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Lesson 9: Creating Content for Traffic, Links & Shares

A common struggle for both SEOs and content marketers is coming up with proven content ideas. Far too often, an idea that initially seemed promising doesn't perform as well as expected.

Here at Ahrefs, we believe the problem isn’t necessarily with the quality of the content being produced. It’s with the lack of appropriate research before the content is created.

Think about it. Usually, we create content to achieve one of three objectives:

  1. Generating buzz on social media, resulting in an immediate influx of traffic.
  2. Ranking well in Google for a lot of relevant keywords and generating consistent search traffic.
  3. Attracting backlinks, which leads to more search traffic and more referral traffic to your website.

But after choosing a topic or keyword, we usually sit down to create the piece of content we think is interesting.

And that’s the catch. We create content “from scratch” rather than taking time to study the pages that are already performing well for the specific goals we’re trying to achieve.

In reality, the best way to nail traffic, links and shares is to study existing content that’s performing well and use their "proven formula" to create your piece.

Here’s the 4-step process we recommend.

Step 1: Research existing content in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Let's say you want to create an awesome piece of content around the topic of "healthy snacks."

  • Is there an opportunity to attract backlinks with such an article?
  • How much search traffic can you potentially get from a post about "healthy snacks"?
  • Will it attract backlinks, and who is likely to link to it?

These are the kinds of questions you need to answer before sitting down to write the article. And Ahrefs' Content Explorer tool will help you find the answers.

Content Explorer helps you research the top content for whatever keyword you’re targeting, so you can see what’s driving traffic, what’s getting backlinks, and what’s getting social shares.

Start by typing your keyword into Content Explorer. You’ll get a lengthy list of the best articles on that topic:

Content Explorer shows you the top-performing content for your target keyword.


Try entering your keyword in quotation marks and changing the search filter from "Everywhere" to "In Title" or "In Content." This will often give you different (but very interesting) results.

Keep in mind, at any point in your research, you can change the filter for more relevant results.

For example, when I try to sort results by Referring domains, the 2nd result isn’t relevant to “healthy snacks.” By setting the filter to “In title,” I get a more relevant report.

Changing the filter to “In title” or “In content” can give you more relevant results.

Now you

  1. Enter your keyword into Content Explorer and see what comes up.
  2. Experiment by putting quotation marks around your keyword (for an exact match) and changing the search filter.

Step 2: Sort the articles by traffic, backlinks & shares

As you know, the more backlinks a page has, the higher it ranks in Google and the more search traffic it gets.

But if you sort your results in Content Explorer by "Referring Domains" and "Search Traffic," you'll notice that’s not always the case.

Sorting by Search traffic, the top 2 articles have fewer referring domains than the 3rd article.

That’s why it’s so important to experiment with the results you get in Content Explorer. The most relevant results depend on your target keyword, your goal for your article, and your resources for creating content.

Here’s the good news…

With Content Explorer, you can figure out the type of content that’s performing well for any objective you might be interested in. As you can see in the screenshot below, you can sort by relevance, referring domains, search traffic, domain rating, total shares, and more.

You can sort your results by whatever metric is most meaningful to you.

Try it yourself, and you’ll notice something interesting. Depending on how you sort your results, different types of articles will show up at the top of the report. For example, an article that ranks #3 for “Referring domains” might come up #1 for “Search traffic.” The same goes for social buzz. The articles that spread like wildfire on social networks will quite often have zero links and no traffic from Google.

So your job is to determine the common traits of the articles that have already reached the goal you're aiming for. Then, after reviewing the results for each, you can decide which you’d prefer to set as your objective—and what your article should look like to perform well.

Here are a few tips

Click Details > Referring Domains to see the the sites that are linking to the pages in your report. You can use this list to plan your outreach when you’re ready to promote your article—just like we’ve talked about in our other tutorials.

This article has 580+ referring domains, and you see those sites in the Details.

If you’re trying to go viral or get in front of your social fans and followers, sort your results by Total shares. This report will show you the pages related to your keyword that are also getting a lot of traction in social media.

For instance, two of the top articles in this report relate to “portable snacks” and “busy mornings.” So for this keyword, it looks like people share ideas that are useful for an on-the-go lifestyle.

Study titles of top-performing articles to understand what’s working now.

To see the pages that generate the most organic search traffic, sort by Search traffic.

Click Details > Organic keywords to see the keywords each article ranks for, including their position in search.

This will help you figure out which keywords you want to mention in your article so you can get the most traffic possible from this one article.

Clicking “Details” opens a dialog box with tons of information about the article.

Now you

  1. To ensure you’re getting the most relevant results, play with the filters beside the search bar.
  2. Sort your results by a few different metrics, including: referring domains, search traffic, and total shares.
  3. Click “Details” for the top listings in each report to see what keywords they’re ranking for and who is linking to them.
  4. Choose the objective that seems most appropriate for your article based on your findings.

Step 3: Find out what's trending now

Some topics expire with time while others stay evergreen for eternity. So while researching proven content ideas, you might want to narrow your search to the most recent articles only.

In Content Explorer you can use the "Publish date" filter for that:

Filtering results by their publish date can help you find old gems as well as current trends.

There's no rule of thumb as to which timeframe you should pick to ensure your topic is still popular today. Just play with this filter for a while and see if you get a gut feeling about what will work for you.

Sometimes you can even find an "ancient" article idea that can may become a viral hit if refurbished wisely.

Now you

  1. Experiment with different filter dates and review the results for each timeframe.
  2. Review current articles as well as older ones to see what’s performed well over time.

Step 4: Research your competitors

The first 3 steps of this lesson can only be applied if you have at least a general idea of what you want to write about.

But what if you don't?

No worries. You can browse your competitors’ content and see what topics have performed well for them.

Enter a competitor’s website into Content Explorer for a list of all their articles, which you can then filter and sort as you like:

  • See which articles get the most traffic from search.
  • Find the ones with the most backlinks.
  • See the articles that performed best on social media.
  • Identify the ones that performed best in the past week, month, year, etc.
To find topics for your content, see what your competitors are publishing and how well those topics are performing.

Researching your competitors’ wins is a great way to brainstorm some unique content ideas of your own.

But always remember, coming up with awesome content ideas is actually the easiest part of this process (especially given the tools you have at your disposal). The hard part is creating a stellar piece of content around your idea.


Further reading

For a refresher on creating content that magnetically attracts backlinks, review Lesson 8: Creating Linkable Assets.

For a cool approach to creating content that attracts traffic, links and shares, read our article, How To Use Public Data Sets To Create Kick-Ass Content (And Earn TONS Of Backlinks) .

And for help creating epic content (even if you aren’t a writer), read The Non-Writer’s Guide To Creating “Big” Content.

Next lesson

How to Dissect Your Competitors’ Paid Traffic