Semrush Review 2021 — All the Pros and Cons
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In this Semrush review, I’m going to put one of the best-known SEO tools available to the test.
I’m going to discuss how it stacks up in terms of:
- Domain analysis
- Keyword research features
- Rank tracking
- Backlink analysis
- Link building tools
- Site auditing
- Ease of use
- Pricing and value for money
Let’s start with an important question…
What is Semrush?
Simply put, Semrush is a product that helps you optimize your website for search engines.
Created in 2008 by Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitry Melnikov, it now has a very large user base — over 7 million users, according to the company — and is one of the most popular SEO tools currently available.
Semrush works by giving you a lot of information, which you can use to either:
- create new web content that is likely to attract traffic
- identify link-building opportunities
- tweak technical aspects of your site content so that it achieves a higher search ranking.
For example, Semrush can give you keyword suggestions (based on phrases you enter) that can be used as the basis for writing blog posts that are likely to perform well in search results.
It can also tell you how difficult it will be to rank for specific search phrases.
It will suggest websites that might be worth approaching for backlinks.
And it allows you to perform an “SEO audit” on your website to find out if there are any technical improvements you can make to it that will help you achieve better search results.
That’s just the beginning though — there are many other features provided by Semrush that are designed to help you improve your site’s position in search results.
I’ll go through these in depth below, highlighting all their pros and cons.
So let’s dive in! I’ll kick things off by looking at something called domain analysis.
Most SEO projects start with some basic domain analysis. This means getting a simple overview of the ‘quality’ of a domain from an SEO point of view.
You typically perform domain analysis either on your own website — to see where SEO improvements could be made — or on a competitor’s, to see how difficult it will be to outrank them in search results (or to find ways to do so).
You might also perform domain analysis on a website in order to see if it’s worth approaching its owner for a link from his/her site to yours — this is because external links (or ‘backlinks’) from high-quality websites to your content can really boost its performance in search.
It’s very easy to perform domain analysis in Semrush: you just enter a domain URL in its ‘domain overview’ section, and you get an immediate sense of how it’s performing in search results.
Metrics provided include:
- An ‘authority score’
- The total number of visitors to the website per month
- The total number of external links — backlinks — pointing to the website
- The total number of keywords the website ranks for
- Anchor text commonly used in links to the website
- Top performing keywords
- Display advertising stats
- Competing websites
Of the above metrics, the one that gives you the quickest understanding of site quality is usually the ‘authority score.’
Semrush calculates this based on:
- backlink data (the number of links pointing to it)
- organic search data, including organic search traffic and keyword positions
- website traffic data (monthly visits).
The authority score used to be a bit buried in Semrush’s interface, but recently it’s been moved front and centre of the domain overview section, giving you an immediate sense of what Semrush thinks of a particular domain.
Now, what’s important to remember about the domain overview stats is that while the majority of them are based on hard data, the traffic figures are estimates — and my experience of them is that they are not always 100% accurate.
(I base this observation on comparing the Semrush traffic estimates against Google Analytics data for websites that I have access to).
To be fair to Semrush, the tool doesn’t claim that the traffic figures are 100% accurate, and actually gives you an estimate of how accurate its traffic stats for a particular site are likely to be (low, medium or high).
It’s best to treat the traffic stats in Semrush as something that gives you an indication of site popularity — and doing so can help you put your site into context against those of your competitors; or identify sites that it’s worth approaching for backlinks.
The other metrics provided in Semrush’s domain overview are extremely useful and help you gain some very valuable insights on both your own site and others.
Worth a particular mention is the ‘competitive positioning map’ which lets you see, at-a-glance, where a particular site fits into a particular market and how strong it is against its competitors.
The ability to break things down by country is also helpful — it helps you get a sense of where in the world a site is performing particularly well.
All in all, the domain overview section of Semrush is extremely useful, and this aspect of the product on its own gives you a huge insight into how a website is performing from an SEO point of view.
Keyword research in Semrush
Keyword research is generally about:
- establishing how many people are searching for a particular keyword
- establishing how difficult it is to rank for that keyword
- finding out who is already ranking for that keyword
- getting suggestions for other ones.
Semrush makes it very easy for you to find out all the above information.
Accessing basic keyword data
To find basic statistics about keywords in Semrush, you enter a phrase into its ‘Keyword Overview’ tool. Upon doing so you’ll see:
- the number of searches per month for that keyword on Google
- its ‘keyword difficulty’ score
- a list of the sites that are ranking for it.
As with domain analysis, you can do this on a per country level too, which is helpful.
One of the most important metrics returned here is the keyword difficulty score.
Semrush uses a percentage to indicate this — with a higher percentage indicating that it’s going to be harder to rank for a particular keyword.
As the arrow in the screenshot below shows, Semrush also gives you an indication of the number of backlinks (links from other content to yours) that it will take to rank for your target search phrase. This is a relatively new addition to Semrush’s feature set, and a very welcome one.
To get keyword suggestions based on a phrase you’ve entered, you need to use Semrush’s ‘Keyword Magic’ option.
From a usability point of view, it would probably be better if this was simply called ‘Keyword Suggestions’ — ‘Keyword Magic’ sounds a bit vague — but once you’ve accessed this part of Semrush, you’ll find it’s easy enough to use.
It provides you with a list of keywords that are related to the phrase you entered, along with filters that you can use to sort them, including:
- the keyword difficulty
- the number of searches per month for each keyword
- the cost per click if you were to use Google Ads to display results for each keyword shown.
All in all, Semrush’s keyword difficulty tool provides you with all the key information you need to make decisions on which keywords to target as part of an SEO project.
However there is scope for improvement, because the data provided is for Google searches only — it would be better if metrics were available for some other search engines.
Now to be fair, the overwhelming majority of searches continue to be made on Google (92% at time of writing, according to Statcounter) — but there are territories, not least the USA, where other search engines enjoy a reasonable slice of market share (in the US, for example, 5.4% of searches are currently made on Bing).
Competing products such as Moz and Ahrefs give you access to Bing data (Ahrefs also gives you access to YouTube search data too, which is very useful for anyone producing video content).
Semrush’s Content Marketing Toolkit
In addition to providing keyword research tools, Semrush also provides you with a suite of ‘content marketing’ tools (so long as you are on a ‘Guru’ plan or higher).
These allow you to:
- identify new topics to write about
- audit your existing content from an SEO point of view
- identify keywords that your comeptitors are using in their posts
- monitor mentions of your brand.
My favourite feature in Semrush’s content marketing toolkit is the ‘SEO writing assistant’ which allows you to copy and paste content into Semrush for review (you can also write copy within Semrush and get real-time advice on it).
Once you’ve done that you’ll get suggestions on ways you can improve its performance in search results. These include encouragements to increase or decrease word count; recommendations that you add certain keywords to your text; and warnings if your content looks like it has been scraped from other sites.
However, it would be nice to be able to simply paste a URL from your site in and get these suggestions — the copy/paste thing is a bit annoying.
‘Rank tracking’ is the process of monitoring how your website performs in search engines for a particular keyword over time.
It’s easy to set this up in Semrush — you go to its position tracker section, enter a domain name and the keyword(s) you’d like to track, and you get a report showing you how your site is currently ranking for those keywords. You can also track on a per-country basis.
As time goes on, and more data about your site flows into Semrush, you’ll be able to monitor the progress of your attempts to rank more highly for your chosen phrases.
You can also enter competitor website data into Semrush’s position tracker tool, which allows you to compare (again, over time) how your site is performing for chosen keywords against those of your competitors.
And finally, you’ll get regular email updates on your rank tracking progress — for example, email notifications telling you when a particular piece of content has dropped out of the top 10 results for a specified phrase.
All in all, the rank tracking functionality in Semrush is strong — no complaints here.
How well a site performs in search results very much depends on how many backlinks — external sites linking to it — exist for the site in question.
There are two ways to go about looking at backlinks in Semrush: the first is to use its ‘backlink analysis’ option, and the second is to perform a ‘backlink audit.’
Let’s look at each in turn.
The ‘Backlink Analytics’ section in Semrush lets you enter a domain name and view a list of all the backlinks it can find to it.
You can also use this section to view:
- the anchor text used for each backlink
- Top-level domain distribution (how many .com, .org., .gov links etc. your site has)
- information on the IP addresses of backlinks
All the information is laid out very clearly, and lets you see when a domain has gained or lost backlinks, along with the value of the links in question. You can use this information to improve your own SEO efforts, or gain insights into a competitor’s.
How accurate Semrush’s backlink analysis is, of course, depends on the size and quality of its link database. At time of writing, Semrush claims to have 43 trillion URLs in its link database, which if accurate compares positively with its key competitor Ahrefs (26 trillion), Majestic SEO (10 trillion) and Moz (41 trillion).
If these figures are correct, this makes the Semrush link database larger than those of key competitors, which means in theory you should get more comprehensive backlink data from the tool.
I was curious however to see how this played out in some real-world tests, so I ran backlink audits on six quite different sites to see how some of the major tools fared against each other in this area.
In my (admittedly small-scale) tests, I found that the number of backlinks found by each tool was pretty similar, with Semrush performing better on websites with a smaller number of domains linking to them — it identified more linking domains than competing products Ahrefs or Moz.
However, Moz seemed to perform better where sites with bigger backlink profiles were concerned.
As this was just a small test, I wouldn’t draw firm conclusions from it — but if there is a trend to be discerned, it’s that Semrush’s large link database doesn’t automatically translate into surfacing a bigger number of linking domains.
But on paper its database is larger than its key competitors, and it definitely provides you with a very comprehensive set of results which is broadly comparable to those of competing SEO tools.
The other way to look at backlinks in Semrush is by performing a ‘backlink audit’. The core purpose of doing this is to establish the ‘toxicity’ of backlinks pointing to your site and determine its ‘site health’.
During a backlink audit, Semrush compiles a list of links that it thinks are spammy, which you can then review and upload to Google as a ‘disavow’ file.
This effectively tells Google to ignore these toxic links — and, because Google penalises sites with lots of poor-quality links pointing to them, disavowing bad links can have a beneficial impact on your search rankings.
(Note however that it’s important to tread very carefully when it comes to disavowing links — read Google’s guidelines on the topic before doing so!).
Ultimately Semrush’s backlink audit tool is a very strong feature of the product. It’s really good at spotting poor-quality links and makes it really easy for you to prepare a disavow file for upload to Google.
You also get the option to whitelist the links too, if you feel that Semrush has been over-zealous in identifying a link as toxic.
Link building in Semrush
One of the standout features of Semrush is its link building tool.
As mentioned above, link building — the process of getting other sites linking to yours — is absolutely vital to the success of any SEO project, because search engines typically reward sites with more links pointing to them with higher positions in search results (so long as the links in question are located on high-quality, relevant websites).
Semrush’s link building tool works by
- determining who your competitors are and what they’re ranking for
- examining the content on your site
- asking you the keywords you want to rank for
and then surfacing a list of ‘prospect’ websites that it thinks is worth approaching for a backlink or guest post opportunity.
Not only that, but it provides you with some extremely useful tools for doing so. You can connect your mailbox to Semrush and send outreach emails from within the tool.
You can then keep tabs, CRM-style, on the progress of each approach.
If that wasn’t enough, where possible Semrush even provides you with email addresses for each website, and the option to save an outreach email as a reusable template (see screenshot above).
Broken link building
Broken link building is a related — and very important — SEO tactic.
It involves finding a broken link (i.e., one that no longer leads anywhere), recreating the ‘dead’ content that it used to point to, then asking anybody who used to link to the dead content to link to yours instead.
This approach allows you to build up new backlinks to your content — and as mentioned previously, the more backlinks that point to your website, the better your content performs in search.
Semrush’s broken link building feature is less easy to ‘get at’ than I’d like, however.
To use it, you need to run a backlink analysis report, navigate to an ‘indexed’ pages section, click a ‘target errors’ option and then export the results to an Excel or CSV file. You can then sort or filter this file to identify the 404 errors (i.e., the broken links).
This is a bit of an fiddly process, but on the plus side you can reimport your broken links file to Semrush (along with relevant email addresses) and do your outreach directly within the platform, using a connected mailbox and the CRM ‘pipeline’ approach referred to earlier.
Still, some room for improvement here — Ahrefs, for example, simply lets you hit a ‘broken links’ option and returns a list of all the broken outgoing and incoming links for a specified domain.
Getting an extended free trial of SEMrush
The standard free trial of Semrush lasts seven days — however, for a limited time, you can avail of an extended 14 day trial.
This gives you a 14-day window to try out all the product’s key features and access all the data provided by it.
Get the extended free trial here.
A hugely useful feature of Semrush is its site auditing functionality.
During a site audit, Semrush will look out for issues which might be having a negative effect on your search ranking, including:
- Slow-loading content
- Duplicate content
- SSL problems
- Crawl errors
- Missing headers
- Overuse of keywords
It will give you a list of issues to address — and in a nice touch, allows you to export tasks to the popular project management app Trello (you can also use Zapier to send them to another project management tool).
I particularly like Semrush’s on-page SEO checker, which scans your entire website and gives you actionable tips for improvement for each page (in order of priority).
These can include suggestions on
- which keywords to add
- steps you can take to make a page appear as a Google ‘featured snippet’
- how to improve your body copy and meta descriptions
- which websites to approach for backlinks
- length of content
- internal linking strategies
…and much more.
Another thing that’s great about Semrush’s site auditing features is that it doesn’t just tell you what things to do, it tells you why you should do them.
A ‘Why should I do this?’ link accompanies each suggestion, and when clicked, explains in plain English the rationale behind each recommendation.
(You can actually learn a lot about SEO simply by reading these tips.)
The site audit feature is simply superb and, as with Semrush’s link building features, arguably outclasses similar offerings from competing tools.
Let’s move on now to ease-of-use.
Interface and ease-of-use
The Semrush interface is similar to those of competing products like Moz and Ahrefs, comprising a menu of options on the left which you use to access functionality on the right.
The menu options are grouped together in useful categories — competitive research, keyword research, link building, rank tracking, on-page SEO and reporting.
There is a lot of data to contend with — this may feel overwhelming at first, but you soon get used to it (and the point of tools like Semrush is, of course, to provide you with a lot of data).
Additionally, the data visualisation that Semrush provides helps you get over this sense of data overload — most of the metrics provided are graphed in ways that make the information much easier to understand.
It would be nice however if Semrush’s interface could be made to work better with smartphones — as things stand, it’s not ‘responsive’, meaning that if you log into Semrush on a mobile device, you see the standard desktop interface, which means very small text and a lot of pinching and zooming.
On the plus side, there is a mobile app available from Semrush which allows you access your position tracking data; it would be better however if it gave you access to the other Semrush features in a mobile-friendly format.
Overall, Semrush’s interface is laid out in an intuitive fashion and is straightforward to use — but you will need to be using a desktop computer rather than a mobile device to get the most out of it.
Pricing and value for money
Compared to other types of ‘SaaS’ (software as a service) apps, SEO tools like Semrush are expensive.
That’s understandable however, as you’re not just paying for functionality, you’re paying for access to really large quantities of data, including a lot of competitor intelligence.
Semrush offers 3 main pricing plans:
- Pro: $199.95 per month
- Guru: $229.95 per month
- Business: $449.95 per month
There’s also a ‘Custom’ version of the platform to consider — this allows corporate customers to create their own bespoke plans (with more generous limits on reports and queries, more user accounts etc.).
It’s important to note that if you want to check Semrush out before committing to a paid-for plan, a free trial is available. The standard version lasts 7 days, but for a limited time the company has made a 14-day trial available — you can access the extended free trial here.
In terms of how the length of this trial compares to those offered by competitors, it’s better than Ahrefs’ offering (a paid-for 7 day trial) but less generous than Moz’s (a 30-day free trial).
You have to enter your credit card details to avail of the trial, which — whilst common enough practice where SEO tools are concerned — is a bit annoying.
Semrush’s fees are broadly comparable to those charged by key competitors Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic (that said, Majestic offers a lower monthly plan for $49 per month, but it is considerably less functional than the entry level plans provided by its competitors).
The main differences between the Semrush plans involve:
- the number of reports you can run per day
- the number of keywords you can track per month
- access to content marketing tools
- access to historical data.
The more you pay, the more you get of all the above.
Let’s zoom in on a few aspects of the pricing structure to highlight where Semrush offers good — or bad — value for money.
Probably the worst thing about Semrush’s pricing structure is that all plans — even the $449.95 ‘Business’ plan — only include one user account or ‘seat.’
If you want more than one person in your organization to have access to Semrush, you’ll need to pay $45 to $100 extra, per user (depending on plan type).
This compares negatively with all Semrush’s key competitors, which generally increase the seat count as you go up the pricing ladder (or charge less for extra seats).
If this is an issue for your organisation, you may need to investigate a ‘Custom’ plan with Semrush — as the name suggests, this allows you to negotiate pricing for a solution involving a custom number of features and users.
It’s important to be aware that quite a few Semrush features can only be used on domains that have been added as ‘projects.’
Key features that fall into this category include site audits, backlink audits, on-page SEO checking and position tracking.
How many projects you can have on the go depends on the Semrush plan you’re on — the entry level plan, at $119.95 per month, facilitates 5.
These limitations won’t necessarily be a showstopper for every business — but if you have several sites that you need to manage SEO for concurrently, or do a lot of competitor analysis, it is definitely something to be aware of.
Semrush is very generous when it comes to the number of reporting requests you can make each day: even on its entry-level plan, you can pull 3,000 domain analysis reports per day — this massively outnumbers the 175 reports you can run per week on the Ahrefs entry level plan, for example.
This comparative generosity continues as you go up the pricing ladder: the Semrush daily limit for reports on its $449.95 plan is 10,000; the Ahrefs $399 plan’s limit is just 1750 per week.
Competitive intelligence and add-ons
There are quite a few Semrush features for analysing competitors’ websites that are not available without purchasing a ‘Trends’ add-on.
When you buy this you get access to:
- Market Explorer (market players, market shares, audience age, gender and behavior, seasonal peaks, etc.)
- Traffic analytics (visitor engagement, traffic sources, desktop and mobile, audience overlap, historical data, geographical information.)
Rather disappointingly, this add-on costs $200 per month. To be fair, most of the above metrics could be considered worthy of paying a bit extra for, but $200 per month feels rather steep (in some contexts, making the add-on more expensive than some of the plans!).
Additionally, if you want to access local SEO features, you’ll also have to shell out extra.
There are two local SEO add-ons available: ‘Basic Location,’ which costs $20 per month, and ‘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 also gives you access to a ‘local heatmap’ — a way to see how your customers can find your business versus other local companies on Google Maps — and a facility that lets you respond to reviews directly within the Semrush interface.
If you’re working on a mix of SEO and PPC projects, you may find that Semrush represents better value than some of its competitors.
This is simply because it features more PPC data — whereas other tools give you basic CPC figures for individual keywords, Semrush goes far beyond this, giving you detailed CPC competition and distribution data, live ads and PPC campaign planning tools.
SEO tools like Semrush tend to be quite complex in nature, so the availability and format of customer support is a key consideration for prospective users.
The good news is that you get three channels of customer support with Semrush: phone, email and chat. This contrasts positively with competing products, not all of whom offer phone support (Moz doesn’t even offer live chat support).
And, unlike some other SaaS products, Semrush makes its contact details easy enough to spot — a help chatbox is visible at the corner of each page, and a phone number is listed prominently in the footer of the Semrush website.
There’s none of that annoying ‘search our help pages before we show you a phone number’ stuff to go through.
Semrush review conclusion
Semrush is a really solid SEO tool that gives you all the key data you’ll need for a successful SEO project. For me, its standout features are its link building and site auditing tools — the former gives you an excellent ‘CRM’ style method of building backlinks and the latter gives you a super-easy checklist of ways that you can improve your technical and on-page SEO.
The main downsides? Well, the only search engine it provides data for is Google; all accounts only come with one user account (‘seat’); and several key features can only be used as part of a ‘project’ (with limits applying to the number of projects you can run concurrently).
It’s also a bit disappointing that some of the competitive intelligence features can only be unlocked via a $200 per month add-on.
But overall, Semrush is a very good solution that provides you with the key information you’ll need to improve your search rankings.
To finish up, below you’ll find a summary of the key pros and cons of using Semrush, and some information about alternative SEO products.
Pros of using Semrush
- It’s generally easy to use.
- Domain analysis is particularly easy to perform with Semrush — you get everything you need to see in one place, laid out clearly.
- Although it provides a large quantity of data, Semrush’s interface is laid out in a logical fashion; and graphs and data visualisations make it easy to understand the metrics provided.
- Semrush’s link building functionality, which features CRM-style features to help you with outreach, is superb.
- Its site auditing feature gives you an easy-to-follow set of instructions on how to make concrete improvements to the technical SEO and on-page SEO aspects of your site.
- In addition to organic search data, Semrush provides you with a lot of PPC data too.
- By comparison to its competitors, Semrush is very generous when it comes to the number of reports you can pull in one day.
- Three channels of support are available – phone, chat and email. This is more comprehensive than competitors Moz and Ahrefs.
- A 14-day free trial is available, which compares positively with some competitors.
Cons of using Semrush
- It only provides data for one search engine, Google — some competing tools, notably Ahrefs, provide data from quite a few others.
- Semrush plans only come with one user account — and buying additional seats is expensive.
- Some key features are only available as part of ‘projects’ — and Semrush limits the number of projects you can run concurrently.
- Some competitive analysis features cost an additional $200 per month extra.
- It’s not as easy to carry out broken link building on Semrush as it should be.
- The free trial, whilst helpful, requires that you enter your credit card details before you can access it.
- Because the Semrush interface is not ‘responsive’, it’s hard to use the tool on a mobile device.
Alternatives to Semrush
The main competitors to Semrush are probably Ahrefs, Moz, and Majestic; we’ve yet to review all of them but we do have a comparison review of Ahrefs and Semrush available here and a Moz vs Semrush shootout here.
From my previous use of Ahrefs and Moz, I’d argue that what differentiates Semrush most from these competing products is the ‘CRM-style’ approach that it brings to link building campaigns — this in my view is the main advantage of using Semrush over them.
The other products mentioned above are more generous when it comes to user accounts however — if you have a lot of users who need to access an SEO tool, you may find one of the alternatives end up being a more cost-effective option for you.
If you’re on a tight budget, you might also be interested in a new SEO tool, GrowthBar, which is available at a much lower cost than most of the products listed above. A five day trial of GrowthBar can be accessed here; or you can check out our GrowthBar review here.
Over to you!
Got any thoughts or questions about Semrush? Leave them in the comments section below!