Ahrefs Review: The Swiss Army knife of SEO toolkits

10th May 2020

TL;DR

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.



Loved

  • Keyword research
  • Email alerts
  • Competitor analysis
  • User-friendly

Loathed

  • Ranking accuracy
  • No outreach tools
  • Harsh Site
  • Audit scores

The Story

What is Ahrefs?

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:

  • SERP Checker – detailed ‘top 10’ results for any keyword in 170+ countries
  • Backlink Checker —the backlink profile and search traffic for any page
  • Keyword Generator —100 free keyword ideas and search intents
  • Website Authority Checker — check the Domain Authority of any site
  • Broken Link Checker — check your site for broken inbound and outbound links
  • YouTube & Amazon Checkers - search volumes for any keyword or product

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.


Dmitry Gerasimenko

Meet the Maker:
Dmitry Gerasimenko

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!

The Product

How we tested Ahrefs

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!


Getting started with Ahrefs

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.

Ahrefs onboarding   Surges review

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.

  1. Site Audit – a live autopsy of any site’s technical SEO
  2. Site Explorer – the keywords driving a site’s traffic, their most popular pages, speed at which search traffic is growing, sites linking to them, PPC ads they’re running, and so on
  3. Keywords explorer – what your potential customers are searching for online but deserving of better content
  4. Content explorer – content ideas to bring your chosen keywords to life
  5. Rank Tracker – see the fruits of your labour in the past, present and future

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.

Features you’ll love

  • 🧰 Site Audit

    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 site audit   Surges review

    Ahrefs is much, much stricter on potential errors and warnings. My site got a score of 64% (vs. 84% on SEMrush), picking up:

    • Canonical tags that point to redirected URLs
    • Some missing meta descriptions on summary pages
    • Need for more internal links to important pages
    • Some page titles that were too long

    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.

    Ahrefs site audit   how to fix   Surges review

    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.

  • 🔍 Keyword Explorer

    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.

    Ahrefs Keywords Explorer   Surges review

    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:

    • Estimating the number of backlinks you’ll need to rank in top 10 for a given keyword
    • Going beyond search volume with estimated ‘clicks’ for each result, helping you to identify true user intent and build a fuller picture of traffic potential (below)
    • Showing what’s jumping to the top of search results as a featured snippet and therefore pushing organic results down (SEMrush bundles all results together so there’s no way of knowing that top result is actually a snippet)
    • Seeing the full history of SERP results to see how long the featured results have held those spots and how hard they are likely to be to displace
    • Expanding your hunt for keyword opportunities in YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex and Baidu
    • See the ranking history of any website for any keyword to help you to understand the reasons behind any gains/falls
    • Hide keywords you’re already tracking in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker for added clarity
    • Get alerts for any new keywords you and your competitors rank for
    Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tips   Surges review

    This is whole level of analysis that other tools simply can’t match, making Ahrefs the Keyword kings.

    1. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer SERP overview   Surges review
  • 🗺️ Site Explorer

    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.

    Ahrefs Domain Audit   Surges review

    You can study a site in isolation or head-to-head against its peers for intel such as:

    • Find out the hot keywords behind the majority of their search traffic… then hijack them for your own site
    • See all your competitor’s backlinks… then filter for white hot guest post opportunities, resource listicles, podcast interviews and more
    • Discover the most shared and linked-to content… then create better, more linkable versions
    • Find content gaps on your own site that are driving traffic to others… then get to work filling them
    Ahrefs Domain Top Pages   Surges review

    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.

    Ahrefs Alerts   Surges review

    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.

  • 🔗 Backlink research

    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 Backlinks   Surges review

    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.

    Ahrefs New Backlinks   Advanced Filters   Surges review

    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.

  • 📚 Content Research

    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.

    Ahrefs Top Authors   Surges review

    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:

    1. Find the republishing dates of articles, in order to hunt down out-of-date pages of lots of backlinks
    2. Find all articles written by a single author, revealing likely guest posting opportunities
    Ahrefs authors   Surges review

    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!

  • 🔝 Rank Tracker

    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.

  • 💸 Paid Keywords research

    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.

Things to consider

  • Super feature: Alerts

    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:

    • Your competitors enter the Top 20 for new keywords over a certain traffic threshold
    • You get a new brand mention and turn them into links before it’s too late
    • Your site ranks for the new keyword and improve the content around it And much, much more!

    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!

  • Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar

    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.

    Ahrefs SEO toolbar

    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.

  • Addictive Dashboard

    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!

    Ahrefs dashboard   addictive

    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.

  • “How to use” feature tutorials

    One of the best UX wins on the Ahrefs platform is its “How to use” tutorials that accompany every report.

    Ahrefs How to Use

    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.

Ahrefs Pricing

$99+ per month

7-day access for $7

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.


Ahrefs Alternatives

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 Support   👍  or   👎

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.

The Verdict

Surges score

90%

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.

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