This tutorial shows you how to use keyword ranking history to add an important and unique layer of data to your keyword research and technical SEO processes.
Position history within Ahrefs allows you to see the keyword ranking history of a website's rankings.
Previously, the full position history graph was only available to Ahrefs’ Agency users. But we have unlocked all limitations of this feature for “Advanced” account holders (Lite and Standard users can still see the position history for the past 6 months).
What’s up marketers?
Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that
helps you grow your search traffic, research
your competitors and dominate your niche.
So, word on the street is that Ahrefs has
unlocked the position history feature for
all of our “Advanced plan” customers.
Before, advanced users could only see the
Google ranking history for the past 6 months
for a keyword, which may not have given you
a full scope on a page’s ranking history.
But that limitation?
So, let’s dive right into some actionable
tactics, techniques, and strategies that you
can use for your keyword research and your
other SEO tasks using position history.
Explore Positions history in Site Explorer and Keywords Explorer
The position history graph can be found in
two places outside of Rank Tracker.
And those tools are Keywords
Explorer and Site Explorer.
And a massive difference here is that Rank
Tracker’s position history graph only shows
you the ranking history from the time that
you add the keyword to your project, while
our other tools will show you
the position history for years!
Now, there are different ways to extract actionable
insights from each tool and their respective
ranking history graphs.
First is in Keywords Explorer.
Just type in a keyword phrase you want to
analyze and scroll down a touch to the SERP
position history graph.
Here, you’ll see the history of the current
top 5 ranking pages.
Analyze SERP volatility in Keywords Explorer
The main use case for this graph inside Keywords
Explorer is to analyze SERP volatility.
So are the ranking pages stable or are they
jumping in and out of the top 5, 10 or even
top 100 pages.
So you can see that for the search query,
“keyword research,” the top ranking results
are quite stable.
This tells us a few things.
#1. The search intent for this term is very clear.
Looking at the top 10 results, you can see
that almost all of the top ten ranking pages
are “how-tos” or some sort of guide.
And the other two results are Google Keyword
Planner and another tool from serps.com.
The main one that stands out is from Keyword Planner.
They have up to 75 times more unique websites
linking to their page than the others, yet they still
rank below some of the pages.
So I would take this as an indication that
a tool may not be the best way to serve a
searcher’s intent for this keyword.
But they still rank because of the sheer amount
of quality links.
The position history graph adds a nice extra
layer of data to the SERP results so you can
know with confidence which way to attack your
So that might be in the form of a how-to guide,
a list post, a product page, category page,
or a tool.
Understand the ranking velocity
The second thing you can do with this graph
is to get an idea of ranking velocity.
So if I uncheck the results except our post
on keyword research, you’ll see that it
popped in and out of the SERPs for months, before
we started to get any kind of consistent rankings.
You can see it took about 10 months to rank
in the top 5 for this keyword phrase.
And this is a great way to find out how long
it might take you to rank and also see which
dates are worth analyzing on your competitors’ pages.
Just click on the caret beside the URL, and
go to the overview page.
Next, I’ll click on “All time” to see
the full history since the big jumps on rankings
were over a year ago and scroll down to the
New and Lost referring domains graph.
And you’ll see that there was a sudden spike
in links in April 2017.
Knowing this, you can go to the new backlinks
report, select the custom dates for April
2017, and deconstruct your competitors’
link building strategies.
Common things you’ll find are guest posting
campaigns, outreach campaigns, consolidating
content with 301 redirects, PBNs, or sometimes
you’ll see negative SEO attacks.
I’ll get into some more takeaways from this
in a bit, but let’s look at the keyword
“football,” which will show us a completely
different kind of result.
Football has a few definitions.
In the northwest, people think of this.
While in the east, people think of this.
Scrolling down to the position history graph
for the US search results, you’ll see that
the SERPs have been super volatile.
And this tells us that the search intent isn’t
exactly 100% clear.
Even though most people in the US call this
game, “soccer,” we can’t generalize
that term to every person searching from the
And here’s an interesting point to this graph.
If I switch off all of the pages except this
one from ESPN, which is related to European
football, or soccer, you’ll see that the
page appeared out of nowhere.
And this is likely due to increased search
queries because of the World Cup.
If we look at the graph for search results
in the UK, then you’ll see that the search
intent seems to be more clear.
All of these pages are news related category pages.
So here are some key takeaways from graphs like these.
With stable position history graphs like in
the keyword research example, you can expect
it to be tough to penetrate the top ranking results.
You’ll need to continually build and earn
high quality links to get there, which might
But a huge pro to this is that if you do,
you’ll likely be able to retain that spot
for the longer term.
Now with highly volatile SERPs, it can be
easier to get a top ranking result without
Look at the US SERPs for the keyword, “football.”
You’ll see that a couple of the pages barely
have any referring domains.
But retaining that ranking is unpredictable.
And this is why understanding search intent
is so important.
With this data, you can approach keywords
and topics with some kind of confidence because
you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.
So weigh out your options and take things from there.
Alright, onto some use cases in Site Explorer.
First, you’ll need to enter in a URL, prefix, or a domain.
So I’ll do a prefix search for ahrefs.com/blog/.
And then I’ll go to the organic keywords
report to see all of the keywords that our
blog ranks for.
To open up the position history graph, just
click on the icon beside any of the keywords,
and you’ll see all of the pages on your
target website that have ranked for this term
in the top 100 search results over the set
period of time.
So the first way we can use this is to identify
keyword cannibalization issues.
Identify keywords cannibalization issues in Site Explorer
Keyword cannibalization is when a website
unintentionally targets the same keywords
across multiple posts or pages.
Usually the result is that none of the pages
rank particularly well.
So in general, after you find cannibalization
issues, you can start consolidating the content
and redirect lower performing pages to the
higher performing ones.
I know that our post on broken link building
had a bit of an issue before, so if you look
at the history, you'll see that we have one
URL that's broken link building, and the other,
which is broken link building method.
So if you have this issue, you can copy the
URLs, then go to the batch analysis tool.
Next, paste in the URLs and look at the traffic,
as well as the referring domains column.
And you can see that this one is clearly the winner.
And we actually added a 301 redirect here
on December 7, 2017, and you can see a slight
increase in organic traffic here.
And then we actually rewrote the guide in
April 2018 and it’s had much better traffic
growth plus a number one ranking for our target
keyword, broken link building.
Another way that some of our agency users
have used this graph is to simply take a screenshot
and send it to their clients to show them how
bad their keyword cannibalization issues are.
I can only imagine that it helps in converting
customers since the issue is so clear on this
graph and it makes you look like a pro who
knows what they’re doing.
But hey, not all keyword cannibalization issues
are really issues at all.
In general, if you’re consistently seeing
a page from the same domain rank in positions
1 and 2 for a long period of time, then it
could be a good thing.
And the most common way that I’ve seen this
is through branded queries.
For example, if we look up the history on
the keyword “Zappos shoes,” then you can
see that multiple pages from Zappos have consistently
ranked high in Google search for different
categories like women’s, men’s and kid’s.
In fact, our very own Tim Soulo was teasing
Moz about their keyword cannibalization issue
on the search query, “keyword difficulty.”
Compare the performance of the pages
Another awesome feature is that you can add
your competitors on this graph, so you can
get really cool insights on how different
pages from different websites have performed
against each other.
So I’ll look at the graph for “long tail
keywords” and add a couple of our organic
search competitors like Backlinko and Moz.
Next, I’ll clean up the graph by just showing
the best ranking page from each site.
And since we’ve all been in the top 20 for
a while, I’ll narrow our graph down to that
From here, you can start analyzing the pattern
in SERP rankings across these different pages.
If you’re comparing 3 similar pages, you
might find that they have related patterns
when they move up and down.
So a few things that come to mind is that
it could be a search intent issue.
So, if you see all of the pages dropping on
the same days, or you might see new competitors
penetrating the SERPs, or possibly even algorithmic
updates, dare I say those words.
Or if you see one of your competitors skyrocketing
to the top, then you’re able to go back
and look at their links from specific dates
to analyze what they did to climb the rankings.
That might be a new link building campaign,
consolidating content, updating their content
or a number of other reasons.
And I’m sure you can see, there are a ton
of ways to use ranking history, whether that’s
for your own website or to provide visual
reports for your clients.
And adding this extra layer of data to your
keyword research, competitor analysis, and
technical SEO tasks are only going to give
you an edge over your competition.
And I’ve only briefly covered a few of the
So, I’d love to hear from you on how you
use this graph, or if you haven’t used them
yet, which technique will you be trying first?
So give these research methods a shot, get
results, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial.