Competitive analysis with ahrefs: How we scaled the LinguaLift blog to 80,000 readers

Today, I’m going to introduce you to a new tool which I’m sure will quickly become a go-to resource in your marketing arsenal.

The website is called ahrefs, and you can use it for everything from analysis of your existing marketing efforts, through research on best advertisement copy, to inspiration for new topics you should cover on your blog.

Below, I’ll show you just a few of the powerful ways how ahrefs can help you do your job, with examples of how we used it to get the LinguaLift blog to over 80,000 monthly readers.

Link building and outreach

There are many ways how you can use ahrefs to find influencers in your field who could be potential affiliates, or ready to share your content.

For example, you can use the Content Explorer section to find top-performing articles around the internet, covering a specific topic:

Let’s look at an example from the above search:

Hah! That post sounds very similar to our language learning resources list over at LinguaLift. This is a clear opportunity to find new ways to promote our page both through social media, and link building (a leading factor in ranking for search terms in the Organic keywords tab — keywords you are looking to rank for yourself).

Backlinks

If you click Details, then Backlinks, you’ll get a full list of websites linking to that post. Go through it, and where it appears that there is a chance some of your own blog posts could be relevant, reach out to the website and ask for a link. You might also come across potential affiliates and publications to guest post for in the process.

Don’t waste time on unknown personal blogs and websites. You can use the URL Ranking (UR) and Domain Ranking (DR) to get some, although imperfect, sense of importance and prioritize your outreach efforts.

Social media

You can click the Pinterest share count and the Who tweeted button to get a list of boards and users who have shared the post. Reach out to relevant influencers with lots of followers to share your content. You can scale this further by selecting popular posts in bulk in the navigation bar:

Tip: Make a spreadsheet with a list of Twitter & Pinterest users, follower count, status of your outreach, count of their shares of our content, etc.

Tip 2: You can then use this list to get a better sense of your marketing personas, their interests, best time to tweet, related followers, and so on.

Media and guest blogger outreach

You can also do more advanced filtering in the Content Explorer. You can find all options under Advanced search, so I’ll just cover the author: modifier here.

Let’s say I found an article on Huffington Post covering language learning, such as Feed me English: Commensality and Learning Foreign Languages by Fabio Parasecoli. Could it be that Sam specializes in language-related articles and could guest blog on LinguaLift? Or maybe he is responsible for the language section at HuffPost and would be a good contact to approach if we wanted to get LinguaLift featured in their publication? Let’s find out!

Nope, looks like he is a resident writer specializing in culinary topics, and just decided to wander into language learning this one time.

Content planning and SEO

You are probably not BuzzFeed, or Huffington Post. That is, you cannot survive off social sharing and you don’t have a need to churn an endless stream of content to satisfy your readers and advertisers. Instead, you’r probably better off concentrating on long-form, evergreen articles covering a specific, niche topic.

Social media promotion is important when you publish an article, but practice shows that unless the blog post can be found on Google afterwards, it will disappear into the ether.

Readership of one of the blog posts at LinguaLift.

For the post above, interest has been limited from the get go, which points to deeper issues with the article. Nevertheless, it is a good example of visits flatlining a month after the post was published.

First, it is quite simply sad to see potentially valuable content go unnoticed. Second, this constitutes an immense waste of money. From authoring, through editing and illustrating, to promotion, the average blog post costs us hundreds of dollars.

To justify its existence, an article must lead to a cumulative increase in relevant, organic traffic. To be a truly good investment, that traffic should grow over time as more people find the content, link to it, and share it with their followers.

Although it is not always possible to predict whether a piece of content will succeed or fail, careful planning and analysis of interest in a particular topic can significantly improve the chance of good outcome.

Let’s take a look at how ahrefs can help you identify topics that are of interest to your potential customers, yet have not been covered well enough in other sources.

Competitive keywords research

Still in the Content Explorer, you can click through to the Organic keywords tab which will show you a list of most popular search terms the blog post ranks for.

First, if you have an existing article covering this topic, this list can point out niche facets that draw significant traffic, but are not covered by your blog post sufficiently in depth, or at all.

For example, at LinguaLift, we noticed that our competitor for the keyword i love you in japanese also ranks well for how to write i love you in Japanese. This gave us the idea to add a new section to our existing article, covering the correct stroke order of 愛 to capture that traffic. Alternatively, we could have written an entire in-depth post on this one topic to have an even stronger advantage.

Second, this list can also serve as inspiration for new blog posts on niche (long-tail) content covering subtopics of a larger theme in greater detail. This can be an easy way to outrank the more general blog posts, even from large and powerful competitors, on a few less competitive keywords.

Tip: To prioritize, use the average monthly search Volume column in the screen above, combined with the Keywords Difficulty (KD) of a particular search term. You will have to click View all # keywords at the bottom of the list to view KDs. Anything under ~10 KD should be easy to rank for.

Keyword explorer

One of the most useful keyword research tools is Google Autocomplete, because the variations not only give you longer-tail, more specific terms to target in new or existing content, but also provide a window into user intent.

The Keyword Explorer allows you to scale this process by pulling Autocomplete suggestions and pairing them with search volume and competitiveness data of Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

To get started, enter a broad keyword idea into the search box, and you’ll get a list of long-tail variations together with search Volume and Keyword Difficulty to get a sense of whether it’s worth trying to rank for these topics.

I would also recommend clicking the SERP button to see the top 10 results on Google for the particular keyword. If you see that some of these pages are outdated, short, low quality or from small and unknown websites (ideally a combination of all four!), there is a good chance you could outrank them by writing a more thorough and useful piece on the topic.

Tip: The CPC (Cost Per Click) column can also be interesting. This is the price advertisers are willing to pay per click on this keyword, which can be a weak indicator of purchase intent of the searcher.

Site-by-site top content

Another way to benefit from your competitors’ experience is to analyze their top content on a site-by-site basis. This is where Site Explorer, ahrefs’s most powerful tool, comes in. Let’s take a look at The Mozzofanti Guild, a language learning blog by Donovan Nagel:

In the screenshot above, you can see that almost all of mezzoguild’s traffic comes from just a handful of blog posts. This is the case for most websites.

Donovan’s best performing posts are:

  • Rosetta Stone review
  • Pimsleur review
  • Rocket Languages review
  • Being fluent in your target language
  • Korean is easy
  • Semitic languages are easy

His story of courting an Egyptian girl is also popular, but for all the wrong reasons, so we can ignore it for now 😉

As before, take note of keyword difficulties, traffic from each search term, and other pages in the top ten for each promising keyword to decide what to act on. Of course, also keep in mind how the topic fits into your wider narrative, how relevant potential traffic would be to your product, and whether there are any conflicts of interest involved.

One conclusion we can draw from the Mezzofanti Guild analysis is that language software reviews are highly popular searches (we have further confirmation for that based on the immense popularity of our Rosetta Stone review). They also appear to be easy to rank for, lead to traffic highly relevant to our product, and often indicate purchase intent. In other words, we should do more thorough, objective reviews of our competitors.

As an aside… A short story from Scientific Advertising, a classic book on marketing:
An advertiser suffered much from substitution. He said, “Look out for substitutes,” “Be sure you get this brand,” etc., with no effect. Those were selfish appeals.
Then he said, “Try our rivals’ too” — said it in his headlines. He invited comparisons and showed that he did not fear them. That corrected the situation. Buyers were careful to get the brand so conspicuously superior that its maker could court a trial of the rest.

Another conclusion is that many people ask how easy or difficult a particular language is. Notice that we’ve seen similar searches in our earlier keyword research. hardest language to learn and easiest langauges to learn are some of the most popular search terms in this category. Confirmation across different tools is a great indicator that you’re onto something valuable!

Doing similar analysis on different sites in your industry will lead to very different results, which makes this an invaluable, and almost infinite source of inspiration for content proven to be of interest to a large number of people.

Tip: The video below shows you a nice trick using related: to help you compile a list of sites similar to yours, and how to analyze your competitiveness against them:

Backlink analysis

As we’ve discussed earlier, Keyword Difficulty and monthly search Volume are important metrics to estimate how valuable a particular search term can be, and how likely we are to outrank others in search results.

We can do little about search volume (watch Creating Demand Whiteboard Friday for some ways around it), but you can strengthen your chances for ranking for highly competitive keywords.

Part of the equation is the quality of the content. The article must be deep, well researched, covering every aspect of the topic discussed. This tends to mean long form, but it is perfectly possibly to write a shallow 3,000 words blog post and Google will notice.

The other factor is the authority of the page, largely dependent on the number, relevance and authority of other websites linking to it. This shows the importance of active outreach following the publication of a new blog post. You must try to get as many reputable, third-party blogs to refer to your content as possible.

Tip: To see the strength of competing pages and domains as you search, install the Ahrefs SEO Toolbar

An important detail to note, is that links to individual subpages all strengthen the authority of your domain as a whole. That is, a successful article that draws a lot of media attention helps you improve search ranking for all other pages on your site.

This explains why major websites can sometimes rank for seemingly irrelevant keywords and with low quality content.

  • The higher your overall domain authority, based on quality backlinks to all of your content, the higher the Keyword Difficulty you can aspire to compete for.

What this means is that you can supplement high quality, long form content that could rank for lucrative keywords with occasional bootlicking blog posts with the goal of attracting backlinks from influencers, and even competitors.

A good example are roundups of innovators in a particular industry. With good presentation and outreach, there is a good chance that many of them will be happy to mention the list on their blogs.

To find ideas for blog posts that have the potential to attract a large number of backlinks, head to the Best by links section of the Site Explorer.

In the example from the Mezzofanti Guild, we can see that his roundup of 25 prolific language learning bloggers has attracted 25 backlinks, or a link from every single person featured on the list! I’m sure that considerable effort has gone into nudging and reminding each person to finally share and link to the post, but the roundup itself likely did not take very long to compile.

Inversely, to find sites and pages likely to link to your content if you reach to them, search for a competitor’s blog post, then head to the Blacklinks section of the Site Explorer.

Here are some examples of pages linking to Donovan’s Arabic listening resources blog post:

Could you get them to link to your blog posts? Approach as affiliates? Guest post?

For a cleaner list of blog posts referring to a particular page, you can also check out the Top referring content section:

Paid advertisement

Ever felt like giving up? How do your mediocre competitors drive all their traffic with lame content marketing full of mistakes and outdated information? You’d think twice about reading that crap even if they paid you!

Oh, wait… maybe they do?

The Paid Search section tells you all the keywords your competitors advertise on, including the number of searches each keyword gets, the difficulty of ranking for it organically, and even previews of each individual ad copy and landing page.

You can also look at the top performing ads, and how much they cost per click:

Wow! 😮

$7.28 just to get a Japanese learner to visit their site! Either they are burning money, or their conversion rate is sky high.

Tracking how we perform

Once you go through the tiring process of authoring in-depth content, covering every facet people are searching for, and promoting it to influencers around the web, it would be good to know whether all that work is paying off.

There are three ways to go about it.

Rank tracker

The keyword tracker is the best place to monitor your progress for search terms you’re trying to rank for. Whenever you publish a new blog post, manually add the main keywords you’re trying to rank them for to see how things evolve. Remember that it can take many months for a page to climb up the rankings!

Organic keywords

A post may rank for surprising keywords which you couldn’t have though of in advance. These often present opportunities to expand the content to improve your positions for these terms.

To take note of that, go to the Organic keywords section of the Site Explorer for your domain.

Above you can see that LinguaLift unexpectedly ranks for such keywords as death numbers and rosetta stone japanese torrent. Does it mean we should add illegal download links to our reviews? Probably not, but you get the picture 😄

Alerts

Finally, you can set up Alerts for new backlinks, keywords and mentions of your site and brand.

This can be a good way to keep a quick eye on how you’re doing without clicking through every section of ahrefs each evening.

Where to go next

I hope this gives you a taste of what ahrefs is capable of, and how to better promote your blog and website. There are many more advanced tactics you could explore, and I encourage you to do so.

I’ll leave you with a links to a few examples below:

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