What is SEMrush
SEMrush, as its name implies, is a Search Engine Marketing tool. The difference between a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) tool and a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool is that the former focuses on paid and organic search traffic. In contrast, the latter only focuses on organic traffic. In essence, SEM is a superset of SEO. Consequently, this review will focus on SEMrush as both an SEM and an SEO tool.
SEMrush is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) SEM tool provider, founded by Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitry Melnikov in Boston, Massachusetts in 2008. As of 2021 SEMrush is used by over 7,000,000 marketers worldwide.
SEMrush focuses on:
- PPC Campaigns
- Social Media Research
- Competitive Research
- Rank Tracking
- Link Building Tools
- Backlink Analysis
- Site Auditing (On-Page SEO)
- Keyword and Domain research
My Thoughts on SEMrush
I had the opportunity to review SEMrush for a full month. I have to admit that it is hard for a single blogger to exhaust its feature set. However, I would like to give you my overall evaluation of SEMrush during this review period. I found SEMrush to be an ideal tool for keyword and competition research, to the point where I can say that his one month helped me personally come up with an SEO strategy that will unfold throughout 2021. Its Link Building Tool is, in essence, a built-in backlink outreach suite. While I recommend to fellow bloggers to outsource backlink building, it is definitely a tool that SEO, PR, and content marketing agencies can utilize and get great results. There is only one area where I think it's trailing against the top-tier competition is backlink auditing, and that's only against Ahrefs and Majestic, which are focused on backlink auditing.
There are very few things I don't like about SEMrush and I consider it one of the best SEO tools you can get your hands on.
Now let's get a closer look at what SEMrush offers its users.
To me, Domain Overview is the foundation of competition analysis. It allows you to discover which keywords your competition targets, where they focus their internal link building and backlink building efforts to get better rankings, where they advertise their content and which articles they do advertise, the core landing pages, along with some crucial quality aspects like the competitor's bounce rate, average session duration and pages/visit.
Trust me when I say that if used correctly domain overview can give you so many insights about a competitor's SEO strategy and website structure that you may not even need to hire someone else to come up an SEO strategy for your own business *cough cough* (thanks, SEMrush).
At this point I also have to admit that reviewing SEO and SEM tools can be very profitable for bloggers who are keen on SEO as by reviewing the tool you are going to improve your own work. Domain and competition analysis can provide you clear guidelines of what works, instead of you having to reinvent the wheel.
Let me give you an example coming from techradar.com. I noticed that Techradar advertises a post about the low-code industry on other publishers, an interview with the CEO of Outsystems, one of the low-code industry leaders. Initially, I searched for low-code keywords to check if they have CPC and whether this is the reason for such a move. It wasn't. Then I checked whether there are affiliate links on the post. There weren't. Finally, I realized this is a sponsored post by Outsystems, and they paid for advertising it.
Even such information can be valuable as I can now write a blog post about the low code industry in hopes of attracting businesses looking to advertise. Or at least I would do that if my blog had reached a much larger audience than it does right now. Now imagine what you can do if you target an actual competitor that operates at a similar scale with your business (or wait a few more months, and I will tell you).
Domain overview is the first step towards successful competition analysis and SEMrush is a powerhouse in this department.
Here are some more features of SEMrush's domain overview:
- The Authority Score
- Organic Search Traffic – The monthly number of visitors coming from Google search along with the number of keywords the website ranks for
- The number of external links (backlinks) to the domain and the number of unique referring domains
- The top anchor text use in backlinks to the website
- The domains top performing keywords, i.e., the keywords that drive the most organic traffic
- Display advertising stats
- Competing websites
SEMrush's authority score (AS) is a different metric to Ahref's domain rating (DR) and one I like much more. While DR is calculated based solely on backlinks, AS considers both backlinks and organic data like the number of ranking keywords and their position, along with the website's traffic data.
Moz's domain authority (DA) might as well be the middle ground between AS and DR.
I believe AS is much more representative. For example, borderpolar.com has a DR of 14 because I have not invested (money, not time) in getting backlinks, while its AS is at 17 even though SEMrush is missing many backlinks Ahrefs has identified. In essence, Borderpolar's authority score is around 19/100 at the moment and SEMrush is much closer to figuring that out. Moz gives Borderpolar a DA value of 12, but among the 3 tools, it is the one with the most outdated backlink profile.
Please keep in mind one important aspect here. SEMrush can only display publicly available data, so it can only analyze organic and paid traffic. Referral and direct traffic cannot be taken into account. Techradar has an authority score that is probably in the mid-80s, but SEMrush gives it a 79. Still close enough, of course.
As a frequent reader of my “competitor,” I have noticed that they constantly spam updates about PS5 restocks. Them and all other big tech and gaming news media. They probably get around 10 million users per month from PS5, so it is totally worth it. As you can imagine, they also make a ton of money with that $0.68 CPC. Well done to them and well done to SEMrush.
I'll give you my two cents about blogging here. At its core, blogging relies on three very simple axes. Writing skills, SEO knowledge, and backlinks. From a high level, that's how I dissect it. When content is equal, backlinks make the difference and generally speaking, backlinks will get you ranked higher faster. When I say backlinks, I mean overall domain authority, in simple PageRank. Yes, Google has updated it, upgraded it, and renamed it, but the big fish win with worse content at the end of the day. That's why you see blogging giants aiming for quantity over quality. Their authority covers for any compromises in post quality.
You can't control your backlinks to a satisfactory extent, and contrary to what other marketers and SEO experts tell you, the only way to actually get top quality backlinks when you start from zero is paying for them or delivering mind-blowing copyrighted content (which means you belong in that 0.01% of the web). Nobody will link to you for free, especially if they can adopt your content and make it even better.
If we remove backlinks from the equation, we can focus on On-Page SEO and writing. I completely disagree with anyone telling you to avoid writing content for competitive keywords. If you can write outstanding content and take advantage of the fact that the longer it is out there, the better chance it has to go higher, then do it.
But to get your initial traffic during the first months or even the first year of your blog, you will have to rely on keyword research. Writing outstanding long-form content for long-tail keywords will eventually get you ranked for the short-tail keywords you include in your post, given that you are not aiming too high. Trust me when I say that you can rank on anything. It just takes time.
Reducing the time until you rank careful keyword research, but all your efforts will go in vain if the SEO tool you use is not accurate enough. You may be thinking that you have a good chance to rank for a keyword based on an imprecise tool, while a more precise one will show that you don't stand a chance.
I've already mentioned in previous posts that I use Ubersuggest for keyword research. I wouldn't say I like it; it's inaccurate, but it's cheap, and at least it gave me an idea of what I should write about. Keep in mind that's its data is not as up-to-date as SEMrush's or Ahref's.
SEMrush is exactly the opposite. Using the keyword overview tool and the keyword magic tool, I can get a very close estimate of the keyword's difficulty. For instance, if there is room to write a detailed long-form post for a keyword of Keyword Difficulty around 50 to 60, my post will premier in the top 50 of the US Google SERP. As I explained, ranking well is definitely possible; getting to the first page is a different story, and it takes time, trust, and authority.
SEMrush Keyword Research
Let's see an example here. This post aims to rank for the keyword “semrush review” and its almost equally competitive variation “semrush review 2021”. You can expect this to be a challenge with all the affiliate marketers and SEO experts reviewing SEMrush. Let's see what SEMrush thinks.
The keyword is quite competitive and not ideal for a new blog as it has 53/100 keyword difficulty, and SEMrush estimates that I will need around 37 referring domains to rank in the top 10. But the SERP analysis is even more revealing as there is a blog with a page AS of 0, 93 referring domains, and 14.3K backlinks – which are obviously bought spammy ones – in the top 10.
If there is one omission here, it is not the number of backlinks required; I think the referring domains are much more representative. I would like to see the average AS of the referring domains and the average AS of the pages linking to the websites in the SERP Analysis (please add these metrics SEMrush).
Let me make a point here: Google is very smart but also very dumb at the same time. SEMrush just proved it.
We can also see that the US volume on desktop devices is 880 searches per month, and the global volume is 3,000 searches. The cost-per-click (CPC) is very tempting. Now I'm quite confident that this will be one of the best SEMrush reviews out there, so eventually, it will rank in the top 10, and initially, it will be around the top 50 (trust me, it will).
You can also see keyword variations, questions based on the keyword and related keywords and this may give you an alternative keyword to rank for.
Now let's see if SEMrush's Keyword Magic Tool can help us a bit more.
The keyword I chose does not really give me many options. I'm stuck with “semrush review,” but the Keyword Magic Tool helped me identify that it may be worth writing a post about the SEMrush affiliate program (or add a paragraph about it in this post, which I will do). We can also see the trend of monthly searches is more consistent for “semrush review” than for “review of semrush.”
I honestly find SEMrush's keyword overview and the keyword magic tool great for Google SERP.
One problem is that Google is not the only search engine out there, yet SEMrush only provides data for Google. Now I'm not sure how big of an issue, considering that most searches come from Google, and I doubt it's worth focusing your SEO on other search engines in most cases. However, this leads to some missed opportunities for some people, so I cannot ignore it, especially since both Moz and Ahrefs offer this feature.
If you are interested in search engines like Bing, Yandex, and others, you should probably look elsewhere, but this is heavily region-dependent.
Rank or Position tracking is a very straightforward task, which you can also perform with the Google Search Console. However, Google Search Console will show you your top 1,000 keywords. First of all, that's not a big number; Borderpolar is already at more than 6,000 organic keywords. Secondly, you cannot decide which keywords to track. As I said, Google Search Console will show you the top 1,000, including keywords with meager volume.
SEO tools like SEMrush will allow you to select the keywords you want to track and even though the limit for the Pro version is 500 keywords, 500 targeted keywords are much better than the 1,000 top keywords.
SEMrush is pretty good at discovering the keywords by itself, but you can also export them from both Google Analytics and Google Search Console and add them to your SEMrush project. You can also add the keywords manually.
In essence, SEMrush is exactly what you are looking for in terms of position tracking.
However, it is necessary to mention here that the free version of Ahrefs also provides position tracking. While you cannot add new keywords, you can filter and sort the keywords very efficiently. My point here is that the free competition is not that far behind SEMrush Pro.
Let me show you an example.
I will make a straightforward point here. You should use both the free versions of SEMrush and Ahrefs or the pro version of one of the tools and the free version of the other one. If you want to dominate SEO, you will need a pro version, but the free version of the other tool will complement the pro version of the one you purchased.
I'm not going to tell you which tool to buy in this review. It's a matter of personal preference. I wish I could afford both SEMrush and Ahrefs, but I cannot afford any of the two.
Anyway, SEMrush's position tracking is great. If you give it time to discover all keywords you care about, you are going to get the full experience of tracking your site's Google Search performance daily.
For a lot of SEO experts, bloggers and agencies, this is where the money is at. What you care about here is both the backlink auditing of your own website or blog and the ones of your competitors. This will allow you to take their backlinks or imitate them.
I will call things as they are here. SEMrush is not fast enough in its backlinks discovery. I don't know if it's a matter of each index or website inventory, but the discovery algorithm is much slower than the likes of Ahrefs.
Every SEO expert will tell you to spend $7 on the free trial of Ahrefs, export your competitors' backlink profiles, and be done with the whole process for quite some time. I, Borderpolar Cyberfunk, will tell you the same thing.
My advice is to try both Ahrefs and SEMrush if you primarily care about is backlink auditing and then performing backlink outreach by yourself. You can compare the two backlink profiles and figure out which one is more accurate.
Once again, accuracy and recency are vital for SEO data.
Let's back this claim with some data.
The case I'm demonstrating here is just one of multiple instances. The backlink we are interested in comes from debwan.com, and it targets the ExpressVPN for Netflix keyword. This is a backlink coming from the overall disappointing SEO agency I hired.
This backlink was produced at some point in May, and Ahrefs discovered it instantly while SEMrush hasn't discovered it yet. In simple words, I have found SEMrush to be several months behind Ahrefs in terms of identifying existing backlinks.
This is not a major issue, as you want as recent data as possible in your efforts to surpass the tough competition. And to make actual money from blogging, all the competition you are going to face will be tough.
I am actually going to address this issue with my affiliate manager and see whether there is an update to SEMrush's indexing and backlink discovering process in the works.
External Link Building
SEMrush's link-building tool is nothing short of excellent, which comes down to its ease of use. The link-building tool identifies prospects, rates them, and then you can decide on the ones to add to your in-progress list and start contacting them through SEMrush, as it also provides contact information, and you can connect SEMrush to your email.
All this is very easy to handle indeed, but the results you will get can vary. I contacted 187 blogs by email, got zero backlinks and several replies, which made me realize that paying for high-quality backlinks is inevitable. The prices are north of $300 and can get close to $5000.
I'm not going to hold this against SEMrush, obviously. The tool itself is excellent and this blog is still a newborn, while personally I'm too bored to perform excellent backlink outreach by myself.
Going beyond its ease of use, I found the Link Building Tool to be excellent in terms of identifying the right prospects and rating them. Another solid SEMrush feature.
Organic Traffic Insights
I don't want to praise SEMrush too much here as it provides a more aesthetically pleasing demonstration of Google Analytics stats. Nevertheless, these stats are vital, and you should monitor them as frequently as possible. For instance, as soon as I identified that my blog reached a 20% bounce rate, I took the appropriate measures to reduce it to 10%. Going back to 0% as I did a few months ago is not realistic anymore as Borderpolar has started to reach a much bigger scale.
This feature is a must-have for all SEO tools, and SEMrush is perfect. The best part is that the pro version of SEMrush is that the crawler can crawl up to 20,000 pages of your website or blog and discover multiple performance issues.
These issues include:
- Slow-loading content
- Duplicate content
- SSL problems
- Crawl errors
- Missing headers
- Overuse of keywords, keyword cannibalization, etc.
- Missing meta descriptions
- Broken Links
SEMrush will assess the severity and impact of each issue and explain how to address them. You can also export them to Trello or another project management tool using Zapier.
Site auditing may be the most basic SEO feature you can expect, but even for a new blog with 250 posts like Borderpolar, it is impossible to make do without it.
On Page SEO Checker
This is a great SEMrush feature as it provides several recommendations and ideas to improve your on page SEO and content. These ideas cover strategies, backlinks, technical SEO, user experience, SERP features, Semantic and Content.
The great and challenging thing about SEO is that it's never enough and having a tool in you arsenal which can actually help you improve multiple aspects of your site is a blessing.
Clicking on an individual page will show you all the optimization ideas for that page. Let's have a look.
You will find recommendations that can boost your rankings as SEMrush compares your page to competing pages and identifies potentially missing content, evaluates how informative and readable your post is, identifies keyword stuffing along with keywords the competition targets, and you don't.
I don't consider the Semantic and Backlinks Ideas that useful, but you can still find opportunities there.
It is definitely worth your time reading SEMrush's analysis, even if you end up dismissing some of its optimization ideas.
Social Media Tracker and Poster, Brand Monitoring
I consider social media an entirely different environment, which shouldn't be associated directly with SEO. SEMrush offers a social media tracker and a poster/planner; they are both ok but nothing spectacular.
Basically, the social media tracker has all the social media analytics in one place, and admittedly this is a nice thing to have. Still, I consider each social media platform's analytics much more useful. Please also keep in mind that GDPR limits the usefulness of the data for European countries.
The poster is just decent and works for basic posts. You cannot search for hashtags nor publish stories, fleets, etc.
On the other hand, I find brand monitoring a valuable feature. It is, in essence, a media toolkit that will identify any mentions of your brand, but you can only add one keyword on the Pro plan. You need to switch to the Guru plan to add more.
My concern here is that SEMrush invades a territory with tough competition, even in the free versions of tools like Later and Tailwind. Facebook Business Suite keeps improving and has added support for story posts, and now even graphic design platforms like Canva start offering content planners.
Sadly, I could not evaluate the content analyzer properly since it's a SEMrush Guru feature, but based on what I've seen, it allows you to add rules so that SEMrush will warn about content that needs updating X amount of time has passed and you can set the minimum number of words these posts that trigger the rule will have.
The interesting part is that SEMrush provides SEO content templates and an SEO Writing Assistant with access to its Content Platform with the Guru plan. I hope I will have a chance to evaluate this feature in the future too. For now, I will say it looks fascinating, and it seems to combine SEO plugin features (like Yoast's) and possibly post schemas markups.
I'm not too fond of the user management handling SEMrush offers. Even the most pricey plan – Business, which goes for $449.95 – allows only a single user account to manage your projects. This is alienating to me as the Business plan targets SEO agencies.
You will have to pay an extra $45 to $100 per user to add more team members. That's on a monthly basis!
To compare, Ahrefs provides 1 seat with its Lite and Standard plans, while the $399 Advanced and the $999 Agency plans offer 3 and 5 seats, respectively. The extra seats cost $30 in all Ahrefs plans.
Projects are sites which you may or may not own, for which you can perform Backlink Audits, On-Page SEO audits, Position tracking and Site Audits.
The Pro plan offers 5 projects, the Guru plan offers 15 projects, and the Business plan offers 40 projects.
Now, if we compare this to Ahrefs, SEMrush's primary competitor offers unlimited verified projects (projects you own) on all its plans. Ahrefs offers 5 unverified projects on its $99 Lite plan, 10 on its $179 Standard plan, 25 on its $399 Advanced plan, and 100 on its $999 Agency plan.
However, keep in mind that Ahrefs uses quota or credits for site auditing, so the math behind how much site auditing you can perform with each tool is a bit complex.
Keyword and Domain Analysis Reports
Semrush allows for 3,000 domain analysis reports per day on its Pro plan, compared to the 175 reports per week Ahrefs offers.
Ahrefs offers different limits for position tracking, site auditing, domain analysis, backlink auditing and keyword analysis.
Due to the very different needs of each business, professional, or agency, it's tough to figure out which tool ends up being more pricey. At the end of the day, this is what matters, considering both tools are excellent.
I highly recommend discussing any concerns with customer support before deciding on a long term commitment for any SEO tool.
The “Trends” and “Local SEO” Addons
There are quite a few Semrush features for analysing competitors’ websites that are not available without purchasing a ‘Trends’ add-on.
- Market Explorer (market players, market shares, audience age, gender and behavior, seasonal peaks, etc.)
- Extended traffic analytics (visitor engagement, traffic sources, desktop and mobile, audience overlap, historical data, geographical information.)
- Competitor benchmarking (the ability to cross-compare up to 5 competitor websites).
- Bulk traffic analysis (web traffic data on up to 200 prospects in a click)
- Top pages (web traffic data on up to 200 prospects in a click).
First of all, I have to admit this data can be invaluable. I'm going to kindly ask SEMrush to provide me the Trends feature for a month, as it will significantly enhance my competition analysis. However, the $200/month price tag is pretty much a second Guru plan. I believe the feature is worth it in some contexts, but it's hard to recommend something so pricey.
In terms of local SEO, there are 2 add-ons available:
- ‘Basic Location,’ which costs $20 per month
- ‘Premium Location’, which costs $40 per month.
Both give you the ability to:
- distribute business information to directories
- suppress duplicate listings
- track local rankings
- manage Google My Business and Facebook listings
- monitor reviews and user suggestions
The premium version additionally provides:
- A ‘local heatmap’ — a way to see how your customers can find your business among other local companies on Google Maps
- And a Respond to Review feature that lets you respond to reviews directly within the Semrush interface.
The heatmap feature is an interesting one but hard to evaluate unless you run a local business, while I don't think “Respond to Review” is a must-have one.
PPC Keyword Tool
I find most keyword planners, including Google's Keyword Planner very annoying to use. Bing's keyword planner is probably the worst, if I'm being honest.
SEMrush on the other hand is very easy to use, remove duplicate and negative keywords and find the best PPC advertising opportunities.
The SEMrush Mobile App
I was going to call this app position tracking on the go, but SEMrush got there first. I'm not a huge fan of SEO software on mobile devices as SEO data is too complex for a small screen. However, position tracking on the go can be useful, just like viewing your site's Google Analytics from your phone is.
The SEMrush mobile app offers several features with regard to position tracking:
- View your projects list and current campaigns and filter them
- Get quick access to the key metrics of your campaign (visibility, estimated traffic, average position)
- View your campaign keywords and position changes
- Get access to the top keywords statistics
- Filter by date, competitors and top keywords
I might as well call SEMrush's support the best one among SaaS SEO tools as it provides mail, phone and live chat options. I can't stand any service that doesn't provide live chat support in 2021 and thankfully SEMrush's live chat support is very responsive.
This is a hard pill to swallow. SEMrush's standard Pro plan is not too pricey, it's pretty much where the competition is. Things may get out of hand if you run a team of 3 to 10 people though, as you may end up paying a lot of money compared to other options.
I highly recommend contacting SEMrush support and discussing custom solutions before committing to a long-term plan.