Ahrefs is an all-time favorite here at Authority Hacker.
But SEMRush can do some stuff better.
On top, Ahrefs has no features for SMM and PPC, so for some people this is not even a debate.
But at their core…
Both SEMRush and Ahrefs are an all-in-one digital marketing tool and they compete for more or less the same audience.
So join us in this Ahrefs vs SEMRush showdown to see which is right for your online business.
User Interface: A Big Deal?
The first difference anyone can notice between SEMRush vs Ahrefs is the interface.
And that’s an important difference. You want a tool that can be navigated with ease, and you definitely want to avoid getting lost among features.
Ahrefs seems to have an edge all around in this department.
And it’s not just because of a better color mix and a subjective preference for their pallette.
The most important edge Ahrefs has over SEMRush is the decluttered screen.
Let’s try a comparison.
That’s the initial dashboard of Ahrefs. There is a lot to take in and beginners may not fully grasp everything they can do in the tool.
But compare the same starting screen with SEMRush’s initial dashboard:
And if you take a look to the left, that’s just a summary of each toolkit. All of them have their own expanded dashboard.
And it’s not just the starting screen.
SEMRush can get very confusing at times, and by comparison, that’s extremely important when discussing SEMRush vs Ahrefs.
For example, some competitive analysis features will take you back to the SEO toolkit.
And even when you stay in the same view, there are a lot of options to manage, which can make SEMRush harder to navigate.
The same is true for the metrics displayed when you research keywords for example. You should have the option to remove some, and a bit of color coding for SEO difficulty wouldn’t hurt (more about that in a bit).
Now there’s an important caveat here.
Of course, the more functionalities you have, the harder it is to keep a clean screen.
We’re well aware of that.
And we wouldn’t bash SEMRush in this comparison if it did comparatively more than Ahrefs.
The thing is…
The two tools have more or less the same functionalities, at least when it comes to the core research options you need.
But Ahrefs has a much better UI.
Whether you do PPC or SEO, whether you have a media agency or an authority site, you’re going to need keyword research.
It’s an important part of digital marketing. You need to know what search volume you can expect from a keyword, what that keyword difficulty is, what content you can publish, what search engines want from you, and you should be able to do some competitive research as well.
Good SEO tools provide that information.
So it’s only natural that both Ahrefs and SEMRush have high-quality keyword research options.
But let’s dig deeper because there are slight differences important for our SEMrush vs Ahrefs comparison.
When it comes to the number of keywords suggested, Ahrefs has an edge.
Let’s analyze a query to understand why.
If you plug “best camping equipment” as a seed keyword, you’ll get over 6,000 results in Ahrefs.
In SEMRush on the other hand, you get a bit under 2,000 results.
This is a very important difference, even if it may not look like it.
I know what you’re thinking.
SEMRush still has thousands of suggestions, it’s not that big of a deal.
Ummm, actually, the number of suggestions determines how easy it is to find low-hanging SEO fruit.
Any type of filtering you do will output as many results as there are initial suggestions to work with.
It’s simple math.
So if you want to find a commercial keyword related to camping equipment, Ahrefs will output some keywords.
But SEMRush can get overwhelmed in no time.
Yeah, we hear you.
There’s more to keyword research than quantity. Keyword difficulty and search volume ratio for example could be more important for SEO tools.
But research quality is where the SEMRush vs Ahrefs showdown gets a bit more intense. You’re looking for a SEO tool that’s also a reliable crawler.
In theory, each tool can do everything you need for efficient keyword research.
Both SEMRush and Ahrefs have tools for:
- Measuring SEO Difficulty
- Checking the SERP
- Filtering keyword suggestions
- Tracking your competition’s organic traffic performance
And to be fair here: both tools do a pretty good job of it.
So we had to dig some more to find a winner.
And when you go in-depth, there are slight differences.important for your site.
For example, SERP analysis features are better in Ahrefs.
First, because you get an expanded view that actually shows important information in Ahrefs.
And you can tweak it to manually analyze the search engine results page, which is important because you can’t always count on KD scores.
In SEMRush, you only get a preview of the actual SERP in the expanded view.
On top, here’s another small difference: the process is better streamlined in Ahrefs.
The quick SERP Checker in SEMRush doesn’t immediately show any data.
While Ahrefs shows a quick analysis regardless of your plan.
On top, it shows extra data on each SERP.
Whenever you get the overview for a keyword, you also get the number of clicks on organic search results.
In the world of featured snippets and paid ads, that’s extremely important to see how much traffic you can actually get from a search term.
So when comparing Ahrefs keyword research to SEMRush keyword research, we’re already weighing in favor of Ahrefs.
Let’s drive the point home.
I recently wrote a number of articles for a client related to PRDs.
The search volume (especially compared to the KD) was extremely high.
But I noticed there aren’t a lot of organic clicks, despite the SERP not featuring any ads or snippets.
Immediately, I knew I had to focus on writing eye-catching metadata to compete with the results that were already showing.
And after analyzing the SERP, I saw that templates and in-depth explanations were missing from the other competitors.
That’s a valuable insight you can still get in SEMRush…
But it’s slightly easier to get it in Ahrefs.
And it helped a lot. Three months later, we’re already on the 1st page of Google, climbing the ranks quickly.
You’ll notice this is a trend in our Ahrefs vs SEMRush comparison: the devil’s in the details.
At its core, both tools do a good job.
But it’s these slight differences that give either tool an edge.
Let’s try another example: measuring the difficulty for ranking on a SERP.
Both tools show KD metrics when browsing suggestions.
But SEMRush clutters the screen with decimal numbers.
While Ahrefs has color-coding that makes sorting through your suggestions much easier.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s important when you dig through so many suggestions. If you’ve ever done SEO research for a site, you’ll know it takes a lot of brushing through related queries to find worthy opportunities.
On top, the keyword difficulty in Ahrefs is not an abstract number… it’s clear cut.
“All other things being equal, you need this amount of backlinks to rank on the first page.”
Remember to take this number with a grain of salt. We had keywords that needed considerably less to make it on the first page of Google.
And we had keywords that were deemed to be way more competitive after a quick check of the SERP.
But it can still get it right a lot of times.
So it’s a helpful metric.
Traditional keyword research is important regardless of your niche, or website type. Considering the number of suggestions and refined competitive metrics, Ahrefs has an edge in the keyword research department.
But for a fair review, there are things you can do easier in SEMRush. For example, their KW Magic tool has premade filters and modifiers, and even when they’re not served on a platter for you, they’re a bit easier to use than in Ahrefs.
However, that’s a matter of learning how to use each tool, not so much what Ahrefs keyword research is compared to SEMRush keyword research.
Considering the amount of data, and streamlined processes, in our SEMRush vs Ahrefs showdown, Ahrefs wins the Keyword Research battle as well.
Other SEO Gimmicks
SEO is not just about ranking for keywords. To maximize organic traffic, you also need to focus on technical SEO and other gimmicks that both tools help with.
More specifically, you need:
- A site audit tool
- An on-page checker
- Content optimization functionalities
- A means to track your ranking
- Competition analysis features
An SEO tool is incomplete without these elements.
So let’s take everything into account and compare SEMRush vs Ahrefs.
First, the site audit tool.
Surprisingly, SEMRush has a better interface on their site audit.
In Ahrefs, although you get pretty much the same data, the screen is a bit more cluttered and it’s harder to discern what you should focus on next.
So SEMRush has a bit of an advantage for SEO tools and technical SEO in general.
It’s also got more tools for checking on-page SEO. For example, there’s the content editor:
Which actually provides helpful data for the keywords you’re trying to rank. Even if it’s not on par with tools like the Surfer Content Editor, it’s still helpful, at least for short product descriptions.
On top, SEMRush has better tools for competition analysis.
You can calculate keyword (and backlink) intersect with both tools, but SEMRush has a lot of tools to visualize your standing in a niche.
On top, you can reverse-engineer your competition to find the keywords you should aim for.
Ahrefs has a slight advantage when it comes to rank tracking: specifically, after a site audit, it’ll automatically track the keywords you rank for (and the backlinks you get) and you’ll receive this type of email each week.
Comparatively, in SEMRush you have to add everything manually, which is an indictment of their site explorer tool.
The thing is, that’s all in a day’s work, so you can quickly get the same quality tracking as you would in Ahrefs. On top, if you purchase the Guru plan, you can use keywords lists to update your rank tracking in less than an hour.
Overall SEMRush fares a bit better for general SEO purposes in our SEMRush vs Ahrefs showdown.
This is important, especially because a site audit is fundamental even if you don’t want to rank on search engines.
A site explorer is an important tool to optimize your content.SEO is not just about keywords, so do consider this point when choosing between Ahrefs and SEMRush.
An SEO tool is incomplete without a site explorer tool that can also track your backlinks and referring domains.
Analyzing backlinks is important to get a grip on your competitors and kickstart your link building process.
For the first, SEMRush fares better.
Index size-wise, Ahrefs and SEMRush are more or less tied.
But SEMRush has a better tool to visualize your competition
For example, you can use the backlink gap to put your size and your competition into perspective, complete with backlink count and referring domains.
And that’s important for any initial research, whether you want to check your presence or get a grip on your niche
But Ahrefs fares a bit better when it comes to link building.
And the reason behind that is simple.
You can see a page’s backlinks one click away from the SERP Checker, which is not possible in SEMRush.
This is a great starting point for any outreach process, since you get all referring domains to your competitor’s site.
So if we’re to talk backlink analysis, SEMRush and Ahrefs are a bit tied. Depending on your needs, you could use either one.
Of course, you’d ideally use both interchangeably. There’s no perfect SEO tool.
But if you’re to choose an option, we recommend the free trial of SEMRush for initial research and an Ahrefs subscription for all other backlink research.
Special Round: Perks and Exclusive Functionalities
Both SEMRush and Ahrefs have exclusive features that make them a good choice for specific people.
And we mentioned some perks of Ahrefs, like the color-coding, the in-depth SERP Checker, keywords quantity, content promotion features, or site audit.
It doesn’t end here.
You can also use the content explorer to find new article ideas, and see what’s trending.
Which is a great tool to see what content you should be focusing on. Sure, you shouldn’t lose track of evergreen keywords, but adapting to trends can also benefit your site from time to time.
However, SEMRush isn’t behind on exclusive offers.
For example, you can do brand monitoring, which will show you who mentioned your company or product.
You can use this tool both for checking what people think about your company and as a starting point for link building. Features like that one make it easier to promote your content and site.
On top, with SEMRush you also get a content checker (that we’ve already mentioned) and a bunch of other views, dashboard and tabs to get used to that can be considered an edge over Ahrefs.
We can’t hope to cover all of them, and most of them only provide marginal benefits anyway.
But there are two areas where SEMRush pulls way ahead of Ahrefs: Social Media Marketing and paid advertising.
First, the SMM tools aren’t awe-inspiring – you can centralize your data and schedule posts.
But this is a great addition if you have an active social platform, especially because they are available from the lowest tier, so you won’t need to spend extra money on a scheduling tool if you get SEMRush.
If you ever had to publish content on social media, you’ll know how much features like this one can help.
Besides SMM, you also get a lot of tools to compete on paid keywords as well.
First, because PPC metrics are displayed all over the place.
Secondly, because you have special dashboards to:
- Track your campaign’s performance
- Take a look at your competition’s ads
- Create ads
- Analyze paid keywords
And a bunch of other features. The usefulness of many of these functionalities is debatable, so if you want to find out more about that read our SEMRush review.
But some of them are helpful.
And the mix of organic and paid metrics is great for eCommerce sites that undergo inbound marketing efforts.
On top, it’s great for any agency that provides full-service digital marketing.
And this is a good segue for another important difference between the tools:
Ahrefs works wonders for authority sites.
SEMRush is built for agencies, especially since they also have a lead generation tool.
So if you do paid advertising and SMM, SEMRush could be a better choice, and we have to give the win for exclusive features to SEMRush.
But do remember this: If you want to build an authority website, you’re better off focusing on driving organic traffic, finding the right keywords, publishing great content, and not much else.
Support is extremely important for online tools. If you’ve got an issue or can’t really use something you pay $100 a month for…
You need to know you’re covered.
Which is especially important for complex all-in-one digital marketing tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush.
Right off the bat, SEMRush lags behind since they don’t run on Intercom.
It’s a small tool, but it ensures you get a fast response to your queries.
So while both tools have a decent knowledge center, in Ahrefs you can access it wherever you are.
Plus, it’s much easier to contact a representative. In SEMRush, you only get an old ticketing system.
To be fair, SEMRush does provide a lot of help getting started on-page. But Ahrefs has the same explanations, with the added chat function, so it’s a clear Ahrefs win.
The two tools have very similar pricing schemes, with the lowest tier costing exactly the same.
So let’s analyze each one.
This is what SEMRush will cost:
The cheapest you can get is $99.95 per month, while the Guru plan is $199.95 each month and a Business subscription can cost as much as $399.95 each month.
On top, SEMRush also has a 7-day free trial.
Ahrefs pricing looks like this:
The first benefit SEMRush has over Ahrefs is the cap:
You get way more reports per day (with the cheapest Ahrefs plan you can only analyze 25 keywords in-depth each day) but don’t let the huge difference fool you.
Yeah, you basically have no limit in SEMRush, but you use those 3000 reports for more features than just keywords.
On top, SEMRush has an actual free trial, while Ahrefs charges you for it (although it’s only 7 dollars).
There’s a slight difference.
But we have to give the win to SEMRush, they have a better pricing scheme.
Ahrefs vs SEMRush: The Winner
If you’ve been following us, the result of our showdown is probably not a surprise.
Ahrefs is, in our humble opinion, the better alternative.
That’s not to say SEMRush falls too much behind.
They do have a better pricing scheme, features for SMM, paid advertising and a better Technical SEO toolset.
But considering that:
- Ahrefs has a better User Interface all around
- Keyword research is easier and better in Ahrefs
- SERP analysis is superior with Ahrefs
- Link building is easier with Ahrefs
- Ahrefs has better support
We have to award the grand winner prize to Ahrefs. It’s the better all around tool.
So should I subscribe to Ahrefs?
Not immediately, you shouldn’t.
If you’re an agency and/or you already undergo SMM and paid advertising efforts, definitely give SEMRush a shot. There’s no harm in trying their free trial.
If you’re a beginner in the online business world, the Mangools Suite will suit you better since it’s made to accommodate all users. More about that in our KWFinder review.
And in general, if you don’t want an all-in-one tool and you just need extra help with a specific part of your marketing efforts, like finding keywords, there are better alternatives.
For example, Majestic has a much larger backlink index and Screaming Frog is much better for website optimization.
On top, you need to take price into account. If you need the features of Ahrefs and SEMRush but you can’t really afford $99 each month, there are cheaper alternatives.
To Wrap It Up
Ahrefs is the winner all around.
Seeing as both tools do a good job, just the edge in the user interface is enough to make you go for Ahrefs.
But this showdown can go much deeper.
Depending on your needs, you could need something else altogether.
However, as a general rule of thumb, Ahrefs is the better alternative.
Read our Ahrefs review to find out more and let us know if you agree with the points we made in this Ahrefs vs SEMRush showdown.