Link Building With Ahrefs: A How-To Guide

A couple months ago, I wrote a piece on Majestic SEO’s Clique Hunter. In the article and comments, I noted that Ahrefs had a similar tool and I thought it only fair to give equal coverage.

Each of these tools has its pros and cons. Personally, I have subscriptions to both, but if you’re making a decision on which will suit your needs better, you’ll have to look at the features of each and decide which you need most. In many cases, the data provided is extremely similar and Majestic’s Clique Hunter vs. Ahref’s Domain Comparison is a great example of this. 

Before we delve into that -- and for those who didn’t read the first article -- the principle behind why hub link building works is twofold:

  • You are seeking links from domains that have links to multiple sites ranking in the top ten for phrases you want to rank for;
  • And the sites link to multiple competitors, which is often (though not always) an indicator that they are easier to get links on (i.e. that they’re very willing to link to the type of content you should be able to provide).

Now, it’s very important to note that all this tool will do is help you filter to the most likely candidates. No good link tool will build links for you (or rather, no good white hat link tool), but what they can do is help you sort through massive amounts of data quickly to make more positive decisions faster. Let’s begin by going through the tool step by step and then we’ll cover what it did and didn’t do.

Step One:  Under Labs, click on Domain Comparison.

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Step Two: Search for a phrase you want to rank for in Google.

To avoid conflicts with ourselves, our clients or our readers, I’m going to draw my top sites from the phrase “SEO blog” as I did last time. I’m going to pick four sites from the top 10 and, just for fun, I’m going to use the Ahrefs blog (http://blog.ahrefs.com/) as the example site I’m working on link building for.

To make for a good comparison, I’m going to use the following four URLs:

Note: Those of you who read my previous article on Majectic will notice a difference at this point. Majestic allows for 10 URLs in total and Ahrefs only five. The differences don’t end there.

Now it’s time to enter the URLs:

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From this you’ll need to head to …

Step Three:  Review the results.

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This is where the usage differs completely and where you have to decide what kind of tool you prefer to work with. The first thing you’ll notice (if you’re me at least) is that there is no Export button. This tool isn’t meant to draw specific data, but rather give you an idea of what you’re looking at regarding external signals. So while it doesn’t allow easy access to data, it provides a much clearer snapshot of what you’re up against.

So let’s break this page down into its parts:

  • Social Signals: First we begin with the social signals. The counts of likes, shares, +1s and tweets. Say what you will about their direct SEO value, SEO value is exposure.
  • Domains: Next we get a quick view of how many .gov and .edu domains are in the mix.
  • Metrics: After that, you’ll see a breakdown of the standard key information from nofollowed, redirected, text-based, IPs, etc., as well as how many specific links are from .gov and .edu domains.
  • Growth: Towards the bottom of the page, we can see the linking domain growth rate. There are two other tags to show the new v. lost rate and the referring pages comparing the five pages you entered.

Armed with this basic but thorough look at the backlinks of a variety of competitors, you now need to consider what they have that you don’t and determine the types of links you’re in the mood to develop. While there are obviously bundles of areas you could look for (or combine), let’s assume for a second that you determine from this that since you’re short in all areas that it makes the most sense to focus on .gov  and .edu domains (as those will likely help increase the other numbers as well).

We all know that the value of these TLDs is that it is difficult to buy them so what we’re going to look for is how the other sites did it. The next step then is to figure that out. This leads us to...

Step Four: Pulling link data.

The next step is to pull the backlink data for any domains you’re interested in. Generally, I would pull the data from all four competitors but for this example we will pull just one (since you don’t need to see the same screenshots repeated four times). Let’s choose Search Engine Land. This is done through their Site Explorer, which can be accessed from their homepage.

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Clicking “Search Links” will take you to...

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As with the Majestic data, you are welcome, of course, to access the data via the browser, but I personally find data like this easier to deal with in a spreadsheet. The export will also be necessary if you want to combine the data of multiple sites. When you click the export link (in red above) it will take you to export options:

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In this case, we want to export all the links so we have as much data as possible. Worth noting, this is another time it’s handy to have multiple subscriptions. Combining the data from both Ahrefs and Majectic produces a far more thorough list. But I digress.

This export will contain a number of columns that are not necessary for our purposes here. In fact, at this stage, I generally reduce the data down to just:

  • Referring page
  • Link URL
  • Link Anchor
  • Nofollow
  • First Seen

That will leave you a spreadsheet looking something like:

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Now it’s time to head to...

Step Five: Filtering.

The next step is to pull from these the .gov and .edu links. I use Excel and will use it in my screenshots, but the same functions are available in any spreadsheet software I’ve used. To get a list of just the .gov and .edu pages that link to Search Engine Land, one need only click the “Data” tab and select “Filter.” Clicking the arrow in the column (A in this case) will give you:

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Clicking "contains" will give you the options to filter to just the pages that contain .gov or .edu.

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Which gives us the following:

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I have put a red box around the row numbers to links that are actually from .gov and .edu. You can see that we get a lot of false-positives. 

After that, all that’s left is to...

Step Six: Visit the sites.

This last step is the hard part. Now that we have a list of the URLs we want to visit in our quest to understand how a competitor got .edu and .gov links, we need to visit those pages. In some cases, you’ll get lucky and it’ll be a list you can request being added to, but, in other cases, it will be a link to a detailed resource. Obviously the latter requires far more work on your part to duplicate in your quest to secure similar links.

The big plus side to the more difficult avenue (i.e., having to generate entirely new resources of a quality that a .gov or .edu would find linkable) is that this is where real natural link growth comes from. We all have heard that content is king but those of us that have watched Game Of Thrones know...not all kings are created equal. This data will give you the key to understanding which resources are linked to by authoritative sites. This is the content you obviously want to have to promote natural link growth. 

And more...

I’ve only shown the spreadsheets with the data inherent in Ahrefs.  As an aside, if you are extending past .gov and .edu sites, you may well like to have additional metrics. Ahrefs provides URL rank and Domain Rank but I also like to pull in PageRank (I know...not a perfect metric, but I find it handy to add to the mix since no metric is perfect). As I noted in my article about Majestic’s Clique Hunter, there are many bulk PageRank tools for free out there, but I don’t want to list any as being used suddenly by a bunch of SEOs, which would probably render them pretty useless.  

A better solution if you’re serious about it is to use a paid service like My-Addr.com. It's extremely inexpensive and far more reliable.