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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.
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.
Don’t blame this on SEMRush, it could be an extremely rare bug.
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…