Ahrefs is our go-to all-in-one SEO tool.
It’s easy to get started with, and it packs quite the punch.
And while SEMRush fell out of grace with us last time we took a look at it, it went through some facelifts.
It can help you find keywords to rank, audit your site, pit your business against your competitors and even do some PPC and SMM tweaks.
But it’s not perfect.
And it’s only suitable for a few specific categories.
So let’s delve into the tool in our review.
SEMRush is easy to get into, even if it may have some interface drawbacks.
The dashboards are generally beautiful and easy to navigate.
But if you use the tool for more than an hour, it can get a tad bit complex at times.
There are a lot of views and dashboards to access, which makes it hard to keep track of everything you’re doing.
And this is especially a problem for beginners, who might not easily make the difference between SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool, and the Keyword Overview.
But I expect it poses problems for advanced users too.
I used SEMRush to get insights on Authority Hacker alone.
If you’re working for several clients (which is the target market of SEMRush) I’m sure you can get lost in all the views and dashboards.
However, that only means there’s a steep learning curve.
And they do try to make up for it.
For example, when you get started they’ll ask you what you’re focused on.
This won’t change any of the features, it’ll just get you started with the associated toolkit.
All in all, you should get the hang of it in a few days.
But it can still get confusing at times, so take some time to play with each feature.
Speaking of which…
Whenever I review a tool, I like to try every feature in part. I’ll usually mention my experience with all features too, whether it’s paid search metrics or advanced metrics for spying on your competitors.
I feel this provides a comprehensive take on software.
And if anyone was drawn in thanks to a specific feature, they’ll be able to see that feature put to the test.
I can’t do that in SEMRush.
They have a long list of (more or less) powerful features, with subcategories and tweaks, so I can’t hope to cover everything unless I’m writing a SEMRush user’s manual.
But I’ll focus on the main toolkits:
- The SEO Toolkit
- The Advertising Toolkit
- The Competitive Research Toolkit
- The Social Media Toolkit
- The Content Marketing Toolkit
And I’ll mention what you can (and can’t) do with all of them.
So let’s take it step by step.
SEMRush SEO Toolkit
SEO is a must for any online business. And it’s more than just a keyword research tool or tools to find the best links your competitors get.
SEMRush is an SEO tool which kind of helps you with everything.
This subset has a bunch of features, and they’re all built to help you increase organic traffic.
However, there’s a huge difference between a site audit and a keyword research tool, so I’ll try to break this section up too.
(I did tell you this was a complex tool).
As is digital marketing custom, we suggest you start with a site audit, just to get a grip on your most pressing issues.
Right off the bat, you can’t choose as many metrics to look for as you would in Ahrefs for example.
But the end result is not bad.
SEMRush delivers. You can analyze each issue your site has, and you get short explanations on how (and why) to fix each issue.
This is one of the rare instances SEMRush has a better UI than most tools.
You also get a quick overview of your site, and you have the option to export every problem to Trello, which definitely streamlines your SEO efforts.
(As long as you use Trello.)
Besides the audit, you also get a dashboard for site analysis:
This is a great overview of how you’re standing, and it can be improved by setting up more metrics and by connecting with your other platforms.
Basically, this is how SEMrush thinks Google sees your site.
And it gets more useful the bigger your content size is.
If we’re fair, it’s helpful for any online business that has some domain history. Otherwise, you’d be better off scrapping for related keywords or scooping your competitors.
Speaking of which…
If you want to find keywords ripe for the taking, SEMRush won’t disappoint.
While the process can get complicated at times (you’ll notice this is a theme with SEMRush), you get access to advanced tools for sketching the best list of keywords your website could rank on.
Classic keyword research is pretty straightforward with SEMRush.
You plug a seed keyword and get basic recommendations, related keywords and a bunch of search results metrics.
I’ve been analyzing a lot of keyword research tools for the past few weeks, and SEMRush is the only one on-par with Ahrefs when it comes to the amount of data generated.
The only problem I could point to is the lack of keyword difficulty metrics on suggestions and related keywords:
Which makes Ahrefs better suited at finding low-hanging SEO fruit.
Besides that, you get all the suite:
- Measuring search traffic based on country and language
- Targeting filters
- Premade modifiers
- Keyword difficulty metrics
Even without an ever-present KD score, you get a lot of suggestions, and a ton of data on organic search numbers paid search metrics and more or less everything you need to refine your research.
On top, if something’s not available here, you’ll find it in the Keyword Magic Tool.
This was a long-awaited feature of SEMRush, and it’s supposed to help you find better keywords with advanced algorithms.
It technically also helps because the keyword magic tool doesn’t stop at search traffic per month – it displays a lot of extra metrics.
And that’s good… sometimes, although some metrics don’t seem to have a place.
What’s also good is that you can add modifiers from the left bar to quickly refine your search.
And they get data from a bunch of platforms, so it should be easier to target keywords fit for your site.
But it’s not all rosy.
Because there’s a ton of metrics to take into account, it can get confusing. SEMRush tries to do all things at once, and serve everyone at once.
That could work if they leave some wiggle room for customizations.
But as of right now, you can’t modify the Keyword Magic Tool’s dashboard, so you get organic search, paid search and in-house metrics all bundled up in the same place.
On top, finding the best organic search opportunities is harder than in other tools, because it’s all broken up in three dashboards.
Besides the keyword overview and the keyword magic tool, you can also access the Keyword Manager, where you’ll centralize all of this data.
Don’t blame them too much though – the keyword manager is great if you’re an agency or a big website and you need a way to organize your projects or silos.
Besides the keyword research tool(s?) you can also manually analyze search results.
Whenever you plug a keyword into the overview, you can click on a SERP link and it’ll automatically take you to a competitor analysis, which simplifies niche and SERP analysis.
The problem is – SEMRush doesn’t automatically load numbers in their SERP analysis tool (maybe to keep you from feeling like 3000 reports each month is not enough) which can get mildly annoying after looking at a big list of search results and target keywords.
Additionally, even if you run the metrics, some crucial metrics like Authority score for the domains are missing which makes it much less usable than say Ahrefs or Mangools.
On top, if you want to take a closer look, tools like Mangools will let you expand the view, and modify the dashboard.
This lets you get a grip on who you’re competing against.
But it doesn’t work like that in SEMRush.
It’ll just show the actual search results page, with some data on top.
This can be helpful at times… but it’s not so much compared to competing tools.
However, SEMRush has some more tricks up its sleeve. Besides the audit tool, you can also get numbers on your competitors.
Yes, SEMRush has an entire toolkit for spying on your competitors.
But while testing SEMRush for this review, I often found myself clicking on links just to be transferred to a totally different toolkit, which especially happened when researching competitors.
Yeah, the tool has cumbersome navigation at times.
But there are a lot of things you can do to analyze a competing business. In fact, this used to be SEMRush’s USP: the ability to reverse-engineer a site in matters of organic search and replicate what worked for them.
Is it still viable?
First, they’ve got some faulty numbers.
We compared the number of unique monthly visitors from our own sites with the traffic estimates from SEMRush.
(Remember, this is US-based organic traffic, excluding mobile).
As you can see, SEMRush was a bit off. That’s why these traffic estimates are best taken with a pinch of salt.
On top, it can make you wary of their numbers in general if they can be so off in a specific case.
However, getting an overview of specific competitors is easy and insightful.
You get access to a lot of helpful data, so it’s easy to scoop some data on your competitors.
Granted, Ahrefs does it a bit better. Whenever you do a site audit, they’ll have you list keywords and suggest competitors based on keywords intersect.
It’s better for beginners, and easier for experienced SEOs.
But SEMRush kind of makes up for it with advanced views. For example, the competitive positioning map is good to get an idea of how big your competitors are, especially when it comes to content size.
You can also get an overview and comparison of their organic traffic sources.
This is great if you want to keep an eye on top-performing keywords.
And that’s helpful, since you can see the keywords your competitors rank for, which in turn makes it easier to find content ideas.
If you want to take a closer look, you can check the keyword gap, which puts things better in perspective.
Just try not to “overheat” it with a lot of competitors. I was met with this screen when I played with the tool too much.
But the view overall is great. It shows top opportunities for your site, and a comparison with competitors to see how your business fares.
And you can do the same thing with backlinks.
It’s not as complex as the keyword gap, but you can get prospect recommendations to kickstart link building efforts.
They calculate that based on content intersect, and it’s a really helpful tool.
But there’s more you can do when it comes to link building.
First, the link building overview is basically the backlink gap dashboard slightly augmented, so there’s no real reason to keep them in separate dashboards.
Again, unnecessary complexity.
But it’s not a useless feature.
As you’ll see, you get a lot of dashboards to play around with for links.
The best one is the Backlinks view, since you can see all referring domains to your competitors.
This helps you gauge potential links for your website, so don’t gloss over it.
Our recommendation is to take each one in turn and see who you can work with.
Besides the default view, you can also choose to see subdomain data or root URL data, and you get a lot of filters for these numbers.
It can get overwhelming, but they did a good job of streamlining the process for the link building dashboard.
If you want to get into the nitty gritty of it, you can add filters to your links research.
This makes it extremely easier to go deep on a specific keyword set, so your content promotion efforts should go smoother with SEMRush.
On top, you can use their link building tool to research new opportunities.
Now, let’s talk about drawbacks.
First, this dashboard displays Linkedin as a backlink opportunity.
Ok, I get it, just a small error.
But it displays it as just as accessible and valuable as a general review website, which could make you question their algorithms (again).
And you don’t want to take any numbers risk for your online business.
Second, as with anything SEMRush, it might take some time before you understand how to use each dashboard.
However, it’s a good tool to kickstart your backlink empire.
And everything we talked about is just for finding new backlinks.
If you want to clean up your backyard, you can do a backlink audit.
And like most things SEMRush, it’s filled with data
You can see all referring domains and backlinks, you get a report on your target pages, and you also get other metrics like Domain Authority Score or link toxicity.
In our case, the report came out pretty good, and if you know what you’re doing, you won’t end up with any bad links from the get-go, so any position tracking tool can be just as useful for the occasional bad referral.
But it still has a decent comprehensive view of your backlinks, and it’s especially useful if you have a lot of links to analyze.
Overall, the system works if you have some old websites.
Or if you bought an online business and you want to give it a check-up.
Other than that, their rank tracker is more than enough.
First, a fun fact:
SEMRush is the only tool I’ve ever seen that lets you track data for China’s search engine.
So I guess, if you’re an SEO trying to compete on Baidu… definitely go for SEMRush, not anything else.
Talk about enabling research on all search engines.
Now for the full rank tracker review.
You’ll have to add what keywords you’re tracking manually, which is already a downgrade from Ahrefs.
Over there, the keywords you’re ranking for are indexed automatically and you don’t need to take any extra steps to get their email notifications.
There is a workaround.
If you have the Guru plan, you can export all the keywords found in the initial site audit and upload them here.
But it’s still not a viable solution if you’re looking for efficiency.
However, if you put in the time in the beginning, and then add keywords as you upload new content, you get a pretty decent position tracking tool.
Besides the general tracking, you can also track particular posts.
And for the cool part – You can use the SEMRush Sensor.
This is more of a trends dashboard, but for industries and their organic search numbers.
It’s a lot to unpack, and I found myself playing around with it more and more.
However, unless you have an empire of authority websites, you can’t do much with it besides seeing how you fare against your industry.
(not to say that’s a bad thing)
Content Marketing Toolkit
Again, this is a toolkit in and of itself, but a lot of options will take you to the SEO view, so we’ll deal with it here.
You can find topic ideas from keywords or domains.
And if you plug any seed niche, you’ll get a lot of recommendations for things that get a lot of shares or references.
Yeah, they’re not always the best recommendations.
For example, you can’t write anything about “spend time” that’s similar to a Wikipedia article.
So even if, overall, SEMRush has good recommendations, that’s the 4th (or was it 5th?) strike.
SEMRush seems to be rough around the edges sometimes, both in the data they serve and the way they display it.
Not to bash them too much though – this feature is a great aid to find new article ideas, especially after you’ve written 30 or 40 pieces and you feel like you covered everything you could in your niche.
You can also use the SEO Template, which has recommendations for optimizing your website and individual articles.
Just plug a keyword and you’ll get a template for the type of content you need to create.
On top, you get a lot of general recommendations for how your articles should look like.
But wait, there’s more.
The SEO Writing Assistant (technically) helps you create content that is optimized for search results.
But does it really help?
The Quick Checker lets you review your content, but considering the limited amount of keyword suggestions, I’d only advise you use it for short product descriptions.
You can also add it as an extension on Google Docs.
Unfortunately, it’s not as depthful as the Surfer Content Editor for example, it just has a few recommendations.
Compare that to Surfer’s extensive suggestions:
Plus, considering how light it is, it doesn’t really warrant a tool in and of itself.
But it can be helpful for specific cases.
Besides the SEO tweaks, you can also do brand monitoring.
This is great to see mentions, social reach and get notified whenever people talk about you.
If you sell products, you’ll quickly see any reviews that crop up.
If you get mentioned without any links pointing back to you, you can turn that into a link building opportunity.
And if you need anything extra, you can also use their content audit.
While great in theory, it’s only helpful if you’ve been in the business for a few years.
It’s going to give you an overview of your newest pages, SEO and content quality.
This is where you’ll first see the limitations of their cheapest plan. If you don’t upgrade to the Guru plan, you’ll only see an audit on your top 50 pages.
But they’ve also got other awesome services.
For example, you can order a rewrite on articles you’ve been struggling with.
This is helpful if you want to break into the blogosphere by investing a lot of money.
But it’s not good news if you’re bootstrapping.
SEMRush for SEO: Is it Worth it?
All in all, it’s a great tool. Definitely our alternative to Ahrefs if you don’t like the blue-haired all-in-one.
When you look at everything you can do for SEO, SEMRush has technically more features.
But they’re often just bells and whistles.
So you can make due, but it’s not the easiest to use alternative.
Especially if you’re either a beginner, bootstrapper or don’t have a huge website.
However, as long as you’re an experienced SEO, have a big website (generally in content size) and don’t mind an over cluttered interface, it can work.
But if you browse the SEMRush site, SEO is not the only thing they claim to help with.
SEMRush and Paid Advertising
Besides SEO, you can also track a lot of paid advertising metrics.
And you’ll be able to do that in most views. For example, keyword research for SEO is bundled along with PPC numbers.
For anyone that wants to sell products in the niche they’re writing in, it’s a nice addition.
For example, if you have a website that sells neck massagers and you’re writing articles about how to use them, buying guides and the like, it can help.
You can be writing a guide on how to choose the best Naipo neck massager, and also get an estimate on how much you should spend for each click on your Naipo ads.
But it does deeper.
You can get the same overviews as you would for organic traffic, like the domain analysis, competitor comparison and a bunch of other tools, from a PPC perspective.
And it’s a well-rounded tool
But let’s round up the best features.
First, you get tools to check on your competitor’s ads, both on display and search network.
Which is a great way to get a grip on the keywords you want to target.
Although, if we’re honest here, it’s not too much when compared to the Google Ads data you can get.
On the other hand, the Ad Builder has a lot of potential.
This feature bundles all the data it can get, and it generates ideas based on the keywords you’re ranking for, with input from what your competitors advertise on.
In theory, that’s fantastic, but it isn’t much in practice. Really, it’s just another place to centralize all the data from before.
Plus, if you want to make use of all the insights SEMRush offers, you’ll have to paste your ads from the Google Ads platform, so it’s strenuous.
And the insights aren’t much compared to what you see in the regular Ads view.
All in all, it can be a benefit for a few specific individuals.
But it can also make everything confusing.
So if you want to get SEMRush solely as an advertising aid, you’d be better off just mastering Google Ads and Google Analytics.
Social Media Marketing with SEMRush
As a general rule, if you want to create an authority website (or even a niche website) focus on SEO.
You can do some PPC if you can afford, but only if you manage to get a ROI for your products.
That’s a different ball game, and it should really just be an afterthought.
Or something to focus on when you get much bigger.
Keeping that in mind, let’s see what SEMRush helps with.
First, it’s great that you can connect your social platforms and schedule posts.
If you ever bootstrapped a Facebook and Instagram combo, you’ll immediately know that this takes care of a lot for you.
But is SEMRush worth it for the social media insights too?
Well, you do get a place to centralize all social media insights.
On top, you can also:
- Measure your competition’s social media presence
- Boost your posts
- Track your performance
So we tried it for a week.
And we weren’t disappointed, it’s really helpful when managing a page of any size.
But unless you’re running a multi-million dollar company with a huge social following, you’ll be better off focusing on a few channels and just gathering data individually.
The data is already there.
And you can’t justify the added expense.
Yes, they also have a beta for running social media ads.
So it has the potential to become huge.
And if you spend some time with the tool, you’ll probably like to have everything in one spot.
But again – it’s only worth it for big platforms.
If you have a few thousand followers on IG, it’s not so helpful.
SEMRush as a Service
Overall, SEMRush has a well-rounded service.
The pricing is more or less on par with Ahrefs.
The basic plan is $99.95 per month, Guru is $199.95 per month and a Business subscription can set you back $399.95 each month.
You get all of your needs taken care of with the Basic plan, so if you like SEMRush, go for that.
Just make sure you try the free trial first, because you may be overwhelmed while using SEMRush if you’re not working for a big agency or website.
The only benefit over Ahrefs is the cap.
You (technically) get more keyword searches with SEMRush, but that’s justified since you’ll use the reports cap for more things related to analytics.
Ahrefs gives you 25 advanced reports for the Basic plan each dat, but you get way more mileage out of them. The process there is much more streamlined and you get all the data faster.
Support wise, SEMRush does its best to help you get started. All of the complicated metrics have explanations and they have a big support center.
Getting in touch is not as easy as with most other tools.
The interface also looks pretty old.
But you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed if you know what you’re doing.
Now for the good stuff.
If we’re to talk management tools, you can see that SEMRush was built for agencies.
For example, they want to help with lead generation.
Awesome way to add value to your customers, if not a bit too on the nose. Having worked in an agency background, most of them will likely have their own fancy lead generation methods.
But when it comes to clients you already signed, it’s easy to separate everything you’re working on into projects and keep tabs on what organic and paid data sets go where.
You also get a Calendar, which isn’t revolutionary, but it helps you have everything in one place.
Putting it all on paper, I think SEMRush’s dream is to become the Jarvis of marketers. They do try to make your life easier.
And more often than not, they succeed.
Who Should Use SEMRush?
If you have a big site, you could give it a try.
If you’re an established agency, you could also give it a shot
Other than that, Ahrefs is a better choice overall. If you want to learn more, read about our SEMRush alternatives.
Bootstrappers and the regular blog owners will have a much better experience with Ahrefs.
First of all, because of the unnecessary complexity in SEMRush.
Second, because some processes are better streamlined in Ahrefs.
For example, when you analyze a keyword in Ahrefs, youk get instant data on SERP numbers, a more exhaustive competitive analysis and backlink suggestions.
Most of them one click away from the initial dashboard.
In SEMRush, you’ll often need to switch between views to get the same type of insights, not to mention the better support you get with Ahrefs.
Third, Ahrefs data is (so far) more reliable.
If you want to find out more, read our Ahrefs review.
SEMRush Review: Conclusion
SEMRush can be a viable choice for a lot of marketers.
And it can help with:
- A decent audit tool for SEO, backlinks and content
- A good keyword research tool
- Helpful content marketing features
- A viable position tracking tool
- Organic and paid metrics
And much more.
So SEMRush provides most blog owners with what they’ll need to succeed
And it’s got a free trial, so give it a shot if you liked what you read today.
But it can lag in one or more areas.
And there are better options for your business.
So let us know, do you agree with our SEMRush review?