5 Ways to Conduct Keyword Research in Ahrefs (2021 Guide)

Ahrefs is one of the most powerful tools on the market for doing in-depth SEO keyword research.

With Ahrefs’ keyword research tools, you can get deeper insights into search intent, find replicable keyword strategies, and use data from crucial SEO metrics to target the right keyword.

However, most people haven’t explored all the different ways to do keyword research in this SEO tool.

In this article, we will:

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Let’s get started.

Keyword Explorer Overview

All 5 keyword research methods will involve using the Keyword Explorer.

So follow us and let us give you the grand tour!

Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer is an SEO keyword research tool that supports 171 countries and 10 different search engines.

keyword explorer page in ahrefs

To use it, simply enter a word or phrase in the Keyword Explorer search bar to get data on that keyword:

overview of keyword research in ahrefs

Let’s break this down:

  • Keyword difficulty (KD): The KD score shows you how hard it will be to rank for a specific keyword. The data is based on the current top 10 ranking articles.
  • Search volume: See how many times a specific keyword is being searched every month. Ahrefs lets you see local and global search volume data.
  • Cost per click (CPC): Get an estimate of how much advertisers are willing to pay for ad clicks in paid search results for a specific keyword.
  • Clicks: See the average monthly number of clicks on the search results for your target keyword.
  • Clicks per search (CPS): Shows you the average number of clicks that people perform after searching for a given keyword.
  • Return rate (RR): See how often the same person searches for a given keyword over 30 days.

Please note that all SEO tools, including Ahrefs, will give you estimates. Most of the time, Ahrefs’ estimates are very reliable for guiding your content and SEO strategy.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer also gives you a SERP overview report. This report lets you see the top-ranking results, along with all their SEO metrics (domain rating, backlinks, organic traffic, and more):

serp overview for keyword research in ahrefs

Additionally, Ahrefs’ SERP feature also gives you a “SERP position history” report.

This report shows you the ranking history of the pages that currently occupy the top 5 positions in the search results. You can use this data to figure if the SERP is stable or if Google is still experimenting showing different pages to find a combination that matches people’s search intent.

serp position history for keyword research in ahrefs

Ahrefs’ keyword tool also helps you identify different keyword opportunities.

For example, we entered the search query “keyword research” in Keyword Explorer, and here’s the list of keyword ideas we got:

keyword ideas page in ahrefs

Here’s a breakdown of what kind of keyword ideas the above report gives you:

  • Terms match: Ideas that contain all the terms in your main keyword (in any order).
  • Questions: Creates a list of questions related to the keywords you’re analyzing.
  • Also rank for: Pulls the top 10 ranking pages for your seed keyword and lists the other keywords that these pages rank for.
  • Also talk about: See which other SEO keywords and phrases the top-ranking pages for your target keyword frequently mention.

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As you can see, Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer gives you a lot of information to work with. However, there are a few specific things you need to look out for when you’re doing keyword research.

What Should You Look For During Keyword Research?

When doing keyword research, you should find the answers to the following questions:

  • How many people are searching for a particular term – in a particular location or globally?
  • How difficult is it to rank for the above keyword?
  • How much traffic can I expect if I do rank on Google page 1 for this keyword?
  • What websites are currently ranking for this keyword?
  • What sort of content do I have to create to rank for this keyword?
  • Could the people searching for this keyword become my customers?

Finding the right answers to the above questions will help you target the right keywords and create a profitable SEO strategy.

Now that you know what to look for, let’s see how you can find those answers in Ahrefs’ Keyword research tool.

5 Ways to Conduct Keyword Research in Ahrefs

Here are five different ways you can do keyword research in Ahrefs:

Not too familiar with Ahrefs?
Check out our Ahrefs review before you dive into its keyword research features.

Method 1: Explore Seed Keywords With The Keyword Explorer Tool

Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool can help you discover keyword ideas and dive deeper into those keywords with filters and reports.

Who is this method for?
This method is helpful if your site is still new and you’re looking for keyword ideas to add to your content calendars.

Here are a few steps you can take to find thousands of keyword ideas with Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer:

Step 1: Identify Your Seed Keywords

Before you start the keyword research process, you need to brainstorm and jot down a few ‘seed’ keywords.

A seed keyword is a search term that’s directly associated with your product or service. For example, an online pet supplies store might pick seed keywords like “dog food,” “dog collars,” “dog beds,” etc.

Why are seed keywords important?
Keyword suggestion and research tools like Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner use seed keywords to generate large lists of keywords for you. On top of that, seed keywords can help you identify your niche and competitors.

However, you don’t have to spend too much time choosing seed keywords since they aren’t necessarily the keywords you’ll directly target on your website.

Seed keywords essentially give you a broad topic that you can focus on when identifying individual keyword opportunities.

Once you have a list of seed keyword ideas, you can jump right into Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool.

Step 2: Plug Your Seed Keywords into Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer

Next, go to the Keywords Explorer tool in Ahrefs, and type in your individual keywords where each search term is separated by a comma.

For example, we entered our seed keywords: “dog food,” “dog collars,” and “dog beds,” and this is what we found:

seed keywords overview report in ahrefs

The above Overview report tells us how difficult it’ll be to rank for each keyword, the estimated search volume per month, the number of monthly clicks, and more.

You can see the details of each keyword in Keyword Explorer by clicking on them. For example, we clicked on “dog food” and here’s the detailed Overview report we got:

ahrefs overview report for dog food

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Method 2: Get Tips From the Keyword Ideas Reports

Ahrefs’ keyword tool also has powerful Keyword Ideas reports. These reports can help you build on your initial seed keywords and better understand your target audience’s search intent.

Who is this method for?
Relatively new sites with little content will find this useful. However, medium-high traffic sites can also use it while exploring new content clusters or finding niche keywords that they have not covered before.

Here’s how the reports in Keywords Explorer match keyword ideas:

  • Phrase match: These are keyword phrase ideas that contain the ‘seed’ keyword as is. For example, if your seed keyword is “dog collar,” then “leather dog collar” and “cotton dog collar” would be a match. However, “leather collar for dog” wouldn’t be a match.
  • Having the same terms: These are keyword ideas that contain words from your seed keyword in any order. Here, “leather collar for dog” would be a match for the seed keyword “dog collar.”
  • Questions: These are keyword ideas that contain terms from your seed keyword in any order. However, they also have question words like “what,” “how, “where,” etc. For example, for the seed keyword “dog collar,” a question like: “what is the best leather collar for a dog” would pop up.

Here’s how you can use the above reports to find keyword ideas:

Step 1: Go to the “Matching terms” Report 

To access these reports, simply hit the “Matching terms” report under “Keyword Ideas” in Keywords Explorer:

For example, we typed in our hypothetical seed keywords, hit Matching terms in the sidebar, and then the “Questions” report. As you can see, we found thousands of keyword ideas and topics just from one report:

matching terms report in ahrefs

The Questions report also helps you find informational queries and get insight into what kind of things your target audience wants to learn. 

Step 2: Click on the Keyword You’re Interested in to View It’s SERP Data

Next, we clicked on “what is the best dog food” to view the keyword’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) data.

serp overview for best dog food

Ahrefs’ SERP feature generates Overview reports that give you insight into search intent and the type of content you should use to target a specific keyword suggestion. 

For example, most of the ranking articles above are listicles, so it’d be a good idea for us to take a list-based content angle as well.

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Method 3: Get Ideas From The Organic Keywords and Top Pages Report

These two reports can be found in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool.

ahrefs site explorer tool

Site Explorer gives you a ton of data on any website or page. This data includes backlink analysis reports, keyword metrics, organic search traffic, and more.

Who is this method for?
All sites should use this method to keep track of their competitors’ content strategy and try to replicate it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use these two reports to find a replicable content idea:

Step 1: Identify Competitor Websites

To start this process, you’ll need to first analyze the competitive landscape and identify your competitors if you haven’t already done so.

Fortunately, you already created a list of seed keywords in the previous step. Now, simply pop those keywords into Google to see who ranks on the first page.

For example, we entered one of our seed keywords, and here are a few results from the first page:

google search results page for dog breeds

Important Note
Don’t be intimidated if you get behemoths like Amazon, Men’s Health, Capterra, or Bloomberg on the top results.
If your content strategy and execution are solid, you can outrank them on several high-volume keywords within weeks.

We regularly outrank top sites for all our clients without acquiring backlinks, and you can do the same!

Step 2: Enter Your Competitor Sites’ URLs into Ahrefs Site Explorer 

Once you find a few competitors that resemble your business type or where you want your business to go in the future, simply paste those sites into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool (one at a time).

competitor site overview report in ahrefs site explorer

Step 3: Hit the “Organic keywords” Report in the Sidebar

You can find the Organic Keywords report under “Organic Search.” This report will show you all the organic keywords your target website, subsection, or URL ranks for (In the country you’ve selected in the filter).

For example, here are the organic keywords for one of our hypothetical competitors:

organic keywords report in ahrefs

As you can see, we discovered an interesting list of keyword ideas:

  • Elevated dog bed
  • Outdoor dog bed
  • Orthopedic dog beds

Additionally, if you want to narrow down that list, you can use Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty and search volume filters.

Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty and search volume filters

For example, we wanted to find low-competition keywords, so we set the keyword difficulty score to between 0–10 and added a minimum (1K) monthly search volume filter:

 low competition organic keywords

Step 4: Hit the “Top Pages” Report in the Sidebar

The Top Pages report shows you a site’s top-ranking pages, their estimated monthly traffic, the value of that traffic, their top keywords, and more.

For example, we popped in one of our hypothetical online pet store’s competitors, and this is what we found:

top pages report

The Top Keyword column shows you the keyword that brings the most organic search traffic to that URL.

By looking at this column, we can see that we’ve found even more unique keyword ideas like:

  • Heated dog bed
  • Cooling dog bed
  • Raised dog bed

The Top Pages and Organic Keywords reports have given us some pretty unique potential keywords that we didn’t come up with in our initial brainstorming session.

In addition, if we click on the URLs in the Top Pages report, we can find some replicable content ideas.

By targeting these keywords and content ideas, we can replicate our competitors’ keyword strategy, and, if done right, we can outrank them!

An easy way to keep track of your ranking position is by using Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker tool. The rank tracking feature gives you deeper insights into your competitors’ SEO strategy and where you and your competitors rank for certain keywords.

ahref's rank tracker tool

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Method 4: Use Ahrefs Content Gap Analysis Tool

The Content Gap Analysis tool in Keyword Explorer also analyzes your competitors. 

However, the Content Gap tool helps you discover every keyword gap you might have.

Essentially, the tool highlights keywords that your competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t.

If you’ve already created content on the SEO keywords you found in the Top Pages report, then you’ll find this tool super useful. 

Who is this method for?
This approach is great if you have an established website with tons of content. This tool is a great way to find awesome keyword opportunities you’ve been missing out on.

Step 1: Enter Your Site’s URL or Domain in Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool

First, you’ll need to enter your site’s URL or domain in Site Explorer.

Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool

Step 2: Click on the Content Gap Tool in the Left Sidebar

Once you’ve clicked on the Content Gap tool, you’ll need to enter a few of your competing domains into the top section and then add your domain at the bottom.

For example, we added our hypothetical domain and competitors’ pages below:

content gap tool in ahrefs

Once we hit “Show Keywords,” this is what we found:

keywords in the content gap report

From the above keyword gap report, we can see that our competitors are targeting keywords like:

  • Personalized dog collars
  • Leather dog collars
  • Cute dog collars
  • Dog collar with name

Since the above keyword list is already bringing a lot of consistent traffic to our competitors’ sites, a great content strategy would be for us to target those keywords and reap the same benefits.

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Method 5: Identify PPC- Related Keyword Opportunities 

Checking out PPC opportunities can help you identify if your competitors are buying PPC ads and which keywords they’re bidding on. This way, you can either replicate your competitors’ PPC campaigns or drive traffic away from their PPC ads with better ad copies.

From an SEO standpoint, this will tell you which keywords your competitors consider to be the most valuable from a conversion standpoint. You can use this data to create pages or articles intended to rank on page 1 thereby saving you the expense of running Google Adwords campaigns.

What exactly is PPC?
PPC stands for pay-per-click. 

It’s an internet marketing strategy where advertisers bid on relevant keywords to place their ads in Google search results (or other platforms.)

And once someone clicks on the ad and gets sent to the advertiser’s site, the company has to pay the search engine (Google) a fee.

Who is this method for?
New sites can use this method to find conversion-centric opportunities. However, established sites also use this to keep tabs on their competitors’ marketing activities.

Fortunately, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool has “PPC Keywords” reports that can help you find great PPC opportunities: 

Step 1: Add Your Competitor’s URL into the Site Explorer Search Bar

First, you’ll need to enter one of your competitor’s domains in the search bar in Site Explorer.

Adding Your Competitor’s URL into the Site Explorer Search Bar

Step 2: Hit the “PPC Keywords” Report in the Sidebar

The PPC Keywords report can be found under “Paid Search” in Site Explorer’s sidebar. Once you click on the PPC Keywords report, you’ll see all the keywords that your target website or URL ranks for in the paid search results.

For example, here are the paid keywords of one of our hypothetical competitors:

 PPC Keywords report

Step 3: Determine If a Keyword Should Be Targeted as PPC

Paid Search can also help you decide if a keyword should be targeted as a PPC campaign, especially if paid ads with that exact keyword are receiving many clicks. 

To see this data, simply click on one of the keywords in the Paid Keywords report.

For example, once we clicked on “best dog collars,” we saw that only 8% of clicks per search for this keyword go to paid ads, so it doesn’t need to be targeted as PPC. 

keyword report for best dog collars

And if we take a look at the organic clicks, we can see that 60% of clicks go to organic search results, so tackling this keyword suggestion as a piece of content or optimizing an existing page would be a better approach than a paid search ad. 

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How to Analyze Keyword Data in Ahrefs

Now that you’ve got a long list of keywords, you need to narrow down that keyword list to find a few relevant keywords worth targeting.

To do this, you’ll need to use SEO metrics to separate the bad keywords from the most profitable ones.

Let’s explore how Ahrefs’ SEO metrics can help you do this:

1. Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty (KD) is a metric that highlights how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword. 

And while several different factors affect it, Ahrefs prioritizes the backlink profile when determining this score. That’s why it conducts a thorough backlink analysis process to give you an estimate of keyword difficulty.

Essentially, Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty score is based on the number of unique websites linking to the top 10 ranking pages.

Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty score

For example, a medium keyword difficulty score means that for your page to get to the top of the SERP, you’ll typically need to have around 11–30 backlinks (a backlink is a unique site that’s linking to your page). 

The keyword difficulty metric is important for two reasons:

  • If your site is still new, it’s a good idea to go for lower keyword difficulty terms first since high keyword difficulty terms require a strong backlink profile and a high domain authority score. However, once you’ve improved your domain authority, you’ll have a greater chance of performing well with high difficulty keywords.
  • High-KD keywords also indicate that it’s a link-worthy topic to write about. As a result, if you do an excellent job with the blog topic, you might get a ton of backlinks too. Additionally, a high KD keyword post often makes a great anchor page (a consolidated article that your other articles link to). 

Tip: Sometimes, if you craft great, reader-relevant content, you can rank for high keyword difficulty terms irrespective of how many backlinks you have. We’ve done it numerous times before!

2. Keyword Search Volume

The search volume keyword metric shows you the average number of searches per month.

You can use this data to determine the value of ranking for a particular keyword since search volume gives you an estimate of how much potential traffic a ranking article could generate for you.

For example, “what is the best dog food” has a monthly search volume of around 4.5K (in the US – our chosen country at the moment).

keyword search volume metric

However, Ahrefs Keywords Explorer doesn’t just limit you to one country when it comes to search volume. If you’ve got an international business, you can use Ahrefs’ global volume metric to get a breakdown of the top countries by the search volume. 

global volume metric in ahrefs

Gaining insight into global search volume is important because:

  • If you sell products internationally, you need to know which countries are most interested in particular topics. This way, you can create content and SEO strategies that’ll connect with potential customers in those countries.
  • The metric also helps you decide if you should target a specific keyword. For example, “dog collars” has a global search volume of 91K, and 71% of those searches are from the US alone. 

So, if you’re a US-only company, this would be a great focus keyword to target. And although your product or service might not be relevant to international buyers, the majority of the searchers are interested in what you have to offer since they’re US-based.

Because of how crucial this metric is, Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer contains a search volume filter in every Keyword Ideas report. 

keyword ideas report

Here’s why this filter is useful:

  • You can use the filter to identify keywords with an incredibly high search volume from your keyword lists. This is useful if you want to only focus on keywords that offer the highest traffic potential.
  • You can use the filter to find lower-volume, less competitive long tail keywords. 

A long tail keyword contains three or more smaller keywords and has a low search volume. They’re useful because they usually contain your main keyword as well. 

This way, you can boost your rankings for all the target keywords. Additionally, long-tail keywords convert 2.5x higher than head keywords. This is because a long tail keyword is intent-driven, more specific, and people who use them are closer to a point-of-purchase.

How Long-Tail Keywords Work

Let’s take a look at a long tail keyword like “what is the best dog food for Pitbulls.”

long tail keyword

As you can see, the keyword has a lower keyword difficulty score than “what is the best dog food” (61), and since it’s so specific, not many businesses are likely to be competing to grab the position at the top of the SERP. 

In addition, you give yourself the chance to rank for keywords like “dog food for Pitbulls,” “food for Pitbulls,” and “best dog food” since they’re all part of the long-tail keyword.

3. Clicks

The clicks metric in Keywords Explorer tells us the average number of clicks per month that a given keyword gets.

This is an essential metric because people sometimes search Google for something but won’t click on a link.

A search engine like Google provides answer boxes for some search queries. For example, if you search “how much does a pitbull weigh,” Google answers your question right away, so there’s no need to click on any other search result.

google search answer for how much a pitbull weighs

Now, back to clicks.
For example, here’s what we found on the query “dog beds”:

clicks volume for dog beds query

As you can see, “dog beds” gets searched around 72K times a month in the US, and it gets 71K clicks. This data tells us that it’s a promising focus keyword to target since most people click on the top-ranking pages.

4. Traffic Potential

Let’s take our above keyword phrase: “dog beds.” 

Keywords Explorer tells us that the query gets an estimated 72K searches and 71K clicks per month.

However, according to Ahrefs, your average top-ranking page (for any keyword) also ranks in the top 10 search results for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords. 

So, If you rank for your target keyword “dog beds,” you’re most probably also going rank for related keywords like:

  • Dog bed
  • Beds for dogs
  • Pet beds
  • Dog bedding

This means that you’re selling yourself short by estimating your total traffic potential from a single keyword.

To get an accurate estimate of your actual search traffic, you need to check out how much traffic the current top-ranking pages are getting.

For example, the top-ranking page for “dog beds” gets around 21K visits per month and ranks for over 2,800 related keywords:

actual search traffic

Although the search volume of any given keyword will often match up with the topic’s overall traffic potential, this data can still help you make informed decisions about your SEO keyword strategy.

5. Cost Per Click (CPC)

The cost per click (CPC) metric in Keywords Explorer shows you how much advertisers are willing to pay for every ad click from a specific keyword.

Although advertisers usually monitor this metric, CPC can also help SEO and content marketing teams understand the value and competitiveness of a target keyword, especially when this data is combined with Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty scores.

For example, “best dog beds” has a low CPC of $2. A low CPC indicates that there’s minimal competition and that it’s a profitable keyword to target as an ad since you’ll most likely earn more money than you spent. 

cpc metric in ahrefs keyword explorer

So, is this the right keyword to go for?

Well, let’s take a look at what we know: our target keyword, “best dog beds,” has a keyword difficulty score of 47, which means that it’s a link-worthy topic to write about, and the CPC data has shown us that there’s low ad competition.

As a result, it’s an effective keyword that’s worth targeting with an organic content format.

However, note that the CPC metric in Ahrefs’ keyword research tool is just an estimated value. This is because CPC can change on the fly as competition for the given keyword increases or decreases.

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Key Takeaways

Although keyword research seems like a daunting task, with Ahrefs’ keyword research tools, you’ll have all the help you need throughout the keyword research process. 

And the sooner you get the hang of an SEO tool like Ahrefs, the sooner you can reap the rewards of high-quality keyword research.

And when it comes to high-quality keyword research, it’s best to leave it to the experts.

If you need help with your keyword research and content marketing strategy, just connect with the SEO experts at Startup Voyager. We can give you useful keyword research tips, help you implement your SEO strategy, and boost your site’s online presence.

About the author

Peter Banerjea is Co-Founder of Startup Voyager, a content and SEO agency with offices in UK, Canada and India. Startup Voyager helps startups rapidly scale up their organic traffic by 4x-20x a year. His work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Inc and Lifehacker.

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