If you want to rank a website in 2018 then you’re going to need help. The algorithm has become really hard to beat. This is why a tool like Ahrefs can be a great help to you.
I have created this Ahrefs guide to help you improve rankings. Although there might be more points to add. So, comment below with any extra tips that are worth adding.
To get started, add the projects that you want to track into the dashboard. Now that you have added your project, there are some hidden features you can use. For example, you can submit a disavow file or get an email update each week.
To find out more about the disavow file, skip over to tip #7.
Other features include tracking keywords and brand mentions. These are updated daily and provide insight into your campaign. So be sure to check those out.
picture of dashboard on ahrefs
2. Site Explorer.
If you want to get the most out of this screen; use the dropdown at the top of the screen. When you open up this menu, you have the power to choose between the exact url, prefix, domain without subdomains, and domain with subdomains. These choices can help narrow the information on your screen.
For example, if you want to find the keywords on all category pages, then just do the following:
Load Site Explorer and type ‘www.lazyoaf.com/collections’ to search an example.
Select ‘Exact URL’ to find 0 results for that url.
Select ‘Prefix’ to find all keywords for all collection pages.
Select ‘Domains with Subdomains’ for all keywords across the website.
There is also navigation to many of the useful features below. Don’t forget to check out tips #8 and #9 for more juicy details on how site explorer can help.
ahrefs site explorer
3. Content Explorer.
The Content Explorer is a great tool to find ideas for content. When used, you can find out how your competition improved their brand awareness.
However, there are some other great ways to use the content explorer. For example, it can be used to do keyword research, and find great link opportunities.
Here’s a video with some great tips for using the Content Explorer:
4. Keywords Explorer.
The keyword explorer is a tool that outperforms Google Keyword Planner – by far.
Not only does this include lots of great ideas for keywords, and plenty of metrics. It also provides great information about click-through, paid and organic, competition, and so much more great data. There’s really nothing that the keyword explorer cannot do.
If there’s one thing to learn from this guide, it’s this:
The SERP position history can show how stable the user intent is for a given keyword. If Google is constantly changing out pages, they’re struggling to match the query. Therefore, a stable history shows that you can use your competitors for inspiration. This can help you to become relevant quickly.
Other things to look out for are the URL ratings of your competition. If you check out my case study on domain rating, you will see why this matters.
ahrefs keyword explorer
5. Rank Tracker.
The Rank Tracker is a great tool for daily keywords that you want to monitor. If you do not track any terms yet, then you should start today. But the most important feature is hidden from plain sight.
My favourite tool is the SERP features graph at the top of the screen. This feature reveals the image packs, featured snippets, and thumbnails that are available for your terms.
Most ranking trackers do not provide this insight, so take advantage of it.
ahrefs rank tracker
6. Site Audit.
I’m not going to pretend that I use the Site Audit tool all of the time. If you read my blog, you will know that I personally prefer Screaming Frog. However, with that said it is an awesome feature to be aware of.
One of the major features that lets AHREFS down is that you can’t easily copy and paste the data. Therefore, creating your own custom reports requires lots of exporting and importing of data. However, if you have never audited a website before – this is great to get started.
I found that the main advantage to AHREFS site crawls is the speed and efficiency. The crawler is fast, but can be configured to go slowly if your website requires this. This is particularly useful for users that have their website on Shopify.
For me, the best feature is the performance ratings. This gives you detailed metrics on the speed of your website. Including the following: Time To First Byte (TTFB), Load Time, and both of the above sorted by crawl depth.
One last notable feature is the integration of internal and external links. This makes the site audit very thorough.
AHREFS site audit performance screen
7. Disavow File.
One feature that saves a lot of time is the disavow file submission. Whether reviewing your referring domains or anchors, this cleans up all the data.
To do this, you first need to set up your website as a project on the dashboard. Afterwards, you can submit a disavow file. You can choose to submit your disavow.txt or, manually add lines.
I strongly recommend that you always submit your disavow file to Ahrefs.
Viewing the ahrefs disavow tool
The AHREFS team became famous for collecting backlink data. It’s their most notorious feature, and for good reason.
Each day the AHREFS bot crawls 6 billion web pages, and 200 million root domains. They have tons of impressive performance metrics.
The most obvious use for this backlink checker is to create a disavow file. However, it can also be used to find link opportunities.
9. Referring Domains.
The referring domains are different from backlinks. Since having a single link from each domain is more effective than having backlinks – it has a higher correlation with how well you rank in Google Search.
However, there are some crazy ways that you can use this feature for backlink auditing.
Checking referring domains in AHREFS
10. Organic Search.
This little gem is hidden away in the Site Explorer. When used properly, this tool can show you the approximate traffic as a result of your keywords. However, don’t fall into the trap of ignoring this data because it’s not accurate.
Despite the fact the data is suggested traffic, it has some usefulness. The higher the ranking for the keywords, the more traffic you are likely to get. So if you maintain the same number of keywords but the traffic increases – it means your rankings have increased.
This can also be useful for finding algorithmic penalties. Here’s how:
When you see a sharp drop in the organic keywords and organic traffic, such as below, it’s a big hint you’ve done something wrong. The next step is to figure out when this happened and why. As a tip, if you see drops around March 2017 then it was probably Google Fred. However, if there haven’t been any big updates and your rankings dropped, check for Panda and Penguin.
You can check for Penguin Penalties by reviewing tips number #18 and #20.
You can check for Panda Penalties by using tip number #6.
manual penalty visible from ahrefs
11. Organic Keywords.
You may be wondering how this is different from the keyword explorer. It’s simple!
The keyword explorer is about discovery of keywords. That means the focus is to learn about your competition, and learn what terms you should target. It has super useful data on click-through and paid vs. organic.
Whereas the organic keywords feature is about your existing keywords. It highlights which keywords you currently rank for, and which page is visible. It provides you meaningful data on huge volumes of keywords and phrases. The data isn’t always up-to-date, but it gives you an inkling of what’s going on.
For me, this is one of my favourite parts about AHREFS. I use this tool to check out what terms are close to ranking, and get some great anchor text ideas. There’s an added benefit of being able to click through and check your keyword cannibalisation.
lazy oaf organic keywords
12. Keyword Cannibalisation.
Keyword cannibalisation is a silent killer. It hides out of plain sight and spoils your rankings. This tool can help you to find those issues in a flash.
To get started, use the site explorer to find your website. Then use the organic keywords tool to find all your terms. By default the keywords are in descending order based on traffic. Then, on the right hand side is an icon that looks like a bar graph, and when pressed it provides you with the below image.
Most of the time there is a single page that ranks for a keyword. However, if you spot the constant flipping between pages, this shows us that there’s a cannibalisation problem.
keyword cannibalisation graph
13. Domain Comparison.
I’ve got to admit, this is a tool that I don’t use as often as I should.
The domain comparison tool is a super powerful way to compare your competition’s link efforts. It stacks you up against the best in your industry, and provides meaningful data. There’s tons of information including link counts and social.
However, for me the coolest part of this tool is the referring domain graphs. Below are four competitors for “men’s tshirts” compared against lazyoaf.com.
If you are analysing your competition, then this tool is a must.
The AHREFS Domain Comparison Tool
14. Batch Analysis.
The batch analysis tool is fantastic for checking the metrics on up to 200 links.
I personally use this for checking for URL Rating, Domain Rating, Keywords, and Traffic for all my outreach links or domain assets. However, another great piece of data hidden away are the referring IP addresses.
The referring IP address can be useful when purchasing from link suppliers. Whilst many of them will advertise as genuine outreach, you can check this here. If all the domains share the same IP address then there’s a good chance they own the websites.
When you have too many links from the same IP address, this can be a problem. Though, if you only have a few on the same IP – I wouldn’t worry about it.
Sometimes the data here can look a little strange if you enter lots of URLs. Simply select the target mode and change it to Exact URL, or Domains with Subdomains. This will let you see all the keywords for that blog post, as well as the whole domain.
This can be useful for checking how authoritative the links are. The link is better if it has more keywords, traffic, and referring domains.
batch analysis in ahrefs
15. Link Intersection.
The link intersection tool is useful for finding link opportunities. However, it can also be used to find toxic links. Even better, it’s super easy to use and very powerful.
Not only can you check competitors for good quality backlinks, but you can also check with bad websites for spam. I regularly use this for finding spammy domains from unrelated websites. Here’s how I do it:
First you will need to enter your website, and in this example I have used lazyoaf.com. Then, you will need to pick a website you have nothing in common. I never work on immoral websites, so I will often use one of those with a big link profile. In this example, we cross checked against pornhub.com because they have nothing in common.
Remember, you will want to cross-check the domains, and links that apply to all the websites. Selecting these two settings will help big time!
After you have entered these settings correctly, you can see all of the intersected links. Then press the ‘DR’ filter twice to sort from lowest to highest. It’s easy to see that there are lots of low quality links in common here. This includes some very low quality links that should be disavowed.
pointing out toxic link on intersection tool
16. Top Pages.
This is a great tool to use when you want to find the best performing pages.
By default it can show a lot of pages ranking for the same term. However, if you adjust the settings to view long tail keywords, then you can zoom in on your pages.
The top pages tool can identify your keywords for each page, which is useful.
AHREFS Top Pages Tool
17. Best By Links.
The number one ranking factor is still link building. It’s the easiest way to improve rankings, and it works great. However, some people build links in ways that do not work, or land a penalty.
You can trust me when I say that this is my favourite feature:
By checking the best pages by links and sorted by referring domains, you can check for over-optimisation. If you have loads more links toward your internal pages than the homepage – this can be a clue that you may have a penalty.
The screenshot below gives you an example. Notice how Nike have more links towards their homepage than most of their pages? This is what you want to achieve with your link profile too.
If you want to check for a penalty and don’t know how; read how tip #10 can help you check for penalties.
AHREFS best by links tool
The anchor text from internal and external links are a great relevance signal. They help Google to understand what your website is targeting. However, with great power comes great responsibility. If you have too many targeted anchors then you can earn a penalty. It’s important not to have too many optimised links.
The AHREFS anchor tool is useful for this task. It doesn’t represent all of the URLs that Google has found, but it’s very close. Therefore, with a little work, you can use this to remove over-optimised links from your link building campaigns.
anchor text percentages
19. Live Index Data.
The AHREFS live index data is based on links that have recently been picked up. It only includes pages that have been checked recently and have a link. Use this feature if you want the most up-to-date data.
This is great because it’s the most current data. Therefore, you can plan a strategy accordingly.
live index data
20. Recent Index Data.
The recent index data includes all the live index data. It also includes extra links that have recently lost their links. The benefit of this data is that it includes pages that have recently gone down.
This is great for when you are doing backlink audits. Sometimes a website will link towards you and then delete the page. This takes time for Google to recrawl and remove, but you may wish to disavow those links.
live index data
21. Historic Index Data.
The historic index data includes all links ever discovered; both the domains that include links and those that do not. This can be useful for seeing lost links. Since the data is not up-to-date, it’s rarely useful for much. However, there are some rare instances when you should use this.
The main times that I will use this is when I am updating my blacklists. I like to find all the spam websites that have linked towards any domain. That way, I can automate my disavows to always remove those domains.
Since the historic index is the largest, it provides me with the most data.
historical index data