Are you considering subscribing to a SEO tool but unsure which one to go for? In this article, we’ll be comparing two of the most prominent tools on the contemporary digital landscape: SEMrush and Ahrefs.
Of course, other tools such as Sistrix are also worthy of comparison with the two selected tools, but in this article we’ll be focusing on a one-on-one comparison.
What’s the best SEO platform?
Before going any further, we’d like to point out that in our experience in the sector and from our point of view, it would be irresponsible to label any platform as the ‘best’, as, like almost everything to do with SEO, it all depends on the type of project you’re dealing with.
Whenever we’re contacted by people starting out in the industry for advice on the best tools to purchase, we always recommend that they evaluate the types of strategies they’ll need to develop.
In the case of agencies or freelancers who work with different kinds of websites and projects, we advise them to subscribe to the three main platforms if they can afford to do so. Why? Because each platform offers useful information about different aspects and together they can provide you with a more complete overview of the project.
With all that out of the way, we can now move on to compare these two incredible tools. Let’s go!
Points for analysis and comparison
We thought that the best way to compare the two tools would be to decide which one we’d use for some of the main tasks carried out by SEO experts (if we tried to include all of them, this article would turn into a book).
Following a lengthy discussion, we decided to analyse the following tasks:
- Domain analysis overview
- Competitor analysis
- Keyword research
- Link building (backlinks)
- Trend and theme search for content generation
Domain analysis overview
In this section, we’ll be assessing each tool’s ability to display the most important information about a specific domain, subdomain or URL in a simple manner. We’re not referring to the results provided when a project is being monitored, but to the Overview sections.
SEMrush beats Ahrefs on this point, without a shadow of a doubt. The tool offers a far more comprehensive, interactive dashboard than Ahrefs.
SEMrush displays a summary of every available feature on a single screen, offering users the option of modifying the features to reflect different markets, devices and dates.
Indicators displayed on the SEMrush overview:
- Authority score (proprietary authority metric)
- Estimated organic and paid traffic
- Graph showing keyword distribution by country
- Graph showing traffic trends (1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years and since 2012)
- Best organic keywords
- Organic position distribution
- Graph and summary of data on main organic competitors
- Branded traffic trends and comparison with non-branded traffic
- Advertising data (we will not be focusing on this aspect in the article)
- Backlink analysis (follows vs. nofollows)
- Best anchor texts
- Summary of referring domains
- List of indexed pages
The benefits of SEMrush are perfectly showcased in a single dashboard, presented in a way which is ideal for specialists looking for an exhaustive, accurate overview of a website’s status.
As well as displaying fewer indicators of interest, the summary presented by Ahrefs clearly focuses on link profile analysis and gives users a more patchy overview overall, although it does provide some information on estimated traffic.
As hinted at in the previous section, this tool allows users to detect websites that are organically close to their own based on keywords, as well as offering a sizeable number of quality indicators for any website, without the need for a login or password.
In addition to this, a new feature has recently been introduced that allows users to perform a quick comparison between the keywords for two different websites via an intuitive dashboard, producing a Keyword Gap Report.
Meanwhile, Ahrefs does not allow us to identify websites that rank for similar keywords to our own, making it difficult to use the tool to detect new competitors.
To carry out an individual analysis of each website, Ahrefs provides the Rank Tracker Report, which gives an estimate of the main SEO KPIs (visibility, average ranking, estimated traffic, ranking movement and ranked keywords). However, the report is more basic than those produced by SEMrush.
You probably saw it coming and you were right: we’ve reached the first point in favour of Ahrefs, which is the go-to tool for any SEO specialist working on link building. In our guide to Ahrefs (see link at the start of the article), we went through the link building features offered by the tool, which has clearly been created with a view to performing all possible types of link building analysis. The very name of the tool refers to the link-type html tag.
Ahrefs is perfect for analyzing a website’s overall link profile and for identifying or studying each individual link. It also offers a highly visual overview of changes in link volume and quality. Of course, it’s also able to recognize the backlinks that enter and those that are lost. If your project is based mostly on external link building, we recommend subscribing to Ahrefs.
But that doesn’t mean to say that SEMrush doesn’t offer this feature or that the quality is poor – quite the opposite. If you fetch the Backlink Analysis Report from the SEO panel, you’ll find an extensive comparative study of the link profile for the domain you’re interested in, with the option of including up to 3 competitors to compare.
The dashboard displays the following indicators:
- Authority score (link profile score for the website – similar to Ahrefs’ Domain Rating)
- Referring domains
- Organic traffic volume
- Keyword volume
- Categories of referring domains (very useful, as it provides an overview of the types of links present on a website)
- Anchor texts
- Referring IPs
- Number of backlinks by type (text, image, form)
- Number of backlinks by attribute (follow, nofollow)
- TLD distribution
- Number of backlinks by country
- Similar profiles
As well as being highly capable of analyzing a website’s link profile, SEMrush continues to apply a simple, clean approach to displaying data in an orderly, usable manner to improve users’ understanding of the analysis.
The SEMrush report offers excellent quality.
As we explained in our article on how to do keyword research, it’s one of the most important recurring tasks carried out by SEO specialists, so we felt that it was an essential point to include in our evaluation.
On this point, the two platforms are on a relatively equal footing. They both offer very interesting features and many of our readers will understandably disagree with our decision.
Starting with SEMrush, the features on offer can be found in the Keyword Research section. Our favorite report is the Keyword Overview, which provides ample information on the keyword selected by the user (for any country) in a summarized format.
In our view, the most important information in the report is:
- Estimated monthly average volume based on previous 12 months
- Percentage of difficulty
- Overall volume segmented by country
- Keyword variations and relationships (essential when undertaking keyword research)
- Questions with searches containing the keyword (this is particularly helpful, especially when searching for themes for content generation)
- List of SERP from positions 1 to 100, allowing users to identify their organic competitors
If you want to see all the keywords linked to a search at a glance in table format, you can do so using the Keyword Magic Tool. The results can then be exported.
Of course, you can also see the keywords that rank a website, along with all the relevant information about them. By using the Organic Research Report on SEMrush, you can identify the keywords used by your competitors or by your own website.
All you need to do is enter the domain into the search engine and click ‘Search’.
Finally, once the keyword analysis is complete, it can be uploaded to the Keyword Planner, which contains all the updated metrics relating to the selected keywords.
Meanwhile, to carry out keyword research on Ahrefs, two modules are available: Keyword Explorer and Site Explorer for organic keywords. Keyword Explorer gives you all the information you need about any keyword on 10 different search engines, ranging from YouTube to Seznam and Yandex to Baidu or Amazon.
As for organic keywords, Ahrefs gives us a list of the keywords that rank the website in question. The tool is also able to classify these terms in relation to the market.
It also allows us to create a list of keywords to help us monitor our keyword research.
The information supplied for each keyword in both reports is as follows:
- Keyword difficulty
- CPC (SEM)
- Graph showing website’s ranking for the keyword over time (last 6 months) (only in advanced plans)
As we’ve seen, both tools offer similar features and permit us to carry out adequate keyword research. We recommend that, where possible, you use both tools.
On this point, we’d like to award equal scores, but that’s not the point of this article so we’ll stick our necks out and say that SEMrush is our favourite tool for performing keyword research.
Why? We’ve noticed recently in several different projects that the data on volume and estimated traffic for each keyword in Ahrefs don’t reflect the reality (or at least the reality displayed by other specialised tools), whereas we can tell that SEMrush has been working to perfect this indicator over the last few years, offering more accurate data.
This is truer for some projects than others and shouldn’t be taken as read, but it’s the overall impression that we’ve gleaned and we wanted to make sure to mention it in this article.
Trend search for content generation
This aspect is very important if the SEO strategy for the project in question includes content generation. If this is the case, one of the main tasks we’ll have to carry out will be to create a calendar of posts based on content that will interest users and the various platforms are starting to take this into account.
As we mentioned earlier, SEMrush includes the questions with the highest search volumes linked to the keyword in the Keyword Overview Report. This is very useful if you want to generate blog content that answers users’ most burning questions.
However, the help provided by SEMrush falls short when compared to the Content Explorer feature in Ahrefs: when you enter a term, it brings up a list of the most relevant content (on social media) and important SEO KPIs such as traffic, number of links, etc.
The timeline also gives you the option to find out when exactly particular types of content work better than others.
Here’s a roundup of our decisions:
- Domain analysis overview: SEMrush
- Link building (backlinks): Ahrefs
- Competitor analysis: SEMrush
- Keyword research: SEMrush
- Trend and theme search for content generation: Ahrefs
Now that we’ve finished our comparison, we think it’s important to reiterate that it’s never wise to claim that one particular SEO tool is the best. We want you to understand that our scores for each platform are based on our own experience and that although we’ve justified our scores with aspects that are relevant to us, other opinions are also valid. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned some useful information to help you make your own decision.
Recommendation: Try SEMrush 14 days for FREE!