Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO toolkit sitting atop some wonderful free tools. Check your broken backlinks or get a quick picture of a domain’s authority before progressing to a full feature stack that includes competitive analysis, keyword research and content trends to out-think and out-rank your competitors organically.
Ahrefs is collection of tools to boost your site’s search engine rankings. Perfect for anyone using several tools for their day-to-day SEO and content marketing workflows or who has made the decision to up their SEO game.
Most people get started with Ahrefs’ free tools. Acting as a great billboard for paid plans, they include:
The core features of the paid product are a big step up from these and can be trialled for $7. On the surface it’s more or less the same line-up as its main rivals, but we know SEO is about more than just number crunching. I call Ahrefs the SEO bodybuilder. A seasoned pro, ready to do some heavy lifting and help you predictably attract visitors and leads with high-performing content.
Ahrefs takes up the reins from lesser SEO tools to mine your competitor’s organic keywords. backlink strategies and PPC keywords in crystal clear detail. With its advanced features, filters and alerts, it then keeps the growth content ideas coming thick and fast. If you’re serious about your SEO, Ahrefs is the tool to match.
Ahrefs beginnings date back to Dmitry Gerasimenko’s digital tinkering when he was a teenager.
That experimentation led to a new take on how backlinks could be built with his first iteration for a personal-use-only Ahrefs in 2010. The tool was released into the wild, which in turn gained Dmitry a name for himself and Ahrefs a cult following.
Ahrefs has added to its armoury considerably since then to become one of the top tier SEO toolkits out there. Today it crawls a whopping 5 billion web pages a day, indexing 16 trillion links on 170 root domains!
Disclaimer: My loyalty was elsewhere going into this review as a paying customer Serpstat and SEMrush.
However, Ahrefs’ $1-a-day trial was the perfect excuse to put it to the test. I’d certainly heard a lot about it.
I reviewed Ahrefs right off the back of doing the same for Moz, SEMrush and others so it was fresh in the memory. So, you’ll find plenty of comparisons between the most popular SEO tools and an honest assessment of who has the most innovative features. Scratch beneath surface and there’s a world of difference between them all toolkits and who they’re aimed at!
Ahrefs assumes this isn’t your first foray into SEO so the setup process is extremely streamlined. However, you’re not flying solo. there’s a 4-min whirlwind tour of the tool if you need it and you can always ask questions (their customer service is very quick to respond), join the Facebook community and tap into a ton of educational materials on the Ahrefs blog.
You start by plugging-in the domain(s), keywords and competitors you wish to track. This brings up a refreshingly simple dashboard and a step-by-step guide to follow.
This takes you through a clear onboarding sequence that we’ll follow for the purposes of this review. It covers the Ahrefs ‘the big 5’ tools and a few from the supporting cast.
If I’m nitpicking, I found Ahrefs to be a bit heavy-handed with the onboarding. My suggestion to Ahrefs would be to ask what level you’re operating at in order to cut down the number of emails in those first few days and to make them more relevant. A seasoned SEO professional already knows how to use the tool.
This is essentially a technical health check for your site.
Pressing ahead without it potentially undermines all the work you put in to your research and creating content. If you’re site’s not perfectly indexable and optimised for Google, people will struggle to find it.
To use Ahref’s Site Audit, simply put in your domain. If you’re website is light on content the results will be with you in a few minutes.
Ahrefs is much, much stricter on potential errors and warnings. My site got a score of 64% (vs. 84% on SEMrush), picking up:
Most importantly, Ahrefs tells you how to fix each of the issues and what best practice is. You can also click on any URL in Site Audit to see all the data that our crawler collected for that URL.
Despite finding the Ahrefs Site Audit report incredibly useful, my only criticism is that it goes OTT on charts. Stick to highlight and prioritising issues and providing step-by-step fixes.
Anybody with an Ahrefs subscription is likely to live in the platform, with Keywords Explorer probably their most-used tool.
As the SEO oracle, Ahrefs is sitting on top of a wealth of keyword data and experience. 10.2 billion keywords, 10 search engines and 171 countries to be precise.
That’s your key to finding out what people are actually searching for in your niche and who’s quenching their thirst with relevant content. Ahrefs covers all the standard results you’d hope for, including SERP features (e.g. featured snippets, Adwords ads, shopping results, etc), search intent, similar terms to compete on and calculating the difficulty of ranking for each keyword.
However, it’s nothing free tools can’t do these days if you’re only concerned with Google.
The real value in Ahrefs lies in its unique features built around its users, including:
This is whole level of analysis that other tools simply can’t match, making Ahrefs the Keyword kings.
Good artists copy; great artists steal. So too SEO pros.
Ahrefs’ Site Explorer is the best tool I’ve seen for keeping tabs on your competitors and demystify their content strategy. A counter attacker’s dream.
You can study a site in isolation or head-to-head against its peers for intel such as:
These features tick the usual SEO tool boxes but where Ahrefs’ Site Explorer really comes into its own is its ‘new’ and ‘movement’ filters for all of the above. With special tabs and its unique email ‘alerts’ feature, Ahrefs makes it as easy as possible to spot keywords and content that’s taking off on your competitors’ sites.
When you’re looking for any advantage you can get, this is a real superpower.
I’ve used it ride the wave on some great content ideas and spot new marketing tools in niches that were starting to get traction. Open goals I would have otherwise missed.
Links are the ultimate currency. Building them up is important because they are the single biggest influence on Google rankings. Put simple: You can’t rank without them.
Ahrefs has some strong tools for unearthing quality links and disavowing harmful ones – particularly when combined with its filter for ‘new’ competitor links. Ahrefs lets you set-up with email alerts for both, meaning you’ll get a ping in your inbox every time there’s significant backlink action on your competitor’s site. Move fast enough and these backlinks are yours for the taking!
Ahrefs can also send alerts every time a broken link is found for content relocated or dropped from your competitor’s site. This is an opportunity to step in and offer your own page as a solution.
However, this is all pretty standard stuff for the premium SEO tools…
Ahref’s real backlink superpower comes in the form of its more advanced filters.
“Domain ranking” and “URL ranking” stops you wasting your time chasing inconsequential links. The next level of refinement can help you to filter out even less valuable “nofollow”, “sponsored” (advertisements, sponsorships) and “UGC” (user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts). It’s this focus that will make you a spectacular link builder.
But any outreach you do will be manual. One MASSIVE shortcoming of Ahrefs is that it has no webmaster outreach tools, unlike SEMrush. I’m going to assume that Ahrefs is aimed at heavyweight SEO professionals, therefore they’re probably using another tool for this, however for people like me it’ll creates a lot of additional work or means taking out a separate subscription for a dedicated outreach tool. Hopefully it’s something they address in the future.
Quality content is handsomely rewarded, both in Google’s organic results, and in terms of sales.
Ahrefs isn’t perfect on the content front but what it lacks in terms of SEMrush’s content creation tools, it more than makes up for in terms of research.
The Ahrefs Content Explorer is a fountain of great content ideas.
Build interesting, rank-worthy content around your target Keywords and get added inspiration from knowing what’s already working for others. Enter a topic or keyword and you’ll get a list of the most shared and linked-to content for that keyword.
Once you know what’s hot, the key is to ‘borrow’ those ideas, tweak them, and make something even more useful. That last point is the most important – make sure your page answers the question it ranks for!
Another neat trick that Ahrefs powers is Content Gap analysis at a URL or subfolder level. Why is this important? It means you can compare like-for-like content with competitors, so if their pricing page is working harder than yours, for example, you can find out why. Or if their blog is driving more traffic, you can trump their top articles.
Two unique Content Research features to Ahrefs
Ahrefs is also building new features around latest and greatest tricks of the SEO trade. Correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t found another tool that can do the following:
Ahrefs is one savvy SEO tool built the input of tens of thousands of SEO professionals. Coming to it late you can soak up all that expertise and use it to your advantage!
Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker is your holding pen for your target keywords.
The basic plan has a 1000-keyword limit (double that of SEMrush) across 5 projects. However, Ahrefs’ inability to track keywords reliably means it’s still catching up to SEMRush where it really counts. Keywords that my website is >100 for were shown as ranking on P1 in Ahrefs – a quick Google search shows I’m not the only person to have experienced this.
Assuming Ahrefs can fix this, there are two Rank Tracker features worth mentioning. Ahrefs gives you easy access to the SERP features you rank for and the interactive graph showing your ranking history over the last six months.
Ahrefs has three deceptively simple tools to shed light on a competitor’s entire PPC strategy.
Use it to see what keywords your competitors are bidding on, the ad copy they’re running, the cost-per-click they’re paying and where they’re sending people. Then use all that info to inspire and enlighten your own paid plan.
One extra hidden within these tools include Ads History, to see who has been reliably using that keyword to drive lucrative paid traffic over a long time. The thinking being that if it’s working for them, it can for you too.
Once you’ve fixed your technical SEO, settled on your target keywords and researched content to rank for them, you’ll want to be awake to new opportunities.
Perhaps my favourite Ahrefs’ feature is its unique Alerts. Get notified by email every time:
Ahrefs Lite reduces the frequency of these alerts from daily to weekly which lessens their potential somewhat. A good enough reason to upgrade in my opinion!
The most effective way to build a new habit is to make it easy, enjoyable and automatic.
Step up Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar for Chrome and Firefox. The free extension gives you instant SEO metrics (e.g. Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR), Number of Backlinks, Number of referring domains, Estimated organic search traffic, Number of ranking keywords) and most important on-page elements for any website you visit. You can toggle any of those stats on and off, so it only shows the criteria you’re interested in.
One particularly clever use case for the Toolbar is to highlight nofollow links and gauge a site’s attitude to external links and whether they’re worth contacting for guest posts or cross-posting.
The Toolbar can also export the search results to a CSV file straight from Google’s search results page.
It’s more of a timesaver than a lifesaver but a great way to form better SEO habits and sniff out opportunities on the go.
A good-looking snapshot of your SEO performance stares you in the face every time you log-in to Ahrefs, showing important SEO metrics such as referring domains, backlinks, tracked keyword positions and more.
It’s surprising how many other SEO toolkits get this wrong.
SEMrush, for example, has too much irrelevant info. If you’re not using PPC, GA or their social tools, it’ll lead to empty charts and graphs. They also insist on making you scroll down to find important info – just give it to me upfront!
You can also select the timeframe you want for these trend graphs (from 30 days to 12 months) to get a very clear idea of the direction you’re heading in.
One of the best UX wins on the Ahrefs platform is its “How to use” tutorials that accompany every report.
It’s not the most innovative feature, but boy is it helpful!
With some much data and your disposal, and so many ways to cut it, the bite-sized tutorials hold your hand to master every Ahrefs tool.
Even if you can work your way round a SEO toolkit blindfolded, they’re full of great tips on how to squeeze every last backlink and ranking position out of your subscription.
$99+ per month
Ahrefs isn’t an impulse buy. But after trialling the tools they hope you’ll be hooked enough to pay $99 a month and upwards.
Use the tools as they’re intended and follow Ahrefs’ tips and you’ll get a ton of value for that small sum. That’s not to say the Lite plan doesn’t have limitations. Freelancers or agencies running client accounts off the platform will need higher usage limits and anyone wanting to react quickly to movements in their SEO metrics will want to unlock the frequency of reports.
Annual billing comes with 2 months free.
Putting all the siloed free SEO tools to one side, there’s only handful of others worthy of comparison to Ahrefs. Each has its own role to play.
For absolute beginners to SEO, SEMrush and Moz will teach you the ropes and help you to gain a strong foothold in the rankings. They’ll even help you write the content. For those only interested in the data, without any additional tutorials or thrills, Serpstat is more than capable. However, if you’re a few years into your SEO journey trying to reach the higher echelons of the first few results for your target keywords, Ahrefs is probably the next step with probably the best database of backlinks and SERP features out there.
Ahrefs prides itself on offering 24/5 customer support, however that’s selling itself short.
Given I submitted a query via the live chat on a weekend I wasn’t expecting a reply until the Monday – however it appeared first thing on a Sunday morning.
After a couple of back-and-forths I had the answer I needed – thanks ‘Max’! I can only assume this great service is the same for paying customers so consider this a thumbs up review.
Ahrefs is definitely on the podium for my top SEO tools.
Creating great content takes time. Building an audience even more so. However, you can jump the queue with an expert SEO game.
Ahrefs’ data is deep, fresh and rich in the insights needed to provide a constant stream of new keywords, build compelling content around them and gain valuable backlinks to boost your site’s visibility and traffic.
Or you can reverse-engineer all of this by riding in your competitors’ slipstream and use Ahref to discover what’s working for them and who’s pushing visitors their way.
Other tools might specialise in bite-sized insights for time-poor marketers or offer a hand with SEO content creation but Ahrefs is a professional-grade SEO tool aimed at those who know what they’re doing. Don’t let its intuitive tools and helpful tutorials fool you – Ahrefs power some of the most successful ecommerce stores on the planet.
Sprinkled with innovative features, such as new keyword email Alerts and republishing dates, you’ll never go hungry for new ways to out-think and organically out-rank the competition. Those that can act quick enough will find they’ve a weapon of mass attraction on their hands.
My experience did leave me with a few concerns around the accuracy of some of the ranking data. I’m probably more forgiving than a SEO agency entrusted by its clients so this does need addressing.
That said, for $99+ a month it’s still a no-brainer investment if you’re wanting to take your organic traffic up a level.