Ahrefs vs SEMrush – Which SEO Tool to Use in 2020?
- Ahrefs Site Audit is an automatic website diagnostic tool that can run in the background. It performs all checks and calculations in the cloud, so the tool does not need large resources.
- Site Explorer tool is the primary competitive analysis tool focused on organic and paid search traffic, keywords, PPC ads, and backlinks.
- Keyword Explorer tool is a detailed search query analysis tool in over 6 search services, including YouTube and Amazon. Besides standard info on seasonal and geographic popularity, it offers advanced tips and historical data, both for optimizers and advertisers.
- Content Explorer tool provides you with detailed analytics of articles, blog posts, and similar content by subject, language, and publication date. This leads to the question “How do I use Ahrefs Content Explorer?” It has multiple filters convenient for using it in finding opportunities for link building or for guest publications in existing blogs, or in analyzing the content strategy of successful pages. Read more here: Website Content Audit.
- Ahrefs Rank Tracker is one of the main tools to monitor the current ranking of keywords and phrases. It is also useful for benchmarking.
- Four main plans, Lite, Standard, Advanced, and Agency— with the monthly cost ranging from $99 to $999.
- Two billing options, monthly and yearly. Ahrefs subscription price will be 17% lower if you subscribe for a year. Besides, when choosing a one-year subscription, you get 2 months for free.
- There is no difference between the limitations of annual and monthly plans. When choosing a monthly subscription, you can add extra users for $30/ user and extra projects for $10/project.
- There is no free plan available. However, for $7 you get a trial version of any of the two basic plans.
- There is no direct access to the trial versions of the advanced plans.
- Analytics Reports module presented as a tool for competitive analysis. Includes both standard functions, such as a cross-cut of organic and paid search traffic, and those available for an additional fee— general analysis of the traffic and the market.
- Tools module is a list of individual functions available within the thematic sections. Includes such items as keyword complexity estimation, graphing, domain comparison, and SEO text assistant.
- Projects module is a variety of tools needed for regular use. This includes item tracking by keywords, brand monitoring, social media referral metrics, and delayed posting tool.
- Solutions, which is a special integrated module for complex tasks, from market research and monetization models’ search to content marketing and keyword research.
- Three main plans, Pro, Guru, and Business, ranging from $99 to $399 per month.
- Two billing options, monthly and yearly. The monthly SEMrush subscription price will be 16% lower if you subscribe for a year.
- Additional paid modules:
○ Competitive Analysis for traffic sources, market analysis, and target audience demographics, it compares up to 5 websites. $200/month
○ Allows connecting 1 to 9 extra users, depending on the limitations of the selected plan. $70 to $140 per month per user.
○ Publication of information about the business in directories. Available in the U.S., Germany, France, UK, and Australia. $20/month.
- A customized plan can be developed for your business.
- After free registration, you get limited access to the basic functions.
- Free account limitations:
○ Up to 10 requests per day.
○ No filters, historical data, or the ability to view more than the first 10 positions of the search results.
○ Only the first tab with general information is available for most functions, such as traffic analysis and market data.
- Free trial of the full version for 7 days is available after you enter your payment information.
Website and Communication
The slogan of each service used to greet its visitor shows a huge difference in how it positions itself and what it communicates to the client. Ahrefs says one does not need to be an expert to achieve great results, while SEMrush immediately sets itself out as a complete solution for digital marketers.
Besides, SEMrush focuses on its partners, clearly shown on the home screen. Ahrefs boasts a no less impressive list, but you can view it only if you go one level deeper.
Description of Services
Ahrefs gives a description of its 5 basic tools in separate videos up to 3 minutes long. The description of their functions is quick, concise, and complete, as well as accompanied by clear and useful practical examples. After a user views the video, its window can be closed to return to the home page.
SEMrush provides an overly detailed and structured description of its services. Instead of 5 or 10 main points, you are looking at 4 main sections, each with about 11 items. Most subitems offer you to try them, while some have almost no description or screenshots/pictures.
To find a video describing SEMrush basic services and components, it is easier to go to Google and find a blog post on this topic. The video is about 12 minutes long with a 2-minute introduction. It shows the interface itself only a handful of times during the entire video, in a minimized window and only as an additional illustration.
SEMrush video received 28,000 views in the two years since its publication. Ahref’s similar video has gained over 41,000 views on YouTube in four years.
Prices and Plans
Ahrefs more clearly and transparently describes what you get for the price you pay. SemRush indirectly describes various subscription plans as the basis for a modular service system, while a number of its tools are also available at an extra cost. Connecting an extra user is cheaper in Ahrefs, which has no limitations on the number of extra users. On the other hand, this option is most likely available only with a monthly subscription.
The control panel includes two main elements— a search bar to enter information about your current projects. The menu items follow a unified structure and also represent five main tools, Ahrefs Site Audit, Ahrefs Site Explorer, Keyword Explorer, Content Explorer, and Rank Tracker.
Clicking on “More” will open a list of additional popular Ahrefs tools: Notifications, Rating, Domain Comparison, and more.
The control panel gives access to the main tracked metrics of your projects and a section with the recent data, from ranking changes to banner advertising efficiency. Tabs on the left give access to various sections and tools. A drop-down menu allows you to select the necessary tools, depending on the task type. Besides, the tabs are organized differently from the drop-down menu and offer another grouping of the tools (the third type of it).
Let us look in more detail at the most general domain information. It consists of the title of the selected website, its URL, and a link to the user manual. It also shows the main metrics and several rating indicators.
The first is proprietary data on the internal ranking and authority of the link and the domain itself. The following is information about backlinks, including historical data and referring domains. The last one in the row is organic search traffic. There is no information about the sources of paid traffic.
The following section allows you to select a summary of the data section of interest: backlinks, organic or paid search traffic. By default, a summary of backlinks opens.
The main domain data set consists of its description and allows to go to the website in a new window, as well as offers drop-down lists for selection:
- Geographic database.
- Device type— desktop or mobile.
- Dates for viewing historical information.
In addition, there is a link to the user manual, customer support, and the entire report in PDF format.
Five basic metrics are provided. The first is the proprietary SEMrush Domain Rank. Then, it shows basic data on organic and paid search traffic: the approximate monthly volume of clicks for each channel, the number of keywords involved, and the possible cost of the specified traffic. Then, it shows the information on existing backlinks: total number, referring domains, and IP. Last, it shows information about banner advertising: the total number of active ads, the number of advertising sites, and ad networks. Here you can also find brief information about the depth and duration of a standard session and the average bounce rate.
The following is a summary panel of paid and organic search traffic data. The free version by default contains data on the number of keywords (777.3 ths for the USA, 108.8 ths for Canada), while the full version indicates the traffic volume (1.7 mln for the USA, 226.7 ths for Canada).
The first place in the interface where we come across information about organic traffic is the main toolbar or dashboard. By selecting the appropriate tab, you can take a look at the most important information about the organic traffic of the website you are interested in.
Here are the main elements displayed here:
- Organic Traffic Graph.
- Keywords Graph.
- Traffic Value Graph.
- Heat Map of the Usage History of Paid Keywords.
- Heat Map of the Frequency of Changes in Ranking Positions for the Main Keywords.
- TOP-5 Most Effective Organic Keywords.
- TOP-5 Most Effective Organic Pages.
Also, the sidebar will display several auxiliary components:
- Traffic Geography Table with Quick Filtering.
- TOP-10 Competitors with Quick Viewing by the Main Metrics.
The second area where you can analyze the available data on organic traffic is the corresponding side menu item on the left.
We will return to some sections a bit later. Let’s look at organizing keyword data and ranking.
The filter system works simply and allows you to configure almost any combination of values. The results will be displayed pretty quickly. On the other hand, to set up filters, you need at least a quick understanding of basic metrics. For example, KD 70— is it a lot or not? For such questions, there is a link to help.
You can also quickly switch between the advanced search options and both the core and the expanded list of geographic regions.
It supports export to MS-Excel (UTF-16) and other popular codings (UTF-8) in fast (first 1,000 values) and advanced (the entire sample) options.
Up to 100 results can be displayed on one page.
For the first time, organic traffic data is displayed in the domain overview toolbar and is represented by 4 main metrics:
- Geographic Traffic Distribution.
- Historical Trend of Search Traffic (Organic and Paid).
- Active Snippets and Other Advanced Search Results. Read more here: What are Rich Snippets?
- Organic Keyword Trending Graph.
The following are toolbars summarizing data in the most important areas:
- Key Organic Keywords.
- Distribution of Positions in Search Results by Organic Keywords.
- Key Competitors for Organic Keywords and Phrases.
- Chart of Competitive Environment According to Organic Keywords.
- Branded Traffic.
See more detailed information about the organic search traffic in the corresponding menu item.
- Overview— the same compressed information on all the main sections that we saw in the main control panel.
- Positioning— a review of information about current keywords, corresponding ranking in the results of organic and advanced search.
- Position change— tracking the dynamics of organic keywords based on their position in the search results.
- Competitors— an overview of organic domains selected on the basis of organic keywords.
- Pages— overview of pages receiving organic traffic.
- Subdomains— overview of the main subdomains that are also featured in Google’s top 100 organic results.
To demonstrate the capabilities of paid traffic analysis, we will use one of the organic competitors identified by the two services Rutch Field.
So, we have three main tools at our disposal:
- Paid Keywords;
- Top Ads;
- Top Landing Pages.
Paid Keywords tool contains all the same basic filters as the organic one.
But there are several new products: the ability to quickly preview ads and graphically display a page block where the advertisement is located. The list is displayed based on the pages to which the keywords belong. Therefore, if there are several pages, or you are only interested in keywords, the list will have to be additionally formatted.
Top Ads not only allow you to view all found paid placements but also see specific keywords for each of them and download a mini-report to your device.
Top Landing Pages tool makes it possible to work with a list of all pages to which paid ads lead.
You can also quickly access a list of keywords, with the most important data for each, for the link of interest and download a mini-report to your device.
To get to the paid traffic analysis tools, you must either click one of the “Learn More” buttons in the overview toolbar or select the ad toolbox in the drop-down menu on the left and open the ad research tab.
When you enter the domain of interest, the corresponding notification will immediately be displayed at the top if active banner campaigns are found for it. The notification will allow you to quickly go to the desired link, as well as give basic statistics on the number and type of ads.
Tabs already familiar from organic keyword analysis are also available here:
- Positioning— review of information about current keywords, corresponding ranking among the results of paid and advanced search.
- Position change— tracking the dynamics of paid keywords based on their positions in the search results.
- Competitors— overview of similar domains selected on the basis of paid keywords.
- Examples of ads with the ability to view all the keywords associated with each ad.
- Ad history.
- Pages— overview of pages receiving paid traffic.
- Subdomains— overview of the main subdomains, which also appear in Google’s top 100 paid results.
The first Ahrefs backlink data source is the basic toolbar that appears immediately when you enter a domain.
The main elements with information that can be seen in this display option:
- Ahrefs rating— comparison of backlinks of your chosen domain against the others in the database of the analytical service.
- Graph of the number of referring domains.
- Graph of the number of referring pages.
- Time chart of adding and removing referring domains.
- Time chart of adding and removing backlinks.
- Interactive map of referring domains— includes both local and global top-level domains.
- Anchor text— options collected based on all links referring to the site of interest.
Additional items are located in the side menu on the right:
- The drop-down list for choosing the type of backlinks— active, recently added, or historical.
- The number of indexed pages recognized by the Ahrefs bot and added to the database.
- Statistics of referring domains.
- Additional information.
- Statistics on types of backlinks.
- Reliability rating statistics for referring domains.
To see more detailed analysis, select the corresponding item in the main menu on the left.
A detailed report allows you to select the options for grouping backlinks: general, to group similar, or to show one link for each domain.
In addition, the results can be filtered by one of the suggested criteria:
- By the type of backlink, taking into account the presence of one or a chain of redirects.
- By the type of referring site. You can choose between blogs, e-commerce, forums, wikis, and CMS.
- By language.
- By traffic volume.
For the first time, general information about SEMrush backlinks is offered on the domain overview toolbar.
The main categories of data that are shown:
- TOP-5 Most Effective and Authoritative Backlinks.
- Follow and NoFollow Link Diagram.
- Link Type Summary Chart.
- TOP-5 Anchor Test.
- TOP-5 Referring Domains.
- TOP-5 pages to which the largest number of backlinks.
See results that are more detailed by clicking on the “Read More” button under any data category.
Menu tabs allow you to open a thematic section with information of interest. Available sections:
- General Information
Offers a summary of the most important data, similar to that seen previously, but a little more detailed.
- SEMrush Backlink Audit.
- Anchor Text.
- Referring Domains.
- Referring IPs.
- Indexed Pages.
Related post: Build High-Quality Backlinks.
I would like to dwell separately on this important point of analyzing domain data. While Ahrefs lists competitors in a single list, SEMrush offers three categories and three separate data sources for competing domains: organic, paid traffic, and backlinks. To compare, let’s look at the results for nytimes.com.
As a comparison of the analysis results shows, matches mainly cover organic search results. With a more detailed examination of competition for paid keywords, it became clear that the list of competitors was not relevant, as their match rating was from 4% to 1%. However, using a backlink profile as another criterion for finding competing sites can be a very useful and powerful tool.
Related post: SEO Competitive Analysis.
Conclusions and Evaluation
At the time of this post, Ahrefs has received 211 reviews with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5. The average SEMrush score based on 910 reviews is slightly lower— 4.6 out of 5. The convenience and usability of Ahrefs were rated 4.4 out of 5, while SEMrush got 4.3 out of 5. The main advantages of Ahrefs are ease of use, an intuitive interface, fast operation, and database coverage. Among the advantages of SEMrush, there are many options for comparing indicators, the usefulness of the information presented for working on content, and a system for measuring the metrics submitted to users.
The quality of Ahrefs user support was rated at 4.6 out of 5, although many users admitted that while working with the service, it was never necessary to contact support. SEMrush got a lower average score, 4.4 out of 5, but most users note the high quality of the support service— from detailed thematic articles in the knowledge base to regular newsletters, online chat and the ability to call the hotline.
For functionality, Ahrefs got 4.7 out of 5. The simplicity and consistency of the interface is a definite plus of the service. At the same time, some users note its limitations— it copes very well with one type of task, giving way to SEMrush which is more universal. As for SEMrush itself, the average rating of its functionality is 4.6 out of 5. Among the positive aspects, there are the organization of information and the convenience of error reports on the site, as well as the accuracy of ranking indicators. However, many sections can be improved, such as providing information about backlinks.
For convenience and completeness of information, we have collected the basic ratings of each service on several more popular sites. Brief results can be seen in the comparison table below.
Presentation, Accuracy, and Usability
Both services do an excellent job. In Ahrefs, it is hard to get confused or it won’t take a long time looking for the necessary data— the interface is logical and simple, and the data updates very quickly. This can be an important benefit for beginners. The information is conveniently organized, and a flexible system of custom filters will help to access the desired data section. On the other hand, the filter system mainly uses numerical values, which requires a sufficiently high level of understanding from users to obtain the optimal result. Information is accurate and concise. Sometimes it is too concise, requiring the use of additional services and additional time for its processing. Unfortunately, starting this year, even test access to the system is provided only for a fee.
Despite its more complicated interface, SEMrush allows you to get no less useful data. It is important to note that when preparing this post we compared the information from the full and free versions and did not find any differences. SEMrush presents data in great detail, preserving the logic and structure within the reports, which is important when one needs to compare trends. On the one hand, the interface is slightly slower, but the data display is more representative. If necessary, at any time, you can download the source information in the form of an offline report, if you want to process it manually. Although the services perform very similar tasks, it is attention to detail, wide integration capabilities (including with Google Data Studio), and many convenient tools of their own design that make working with SEMrush more comfortable.
Solution for the Most Common Practical Problems
Both services do an excellent job of analyzing search traffic and boast outstanding accuracy of the data provided. Ahrefs quickly and efficiently solves technical problems and allows users to perform complex data processing in the service. SEMrush is not inferior to Ahrefs in its accuracy and coverage but provides an add-in with more powerful and popular analysis tools.
In our opinion, Ahrefs is well suited for SEO in general but may require additional services to solve some problems.
At the same time, SEMrush will be effective not only for SEO optimization. The service provides data useful for a wider range of tasks related to digital marketing, from competitive analysis to working with content.