As far as SEO tools go, there are two pack leaders: Ahrefs and SEMrush.
They’re both powerful tools that provide resources to find the perfect keywords, optimize your content, and improve your rankings. Using one of these tools can put an end to the guessing game of choosing keywords and hoping they perform well.
There are several impressive digital marketing features provided by these platforms – some of which they have in common, but others are exclusive to one or the other. So, how do you choose between the two?
Keep reading for an overview of Ahrefs vs. SEMrush, how they can help you finetune your keyword research, and the differences between the two tools.
Note: This article was updated in 2021 after a range of feature updates and new releases.
The Ultimate Guide to Organic Traffic for Small Business
Ahrefs, released in 2011, boasts having a keyword index of over 10.3 billion keywords and the world’s most extensive backlink index offering new data every 15-30 minutes. Ahrefs has an incredibly accurate link database.
Some of Ahrefs best features are:
- Customizable alerts for backlinks, mentions, new keywords, and more
- Intuitive interface that allows you to quickly see the overall health of your website and search engine ranking
- An in-depth look into search traffic with a site explorer
- Domain comparisons
- Reports with charts
- A content explorer that provides excellent topic suggestions
SEMrush is probably the most popular SEO tool – with so many features, it’s the leading competitive research service for online marketers. The total number of keywords for Google in the SEMrush Keyword Magic tool now exceeds 20 billion – it’s the largest keyword database on the market!
It was developed originally as SeoQuake in 2007 and began as a small Firefox extension (which still exists).
Popular features offered by SEMrush include:
- The most accurate data for search volume. Keyword search volume is vital data for building your SEO and PPC campaigns, for which erroneous data may waste your efforts, time, and money. SEMrush constantly updates its databases and offers the most accurate and relevant data.
- Huge keyword database for Google. The more keywords available for your keyword research, the more ideas you can get to enrich your SEO and PPC campaigns. The total number of keywords in the SEMrush Keyword Magic tool now exceeds 20 billion – it’s the largest keyword database on the market!
- The most accurate position tracking tool on the market. All SEMrush users
get daily data updates , mobile rankings, and the ability to buy additional keywords by default, with no additional payments or add-ons needed. This tool provides basic tracking functionalities to all SEMrush users, which makes the Position Tracking tool incredibly suitable for SEO specialists. Plus, the SEMrush Position Tracking tool shows local level volume data for all subscribers, no matter which plan they have.
- SEO reporting. It’s so important to organize all your data in one place and easily create a report for yourself, your team, your boss, or your client that will let you track all the KPIs you need. In SEMrush you can create visually appealing custom PDF reports, including Branded and White Label reports, report scheduling, and integration with GA, GMB, and GSC.
- A tool for toxic links monitoring and penalty recovery. With SEMrush you can make a detailed analysis of toxic backlinks, toxic score, and toxic markers with the option to outreach.
- Full-suite content marketing platform. SEMrush has content optimization and creation tools that will take your content to the next level. Some features include; the SEO Writing Assistant, On-Page SEO Checker/SEO Content Template, Content Audit, Post Tracking, Brand Monitoring.
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Direct Comparisons: Ahrefs vs SEMrush
Now that you know a little more about each tool and what they offer let’s take a look at how they compare. I’ll analyze each tool to see how they differ in the user interface, keyword research resources, rank tracking, and competitor analysis.
Ahrefs and SEMrush have similar dashboards. They both offer comprehensive reports and analytics front and center. However, Ahrefs requires a bit more of a configuration process. You need to list your competitors, domains, and desired keywords to track. SEMrush, on the other hand, let’s you begin your research more quickly by immediately giving you access to your dashboard.
Let’s take a look at the elements provided by each dashboard and explore how easy it is to complete tasks with each tool.
The Ahrefs dashboard is overall less cluttered than SEMrush. Its primary menu is at the very top of the page, with a search bar that exists only to type in domains.
Other notable elements of the Ahrefs dashboard include:
- You can see analytics from the dashboard, including search engine rankings to domain ratings, referring domains, and backlinks
- Jumping from one tool to another is relatively simple. You can use the Keyword Explorer to find a keyword to target and jump directly to rank tracking with one click
- They offer a tooltip helper tool that allows you to hover your mouse over something that isn’t clear, and you’ll get an in-depth explanation.
When you log into SEMrush, you’ll see a few essential modules right away. These include a quick analysis of your domains and information about organic keywords, ad keywords, and site traffic.
You’ll also find:
- A search bar that allows you to type in a domain, keyword, or anything else you want to explore
- A menu on the left side with quick links to things like marketing insights, projects, keyword analytics, and more
- Customer support resources located directly within the dashboard. You can chat with the support team or check out other resources such as webinars and blogs
- Thorough descriptions for just about every resource offered. This detail is beneficial, especially for online marketers who are just starting and may not understand all the acronyms yet
Both platforms’ dashboards have strengths and weaknesses. If you are someone who enjoys a clean, simple interface, then Ahrefs is less cluttered and easier to navigate. On the other hand, SEMrush packs more tools in its dashboard, including access to customer support resources.
Which dashboard you prefer will depend on what you look for in a user interface, so you should test both for yourself.
Keyword research is related to rank tracking, but it’s primarily used for deciding which keywords you plan on using in future content, rather than tracking the ones you currently use on your webpages.
When it comes to SEO tools, keyword research is probably the most critical area to compare the two platforms.
The Ahrefs Keyword Explorer gives you thousands of keyword ideas with metrics included. You can also perform targeted keyword searches filtered by the search engine.
Other features that Ahrefs support are:
- The ability to type in multiple keywords at one time and analyze them together. However, SEMrush also has this feature in Keyword Overview, so it’s not a unique feature
- Ahrefs has keywords for different search engines: Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu, Daum, Naver, Seznam
- Clicking on keywords that have potential shows the keyword difficulty and search volume, but also keyword suggestions related to the initial search. This feature can show you other keyword options you may have never considered
SEMrush’s core keyword research feature is called the Keyword Magic Tool and has more than 20 billion keywords for Google. You can type in any keyword you want to analyze, and an extensive list of suggested keywords will appear.
The Keyword Magic Tool also allows you to:
- View performance metrics by keyword
- Search based on broad and exact keyword matches
- See data like search volume, trends, keyword difficulty, and cost per click
- View the top 100 Google results for any keyword
- Identify SERP Features and Questions tied to each keyword (NEW Feature in 2021)
SEMrush has also released a brand new Keyword Gap tool to discover paid and organic keyword opportunities you may have missed – it’s hugely valuable!
Both of these tools offer impressive keyword research features and provide the ability to break down complicated tasks into something that can be understood by beginners and advanced users alike.
However, if you’re interested in more keyword suggestions, SEMrush seems to suggest more keyword alternatives than Ahrefs. It’s also adding new features all the time, like the Keyword Gap tool and SERP Questions recommendations.
If you’re looking to understand your position in search engines, rank tracking features are what you need. You can also use them to check how you compare to your competitors.
Let’s compare Ahrefs vs SEMrush to see which one performs better in this area.
Once again, the Ahrefs Rank Tracker is the easier-to-understand tool – mainly because there’s just one page without many additional features. Use Rank Tracker by typing in the domain you’re interested in testing and some keywords.
Rank Tracker looks into how well your rankings are performing for those keywords. Ahrefs also offers:
- Easy-to-understand results for things like visibility, traffic, average position, and keyword difficulty (KD)
- The ability to go into the KD area to see whether a keyword is worth targeting or better to skip.
For Rank Tracking, SEMrush has a tool called Position Tracking. It is a project tool, so you need to set up a new project for it – similarly to Ahrefs. As for the most popular SEMrush Position Tracking features, among them:
- Daily data updates and mobile rankings, available for all subscribers by default
- Opportunity to track lot’s of SERP features including Local Pack tracking
- Intuitive reports that allow you to change which pages and keywords are being tracked
- Identify pages on your site that may be competing with each other using the Cannibalization report (NEW Feature in 2021).
Ahrefs is a more user-friendly option and is a winner in this area. It only takes seconds to type in the domain names and keywords you’re looking to track. From there, you can quickly decide whether to move forward with a targeted keyword or figure out how to rank higher for other keywords.
However, SEMrush gives you the possibility to check mobile rankings and update rankings daily. Also, SEMrush offers social ranking analytics, which is a tool you won’t find within the Ahrefs platform.
Both platforms have powerful competitor analysis tools that eliminate the need to think of keywords off the top of your head. Each has tools that will find keywords that are effective for your competition, so you know they’ll be valuable to you.
Ahrefs has a domain comparison tool that allows you to type in up to five websites (your website and four competitors) and compare them side-by-side. You can also:
- View metrics such as backlinks, domain ratings, and more to see how well your site is doing compared to others
- Use the Competing Domains section to see a list of your most direct competitors, along with a keyword intersection chart
- Find more information by navigating back to the Site Explorer and Content Explorer tools and typing in a competitor’s URL instead of your domain
SEMrush offers a plethora of opportunities to test and spy on your competitors in an efficient way. The platform provides several resources for competitor analysis, including:
- Traffic Analytics, which helps you see where a website’s traffic comes from, how their audience engages with their site, what devices visitors prefer to use, and how multiple websites’ audiences overlap and much more
- SEMrush’s Organic Research tells you about a website’s top organic search competitors, which keywords they get their traffic from, if they are ranking for any SERP Features, and more.
- The Market Explorer search bar invites you to type in a domain and lists websites or articles similar to what you entered. Then, you have options for tracking these companies and markets with in-depth data analytics.
With more tools dedicated directly to competitor analysis, SEMrush wins in this area. This is not to say that Ahrefs slacks, however, it takes a combination of tools in Ahrefs to comprehend what your competitors are doing to rank higher than you.
Which SEO tool should you choose for digital marketing?
When it comes to keyword data research, you really can’t go wrong with either Ahrefs or SEMrush.
Consider choosing Ahrefs if you:
- Like cleaner interfaces
- Are searching for simple keyword suggestions
- Want to get more keywords for search engines like Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu, Daum, Naver, Seznam.
On the other hand, consider choosing SEMrush if you:
- Want more marketing and SEO features to choose from
- Need top-of-the-line competitor analysis tools
- Need to keep your backlinks profile clean
- Are looking for more keyword suggestions for Google.
Win at business with keyword data research
With the right tools, you can use the power of social media, content, and digital technologies to transform your business. When it comes to choosing Ahrefs vs SEMrush, it comes down to personal preference and the specific tools you’re searching for.
Do you have any experience using either Ahrefs, SEMrush, or both? Let us know what did and didn’t work for you in the comments below!