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Ahrefs Built A $10M Acquisition Channel By Giving Away Their Best Features

Free Content

Showing someone the value of your product.

How it will make their life easier. 

And why they should buy it. 

All in about 30 seconds is…TOUGH

Especially in SaaS these days. 

Trust me, I have been doing it for 7+ years. 

But, it’s not impossible. Thousands of SaaS brands are building amazing solutions and companies as we speak.

One of the ways they get around those difficulties is by offering a free tool or freemium membership.

This helps the new user see the true value of the product by actually experiencing some of the best core features.

But what if you gave away all of your best features for free without requiring a sign-up, a trial period, or even a lead gen form?

Sounds a little crazy, right? 

Hubspot even requires an email address to use their free tools!

Well, Ahrefs has been giving away their best tools for free for the past few years.

And they have used that strategy to build a $10M content moat and an unmatched acquisition channel.

Let me show you how. 

 

13 Tools, $858k in Monthly Traffic Value

There’s no hiding the fact that I love when brands use simple tools as an acquisition channel. 

They are a fantastic way to drive a consistent amount of traffic, links, and leads back to your website, especially when trying to rank on ultra-competitive but rewarding keywords. 

Grammarly has its plagiarism tool that likely drives thousands of sign ups each day. Right now, it’s worth about 500k in traffic value and drives 1.8M in monthly organic sessions. The main keyword “plagiarism checker” has 338k searchers per month but has a keyword difficulty of 94! 

I have even written a teardown on how one tool, Shopify Business Name Generator, can take over and dominate an entire content cluster. 

However, I have never seen a SaaS brand dominate a very competitive niche with a collection of tools, or give away so much functionality and value, for free. 

That was until I found Ahref’s collection of SEO tools. With just 13 of these free tools, they drive around $858k in traffic value each month. 

search scorecard for Ahrefs seo tools

They’ve used this collection of SEO tools to not only build a content moat that ranks on 532k keywords, but also a very strong acquisition channel. Mainly because these tools are positioned perfectly to give value to their ideal customers, but we will talk more about them in the next section. 

Additionally, these tools drive about 40% of all organic sessions and almost 50% of all traffic value to the Ahrefs domain. 

To put this in perspective, with just the Backlink Checker and Website Authority Checker, they are driving about the same number of organic sessions as the whole Ahrefs blog!

search scorecard for Ahref's blog

It’s truly an impressive collection, and I don’t think it took much extra effort to build them out, especially because the tools are based on core functions found in the Ahrefs product. 

The tool that drives the most organic traffic is the Backlink Checker, which drives around 253k monthly sessions but only ranks on about 7.9k keywords.

Search scorecard for Ahrefs backlink checker

I think it’s important to talk about both the keyword volume and difficulty that these types of pages rank on. Sometimes a big number can seem impressive, but the keywords provide no value to the business. 

The Backlink Checker is not one of those pages. The main keyword, backlink checker, has a difficulty of 87 and they are ranking number one. And there are 100+ other very difficult keywords that Ahrefs Backlink Checker is ranking in the first spot.

Keyword difficulty chart for Ahrefs backlink checker

The SEO niche is extremely competitive and mature. I have talked about how hard it is for newcomers to break into the industry for this exact reason. A cost per click of $7+ on the keyword “backlink checker” is a great indication of how competitive it really is.  

This is not an isolated incident, either. Most of the tools that they have created are ranking on very difficult but very rewarding keywords. 

For example, the tool that drives the most traffic value, the Website Authority Checker, only ranks on about 4k keywords but drives $377k in traffic value.

Search scorecard for Ahrefs website authority checker

The main keyword for that page, “domain authority checker,” has a keyword difficulty of 84. And that page is ranking on over 200 keywords with an 85+ difficulty.  

Even their tools that don’t drive a ton of organic traffic still rank in the top few spots of pretty competitive keywords. 

For example, the Keyword Difficulty Checker drives only about 3k sessions per month. But those sessions are earned. The main keyword “keyword difficulty checker” has a difficulty of 70!

So why am I telling you all of this? 

Well, I wanted to make sure you know how impressive it is that Ahrefs has captured this success over multiple tools.

And dominated an entire category of tools and solutions, while creating a solid acquisition channel. 

That said, how they position these pages is really the most impressive part.  

I think people who hate on free tools like this really don’t understand who the tools are actually for. 

It’s usually not who you think. 

 

Built for the Right People

If you’re reading this teardown, you probably already have a favorite SEO tool, or more likely, a few favorites. 

I’m a huge fan of Ahrefs and have been using it for the past 5+ years. I understand how powerful the platform can be, but it took me months of using it on a daily basis to get to that point. 

Not every marketer, content creator, or manager needs such an advanced SEO tool for their day-to-day work.

I would bet that most of them rely on Google Keyword Planner for most of their SEO needs. To be honest, that is exactly what I used as well before we started using Ahrefs. 

Screenshot of Google Keyword Planner

Now, what if someone needs just a little more info or data to help them make better decisions?

Well, Ahrefs has taken the time to make sure those tools are easy to find. 

And in just a few seconds, these tools will make a new marketer feel powerful. 

Much more powerful than they did when using Google Keyword Planner. 

I think after working in content for many years, I have forgotten how useful a tool like this would have been when I started my career.

But with just a few clicks, you can get search data on a popular keyword:

Keyword idea results for 'poster design'

See what is ranking on a certain SERP: 

SERP Overview results for 'poster design'

And a VERY thorough backlink report:

Backlink report for Ahrefs SERP checker

All for FREE! No sign-up, no lead generation trap, nothing. 

Ahrefs is giving pure value to the user in a few seconds. 

Without signing up for the full Ahrefs platform, someone that is just getting started in marketing or SEO can get a TON of value. 

And that is exactly who these tools are built for. 

People who know that SEO is important but aren’t experts, yet.

Ahrefs knows these people will eventually need to sign up for the full platform, but they will continue using those free tools until that day comes. 

After a while, that value will start to stack up and a new marketer might need to increase their investment in SEO, especially if it helps them do their job better!

This marketer might have only needed to see a simple backlink report in the beginning, but as they continue to grow their skills, it might not cut it anymore! 

Screenshot of Ahrefs Backlink Checker homepage

These free tools are a fantastic way to build brand loyalty before you’ve converted someone into a customer, as well. That’s likely why so many marketers are advocates for Ahrefs from day one. 

I feel like you can see this positioning when looking at their most popular blog content: 

Screenshots from Ahrefs blog content

Each of those blog posts is built for someone that is just getting started with SEO or content marketing. 

At every level of their acquisition funnel, Ahrefs seems to understand exactly who they should be targeting with their content and tools.

Not every SaaS tool can claim the same thing.  

 

One Path of Success

One final thing that I want to touch on is the tight focus of each landing page. 

When I was at my previous company, I would always preach this concept of “one path of success.”

It means that you should only give a new user one path that they can take to find true value.

You don’t need to overwhelm them with options or else they won’t see the value quickly or even come close to that “aha” moment. 

Once you start looking at each of the Ahrefs tool pages, you can see this in action. 

Each of these tools does one thing REALLY well, and a user can quickly see that value. 

Without being overwhelmed with options or things they don’t really need. 

Let’s break down the Keyword Generator tool. Currently, that page ranks on around 5k keywords and drives 35k organic sessions per month. 

Search scorecard for Ahrefs keyword generator

Like all of the other pages we have looked at so far, its main keywords are extremely difficult to rank on. Right now “keyword generator” has a 95+ score for keyword difficulty. 

When you land on the page, you know exactly what to do:

Screenshot of Ahrefs Keyword Generator homepage

And with a single click you can generate a list of keywords in a few seconds:

Keyword idea results for 'poster design'

There aren’t distracting popups, lead capture forms, or anything that could pull the user away from gaining value from the tool. 

Some of the other pages that are competing for this keyword must not have got the memo on “one path of success,” though.

On this landing page, there’s a lot to look at and a new user might know exactly what to click on:

Screenshot of Semrush Keyword Magic Tool

Another competitor has combined a keyword tool with a domain lookup, for some unknown reason:

Screenshot of Ubersuggest keyword tool

And don’t even get me started on the page that has positioned their blog post so it ranks on the term “keyword generator,” instead of their actual tool. 

Talk about not providing immediate value! 

That said, the keywords that are targeted on the Keyword Generator illustrate the focus Ahrefs has with each tool. It seems like they were VERY specific with what keywords they wanted to rank on. 

And they have done a pretty good job of ranking on both the main keyword and a lot of long-tail keywords. 

From what I saw, that page ranked in the first spot for nearly every keyword that is mentioned on the page:

Top keywords for Ahrefs keyword generator

All of those keywords describe exactly what the tool does, without misleading the user.

Ahrefs also avoids going toe to toe with Google by not going after a keyword like “keyword planner,” unlike some of their competitors.

Screenshot of Keyword Tool homepage

Almost all of the other tools follow this approach. Instead of overwhelming a new user with options, popups, or other distractions, the tool just provides immediate value to a user. 

Screenshot of Ahrefs free seo tools homepage

The Broken Link Checker…checks broken links with a single click.

The YouTube Keyword Tool…finds keywords for YouTube with a single click.

The Website Authority Checker…checks the authority of websites with a single click. 

These tools might not break your brain with their functionality, but they work and provide value every time. 

And if you can create a tool that does what it says it’s going to do and provides value to users, you are made in the shade. 

 

The Hidden Value

Outside of providing plenty of value to each user, these tools also provide another powerful marketing function for Ahrefs. 

Mini demos of the full platform. 

Each time someone uses one of these tools, they are getting a mini demo of the full Ahrefs platform. 

I don’t think a sales demo, YouTube video, or blog post could have the same impact on a new user. 

Each of these tools are providing a new user with a ton of value as soon as they start using them. 

But it’s also providing Aherfs with likely millions of mini-demos of their product each month. 

And I think this is exactly why they have invested so much in each of these tools.

Because ranking at the top of so many competitive keywords is not an easy, or cheap, job. 

Did you enjoy this post?

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