Competitor analysis with Ahrefs - mega guidebook (2019)
How valuable would it be for you to possess knowledge about your competition? To know their strategies and plans through and through? Once, this knowledge was almost impossible to obtain through legal needs. Thankfully, the Internet has changed all this. On the one hand, we now can gain access to hundreds, even thousands of clients. You can be the owner of a small shop in Hel and sell your products for people living in Zakopane, 365 days of the year. On the other hand, however, competition is ever-expanding, and promotion methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated. It is imperative to develop a consistent strategy - the article below will walk the reader through competitive market analysis with the use of Ahrefs.
For market competition analysis you will need:
- Ahrefs (a trial version is available for $7 for 7 days)
- No more than 30 minutes of your time
Ahrefs - what is it?
Ahrefs is s SaaS-type solution (meaning that access to the program is sold as a service that needs to be paid for monthly). It enables its users to carefully plan their marketing strategies online.
What does Ahrefs allow us to do?
- Get an insight into how many links lead to a specific page, where they have been published, as well as stating in what ways they influence the page in question.
- Tell us how many domains mention the website (f.e. news portals, tech forums), so we can imagine how recognizable can a brand be on the web.
- To check the number of keywords on the page - this is done to see the number of phrases you have to type in to find the site in the Search Engine Result Phrase - the page with search results.
- Estimate the traffic and clicks the page receives - the amount is considered a rough estimate, but it gives us an insight into the site’s popularity.
- Quantify the monetary worth of the page’s traffic, if we were to obtain it for our site via f.e: Google Ads.
- All the above information in the context of the past - from the beginning, when the page started being tracked by Ahrefs.
- See the changes in all the keywords’ positions in the domain made each day.
- Compare several sites, look through the differences in the estimated traffic and key phrases.
- Check which of the competition’s web pages are the most popular.
- Check who published the site's link which connects it to the page mentioned above and try to promote ourselves through them.
- Analyze the type of Google Ads a page uses and its effectiveness (see picture below).
- We can check keywords for nine different search engines: Google, Bing, Yandex, YouTube, and f.e Amazon.
- Gain access to hundreds, even thousands, of alternative key phrases and their statistics.
- You can do a lot, lot more...
It is safe to assume that it became clear just how potent of a tool Ahrefs is, as well as how analyzing competition with it can give your company a great competitive advantage. Without further ado, we will now discuss the analysis and the possibilities it can offer us.
Step 1- Create an account and define who your competition might be
So as to not insult the intelligence of this article's average reader, we will skip the instructions on how to create an account in Ahrefs, apart from two aspects- you cannot create a free account in Ahrefs. Upon registration, we must select the type of subscription (starting from $99 monthly) and the method of payment. The trial version is, as mentioned earlier in the article, for seven days at a cost of $7. Without registration and signing up for a subscription, you will not be able to use Ahrefs. Secondly- you can delete your account soon after signing up. Our trial period will end in such a manner after seven days, and no money will be automatically extracted from your bank account.
After creating our account, we can start the analysis of our competition. Let us use our imagination and imagine that we want to build a store that will sell gardening tools. Online shops are gaining more widespread popularity among all age groups, buying things on the Internet is increasingly common, so if you plan on creating a new online shop, you might tap into some potential. We would like to, however, build this shop overseas, and because we have friends in the United States, we want to open up the sop for clients in that country:
Let’s start with a simple search phrase - “gardening tools”. These will be the primary products up for sale in our store, so it is worth checking with whom we will be competing against for higher search engine results. In the screenshot above, we see that the number one position is gardeners.com.
In an everyday situation, we would open up the web page, after which we would take notes about the page's layout and blog. Probably, we would also take notice of the topics posted on the site that peaks our interest, thinking "wow, I must write about this topic too, in order to be seen on the World Wide Web!". Once our process of gathering information is over, we have several pages of notes and we feel satisfied with ourselves - using the gathered information, we can now plan out an efficient marketing plan.
Stop right there.
All of these steps, although time-consuming and satisfactory (to ourselves), will not help you in the long run. Although the information regarding the page's layout might be of some help, the info on what to write about in the blog, what products to sell or what kind of subpages are needed to achieve success, are only reflections of your topics of interest and personal taste. Luckily for you, we have at your disposal the necessary tools, which usage will eliminate the need for mere guessing.
Step 2- beginning competition analysis
Instead of guessing, we log onto Ahrefs and click on the tab titled "Site Explorer" and we type in the name of our competitor's domain. After a few seconds, the information regarding the site is gathered and presented as a graph table. Let us start from the basics, and delve into analyzing our competition in a way that allows us to formulate a marketing strategy.
At the top of the screen, we see a table showing basic information about the website gardeners.com
What can we make of this information? Let’s start from left to right:
- Ahrefs Rank - shows the position of the website in Ahrefs basing it on the number and strength of links that lead to the domain. The page with rank #1 is the strongest.
- URL Rating (UR) - a scale ranging from 0 to 100, measuring the number of points (aka. strength) a certain link has. The scoring is based on the number of links directing to the page (both external and internal links). The indicator also is closely connected to the position a web page will have in a search engine - the higher the UR, the higher position.
- Domain Rating (DR) - a scale from 0-100 which rates the site's "popularity" based on external domains containing the link to garderners.com
- Backlinks - the number of links that lead to your page.
- Referring Domains - the number of individual domains redirecting to another www address, in this case, gardeners.com
- Organic keywords - the top 100 keywords under which a page is positioned in the Google search box for all countries. If gardeners.com shows up in the Polish and German versions of Google under the search phrase "gardening tools" -this rating goes up by 2 points. Below you will find information regarding PPC and it shows the keywords which the shop uses for Google Ads.
- Organic traffic - the sum of estimated traffic from all key phrases in all countries under which the page appears in search results.
- Traffic value - a measurement that shows the amount of money we would have to spend on Google Ads if we wanted to attract the traffic as described in point 7 of this section, with the help of paid commercials targeting the specified key phrases.
As you can see, the first graph table gives us a surprisingly specific insight into the state of our competition. We can deduce that the strength of the page is high when it comes to the “domain strength”, and for a page which has just started, reaching this level of strength will be a very difficult task.
In order to open a properly functioning store with gardening tools, we should focus on three elements. First -we should know what pages are the most popular within the domain of gardeners.com and why are they popular. Secondly - it is imperative to know what kind of content and products we should have on our website to make up for losses and not waste time on something that will not generate any web page traffic. Lastly - we already know how competitive eCommerce is, therefore we must use the help of commercials and ads. Having that in mind, we will conduct the analysis of the Google Ads account that the competing page is registered in and in doing so we will know the best and most effective promotional strategy.
Where does Ahrefs gather its information from?
This is a question that is often asked by the users of Ahrefs and the people that partake in my courses about Ahrefs. It is fair when we want to make decisions based on the figures presented. Ahrefs gathers its information by scanning the Internet 24 hours a day to obtain data, new links, and information. This is followed up by connecting the gathered data and analyzing it with comparison to other information from Google's servers and other means. Just for Poland alone, Ahrefs contains over 177 million keywords. For more information, click here: Ahrefs and big data. It’s worth remembering that all the data presented in Ahrefs is a rounded estimate and does not always reflect the real state of things. Notwithstanding, the data lets us accurately determine the situation of a given site.
Step 3- analyzing the competitor's keywords
Time for the most important and most basic aspect of the analysis. In thanks to Ahrefs, we can check the most popular key phrases and determine which ones are worth investing our time and money.
Before we go into the analysis, we should be able to define the key phrases and what their value is in terms of our gardening tools shop.
In short, a keyword is a phrase that a person types into a search engine to find what they are looking for. Search engines, like Google, first scan the content of Internet pages, searching for info relating to the phrases in the search box and matches the search results. Because of this, the results which appear should coincide with the phrases typed in the search engine.
Not all keywords are worthy of our attention - positioning the results by basing them on the phrases is difficult and time-consuming, whereas other words have a search traffic result close to zero. Knowing this, we must place our focus primarily on less difficult keywords (by doing so, they will appear on the front pages of search results with less effort), but ones which will generate more traffic. Thankfully, Ahrefs gives us the information for both aspects.
To fully analyze the keywords for the domain gardeners.com, we must first select from the main menu the option Organic search and then click Organic keywords.
After selecting this option we will see a chart with the list of keywords assigned to gardeners.com. The list contains information such as:
- key phrases and search results for each word over the duration of the month, level of difficulty assigned to each word and the cost of opening an ad related to the searched phrase.
- estimated traffic that the keyword generates for the store during the month.
- page position for gardeners.com in Google when typing a certain phrase.
- link to the page that is positioned under a search phrase.
We also have access to the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) for the keyword in question. Let us check the list of keywords for gardeners.com and if we can find out anything useful:
Highlighted is a keyword that we will focus on. What information can we obtain from this picture? The phrase is not difficult - Ahrefs has ranked it's KD a 4. This means that, to reach the website, we would need 5 links from external domains. If we want to be higher in the ranking, we must have more links. Soon we will see that gardeners.com has over 29,000 of them and they come from two thousand different domains.
Next - the key phrase "gardeners supply" has a high number of searches, with over 50,000 people looking it up. To sum it up, this phrase has the desirable traits - it is not difficult and it generates a lot of searches per month. Ahrefs also informs that around 10,000 visitors on the page are due to people looking up the keywords "gardeners supply". We can also see in the chart that gardeners.com is first on the list of pages that come up with the search results. In the Position section, we can notice that next to the numbers are arrows with additional digits. This easily tells us the decrease or increase of the position of the keyword. In this case, gardeners.com has lost four positions with the search phrase "garden".
All of this still doesn’t tell us what we can do. To obtain more solid information on what our possibilities are, you must click on the selected keyword to open the Keywords explorer.
Yet again- Ahrefs provided us with a wide variety of different data, but let’s focus on the most important ones. How can it prove useful for us?
As written above - the level of difficulty (KD) is not high, ranking at level 4. It is worth knowing what that level means for us. Ahrefs ranks websites in a logarithmic scale, meaning that it takes less effort to get us from rank 12 to 13 than it would if we were to get from 97 to 98, despite in both cases our rank increasing by one. In this case, the level of difficulty states that, in order to get to Google’s top 10 search results, we must obtain a minimum of 5 links that will redirect to our page. It would be the best option if those links came from sites with a higher rank than our own.
On the right side of the difficulty scale, there are graphs which offer us more information - how many monthly searches does a specific phrase have and how many of those searches result in site visits, etc. This information is vital for us to know if we are looking for words that not only generate more search entries but those that will guarantee our page to have more visitors. In some cases, a certain keyword might have a lot of searches a month, but due to the complexity of it, it might not result in any page visits.
Now is the time for the most important information, which will help us discover just what is it that our potential clients would like to read about. If we were not to put any effort into our research, we would only be left to guess this. A thorough analysis is always more effective than estimates and intuition, therefore please take a closer look at the Keyword ideas table below, where you will find out just how valuable the presented information might be for your business.
Imagine that you wish to create in your garden tool shop a “shovel and spade” section and to start writing a blog with articles related to the subject. Let’s have a look at the table below:
The first column shows keywords along with their monthly search results and other phrases containing “gardeners supply”. This suggests that, besides adding “gardeners supply” on our blog, we should also add “gardeners supply company”, because this phrase will contribute to an additional 5,200 Internet users entering our website.
Writing a blog for a shop like gardeners.com it is suggested to write an article that answers the questions from our potential clients. In this case, we see that all the proposed questions by Ahrefs get, on average, around 10 answers. This might not seem like a big amount of traffic, but we cannot forget that pages can hold positions due to many other keywords. As seen below, pages positioned under the phrase “gardeners supply seed starting how to” are positioned under over a 1,000 other keywords:
Writing an article on the topic "How to start seeds?" and making use of the phrases in the chart can bring very satisfying results - as seen on the example of gardeners.com, it paid off, so why not trying the same method for your store?
The third column presents a list of key phrases, under which the top ten pages are positioned. This is useful, as it allows us a quick analysis and - let’s not forget - we only just started this business and we don’t want (not just yet ) to get too deep in the details.
Now, repeat the process or other keywords, abiding by the low difficulty/high search result rule, and we will have a ready list of phrases we should use to create content so that we can obtain measurable results as quickly as possible.
Step 4 - How to find the most popular sites in a competing store?
We have successfully obtained basic info regarding our competition’s website. It is now time to go deeper and obtain the information that will help us prepare an effective marketing strategy. We can begin by checking the most popular sites within gardeners.com - by doing so we will know which sites to add on our page and which competitors post the links to the subpages.
In the future, we will be able to copy these tactics to easily attract users to our website.
In the section where you can view the details surrounding gardeners.com domain, we have access to statistics of the links, keywords and most popular pages in the site. This information can be found on the left side menu.
In order to find out more on the topic of the most popular pages in social media on our competitor's site, we select the option Top content. After clicking it, we see a list of subpages of the shop with several options of segregating the results.
Available options (from left to right):
- RD - domains in which Ahrefs found links to the specific subpage
- Twitter - number of mentions on Twitter
- Facebook - number of mentions on Facebook
- Pinterest - the number of mentions on Pinterest
- Total - the sum of all the mentions for the subpage in question
- Social Power - Ahrefs-calculated “strength” of all the mentions on social media. This result is more meaningful, as the Total is merely the sum of all the added mentions.
- Date of publication - despite what the name suggests, it shows the date of when the website was picked up by Ahrefs scans.
By clicking on the names of the columns, we see the list of pages in decreasing order, which allows us to see f.e: which subpages of gardeners.com are the most popular on Facebook.
Next, to every search result there is a Details and upon scrolling over to it, we get additional info regarding each of the subpages; the menu consists of:
a) Backlinks - a list of sites that published a link to the store's subpage
b) Referring domains - list of domains linking to a subpage in the shop’s site
c) Anchors - as the name suggests, they’re called “anchors” because they are written articles that lead to the subpage, but are not links
Since we plan to sell gardening tools, we can assume that the best social media to promote our store will be Pinterest. If so, what can Ahrefs tell us about this?
By grouping the results according to their popularity on a specific social media platform, we see which articles were among the most frequently shared. We see the article titled “How to grow asparagus” is by far, the most popular article. When we look at the Social Power scale, however, we find another article that was frequently shared and has, according to Ahrefs, more potential - “Tomato Diseases: five solutions”. Having this knowledge, we can slowly start building our marketing strategy - but before we get to that, it is worth researching other competing stores.
This is not the end of everything that Ahrefs offers us. Maybe we would like to know more - what about gaining access to a list of sites that are exceptionally popular among Internet users? In the side menu tab Pages, we have two additional options: best by links and best by link’s growth.
Where should we start?
The first option - best by links shows a list of a site's subpages, grouped by the number of external links. What's more- we have more insight in this option. We can also determine which pages have gathered the most external links and where they came from (f.e blogs or internet forums). By selecting the internal option, we see pages that lead the most links from the gardeners.com domain. How is this information useful?
This helps us define which subpages are considered to be the most valuable by the site’s administration.
Our focus, however, is the most popular sites according to the clients. While searching this, we do not change any settings that were set by default (see table on the next page).
As you have already learned - the information contained in the table gives us a look into a variety of key information on each subpage. This data is the most vital in the preparation for our marketing strategy. Some of these elements were already discussed, so let's focus on new things.
- Dofollow -it indicates if the links in a subpage convey any "strength" to the original site. Links that are "stronger" are more important in SEO results, so this indicator will be very important for you.
- Nofollow - the number of links from external sites that do not share any additional info besides the target page. In popular belief, these links do not influence SEO.
- Redirects - the number of redirects to a designated subpage. For example, in the past, a page was linked under the address "example.com/item" but after some time a redirecting page called "example.com/category/item" was created - Ahrefs notes this, but it does not influence the link itself.
- First seen/last check - shows when Ahrefs first found the page on the Internet, as well as when was the last time it checked if the site exists.
While analyzing the competition, we should first focus on the amount of Dofollow links. So let’s check which pages in Gardeners gathered the most of such links.
We should begin with the parameters of the search: from the HTTP code tab we select “200 ok” - without going into the details, this number indicates that the site is up and functioning. The well-known “404 not found” error means the opposite - the page was not found on the server.
After selecting the desired code, select the “Dofollow” , thanks to which you will see what sites gained the most valuable links. The most popular subpages are:
- Main page
- Blog page
- Article on blog
- Main page - subfolder version
- Blog entry
What can we do with this information? By clicking Dofollow, all the links with the dofollow attributes linking to the subpage will pop up. Three other sections are also greatly important: Referring page, Traffic and Anchor and backlink.
These sections display information about the subpage with the link to gardeners.com, an estimate of traffic on the subpage containing the link, and the manner of how the link was posted.
Thanks to this data, we can choose the strongest domains, where in the future we can post links leading to ou page. Secondly, the traffic indicator tells us the amount of time we should use to post the link. If a site that redirects to our store has no significant traffic, it is not necessary to devote our efforts for preparing the information, since this link will be detrimental to our SEO. If the opposite scenario occurs, wherein a site has a large amount of traffic, it is worth publishing high-quality content there - this will boost our visibility.
The 10x rule
A popular method used within site positioning, the 10x rule states that for our content to displace our competition, the content has to be 10 times better (in terms of substance, precision, and easiness to learn, etc.) than the content posted by the competitors.
Since we are now on the topic of building links to our shop - when the article talked about narrowing down the links by using the Best by links option, it also mentioned the possibility of the HTTP code. This permits us to select the codes corresponding with different situations or errors - such as the example of codes in websites, that used to exist but were for certain reasons deleted or moved. Such information is useful in creating links to our site at a low cost. We begin by selecting the HTTP code - in this case 404.
Then we select the Dofollow option in such a way in which we see the list of web pages with the strongest link profiles.
Now let’s look at the results. As seen, the examples of most “extinct” pages with a large number of links are blog entries. This serves as a potential opportunity for promotion. We can, for example, already have some articles written and ready, and now we want to publish and promote them in some way. Let's check how it would work, using the article “Gnomes take Hollywood” and if we can make use of all the above knowledge.
Click the little arrow symbol at the end of the link. This will expand the menu, out of which we will select the option backlinks, to find out more about the links that redirect to the article.
Unfortunately, when we begin to check the links we quickly discover that this method will not be able to convey much info - the links probably are of a low-level SEO worth and won't be useful within the framework of our strategy.
If we were, however, to get a list of authentic sites leading to non-existing subpages in the competing store’s domain, we can do one simple thing: we will open up every site containing a link that redirects to our rival’s web page and determine whether a link to our store would help the site. If we see that someone created a list of the top gardening tutorials and one of the links would not be working - it is advised that we notify the author of the article or the owner of the page and suggest a swap of links that would lead to our site. Sometimes, this method will come with a small charge, but in the long term, this kind of arrangement will be beneficial for us.
Now let’s focus on the last option from the Pages tab.
Best by link's growth also contains a list of websites with the number of links redirecting to them. There is one major difference - this list groups the subpages of gardeners.com according to the increase of links over a period of time. In other words - it allows us to see which subpages are recently gaining the most links. This lets us know which photos, products or blog entries are attracting popularity to our rival’s page.
We highly advise you to explore the options of this tab; you might develop new, non-standard methods of promoting your business.
Finally, let us discuss the final step of our tutorial - here we will find out whether our competition uses Google Ads and what advertisements do they have.
Step 5 - Advertisements in Google Ads
Think about it - what does an Internet store need to achieve success? Is it a wide range of offered products? A beautiful page layout? Blog articles that convince clients? The answer is all of the above, but, even a perfectly constructed website that lacks Internet traffic won't be able to sell even the cheapest product. As you already know - page traffic can come from different sources. One of such sources is a paid-for advertisement in Google Ads (formally called Adwords) - a solution so effective that it could quickly generate traffic, and the only limit is your budget. An advertising campaign, in order to work, has to be carefully planned - it would be very detrimental if we spent all our money on ads right from the start. Before you kick off your campaign, check if your competition uses this means of promotion and how exactly it is carried out. By doing this, we will optimize the costs of our future campaign, using the knowledge gathered beforehand. On the left side of the screen in the menu click on the Paid Search tab.
As shown, the tab lends us access to several subpages. Let’s start with something simple - by checking what commercials and ads are currently displayed for gardeners.com.
The list below shows several advertisements, by which gardeners.com uses to promote itself. Among the info you will find the ad content, monthly traffic for the specific keyword that leads to the ad being shown, a percentage share of the ad with relation to other ads (33,4% indicates that a specific advertisement is responsible for over 33% of the traffic of all commercials for the page), we can also see the average cost per click (CPC) for the particular ad and keyword that displays it and address of the page to which the ad is directed.
The results shown in Ahrefs tell us that gardeners.com mainly promotes its main web page rather than the category of its brand of commerce. This method is not the best since for every time we go on the ad, we pay for it. In Google Ads advertising campaign, our main objective is the return of investment (ROI) - meaning that we should create the ad in such a way that a client will promptly purchase something from our shop. Having this in mind, we should direct our ads to our products, or better yet, to the particular category. Remember - the main objective of a Google Ads campaign is sales.
Considering the cost per click info given to us by Ahrefs, the whole cost of the promotion will not strain our budget. Also, you must be aware of the fact that Ahrefs gives the approximate cost, not taking outside factors in the equation - this is why you should not plan out the budget for the ad campaign solely basing it off of Ahrefs’ calculations.
In the following tabs, we have access to information regarding keywords being used by gardeners.com in its promotion strategy, as well as the top destination sites.
Given the precision of the data of the ad strategy, this section is rather illustrative in nature, it mainly serves to explore the possibilities and provide answers to questions regarding whether if the campaign should be paid for - in our view, we should definitely invest in a promotion strategy, so at least our site is high up in the SERP position (our page is visible on the first page of search results.)
Years ago, the process of obtaining and following the methods of operations of your competition was a complicated and expensive one. Luckily, in modern times, tools like Ahrefs enable everyone to know how companies promote themselves on the Internet, with whom they cooperate with, and in what way do they reach out to clients. From what we have learned by reading this article - there is no need to guess or taking unnecessary risks because we can easily access a wide variety of information pertaining to the actions undertaken by our competition. What's more - even a renowned company with a solid position within the market can make simple mistakes in their promotion strategy, and we can use this to our advantage.
So what’s next? The next step is to prepare a thorough marketing plan and, above all, implementing the knowledge you have gathered.
As a final word: to create an account in Ahrefs: click here.