Ahrefs offers a wide range of free SEO tools for digital marketers on a tight budget.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through each tool and when to use it.
Setting up your website for success means starting with the basics: making sure it’s in good shape, both from a technical and backlink standpoint.
This involves a technical audit to check your website’s SEO performance, as well as a backlink audit to see if there are any spammy backlinks that could hinder your future link building efforts.
Once you’ve created a free account and imported your projects from Google Search Console (GSC), AWT will automatically run a comprehensive crawl of your website to check for 140+ predefined SEO and on-page issues.
These are more than what GSC covers. You can access them from the All issues report in Site Audit, where you can sort them by importance and tackle them accordingly.
Click on the question mark beside each issue to get detailed information and learn how to fix it.
Among its other useful reports, our free site audit tool also has an Indexability report. This is important because pages can’t rank if they’re not indexed by search engines—because they get no traffic.
GET INTERNAL LINKING SUGGESTIONS
Although not technically related, the Internal link opportunities report is a hidden gem.
This report is basically about finding internal linking suggestions on autopilot. It does so by looking at the top 10 keywords for each of your website’s ranking pages and finding mentions of them on your other pages.
Use it to level up your internal linking game and pass on link equity from high-authority pages to lower-authority ones.
Moving on to AWT’s other tool, let’s look at Site Explorer, which gives you a high-level view of your website’s backlink profile throughout various reports.
Right off the bat, you can see the cumulative backlinks and unique referring domains for your website in Overview 2.0. The size of your backlink profile makes much more sense, though, when compared to the competition (more on this in point #7 of this article).
The “Performance” chart can also paint a picture of the pace at which you’ve acquired links from unique referring domains. Any significant spikes followed by a sudden dip may indicate a negative SEO attack to be wary of. Luckily, we’ve experienced steady growth.
For a more in-depth view of your backlink profile, the Backlinks and Best by links reports are your go-tos.
With your website in good shape, the next step in the SEO process is keyword research. This boils down to picking the right keywords that can drive targeted search traffic to your website.
Our free keyword generator can help you discover 150 keyword ideas for (almost) any keyword.
Just type in a broad keyword like “drone,” hit “Find keywords,” and you’ll see the top 100 most popular keywords. And the top 50 related questions.
This tool also shows keyword-related metrics, such as search volume and Keyword Difficulty (KD) (more on this one in the next point), which can help you with choosing a worthy topic.
KEYWORD IDEAS TOO BROAD? FEED THEM BACK INTO THE GENERATOR
Let’s say you enter “drone” and the generator kicks back “drone with camera.” If you want to explore that topic further, feed it back into the generator. If you want to go even narrower, do another round.
Now that you’ve decided on your keywords, it’s time to assess how hard it would be to rank for them.
Our free keyword difficulty checker does exactly that. It estimates how hard it is to rank in the top 10 on a scale of 1 to 100, with the latter being the hardest.
For example, “drone” has a KD score of 75 out of 100, meaning it’s super hard to rank for it.
On the other hand, “drone with thermal camera for hunting” has a KD score of 3 out of 100, meaning it’s easy to rank for it.
Our keyword difficulty checker also tells you how many links from unique websites you need on average, since KD is solely based on the average number of referring domains the top 10 results have.
The higher the KD score, the more backlinks you‘ll need to increase your chances of ranking.
The next tool is helpful in understanding the SERP for any keyword and evaluating its traffic potential.
I’m talking about our free SERP checker, which shows you the top 10 results for any keyword in over 243 countries—without using a VPN. Plus a few handy SEO metrics for the top three.
For example, “drone with thermal camera for hunting” has a search volume of just 100 in the U.S.
But if you plug it into the SERP checker, the top search results get between 1K and 1.2K estimated monthly search visits. That’s 10X and 12X more than the keyword’s search volume, respectively.
This happens because top-ranking pages rarely rank for only one keyword. So using the top page’s estimated search traffic is a better way to gauge traffic potential than search volume.
ANALYZE THE SEARCH INTENT OF A TOPIC
Check out the top 10 search results to figure out the search intent of your target keyword.
In our example, it looks like the search intent is mostly informational.
By now, you should have a list filled with keywords worth targeting. It’s time for the actual hard part: writing content that searchers AND search engines want to see.
If you’re still looking for inspiration, the best place is to check your competitors via the website traffic checker.
I’ll go ahead and paste the second search result from the previous point in “Exact URL” mode and hit “Check traffic.”
Besides monitoring how the organic traffic has evolved over the past six months and where it comes from, you will also get the top five keywords that drive the most traffic to this page.
For example, “thermal imaging drone” is just another way to rephrase our topic, so you can consider covering it in your future article.
MONITOR TOP-PERFORMING PAGES
You could also search the domains of the top 10 results in “Subdomains” mode to get the top pages that drive the most organic traffic to them and reverse engineer them. Rinse and repeat for each search result.
A content gap represents topics that your competitors are covering, but you aren’t.
One common way to exploit it is to check other relevant pages that are ranking high in Google and find subtopics that you can include in your new or updated article.
Here’s where Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar comes into play.
Our toolbar is a free extension for Chrome and Firefox that provides you with valuable SEO data about the pages you visit: from checking redirects and broken links to switching SERP locations. Usually, SEO tasks like these are covered by four to six extensions, but we tackle them all using one tool.
To move on with our tactic, I’m going to open the toolbar and head to the “Content” section while being on the first search result for the keyword “drone with thermal camera for hunting.”
From here, I’ll check the subheadings to see whether we’re targeting the same topic—aside from just drone reviews. Looks like these might be subtopics we want to include:
- “Can You Hunt With A Drone?”
- “How Can Drones Help Hunters?”
- “Best Thermal Camera Drones for Hog Hunting”
We’ve only touched on the “Content” section. There are other equally (if not more) valuable sections to further explore.
Like the “Outgoing links” section, where you can (1) check the status of all the outgoing links and (2) highlight those visible on the page.
Or the local search simulator (similar to our free SERP checker) built right within the toolbar. Meaning you don’t need a VPN anymore to check SERPs outside your country—the settings will be saved whenever you perform a Google search.
Your article is done, congrats! To increase its chance of ranking higher in search, you need to build links to it.
One of the most common activities in link building is to check your competitors’ backlink profiles to see who links to them in the first place so that you can reverse engineer their tactics.
To find out, paste the URL of a page you’re competing with in our free backlink checker and you’ll get the top 100 backlinks pointing to that page.
The next step is to actually reach out to the referring domains—like bestappsfinder.com—and ask if they’ll be willing to link to you as well.
We only have 23 backlinks in our example, but you can also see other important metrics such as the total number of backlinks and domains, the referring page, the most common anchor texts, and our proprietary Domain Rating (DR) metric.
Another great way to build links is to do broken link building.
This is a popular link building tactic where you find a dead page with lots of links to it, replicate it, then ask those linking to the dead page to link to yours instead.
You can do this by using our free broken link checker.
Just type in your competitor’s domain, hit “Check links,” and head over to “Broken inbound links.” Here, you’ll see the top 10 broken pages of your target and which pages link to them.
From here, reach out to those pages and ask them to link to you instead.
Whether that’s ranking in the top 10 search results or getting more traffic, the last step lies in improving your content so it has the best chance to meet its purpose.
SEO never ends. You have to monitor how well your website ranks for your target keywords.
This can be done manually by Googling each keyword, but it can be inaccurate because Google personalizes search results. It is also time consuming as the number of keywords you target increases.
A much better way is to run your query through our free rank checker, which will not only show where you stand in the SERP but also the SERP overview for the top three search results.
The additional metrics are insightful for aligning on the search intent—if you’re ranking beyond the top three results.
Your article may be ranking high for a while. But with time, its rankings may drop. If so, revisit it, look at what went wrong, and improve your content.
To do this, run a content audit.
Our free SEO WordPress plugin automates content audits to help you spot under- and well-performing pages across your website and understand your overall content health score.
It even kicks back a series of recommendations (e.g., do nothing, update, merge, exclude, rewrite) based on a page’s ranking performance and whether or not the target keyword is unique across all pages.
Ahrefs’ free SEO tools should give enough insights to kickstart your SEO process even on a tight budget.
When your rankings and search traffic start to pick up, you can always choose one of our paid plans for a complete view of your organic and backlink profile, keyword rankings, and more.
How are you using our free tools? Let me know on Twitter. 😊