The Ultimate Guide to Using Ahrefs for SEO in 2019

Ahrefs is debatably the best SEO tool to use in 2019. It’s most widely used to analyze domains and url’s (whether your own or a competitor) to find more information on several important SEO factors including backlinks, referring domains, organic keywords, anchor texts, and more.

Features of Site Explorer

Ahrefs offers site explorer, which is the domain/url analysis tool. Site Explorer on its own is worth the ahrefs subscription fee (which is between $99 and $999 per month, depending on your SEO needs).

Site Explorer has lots of features that are essential to any proper SEO campaign.

Above is an image of site explorer in action. It’s an overview of my domain, It may be a lot to take in all at once, so let me break it down for you by each feature.

Ahrefs Rank

After entering any url into ahrefs, the first thing that you’ll see is an Ahrefs Rank. This represents how your site stacks up against every other site on the internet. The websites are ranked based on their backlink profile (i.e. their DR, which we’ll talk about next).

It is from 1 (best) to an incredibly large number (essentially how many websites there are that have a backlink profile of any kind). It is not a main metric you should base anything off of, unless you’re working for a large corporations’ SEO.

DR (Domain Rating)

This metric is what’s used to determine your Ahrefs Rank. Domain Rating is your backlink portfolio summed up as a number on a 0-100 rating (0 being low and 100 being high). The more backlinks you receive from other sites that have a high DR, the higher your DR will rise.

Ahrefs’ DR is comparable to Moz’s DA (Domain Authority), but personally I find DA more reliable. DR is a skewed metric, as I’ve seen sites that are DR 1-2 rank for quite competitive terms, so don’t worry too much if you plug your domain in and see an extremely low DR.

I’ve also seen the opposite, where it only took a few links and Ahrefs told me that my DR for Airborne Agency was 27. Since then it has dropped. That’s not because my backlink profile has worsened, but because Ahrefs is trying to balance my DR to a value that actually makes sense.

UR (URL Rating)

The URL Rating is similar to the DR, except for instead of the backlink profile of an entire site, it just takes the backlinks into a specific site, which is why you’ll have UR’s for as many different pages that your site has.

Just like DR being similar to DA, the UR is similar to Moz’s PA (Page Authority). A main difference is that the UR is actually comparable to PA in terms of accuracy, whereas DA and DR can vary wildly.


Here’s that buzzword in the SEO community. Many beginner SEOs think higher number, better rankings. Which as a general rule, yes, you want to have a higher number of backlinks than a lower number.

But to be specific, you need to have a higher number of quality backlinks. One quality link is worth more than all the spammy, low-quality backlinks you can imagine.

You can even test this yourself, just build a site and buy 100,000 backlinks off of Fiverr and see where your rankings go. Okay, maybe you want to just take my word for it.

Referring Domains

Here’s the first thing that I click on if I want to learn about a website’s SEO strategy. Referring Domains represents the number of unique domains that are offering a backlink to the given website.

Ahrefs presents these domains in a very easy to digest list that you can manipulate in a few very useful ways. You’re able to filter them by backlink type (dofollow, nofollow, gov, edu and redirects), and by their tld’s (.com, .ca, .biz, .info, etc.)

Another thing you can do is arrange and sort them by a wide variety of metrics. Most popular, you can have them sorted into descending order of DR, to see (most likely) their most powerful backlinks first. You can also sort them by organic traffic, referring domains, Ahrefs rank, and amount of links from each domain.

Organic Keywords

Organic Keywords are a quantitative number which represents the amount of keywords that the domain (or specific url) is ranking in Google search for in at least the top 100 results. This only includes keywords that have a significant amount of search volume every month (which is any quantitative amount according to Ahrefs, not Google Keyword Planner).

The effectiveness of using organic keywords depends a lot on what Ahrefs plan you’re on. If you’re only paying for the $99/month plan, you’ll only see the keywords that you’re ranking between 1-20. Even just the upgrade to the $179/month plan will prove valuable for the Organic Keywords feature.

At the $179/month plan, you’ll see keywords you’re currently ranking between 21-100, as well as the page that is ranking (if you’re searching across an entire domain). This feature can prove to be extremely useful, as we’ll go over later.

Backlink, Referring Domain, CTLD, and Anchor Graphics

Next is a wide variety of graphics, namely new and lost backlinks and referring domains, including distinguishing dofollow, nofollow, redirect, and other backlinks. These can be interesting graphics to share with clients, to give them a visual representation of their change in backlinks.

The referring domains graphic doesn’t shed any light on what types of domains were gained and lost, but it can still be useful to see the gradual (or steep) incline of your referring domains, or to see the SEO journey of a competitor.

Use Competitor Referring Domains to Grow Your Website’s SEO

One incredible strategy to use Ahrefs for is to spy on your competitors and their link profile. It works best for local businesses, so that’s the example I’ll be using, but you can still use this strategy.

Today we’ll assume that you’re a local business in a low-medium SEO competition city. Your first thought may be to look up your target keyword, and analyze your top competitors to try and syphon some of their links. Although this is a great idea, I think there’s something that works better.

If you look up your local keyword, it’ll have a lower competition, and your competitors will have lower DA and less high quality backlinks to hijack. Instead you should try and analyze businesses in larger, more competitive cities, but still in your niche.

If their links are working when it comes to ranking in larger cities (e.g. Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle) then these types of links will skyrocket you to the top of your local market. And you may think that these links are out of the realm of possibility for your small business to get, but trust me, you can get high quality links!

Let’s go through an example.

Let’s say you’re a roofer from a city of 50,000. Of the sample cities I used, none of them seemed extremely difficult to rank for, and many of the top ranking businesses had low DA.

When I look up Los Angeles Roofing, the top result has hundreds of referring domains, and a DA of 27. This is pretty good for a local business.

Here’s a picture of their Ahrefs overview:

So how can we best take advantage of their hard work?

Click on “Referring Domains” (the number, not the words). Now you should see the list of referring domains that their website has.

Click on DR, which will sort them by their domain rating, descending. Look from the top of the list down, since that’s where the high DR domains are (some low dr backlinks are also valuable, so don’t discredit the domains at the bottom of the list).

ahrefs reffering domains for seo

If you find sites with low DR but seem like quality links, you can check their DA which will give you a better sense of what a backlink is worth from them.

You should also look for high organic traffic numbers, because this signifies that it’s a real site, not just a site that is used in grey-hat SEO techniques.

Put together a list of potential domains that you’d could really use a link from. Remember the elements of a good backlink;

-Topical Relevance (Make sure that the site has some relevance to your business.)

-High DR/DA

-Low spam score (which you can find through the Moz bar chrome extension)

If you can check these boxes, you’re probably doing well.

Now that you have your list of potential domains to get links from, click on backlinks. Now you’ll be able to sort them by DR again, and see what context these top businesses got their backlink in, and if you can duplicate it for your business.

This will take a little bit of investigating, including finding out the possibility of guest posting, which may cost a bit of money. Your best bet is to use their contact form and get ahold of the website owner.

You may also find directory sites that you need to get on using the referring domains strategy, after seeing the context of these competitor’s backlink, it should be pretty straightforward as to how you can get the backlink for your website.  Our Portland SEO Agency is very effective at finding relevant backlinks that would benefit your search engine rankings.


Ahrefs is an invaluable tool for any agency, company, or individual who has SEO needs that need to be filled. The site explorer feature is an absolute necessity for any serious SEO campaign.

In my opinion, it’s the best tool out of any of its competitors, including Moz, SEMRush and Majestic. If you have any questions about anything from this article, don’t hesitate to contact me using the contact form on my website, Airborne Digital Marketing Agency.

1 Comment

  1. Taposh Kapuria on April 11, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Comparing competition of niche sites with authority sites is now pain in ass. Earlier no of domains pointing to url, url rank combined with DR was good way to judge competition. was used to earlier matrices. Been using them from years.

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