Which do you choose?
From just this information, the list of features, and outdated reviews, it’s impossible to make a decision, especially with a very specific set of requirements.
What are our SEO requirements?
Process Street is a young, content-focused startup. Thanks to our content marketing, we’ve been able to grow the company through PR efforts, blog content and guest posts — all without breaking the bank. Finding a powerful tool to analyze just how successful these efforts have been is top priority, to make it less hit-and-miss and shape our SEO strategy in the future.
Here’s what we need from a tool:
A way to track keyword against SERP.
With a lot of content — both on and off-site — tracking rank against keyword is extremely important for us. That’s because we don’t promote only our own content, but any content that mentions us. We promote all guest posts, YouTube videos and articles on news pages.
Whenever we create content, we do it with a keyword in mind. Naturally, we want to test whether we hit or miss that target. Wouldn’t everyone? The thing is, ranks fluctuate over time. It might be a month or two before your content starts ranking for the keyword you want, and it could even be on the first page for keywords you weren’t directly targeting. That’s valuable information because you want to know what path your audience takes before they land on your site.
High-quality keyword research.
For keyword research at the moment, I’m using a process drafted mostly by reading a ton of Brian Dean content. The ‘meat’ of the process is Google Keyword Planner, which, as Brian notes often, has a rubbish imagination. Sometimes keyword research can take longer than it has to, so ideally the tool we end up with should be like GKP with common sense.
That way, we can replace half of the process (which includes some tedious steps) with a more all-in-one solution.
On-page optimization analysis.
In the spirit of making sure we’re on the right track, we want to make sure it’s true when we assume we’ve fully optimized a page for a certain keyword. It’d also be a bonus to get suggestions from the tool as to which keyword would be a good fit for the content or landing page.
Basically, we want a tool to tell us where we are, but also where we should be headed.
Tracking our backlinks
Keeping track of where your site is linked means you can grab opportunities for further promotion and remove links from ‘bad neighborhoods‘ before they damage your site’s ranking. Both Moz and Ahrefs offer great backlink trackers, but while Moz is focused on who linked you (and offers more limited filters), Ahrefs shows you who linked and overall trends, displayed as graphs on the dashboard.
Snooping on the competition
We want to know how well the competition is doing, and, more importantly, where they’re getting their backlinks from and which keywords they’re ranking for. Ahrefs determines who your competitors are and can grab a huge list of every ranked keyword for a competitor’s pages. Moz makes it easy to decide how authoritative those pages are, showing you how likely it is you can outrank them.
Coming up with fresh content ideas
Finding content inspiration is something I’m selfishly enthusiastic about. Both Moz and Ahrefs have features which can find the most popular content in any topic, providing proven titles and subjects that people want to read. Even the most popular content on the web isn’t comprehensive, so by using that content as research, it’s possible to write articles that will resonate with your audience and give added value.
How do the features of Moz and Ahrefs match up with our needs?
To test both tools, I compared our requirements against the features of the software (not what it seemed like it could do from the landing page copy).
While Moz and Ahrefs are similar, the exact details of what they do varies quite a bit, as well as the amount of data they can each collect. Here’s how they stack up:
Tracking on and off-site page ranks
To be clear, what we want to do is see which keywords our content ranks for, regardless of whether it’s on our domain or not. Unfortunately, we found that neither Moz or Ahrefs can do this at the scale we’d need.
There are some alternatives we can go to in both tools, however.
Ahrefs Positions Explorer
The Positions Explorer from Ahrefs lets you check a domain, sub-domain or exact URL for how it ranks in Google. When we put process.st into the Positions Explorer, it shows a list of over 94,000 keywords that we rank for, including their search volume and competition. You can export the file as a .csv for real analysis.
But what about guest posts, or mentions on other domains? Unfortunately, Ahrefs only lets you do that one at a time. To say that it’s incapable of doing it would be wrong, but it certainly does make it an arduous task.
Moz Rankings Report
As far as Moz goes, it doesn’t have a tool that can compete with Ahrefs’ Positions Explorer. There’s no way of giving Moz a URL and getting back a list of keywords it ranks for. Moz does, however, have a more concentrated and less blanket approach of tracking your rankings. It can cross-reference your domain against a list of target keywords and generate ranking reports.
This means that you can see how well you’re doing by feeding Moz your list of every targeted keyword for each blog post then checking it against the rank. The results can be downloaded as a CSV, and are also available on the dashboard.
While Ahrefs can (slowly and painfully) gather keyword ranking data from external domains, Moz can’t do it at all. This puts Ahrefs above Moz for this feature, especially since Ahrefs can also generate ranking reports the same as Moz.
Finding quality keywords — quickly
Both Moz and Ahrefs come with keyword tools built-in. Moz has the Keyword Difficulty tool while Ahrefs has the Keywords Explorer. They’re very different, and each have great features, but which find the best new keywords?
Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool
The Keyword Difficulty tool isn’t a keyword research tool at all, but one that will help you narrow down your list of potential keywords. The tool is especially useful for me because I used to do this the ‘old-fashioned’ way, which was to Google my terms and activate MozBar to snoop on PA/DA. With Keyword Difficulty, I can put in a list of up to 20 keywords and grab all of their PA/DA scores (and an idea of how difficult it will be to outrank them) in one click.
To get a better look at your chances of ranking for a term, you can run a SERP Analysis Report and see the exact pages you’d be up against, and how authoritative they are.
If I targeted ‘saas pricing’, I’d be in for a shot at the #2 spot if I could get 2 backlinks and had a higher DA than 36.3. Seems promising!
Ahref’s Keywords Explorer
Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool is for narrowing down your pool of keywords to the ones you have a shot at ranking for, while Ahref’s Keywords Explorer is for generating new ones. Providing it with a seed keyword, it gives you a list of synonyms and related terms, alongside their volume.
Compare this to ol’ faithful (Google Keyword Planner), and you’ll see that Ahrefs gives more focused and relevant results:
In conclusion, both Moz and Ahrefs have great tools here for keyword researchers, but they would be best used in conjunction. If I were to have to mark one out as more useful than the other, I’d say that Moz’s Keyword Difficulty would save me a lot of time checking PA/DA, so that’s the more valuable tool.
Analyzing on-page optimization
There’s a ton of content out there that will tell you how to optimize pages to up your chances of ranking, but how do you know if you’ve done it properly? When looking at checking how well a page is optimized, there are a lot of factors. Out of the two tools tested here, only Moz has the capability of checking how well optimized your pages are. It also gives you additional information on how to improve your content, which acts as a way to get you in good habits.
For the example I tried out, the page got a perfect score, meaning that no more optimization is required. I looked back at some older posts which we created before we had a proper SEO process in place to see what tips it could give me.
I found an old post from the early days of the blog to see how it matched up against the keyword ‘business process management‘.
Moz graded the page a B and gave some tips for how to improve its visibility:
Ahrefs doesn’t have a way to do this, but I’ll forgive it.
Is your SEO strategy working? Well, how many backlinks are you getting? If you don’t know, tools like Moz and Ahrefs can give you a detailed overview of it all.
Without SEO tools like these two, there’s not much more you can do than Googling your own keywords and seeing if you crop up. That kind of work is unnecessary and gets tiring fast, so to see how well your SEO strategy is really doing, you need something more powerful.
Moz Open Site Explorer
The Moz Open Site Explorer helps you research backlinks, find link-building opportunities and remove bad neighborhood links. If you need a quick look at the amount of backlinks you (or your competitors) have, then Moz’s OSE can grab that in an instant (the data is drastically different to Ahrefs, though).
Putting your site’s domain into the OSE shows you a list of backlinks, ordered by authority. Here, I filtered them to show only the follow backlinks:
If you want to see the newest backlinks instead of the most authoritative (perhaps to get in touch with the writer and build a relationship), there’s Just Discovered. It does, however, seem to be showing me content from 2014…
Ahrefs Site Explorer
A major difference between Moz and Ahrefs becomes obvious when calculating backlinks. As you can see in the Moz OSE screenshot further up, Moz finds 1,320 total links for the root Process Street URL. Ahrefs, however, finds 35,300!
I contacted support to find out why this is, and Moz said that it’s the difference in algorithms and discrepancies between the different tools they use behind the scenes. Ahrefs said the same, but it’s likely that they found more backlinks for us because Ahrefs have the largest database of live backlinks.
A useful feature of Ahrefs’ Site Explorer is the ability to show only your top referring content. If you guest post a lot, you’ll be able to see which site gives the most authoritative backlinks and better plan your content strategy.
Snooping on competitors
To spy on your competitors and outrank them, you first have to know who they are. Competitor analysis is one of the founding elements of any SEO strategy, and both Moz and Ahrefs do it well, but in different ways. Here’s the tools each offer:
Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool
This tool isn’t a starting point for competitor analysis, but rather a tool to use near the end of the process. That’s because it can’t find who all your competitors are for all your major keywords or tell you much about them, but it can tell you how difficult it would be to outrank them.
Searching ‘workflow software’ with Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool shows us a group of competitors and some general, non-competing domains too. Highlighted in green is #4 in the rankings for that keyword — a page with 1 backlink on a domain with less authority than ours. That tells me that with a little work we could hit #4 on that page too.
Keyword Difficulty is useful as the last stage of the keyword research process, because it tells you whether you’ve picked a keyword that has already been used by the immovable objects of the web, or whether you could easily knock your competitor off.
Ahrefs’ Positions Explorer
Positions Explorer shows you your top 10 competitors then lets you check every keyword they’re ranking for. If you know you have a competitor with a lower domain authority, you can use Positions Explorer to find out which keywords they’re on the front page for. A little creativity and writing prowess later, and you’re not only getting more visibility, you’re getting more visibility than your competitor (important difference!).
The sites listed as our competitors create similar software to us, so when looking at their organic keywords in Positions Explorer, it shows data like this:
This is a feature that Moz simply doesn’t have, making Ahrefs invaluable for SERP data, both yours and your competitors.
Generating fresh content ideas
Sites like BuzzSumo are great for finding hot topics in your niche, but if you’re paying for an SEO tool you’d want that built-in as a feature to avoid paying for two similar services. Moz and Ahrefs both show data on popular content for any keyword, but which does it best?
Moz Content is a separate product to Moz Pro and something we have limited access to without paying. We can, however, get a good idea from the free version of its power.
By searching for a keyword in a niche your audience is interested in, you can see the most popular recent posts in that niche. Here’s an example for the keyword “task management”:
As you can see, people in this niche are writing about to-do list apps and task management systems. These pages have got themselves a fair amount of links, so it’s fair to believe that there’s a demand for it.
Moz Content also gives you the option to audit your own existing content, to see what has performed best in the past and get an idea of what to write next.
How does Ahrefs match up?
Ahrefs Content Explorer
The Content Explorer is a lot like Moz Content, but comes built into the Ahrefs platform. It’s not a separate product that costs at least $59/month, but it also doesn’t feature a content audit.
Here are the results when searching “task management” in the Content Explorer:
Not only do I get all 96,041 results, they seem more interesting and relevant, with some posts getting thousands of shares and hundreds of backlinks, unlike Moz’s meager selection.
For further analysis, I can quickly grab the top 1000 results and download them as a CSV. This is great for data-driven content looking at the most popular keywords in titles or finding which headline formulas got the most shares.
For the fact that you get more for your money, and that the search is more relevant, I’d choose Ahrefs over Moz for content ideas.
Moz vs Ahrefs: Which will we choose?
As I said at the start, we’re looking for a tool that help us in 6 areas. Now I’m going to recap those 6 areas and say which tool I think ‘won’ in each:
Tracking SERP against URL and keywords: Hands down, for this it’s Ahrefs. Even though you can’t bulk search the ranking of guest posts, Moz can’t do this at all.
Finding quality keywords: This review has been updated since its first publication in 2016; back then, we decided that Ahrefs’ lack of a keyword difficulty metric made Moz the more valuable tool. However, Ahrefs has improved their Keywords Explorer vastly since then and now it more than matches up to Moz. With metrics like estimated backlink count to rank, cost per click, and volume breakdown by country, Ahrefs offers much richer data. Another point for Ahrefs.
Analyzing on-page optimization: Since Moz is the only tool of the two which offers on-page optimization, Moz is the winner here.
Tracking backlinks: Without a doubt, the best backlinks tool is Ahrefs. When comparing Moz’s backlink data against Ahrefs’, it’s clear that Moz doesn’t have as much data at all, which makes for less well-informed decisions. Go Ahrefs!
Snooping on competitors: While Ahrefs isn’t a tool specifically designed to gather competitive data, it does a rather good job at it. The Positions Explorer (the star of the show), pulls up the top 10 competitors for each search domain and then lets you see all the terms they rank for, and at what position. While Moz’s Keyword Difficulty tool gives great insights, the Positions Explorer takes Ahrefs to the top in this category. Again.
Generating fresh content ideas: For content ideas, the Content Explorer which comes built into Ahrefs is both more capable (for the reasons I need it) and less expensive than Moz Content (from $59/month). While the content audit Moz Content provides is useful, I’m going to keep trialing the free version and see if I feel it’s worth the full price as the blog and company grows.
Do you use Moz or Ahrefs? Let me know what you think and why you chose them in the comments below! 🙂
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