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How Accurate Are the Search Traffic Estimations in Ahrefs? (New Research)

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One of the most common use cases of Ahrefs is to check how much organic search traffic a given website (or webpage) gets.

It is widely known that the search traffic numbers in Ahrefs are merely estimations. But how far do they deviate from the actual traffic numbers?

We decided to run a small study and try to quantify that.

What to expect from Ahrefs’ traffic estimations

Before I share the results of our study with you, I think it is quite important that you understand how Ahrefs traffic estimates are calculated in the first place.

Here’s what it looks like in a nutshell:

  1. Take all keywords that a website ranks for
  2. Pull the monthly search volume of each keyword
  3. Look up that website’s ranking position for each keyword
  4. Predict the CTR for each of their search snippets
  5. Sum up clicks from each keyword and compute the total estimated monthly search traffic

Can you tell at which step the discrepancies kick in? (Hint: each one)

  • Keywords – It is practically impossible to know all the keywords that a given website is ranking for.
  • Monthly search volumes – These aren’t particularly precise either (see our recent study).
  • Ranking positions – The SERPs are very volatile. Today, your page ranks #3; a day later, it ranks #4.
  • CTR – It is incredibly hard to predict the CTR of a page on a SERP. There are just too many factors to consider: search intent, ads, SERP features, brand affinity, etc.

As you can tell, the data that we (or any other SEO tool) use for computing the search traffic estimations has many issues that are nearly impossible to fix. And these issues inevitably affect the quality of the resulting traffic estimations.

And yet, even though our traffic estimations may deviate from the actual data quite a bit, they’re still good enough to be of immense value for digital marketing professionals of all kinds.

Especially so when one understands how these values are being computed (which you do now) and can, therefore, factor in some level of discrepancy while using that data (more on that later).

So that aside, let’s finally see the results of our research.

How accurate are Ahrefs’ search traffic estimations?

This very study is inspired by the good folks at AuthorityHacker. They recently performed research comparing the quality of search traffic estimations from six different SEO tools.

In their study, Ahrefs turned out to be the winner (with an average discrepancy of 22.5% and 0.99 correlation with GSC data).

Results from Authority Hacker's study where Ahrefs came out on top.

But that study was done on a small sample of just 50 websites. So we decided to replicate it on a larger scale and see how the numbers change.

In our study, we took 1,635 random websites and compared their monthly GSC traffic in the U.S. to their monthly U.S. organic traffic estimates in Ahrefs.

We studied the same two factors:

  1. How much Ahrefs’ traffic estimations deviate from GSC
  2. How consistent our traffic estimations are when compared to GSC

Deviation

In our studied sample of 1,635 websites, the median deviation turned out to be 49.52%.

In other words, most of the time you can expect Ahrefs to misreport a website’s U.S. traffic by up to half of its value.

This may seem like a lot. But in reality, the margin of our error largely depends on the type of website and the industry the site is in. For some websites, we are off by less than 5%. For some others, we can be off by more than 1,000%.

But more often than not, our estimates are rather good:

The median deviation between Ahrefs' traffic estimations and GSC is 49.52%.The median deviation between Ahrefs' traffic estimations and GSC is 49.52%.

To put our median deviation of 49.52% in perspective, we also calculated it for SEMrush, and it turned out to be 68.36%.

Consistency

Here’s what the “consistency” of traffic estimations refers to:

If one website gets more traffic than the other website (according to GSC data), that should hold true when looking at Ahrefs’ data (regardless of the accuracy of the estimates).

As you may have already guessed, this can be studied by calculating the good old correlation between the two sets of values.

In our sample size of 1,635 websites, the monthly GSC traffic in the U.S. correlated with that of Ahrefs’ at 0.76 (Pearson’s). This means that the above statement will hold true in the vast majority of cases.

Sidenote.

In case you’re unfamiliar with correlations, “1” means that the two sets of values are in perfect sync. And 0.76 is pretty close to 1.

Ahrefs' traffic estimates strongly correlate with GSC traffic.Ahrefs' traffic estimates strongly correlate with GSC traffic.

As for SEMRush, theirs was 0.74 for the same set of websites.

A workaround for manually fixing the discrepancy

As you just learned, Ahrefs can be off by a rather considerable amount when estimating a website’s traffic. But at the same time, it is highly consistent in its traffic estimations. Even more so if the websites you’re comparing belong to the same industry.

What this means is that you can better estimate the actual search traffic of your competitors by using this simple formula:

The formula for fixing traffic estimate discrepancies. The formula for fixing traffic estimate discrepancies.

The relationship between GSC traffic and Ahrefs traffic for your own website should hold roughly true for your competitors’ (given that they’re in the same niche as you). So more often than not, using this formula should produce a pretty accurate result.

Final words

Hopefully, this helped you folks understand what you can expect from Ahrefs’ search traffic estimations and how to work around the discrepancy to get much more accurate data.

But most important of all, the results of this research will now serve as a reference point for our product team on our quest to further improve the accuracy of our estimations. Even though it is technically impossible to make them perfect, there’s still quite a bit of room for improvement—which we can try to address.

As always, should you have any comments or questions, you can find me on Twitter.

P.S. Big thanks to Alex from our Data Science team for helping me with this.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.

Sidenote.

This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

By regularly reviewing the search terms report, you can refine your marketing budget to make your Google Ads campaigns more effective.

Using this report to make data-driven decisions that fine-tune multiple facets of campaign management leads to more effective ad spending, higher conversions, and ultimately higher ROI.

More resources: 


Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock

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