SEMRush Review & Tutorial

Being the first marketing tool to focus on competitor-based keyword research, SEMRush quickly became popular with SEO’s and marketers. Today, not so much- especially when compared to it’s closest competitor, Ahrefs. Not only did it underperform if some areas, but it completely lacked the tools needed to properly evaluate keyword competition.

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Important Note

All the ratings & reviews have been made from an SEO perspective. SEMRush also offers PPC tools but we decided not to review them in this review, mostly because we don't think we're using PPC enough to give you a proper expert review.

Review of: SEMRush

Use: Competitor keyword research

Effectiveness

It finds a good # of keyword opportunities, but analyzing SERP competition is a pain

Price

It’s expensive for what you get. Ahrefs does the same and more for pretty much the same price.

Ease of use

The interface is a little confusing at first, but doesn’t take too long to get the hang of things

Support

Support options are pretty standard, but I did get a speedy and quality(ish) response via email

We Like

  • Easily uncover your competitors organic rankings
  • Check top performing pages for winning content ideas
  • Quickly identify the keywords with the highest traffic potential
  • Find thousands of competitors using a single seed URL

We Don't Like

  • Keyword difficulty metric is unusual and unreliable
  • Backlink analysis reports some very inaccurate data
  • The traditional keyword research functionality (still in Beta) is weak
  • Unable to carry out any manual SERP analysis from within the tool
  • User interface could be a little overwhelming for newbies

More...


You know something?

I NEVER watch a movie these days without checking reviews.

Whenever I hear about a new release, I’m straight on Rotten Tomatoes for a quick percentage check. Anything lower than 70% and I’m out.

Same way I almost never go to a restaurant without checking Trip Advisor anymore. It’s just standard procedure and something most of us have adopted over the years.

And it makes sense.

Other people have already shared their own experience. It’s almost like sending an army of personal assistants to check it out for you and report back. Why would you pass up that information?

And believe it or not, you can apply this EXACT same “crowd-sourced” approach to keyword research.

Instead of shooting in the dark on keywords that look good in theory, you can leverage the thousands of webmasters in your niche who’ve already separated the wheat from the chaff.

I’m talking about tapping into an endless supply of tried-and-tested keywords with a simple click of a button. And when you do it right, it’s easily the most powerful keyword research strategy you can use to grow your organic traffic.

But it does take some know-how, and the right tools.

Enter, SEMRush

SEMRush is an all-in-one competitor analysis tool, founded in 2008 by the same guys behind the popular browser-extension, SEOQuake.

Unlike any other keyword research tool around at the time, SEMRush gave way to a very unique approach to finding profitable keywords.

Reverse-engineering your competitors organic rankings.

Being the first tool to have this kind of capability, it had first movers advantage. Almost overnight, it became a must-have tool in the SEO and online marketing world.

But things have come a long way since then. A lot has changed. The question is, does SEMRush still deserve a place in your toolkit?

Let’s find out.

How Well Does It Perform For Traditional Keyword Research?

Traditional keyword research is using seed keywords to identify the actual search terms your target audience are using.

The way you do that is by looking directly at search data, and then analyzing individual keyword phrases in terms of both monthly search volume and overall search engine competition.

So, how does SEMRush help you do that?

For a long time, it didn’t. You couldn’t do traditional keyword research with SEMRush because it was purely for competitor analysis. But that was until recently, when SEMRush added a new feature called ‘SEO Keyword Magic’.

Now, I actually cover this in the review so I won’t get too much into it here. I will say though, even with the addition of this feature, I still didn’t find it 100% viable for traditional keyword research.

If you’re interested in taking the traditional approach, I’d recommend getting one of these tools instead:

How Well Does it Perform For Competitor Keyword Research?

As I mentioned before, competitor keyword research is about taking your competitors sites and reverse-engineering their organic search rankings.

By looking at the search terms your competitors are ranking for, you can target keywords that are already proven. All other factors being equal, you know there’s a good chance you can aso rank for those keywords by creating similar (and better) content.

So, how does SEMRush help you do that?

Since SEMRush was built for deep competitor analysis, it’s not surprising that one of the main features allows you to uncover anyone's organic rankings. As long as the domain appears in Google’s top 100 positions, you’ll know about it.

More than that, it allows you to sort and filter that (sometimes huge amount) data using metrics like ‘SERP position’ and ‘traffic %’ to find the “hidden gems” as quickly and easily as possible.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly For this review, I fired up SEMRush to see how well this competitor-based keyword research tool fares next to it’s competitors (and Ahrefs in particular).

Since SEMRush isn’t just used for keyword research, there will be a number of features that I haven’t mentioned in this review.

I will, however, do my best to mention all the features I feel are relevant to keyword research and give my overall experience using them. (and I’ll point out what I liked and didn’t like along the way, of course.)

First Impressions Of The User Interface

The user interface can be a little overwhelming the first time you use SEMRush. There seems to be a lot going on with all the colors and everything calling out for attention.

In reality, it’s actually not a complicated tool and it almost feels like they’re trying to fill the space to make it appear more advanced than it really is.

For example, the first thing you see when you log in is the dashboard. And here, we’ve got not 1, but 2 options to “add a project”.

We’v’e also got links to their blog and news articles.

And the footer alone takes up most of my screen.

I’m being a bit critical here and it’s not a terrible interface by any means. But taking away all the notifications and stripping everything down to the essentials, you start to realize how unnecessarily cluttered it is.

You notice this stuff even more after using tools like KW Finder, which use a minimal approach:

I think we can all agree this bare-bones interface feels a helluva lot more intuitive.

Reverse-Engineering

SEMRush is built around the concept of reverse-engineering your competitors, and that’s ultimately where your keyword research starts.

Once you’ve gathered your master list of competitor domains, you can then start plugging them into the tool, one-by-one.

Make sure you remove “http://” from the URL otherwise it will only analyze that specific page instead of the entire domain. Unless of course, that’s what you want to do.

Within a few seconds, you’ll get back a TON of data for that domain, which again, can be a little overwhelming.

Of course, this is just an overview of everything. The key here is to have a goal in mind and understand exactly what it is you’re looking to reverse-engineer.

Is it their organic rankings?

Is it their backlink profile?

Is it their paid advertising campaign?

Whatever it is, you can use the sidebar navigation to dive into that specific set of data and really get your hands dirty.

Go Behind The Scenes With Organic Research

At the heart of this tool is it’s ability to perform deep, organic research. This translates into a bunch of different uses and it’s by faaaar the most-used feature of SEMRush.

To get to it, just click “Organic Research” in the sidebar and it’ll take you straight to the “Positions” analysis by default.

It’s important to note at this stage, this data isn’t global.

By default, you’ll be looking at US specific data. But you can change that for most areas of this tool - so just keep that in mind.

So that’s the formalities out the way.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty and talk about some of the things you can actually do with this thing (and why they matter).

Spy On Your Competitors Traffic Stats

The first thing you’ll see here is the Organic Traffic Estimates analysis

This gives you an idea of both a website's organic traffic volume, and the trend of that traffic over time.

Of course, this is only based on organic traffic, which is why it’s considerably lower than you might expect for some sites.

Want the full story?

SEMRush does allow you to zoom out and look at a sites overall traffic statistics. All you need to do, is click “Traffic Analytics” in the sidebar.

And here you’ll get a complete breakdown of how traffic flows through a given competitor's site.

How reliable is this estimate?

Firstly, SEMRush doesn’t include mobile traffic stats, only desktop. Since mobile traffic accounted for 60% of all traffic in 2016 (and still rising), that’s already a huge chunk of missing data.

Important: Currently, our reports only show estimates of website traffic generated by desktop internet users (not mobile users)

Secondly, it’s not an exact science. It’s just an estimate based on keyword search volumes, organic rankings and average click-through rates.

In other words, it’s never going to mimic what the webmaster will see in their personal analytics, but it’s still a reasonably good indication of traffic.

Another tool you can use to gauge traffic is SimilarWeb, and it’s free. This one gives you the number of pageviews and it’s good to get an overall sense of traffic instead of relying on one set of data.

And don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking…

“But Lewis, you didn’t really answer the question. HOW reliable is SEMRush for traffic estimates?”

Relax. I got it covered.

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)

Site

Exact

SEMRush

Authority Hacker

15,521

5,200

Health Ambition

161,555

97,100

As you can see, SEMRush was really off, particularly on Authority Hacker. That’s why these traffic estimates are best taken with a pinch of salt.

Steal The Best Performing Keywords

Let’s take a step back and return to the Organic Research tab.

This is essentially what most marketers think of when you mention SEMRush.

The Organic Search Positions feature.

In a nutshell, it shows you all the keywords any domain (or specific page) is ranking for, allowing you to reverse-engineer their best performing keywords.

Depending on the size of the screen, you might find the keyword column is too narrow making it harder to read.

If that’s the case, you can just hide the sidebar to give yourself more space.

By default, SEMRush will sort these results by ‘Traffic %’, or the keywords that are estimated to bring in the most traffic.

I like that SEMRush does this automatically because it’s easily the most effective way to to uncover a sites most valuable keywords.

So yeah, #efficiency

Going back to our example, we can immediately pick out the best performing keywords for QuickSprout.

These keywords are fundamentally different to the keyword suggestions you get with the traditional approach because they’re already proven.

Assuming you’re own site has similar (or preferably higher) authority, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to steal these keywords from under their nose. (Again, this stuff is covered in a lot more detail in our guide to competitor research)

But we’re not done yet.

This is something Ahrefs also does very well and given the tools comprehensive index, I’d be crazy not to test it against SEMRush.

So I plugged the same domain into Ahrefs and checked the “organic keywords” tab to see what comes back.

Ahrefs returned 70,716 total results against the 117,644 (US only) results from SEMRush.

In terms of raw numbers, SEMRush does bring back more results.

Of course, the problem with having more results, is that it becomes even more important to be able to quickly and easily identify the hidden gems.

Filters and sorting can only take you so far. You still need something to give you a clear picture of what’s going on behind the scenes.

And that brings me to my next point...

Quickly Discover Keyword Competition Level

Using a single metric to calculate keyword difficulty makes sense in an ideal world, but as we’ve seen before, there’s no industry standard for this kind of thing.

And unfortunately, these numbers vary wildly from tool-to-tool, and it makes it hard to know which one to actually trust. That said, some tools do it really well, and when it works, it really works.

SEMRush shows you keyword difficulty (or KD) for each of your results:

To calculate keyword difficulty for your own set of keywords in SEMRush, just navigate to it in the sidebar and enter your keywords.

After a few seconds, you’ll get back something like this:

And just to illustrate how varied this score system can be, we ran the same keywords through multiple tools to show you how they stack up:

Keyword Research Tool

“Bicep Curl”

“Bench Press”

”Barbell Squats"

Backlinks (#SEMRush1)

86.25%

88.2%

80.02%

Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

24

44

32

Long Tail Platinum Cloud

51

50

45

KW Finder

51

48

32

As you can see, not only is SEMRush reporting insanely different difficulty scores, but it’s also showing them as percentages. (Wtf?)

I won’t go too much into this, because Perrin actually wrote an entire post comparing the reliability of these scores, and SEMRush was included included in that list.

To sum it up, SEMRush performed the worst in our testing and we deemed it the most unreliable tool for evaluating keyword difficulty using this metric.

Ahrefs, on the other hand, performed the best in our testing.

Easily Evaluate SERP Competition Strength (Or Not)

Given how bad the keyword difficulty metric is in SEMRush, you might expect the tool to give you an alternative...

...you know, a way to check the competition strength in the search results?

Well, not exactly.

SEMRush doesn’t have any kind of interface that allows you to analyze the SERPS, like what you get with Ahrefs:

...or KW Finder.

This is something that for me - even using a tool that does provide a reliable keyword difficulty score - is still super important for traditional keyword research.

With SEMRush, the best you get is an actual link to the SERPs. (lol)

You pretty much have to rely on competitor based research and the fact that:

  • A competitor is ranking well for a given keyword
  • That competitor has an equal or lower authority than you
  • As a result, you should also be able to rank for that keyword

And while that does work, it’s not completely fool-proof. For example, you’re not able to see specific link metrics which could play a massive role, particularly at page-level.

One workaround would be to install the free MozBar extension and do a manual SERP analysis by Googling the keyword.

While you can’t check specific link metrics, it does allow you to check the authority for the top 10 results at both domain-level and page-level.

It’s not perfect, but it does work and it’s still better than what SEMRush currently offers.

Find Promising Keyword Opportunities

Nothing in this world is ever constant.

The stock market crashes.

My girlfriend puts on a few extra pounds (ughh).

And, of course, Google’s always juggling the SERPs to figure out what should rank where.

The “Position Changes” analysis shows you changes in organic rankings for any domain or URL.

This allows you to check the top 100 organic search results for:

  • New keywords
  • Lost keywords
  • Improved keywords
  • Declined keywords

And you can filter out results based on either of those categories:

Now let’s talk in practical terms because not every reporting option will be useful and that definitely applies here.

Essentially, you’re only interested in keywords that are performing well, which narrows it down to the “New” and “Improved” filters.

(The filters themselves aren’t new and improved)

This allows you to identify tons of long-tail keywords that your competitors are ranking for, as well as keywords that are climbing in the SERPs.

Surprise, surprise. Ahrefs does this too.

It’s called “Movements” and it works almost exactly the same way.

Easily Uncover Thousands Of Competitors

If there’s one ingredient that defines the results you get from using SEMRush, it’s an understanding of your competition.

Knowing WHO your competition is gives you the keys to hundreds, if not thousands of proven keyword suggestions. But you’re not limited to just one key.

Alright, I’ll cut the riddles.

The more competitors you plug into SEMRush, the more results you’ll get back. Simple.

And while I do recommend some manual research for this part, the tool actually helps you identify competitors at scale using the “Organic Competitors” analysis.

From a single URL, SEMRush uncovered 19,277 similar websites.

But more than that, it gives you a useful insight that allows you to sort and filter the domains that MATTER.

We’ll start with competition level.

In a nutshell, this tells you how many similar keywords each site is ranking for in respect to that sites overall number of organic keywords.

More in common = higher competition

It’s basically using the ratio of ‘common keywords’ versus ‘overall keywords, which in theory makes a lot of sense.

From my testing, it actually worked pretty well. They were sorted well and even at the lower end I could still see a ton of very relevant domains.

I should say though, the number of results you get back is a little misleading.

As I dug deeper into it, things got a bit rocky. From the 19,277 competitors it found, I probably wouldn’t use more than 1% as part of my research.

Overall, SEMRush does cast a wide net on this but the competition level metric makes it super easy to find the cream of the crop. I likes it.

Switching over to Ahrefs again, the “competing domains” report only returned 43 results. A little surprising, I have to say.

SEMRush gets this one.

You could also this list of competitors for things like relationship building, guest posting and various link building campaigns.

Reverse-Engineer Proven Content

On occasion, you stumble across a really juicy competitor.

You discover they’ve got a bunch of great keywords you can swipe, and it’s probably worth doing some deeper analysis to see what else is working for them.

Namely, content.

The “Pages” analysis lets you jump into your competitors best performing pages, and identify which pieces of content drive them the most traffic.

This is a slightly broader strategy than targeting individual keywords, but it has it’s place.

For example, if you find a specific piece of content from a competitor (with similar authority), and it’s ranking for a large number of keywords… well, it’s probably worth slotting into your editorial calendar.

You can do the same in Ahrefs with the “Top Pages” report.

In this case, Ahrefs brought back 1,089 results compared to the 1,111 results I got in SEMRush. Not much in it.

But even then, there’s another factor you have to consider.

Just because a competitor is ranking well with a specific piece of content, doesn’t necessarily mean you will too. It’s not quite as black and white as that. Sometimes, content will rank purely off the back of a sites domain authority.

Of course, there are times where backlinks are doing all the heavy lifting, and if that’s the case, SEMRush isn’t really going to know about it.

The pages analysis doesn’t give you nearly as much insight as it should. You can click the “Info” button to check for backlinks, but even then, SEMRush has a notoriously bad backlink index.

In the example above, SEMRush reports the top URL having only 390 backlinks, but Ahrefs is significantly better at this.

That’s over 15x as many backlinks as reported in SEMRush. More than “just a little off” by anyones standard.

The Notoriously Bad Backlink Analysis

I just outed SEMRush for having a crappy link index, but I’m still going to give it a dedicated section in this review.

Why?

Because SEMRush gave it a dedicated section in their own tool, and it’s just as bad.

I mean, it’s not lacking in depth. Everything is there and it looks promising on the surface. It’s just completely inaccurate.

To highlight what I mean, I’ve compared link metrics for 3 example URLs against the 2 top backlink checkers in the industry.

Metric

SEMRush

Majestic

Ahrefs

Backlinks (#1)

308

2,649

6,550

Backlinks (#2)

20

203

877

Backlinks (#3)

30

73

321

Ref Domains (#1)

53

203

754

Ref Domains (#2)

11

33

268

Ref Domains (#3)

5

30

86

See that?

When it comes to checking these off-page metrics with SEMRush, it’s about as reliable as a handbrake on a canoe.

Instead, I recommend taking what you find in SEMRush and throwing it into a proper backlink checker, like Ahrefs or Majestic. (Both have limited free versions)

Old School Traditional Keyword Research

Keyword research was always about generating long lists from seed keywords and evaluating each result on a case-by-case basis.

Then SEMRush came along.

Instead of looking for the needle in a haystack, it allowed you to find the right haystacks with the right needles.

By looking at what’s working for your competitors and reverse-engineering their success, you almost eliminate the need for traditional keyword research. Almost.

It’s a good strategy. My preferred strategy, in fact. But I still think there’s a lot to be said for the traditional approach and that’s something SEMRush lacked… until the release of SEO Keyword Magic (Beta).

This tool works similarly to Ahrefs Keywords Explorer and Long Tail Pro. Just feed it a seed keyword and it’ll spit out thousands of keyword suggestions.

It does give you back a pretty good number of results.

And it has the usual filtering options, including an option to filter keywords categorically, which is cool.

But that’s where the “magic” starts to wear off.

I get that it’s still in Beta - I can account for that. But there’s literally missing data all over the place, and no way to pull it in.

Considering the keyword difficulty metric is the only thing we really have to evaluate the strength of a keyword, it makes it a nightmare to work with.

That’s without mentioning the endless bugs, which stopped me from being able to actually use the filters.

Ahrefs, over to you.

Of course, Ahrefs have their own traditional keyword tool, and it’s called Keywords Explorer. In fact, it was recently rebuilt from the ground up and branded version 2.0.

I probably don’t have you to tell you, Ahrefs is light-years ahead of SEMRush on this one. There’s no comparison.

A Helping Hand With Speedy Email Support

When it comes to buying any kind of tool nowadays, it’s always nice to know someone has your back if you do happen to run into problems.

Personally, I feel like live chat has become a standard for online support, and it’s something I always look for before I hand over any cash.

It’s not that email support and ticketing systems are bad, but it’s usually the difference between having your problem solved in a few minutes versus a few hours (or sometimes days).

And it's clear the SEMRush community agrees with me on that:

So what support options do you have with SEMRush?

Well, you get the usual FAQ style page, of course.

And if you don’t find an answer there, you can scroll down to the contact form.

I sent them a quick email to test reply speed and quality. The results are in.

It took ~3 hours to get a response back which was much quicker than expected. And the response itself was reasonably good.

Bit of a porky pie with the whole “we show most of them” line, however.

Finally, as it turns out, they did listen to their customers and have since introduced live chat support in Europe (but currently not in the US).

I wasn't able to test it since I'm not in Europe at the moment, but hopefully they roll this out for everyone in the near future.

Is SEMRush Right For You?

It’s great giving my opinion on the different features and functions of the tool, and how they actually contribute when it comes to finding good keywords - but that’s not what you really want to know.

What you really want to know is, should you actually buy SEMRush or is it a waste of your time / money?

Let’s break it down.

Budget Bloggers

If your main concern is keeping costs down, then brace yourself.

...SEMRush aint cheap.

With plans starting at $99.95 per month and reaching as much as $399.95 per month, SEMRush just isn’t a viable option for budget bloggers.

(Unfortunately, Ahrefs is also similarly priced at $99 per month)

So what do I recommend instead?

First of all, you can get by on a free plan of SEMRush, as well as a generous 14-day free trial.

The free plan only gives you a handful of searches a day, and the results are limited, but you can still find some excellent keywords using this approach.

Then, I’d recommend combining that with the paid version of KW Finder.

Not only is this a much cheaper option, but it will allow you to properly analyze the keywords you find with the free plan of SEMRush. (And it’s our favorite tool for traditional keyword research.)

SEMRush has kindly offered a free trial for Authority Hacker readers. You can grab it by clicking here.

That said, we still highly recommend Ahrefs over SEMrush if you can afford to stretch your budget a little more.

Beginner Bloggers

If you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend SEMRush for keyword research.

Firstly, as a beginner it’s easy to rely on the keyword difficulty metric, and that’s fine. But this tool is just waaay off with its estimates.

Secondly, since there’s no easy way to do a manual keyword difficulty review, you’ll never know be able to tell the difference until you really know your s***.

But it’s not all bad news.

There are far more “beginner-friendly” keyword research tools available, like the one I mentioned above, KW Finder.

Even though KW Finder is mostly used for traditional keyword research, it does have a very reliable keyword difficulty algorithm. In other words, it’s an excellent sidekick for carrying out competitor research with SEMRush.

High-Level Marketers

If you’re a veteran marketer and you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’ve seen a trend in the comparison between SEMRush and Ahrefs.

SEMRush is a good tool, there’s no doubting that. But it rested on it’s laurels for far too long. It stopped growing. Stopped innovating.

Ahrefs, on the other hand, had bigger ideas. It wasn’t long before they were able to build something that did the same job faster, better and more efficiently.

Not only that, but for the same price you’d pay for SEMRush, Ahrefs gives you a whole suite of tools to help you with other areas of your marketing, including a Keywords Explorer for traditional keyword research.

It’s a no-brainer.

And if for some reason you’re still not convinced, check out our full review of Ahrefs.

TUTORIALS

How to Find Informational Keywords with SEMRush

Informational keywords are terms and phrases people use to find an answers to problems. Unlike commercial keywords, you’re not trying to sell anything with your content, at least not directly.

To find these informational keywords with SEMRush, start by finding at least 1 competitor blog with similar, or less authority to your own. (You can check any sites domain authority with the MozBar)

Plug that domain into SEMRush and run a search set to “Organic Research”. For this example, I’ll use QuickSprout again.

At this point, you’ll thousands, if not hundreds-of-thousands of results, and you’ll need to filter them down using modifiers.

Modifiers are words or phrases people use as part of their search query, and you can use informational modifiers to find these types of keywords.

Informational modifiers include things like:

  • How...
  • Where...
  • When...
  • What…
  • Who…
  • Why...

To filter out results in SEMRush, just type one of the modifiers into the “Filter by keyword” search box.

This will limit the results to only keywords containing that specific modifier, the majority of which will be informational keywords.

Now, even though SEMRush has a horrible keyword difficulty algorithm, it still gives us some indication of competition.

That’s why I also like to sort results by ascending KD.

And at this point, you can easily pick out potential keywords, like “how long is 1200 words” with 590 monthly searches:

You can do a SERP analysis (to get an accurate gauge of difficulty) with the free MozBar extension, or just use a premium tool like KW Finder, which uses a much more reliable algorithm for calculating keyword difficulty.

Of course, you can always continue to use the sorting and advanced filtering options to drill down even further.

So for example, I might add a position filter to show only keywords appearing on page 1 for this domain, and a volume filter to show only the keywords with a decent amount of traffic.

And as you can see, that process took me down from my original list of 117,000 keywords, to just 38 viable targets.

It’s just a case of repeating this process using all the different modifiers with all your competitors sites. That way, you should end up with hundreds of great informational keywords to go after.

And don’t be afraid to loosen your filters a little if you’re not happy with the results. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, be flexible and adapt your approach to the number (and quality) of results you get back.

How to Find Commercial Keywords with SEMRush

Commercial keywords are terms and phrases people use when they’re looking to buy something and as a result, these type of keywords convert really well. Unlike informational keywords, the primary goal is to sell something.

The process of finding commercial keywords is similar to the way you find informational keywords -- but with 2 key differences.

Difference #1: The type of site that you use.

Instead of using general blogs, you’ll want to focus more on affiliate sites and ecommerce stores. These types of sites are far more likely to rank for commercial keywords because of the nature of their business.

So for this example, I’ll plug in TheWireCutter for some organic research.

And just like before, you’ll want to use modifiers to zero in on keywords with specific intent. And that brings me nicely to...

Difference #2: The type of modifiers you use.

Since we’re looking for commercial keywords this time, you’ll be using commercial modifiers instead.

Commercial modifiers include things like:

  • Buy...
  • Sales...Review
  • Best
  • Coupon...

And just like before, all you need to do is apply some additional advanced filters to get this huge list of results down to a handful of solid targets.

From that, I was able to find the keyword “z wave controller reviews” with 720 monthly searches:

And KW Finder confirmed it…

Again, don’t be afraid to loosen your filters if you need to. The same filters won't be optimal for every domain so you just need to find that sweet spot.

Conclusion

SEMRush was the first of it’s kind. A tool that flipped keyword research on it’s head and showed you what’s already working.

It was such a unique and effective approach, that it ultimately triggered a new breed of copycat keyword research tools. In the end, SEMRush couldn’t stay ahead of the curve.

Ahrefs, on the other hand, had bigger ideas. It wasn’t long before they were able to build something that did the same job faster, better and more efficiently.

Don’t get me wrong, SEMRush isn’t a bad tool, and it did outperform Ahrefs in some areas. But when you factor in the sucky keyword difficulty algorithm, the lack of a reliable link index and the inability to do real traditional keyword research… it’s just not worth the price tag.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this review, I think the following 2 options are a much better alternative than a paid subscription to SEMRush.

  • Free SEMRush account + paid KW Finder account (from $29 per month)
  • Paid Ahrefs account (from $99 per month)
Summary
  • Effectiveness
  • Price
  • Ease of Use
  • Support
3.0
Lewis Parrott
 

I’m Lewis, a full-time writer at Authority Hacker and a find-time writer at my own blog, The Freelance Effect. I’m also a digital nomad currently based in SE Asia. I have an unhealthy addiction to internet marketing, documentaries and chocolate. Mmmm… chocolate.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 19 comments
Doug Beney - March 5, 2017

Hey, guys.

I felt like this review wasn’t very fair. (Correct me if I’m wrong about anything.)

Pricing of SEMRush:
I pay $69 a month for SEMRush. The cheapest AHREFS plan I see is $99/month? Why would SEMRush deserve one stars for pricing then?

Manual SERP analysis:
Next, you mentioned there is no manual SERP analysis. There is. SEMRush owns the SEOQuake quake extension and it’s very similar to Mozbar.

Effectiveness:
SEMRush has been extremely helpful for me for both keyword research and competitive analysis. It does exactly what AHREFS does and I haven’t found anything, yet, about AHREFS that makes me want to pay an extra $30/month for.

I will be giving AHREFS a second chance by signing up for a trial under your affiliate link, but this is where I stand currently.

Cheers.

Reply
    Lewis Parrott - March 6, 2017

    Hey Doug,

    Pricing: The lowest plan starts at $99.95 as per their pricing page (https://www.semrush.com/prices2). Considering this is more than Ahrefs which does the same thing and a LOT more, I felt it was very over-priced for what you get. Maybe 1 star was a tad harsh, but I wanted to emphasise this point.

    That said, I’m curious how you’re paying $69 per month – did you request a custom plan?

    Manual SERP analysis: The point is you shouldn’t have to install an external application to do a SERP analysis and using a Chrome extension is very different to having an internal SERP analysis. SEOQuake (from what I can tell) only gives you link data from SEMRush’s index, which – as I mentioned in the review – is extremely poor.

    Effectiveness: It’s helpful, no doubt – but Ahrefs is significantly more helpful and I think you’ll see that from your trial :)

    Just to point out, this is my interpretation of the tool and I appreciate that not everyone will agree with me on every point.

    Reply
      Imran Nazish - March 6, 2017

      Actually, SemRush gives monthly plan at $69 for old users and mention it as Loyal users discount. Personally, in my experience, SemRush charge too much money for the features they offer.
      I would like to go for aHrefs as they offer some great insights of any site. But I am using both of these (SemRush and aHrefs) for keyword research. What I learned after using all of keyword research tools (almost all the well-known or so called best tools), you can manually check competition and analyze anything without paying any money to any service.
      1. You can check competition manually if you have SEO experience
      2. You can check monthly searches freely
      It will take some time but at the end of the day, I am sure you’ll be able to find some good and low competitive keywords.
      Thanks,
      M Imran

      Reply
      Shane - March 6, 2017

      Semrush increased prices on 12/31/16 hence the price difference.

      Lewis, any thoughts on swissmademarketing’s keyword tool?

      Gael did a tutorial on how he used it for Kw research and I picked up a copy to see how it runs.

      Reply
      Doug Beney - March 18, 2017

      Hi, Lewis!

      Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an email that you replied to my comment and I had to check manually. (WordPress doesn’t send comment reply notification emails by default). You can fix that with a simple code snippet in your child theme’s functions.php. Feel free to email me if you can’t figure out how to do that.

      Anyway, I figured out that SEMRush had a recent price change to $100/month. They kept old users at $69/month.

      I haven’t really tried AHREFs yet since making that comment, but I will now! At first glance, it looks like a great tool! I might end up switching.

      Reply
        Doug Beney - March 30, 2017

        Alright.. You were right. Ahrefs is quite incredible. I still like certain analytic features in SEMRush, but I have completely switched over to Ahrefs. Hope you guys got credit for my subscription.

        Reply
    WillSEO - March 10, 2017

    Probably 1 star because SEMrush increased prices recently and it’s now $99, so if you unsub from recurring payments it will increase fo you.

    Also, there’s SerpStat with prices starting from $19, which holds up pretty well against SEMrush and Ahrefs. At least in US and UK. I see more and more people switching to it.

    Reply
Matthew - March 7, 2017

Another good thing about SEMrush is cos they are still in the business.
If they go out of business, Ahrefs will skyrocket their pricing even more, and we won’t have an alternative.

The same as Google did to all the search engines, and trust me nobody is going to like that, especially not the SEO community.

They are winning the money game compared to Moz and SEMrush, but they do it the same way copycats are doing to websites (since Perrin hates them he knows how Moz feels. Moz goes with an article about topic keyword research, Ahrefs reads it and goes and implements the feature. The same with the Content Explorer (Buzzsumo), Top Pages (SEMrush), and even click stream data and SERP results vs CTR (Moz) The list is endless.)

So while I as doing SEO should not care about HOW they got there, and just ask myself will this tool help me, save me money and time, that’s the truth behind their success. Now on top of that, I bet they have huge costs for maintaining a scraper like Ahrefs, but I think their price is extremely high.

And again if you just doing a keyword research, SEMrush is definitely a tool that will do all the job you need.
You don’t need Ahrefs for that.

Things I don’t like about Ahrefs:
1) Pricing
2) Being a copy cat

Now if we talk about KD that Ahrefs offers, it’s missing one HUGE important factor: not including the internal links.

It’s calculated based on backlinks. So if you plug a keyword from QuickSpout that shows KD of 12 you are looking at a wrong metric.

Also, KD is often closely related to the type of keyword you are looking at.

Money keyword (with a modifier like best), tends to be with low KD in 80% of the results. Because it’s hard to build backlinks to a page like that (especially if you monetize it heavily with affiliate links).

So in that case usually sites win the game via internal linking.

Now I don’t know about you, but finding informational keywords is super easy, even with a tool like SEMrush. Actually, SEMrush does a great job for that particular task.

Which again leads us to: Which tool should I use to find money keywords?

The answer is: Any tool you want, as long as you are aware of the authority of the domains that are ranking.

For that you don’t even need a tool, you can use a free browser extension, like MozBar or SEOQuake.

On the other hand, Ahrefs extension is PAID.

While the article wraps it out nicely including all the pros and cons, if you think about the actual process of keyword research SEMrush will do more than enough.

KWfinder and LTP are a joke compared to SEMrush lets be honest for a second.
Where’s their KD score coming from?

KWfinder doesn’t have it’s own backlink index, so my guess is they just “steal” it from another tool and multiple the score with a number like 0.9 or whatever.

LTP now calculates the score based on Majestic backlink index…and some unproven SEO ranking factors they believe in.
Does an awful job in general.

It’s true that Ahrefs has the best index but again it’s not black and white when it comes to ranking.

Also, traffic estimates, there’s no tool on earth that can do this job properly.

Some niches get more Mobile traffic; others get the majority on Desktop. It’s a good thing to know in general when looking at traffic estimates where you fit in with your niche.

It will be great if someone in the SEO community makes in-depth case study comparing niches based on mobile vs desktop organic traffic.(If someone from Ahrefs is reading this comment, here’s your chance for a good linkable asset. Just take this idea and use it, it won’t be the first time).

If someone has done this recently, please share a link.

On the other hand, it’s clear that you prefer Ahrefs over SEMrush, and trying to be transparent and honest in your reviews, but I believe the flow and the structure of this article are going in the wrong direction.

If clearly that you are actually not trying to sell SEMrush but Ahrefs instead, and while that might be a good strategy it’s a risky move.

It looks like those paid reviews mommy bloggers do with negative reviews (paid by competitors or “sponsored” post).

I know that’s not the case cos you are all nice guys, but that would have been the impression if I was reading your blog for the first time.

Reply
    Gael Breton - March 7, 2017

    Hey Matthew,

    First of all, thanks for dropping by and for your structured comment, we’re always happy to have constructed debates with our readers!

    You may be right on the pricing comment, they essentially keep each other in check which is a good thing but if you look at what SERPSTAT did with App sumo, they completely cut the grass under SEMRush’s feets by offering their API data for $39 lifetime. So there are many powerplays on pricing here and not just from SEMRush and Ahrefs. But if you compare it to many industries, the access to the data is still relatively cheap and I think we can expect a price hike in the future no matter what.

    Now if we talk about the KD debate, are you really arguing the SEMRush KD system is better than the Ahrefs or even KWFinder one? SEMRush doesn’t even take links to page into account, only links to the domain. Which means if you follow their logic you have absolutely zero chances to outrank Wikipedia or Amazon for any keyword. Is it true? Absolutely not. Is Ahrefs perfect? Far from it, and we do point it out when we talk about it but it’s still miles ahead of SEMRush’s system.

    I’ve actually ordered 6 figures of content using the Ahrefs KD score since its release and trust me I don’t regret it ;).

    “KWfinder and LTP are a joke compared to SEMrush lets be honest for a second.” we are going to disagree here, so will Perrin who built Herepup using Long Tail PRO back then and clearly he did ok.

    So to conclude, yes, we do prefer Ahrefs over SEMRush, there is no question about it. There is also no argument when you say SEMRush is useful. It is useful indeed. The same way a Nokia 3310 is better than having no phone at all. But let’s be honest for a second, would you trade your smartphone for a Nokia 3310?

    Well the answer is the way we feel about Ahrefs vs SEMRush.

    Reply
      Matthew - March 7, 2017

      I actually bought SERPStat as well, and it was a good deal.
      However, if you take a look at SERPStat traffic estimates for example, and compare them to SEMrush…That’s what I call crappy traffic estimate tool.

      “Now if we talk about the KD debate, are you really arguing the SEMRush KD system is better than the Ahrefs or even KWFinder one?”

      I never said that. I actually do agree that Ahrefs has by far better KD score and that’s because they have the best backlink index.
      And KD score amongst the majority of keyword tools is based on the number of backlinks, not authority of the site, or many other ranking factors.

      But looking at SEMrush and comparing to Nokia 3310 just because they lack the power of backlinks, and completely ignoring all the other great features this tool offers is not realistic either. ( But it was a great joke, and I had a confession to make…It did make me laugh)

      “I’ve actually ordered 6 figures of content using the Ahrefs KD score since its release and trust me I don’t regret it ;).”

      I’m happy for you Gael, and I had amazing success using SEMrush and I don’t regret it either.

      That doesn’t mean SEMrush sucks cos their KD score is based on DR/DA/TR, that means you know how to do keyword research or SEO or you have a budget enough for link building campaign or content creation or you just triggered the right ranking factors.

      Because if you put it like that, it means: I had Success with SEMrush, so it’s the best keyword tool, or Perrin had success so LTP is the best one.

      “KWfinder and LTP are a joke compared to SEMrush lets be honest for a second. we are going to disagree here, so will Perrin who built Herepup using Long Tail PRO back then and clearly he did ok.”

      As far as I know LTP in that moment (talking about HerePup) was based on Moz Metrics (with their limited backlink index), so the way you compare keyword tools (based on backlink index and KD), it’s out of the game, right? And if you are being honest “- LTP is crap, sorry Spencer” (your own words Gael).

      Also looking at Wayback machine his keywords look more like Ubersuggest type of keywords than LTP, but again every keyword tool can bring success if used correctly (it’s a really subjective thing to be associated just with a keyword tool).

      You are taking into consideration only the KD score, that’s not the only reason why we do keyword research (for example take into account competition analysis, or market research, or just if you put it simply: Will this keyword be a good fit for my type of audience?). Tell me where KWFinder and LTP offer anything else than a single KD score? I’m taking about their INDEX and all the features they offer (SEMrush). Not just a single metric based on a number of backlinks (or API which leads to my 2nd point below).

      The only thing I liked about LTP is cos it was super cheap, so everyone on a budget was able to use it. Instead of using Google Keyword Planner or MozBar and waste hours or doing keyword research. But now…it’s just pure waste of money and that’s my personal opinion.

      Also if we talk about API it’s more than obvious that both of the tools above are paying to gather the data (either to Ahrefs, Majestic, or SEMrush right?)
      My point is ONLY Ahrefs and SEMrush has their own keyword index, not KWfinder or LTP.

      Bottom line I think that SEMrush deserves more credit. Does the tool require improvement? Yes.

      Think about it for a second why Moz beats other KD scores with its limited data? Because their metric is not only based on the number of backlinks. I would say it’s closely more related to other ranking factors as well and adjusted to the “new PR” formula.

      “But let’s be honest for a second, would you trade your smartphone for a Nokia 3310?”

      You are asking the wrong question here, it should be:
      Would you trade your Nokia 3310 for a smartphone?

      The answer is hell no, lol. It’s Nokia 3310, you just can’t beat that! :)

      p.s. If someone from SEMrush is reading this – Give me a free lifetime Guru Plan or I’ll destroy my Nokia 3310!
      …at least I’ll try.

      Lewis…

      “I care about having accurate data presented in a way that makes sense. SEMRush doesn’t do that in my books.”

      I disagree, but I get it, we all read different books.

      I feel like I wrote an entire article, not a comment.

      A message to the AH readers:

      Hey, you, whoever you are, if you are reading this on your smartphone there’s something wrong with you!

      Wake up this is IM and you need to use Desktop!

      At the end of the day Gael you are going to rank for a keyword like:
      semrush nokia 3310 review

      Reply
        Gael Breton - March 9, 2017

        It seems like we agree on many points then.

        Ahrefs offers better KD, Ahrefs offers SERP Analysis when SEMRush doesn’t and Ahrefs offers link data that’s far better than what SEMRush offers.

        On top of that, they are equivalent at many other features such as keyword reverse engineering, top pages, rank tracking etc.

        Additionally, Ahrefs also offers a buzz sumo type tool. All of that for the exact same monthly price.

        This, in essence, makes the decision easy for me. Keyword reverse engineering and backlinks analysis are 80% of our recipe to success. The rest, including the fancy auditing tool, just feels like a rehash of what you can already find for free on webmaster console or the free version of onpage.org.

        is SEMRush terrible? No, 3/5 star average is not a “terrible” score. Is it wasted potential? I think so. They were already big when Ahrefs and Moz had a terrible software, the tool didn’t evolve for ages until they realized they had competition catching up and now most of the tools they add feel mostly gimmicky adding very little value to the bottom line of website owners.

        And they focus on these extra tools (most of which have free alternatives or better-specialized competitors) instead of fixing their core issues which are the backlink index, the keyword difficulty etc, giving me doubts about how competitive their tools will be in 5 years.

        Trust me I’d love to recommend SEMRush, their EPC is twice higher than Ahrefs for us, but I asked, nobody in our team would trade Ahrefs for SEMRush for their daily job and it makes no sense to have both.

        Reply
    Lewis Parrott - March 7, 2017

    Hey Matthew,

    Thanks for your detailed response.

    Look, SEMRush works, there’s no doubt about that. But for me, it’s not the most efficient/accurate tool on the market and when you compare that to other tools for the same price, it’s no longer a logical choice.

    As for keyword difficulty, I’ve found Ahrefs to be quite reliable though not perfect, but what tool is?

    I mentioned this in the post, but Perrin tested these tools to see which provides the most accurate KD score – Ahrefs came out on top. (Here’s the article: https://www.authorityhacker.com/best-keyword-research-tools/)

    Personally, I don’t care who copies who, or where their KD score comes from. I care about having accurate data presented in a way that makes sense. SEMRush doesn’t do that in my books.

    The truth is, we do prefer Ahrefs over SEMRush at this stage. If I didn’t reflect that by directing readers to an alternative tool I genuinely feel is superior, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reviewer.

    At the end of the day, these opinions are subjective and I can only base this on my own personal experience :)

    Reply
    Dmitry - March 13, 2017

    Hi Matthew,

    I’ve noticed you said SEMRush was first with “Top pages” it is not true. Ahrefs released it at least two months earlier https://www.evernote.com/l/Ab94jNg56AtOz5aiCTs-W3NNiimT1RTbO9Y

    Sources:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43XAvJmDhk8
    and
    https://www.semrush.com/news/new-pages-report-released/

    Reply
    brendan - March 21, 2017

    I still don’t think they could up their price because of competition from MOZ and others.

    KwFinder uses MOZ index I believe. I have found it way more reliable than semrush. It is also at a way better price for discount bloggers (which I am).

    Kwfinder may not have it’s own backlink index, so my guess is they just “steal” it from another tool and multiple the score with a number like 0.9 or whatever.

    Does not really matter as long as they are reliable. I would rather them steal someone elses index and provide me with decent scores then attempt to make their own and be wrong providing me with useless information at a high price.

    For the price I don’t think Semrush is worth it. Moz and AHrefs are at comparable prices to Semrush and for my niche at least they seem a lot more reliable.

    Reply
Oleg Shchegolev - March 9, 2017

Matthew and Doug, thank you for the kind words. But guys, I think you’re wasting your time.
I hope it is obvious to most readers – this review is full of in bias and its only purpose is to undermine the reputation of SEMrush and to exalt Ahrefs. Without any doubt, all instruments have their advantages and disadvantages, but this review is fabricated exactly in a way to focus attention on those places where Ahrefs has an advantage. And those places where SEMrush has an advantage over Ahrefs are deliberately hushed up.

Moreover, the author repeatedly gives biased and even incorrect examples. For example, in the section about the Seo Keyword Magic in SEMrush, the query to Seo Keyword Magic tool was «bench press», while the query to Ahrefs Keyword Ideas is completely different. And if we make identical queries to the same reports, the results will be almost identical in content – just because the words are unpopular and there is little data on them.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/2z9laekprzhonnn/Screenshot%202017-03-08%2022.38.52.png?dl=0
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ldftdonszcpyyzt/Screenshot%202017-03-08%2022.39.10.png?dl=0

And I can give many more examples like this.
In general, dear colleagues, do not waste time and let the guys from AH sing praises to Ahrefs further. Do not worry, its their work – tarnish the image of SEMrush and chant the praises of Ahrefs =)

Oleg

Reply
    Gael Breton - March 9, 2017

    Hey Oleg,

    First of all, welcome to AH, the place where all opinions can be expressed, including your disagreement.

    As I told to Matthew, I would LOVE to recommend SEMRush to our readers, actually, your EPC is twice higher than Ahrefs so clearly you’re kicking their ass in that department (and that’s when we warmly recommend them and not you guys).

    Yes, you guys have a ton more tools and reports and audits but the real question we asked was: how much do these move the needle? How much do these actually help a website make more money?

    We also did it in the perspective of our business model: authority sites (you’ll note I added a disclaimer explaining that to the people who don’t know us on top of the review)

    And to be frank, most of the new tools you guys added are just worse versions of things that already exist OR don’t seem to really be helping the decision-making process for our business model. Hence the mediocre grade.

    Sure it’s nice to have but you guys call yourself an all in one SEO tool, a tool that has far more budget than more potent competitors and still fail at the fundamentals with no sign of things getting better in that department: Links and overall web crawling.

    The fact you don’t have that data which are the base of many tools make most of the new addition to the suite just meh.

    But to get back to your bench press complaint, the point was not to compare keyword results here if you read the article. The point was that SEMRush returns reports with missing metrics while Ahrefs offers a button to scrape and update the metrics of ANY keyword live. Meaning prospecting for long tail keywords with your tool is basically impossible while it’s a breeze with Ahrefs.

    Our work is not to tarnish SEMRush’s reputation, trust me, Tim also emailed me to edit some of the stuff we said on Ahrefs and if he wasn’t able to provide us with concrete examples that what we said was wrong, we didn’t edit it. Our job is to give users a real life perspective of what it feels to use these tools daily when building authority sites.

    Lewis and I talked a lot with the rest of the team, nobody would trade Ahrefs back for SEMRush at this point. But if you guys take feedback constructively and work on the tool, I’ll make Lewis drop what he’s doing and edit this review to make it reflect our new vision of the tool.

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by.

    Reply
    Matthew - March 10, 2017

    Hey Oleg, it’s good that you took the time to drop a comment.

    However, while I do love SEMrush…

    “I hope it is obvious to most readers – this review is full of in bias and its only purpose is to undermine the reputation of SEMrush and to exalt Ahrefs.”

    I don’t believe that this is the case. At least Gael and Mark are one of the few honest guys left in the IM community.
    We could all disagree, but this is their blog, this is their opinion, and they have been doing SEO for ages.

    Long story short: They know their s##t.

    I respect everything they share publically and helping the entire community.
    Please don’t get me wrong but I think your comment is a bit too much emotional and unprofessional.

    Bottom line IMO, Ahrefs do have advantages, but again I believe SEMrush is still a fantastic keyword research tool.

    No need to put labels and to throw conspiracy theories, I’m 100% sure this is how they (AH team) feel, and nothing else.

    If you are asking me SEMrush does a great job for doing a keyword research, and I don’t give a damn about the interface or fancy animation, but others might care. So your marketing team should consider doing a survey and asking people for improvement: either adding additional features, design, or whatever the customers want.

    The customers are always right!

    The best way to grow a product and stay in the game is to make constant improvements, be open and transparent, helpful, and most importantly accept (seriously) negative reviews and feedback (particularly from guys with experience).

    It’s not the end of the world, I bet you have a huge database of customers and money to invest, so why not keep up the game with Ahrefs?

    As I said, I don’t like how Ahrefs is doing what they do (while I shouldn’t care) but I don’t like how you respond to negative reviews (while I shouldn’t care even more) either.

    For example, I never look at your backlink index because I can find more backlinks manually.

    Since your KD score (as Gael mentioned) is calculated based on DA, is not helpful either (I always ignore it).

    Ahrefs is doing a fantastic job with their blog and marketing (try and find Tim Soulo 2.0 for example, that guy is kicking ass).

    Take this comment as feedback from someone that has been using SEMrush for over 5 years and Nokia 3310 for 17 years (I haven’t recharge my battery ever since I bought it) :)

    Reply
Harinderpreet singh - May 6, 2017

I think it is first honest review of semrush thank you very much

Reply

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