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Local SEO: The Complete Guide

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Local SEO: The Complete Guide

Local SEO is the way forward if you want to get more customers to your local business from organic search.

But what is local SEO, how does it work, and which ranking factors matter?

In this guide, you’ll learn how to rank your business on local search to get more customers through your door.

Chapter 1. Local SEO basics

First, let’s explore what local SEO is, why it matters, and how it differs from “regular” SEO.

What is local SEO?

Local SEO is the practice of improving your online presence to get more business from local searches. These searches take place on many search engines, but local SEO focuses on optimizing for Google users.

Why is local SEO important?

Local SEO is important because many people use search engines to find local businesses.

In fact, according to Google:

  • 30% of all mobile searches are related to location.
  • 78% of people who search for something nearby on their phones visit the business within a day.
  • 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase.

In short, customers are searching for your business. If you’re not there, you’re leaving money on the table.

How does local SEO work?

Local SEO is a game of two halves because Google shows two types of search results for local searches. These are “map pack” results and organic “blue link” results. You can rank on both of them.

Infographic of types of results on Google SERP

Map pack results

The map pack (aka local pack) is a Google SERP feature that shows the top local business listings and a map. It often appears at the very top of Google’s search results for local searches.

Organic search results

The “regular” organic search results are the “10 blue links” that we’re all familiar with. They usually appear below the “map pack” results.

Chapter 2. Local SEO keyword research

Local keyword research is the process of understanding how people search for the local services you offer.

It’s important because you want to optimize for what people search for. 

Let’s go through how to do this.

1. Find service-based keywords

Most people don’t think about the different ways that others may search for what they do.

For example, if you’re a plumber, some customers will find you by typing “plumber” into Google. But others will search for queries relating to specific services like “drain unblocking.”

For that reason, you should begin by brainstorming and listing the services you offer. This will help you maximize your presence for queries your customers are searching for.

Here’s what that can look like for a plumber:

  • Drain unblocking
  • Boiler repair
  • Boiler installation
  • Boiler servicing
  • Radiator installation
  • Burst pipe repair

To expand this list, use the service keywords as “seeds” to find more services people are searching for.

For example, if we plug the services above into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and check the Matching terms report, we see keywords like:

  • gas boiler installation
  • combi boiler installation
  • electric boiler installation

Matching terms report results

If you offer those services, you may also want to consider targeting these keywords.

Here’s another way to find “missed” keywords:

Plug a competing business into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, go to the Top pages report, and look for URLs that map to services.

Top pages report results

2. Check search volumes

​​Keyword research tools show you national search volumes. If you want search volumes for your state, city, or town, you’ll have to use Google Keyword Planner.

GKP results with location turned on

Unfortunately, Keyword Planner has its issues:

  1. It shows broad search volume ranges (e.g., 1K-10K), not absolute numbers.
  2. It groups keywords and shows a combined rounded search volume.

For that reason, checking the relative popularity of keywords at the national level tends to be more productive. This is because what happens in one city is likely to be similar in the next.

You can do this with a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

For example, the tool tells us that more people search for “boiler repair” than “boiler installation” in the U.K.:

Keyword Explorer search results

This is probably the case whichever city we’re in, so it’s an excellent way to prioritize keywords.

3. Check for local intent

Local intent means that searchers want to shop nearby. If that isn’t the case for your services, it’s not a local SEO opportunity.

To check a query for local intent, Google it and check the results.

If there’s a map pack and/or some local “blue link” results, it has local intent.

Google SERP for "boiler installation"; map pack and "blue link" result can be seen

If there are no map pack and local “blue link” results, it doesn’t have local intent.

No map pack and no local "blue link" results

You can still target keywords without local intent, but it’s not a job for local SEO.

4. Assign keywords to pages

Your homepage is unlikely to rank for all your service keywords. So you’ll need to target some with separate pages.

To assign keywords to URLs, think about which services they map to.

If they map to very different services, such as “boiler installation” and “burst pipe repair,” assign them to separate pages.

If they map to the same service, such as “drain unblocking” and “drain unclogging,” assign them to the same page.

You can learn more about this process in our local keyword research guide below.

Learn more: How to Do Local Keyword Research

Chapter 3. Local SEO ranking factors

You may recall that local SEO is a game of two halves because there are two ways to rank. The first is the map pack, and the second is the “regular” organic results.

Ranking factors vary depending on where you want to rank—but some are important for both.

Venn diagram showing some ranking factors "overlap," i.e., some factors are important to both "map pack" and "regular" results

Below, we’ll look at what SEOs believe are the most important factors for each.

Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business)

A Google Business Profile is a local listing with information about your business. It’s free and allows your business to appear in the map pack and Google Maps.

What SEOs say

In all, 36% of SEOs think your Google Business Profile is the most important ranking factor for the map pack. And 6% believe that it’s important for the “regular” organic results. That’s according to BrightLocal’s survey.

Bar graph showing percentage of SEOs who think GBP is most important ranking factor for "map pack" and "regular" results, respectively

This isn’t surprising, as you need a Google Business Profile to stand any chance of ranking on the map pack.

Business Profile signals are increasing in their perceived importance for the map pack over time too.

Table showing perceived importance of GBP signals over time for map pack and "regular" results, respectively

Beyond rankings, Google states that customers are 70% more likely to visit businesses with a complete Business Profile. They’re also 50% more likely to consider buying from them. So it’s clear that a complete and optimized Business Profile is essential if you want to attract more business.

Best practices

Many of these best practices come from Google itself:

  • Be specific when setting your business category
  • Set your business hours (including holiday hours)
  • Add your address (if you have a storefront)
  • Set your service area (if you visit or deliver to customers and clients)
  • Add the products or services you offer
  • Add photos
  • Ask customers for reviews

Learn more: How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing in 30 Minutes

NAP citations

A NAP citation mentions your business’s name, address, and phone number online. They usually appear on business directories and social media profiles.

Sidenote.

There are also NAPW citations that mention your website. 

What SEOs say

BrightLocal’s 2021 study shows that 7% of SEOs think citations are the most important ranking factor. That’s true for both the “map pack” and “regular” results.

Bar graph showing percentage of SEOs who think citations are most important ranking factor for "map pack" and "regular" results, respectively

In other words, they’re somewhat important—but not as important as they used to be.

The perceived importance of citations among SEOs has been declining since 2014.

Table showing perceived importance of citation signals over time for map pack and "regular" results, respectively

That said, citations can still help searchers discover your business online. This is because directories often rank on the search results for local queries. So if you’re in those directories, the people who click on them in the search results may find your business. 

Best practices

  • Get listed with big data aggregators (in the U.S., these are Data Axle, Localeze, and Foursquare)
  • Submit to other big players (in the U.S., these include Apple Maps, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Bing Places, and Facebook)
  • Submit to other popular directories in your local area and industry
  • Keep your citations consistent (same name, address, phone number) everywhere

Learn more: How to Build Local Citations (Complete Guide)

TIP

Here’s a quick way to find industry and local directories:

  1. Paste your homepage into Site Explorer
  2. Go to Link Intersect
  3. Enter the homepages of a few competing businesses in your area
  4. Set the search mode to “URL” for all targets
  5. Click “Show link opportunities”

This will show you sites linking to one or more of your competitors, but not you.

Link Intersect report results

If a website links to many competitors, it’s probably a directory where you can also add a listing.

Reviews 

Reviews refer to the quantity and quality of reviews on your Google Business Profile and elsewhere online.

What SEOs say

BrightLocal’s 2021 study shows that 17% of SEOs deem reviews the most important ranking factor for map pack rankings. But only 5% see them as most important for regular organic rankings.

Bar graph showing percentage of SEOs who think reviews are most important ranking factor for "map pack" and "regular" results, respectively

Reviews have also grown in their perceived importance for map pack rankings over the past few years.

Table showing perceived importance of reviews over time for map pack and "regular" results, respectively

But reviews aren’t only about rankings. Getting reviews on your Google Business Profile and elsewhere builds trust with Google and customers.

Best practices

Many of these best practices for getting more reviews come from Google itself:

  • Remind customers to leave reviews (you can create and share a review link in Google Business Manager)
  • Focus on getting reviews on your Google Business Profile
  • Respond to reviews to build trust (you’ll need a verified Google Business Profile to do this)
  • Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews (it’s against Google’s terms)
  • Don’t discourage bad reviews or request good reviews from customers (it’s against Google’s terms)

Links

Links act like votes for your site from other websites.

What SEOs say

BrightLocal’s study shows that 31% of SEOs deem links the most important signal for ranking on regular organic search. And 13% think the same for map pack rankings.

Bar graph showing percentage of SEOs who think links are most important ranking factor for "map pack" and "regular" results, respectively

For many, this won’t come as much of a surprise. In 2016, Google said that backlinks are one of their top three ranking factors. Plus, many studies have found a strong correlation between links and organic traffic.

Line graph showing the more referring domains, the higher the search traffic

Links are increasing in their perceived importance for “regular” local rankings over time too. But their perceived importance for “map pack” rankings has stayed roughly the same.

Table showing perceived importance of links over time for map pack and "regular" results, respectively

Best practices

  • Get links from other top-ranking sites
  • Get links your competitors have (use Ahrefs’ Link Intersect tool for this)
  • Get local citations (these often have links)
  • Claim unlinked mentions
  • Reclaim lost links by redirecting old versions of your pages to new versions

Learn more: 9 Easy Local Link Building Tactics

On-page

On-page SEO is where you make changes to the content of a page to help it rank higher on organic search results.

What SEOs say

BrightLocal’s study shows that 34% of SEOs think on-page signals are the most important factor for regular organic search. And 16% believe it’s the most important factor for map pack rankings.

Bar graph showing percentage of SEOs who think on-page SEO is most important ranking factor for "map pack" and "regular" results, respectively

On-page signals are also growing in their perceived importance for local SEO. You can see this from the results of BrightLocal’s previous surveys.

Table showing perceived importance of on-page SEO over time for map pack and "regular" results, respectively

Best practices

TIP

One way to find details that matter to searchers is to check what top-ranking pages in your area talk about. You can do this by looking at the pages. Or you can use Keywords Explorer to find keywords mentioned on the top-ranking pages.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Enter [service keyword] [location] (e.g., “boiler repair london”)
  2. Go to the Related terms report
  3. Hit the toggles for “Also talk about” and “Top 10”
Related terms report results

Here are some of the frequently mentioned keywords on the top-ranking pages for “boiler repair london” and what they likely infer:

  • gas safe” – Searchers probably want an engineer who’s on the Gas Safe Register, the official gas safety body in the U.K.
  • greater london” – Searchers probably want to know whether the business supplies this service in their area.
  • gas boiler” – Searchers probably want to know whether the business can repair their type of boiler.
  • emergency call” – Searchers probably want to know whether the business does emergency callouts.

It would be worth mentioning these things on your page.

Recommended reading: On-Page SEO: Complete Beginner’s Guide

Chapter 4. Local SEO tools

Let’s bring things to a close with a few local SEO tools you may find useful.

Google Business Manager

Google Business Manager, formerly Google My Business, is how you manage your Google Business Profile. Signing up for it is completely free and is something every local business owner should use.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool for monitoring your website’s search performance. It tells you how much search traffic you’re getting, where it’s going, and what keywords it’s coming from.

Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker

Rank Tracker lets you track up to 10,000 keyword rankings for “regular” organic search by country, state, city, and even ZIP/postal code.

Ahrefs Link Intersect

Our Link Intersect tool lets you find websites that link to multiple competitors. This is useful for finding relevant local and industry-specific citations.

Grid My Business

Grid My Business shows map pack ranking positions for a keyword in the area around your business. It’s freemium and is useful for understanding if and where local searchers are likely to see your business.

Yext

Yext is a tool for syncing and managing business information across multiple listings. It’s useful for keeping citations consistent, although you can do this manually.

Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword research tool from Google. It’s a useful source of search volume ranges at the local level.

Keep learning

Hopefully, you now have a pretty good understanding of how local SEO works. If you want to dig deeper and continue learning, check out these resources:

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8 Ahrefs API Use Cases For Agencies and Enterprises

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8 Ahrefs API Use Cases For Agencies and Enterprises

It’s no secret that APIs are a major time saver. They help automate many marketing tasks from creating reports to forecasting SEO opportunities.

They can also improve operational efficiency and provide insights for executives to make better decisions, faster.

Here are the top 8 use cases of our API and how you can leverage actionable SEO and website data in a jiffy.

Reporting is by far the biggest use case of our API. It is ideal for:

  • Building executive dashboards
  • Creating visuals for internal reports
  • Creating scorecards
  • Monitoring your search visibility for key segments
  • Monitoring website health over time

You can warehouse the data yourself and mix it with other sources, or you can visualize it with business intelligence tools like Tableau, Power BI, or even just Google Sheets.

For example, we use the API to pull referring domain data for our blog and aggregate by author. We have some nice little sparklines to visualize growth (or decline), too.

We also combine referring domain data with data from other sources like GSC.

For example, this view shows us actual traffic data from GSC alongside the number of followed DR40+ referring domains for each post:

Pulling referring domain data from Ahrefs API and merging with data from GSCPulling referring domain data from Ahrefs API and merging with data from GSC

No matter what reporting tools you use internally, we’ve made it easy to integrate many Ahrefs graphs and visuals directly into your dashboard so you can build similar reports.

Just use this nifty API button in any report with data that you’d like to pull into your internal dashboards:

Use the API button in Ahrefs to easily pull data with the APIUse the API button in Ahrefs to easily pull data with the API

The true power of using our API for reporting is how it helps you keep your finger on the pulse of every area of your business so you can make better decisions faster.

We recommend building reports to monitor the performance of the following:

  • Each of your business units
  • Different product lines and services
  • Custom segmentation
  • Individual authors and contributors

It’s the best way to identify underperforming or underresourced products and teams. These dashboards can also help you get SEO buy-in from executives so they approve new projects or budget increases.

If you ever need to pull big SEO data and mix it however you like, our API is the tool for the job. It can help with:

  • Large-scale SEO analysis
  • Enterprise audits
  • Data studies
  • SEO testing
  • Content inventory creation
  • Building outreach lists
  • And more

As with most APIs, the best part is that you can pull the data into almost any tool you’re already working with.

For example, say you have a massive list of websites for which you want to pull metrics like Domain Rating (DR). You can do this for up to 200 websites with Batch Analysis—but you can pull the metric for as many URLs as you like with the API.

Here’s a simple example in Google Sheets:

Pulling DR with the APIPulling DR with the API

Alternatively, say you want to enrich your content inventory by pulling the keyword data. Specifically, the keyword sending the most organic traffic to each URL, its ranking position, and the estimated traffic it sends. The API makes it possible to do this at the touch of a button.

Pulling keyword data with the APIPulling keyword data with the API

These are overly simple examples. You can pull as much or as little data as you want to suit pretty much any requirements. You can even mix and match data from Site Explorer, Site Audit, Keywords Explorer, and Rank Tracker.

The true power of an API kicks in when you automate strategic tasks that cannot easily be scaled manually and can be done better when you automate them.

It’s the secret to taking your strategies to the next level, especially for enterprise SEO projects.

For instance, you can automate many link building workflows like triggering alerts and actions based on discovering new or lost links.

Example link building workflow you could build with the Ahrefs APIExample link building workflow you could build with the Ahrefs API

You can also automate technical workflows like finding pages to redirect. On large websites, this can be an overwhelming task to do manually. A simple workflow you can consider instead might look like:

Example technical workflow you could build with the Ahrefs APIExample technical workflow you could build with the Ahrefs API

Sidenote.

If this use case sounds interesting, feel free to check out this free redirect-matching script created by our technical SEO genius, Patrick Stox. Once configured, it automatically runs through the above process for you.

The opportunities for automated workflows that harness our SEO API really are endless. We’ve seen folks use our API to:

  • Pull keywords into internal systems and tag them based on products, services, locations, or business units they relate to.
  • Pull domain metrics for domain buying.
  • Combine SEO data with Google Ads data to lower ad costs.
  • And so much more.

Many agency sales teams, digital investors, and B2B business development managers use our API data to assist with things like:

  • Lead scoring and enrichment
  • Qualifying prospects
  • Finding advertising partners
  • Doing due diligence on companies

For example, let’s say you’re evaluating the following companies as prospects for a new marketing product or service you’re launching.

Example of lead scoring with Ahrefs APIExample of lead scoring with Ahrefs API

In this example, we’ve pulled the following website metrics to help score these prospects:

  • Domain Rating (DR) can help determine the size and authority of a prospect’s company.
  • Organic Cost can indicate a website’s size and visibility potential.
  • Paid Cost can help indicate the current budget a company is investing in Google Ads.

Depending on what your ideal customer looks like, you can score these prospects in a few different ways using these three metrics alone.

For instance, you can favor indicators of underperformance if you sell a service that can help close a performance gap:

Qualifying prospects by growth potential with Ahrefs APIQualifying prospects by growth potential with Ahrefs API

Or if you offer a high-ticket product or service, you can qualify prospects based on indicators of business size or the size of their budgets:

Qualifying prospects by business size with Ahrefs APIQualifying prospects by business size with Ahrefs API

No matter the case, you can use the data available in our API to draw conclusions like the following about any prospects you’re evaluating:

  • Showit is the ideal candidate for us to work with. There’s a lot of room for growth and we can make a decent impact with our competitively priced marketing services.
  • WordPress is a great candidate for us to pitch our PPC services since it has the smallest spend among website-building platforms of similar size.
  • Webflow may be a great candidate for our non-search marketing services. They clearly have a marketing budget for PPC and SEO, and they may also be open to investing in other channels.

Bottom line? If website performance can be used as an indicator to segment your prospects or leads, our API can help enrich your sales processes big time.

While using SEO metrics to qualify leads is one potential use case for sales teams, another is to use these metrics to help close more deals by:

  • Creating data-driven case studies
  • Populating data into customized sales decks
  • Sharing the performance of your entire client portfolio

For example, some forward-thinking agency sales teams use our API to pull organic data across their client portfolios. They build performance dashboards that they then send to prospective clients.

And sure, at a small scale you can simply use our Portfolios feature that allows you to track multiple websites as a cohort:

Portfolios in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerPortfolios in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

But with the API, you can aggregate more metrics and track more projects so you can display real-time results to prospective clients.

Ever wanted to say (and prove) to potential clients things like the following?

  • “We’ve delivered over 10,000 position 1 rankings for our clients in the last 6 months.”
  • “Six of our clients have achieved over 1 million organic visits after partnering with us.”
  • “We’ve saved our clients an average of $100,000/month in ad spend.”

With our API, you can. It’s all about aggregating SEO performance metrics to help your proposals stand out from the crowd.

The global ecommerce market is forecast to hit $6.3 trillion in 2024, and with more people buying online now than ever before, digital performance data is vital for investors to be able to access in real time.

If you’re a venture capitalist, hedge fund manager, or private equity investor, you can use our API as an alternative data source to:

  • Monitor online market movements
  • Check your portfolio’s digital performance
  • Track online performance of any company
  • Be instantly notified of website traffic losses
  • Inform your investment decisions

For instance, in this video, Sam looks at how the websites with the most visibility in search engines perform as a custom stock portfolio against some of the most popular assets in the world like the S&P 500, Nasdaq 100, real estate, gold, bonds, and Bitcoin.

For seasoned investors, the power of data available in our API can help take your investment decisions to the next level. You can integrate graphs from the Ahrefs dashboard directly into your tools (thanks to our nifty API button) or mix website traffic data with other data sets however you like.

For instance, let’s say you’re considering investing in a particular company. Everything looks good on paper, and you’ve been monitoring its growth over the last few months, including its website performance.

Had you not added a graph tracking their website performance in your dashboard (like the following), you may not have noticed this 25% loss of organic traffic early enough to take appropriate action:

Organic traffic graphOrganic traffic graph

In some industries, this may not matter regarding the stock value since website visits don’t necessarily translate into purchases or company valuation. In others, it could be a deal breaker.

If multiple companies in the same vertical are experiencing similar losses in visibility, this could indicate a widespread market movement you need to know about. Traffic losses across multiple websites can also often indicate revenue losses across the industry.

For instance, this is an example of two market-leading companies in a specific vertical experiencing traffic losses at a similar time.

Organic traffic graph for multiple websitesOrganic traffic graph for multiple websites

And here you can see their keyword ranking movements echo one another with similar rises and dips after January 2024:

Organic keywords graphOrganic keywords graph

Such patterns can indicate a bigger issue affecting the entire market, not just specific companies.

The data available in our API can help you monitor widespread market movements and changes in search behaviors across any vertical you’re interested in and in real-time.

While website performance data on its own is not enough to base investment decisions on, it is a vital alternative data source to help you beat the market and mitigate potential losses.

Competitive intelligence is what Ahrefs was built for. With analytics tools and Google Search Console, you can easily find performance data about your own website. But what about competitors?

Our tool allows you to compare apples to apples when looking at competitor data. In particular, our API can help you automate things like:

  • Creating competitor scorecards
  • Estimating resources needed to catch up to competitors
  • Monitoring competitor movements
  • Gathering historical insights
  • Finding and predicting untapped opportunities

For example, Patrick recently created a handful of beginner-friendly competitor scorecards that you can also take for a spin.

To use these you will need to first make a copy and add your Ahrefs API key. If you’re using the general scorecard, you’ll need to select a date (it must be the first date of a month to work). Then, add your domain and your competitors.

You won’t need to add a date with the MOM and YOY versions. Just add the API and competitor URLs.

Here’s an example of what the output will look like:

Example output for competitor scorecardExample output for competitor scorecard

If you find yourself running competitor gap analysis reports at scale, you may also benefit from using our API to automate competitor backlink analysis and closing content gaps against top competitors.

Making projections is a core staple of enterprise SEO. It’s how executive teams are able to approve projects and allocate funding appropriately.

It’s also how agency owners set their agencies apart from competitors by adding forecasts to their sales pitches.

With our API and these free templates that Patrick has pre-built, you can:

Check out Patrick’s detailed post on all things to do with SEO forecasting for more ideas and tips on how to use these free templates in your business today.

Final thoughts

With the power of seriously big data on your side, the possibilities for how you can automate SEO tasks, site audits, and reports are endless.

The Ahrefs API offers many data points no other tool offers. We’ve designed it that way on purpose.

Feel free to book a demo with our enterprise team to see what our API can do for your business.

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You only need three tools to get sixteen highly actionable data points on your competitors’ traffic.

Before we dive in, let’s set the right expectations: no tool will give you your competitor’s exact traffic data. However, it’s still well enough to see what works for them, copy their best ideas, or set realistic benchmarks.

We’ll cover:

  • Types of data you can access, such as traffic volume, trends, organic and paid keywords, and audience insights.
  • Practical use cases, including benchmarking, tracking progress, identifying content gaps, boosting your SEO and SEM, and negotiating budgets.
  • Last but not least, how this data is gathered and its reliability.

With these tools and insights, you’ll be well-equipped to understand and outperform your competitors’ website traffic.

We’ll start with organic search traffic — the source on which you’ll get the most data.

How to analyze competitor organic search traffic

Organic search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search engines, excluding search ads.

There’s a lot you can tell about your competitors’ organic traffic and a lot you can tell from it. Here are my favorite twelve use cases with detailed instructions.

You can check that in seconds for free, right now:

The tool will also show you where in the world the traffic is coming from, some of the top pages and keywords, and traffic value (i.e., the value of the organic search traffic, if it were to be acquired via PPC in Google Ads).

Organic competitors are the sites that compete with you for the same organic keywords in search engines.

Typically, you’ll have more organic competitors than your regular direct business competitors. For example, a 3D printer manufacturer may be competing for a fair share of keywords with a 3D printing magazine — completely different businesses, same keywords.

So by rounding up your top organic competitors, you gain a bigger pool of keyword ideas you can potentially target. Much bigger than if you’d just take into account your direct competitors.

Here’s how to identify all organic competitors.

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Go to the Organic competitors report.
Organic competitors report. Organic competitors report.

From there, you can look at the common keywords to see where they outrank you or click on Competitor’s keywords to see keywords you don’t rank for but they do (a.k.a. your content gap).

Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect. Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect.

If your competitor is doing SEO, typically their blog will attract most of their organic traffic. But this is not always the case. They may have found other ways of getting clicks from Google, like free tools or free resources, and you could do the same.

  1. Open Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Site structure report.
Site structure report. Site structure report.

For example, someone analyzing our site could see that our free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog. Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

To see your competitor’s top performing pages:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Top pages report.
Top pages report.Top pages report.

The first use case here is targeting the same keywords as their top pages to channel some of that traffic your way.

Top keyword column in Top pages report. Top keyword column in Top pages report.

There’s more. You can use the report to see which pages contributed to an uptrend or downtrend in your competitor’s traffic.

Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report. Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report.

Or, focus on top-performing pages and use the Compare pages view to see when those pages started to pick up traffic.

Comparing pages in Top pages report.Comparing pages in Top pages report.

Now to see what the competitors did to improve the pages, click on the caret next to the page and click Inspect.

Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.  Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.

Then choose the date on the calendar and view changes made to the text in that time.

Calendar tool in Ahrefs. Calendar tool in Ahrefs.

If you’re already doing SEO or considering it, seeing a list of your competitors’ keywords is almost like they’ve shared their keyword research with you.

You can use keyword data to find:

  • Top-performing keywords and “steal” some of their traffic with your own content.
  • Top-performing keywords in specific countries.
  • Keywords with specific terms to find content ideas around certain topics or phrases.
  • Low-difficulty keywords (typically, faster to rank).

To see your competitors’ keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report.
  3. Use the filters to find what you need. For instance, use the KD filter to find low-competition keywords.
Organic keywords report in Ahrefs. Organic keywords report in Ahrefs.

For example, you can track the ranking history of your competitor’s top traffic-generating keywords. If you see sudden spikes, it likely means they’ve updated the content to increase ranking. By using the calendar feature mentioned above, you can learn how they did it.

SERP history. SERP history.

One of the best ways to find organic traffic you’re potentially missing out on is to do a content gap analysis. In SEO, it means identifying the keywords that your competitors rank for but you don’t. Some of those keywords can make perfect topics for you to cover.

In Ahefs, you can do a content gap analysis automatically:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool.
  2. Enter your domain in the Target section.
  3. Enter your competitors’ domains in the Competitors section.
  4. Hit “Compare”.
  5. Click the Content Gap report.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.

Toggle Main positions to exclude your competitors’ rankings in SERP features like “Top stories” and “Image packs.”

Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.
Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.

Now look through the report and identify keywords that are relevant for your site. The volume column will show you which keywords are likely to send the most traffic.

More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.
More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.

Short-term organic traffic performance can inform you of the latest developments in your competitors’ rankings (say, within the last 24 hours to a couple of weeks).

For example, you can observe the impact of the latest Google Update on their site, see how much traffic they gained or lost last month, or check if any of their newly launched pages are already picking up traffic.

To see short-term organic traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. In the Overview report, choose a timeframe in the Changes mode.
Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report.

This will adjust the top-level metrics and traffic by location panel and show you the changes over the specified period.

1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You can go as deep as day-to-day traffic changes — a very helpful thing if you want to see Google’s update impact on your competitors’ traffic.

Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update. Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update.

Date comparison is available in multiple tools and reports across Ahrefs.

As for long-term traffic performance, this allows to set a traffic goal to match or overtake your competitor’s traffic, and plan your budget based on competitor’s performance. You can also use it to forecast your competitors’ traffic.

To see long-term traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Turn on the Years mode in the traffic graph.
  3. Adjust the time frame and export the data if needed.
Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report.

Seeing multiple sites on one graph is useful if you want to identify the leader in your niche, compare your site to a few competitors simultaneously, and determine if you are catching up to the leader or if someone is catching up to you.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Add competitors using the Competitors tab.
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).

Organic share of voice (SOV) is an SEO metric that shows how much traffic goes to your pages compared to competitors’.

In other words, if you want to see your overall organic search traffic share in the market, and eventually increase it, this is the metric you’d want to use.

SOV is based on tracked keywords, so you first need to add them to the tool. These can be keywords you target on your blog, your product pages, or even all of your important keywords together.

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.
  • Start a New project.
  • Select keywords to track. You can use the filters to refine the list suggested by the tool and add some keywords later on. Make sure to choose only important locations for your site.
Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.
  • Add competitors. You can add specific sites or choose from the ones suggested by the tool. Notice the keyword intersect — the higher the number, the “closer” the competitor.
Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker. Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker.

Once you finish the set-up, you will be able to see and regularly track SOV in the Competitors Overview section in Rank Tracker.

Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker. Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker.

One of the ways your competitors could be getting traffic is from links from other sites (a.k.a. referral traffic).

Knowing who links to your competitors allows you to pursue the same or similar links which can help you not only get more referral traffic but also boost your SEO and increase your brand awareness.

To find pages with a high probability of sending traffic to your competitors, look for backlinks from pages with significant organic traffic. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Backlinks report. Pages with the most traffic will be displayed on top by default.
Backlinks report in Ahrefs. Backlinks report in Ahrefs.

From there you can use the Referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too. Simply add in words like “vs, review, tool, tools, top” as a way to identify these pages.

Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.

Here’s an example of such a page:

1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

Another way to analyze your competitors’ traffic is to treat them as one entity. This allows you to:

  • Benchmark your site traffic trend to your competitors as a market segment.
  • Identify broader industry trends and seasonal patterns in traffic.
  • Assess the collective impact of major events, such as changes in search engine algorithms or economic shifts.
  • Monitor the overall health and growth rate of your industry.

For this, use the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. The image below shows aggregated data for four sites, including organic traffic and paid traffic (from Google Search Ads).

Example portfolio of sites. Example portfolio of sites.

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Dashboard and click Create > Portfolio.
How to create a new portfolio.  How to create a new portfolio.
  • Fill in the URLs you want to track. Note the URL mode selector. Use “Domain” to track the entire domain with subdomains, “Path” for folders, and “Exact URL” for single pages.
Filling details of a site portfolio. Filling details of a site portfolio.

How to analyze competitor paid search traffic

Paid search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search ads on search engine result pages. Here’s how to check your competitors’s paid search traffic and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.

If you’re running search ads, checking out your competitors’ paid keywords can give you ready-made keyword research. This lets you see which keywords are working for them and helps you fine-tune your own ad strategy to target those high-performing keywords.

What’s more, you can reveal paid search data Google Keyword Planner hides by default: search volume for a particular keyword instead of a search volume range for a group of keywords.

And even if you’re not investing in ads, this info can still be super useful. It usually means these keywords are important to your competitors because they know these keywords bring in customers. Chances are, these keywords could be important for your business, too.

To find your competitors’ paid keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Paid keywords report.
Paid keywords report in Intercom. Paid keywords report in Intercom.

From here, you can use filters to find keywords that meet your CPC, traffic, or relevance criteria, and sort the data to see the keywords which bring the most traffic.

Filters in paid keywords report. Filters in paid keywords report.

Notice the Paid/organic traffic share bar. If you see both blue and yellow color, that means your competitor has invested in the keyword twice (through content and ads) and is trying to get as much SERP real estate as possible — consider pursuing these keywords as well.

Paid traffic/organic traffic share. Paid traffic/organic traffic share.

Another way to gauge a keyword’s importance is to look at its ad position history. A long and consistent history suggests it’s likely a valuable ‘money’ keyword, while a short history might indicate your competitor is just experimenting with it.

Ad history report. Ad history report.

Want to check out their ad copy and landing pages? Head to the Ads report. You can set the location where your competitor runs their ads and see the landing pages and keywords associated with each ad.

Ads report in Ahrefs. Ads report in Ahrefs.

Interested to see how much your competitors spend to get all of that paid traffic?

  1. Go to Site Explorer.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain.
  3. Open Paid pages report.
  4. Set the preferred location to see the budget per country (leave it set to all locations to see the total ad spend).
  5. Set the Performance report to Paid traffic cost set and adjust the timeframe.
Paid pages report in Ahrefs. Paid pages report in Ahrefs.

Use this data to set a benchmark for traffic performance relative to ad spend and to negotiate the budget for your campaigns.

How to analyze other traffic sources

If you’re interested in the overall competitor traffic performance, here’s where to look.

To get a quick answer to how much traffic your competitors get overall (from all traffic sources), you can get that information for free with Similarweb.

Once you set up a free account, simply go to Website analysis > Website performance report.

Website performance report in Similarweb. Website performance report in Similarweb.

Arguably, the best way to use Similarweb is in comparison mode. This approach ensures that the data is directionally accurate: whether the data is overestimated or underestimated, it is consistently so across all sites. By comparing your traffic with your competitors, you can identify the relative differences that set you apart.

Comparing websites in Similarweb. Comparing websites in Similarweb.

Similarweb is not the only tool with general traffic insights. Another one is Sparktoro, an audience research tool.

What’s great about Sparktoro is that its data and functionality revolve around the users behind the clicks. So you can use Similarweb to understand how popular the site is and then Sparktoro to get to know the people who visit it. Take that data and use it for persona development, fine-tuning your messaging, and looking up influencers to partner with or sites to advertise on.

Simply set up an account at Sparktoro and type your competitor’s domain in the search bar. Make sure the “Visit the website” mode is on.

Overview report in Sparktoro. Overview report in Sparktoro.

From there go to:

  • Social networks: scroll down a bit and see which social network the brand uses the most. This not only tells which social networks likely send the most traffic but also which proved to be the most engaging.
  • Demographics tab: see data like gender, age, geography and interests. What’s unique about this data is that it comes from social media profiles.
  • Social accounts tab: to see what social media accounts site visitors are likely to follow and engage with. This is a great source of potential influencers to work with.
  • YouTube channels, Reddit, and Podcast tabs: see where it’s highly likely to meet your competitors’ (and possibly yours) audience.

Where does the data come from? Is it accurate?

Depending on the tool, the data on your competitors will mostly come from:

This means that, in most cases, the data is estimated instead of actual data taken from your competitors and handed over to you.

So, when it comes to the data’s accuracy, you should expect a blend of estimated accuracy and directional accuracy. Despite best efforts, the data will be approximated and designed to give you an idea of relative performance because there’s no other way.

This also means that if you’re interested in a particular type of traffic, say traffic from search engines, it’s probably best to get a dedicated tool for that. You’ll get access to bigger data sets and more capable functionality, allowing you to do more.

Final thoughts

Want to go deeper into competitor analysis? Check out our other guides to go beyond traffic data:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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The Top 10 Content Marketing Skills You Need

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10 Content Marketing Skills You Need to Master

Want to reach more of your target audience, connect with them, and have meaningful interactions?

Quality content marketing may be the ideal solution for you.

But gone are the days of simply writing and releasing content.

Effective content marketing requires various skills and strategies if you want to get it right.

If you’re looking to breathe new life into your brand and generate more interest in your target audience, here are the top 10 skills and strategies you’ll need.

1. Know Your Audience And Target Them Effectively

Ask anyone about content and content marketing, and chances are that audience targeting is one of the first suggestions.

But what does audience targeting actually mean? And why is it an essential content marketing skill?

First, understand who your audience is, what their day is like, their priorities, and what they’re doing or intending to do while they consume content.

Then, use that information to craft content that counts on a platform and in a format that suits your audience.

Take the Shoe Snob Blog as an example.

The content is photo-centric. The page has few distractions, and the storytelling and text are dense and chunked.

The topics range from stories of shoemakers, care tips, and all the insider info a lover of bespoke and top-of-the-line men’s shoes, shoe designer, or shoemaker could want to know about the objects of their obsessions.

These features tell us a lot about the blog’s readers.

Shoe Snob Blog readers are likely visual, busy, and view reading the blog’s content as almost a secret pleasure they indulge in while waiting in line for an expensive coffee.

The blog doesn’t have content on saving money, getting things for less, building shoes more cheaply, or reviews of shoes you’d find in your local department store.

Why? That’s not what the blog’s target audience is interested in. In fact, those topics would likely chase readers away.

For Justin FitzPatrick, the blog’s author, it’s about the luxury, the emotional connection and passion for the brands, and the smaller details most of us wouldn’t likely notice about a man’s dress shoe – in language that matches the audience’s expertise.

You might be tempted to skip audience exploration and targeting to this degree, particularly if you’re a B2B brand or sell something non-visual like insurance.

But this could be a fatal mistake for your content marketing.

Even if you’re selling to another company, that company is driven and shaped by humans you’ll need to get attention from.

2. Understand How Brand Strategy Influences Content

Content and content marketing could do more harm than good if they fail to blend seamlessly with a brand strategy.

So, if you’re looking to build content marketing skills, ensure you understand how brand strategy influences effective content.

Solid brand-driven content strategies consist of six core elements when it comes to content:

  • Brand foundations – What matters to the company, such as the image it wishes to project, etc.
  • Audience discovery and brand position – How the brand fits within the market.
  • Keywords and language – How the company wants people to find its brand, and what language it will use.
  • Authority building – Looking like an expert and a leader on a chosen topic.
  • Content creation – Any content strategy must be manageable, affordable, sustainable, scalable, and effective.
  • Organization – Utilizing an editorial and publishing calendar and post-publishing tracking and measurement to maintain and guide your content strategy.

3. Consider SEO, Search, And Search Engines

SEO and search are essential for getting found, gaining traffic, building authority, and overall growth.

If you want your content marketing to work, you can’t afford to avoid this content marketing skill because you’re not an expert.

  • Users make 1.2 trillion searches on Google per year.
  • 93% of all web traffic comes from a search engine.
  • 46% of searches are made to look for something local.

In January 2023, searches for phrases that included “gifts” increased 45%, while searches that included “presents” increased 15% over 2022. This equated to $47 billion in the two weeks following Christmas.

So, search is growing and becoming more important – not declining.

If you want to take advantage of search traffic, you need to ensure you’re considering several aspects of SEO when developing your content marketing skills, including:

  • Keyword research.
  • AI and how to humanize your content.
  • Link building.
  • Building authority.
  • Topic relevance and expertise.
  • Site structure, website performance, and analytics.

4. Humanize Your Content

Once you get started with content marketing, you’ll realize pretty quickly that AI-generated content is highly problematic.

You need to follow basic SEO formulas to have your content rank, another formula to make it interesting and catchy for readers, and how to maximize the usability of your content.

However, you also need to ensure you stand out from the crowd and surpass your competitors.

To make your content more human-friendly, learn how to:

  • Create content that supports a user journey rather than search engines or sections of a funnel.
  • Utilize customer communications and social channels to understand and connect with your audience. Then, use it to market your content.
  • Make use of internal experts. Not only is looking in-house a way to make excellent content more affordable, but audiences also love to see your brand’s passion for what it does.
  • Take a smart angle, get personal, and have an attitude. Personality and branding are vital, but so is the information you provide. Ensure it is something of value to your readers, and don’t be afraid to tell stories to build emotional connections.
  • Add personal videos to top-performing articles.

One of the best examples of all these tips for humanized content in action is the annual Christmas content campaign from WestJet.

5. Engage By Storytelling And Creative Writing

If you want to capture attention and use content to connect with your audience, you need to be able to tell a good story.

Stories make content emotionally engaging but also make it possible for readers to experience what it would be like if they purchased your product or service.

Want to strengthen your content marketing with storytelling?

  • Create relatable, believable content. To do this, know your audience, understand their experiences, and create content that aligns with this knowledge.
  • Have a clear message. Like an ad, every story or piece of content needs a goal and a clear message you want to convey to your audience.
  • Choose the right type of story. Do you need to make an emotional connection? Compel a reader to act? Convey values, a feature, or a concept? Build community?
  • Select the right platform and medium. If you want to share several statistics, video might not be the best option. Selling vacations? YouTube or TikTok might perform better than Reddit or a blog.
  • Know where to start and stop. Your content needs to appear at the right point in the customer journey and push readers to the next step. What should readers do next?
  • Organize and structure. Plan your content ahead of time. Make sure your stories have an arc, make sense, and take readers or views through an experience.

6. Do Your Research

The best content provides an audience with information or a look at something they normally don’t have access to.

To find this information, you must be prepared for deep research – and that means a lot more than just finding a statistic.

Find the original source or study. Ensure the number you’ve found is still relevant and accurate. Consider the source of the statistic and how they arrived at that number. What did the study not consider when finding their statistic?

To build additional authority, you may consider interviewing the source of a statistic or a subject area expert.

7. Improve Your Interviewing Skills

While it helps if you deeply understand the subject matter, it isn’t all lost if you’re new to the topic.

In fact, being a newbie to a topic can have advantages because you can see the topic with a fresh perspective.

One thing you must be knowledgeable about, however, is interviews. Interviewing is an essential content marketing skill.

Here are some tips:

Prepare

Arrive at the interview with an understanding of the topic. Know the pains and challenges individuals interested in the topic face.

Understand your priorities for your readers, the industry, and the individual you’re interviewing.

Have a list of questions that are thoughtful and organized, and work toward answering a single question or reaching a specific goal.

Set Interview Goal

Are you trying to get tips from an expert? A day in the life of? Solve or bring light to a certain issue? Make a human connection?

Choose a goal for your interview, organize it into an outline, and remove any question or information that doesn’t help you move toward that goal.

Be Personable And Make The Interviewee Comfortable

Awkward silences, a lack of rapport, nervousness, and other social aspects can interfere with an otherwise excellent interview and affect the information you collect.

You may want to consider using cognitive interview techniques, which have been adapted from criminal investigation for journalism.

Record Your Conversation

As humans, our brains prioritize stimuli to determine what is important and what we should pay attention to and remember.

This attentional filtering becomes more severe when you’re making notes, thinking about the technical aspects of an interview, and nervous. As a result, it’s easy to miss important details or implications.

So, save some time and improve your accuracy and insights into the information provided during the interview by making a recording that you can refer to as often as necessary.

Be Precise And Ask For Clarification

Some people love raisins in cinnamon buns. Others do not. And just like the raisins debate, how you define a word or concept may vary greatly from someone else.

So, if the information you collect during an interview seems vague, or you’re unsure of something the interviewee says, ask.

The worst thing you can do is assume that it isn’t true or deliberately influence the meaning of someone’s words.

8. Measure And Track Everything

Measuring something is generally easy. The difficult part of measurement and tracking is measuring and tracking the right things.

SEJ’s annual State of SEO Report reveals that SEO professionals often have a mismatch between their goals, the methods and strategies they use to reach them, and the variables they measure.

Content marketers and marketing are no exception.

Let’s say you want to use content marketing to increase conversions. So, you create a video for your hot tub company.

In this instance, tracking and analyzing traffic data to the video would be a mistake. Those numbers are only part of the story.

Instead, track clicks and use traffic data to better understand who clicks through to your content and where viewers go after they consume it.

And this is vital: Don’t stop your analysis at the click.

Every visit from a viewer is only one step in a larger journey – and this journey matters.

Returning to the previous example, your video might have generated fewer clicks and conversions overall.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you might discover that those few conversions were of much higher value than average, and the viewers return to your site more often than your average site viewer.

In this instance, while traffic numbers might make it look like your video failed, analysis of the customer journey reveals that your video was actually a big success, attracting a more qualified, valuable, and engaged audience.

9. Repackage Content With Purpose

You invest a lot of resources in creating amazing content. Don’t simply publish it in one format and waste the rest of its potential.

Before creating content, consider all the different formats and ways you can share it to get attention.

By planning, you can collect images, video footage, sound bites, expert quotes, and everything you’ll need to share and market your content in various ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

But refrain from repackaging content with the sole purpose of spreading it everywhere. Carefully plan your content to appear when and where you need to.

As explained in the video above, Search Engine Journal uses the data gathered for its State of SEO Report to create:

  • White paper reports.
  • Podcast.
  • Articles on data not included in the main reports.
  • Infographics.
  • Carousels for social media.
  • Video clips.

Some of these are released before the main report is published to help spread the word and generate interest while sharing interesting insights about the SEO industry.

Then, when the report is released, it is followed by additional content to help generate interest, links, and findings.

Therefore, instead of a week of interest, the reports generate traffic and attention while informing readers for months without significantly increasing the original investment.

10. Stand Out While Blending In

One of the more common pieces of advice is to copy successful content and do what others are doing.

Makes sense, right?

After all, SEO, good writing, and other skills all have best practices you need to follow. Your audience also has preferences, expectations, and requirements.

Your content needs to look like everyone else’s to some degree.

But here’s the problem with this advice: No one stands out if everyone does things the same way.

Therefore, learning how to blend in while standing out is an essential skill for content marketing.

So, instead of mimicking or copying successful content, collect several examples that have worked on a specific platform or for a specific audience and investigate to find out why they’re effective.

Then, you can use these insights to create and test your own content that allows you to stand out, be unique, and fulfill the needs of your target audience.

Conclusion

Effective marketing is more than choosing the right topic or quality writing.

By strengthening and utilizing these 10 content marketing skills, your content will help you generate the right traffic and connect with your audience in a way that will have you dominating the competition.

More resources:


Featured Image: Viktoria Kurpas/Shutterstock

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