July 15, 2021
However, times have changed; now, they’re competing against each other.
It also means you have to decide which SEO tool will work best for your business.
And there’s a lot to consider. Technical SEO auditing, for one. Integration, for another. Not to mention additional features, such as content creation support and PPC competitor analysis. Oh, and how about backlink analytics too, as well as things like the user experience, technical support, and pricing?
Yeah, it’d be a bit time-consuming to research them all. Thankfully, you don’t need to – I’ve dug deep and pitted their basic plans (Ahrefs Lite and SEMrush Pro, respectively) against each other for you, providing a head-to-head score for each solution.
Let’s get to it.
Okay, I’m starting with the most essential first: SEO keyword research.
Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer provides the approximate number of clicks you’d get if you ranked in the top 10 for the keyword in question. Plus, you can expand the results to trigger literally hundreds of distinct keyword ideas. No need for you to get your thinking cap on yourself – phew.
What’s more, its organic keywords report allows you to reverse-engineer a competitor’s site and see all the keywords they’re ranking for right now. If they have low domain authority, for example, then it could be worth competing with them on select keywords. The report can also tell you the pages that attract the most organic traffic, search volume, cost per click, and competition.
Then there’s the Domain Comparison option. This enables you to identify competitor websites that are performing incredibly well for the same keywords you’re targeting. You could use this information to work out if you’re in with a chance of competing with them, or whether the fight would be too tough and you should steer clear of these keywords.
And if that wasn’t enough, in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can discover sites that are competing with your content and gaining the most shares on social media. Super valuable data, right there. You can drill down into it, and either mimic it or use it as inspiration to boost your own website and social media engagement.
When it comes to discovering how your competitors are doing, SEMrush delivers real gold. You’ll be rolling in data. Where Ahrefs focuses on just content and SEO, SEMrush allows you to dive into a competitors’ entire online traffic strategy: organic, paid, referral, social, and direct. What’s more, you’ll be able to see the performance metrics for your competitors and establish who their top rivals are.
As for its keyword research tool? This gives you everything you’d expect, but even faster. What’s good about SEMrush is that it provides you with data from Google PPC. This means if you’re also simultaneously running Google Ads campaigns, SEMrush will give you valuable information including the search volume, level of interest over the last 12 months, and CPC. You’ll additionally be able to see which keywords are getting the best ROI for your competitors. Then, you can pick the optimal set of keywords for your own paid advertising, maximizing ROI.
It’s not just your competitors’ keywords you can get access to either. There’s the opportunity to discover their budget and copy too, providing you with actionable insights to make sure your ads do better.
You’ll also be able to see those competitors you don’t even know about yet. SEMrush examines ads and delivers information on the companies running them – meaning you can spot your newest rivals before they become popular. Wow.
So it probably won’t surprise you, but for this round of Ahrefs vs SEMrush, the latter has come out sparkling.
The scores so far:
Let’s move on to a very important part of SEO: analyzing your backlinks.
Ahrefs’ user interface (UI) is great – fantastic, even. It takes fewer clicks to get the page’s best links and the pages which have the most links. The tool even holds the title of being the fastest backlink crawler in the entire industry.
Plus, you get a sneak peek of the anchor text. As a result, you can effortlessly understand why websites are linking to a specific page. It’s really helpful.
Want a tool that can give you the most backlinks? SEMrush has a larger link index. You’ll be able to see all those domains referring to a competitor domain.
I don’t deny that all this is great, but it’s not everything. UI is a massive consideration point here. Link building really eats at your time, so you need an SEO tool that’s extremely easy to use. SEMrush’s UI is operational, but it takes those few extra clicks and the user experience (UX) just isn’t as seamless as Ahrefs’.
It’s a tough one. For this round, Ahrefs vs SEMrush is basically UI vs link index. And, well, UI means a lot when you’re tasked with link building. So I’m raising Ahrefs’ arm in this boxing ring.
The scores so far:
Uncovering SEO issues and opportunities is great, but some definitely do it better than others… let’s compare.
For technical site auditing, Ahrefs appears to prioritize things that aren’t necessarily an issue. Like ‘noindex’ pages – plenty of websites have pages they don’t want Google to index, but Ahrefs drags an SEO health score down because of it. It shouldn’t be considered a problem, more something to potentially investigate.
However, what it does do well is its ‘site structure’ feature. This gives you the ‘depth’ – the distance of clicks your different web pages are from your homepage. A ‘flat’ architecture is your goal, and the Ahrefs’ site structure functionality makes it super simple to see if you’re on track or not.
SEMrush is incredibly valuable for site analysis because it helps you actually take action. For example, the SEO tool lists your top issues (like a link being broken, perhaps) so you can get working on them immediately.
There’s also an internal link distribution report, detailing how effectively your internal links are set up for SEO.
I can’t say Ahrefs isn’t valuable, but SEMrush is definitely more valuable. It empowers you to act fast, so it’s got the power punch and is the winner of the Ahrefs vs SEMrush site analysis round.
The scores so far:
Now for rank tracking, and – spoiler alert – choosing a winner for this one really wasn’t difficult for me.
Ahrefs is a decent enough rank tracker. It’s on par with any other rank tracking tool, habitually checking to see your Google rank for the set of keywords you input. It’s certainly not a bad tool at that… but, the issue is, that really it is. I was a bit disappointed if I’m honest.
Yet with SEMrush, I was the opposite. It’s packed with extra features. These include a ‘Competition Map’, which enables you to identify domains that are competing for your traffic, as well as track how they’re doing. Plus, it updates its tracked keywords almost every single day.
What’s really valuable is the SEMrush Sensor – this detects algorithm changes, so you can see if there’s a change in your SERP ranking and if that’s because of an update. This way, you can turn volatility into opportunity.
Algorithm detector? What a left hook! It’s a clear win for SEMrush, isn’t it?
The scores so far:
Talking of extra features, let’s look at all the trimmings that the basic plans of Ahrefs and SEMrush come with.
Ahrefs has a ‘Content Explorer’. You simply enter the topic you want to create a piece of content for, and it’ll show you related pieces that are performing best for organic traffic, backlinks, social shares, and traffic value. I love this level of functionality!
And that’s not all. This feature can also dive into the depths of the internet for places that mention your brand but don’t contain links back to you. You can then request that they do and improve your SEO.
On top of this, it has a great broken link building feature that’ll save you tons of time, to say the very least. Finding both broken external and internal links is incredibly straightforward.
With SEMrush, it’s all about PPC. There are more than enough PPC competitor analysis features, meaning you can get the very most out of your Google Ads campaigns – something that’s extremely crucial for your growth!
Plus, it can help you boost your local SEO if you opt to use the ‘listings’ tool. This shows you how to set up your names, addresses, and phone numbers (or NAPs) in the right way. What’s more, you can discover the NAP opportunities you may have missed.
It’s hard to call. They both have such unique functionalities. However, I have to take Ahrefs out of its corner for this one and crown it. PPC features are really valuable, but content is so closely linked to your SEO performance – and it is the best SEO tool that we’re looking at here.
The scores so far:
So we’ve seen what Ahrefs and SEMrush can do by themselves, but how about when they join forces with other software?
Ahrefs has fantastic integration capabilities. Developers can access its API for free, meaning it’s super easy for them to collaborate with other applications or build one of their own that can use Ahrefs’ index data. WordPress is just one example of its integration.
There are endless integrations to SEMrush. DashThis is one, improving the storage of marketing data in reports. Databox is another. Then there’s TapClicks, which empowers you to access the data on domain analytics in relation to both your and your competitors’ websites. The result? An incredible amount of time and resource saved.
It has loads of integrations for your project management and marketing requirements as well, like HubSpot and Trello.
This was a tougher round. I can’t say that either one is the Anthony Joshua of integration – neither dominates the other. So… it’s a draw! One point for each of them this time around.
The scores so far:
Now, for some analysis of the ‘softer’ features. I took a look at the overall usability of each tool, along with the coherence of data – which both help the user to understand the data as best they can.
I’ll be completely honest here and say I felt pretty let down by Ahrefs when it comes to its coherence of data. At times, it just wasn’t explicit enough – giving you an overview rather than getting into the nitty-gritty.
Its user functionality was definitely better; the UI is incredibly smooth, and it’s super easy to get to information – it’s digestible and you see it immediately.
SEMrush has a great user experience. The dashboard was clearly built with it in mind, helping you get a clear understanding from the data. Its features have a logical sequence, following a path that users are actually likely to take. For instance, under ‘Paid Search Traffic’ on the dashboard, there’s a link to go to position tracking. For those that want to maximize the ROI of their paid advertising further, this is really helpful – it’s easy to find this feature while they’re already analyzing performance.
And its data? It’s incredibly precise, providing clear actions to take as a result of the findings. One example is that it tells you how to make a page appear as a Google ‘featured snippet’, and the reason why you should do so. You’re not sat there wondering what to do with the information in front of you.
Even though it was not an easy decision to make, this round goes to SEMrush. There’s just something about its UX and precise data that speaks to me.
The scores so far:
Whilst technology has come on leaps and bounds, there’s always room for errors and issues. And we all know it’s not always as simple as turning it off and on again – there needs to be solid technical support available.
It’s really not hard to see how to get support from Ahrefs on their website – which is fantastic when you urgently need help. They have a support chatbot there that’s available 24/5. I tested it out myself and they answered within four minutes. Pretty impressive, and they allowed you to input your email so you’d be notified of their reply. No having to hang about on their website? Now, that’s a win.
You can ask them questions via Twitter, too – they responded in under two minutes. Even more impressive.
As for SEMrush, they have a similar chatbot, along with a help center and regional support numbers. However, you do have to scroll and click through a bit to get to these.
Plus, when I tested their chatbot, it wasn’t actually live. I ended up having to send them an email through it. It took them about 30 minutes to get back to me, which was a bit disappointing, especially as they didn’t directly answer the question I asked.
They were much better on Twitter – only a four-minute response time.
While I do like the fact that SEMrush has a help center and phone numbers available, I think speed is the most important factor for support – because when you want to get something done, that really does make all the difference, doesn’t it? Therefore, Ahrefs has to be the heavyweight for this round of Ahrefs vs SEMrush.
The scores so far:
When it comes to value, it really does depend on the features you need. As a basis, though, let’s take the least expensive option of both tools: Ahrefs Lite ($99 per month) and SEMrush Pro ($99.95 per month), and compare accordingly.
Ahrefs LiteSEMrush ProPrice per
additional user$30$70Crawl credits10,000 per month100,000 per monthTracked keywords500 (updated every
seven days)500 (updated every
day)Mobile rankingsYesYesDomain reports175 per week3,000 per dayContent explorerYesNo
Ahrefs’ Lite plan includes their backlink analysis and keyword research, which are absolute necessities. All the other amazing features I’ve mentioned in this blog – such as the Content Explorer, Rank Tracker and Site Explorer – can be accessed too. However, it misses out on key functionalities like the historical index for backlinks.
With the SEMrush Pro option, you get 3,000 reports a day – compared to Ahrefs’ 175 per week. You don’t need to be good at math to know this is way more bang for your buck. Having said this, there are no content features available unless you upgrade to the Guru option, which is rather disappointing.
It was a tough choice, but ultimately it was about how much you could get for your money – and I think Ahrefs trumps SEMrush in the boxing ring this time. While SEMrush provides more updated keywords and additional reports, you have to pay extra for the content features. And I think, with content so closely linked to SEO, these functionalities should be a prerequisite for any SEO tool.
The final scores:
It’s a draw.
But it would be fair to say that Ahrefs is the winner, because of how much it gives in the basic plan. Even though it could work on the amount of data it provides, it offers features that are key for your SEO – data- and feature-wise.
SEMrush would be the winner here, if we would compare the mid-tier plans, as its Content Marketing Dashboard is just as advanced as its SEO area.
But when it comes to choosing your winner, it truly all depends on what you need and how much you’re willing to pay.
If you’re a Content Marketing Manager or post a lot of content to your website but don’t want to pay too much, then Ahrefs is for you. If you’re a PPC Manager or run a lot of ads (perhaps you’re in the retail industry), SEMrush won’t let you down.
You could even use both. Plenty of digital marketing agencies do, as the analysis from each SEO tool allows them to make the data-driven decisions that lead to growth.
I’ve stacked Ahrefs and SEMrush against each other for you… but the choice really is yours. Choose your own heavyweight champion. And remember to stick to best practices like internal linking or responsive page.
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