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Ahrefs Guide: How To Use Ahrefs for SEO, Content & Link Building

The biggest problem for website owners and marketers in 2016 and beyond isn’t the tools available. It’s figuring out how to use the tools they have.

Ahrefs is one of the (if not the) most powerful suites of social media & SEO tools that I’ve ever used. Most SEOs know it as a “backlink checker” that competes with Majestic and intelligence/analytics tools with smaller indices like Moz & SEMRush. But “backlink checker” grossly undersells Ahrefs as a marketing suite.

Ahrefs has so many features that you can get lost and resort to simply staring at your own links – maybe rank tracking a few keywords. Here’s the guide to how to use Ahrefs that I wish existed when I first signed up.

*Reader’s Note 1 – this guide was originally published in Oct. 2015. It’s been updated throughout for July 2016 to reflect Ahref’s new design.

*Reader’s Note 2 – all images are clickable if you want to see the full resolution.


Ahrefs Glossary

Every piece of software has its own little universe of jargon. I’ll use these words throughout the guide. So here’s a glossary of terms.

URL Rating – Ahrefs’ measure of the quantity and quality of links pointing to a given URL. Link quantity and quality correlate with higher rankings in search engines.

Domain Rating – Ahrefs’ measure of the quantity and quality of links pointing to an entire domain. Link quantity and quality correlate with higher rankings for all URLs on a domain in search engines.

Ahrefs Rank – Ahrefs’ ranking of a domain’s rating relative to all the other domains on the Internet.

Backlinks – The number of hyperlinks pointing to a URL.

Referring Page – The number of pages with a hyperlink pointing to a URL. A page can have multiple links.

Referring Domains – The number of unique domains with a hyperlink pointing to a URL. A domain can have multiple referring pages and backlinks.

Referring Content – Ahrefs’ measure of the relative traffic that a unique piece of content sends to a given URL based on the popularity of the referring content.

Anchors – The anchor text used within a URL’s backlinks.

Sitewide / Not Sitewide – Ahrefs’ categorization of a link showing whether it shows in the same location on every page of a referring domain or not.

Fresh Index/Live Index – This is a new feature rolled out in an effort to maintain a historical index of links.

  • Live Index – contains all links that were “live” on Ahrefs’ last re-crawl;
  • Fresh Index – contains all links that Ahrefs’ has seen “live” in the last 3 months (including those that were “dead” on the last re-crawl).

Ahrefs also says that they are “going to add a “Historic” index, that would include all backlinks that we seen live starting from 13th of August 2015.”

Top Pages – A given URLs’ top pages based on the criteria that you sort for.

Ahrefs Dashboard

The Ahrefs Dashboard is where you keep track of all your data. You can add a URL to keep a running snapshot of a domains health. It will quickly show you any technical crawl errors, new links, new referring domains, and a snapshot of Ahrefs’ domain rating and URL ranking.

Ahrefs Dashboard


On the dashboard you can also keep track of keyword rankings, any content alerts, and any links that you are trying to disavow.

Key Features

I think the main features of the Ahrefs’ dashboard are keyword rankings and content alerts. Although I don’t think rankings are as important as they used to be back in the days of old school SEO, they can be an interesting diagnostic indicator, and another data point to factor into your analysis. Since tracking is included with Ahrefs, it’s worth adding your critical keywords.

Alerts are useful for both planning outreach and for competitive analysis. Target several phrases that are directly relevant to your website so that you can get a feed whenever a new piece of content is published around that phrase or keywords.

Ahrefs Content Alerts

Fun Hacks

Email notifications are boring, but setting them up is a great way to hack your habits and discipline so that you can use Ahrefs’ data.

Unless you are extraordinarily disciplined, it’s easy to let monitoring and alerts slide. That’s why I love setting up Google Analytics intelligence alerts and Ahrefs’ email notifications. Set them up at a useful interval, and you’ll never miss an issue.

Ahrefs Alerts


Site Explorer (Link Data)

Site Explorer is Ahrefs’ bread and butter. It allows you to enter in a URL and check that URLs backlinks – and, as of 2016, everything from organic keywords to social data to PPC data as well. This section will focus on the Link Data.

Ahrefs gets this data by running a crawler around the Web just like Googlebot. Every backlink checker tries to replicate how & where Googlebot crawls links. No backlink checker is Googlebot. And no crawler can cover the entire Web. According to analysis by some of the best technical SEOs, Ahrefs is at the front of the pack.

Why? With Site Explorer, they not only have a large link index that closely replicates the Googlebot, they also extract & overlay additional data.

They pull out anchor text (the actual text within the link), backlink type, backlink follow status, social metrics, IP Address, and HTTP status. These additional pieces of information – paired with an enormous index of URLs – sets Ahrefs apart and turns it into a marketer’s suite.

Ahrefs Site Explorer


The Site Explorer, however, is also the most daunting of all the tools because there is so much information. So here’s what I think are the key features.

Key Features of Site Explorer’s Link Data

The first key feature is Inbound LinksSearch engines use Inbound Links as a proxy for human endorsement. More links from trustworthy sites on relevant pages equals more organic traffic. The links feature allows you to pull all the links to a specific URL and then sift and sort to dig up the information you want.

The second key feature is Top Content. This feature allows to look at how specific pages on a URL perform. You can sift and sort by links, shares, or Ahrefs weighted importance score.

The third key feature is Top Referring Content. This feature shows you what content on the Internet that has a link to the URL you are exploring has the most links/shares or estimated traffic. You can get a ballpark estimate of what links send referral traffic to your URL.

The fourth and last key feature appears in both Inbound and Outbound Links – and that is Broken Links. This feature shows you which links are linking to or linking out to a URL that no longer exists.

What You Can Do With Site Explorer

Whatever you are used to doing with other backlink checkers, you can do with Ahrefs. There’s plenty you can do directly in the main screen, but keep in mind that you can also do an Export to Excel / Google Sheets if that’s your native work environment.

Determine What Marketing Tactics Are Working for Competitors

You can take your competitors – big and small – and see where they are getting their links from. You can go and try to get the same links. Or (and I recommend this approach), you can use the information to understand what has been working in the industry and use it to develop your own unique tactics.

Ahrefs Competitive Analysis


You can also look at Referring Domains, which will group the links by domain.

Ahrefs Site Explorer Link Types


Determine What Content Does Well

We all browse the Internet in a “filter bubble.” Sometimes it’s hard to believe that a site or blog post that you love isn’t more widely shared.

Or at a more higher level, many marketers think that the content that generates shares will also directly generate links. That perception is a myth.

You can use the top content report to understand exactly what works well. Understand what pages actually get links if you are building your organic presence. Understand what gets shares. Understand what types of content gets picked up.

Top Content Report


Do press releases matter? Do infographics actually work? What’s the one piece of content for competitors or industry publications that drives 80% of their links and shares.

Ahrefs Top Content by Shares


You can answer all those questions with the Top Content report.

Identify Low-Hanging Fruit / Easy Link Opportunities

Site Explorer has a Link Intersect report that allows you to input several URLs and learn which websites are linking to competitors (or industry sites), but not your site. You can get this same data by exporting links from several sites and running a few Excel tricks. But the link intersect tool does it quickly.

Does an industry publication have links to all your competitors, but forget to link to you? Is there a reporter that interviews your competitors but not you?

Link Intersect

Link Intersect Results


Find out with the link intersect tool and discover some quick wins that will bring you up to an even playing field.

Identify Influential Marketing Prospects

You can use a combination of the Top Referring Content report and the Inbound Links report to identify influential websites that are already linking to competitors and/or industry publications. But you can take it a step further and sort by Domain or URL Rating to figure out who matters the most. In a world of limited resources and time – priorities matter.

Referring Content


But be sure to note your goals…

Referring Content

Sometimes the influencers are not in the markets you expect. In the example above – REIs biggest influencers are in the travel hacking & survivalist. niches


Conduct A Broken Link Building Campaign

Broken link-building is one of the most effective and consistent link-building tactics in SEO. The idea is to find resources that no longer exist, rebuild them, then pitch to get the links pointing at the broken resource switched to point at yours. Or, on the flipside, correct any broken links that your site has.

Site Explorer Broken Links Report


I’ve written a full guide to Broken Link Building here. You can do broken link building manually, but Ahrefs’ broken link reports allow you to do broken link building efficiently and effectively.

Pro-tip – Jon Cooper of PointBlankSEO built a handy Chrome Extension called LinkMiner that pulls from Ahrefs data, allowing you to prospect quickly as you research.

Fun Hacks with Site Explorer

Quickly Find Worthwhile Broken Links

Take a giant site and look at Broken Outbound Links. You’ll quickly get a list of broken resources. Take all those URLs, and look at Inbound Links. The sites that link to your broken URLs are prospects for a broken link building campaign.

Outbound Broken Link Building


The inverse works also works well. Take a giant site – one that has plenty of resource pages. Pull Broken Inbound Links. Then pull the links pointed to those URLs. That will be your prospect list for a Broken Link Building campaign.

Explore Wikipedia & Top Publishers

Pull link metrics on Wikipedia URLs related to your industry – remember that you can search by subfolder. Create marketing ideas around the results.

Wikipedia Links


Take a publishing focused site either in your industry or related to your industry and pull a top content report. This will allow you to skip to content that you know works. It will also give you link opportunities that are outside of what your competitors have.

Explore Publishing Site Links


Take an industry publication or industry-related Wikipedia pages. Pull a Top Referring Content report. You’ll likely get list that includes mainstream media publications. Click through and do research on the journalist who linked out to the piece.

Publisher Content


Narrow Results

As I mentioned with Wikipedia, don’t forget that you can search for just a subdomain, a subfolder or a specific URL in Site Explorer.

URL Prefix

Site Explorer (Search Data)

Site Explorer’s Search Data (formerly Positions Explorer) shows what keywords a domain is ranking for, then provides estimates for what kind of traffic that domain and its pages are getting organically.

It also tracks paid positions. Think of it like rank tracking for every domain on the Internet.

Positions Explorer crawls Google search results pages (SERPs) and aggregates the data into something you can search. They also pull search volume from Keyword Planner. Then it triangulates the organic traffic going to a domain based on standard click-through rates per position.

A couple caveats – and this goes for every “traffic estimation tool” including SimilarWeb, Compete, SEMRush, etc – everything in this tool is ballpark estimation. I do not recommend you use it for reporting. There are many variables in play – each with a lot of margin of error. Don’t let the exactness of the numbers lull you into a sense of certainty. Ahrefs pulls keyword data fast & frequently, but be sure to check key rankings manually & against Keyword Planner.

With that said, I’ll go ahead and state that this is Ahrefs’ most underestimated tool. Either that, or the marketers who know about it aren’t talking about it. Regardless, here we go.

Key features

Keyword Site Explorer


The most obvious feature is Ahrefs’ estimation for how many significant keywords (i.e., they have search volume) a domain is ranking for and their estimation of traffic based on those keywords.

That overview feature is interesting, but again, not super-useful without some context.

The feature that provides 80% of this tool’s value is the Top Pages feature under both Organic and Paid sections.

The other notable features are the Top Competitors, which shows what domains most frequently share the same search results as the domain you’re looking for. And also the PPC ads, which shows you a sample of PPC ads in the SERPs.

What You Can Do With Positions Explorer

Understand Top Content for Other Websites

Although the exact numbers in Positions Explorer are not accurate, the relationships and differential among the pages & keywords is accurate.

In other words, even if a given URL doesn’t drive XX visits per month, if it is listed as the Top Organic Page – that position is accurate. The difference in traffic between the top URL and the second URL is accurate as well – both for a couple reasons.

First, because even if the traffic numbers aren’t exactly right, their relative volumes are correct. Head terms show more volume than long-tail terms. Second, because on the landing page level, nearly every site’s traffic will conform to the 80/20 pattern – 20% of pages will drive 80% of the traffic. And so on for every given set of URLs.

Why does this matter?

This data is invaluable because you can discover and build off competitor or other industry websites. You can learn from all their content and go straight for the best terms.

Keywords Competitiveness

In the example above, you’ll see that for whatever reason, this company gets almost all their non-brand organic traffic from a (not so special) Garage Kit category page. It would make an excellent target for anyone in that industry.

Or you get to find out that your favorite website’s biggest winner is a throwaway post that happens to rank for a really broad but noncompetitive term.

Content Traffic


Either way, you get to learn from your competitor’s best (and worst) content. Ahrefs did a video tutorial on this feature –

Do Better Keyword Research

The toughest challenge of keyword research is thinking laterally. Making the jump from different variations of a single obvious keyword to complementary or semi-synonymous keywords that reflect the real intent of your audience.

For example, it’s the insight that helps you make the leap from “winter gloves”…”gloves for winter”…”gloves for cold weather” to “mittens.” Or if you’re in the plumbing industry, making the leap from “outdoor faucet” to “sillcock.”

Those leaps are tough. Google’s Keyword Planner is mediocre at the job. And often it means using tools like Google Correlate in ways they aren’t traditionally used.

But Ahrefs’ Position Explorer solves this issue by allowing you to take top pages and viewing what other keywords those pages are ranking for. It gives you a bigger seed list & introduces more diversity into your keyword research process.

Keyword Research


Steal Ads

You can use the Paid section of Positions Explorer to swipe ad ideas from competitors. If you can see the angle/benefit that competitors are using, you have a direction to either copy or play off or test both.

Steal Ads


Find Competitors for Keyword / Link Research

Most SEOs are familiar with telling clients that their SERP competitors are different from their real-world competitors.

But outside of scraping a few head or vanity terms, it’s fairly difficult to find SERP competitors systematically. You can use Ahrefs’ Positions Explorer to at least add a few new ones to the mix.

Fun Hacks

For marketers who love Excel and/or Google Sheets, you can export keywords under both Top Pages and Organic Keywords.

If you want to remove brand & noisy terms, go to Organic Keywords and filter by phrase length and by keyword included. Longer phrases will often give you more insight.

Long Tail Content


Content Explorer

Ahrefs’ Content Explorer shows the most shared content around any topic. It’s like Site Explorer’s Top Content report…but for the entire internet. For marketers who read a bit – it’s basically BuzzSumo but you get it in addition to Ahrefs’ link data.

But like Site Explorer, the key to Content Explorer is understanding the features’ functionality. That will take it from a trivia tool to a marketing tool.

Key Features

The key – and really only feature of Content Explorer – is the ability to search by topic. You enter a phrase and it tells you the most shared / linked to content about that topic across the Internet.

In the original versions of Content Explorer, you would quickly notice that there’s a wide gulf in the results you get. If you enter a broad topic, you get a lot of meaningless noise (re-posted clickbait stuff). If you enter a specific topic, then you’ll get very few results.

Content Explorer

Ahrefs has dramatically improved the tool so that you can easily find relevant content. However, you can find exactlywhat you want when you understandhow to narrow & curate the results. And that is where Boolean Operators and Advanced Search filters (ie, “search everywhere / in title / in content”) come in.

I can feel your excitement.

But really if you’ve ever used Google Search Operators like site: or even putting a phrase in quotes, you’ll know how you use these. Just navigate to Advanced Search in Content Explorer.

Boolean Operators in Ahrefs

The ones I’ve found most useful are exclude a word, filter a site and define date range (especially for seasonal ideas).

To use boolean operators effectively though, you have to approach Content Explorer with a goal in mind. It’s fun – and sometimes useful to just click around – but it’s most useful when you are looking for a specific piece of data to support a strategy.

For example, you want to create a blog post that drives Facebook likes. Or, you want to create an infographic that drives links. Or, you need to understand what type of Christmas content stands out in December. If you have a specific goal in mind, you can mix, match and combine boolean operators to focus your search.

Content Explorer


What You Can Do With Content Explorer

Inform PR Strategy

“Press release and pray” is not an effective PR strategy, especially if you want a quality pick up from a major publication.

The best angle for getting a press pickup is that the piece will bring in readers. You can use Content Explorer to figure out what pieces do well and what type of content a publication likes.

Seasonal Ideas


You can even drill down to figure out what a specific journalist likes to write about – and what content they were most successful with.

Custom PR Pitch


In 2013, I got a personal blog post to go viral with exactly 1 email pitch to a 1 journalist. I knew what the journalist wrote about. And I knew what drove pageviews for them. It was a perfect fit for both of us.

*Note – this feature is still in the early days for Ahrefs. You’ll get the most out of it by pairing it with Google search operators.

Understand a Topic

“The curse of knowledge” is a concept that says the more familiar you are with a topic, the less you understand how to think about a topic from the perspective of those less familiar.

And it’s a huge problem in content marketing. You can use Content Explorer to understand what angles, language and facts resonate with people on any given topic.

Look for Top Performers’ Commonalities

On a related note, you can use Content Explorer to figure what form your content should be in. Many times a text post won’t work but a video will. Or an infographic will work in one industry but not in another. For example, if you run Content Explorer and see that every top performer has a video included…you should probably include a video in your content.

Content Explorer Commonalities


Set Benchmarks

Every company would love for a positive story to “go viral” but that term is basically meaningless because it can mean anything to anybody depending on context and a dozen other factors.

In a study of content by Moz and BuzzSumo, they found that 75% of content got zero shares and zero links. Zero.

And then, on any given day, BuzzFeed will be able to manufacture 1 million plus shares across every platform.

Purina Cat Food might be able to create a piece of content that generates a hundreds of thousands of shares because they are a huge brand operating in the cat market.

Cat Market


GE is an even bigger brand than Purina but they won’t get a million shares because they make stuff like aircraft engines.

Either way, Content Explorer can at least give you a ballpark benchmark for a successful campaign. If your goal is shares and the best campaign in your industry generated a 1000 shares – “success” might be defined as 100, not 10,000.

Pergola Shares


Understand Platform Types & Goals

As Moz & BuzzSumo found in their study, links do not always correlate with shares. And shares on one platform do not always correlate with other platforms, e.g., Facebook Shares vs. Twitter Tweets.

Use Content Explorer to figure out what content fits your marketing goals. For example, if it’s a campaign to drive organic traffic, sort by links – not by overall shares.

Fun Hacks

Click-through to Author

On the Content Explorer results, you can click through to look at a specific writer. This is useful for tracking down guest post opportunities or finding freelance journalist who write at a range of publications.

Export Twitter Sharers

Also on the Content Explorer results, you can view & export people who have tweeted each piece of content in the last 7 days (the 7 days is to ensure you’re only getting people who remember Tweeting it – you can still get a larger export from Topsy). This opens up a whole new world of Twitter marketing opportunities.

Twitter Sharers


But the most immediate uses are to:

  • Create a custom audience for Twitter advertising. If you know they tweeted one piece of content on a topic, they are probably interested in another. I did this for a small giveaway experiment.
  • Create Twitter lists for manual outreach later. If you identify a few highly influential accounts, you can set them aside for further research and outreach.
  • Take the data and send it to one of the dozens of Twitter tools for analysis of personas, related interests, best time to tweet, related followers, etc.

*Note – I’ve found this feature to be amazing but still buggy.

View URL Data

Lastly in the Content Explorer results, there’s a little drop down that will show you detailed link data and the keywords that the content most likely ranks for. That data is invaluable for planning a well-rounded piece of content.

Content Data


Content Keywords

Keywords Explorer

Keywords Explorer is Ahrefs’ tool to pull and manipulate keywords generated in Google Search Autocomplete (aka type a keyword, hit space but not enter). For SEOs who know their tools, it’s like Ubersuggest or KeywordTool.io.

In November 2016, they launched a huge new revision called Keywords Explorer 2.0.

It’s the most useful keyword tool that I’ve seen yet. I’ll cover a few key ideas here, but I highly recommend reading their comprehensive introductory post to get a sense of all the definitions & features.

Key features

There’s one key feature to this tool: pulling a ton of keyword variations straight from the source. Google Autocomplete is one of the most useful keyword research tools because the variations not only give you longer-tail, more specific terms to target, but they also provide a window into user intent.

Ahrefs’ goes a step further and matches the keyword variations with search volume data from Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner. In that respect, it makes the tool similar to the paid version of KeywordTool.io…except for that it’s built into your Ahrefs subscription.

Here’s the catch though with Keywords Explorer – like Ubersuggest and KeywordTool.io, it relies on Google’s Autocomplete API. Google announced that they were going to discontinue public access on August 10th, 2015.

With the launch of Keywords Explorer 2.0 – Ahrefs pulls in ClickStream data. ClickStream data gets a little technical – if you are interested, you can learn more about it here. For our purposes, it’s sufficient to say that Ahrefs’ keyword data is accurate enough to make marketing decisions with.

In other words, don’t assume that the exact volumes are correct, but you can assume that they are accurate enough to decide what you should target & prioritize when choosing target keywords.

Thus far, all the tools seem to work accurately. What Ahrefs does with the tool after they no longer have access remains to be seen.

What You Can Do With Keyword Explorer

Either way, in the meantime, you can quickly do a lot of interesting keyword research all within Ahrefs. Take a broad keyword, and run it through Keyword Explorer to get a lot of useful variations on your broad keyword.


Do In-depth Keyword Research

Contemporary keyword research goes beyond finding search volume and modifiers (e.g. “blue winter gloves” has 1000 searches per month, and we should also mention “navy blue winter glove”, “light blue winter glove” on the page).

Those details are important. But more important now are understanding things like –

  • what broad topic is the keyword is a part of
  • what type of page the typical searcher wants to see
  • what lateral & complementary terms are relevant (e.g., “blue mittens”)
  • what type of site the searcher wants to see
  • what terms people also ask before and after that specific query
  • etc, etc, etc

This doesn’t mean that keyword research is difficult or mind-blowing. But it is usually tedious to do it correctly at scale.

Ahrefs Keywords Explorer speeds up the process by integrating full SERPs, phrase match ideas, Parent Topic, Search Suggestions, and pages also rank for directly in the Dashboard.

Keywords Explorer Overview

Judge Keyword Difficulty

One of the toughest (and tedious) parts of keyword research is figuring out whether your website could rank for a certain theme of keywords.

There’s no sense investing in new content or high volume topic targeting if there’s no way that you can win. And even if you can compete – it’s critical to know what you’re going to need to compete (e.g., links to that page, answer box considerations, etc).

Judging keyword difficulty is a skill that is not necessarily complicated. It’s mostly just tedious. For non-SEOS, it requires pulling link data and really looking at each SERP. Veteran SEOs can quickly open up a SERP, scroll through and make a quick judgement call. But even that takes time when you are considering thousands of keyword opportunities.

The Keyword Difficulty score is extremely useful to make the “first cut” in your keyword research process. Ahrefs uses a 0 to 100 scale based on their link data to score what it would take to rank for a certain keyword. Ahrefs explains this metric here.

Within the Dashboard, use this feature heavily to sift & sort not only low-hanging fruit but also to create realistic content promotion strategy to get your content visible.

Keyword Difficulty

Estimate Return on Investment

Predicting a return on investment for SEO is notoriously difficult (and arguably impossible). But you have to have something to help prioritize opportunities – even if you can’t say exactly what those opportunities will bring.

Keywords Explorer’s number on Clicks, Return Rate and Clicks per Search are ballpark accurate enough to make these sorts of judgment calls.

With Return Rate and Clicks per Search – you can get a good snapshot of what kind of visibility and traffic levels you’ll get if you rank well for a specific keyword.

Fun Hacks

Find Guerrilla Keyword Angles

The biggest wins in keyword research are when you can make a “lateral” move to a relevant target keyword that is not competitive. I’ve written about how to use all sorts of tools from Google Correlate to Google Books to Wikipediaand more to find these golden nuggets of SEO.

I still use those sources – but Ahrefs makes these finds even easier & faster to find than ever before. You simply have to click to the right places and keep your eyes open.

Guerrilla Hacks

Find SERP Competitors

In SEO, you’ll often find that your industry competitors are not the same as your SERP competitors. And that’s an issue as you continue your search for broader & more in-depth keywords.

Enter Keyword Explorer’s Traffic Share feature. Search for a broad topic that you’re trying to compete in. You’ll get a full list of domains. Now you can take those domains and reverse engineer them for the best keyword opportunities.

Mining Keywords

Toss Broad Nets w/ Include & Exclude Features

This last “hack” is simple, but ridiculously powerful. Instead of searching for a keyword – search for a modifier.

Then use Ahrefs’ menu of include & exclude features to find very high volume keywords (then rank for them).

Broad Keyword

Ahrefs Tools

Ahrefs Labs is Ahrefs’ collection of apps that take Ahrefs’ data and put it into something useful. It includes Ahrefs’ API, the Link Intersect tool, the Domain Comparison tool and others.

Key Features

If you are trying to manipulate data at scale quickly, Ahrefs Labs is where to go. Most of the tools are either specific use, or are mentioned in Site Explorer.

The SEO Toolbar is useful to have installed on your browser, so that you can get a sense of marketing data as your browse the Internet. It’s a great way to get immersed in SEO/Social data and develop an intuitive sense of what matters on a webpage.

The SEO Toolbar also has a SERP overlay function that will pull data and overlay it on your Google Search Results Page.

The Ahrefs Top tool is interesting, but I’ve yet to find a good use for it.

Under Apps, I highly recommend Jon Cooper’s Link Minerapp. If you are doing broken link building, it’s a must have. It syncs up with Ahrefs and pulls data straight to your broken link scan.

17 Biggest Local SEO Struggles (With Solutions)

In my 10+ years as an SEO, I’ve served my fair share of local businesses. In fact, that’s the bulk of the work that I do now. When working with businesses who serve clients in their local area only, I’ve found there are some unique SEO considerations as compared to businesses with a national audience. On the other hand, as with any SEO, there are many small tasks to do; but the impact of these changes can be crucial to boosting a site’s local rankings. The difference is, this ranking boost often happens much faster for local businesses.

Here I’ll share the 17 common problems local SEOs face, along with my own solutions to not only increase a local business site’s rankings, but also get the job done much faster.

1. Local keyword ideas

The struggle: You wouldn’t start SEO without keyword research, would you? But it’s not as straightforward for local SEO as the online SEO guides will tell you. The major struggle with local keyword research is how time-consuming it is; basically, you need to go through all the steps of the more generic keyword research, pick the keywords that work for you, and combine them with your location keywords. This is a whole lot of time-consuming, mechanical work.

The hack: I’m sure you know there are plenty of keyword suggestion tools out there, including the good old Keyword Planner. They can all be helpful if you’re looking for generic keyword ideas (and they’re all available in Rank Tracker‘s Keyword Research module).

The struggle begins when you need to rewrite all those keywords so that they include your location. For this purpose, I use the Word Combination tool in Rank Tracker. All you need to do is download Rank Tracker (free version will work), go to Keyword Research, hit Suggest Keywords, and select Word Combination. At the next step, paste in your “generic” keywords on the left, and your location keywords on the right.

That’s it — Rank Tracker will now nicely combine the keywords from the two columns into local long-tails for you.

2. Geo-specific rank tracking

The struggle: Of course, as you implement your SEO strategy, knowing where a site ranks in your target locations is imperative. But about a year ago, a local SEO’s nightmare became reality: Google removed the search tool that allowed users to change their geo-location when doing a search. This also broke the localized rank tracking functionality in all rank checking tools. To date, most of these tools still show very “approximate” rankings for your locations, that can be very different from the ones your client is seeing.

The hack: If you’d like to see what your rankings look like from a certain area, and if you only need to do this for one location, there’s a neat Location Emulation hack that lets you change your location in Google Chrome and see the SERP for that location (here’s how it works).

If you’re tracking a handful of locations though, you’ll need to use a tool to automate this. My understanding is that Rank Tracker is the only app that uses the Chrome hack to get localized ranking data. It lets you create as many localized versions of your target search engines as you want. To get started, go to Preferences > Preferred Search Engines in the Rank Trackingdashboard.

Here you can select the specific search engines from around the world that you target (currently 570 to choose from). Click the Add Custom link next to Google in your target country, and go on and specify your desired location — feel free to make it as precise as an exact street address.

Don’t forget to add a short name for your local version of Google. When you’re done, you’ll need to add the local search engine to your Rank Tracker workspace. To do this, right-click the header of any column in your workspace, and pick the new search engine you just created.

Side note: An important thing to remember is that you don’t just want to target Google in specific cities or countries. You’ll need to pick your target search engine(s) carefully for clients across different countries. Remember, Google is not the top search engine in all countries; even if it is, in many places there is a second search engine that receives nearly as much traffic. Remember to do your research when you start working with clients from abroad.

3. Local pack and Maps tracking

The struggle: Many local businesses need to know not only how they rank organically in their target locations, but also what their rankings are on Google Maps, and whether they show up in the 3-pack:

Often, you’ll need to track the Maps and local pack rankings from different locations, just like with organic positions. This makes the job hardly doable at all if you try to do it manually.

The hack: SEO tools can help you automate the tedious local rank checking. Rank Tracker’s free version offers both Google Maps and local pack tracking; the best part is, each of these verticals can be customized for any target location.

For Maps rankings, go to Preferences > Preferred Search Engines and add Google (Maps) to your target search engines by clicking on the + button next to it.

When you’ve done this, remember to add the Google (Maps) column to your workspace by right-clicking the header of any column.

For 3-pack rankings, go to Preferences > Rank Checking Mode and make sure the Use Universal Search results box is checked. This will ensure that Universal search results, like images, videos, and the local pack, are also being tracked. This setting will affect all target search engines you are tracking.

4. Video and image rankings

The struggle: Web page rankings are of course important to track, but what about those videos you’ve been working on? A tactic I love to use for many local businesses is to rank videos. This is often a golden opportunity many competitors don’t take advantage of, which leaves a lot of space to quickly rank a video on the 1st page of Google.

The downside here, again, is that this kind of rank checking is next to impossible to do manually, given the amount of all other kinds of results you’re already tracking.

The hack: In Rank Tracker, you can monitor where a video ranks in Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Like I mentioned before, all you need to do is go to Preferences > Rank Checking Mode and make sure the Use Universal Search results box is checked. Now your video results will appear right along with your map, local and organic rankings.

What about those businesses who could benefit from visitors finding their images (think photographers, artists, and similar)? This same setting will check for image rankings in your target search engines as well.

5. What about YouTube videos?

The struggle: Now let’s say you upload the video to YouTube to get an extra little boost from Google. Just as with your organic and local pack rankings, you’ll want to know where the video is ranking. Ugh, that’s yet another URL to check rankings for, and yet another search engine — YouTube — on your already long list.

The hack: Luckily, Rank Tracker also allows you to track where your YouTube videos are ranking in search engines. Simply create a new project, insert the YouTube URL, and type in the keywords you optimized the video for.

If you have more than one YouTube video to track, jump to Preferences > Alternative URLs and paste in the URLs of all your videos. Next, make sure your target search engines are selected, and click on Add More Search Engines, and then select YouTube from the list.

Now you can watch your video’s rankings grow in all your target search engines and YouTube.

6. Keeping track of competitor’s progress

The struggle: At every step of the SEO process you should be tracking what your competitors are doing. The problem is, your business competitors are not always the same as your organic rivals. Competing local businesses in your area may not be focusing on SEO, while businesses from neighboring areas, who may not be your main competition in the physical world, might be stealing your local rankings.

The hack: There’s a neat competitor suggestor functionality in Rank Tracker. All it asks for is your keyword list — then it goes through those keywords, looking for websites that rank among the top results most often across all of the terms. To get these competitor suggestions, all you need to do is go to Preferences > Competitors and click Suggest.

Of course, you can also add your competitors manually by hitting Add. Click OK when you’re done, and now your competitors’ rankings will appear right next to yours for easy comparison.

7. Finding high authority business directories

The struggle: A great way to collect more leads and to build trust with potential clients is to have business listings appear in high authority sites such as Yelp or yellow pages sites. The trick is, you will hardly be able to come up with a list of relevant directories for an unfamiliar niche and location without a little help.

The hack: In Rank Tracker, Keyword Difficulty is a great way to see the top ranking pages for any keyword, including those local directories. It’ll also give you valuable SEO quality stats on each of the pages so you can easily pick the more popular directories to target first.

In the Rank Tracking dashboard, select a keyword you’re about to look into, and switch to the Keyword Difficulty tab in the lower part of the screen. Click on the Update button and hang on a minute while the tool is collecting data.

I grab a list of those top directories and then create a profile for the business if they don’t have one. If there is an existing listing, I make sure the profile is fully completed and optimized.

8. Tracking business directory listings

The struggle: Now that those listings have been created and optimized, I want to track their rankings in search results as well. That’s another bunch of URLs to check rankings for.

The hack: In Rank Tracker, there’s a handy Alternative URLs option that lets you track rankings for all pages related to a business in one project. Go to Preferences > Alternative URLs, insert the URLs of the directory listings, and click OK.

This way, all the URLs you just specified will be tracked in your project along with the client’s main site.

9. “Should I also do social media?”

The struggle: Many local businesses struggle with picking the social media sites to use, finding the time to post regularly, and even deciding whether they need a social media strategy at all. Social signals are a good sign to Google, so it’s a great way to boost SEO; however, it may not be something a business absolutely needs to do. So how do you know if you need to be doing it?

The hack: This is where we revisit what the competition is doing. Remember the competitors Rank Tracker has found for you? It’s time to see what they are doing on social media. Jump to the Domain Strength module in your Rank Tracker project, and click Show Competitors. Then, hit Update.

Under the Social media popularity section, you’ll see how well your competitors’ domains are doing on social media. Take the time to analyze how their social media efforts correlate with rankings, and take a closer look at their Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest pages to see what they post about and how often.

10. Taking care of technical SEO (without being a technical person)

The struggle: On-site SEO is absolutely crucial to the success of an SEO campaign. What you may not realize is that a solid technical foundation can be a massive help in ranking a site in the local pack. But what if you’re not really a technical person?

The hack: This is where Website Auditor is a tremendous help. Simply by putting in your website URL, you can quickly evaluate the health of any site, looking at everything that can affect your overall rankings, including on-page and technical issues. If there’s a problem, WebSite Auditor will give you straightforward advice on how to fix it.

Fixing these issues even without any additional link building efforts will often boost a site’s ranking quite a bit. I’ve had sites not ranking within the top 50 results jump to the first or second page of Google within a few days by fixing these technical problems.

11. Improving internal linking

The struggle: An internal link structure is important for rankings as well. Not only will it help visitors better navigate through the site, it will help pass link juice between your most important pages. Simply put, this is linking your most important pages together. The difficulty is figuring out which of your pages enjoy the most link juice, and passing that link juice on to your top important pages — especially if you have a large site.

The hack: There are a few handy metrics in WebSite Auditor that will help you with this. Go to Site Structure > Pages in your project. You should see a Click Depth column — the number of clicks required to get to each of your pages from the home page. Ideally, you should strive for a click depth of up to 3 to make sure your pages are crawled frequently.

Then, there’s an InLink Rank column that shows each page’s “link popularity”. The value is calculated the same way as Google’s original PageRank, so it’s a great way to tell how much link juice each page is getting. If you don’t have an InLink Rank column in your workspace, right-click the header of any column to add it.

Finally, you can also examine the list of incoming internal links to the page to see where the link juice is flowing from, and how you can improve it.

It’s also important to know if you have any orphan pages (pages that exist on your site but are not linked to internally). Luckily, Website Auditor makes this as easy as clicking a button — just go to Preferences > Crawler Settings and select Search for orphan pages. Once you’ve done that, hit the Rebuild Project button. Your site will be crawled again, and WebSite Auditor will also search for orphan pages in search engine indexes and your sitemap.

12. Structured data and Open Graph markup

The struggle: Structured data markup is important if you want your business to appear in the local Knowledge Graph panel. It also lets you create rich snippets for your pages, and include things like reviews and ratings into your search result.

Open Graph is the markup that enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph. It is used by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ to add a unique title, description, and image to your page’s snippet on these social networks. While it is unlikely that Open Graph markup has a direct impact on SEO, it can be incredibly useful for your social media efforts (which, in turn, are likely to affect SEO in some way).

But as you keep adding new content to your site, it gets harder to keep the markup on each of your pages in order.

The hack: The easy way to audit your pages’ microdata is right in WebSite Auditor Open graph and structured data markup tab (under the Pages dashboard). Here, you can review your Open Graph titles, images, and descriptions, and make sure structured data is implemented properly on every page you’re optimizing for search engines.

13. “Stealing” your competitors’ backlinks

The struggle: Ok, link building can be tricky. But it’s not as tricky for local businesses as it is for international brands. When you start working with a client who hardly did any SEO before, you may often find that they have a bunch of high-ranking competitors with solid backlink profiles. The struggle is to determine which of the competitors’ links have the most weight, and try and acquire the same links for the client’s website.

The hack: To take competitor tracking to another level, open up SEO SpyGlass and add in the same competitors you have in Rank Tracker by going to Domain Comparison and clicking on the Add/Remove Domains button.

Next, switch to Link Intersection to see the sites that link to more than one of your competitors, but don’t link to you. Use the Projects column to see which of the competitors each referring domain is linking to.

Copy these domains to a spreadsheet — they are perfect opportunities for link outreach since they are clearly niche-relevant sites.

14. Finding relevant local link opportunities

The struggle: With our keyword research done, our on-page optimization done, and our competitors’ strategies on our radar, it’s time for some link building. If you’ve ever spent time building backlinks to a site — and not just any backlinks but high quality backlinks — I don’t have to tell you how much time it takes.

The hack: LinkAssistant is so crucial for the sites I work on. I can’t believe the amount of time I used to spend manually searching for link opportunities, manually evaluating their value, figuring out if I had a diverse backlink profile, and tracking if the backlinks were actually live.

Download the free version of LinkAssistant, open the app, and start a new project for your site. Then click on the Look for Prospects button and select the type of backlink you’re interested in going after (guest posts, forums, directories, blog comments, and several others).

Next, insert your keywords and let LinkAssistant go out and find potential backlink sources. It’ll also collect the email addresses for the link prospects, so when it’s done, all you have to do is filter through the list, prioritize, and start the outreach process.

You can reach out to prospects and track your progress from within the LinkAssistant — just use the Email button to do that. You can send out outreach emails in bulk, use ready-made email templates, and create your own templates from scratch.

15. Professional client reporting

The struggle: If you’ve been doing SEO for clients for a while, I’m sure you know how hard it is to build a report a client will be happy with. The problem I find in most reporting tools is that the reports they offer are barely customizable, so you’re left with no choice but to include some of the data the client isn’t necessarily interested in, and omit some of the important details they want to see.

The hack: Whether I’m working on a personal site or on a client’s site, the reporting feature in all four SEO PowerSuite tools is very helpful as it pulls all the data automatically for me so I can get a quick overview of the site’s status at any time.

All tools have a Reports module. All reports are totally editable, both in terms of content and their look and feel.

When it comes to generating SEO reports for clients, I like to be able to add in my own comments to the reports where I want to expand on the information being presented. This helps you put your personal touch on the report, answer questions before the client asks, and show clients how you are helping them reach their goals. It also lets you reduce the amount of time needed for client calls and additional questions as well.

Finally, I review the data and click Share to send the client a link to the report. Hitting this button automatically saves the report into your SEO PowerSuite Cloud account, which is also handy if you like to quickly access reports both from your home and the office.

16. Understanding the impact of SEO on traffic

The struggle: Regularly reviewing your site’s analytics is important so you can see which of your efforts are working and which aren’t. But having your SEO data in one place and your Google Analytics stats in another is a bit of a pain with you having to switch back and forth between tabs, or copy the data from everywhere and try and make sense of it in a spreadsheet.

The hack: All of the SEO PowerSuite tools let you enter your Google Analytics account details under Preferences > Google Account Settings. This lets you get traffic data in the same place where your SEO data is, making it easy to figure out how your SEO efforts affect the site’s traffic and engagement.

Side note: If you are managing client accounts, they can add you as a manager to their Google Analytics account. When you insert your account information in SEO PowerSuite tools, their site will appear for you to select.

Now you can see how many visitors are coming to the site, which pages they view, and which backlinks are referring traffic to the site — all in the same place where your SEO stats are.

17. Not wasting time on managing all your SEO jobs manually

The struggle: We all know SEO is time-consuming, and you have to really commit yourself to it if you want to see tangible results. But most of the SEO tasks are routine jobs that can eat up hours, often leaving you little time for the important extra bits of the work you can’t automate.

The hack: There is nothing I love more than being able to automate a part of the process that doesn’t need my direct attention so I can spend my time where it matters most. SEO PowerSuite‘s scheduler function allows me to schedule tasks to be performed automatically, so when I sit down to work for the day I have all the data I need in front of me, all ready to go.

From any tool, go to Preferences > Scheduler and add a task (such as checking search engine rankings, publishing reports, updating backlinks, searching for link prospects, etc.).

Set the time and frequency at which you want your task to occur. Feel free to add in as many different tasks as you need, just mind that you need to keep your computer on with the SEO PowerSuite apps running for the tasks to be completed.

Pulling Local SEO Steps Together

Local SEO is quite involved. There are so many small steps that while they can make a big difference in terms of rankings, they can also be easily overlooked. Having a system in place to keep track of what matters most while guiding you to the next step of the process is not only essential, but a huge time saver.

What are the parts of local SEO you struggle with most? Which hacks are you using to save time on tedious tasks? I’m looking forward to your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

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