SEMrush Review: The gold standard of SEO & SEM toolkits (40+ tools and an in-built coach)

8th May 2020

TL;DR

With 40 powerful SEO tools in their arsenal, SEMrush includes everything you need to take your website’s ranking game and content creation to new heights – maybe even that coveted number one spot on Google.



Loved

  • Powerful features
  • SEO coaching
  • Opportunity spotting
  • Free trial

Loathed

  • Limited Projects
  • Accuracy of Brand Monitoring tool

The Story

What is SEMrush?

SEMrush has achieved something of a cult-like status in marketing circles.

Despite being up against a ton of free standalone SEO and content marketing tools, SEMrush attracts gaggles of gushing fans all to happy paying $100 a month (and upwards) for the full stack.

Yes, it can help you to spy on your competitors’ online strategies.

Sure, it can help you to get your own house in order.

And, nobody can beat its tools for spotting and seizing white hat SEO gaps – across keywords, content and social.

But SEMrush’s real strength is how it does all that.

It doesn’t just run searches and spit out stats. SEMrush acts as your personal SEO trainer, holding you to account and helping you grow as a digital marketer. Everything is built in a way to keep you motivated in the long run. To show you the right technique and keep holding up the mirror so that your website really does reap the rewards of its insights. And because SEO is no longer detached from other marketing disciplines, SEMrush gives you the tools to write killer content and ads around your findings.

So, if other SEO tools show you problems, SEMrush also tells you how to fix it. If others uncover an opportunity, SEMrush goes many steps further with content templates, writing assistants and backlink outreach features to fill those gaps. Dare I say it: SEMrush even makes SEO fun!


Oleg Shchegolev & Dmitri Melnikov

Meet the Maker:
Oleg Shchegolev & Dmitri Melnikov

SEMrush started from humble beginnings as a SEO toolkit and browser extension built by Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitri Melnikov in 2006.

With so much competition, Oleg and Dmitri knew good wasn’t good enough. Having undergone name changes, funding rounds and numerous feature releases, SEMrush sits upon market-leading, proprietary tools for SEO, content marketing and social media management. Not bad for two self-confessed “SEO nerds”.

Oleg and Dmitri are bootstrappers at heart. As the variety to SEMrush’s offer testifies. The pair keep their customers close and load light, ready to implement a new feature if enough users ask for it. Their public user suggestions are living proof of this ethos.

Investment has put things into superdrive. Fixed on vision but flexible on the detail, SEMrush is snowballing into the all-in-one tool digital marketers have helped to shape themselves. The upside of this is SEMrush is more valuable than its data alone – arming marketers and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to be seen and selling above all the noise.

The Product

How we tested SEMrush

Enter SEMrush’s free 14-day trial.

This is not my first rodeo in the SEO marketing tool space (having reviewed Ahrefs, Moz and Serpstat) but I still regard myself as a beginner on the SEO spectrum. Still learning and eager to try new white hat tactics on my businesses and my clients’. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Jumping in to SEMrush, I had high expectations. I knew to expect a whirlwind of features – some I’d encountered before but, more importantly, some that would give my SEO game an extra edge. An unfair advantage.

This review catalogues my experiences during that trial and how I found SEMrush compared to other SEO tools. It contains affiliate links but those come at no cost to the review.


Getting started with SEMrush

The 7-day trial requires your card details but that’s the only catch. It’s easy to cancel at any time.

You can then add team members. Request a demo. Or dive right in.

The temptation will be to run a common domain or keyword query right off the bat, but I’d recommend heading to Projects. Each Project centres around the domain you want to improve the visibility of.

Each Project is made up of Modules. These are all the essential info on a site’s visibility: Site Audit; Position Tracking; On-page Optimisation; Organic Traffic Insights; Social Media Tracker so on.

SEMrush 4   Dashboard

As you plug in your keywords and queries the SEMrush dashboard starts to come alive. It’ll probably take you 2-3 hours to get to this point and there’s a Quick Start Guide if you need it (you won’t!).

A small observation here: You won’t get to use SEMrush to its full potential without Google Analytics. As somebody who uses Fathom Analytics I had to wave goodbye to a few advanced features but nothing of note.

Features you’ll love

SEMrush’s bursting toolkit is a magnet for new users but they need some context. Arriving at a solid SEO strategy follows the same tried-and-tested process, so I’ll tackle SEMrush’s features in that order…

  • 🔍 Perform a site-wide SEO audit

    Regardless of good your content is, Google won’t be sending organic traffic your way if you’re publishing to a broken site or one that hasn’t been configured by an SEO expert. Consider SEMrush’s website health check your armour.

    I ran the SEO audit on my agency website likenoother.co. Turns out, it was needed! Despite returning an overall rating of 85% not bringing up any technical issues, it did flag 21 pages have duplicate meta descriptions – my blog posts. A rookie error caused by a recent tweak to the CMS. Thanks SEMrush!

    SEMrush also flagged 5 broken external links. All showed 403 and 406 HTTP codes but given I can’t change settings on the third-party sites that was being crawled there’s really not much I can do.

  • 📚 Conduct keyword research

    Time to hunt down some ripe keywords with Keyword Analytics.

    SEMrush will show you the magic combo of search volume and ranking difficulty for any keyword you type in. Rich pickings are extremely rare these days, however greater gifts await further down the results page in the form of:

    • Keyword variations
    • Intent-based searches that contain your keyword
    • Related keywords
    • Top pages that rank for your keyword

    The results on competitor pages are full of tasty details, including the site’s authority score, the backlinks its collected, the SERP format and the number of other keywords the page ranks for in search results. There’s decent visibility beyond Google too.

    Results will likely tell you you’re up against fierce competition. And that’s before you get to the paid ads SEMrush tells you are running for that keyword. Thankfully other tools are on hand to help…

    SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool is your gateway to deeper keyword research.

    The tool extends your search to include Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match, or Related Keywords where today’s nuggets of SEO gold can be found. In other words the exact list of extended keywords you need start using to revamp your content and freshen it up for Google’s algorithm. So, ‘marketing tools’ brings up promising subtopics like ‘digital marketing tools’, ‘marketing automation tools’ and dozens of others. It also shows the SERP features that exist for your keyword so you can expand the real-estate you take up in the search results.

    One addition I’d like to see here is True Density. Found on tools such as Surfer SEO, this gives us how many times each keyword should be used in a page’s content.

    All of the above promising keywords can be stored in your Keyword Manager.

  • 🤼 Competitive analysis

    The next step in forming a plan of attack is to use SEMrush’s toolkit to stalk your competitors and deduce their SEO strategy. Domain Overview breaks down any domain into four key categories: Organic Search, Paid Search, Backlinks, and Display Advertising. There’s very few surprises here and SEMrush has built some additional tools to make sense of this data. SEMrush’s Keyword Gap tells you what your competitors are ranking for that you’re not. Or rather, what exclusive keywords are driving their business that you’re missing out on.

    Of course, not all keywords are equal. The most important variables SEMrush shows here are:

    1. Volume. The average number of times users have searched for a given keyword per month.
    2. Site position. The position in organic, paid or shopping search results for the given keyword.
    3. Keyword density. How difficult it would be to rank well in organic search results for that keyword.

    Once you’ve uncovered some low-to-medium competition keywords with serious business intent, add them to your keywords watchlist with a single click. You’re going to use them later as inspiration for future content.

    Another way to cut this data is to discover the most popular pages on any website with Traffic Analytics.

    It gives you the run down on any website on the internet with traffic estimates, top pages and referrers but I found it to be of limited value without the $200 per month upgrade to the next tier. Similarly so Market Explorer - a new feature designed to identify a rival’s main competitors. Its result for my searches on producthunt.com were largely irrelevant, throwing up news sites, hosting companies and even Amazon. Not entirely out beyond the first 10 pages of results but you’re likely to find far more value in Domain Analysis.

  • ✍️ Create compelling content

    It’s time to put those well-researched keywords to good use with SEMrush’s excellent content writing tools.

    Before you do, Topic Research is alternative take on Keyword Analytics that can bring up some promising content ideas. So, using ‘marketing tools’ as an example again, this breaks out into 30-odd niches such as ‘high quality’, ‘lead generation’ and the like.

    SEMrush shows you the search term volume, the headlines that rank top and the difficulty you’re going to have in overtaking them. I genuinely found some gaps and Topic Research made me excited to put pen to paper and start that blog post.

    Unfortunately, that’s where access ends on the basic plan. An upgrade to Guru ($199 per month) opens up SEMrush’s Content Marketing Platform which includes help to:

    • Write an article with the SEO Content Template
    • Optimise it with the SEO Writing Assistant
    • Measure Results in Post Tracking

    And don’t forget, all of it can be used for free with the SEMrush 7-day trial.

    Out of all of SEMrush’s three main content marketing tools, SEO Content Template impressed me most.

    I must admit, as a copywriter I thought it would be a gimmick. How wrong I was!

    Start penning content that ranks with:

    • Target word count
    • List of keywords include and their frequency
    • On-page criteria (e.g. number of headings, title text, images to use)
    • Ideal format (e.g. listicle, FAQs, embedded videos)
    • Websites to acquire backlinks from

    SEMrush then backs this up by dissecting the top-ranking articles for these tricks of the trade. It’s eye-opening stuff. For example, the top ranking article for ‘marketing tools’ recorded 126 occurrences of those words, which I would have personally considered far too many.

    The SEO Writing Assistant tackles the readability of your words. Acting as an Editor, it’s a reminder of what to put in, but also an exercise in what to leave out. Copy and paste your text into SEMrush and it’ll give a verdict on the article’s originality and consistency of tone of voice. Useful tools if you outsource your writing and want to protect your brand’s integrity and reputation. Or writing on a topic that isn’t your field of expertise and relying on outside sources.

  • 📃 Optimise on-page SEO factors

    It’s easy to skip over this part but helping search engine bots understand what your page is about is critically important. Don’t let all your good research and writing go to waste.

    SEMrush’s On-Page SEO Checker has two modes – either let SEMrush decide the pages to optimise or pick yourself. For likenoother.co it put forward 34 ideas across 5 pages – mostly low-hanging fruit. A mixture of technical SEO hints, missing target keywords in <h1> tags and longer form content on the homepage. All good suggestions, for sure! But the real genius is being able to send those to Trello with a single click!

    Tucked away on the On-Page SEO Checker is another smart feature: Top 10 Benchmarking. It takes each of your Target Keywords and shows how your content compares to your competitors in areas such as Word Count, Referring Domains, Ordered Lists and Readability. As an added incentive SEMrush also dangles the traffic you can expect once you’ve put their ideas into action.

  • 🔗 Backlink like a pro

    Improve your ranking by improving your backlinks. SEMrush has a trio of tools to fuel a backlink strategy based on easy wins and reverse engineering what works for your competitors. They are:

    Backlink Audit

    Worthing checking every now and again. Enter a domain and SEMrush’s backlink dashboard comes alive with referring domains over time, their authority score, follow/unfollow status, top pages and anchors, and much much more.

    There’s some very actionable tools here too.

    For example, you can also use SEMrush’s Backlink Audit to hijack competitors’ broken links. I found rival marketing tools resource that no longer exists and narrowed down the 49 most authoritative links and informed them – asking to point to us instead. This was a huge win!

    On the other side of the coin, you can also discover and disavow shady backlinks on your site which might be triggering penalties by search engines. SEMrush even helps you to remove the offending backlinks by finding the necessary contact details and sending an email request to the domain owner from within the platform. Or even easier you can manually upload your disavow .txt file to the Google Disavow Tool.

    Backlink Gap

    This is the backlink version of SEMrush’s Keyword Gap tool. Build a pipeline of more and better quality links by spotting the high authority ones pointing to your competitors, but not you. It also pays to look at the type of content they’re linking too, which is often in the form of:

    • Resources pages
    • Comprehensive lists
    • Industry stats and infographics
    • Case studies

    Once you’ve unmasked the most linkable topics and the SERP features Google is looking for, you can go about creating better versions.

    Backlink Building

    This is the SEMrush feature I got most excited about.

    Why? Because a highly quality and diverse backlink profile is the number one guarantee of long-lasting traffic.

    On the back of my Keyword Analysis and Backlink Gap searches, SEMrush provided me with a list of 884 prospects.

    The outreach engine inside SEMrush then makes the intro you need. Choose your approach (e.g. directory listing, add link to article, guest post, news story etc), hook up your mailbox and then send emails based on the domain contacts and templates SEMrush has prepared.

    Not everybody agrees with this approach, however it can work wonders – particularly if you’re truly assisting them with better content and fixing broken links.

    Of course you’ll want to track progress on those link leads. Split test different emails and issue follow-ups if need be. Good luck!

  • 🥇 Set up rank tracking

    SEMrush’s Keyword Rank Tracker does exactly what it says on the tin.

    The basic plan has a 500-keyword limit and you can import these in bulk from elsewhere. So, after shifting the data from Serpstat, SEMrush took about 3 minutes to gather the keyword data for my top 20 terms. It didn’t make for pretty reading - giving me an overall visibility of single fingers. Ouch! This low score was linked to the technical issues identified in the audit and thankfully has started to improve every day since.

    The headline figures are accompanied by the data you’d expect: Top keywords and pages / Rankings distribution / Estimated traffic, Average position etc. All relative to the competition and trackable over time. There’s also a dedicated Position Tracking App to keep a closer eye on your daily rankings fluctuations.

    The reporting here is incredibly detailed and action-focused so got me quite excited to put the hard yards in. SEMrush pulled out some SERP features (e.g. featured snippets, knowledge graphs, instant answers, top stories) that would make a big difference and presented the carrot of who I had to overtake to reach the enviable top spot on Google.

  • 💵 Promote yourself with ads

    Congratulations, with SEO taken care of it’s now time to scale things up and apply your keyword research learnings to PPC and Display Ads.

    SEMrush’s Ad Research and Product Listing tools can uncover rival advertising strategies, keywords, creatives and budgets before crafting your own. The Ad Builder helps you do just that. Create compelling ad texts inspired by what’s working best for your competitors and easily import them into your AdWords Editor account when you’re done.

Things to consider

  • Keep your Projects in one place

    A ‘Project’ is go-to folder for a single website. Or those of your clients.

    SEMrush’s decision to recently reduce the number of projects per plan has forced a lot of customers using the tool as the backbone to their SEO agency or freelance gig to upgrade to another tier. The step up to Guru is another $100, which is quite a leap. Still good value given the power SEMrush is packing, however other tools are a lot more generous when it comes to the number of projects you can run.

  • Use SEMrush’s in-house copywriters

    SEMrush’s Content Analyser unpicks what’s holding back individual pages. See important metrics (e.g. backlinks, bounce rate, sessions etc) and review and improve the content as a team. Or, you could just pay to SEMrush to rewrite it for you.

    SEMrush now offers professional writing and editing services. If an article isn’t performing well and you’d like to improve it, SEO native writers will get to work and improve its ranking – for a fee!

  • Social Media Tracker & Poster

    I’ve really done SEMrush an injustice by focusing on its SEO and SEM capabilities alone. It also has a whole suite of social media features. This includes: a Social Media Tracker that tracks social audience, activity and engagement of you and your competitors; a post scheduler and calendar; blog feed aggregator for ongoing content ideas; and a Chrome extension to quickly do all of the aforementioned on the go.

    All wonderful features to have to hand but I can’t help feel that they do feel a bit out of place. Similarly so the lead generation tools for agencies.

  • You ask for it, SEMrush build it

    You’re never far from a suggestion box in the SEMrush interface. If you’ve an idea for a new feature or dashboard widget SEMrush want to hear it. Other users get to upvote the best ones and see them move from ‘under review’ to ‘planned’. It’s reassuring to know the tool will always keep improving.

SEMrush Pricing

from $99 per month

Basic Tier

SEMrush packs quite a punch for $99 a month.

All its plans include 40+ advanced tools and features to supercharge your marketing with higher tiers based predominantly on usage limits. Those usage numbers aren’t as generous as the likes of Ahrefs and Serpstat but SEMrush is the best all-round SEO tool around and has far more features. Plus you get 2 months free when paying annually.

Before you part with any money though make you sure take them up a their free 7-day trial.

Exclusive 14-day free trial

Get double the access!


SEMrush Alternatives

Nobody beats SEMrush’s SEO credentials.

Sure there’s plenty of free standalone tools, such as Google’s Keyword Planner, Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest and Moz’ Domain Authority checker. If you’re on a tight budget and not too fussed about switching between one tool and another, they’ll do. However, SEMrush’s real competitors are the all-in-one SEO toolkits.

Others such as Ahrefs and Serpstat can boast similarly powerful keyword research tools, in-depth competitor analysis and optimisation and backlink suggestions but SEMrush weaves them all together better. It does so with the persona of an enthuastic tennis coach. Taking you aside after every point, showing you how you can improve your technique and finding flaws in your competition to exploit. SEMrush doesn’t just provide the facts, it wants you to get better. And that’s the kind of company I want to keep.

SEMrush Support   👍  or   👎

At the top of most pages is a ‘Send feedback’ question which really lets you submit a question and ask SEMrush to come back to you with an answer. It took them 24 hours to do just that. My rep Ilgar answered a tricky question (how to find keywords that had dropped out of the top 100) promptly and with a helpful screengrab.

Alongside that button is another for the Knowledge Resource. There’s walkthroughs on just about every feature meaning you’ll become a SEO/SEM expert in no time. This is on top of all the Academy tuition in the form of webinars, ebooks, blog posts and even games! While the query handling was a little off as a trial customer, it’s impossible to fault SEMrush for their resource bank.

The Verdict

Surges score

92%

The good old days of finding a low-competition keyword, scribbling together a short article, and ranking highly are over.

Just as Google has gotten better at evaluating content quality, so too your competitors.

You’re going to need more help. And that’s where SEMrush comes in.

Spend a few hours in the toolkit it’ll give you the insights needed to grow your website’s visibility. Commit to it longer term and it’ll give you tools and coaching to become a true SEO expert, create better content and find new customers.

SEMrush is a seriously polished platform, offering entire SEO and advertising workflows for digital marketing professionals.

Given the breadth and depth of its toolkit, we’ve still only scratched the surface of its capabilities – even after 4,000 words. There’s new features being added all the time, such as a Lead Generation widget to add to agency websites and the Oppty tool for researching big spenders (i.e. potential clients) in any locale. SEMrush will only get better and better.

For those just getting started in SEO, SEMrush is more of a companion than a tool. Its intuitive interface, helpful onboarding and Academy training can quickly turn any digital marketing novice into a pro. There’s nothing quite like seeing the progress you’re making as you reap the rewards from your research and put SEMrush’s recommendations into action.

So, if you’re a business owner or marketer wanting to move away from ad-heavy sales to organic growth, SEMrush is for you.

At the other end of the scale, SEMrush’s pricing plans, team-based projects and customisation options lends it to SEO freelancers and agencies, allowing you to satisfy multiple clients with ease and evidence your return on investment. Its whitelabel-ness is your friend.

Worried it all seems a bit too good to be true? Check out SEMrush’s free trial and see for yourself.

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