The challenge with SEO tools is there is so much data. Some tools don’t show much information to keep the interface clean. Other SEO tools show everything with little regard to the user interface.

ahrefs-interface
Example of Ahrefs' clean interface
 Ahrefs strikes the right balance of providing abundant data in an easy to use interface.
  • There is a decent amount of white space considering all the information
  • Ahrefs make particularly good use of collapsible section
  • It is easy to navigate through the different sections

How does Ahrefs work?

Ahrefs is a SaaS (web-based software) product so no installation is necessary.
 
You have to sign up for a free trial or subscription to get access. There is no free version or free plan.
 
Setup is straightforward. You provide Ahrefs with the site, keywords and competitors to track. Ahrefs expedites the process by suggesting keywords and competitors based on its analysis of your site. This makes setup easier and reports more complete. “Auto-recommend” is a feature is not found in all SEO tools.
ahrefs-setup
ahrefs-keywords-setup
Ahrefs suggests relevant keywords to track during setup

One key thing to set up is alerts. Every day Ahrefs will email you mentions of keywords they find across the web. Alerts for backlinks and new keyword rankings are weekly on the standard plan. These mentions/keyword alerts became one of my favorite parts of Ahrefs.

ahrefs-alert-email
Example of an alert email you will receive in your inbox

Ahrefs’ powerful crawler not only finds a lot of backlinks but also tons of keyword and brand mentions.

Moving to the main web-based part of Ahrefs, you can analyze various metrics and graphs for SEO as well as PPC (pay per click) and social media data. This data is available for your competitors and your own site.

Like other similar SEO tools, Ahrefs also has a useful Chrome extension SEO toolbar that we’ll cover later.

MarTech Wiz Video Review of Ahrefs

So let’s move this Ahrefs review ahead with a look at the main dashboard.

Section 1: Dashboard

When you log on, you first see your dashboard. It has an overview of the most pertinent stats for your website. You can also enter up to 10 other URLs that you want to highlight.

ahrefs-dashboard
Ahrefs Dashboard layouts the most important domain data for SEO

Ahrefs’ dashboard is different in one main way. Most other tools split out your own site’s data in a separate “campaign” or “project” section. Ahrefs shows your site’s backlinks, keyword and other core metrics here in the dashboard with details in Site Explorer.

It makes sense why Ahrefs does it this way.

Essentially the information you want from your website or any other URL is the same. So you don’t need a separate section for your own site. The dashboard has your site’s metrics at a glance but if you drill down you’ll be taken to Site Explorer.

Off to the side of the dashboard are a few one-off tools. There is a link to a rank tracker. Ahrefs has a solid rank or position tracking table too.

ahrefs-rank-tracker
Ahrefs rank tracker monitors your changes in Google search results

Another one-off tool here is the disavow tool. Disavowing low-quality links allows you to tell Google to distance yourself from spammy sites that are backlinking to you.

ahrefs-disavow
Use the Disavow tool to distant your site from spammy links

There is also a section that has the results of your crawl report for technical SEO and on page SEO optimization (what they call “Domain Health”). This site audit functionality was being upgraded during our Ahrefs review process so we couldn’t evaluate it.

Section 2: Alerts

The next main section is Alerts. Ahrefs does alerts well. Having one central place to setup alerts is nice. Other tools, if they have alerts, spread them across other sections.

Here you clearly see tabs for the three main sections you need alerts for: backlinks, new keywords, and mentions. Alerts are sent via email.

ahrefs-mention-setup
Setting up what keyword or brand mentions you want to track
The Standard Plan sends out daily alerts of new keyword or brand mentions you set up. And the alerts articles are great. Every day you receive an email with a list of recent articles that mentioned a keyword you are tracking.
 
What’s really cool is that these Ahrefs alert emails show the domain rating right next to each article so you know how credible the site is.
ahrefs-alert-email2

Unfortunately, even in the $179 standard plan, backlinks and keyword alerts are only weekly (which aren’t alerts at that frequency just weekly reports). You will need to pay $399/month for more frequent updates (Ahrefs is not cheap.) But if you want fresh information on any of the three areas (backlinks, keywords, or mentions) you can run a report from the alerts section any time. It will take a minute or so.

The power of daily mention alerts is that the best time to ask for backlinks is right after an article has been published.

The mentions Ahrefs send out are from the last 24 hours and several are very relevant. So these alerts are served up at the best time for link building outreach.

I found many things through Ahrefs alerts I would likely not find elsewhere. Even with a tool like Google Alerts. Google curates what is shown in Google Alerts but Ahrefs tends to show more liberally so you can choose what is important. (Update: if you change the Google Alerts default setting from “Only the best results” to “All Results” it becomes much closer to the number of Ahrefs alerts)

Also if a spammy site mentions you, you want to know that to disavow it. Google Alerts (with “Only the best results” setting on) wouldn’t send you an article from a spammy site.

Alerts is a reason to buy Ahrefs in and of itself. I look forward to the alert emails.

Section 3: Site Explorer

Now we get to one major part of the tool, Site Explorer. Ahrefs Site Explorer is where you research any domain or URL to dive deep into. Here you do the bulk of competitive analysis.

The Site Explorer overview covers the standard SEO metrics and more:

  • Domain rating
  • Backlinks count
  • Referring domains count
  • Organic keywords positions
  • Anchor text
  • Website rank (out of all websites)
ahrefs-site-explorer
Ahrefs Site Explorer

Backlink Analysis

The backlink checker shows you who is linking out to similar sites or articles. These backlink profiles are crucial for link building so you know who may be more likely to link out to your similar content.

Again, we want to reiterate that Ahrefs has the most backlinks we have seen out of any tool.

ahrefs-backlinks
A strength of Ahrefs is its backlink database
Ahrefs’ backlink profiles are extremely comprehensive due to the depth and breadth of their crawlers. Their Ahrefs bot is constantly crawling the web powered by a ton of computing might.
 
If a tool isn’t finding as many legit backlinks as Ahrefs is (which most aren’t), then several of their statistics are not as accurate either. This is because backlinks are a major component of many core SEO metrics like domain rating and keyword difficulty.
 
This section also shows you the count of referring domains which is all the sites that are backlinking to you.
backlinks are a major component of many core SEO metrics like domain rating and keyword difficulty.

Rank Tracker

Site Explorer is also another place you can track the rank or position of sites for organic keywords. You can track your own site or competitors.
The organic keywords section is a fantastic and a great example of their smart user interface.
 
Here there is also a useful graph that you can open up that shows your movements in the keyword rankings over time.
ahrefs-rank-trend
A trend line shows changes in Goolge SERPs over time

One downside is the information on this graph doesn’t seem as updated as it is in other sections.

 

SERP (search engine results page) analysis

SERP analysis is basically a supped-up version of the Google front page with all of the information an SEO would want like domain rating and backlink counts. To see the SERP analysis, click the arrow and the SERPs are opened up in an expanded section.

To see SERP features (like a paragraph box or image pack), hover over an icon.

ahrefs-serp-analysis
SERP analysis with SERP features

Site Explorer also estimates the organic search traffic a site receives from a certain ranking.

You can alternatively use Ahrefs’ SEO toolbar (Chrome extension) on a search on Google.com.

Note: Ahrefs has two indices which can be confusing. You can choose from either the live and fresh index.

To clarify, “Live” shows only links that are currently up. “Fresh” includes all live links plus ones that expired in the last 90 days (so fresh is a bit confusing). I used Fresh during this Ahrefs review as I want to see if a link was lost.

Some useful and interesting parts of Site Explorer:

Calendar view 

Ahrefs has a unique calendar view that shows new and lost backlinks over time.

Anchor Text Table

Anchor text is the text that is on hyperlinks. It is important because it signals to search engines what the link’s topic is.

Ahrefs has a useful feature where you can view and sort on 1, 2, 3 or 4-work anchor text phrases. Good for long tail keywords.

Competing Domains and Competing Pages
These great charts show your closest competitors based on the keywords you share in search engines.

ahrefs-competing-domains
Ahrefs automatically determines competing domains based on shared keywords

Content Gap

The “Content Gap” tool shows keywords that competitor websites are ranking well for that you are not. Allows you to discover opportunities to create impactful content.

Top Pages

The Top pages report shows the most visited pages of whichever URL you are exploring. This is important information in many ways. Great for competitive analysis or content planning to see what has worked.

ahrefs-top-pages
Top pages report shows the most visited pages of any report

Ahrefs shows you the number of keywords the article is ranking for. Good for expanding your keyword reach.

Outgoing Links

Site Explorer shows outgoing link statistics too: who a site links out to. I am not sure of a specific SEO use case but am sure this could come in handy.

Paid Keywords

Additionally, there is a “Paid Keywords” section in Site Explorer. This shows actual PPC ads the site you are exploring run. It even shows you an estimate of the paid traffic that resulted from the ad.

ahrefs-ppc
Ahrefs has some historical ppc ad data
In short, Site Explorer is a treasure trove of SEO-related information presented in an effective manner.
 
You can export Site Explorer content to a CSV or PDF.

Section 4: Content Explorer

While Site Explorer was impressive, Content Explorer blew us away.

ahrefs-most-shared
Content Explorer

You start by entering any keyword or topic you are interested in exploring. Keyword Explorer returns an ocean of relevant articles with in-depth statistics. It’s different from a search engine because it is mainly editorial content (like blog posts and articles that you would want to see.) Plus it has information specific to SEO.

So for our Ahrefs review process, we tried entering an extremely detailed inquiry:

We searched for articles with Tom Brady in the title or content, published in the month of May 2016, on a site with a domain rating of 60 or above, that was shared over 1000 times. And like magic:

ahrefs-brady-1
Content Explorer has extensive information on a large number of articles

You can tell it to search for the keyword in the title or in the whole article. Advanced search allows you to limit the search to a specific site, author, and even a “fuzziness” operator to show close misspellings!

But this is just the beginning.

Once you get your extensive article list returned you can fine tune the results with Content Explorers’ sophisticated filtering options. You can filter on several factors including publish date, language, shares, domain rating, and word count.

If you click the detail button, five helpful line graphs appear showing shares, keyword rankings, referring pages and other stats over time.

ahrefs-content-details
Content Explorer has detailed information on every article

The amount of information is amazing. And not just information for information’s sake but very useful.

And there’s more:

If you look closely, you’ll see other tabs that list top backlinks, referring domains, and keywords.

ahrefs-content-tabs
Finding the top backlinks of an article in Content Explorer is easy

Back to the original view, let’s talk about Content Explorer’s social media information.

The breadth of social media platforms covered here is the best I’ve seen versus similar tools. They show shares for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, and Pinterest.

They not only show the shares but link to the searches on the social media sites themselves and sharers.

Then there is the “who tweeted” button. It takes you to a table with all the people who have tweeted the article. But unlike the SEMrush version, you can sort the table and export it. Plus it has so much more information like tweet date, which is important, and the website associated with the twitter account.

So very valuable for outreach.

To state the obvious, this is crucial information to get a list of people who to share your content with. If they shared similar articles they are more likely to share your article.

Section 5: Keywords Explorer

Keyword explorer has many excellent features for keyword analysis (with one drawback.)

Keyword Explorer was recently improved by Ahrefs so this is version 2.0.

First, as in any keyword planning tool, Ahrefs has the standard metrics like keyword volume and keyword difficulty.

For keyword volume data, Keyword Explorer uses clickstream data which increases accuracy.

A nice metric that not every tool has is CPC (cost per click) for paid search ads.

ahrefs-keyword-explorer-top
Keyword Explorer overview in Ahrefs

Keyword Explorer also has interesting keyword stats I haven’t seen elsewhere.

One exmple is “Clicks.”

Clicks tells you how many times results are clicked not just the number of keyword searches. So if a keyword is searched 1,000 times per month and people click on 2 results on average, “Clicks” for that keyword is 2,000.

“Return rate” is another novel metric that shows how often people search for the same keyword again.

Keyword Explorer also has some fantastic SERP analysis. SERP analysis again is a replication of Google’s front page results with SEO information. The SERP analysis includes SERP features which are the extras that Google includes more and more these days. You can expand which opens up a new section in the table with the SERP!

Awesome.

You can even update it in real time if you want the latest results.

Also, you have the same advanced filtering options we saw in other sections as well.

On some of the tables you have to click “Get Metrics” for Ahrefs to fetch the data (as opposed to it being already in the table loaded). It takes a few seconds to retrieve each line. I haven’t seen this elsewhere. It didn’t bother me much during our Ahrefs review especially since it means up-to-date information. But it can slow things down.

ahrefs-get-metrics

The “Keyword Ideas” section, which shows keyword suggestions, was the only significant disappointment of Ahrefs.

ahrefs-keyword-ideas
Keywords ideas for "SEO" were not very helpful

For many keywords, they didn’t have any suggestions at all. NONE! This simply didn’t happen in other tools I tested and it’s a fairly common occurrence in Ahrefs.

ahrefs-kw-suggestions
Oddly No keywords ideas (sugggestions) found
ahrefs-no-suggestions
Search suggestions come up empty sometimes

Secondly, when keyword ideas were given, there was no relevancy metric to sort on.  So it was tough in some cases to get relevant related keywords.

Also, unlike other competitive tools, Ahrefs doesn’t show positions 50-100 unless you upgrade (to the $399 plan!)

ahrefs-keyword-restriction

On a positive note, Traffic share by domains is a nice feature that estimates how much traffic each result gets from Google.

ahrefs-traffic-page
Estimation of the percentage of traffic a page gets in the SERPs

Ahrefs does a nice job with Keyword lists.

You can group up to 1000 keywords in a list.  For each list, you get super powerful aggregate information like histograms of the difficulty and volume of the group (categories).

ahrefs-keyword-lists
Keyword Lists provide aggregate data for large groups of keywords

There is also a cool scatterplot of volume vs. difficulty:

ahrefs-keyword-scatter
Ahrefs scatterplot shows the relationship between keyword volume and difficulty

Ahrefs even estimates the number of backlinks needed to rank in top 10.

Section 6: Other Tools

SEO Toolbar

Ahrefs has an SEO toolbar in the form of a Chrome extension. We found it useful during our Ahrefs review process but its nothing extraordinary. It shows you the domain and url rating as well as backlinks stats on SERPs and individual pages.

ahrefs-seo-toolbar
ahrefs-seo-toolbar
Ahrefs SEO toolbar detailed view

API and applications

Ahrefs has an API allowing external uses of the Ahrefs database. You must get approval to use for your own project. We didn’t test the API for this Ahrefs review.

ahrefs-api
Ahrefs API options

Ahrefs lists 8 third-party applications that utilize Ahrefs’ data. A paid Ahrefs subscription is necessary to use the Ahrefs data in these applications. Also, the add-on applications themselves must be purchased as well.

ahrefs-apps
Several programs that use Ahrefs data

Domain Comparison

In this section, you can compare up to 5 URLs on SEO-related metrics like referring .edu domains, nofollow links, and crawled pages.

ahrefs-domain-comparison
Domain Comparision can compare up to 5 domains

Batch Analysis

Batch analysis allows you to download a report comparing hundreds of different URLs. It’s fast and provides about 25 different metrics including  backlink count, domain authority, and traffic.

Link Intersect

Link intersect is a handy tool to find link opportunities. With Link intersect, you can identify sites that link to 2 or 3 of your competitors but not your site.

ahrefs-link-intersect
Link Intersect tool shows sites that link out to multiple competitors but not to you

 Ahrefs Pricing and Plans: How much does Ahrefs cost?

Ahrefs has 4 pricing plans at $99, $179, $399, and $999 per month. There is a 20% annual discount if paid upfront.

The $99 is correctly called Lite. While we recommend Ahrefs, we can’t recommend the $99 Lite Subscription. It is so limited in queries, it is not worth it. Also, you can’t access tools like link intersect or “who tweeted.”

Ahrefs’ $179 plan has similar limits to the $99 plan of other tools.

As plans get more expensive, data limits and update frequency increase.

There is a 7-day money-back guarantee.

ahrefs-pricing
Ahrefs Pricing Plans

Is there a free trial and/or free plan option?

  • Free trial: 14-day free trial (credit card is required)
  • Free plan: Unlike most competitors Ahrefs has no free version

Ahrefs vs. competitors

Support/Training: How is Ahrefs’ customer service and customer support?

Ahrefs offers chat and email support. Responses were timely with the few questions we had.

They also have a lot of training material including onboarding videos:

ahrefs-onboarding-videos
Onboarding Videos

Conclusion: Ahrefs Review

Ahrefs is a fantastic SEO tool. It covers the main areas of SEO including domain analytics, backlink profiles, keyword planning, and content research. The highlights of Ahrefs are an extremely deep backlink database and the impressive “Content Explorer.” Alert emails are also very useful with detailed and timely results. The only big downsides is the “Keyword Ideas” part of Keyword Explorer which didn’t consistently offer relevant suggestions and the lack of integration with Google Analytics and Search Console. Ahrefs is not cheap but, in this case ,you do get what you pay for: it’s a premium product at a premium price.

We hope you enjoyed our Ahrefs review. If so, please sign up below to be alerted of future product reviews.

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