Ahrefs Review

ahrefs keyword explorer

If the name Ahrefs sounds more like a command line entry than a product name to you, you have a handle on the product’s philosphy. While this SEO tool is fairly full featured, we found that it did not spend a whole lot of time on worry about end user niceties, especially an intuitive user interface. Starting at $82 per month for its Lite plan (when billed annually), this is a full featured tool aimed mainly at people who know what they are doing when it comes to SEO. For those folks, however, it is a solid choice. For example, Ahrefs maintains one of the largest indexes of backlinks on the web, currently with more than 12 trillion historical backlinks and 6 billion web pages crawled per day.
It also includes a number of other features and capabilities across ad-hoc keyword research, ongoing SEO monitoring and position tracking, content-specific research, and competitive domain comparison. Overall, Ahrefs can do a little bit of everything. While it lacks the keyword management and SEO reporting features of Editors’ Choice Moz Pro (79.00 Per Month, Billed Annually at Moz) , and its bare-bones user experience (UX) can’t match that of the much cleaner Editors’ Choice, SpyFu (33.00 Per Month, Billed Annually at SpyFu) , Ahrefs does plenty beyond its signature crawling capabilities to warrant consideration and has invested in interface improvements, more advanced reporting, and better keyword management features since our initial review.

Pricing and Plans

Ahref’s pricing is a little on the high side, starting at $82 per month for its Lite plan ($99 if you opt for month-to-month billing). This plan gives you 1 user, five campaigns (the number of sites you can track in the Ahrefs dashboard), 300 tracked keywords per week, 25 domain crawls per day in the Site Explorer tool, and only 3 searches in the Keyword Explorer per day. There are also caps on the number of alerts, and the number of results you can export from Ahrefs’ backlinks and rankings indexes. The $149 per month Standard plan ($179 month-to-month) is the more feasible option for SMBs, upping the platform’s capacity to 10 campaigns, 1,000 tracked keywords updated every three days instead of weekly, 100 domains per day, and 50 keyword searches per day.
Then there is the Advanced plan, priced at $332 per month billed annually ($399 month-to-month). This is where you start getting into premium features. The Advanced tier gives you 25 campaigns, daily updates on up to 4,000 tracked keywords, 200 keyword searches per day, more expansive access to the backlinks and rankings indexes as well as mobile ranking, and up to three user logins. Finally, there is the Agency plan, priced at $832 per month billed annually ($999 month-to-month). This tier gives you real-time web mention tracking, hourly backlink reports, and far higher quotas across every Site Explorer, Content Explorer, and Keyword Explorer mention. For most SMBs, we would recommend going with the Standard or Advanced plans depending on how much data you are looking to research and how frequently you need alerts.

Keywords Explorer and User Experience

The first thing you notice about the Ahrefs dashboard is that it is fairly sparse. Across the top of the screen is a navigation bar with tabs for Dashboard, Alerts, Site Explorer, Content Explorer, Keywords Explorer, and a Tools drop-down. This is where you can access the Ahrefs application programming interface (API)*, the Ahrefs browser toolbar, and other tools like domain comparison and quick batch analysis of multiple backlinks. Below the tabs is a search bar to enter a domain, URL, topic, or keyword. The dashboard itself lists all your current campaigns, which you can click on to enter Site Explorer for that site’s latest monitoring data.
Ad-hoc keyword research is what business users will find themselves using most often when identifying the best possible search engine results pages (SERP) to target with an optimization strategy that can help your pages rank higher. As such, we focused my testing largely on the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool.
For testing purposes, we used a common set of five keywords for every tool to see how SEO metrics, results, and related keyword recommendations would differ. The five keywords we tested with were pc, digital marketing, online shopping, IT consultant, and small business accounting. This is a fairly typical sampling of terms an SMB might use, including a publishing outfit like Ziff Davis. Together they let us see a snapshot of related search results and competitors’ spots ripe for targeted optimization.
We started in Keyword Explorer by entering all five of ours test keywords into the search bar. Ahrefs lets you narrow the search by country, but unlike in KWFinder it does not include the ability to drill down by city. The keyword results page was initially the most basic and straightforward of all the tools we tested in terms of metrics returned, but Ahrefs has greatly enhanced its Keyword Explorer tool with a responsive page of interactive data visualizations.
Where before there was a basic table with metrics on average monthly search volume, cost-per-click (CPC), how many total search results were on the page, and the keyword difficulty score, in the updated Keywords Explorer interface we got an overview page with interactive bar charts on total search volume and clicks, volume distribution, and difficulty distribution. Below that were tables and charts breaking down SERP features, volume-difficulty distribution, and top countries by volume, keyword ideas, and traffic share by pages and domains.
When you hit the Metrics tab next to Overview, Keywords Explorer also now uses clickstream data to provide users with more acccurate individual keyword metrics around search volume, clicks (and clicks per search), and return rate (how often people search for the same keyword). Google’s Keyword Planner now groups keyword volumes for similar queries, and this is especially useful data in that regard. There is also a link to open the SERP breakdown, listing what URLs hold each positon in the search results with deeper metrics on the SEO strength of the page. Ahrefs has enhanced its SERP results as well, now populating a SERP position history chart to track rank changes over time, along with incorporating newer fields like Featured Snippets into the results page.
For ours online shopping keyword, for instance, we found that it had the highest search volume and a difficulty score of 75. Conversely, digital marketing had a lower but still significant search volume with a keyword difficulty score of 59. For reference, a difficulty score is an all-in-one, 1-100 number used by all the tools we tested that factors Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) SEO metrics together with other data, including keyword search volume, how heavily paid search ads are influencing the results, and how strong the competition is in each spot on the current search results page.
On the SERP results page for digital marketing, we was able to identify several URLs with low scores in various custom Ahrefs metrics. These include domain rating, URL rating, and the “Ahrefs rank” score, as well as how many links were coming from social media sources like Facebook and LinkedIn (potentially valuable data that you can import into any social media analytics tools you might be using). From here, you can take those target URLs and run a Site Explorer search to identify how your business can optimize its page to snag that SERP spot.
On the left-hand side of the Keywords Explorer interface is a small menu with a few other options, giving you a list of related keywords with the same metrics as well as a phrase match list of longer search terms that match the keywords. Compared to the related keyword suggestions you’ll find in Moz, KWFinder, and SEMrush (99.95 Per Month at SEMrush) , Ahrefs doesn’t give the average user as much in terms of proactive help and targeted recommendations of the right keywords to target. That said, the platform has greatly improved what was the weakest standalone ad-hoc keyword querying in our initial reviews. Ahrefs has bolstered its keyword database from 300 million to 3.1 billion keywords, and as such, the Keywords Explorer now returns 10 times more keyword ideas In “Phrase Match” and “Having Same Terms” reports. The platform has also added related keyword suggestion options such as “Also rank for” and “Search suggestions” sections to bring up keywords that are more relevant.
Ahrefs also finally offers basic keyword management to add keyword to a list. On the top right of the keyword results page, you can select a keyword to add to a new or existing keyword list to which you can return later. This is still limited, as you cannot take those keywords and add them to an SEO campaign or directly into a lead management module, but it is better than Ahrefs had before, where all you could do was export your keyword results as a CSV file. Moz Pro, SEMrush, SpyFu, and KWFinder all include better grouping and list-making capabilities to better organize and refine keyword lists, but Ahrefs is closing the gap.

Site Explorer and Alerts

Of the three main categories of SEO—ad-hoc keyword research, ongoing search position monitoring, and crawling—Ahrefs is far stronger in the latter two. When typing a URL into the Site Explorer, we got a comprehensive breakdown of the domain spanning all of the Ahrefs custom metrics, a breakdown of organic keywords and traffic, organic and paid search, and a full index of all the crawled pages on the site. In terms of running quick, comprehensive site diagnostics, only Moz possesses the same level of capability of the tools we tested.
Scrolling down the Site Explorer page, we also found interactive data visualizations. These pull in live data on referring domains and pages, backlinks, and a worldwide map of where search traffic is coming from. Below that was also a word cloud of the search terms driving the most traffic. Then in the left-hand navigation column, there were deeper site breakdown options into search and backlinks, paid and organic search, and some new comparison features allowing us to identify competing domains and pages. The comparison features broke down how many common and unique keywords ours site shared in common with competing sites. Ahrefs and the Kombat comparison tool in SpyFu provided the deepest competitive comparison metrics of the SEO tools.
Finally, Ahrefs lets you configure email alerts to track backlinks, new keywords, and site/brand mentions. So when creating a new keyword alert, we simply clicked the add alert button on the top right of the Alerts dashboard, then entered the URL, country, the keyword volume I wanted (less than 1,000, 1,000-10,000, or above 10,000), the email addresses where we wanted the alerts sent, and how frequently those emails should go out. The alerting in Ahrefs is straightforward, easy to set up, and makes it simple to track a website’s overall SEO health and monitor targeted keywords.

All the Basics Covered

If you are looking for an SEO tool with exceptional crawling and domain analysis that covers all your bases in terms of basic keyword research and ongoing monitoring, Ahrefs is a solid choice. The user experience is nothing fancy and the keyword management and optimization recommendations leave a lot to be desired compared to Editors’ Choices Moz Pro and SpyFu, but Ahrefs is on par with DeepCrawl (72.00 Per Month, Billed Annually at DeepCrawl) and Majestic (49.99 Per Month, Billed Quarterly at Majestic.com) as the best crawlers we tested, and includes the most backlink tracking tools of any product in this roundup next to LinkResearchTools (329.00 Per Month, Billed Annually at LinkResearchTools) . It can be a valuable addition to your business’s SEO tool suite.

PROS
Exceptional site-specific and internet-wide crawling capability.
Solid ad-hoc keyword research.
Comprehensive domain monitoring and comparison.
Improved keyword suggestions.
In-depth SERP analysis.
Basic keyword management.
CONS
Limited SEO reporting.
Bare-bones UX.

BOTTOM LINE

Ahrefs is a professional-grade SEO tool with powerful features across everything from keyword management to competitive analysis. While its interface is not geared for beginners, it is a solid choice for experienced digital marketers.

*(Application Programming Interface) A language and message format used by an application program to communicate with the operating system or some other control program such as a database management system (DBMS) or communications protocol. APIs are implemented by writing function calls in the program, which provide the linkage to the required subroutine for execution. Thus, an API implies that a driver or program module is available in the computer to perform the operation or that software must be linked into the existing program to perform the tasks.

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