Two tools dominate the SEO landscape: Semrush and Ahrefs. These are also my two favorite keyword research tools. So making this comparison is going to be much more difficult than my SEMrush vs Similarweb: Which tool is the best post, where I clearly preferred one tool to another.
I use these two tools on a daily basis in my marketing and if you have the budget, I suggest you do the same.
But what if you had the budget for a single versatile keyword research tool?
Let’s face it: these tools are not cheap. An investment in these two tools will cost you almost $ 200 a month. And that assumes you subscribe to the most basic plan.
And if you have the budget for one? Which SEO keyword research tool between these two would it be? This is the question I will try to answer in this post.
Below is an in-depth comparison between Semrush and Ahrefs to help you decide which tool best suits all of your SEO needs.
I will compare these two tools on the following six parameters:
- Search for keywords
- Backlink analysis
- SEO technical audit
- Position tracking
- Additional features
- Cost factors
So, without further ado, let’s put Semrush and Ahrefs to the test and determine which tool emerges as the big winner.
Semrush was launched in 2008 by a small group of keyword research and IT specialists who combined their expertise to launch a competitive keyword research service for online marketing. After a decade of experience and progress, Semrush has slowly evolved into the world’s main digital marketing toolbox, preferred by marketing experts around the world.
From finding keywords and everything else, Semrush is truly a versatile SEO tool that can help your site climb into Google search rankings and leave your competitors in the dust.
I started using Semrush over 10 years ago to help my clients meet their keyword research needs. At the time, I was experimenting with several tools by registering for free tests and I had no particular preference.
To be honest, I mainly relied on Google Ads keyword data. It quickly changed when I started to connect more and more to my Semrush account to dive into the precious pool of keyword and competition data for my clients.
It quickly became my favorite tool for everything related to keyword research and PPC
What started out as a small experience has turned into a successful investment that continues to pay off. There is not a day when I do not use Semrush to obtain relevant data on the industry in general and for my sites in particular.
Try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Ahrefs was launched in 2010 mainly as a backlink analysis tool. But over time, the platform has gradually evolved into a versatile SEO analysis tool that can help you in site audit, keyword search, content marketing, and much more.
When I started using Ahrefs, it was still mainly known for its backlink analysis capabilities. The reason I started using Ahrefs was that I was not satisfied with the data I got from the backlink analysis tool in Semrush (which was still in beta at the time).
What really attracted me to Ahrefs was the superfluid user interface and the ease with which you can get data. Not to mention the depth of backlink data for your site as well as for the sites of your competitors.
There was no other tool on the market that could compete with Ahrefs in terms of backlink analysis.
As noted, Ahrefs continued to introduce new features and quickly became a full-fledged keyword research tool that now helps you more than SEO content creation. You can use Keywords Explorer to generate hundreds of content ideas for your target keyword and use the Site Audit function to find and resolve technical SEO problems with your site.
But does it have what it takes to face a heavyweight of SEO like Semrush? Let’s find out!
Try Ahrefs Lite for 1 week for $ 7
Now that you have a basic overview of these two tools, let’s deepen and make an in-depth comparison between Semrush and Ahrefs.
Let’s start with the search for keywords …
Search for keywords: Semrush vs Ahrefs
Searching for keywords is perhaps the most important aspect of research.
It helps you better understand your target audience and how they are looking for your content or offers.
If you master the keyword search part of the SEO, you can create content for your website that satisfies both users and search engines.
As you will soon see, Semrush and Ahrefs have the capacity to search for laudable keywords.
While Semrush has been a pioneer in keyword research, Ahrefs has made significant progress with Keywords Explorer, its flagship keyword search tool in recent years.
Read the rest to find out which tool is best for finding keywords.
Semrush: search for keywords
Semrush is mainly known for its keyword search functionalities. In addition to providing a solid keyword search toolbox, Semrush also has a reputation for providing the most accurate data for the volume of research, an important measure for the SEO and PPC campaigns
The first overview of Semrush’s keyword search capabilities can be found when you type a keyword in the search field.
The Keyword Overview report gives you a quick summary of all the main keyword metrics for this keyword: monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, CPC, PPC competition, best-ranked pages, history of keyword announcements, advertising content, etc.
But to deepen Semrush’s keyword search capabilities, you must use the following tools:
- Thematic research
- Magic tool for keywords
Let’s explore the Topic Research tool first.
Subject search allows you to generate a ton of content ideas for any subject you are researching. The list of sub-themes includes titles, questions, associated research, etc.
The second keyword search tool you can use in the SEMrush toolbox is the Keyword Magic Tool.
The tool currently supports 142 databases with more than 20 billion keywords in total. With the Keyword Magic Tool, you can find the right keywords to use in your articles and optimize them so as not only to help you rank high in organic results but also in the coveted section of code snippets.
To use this tool, log into your SEMrush dashboard and follow this sequence:
Enter your starting keyword (s) and press “Search”.
From your initial keyword, the tool will generate a list of keywords that you can use in your article/page to help it rank higher in SERP and improve the overall relevance of your content.
You can then use modifiers such as Broad Match, Phrase Match, Exact Match or Related to obtaining more specific results from your original keyword.
You can exclude keywords that you know are not relevant to your campaign.
You will find keyword groups for your starting keywords on the left side of the results page and you can exclude keyword groups to further refine the keywords you are targeting.
For example, I filtered the keywords that had the year 2019 in the results because it does not make sense in 2021 to write on-trend content marketing tools in 2019.
Once you have identified all of the keywords, you can add these keywords directly to Keyword Manager for more information on the preselected keywords.
In summary, Semrush’s Keyword Magic tool provides a ton of keyword data to help you create user-friendly content for SEO that is likely to be well classified in research results.
Ahrefs: search for keywords
With Ahrefs, you will use the Keywords Explorer tool for searching keywords.
With this tool, you can generate thousands of keyword suggestions for your parent subject and see metrics of important keywords such as search volume, the difficulty of keywords, CPC, etc. and also obtain data on sub-themes such as questions, similar keywords, and newly discovered keywords.
Let me give you a quick overview of how Ahrefs’ keyword explorer works.
Visit the Explorer keyword tab in your Ahrefs dashboard and enter your keywords in the search field, choose the location you want to target, and press the search icon.
You will then be presented with key data for the starting keyword (s), as well as a list of keyword ideas for your starting keywords, as well as the search volume for each of the keywords.
What is really unique about Ahrefs, is that in addition to showing you the search volume for the target keyword, Ahrefs also shows you the clicks metric, which refers to the average monthly number of clicks people make when searching for the target keyword.
This is an important measure to follow, as some research generates clicks on multiple results, while others may not generate any clicks. For example, when we are looking for the age of a certain celebrity on Google.
You can display the clicks metric for all keyword ideas generated from your original keyword. Click “Display everything” at the end of the list to display the click measurement as well as other keyword data for your target keywords.
Which tool is best for finding keywords?
If we assess these tools only on keyword search capabilities, then Semrush takes it out of the park. This does not mean that Ahrefs is bad. It’s just that SEMrush is in a completely different league when it comes to finding keywords.
From the point of view of keyword data, Ahrefs simply shows you the volume of search, the difficulty of keywords, clicks and CPC for your starting keywords. Semrush goes beyond that by showing you other metrics of important keywords such as competitive density, SERP trends and functionality
In addition, in terms of statistics, Semrush has the largest keyword database in the sector (20 billion keywords), almost double the size of Ahrefs’ database (10.2 billion keywords).
Another factor in favor of Semrush is the accuracy of the research volume data. Having used the two tools to optimize the keywords for my clients, I saw SEMrush present much more precise research volume data on a wide range of keywords than Ahrefs.
Try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Backlink analysis: Ahrefs vs Semrush
Creating links is one of the most difficult, but rewarding, aspects of SEO. Analyzing backlinks in your own field and your competitors helps you stay on track in the race to be better ranked in the research results pages.
If we compared these two tools on the analysis functionalities of backlinks a few years ago, Ahrefs would have won the battle hands down. But in recent years, Semrush has brought many upgrades and improvements to its backlink analysis functionality, including a newly extended link index.
But have they done enough to face the backlink analysis giant that is Ahrefs? Let’s find out.
Semrush: analysis of incoming links
For a long time, the Backlink Analytics tool was the weak link in the SEO toolbox in Semrush. This changed in 2019 when Semrush carried out a complete overhaul and considerably improved the quality of its backlink data.
Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool has come a long way in providing important data on your backlink profile as well as your competitors’ backlink profiles.
To analyze your backlinks on Semrush, enter your domain in the search field and select “Backlinks” in the drop-down menu, then press “Enter”.
In a few seconds, Semrush will provide you with an overview of your overall backlink profile, including the total number of backlinks and reference areas.
From there, you can get more detailed information about your link profile by clicking on the total number of backlinks to access the Backlinks report or by clicking on the domain number referenced to access the Referent domains report.
You can also display other backlink metrics for your site such as backlink types (text, image, etc.), the attributes of link (dofollow, nofollow), the upper anchors, the categories of reference domains, among others.
Likewise, you can also get crucial information about your competitors’ websites and linkage strategies. Just type your competitor’s domain name in the search area and generate a backlink preview report to display your competitor’s overall link profile and other backlink measures.
The other remarkable tool in the SEMrush link creation suite is the Backlink Audit tool.
This tool performs an in-depth audit of your site’s backlink profile to identify toxic backlinks and helps you avoid Google’s penalties.
You will receive email alerts whenever a suspicious link is identified on your website and the tool helps you create a disavowal file, which you can then submit to Google Search Console.
It is just as important to disown toxic links as it is to create authoritative backlinks.
Toxic backlinks can quickly undermine your bond creation efforts and derail your ranking. As such, it is necessary to carry out regular backlink audits to eliminate suspicious backlinks and maintain a healthy link profile.
Ahrefs: analysis of incoming links
If you are a user of Ahrefs, much of your time will be spent on Ahrefs’ Explorer Site tool. The Site Explorer tool gives you a ton of useful research data, but more importantly, you can get a full analysis of the link profile of your site as well as your competitors.
Just access Site Explorer from your Ahrefs dashboard and enter the domain you want to analyze to get an in-depth overview of your site’s backlink profile.
The Presentation report provides a high-level view of the website you are analyzing. But since we are evaluating Ahrefs on the analysis functionalities of backlinks, we will only focus on two metrics: the referring domains and the backlinks.
You can click on the number below Referent domains or Backlinks to obtain more detailed information on the sites linked to your domain.
The Referent Areas report is more important because it shows you all the sites that are linked to your domain and the number of times they have each been linked. You can select “dofollow” from the drop-down list of types of links and sort by DR to see some authoritative sites that are related to your domain.
You can use Ahrefs’ site explorer to analyze not only the backlink profile of an entire website but also the specific URL link profile.
For example, here is the data I found on one of the best-performing pages of HubSpot:
When I analyzed with Semrush, I found 736,000 backlinks and 18.4,000 reference areas.
On Ahrefs, I found 1.32 million backlinks and 33.2k reference areas for the same website.
This indicates that Ahrefs has a larger link index. But this is not necessarily true in all cases. In some cases, I have found that SEMrush refers more keywords and backlinks.
Even if Semrush claims to have a larger link index, we must remember that the link index is only one of the parameters on which we should judge a backlink verification tool.
Other factors such as accuracy and user interface are just as important. And these are the two factors for which Ahrefs has an advantage over Semrush and the other backlink analysis tools on the market.
Which tool is best for backlink analysis?
Despite the progress made in adding new link creation features, Semrush is still second behind Ahrefs in terms of backlink analysis.
Semrush has a larger link index, but it’s the ease with which Ahrefs allows you to get data that makes it a clear winner in this category.
Backlink analysis has always been the strength of Ahrefs, while it has long been one of the weakest characteristics of Semrush. Ahrefs’ experience and expertise in this area allow them to innovate more quickly and provide users with a clean user interface that presents complete backlink data.
SEO technical audit: Semrush vs Ahrefs
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing the exploration, indexing and rendering phase of your website to obtain higher search classifications. This is an aspect of SEO which is often set aside by more interesting aspects of SEO such as the search for keywords and the creation of links. But it’s just as important.
Site structure, site speed, robots.txt, SSL certificate, XML site map, etc. are some of the factors that may affect the technical health of your site’s SEO. As such, it is important to perform a technical audit from time to time to identify and resolve technical problems SEO with the site and to ensure that these problems do not prevent your website from being classified in SERP .
Let us now examine which tool is most effective for carrying out technical SEO audits.
Semrush: technical SEO
The site audit tool is one of the most frequently used tools in the Semrush toolbox. The tool allows you to do a full SEO audit of your site and analyzes the overall health of the SEO of your site. It provides you with a list of the on-site problems that your site is currently facing and gives you recommendations to solve these problems so that your site can be classified higher in SERP
The site audit tool contains more than 130 verifications of SEO problems, ranging from common problems on the page such as title tags, h1 tags, meta descriptions and images to complex issues such as having conflicts in the source code of the page, format errors in sitemap.xml files, etc.
To perform a site audit on Semrush, create a new project and select the “Configure” button in the Site Audit block of your Project interface. Enter the details here and click the “Start the site audit” button.
In a few minutes, Semrush will return with an overall report on the health of the SEO of your site.
The total website health score is based on the ratio between the problems detected and the number of checks performed. Problems are classified as errors (most serious problems), warnings (medium severity problems) and notices (less serious than warnings).
Under errors, warnings and notices, you will see the main problems of your audit. These problems are displayed according to their priority level and the number of pages with these problems. Click on one of the buttons next to the problem to see the list in the Problems tab. Here you will find more details on all the problems and the steps to be taken to resolve them.
After checking all your problems and bringing the corrections, you can re-execute the site audit to see if the errors and warnings are permanently corrected.
Ahrefs: technical SEO
The site audit tool is a recent addition to Ahrefs’ platform. The tool explores all pages on your website and analyzes your website for more than 100 predefined SEO problems.
Once the audit is complete, Ahrefs provides an overall SEO health score, presents the key data in graphs, displays all possible SEO problems with your site and provides recommendations on how to solve them.
To do a site audit on Ahrefs, log into your Ahrefs account and follow this sequence:
All you have to do is wait for Ahrefs to explore your website and look for possible technical SEO errors, which brings me to my biggest problem with the site audit tool. It takes way too long.
Even if your site only has a few pages, Ahrefs can take several hours to return with an audit summary report. You can also log out of the dashboard and wait for an email alert from Ahrefs to inform you that the site audit is complete.
Which tool is best for the technical audit?
The Semrush site audit tool is the big winner here.
Although Ahrefs is doing a good job providing a fairly accurate picture of the errors affecting the SEO of your site, it takes a long time to analyze your website and generate an audit report.
In addition, the Semrush site audit tool is easier to use, more precise and contains additional features such as crawl comparison, historical graph, etc.
As is the case with Ahrefs backlink analysis tool, Semrush had more time to perfect its site audit tool and therefore did a better job of identifying critical errors on site that harm the search visibility of your site.
Try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Position tracking: Semrush vs Ahrefs
How do you measure the impact of all the SEO work you have done ? By following the positions in the SERP of all the keywords you target for your site.
Position or classification monitoring allows you to follow the overall visibility of your site in the search results to determine what works and what does not. In addition, you can also follow the ranking of your competitors in SERP to see where you stand in the big scheme of things.
Ahrefs and Semrush both provide position tracking functionality. Let’s take a look at which tool does it best.
Semrush: position monitoring
Semrush allows you to follow your target keywords with the position tracking tool. It is considered to be one of the most precise market position monitoring tools.
What makes it even more unique is the fact that it shows you the mobile and local classifications to give you a complete picture of the visibility of your site in SERP
This tool allows you to add all the keywords for which you want to classify yourself and to follow your positions for these keywords for any location on several devices.
To start following your keywords, follow this sequence:
Add your location, select the device (office computer, mobile or tablet), add the domains of your competitors, then finally add a list of keywords for which you want to classify yourself.
The position monitoring report shows you three main measures for each of the keywords you have added: positions, estimated traffic and visibility.
You will also see the most effective keywords for your website, the keywords having a positive impact (improved classifications) and the keywords having a negative impact (reduced classifications).
For more detailed information on your rankings, you can click on the Preview tab to display the position tracking report for the keywords selected in the Google top 100 and position changes over a selected period.
Ahrefs: position monitoring
The Rank Tracker function on Ahrefs helps you follow a list of target keywords in several locations (at country level) for both desktops and mobile devices. The tool also allows you to see how your classification for a particular keyword progresses over time thanks to the graphs of the position history.
When you add a new project to Ahrefs, you can also add keywords that you want to follow for your website. You can also add up to 5 competitors to compare your organic research ranking compared to your competitors.
Once this information is entered, you can monitor the performance of your keywords in SERP and measure the effectiveness of your SEO campaigns. Better yet, you can monitor the visibility of your competitors in research and refine your campaigns accordingly.
You can also activate classification tracking in parameters to receive email alerts from Ahrefs each time your ranking improves or decreases.
Which tool is best for position monitoring ?
Regarding position monitoring functionalities, Ahrefs and Semrush are tied.
These two tools are incredibly useful for helping you track your search performance. It would therefore be unfair to have a winner here because the two tools provide in-depth and very precise classification monitoring data.
Try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Additional features: Semrush vs Ahrefs
Semrush and Ahrefs continue to add interesting new features from time to time and improve their existing functionality.
Over the past two years, Ahrefs has significantly improved its keyword search capabilities by updating its keyword database and adding the “clicks” metric to provide a more complete and accurate report to its users.
On the other hand, Semrush has completely redesigned its link creation functionalities to provide better data to its users.
Regarding additional functionality, however, Semrush offers more for your money.
You don’t just have access to the Semrush SEO toolbox when you subscribe to Semrush. You also have access to the advertising toolbox (PPC Keyword Tool, CPC Map) to the social media toolbox (Social Media Planner, Social Media Poster) and the competitors’ search toolbox (includes additional modules such as Traffic Analytics and Market Explorer).
Most importantly, you have access to the Semrush multifaceted content marketing platform, which includes the following tools:
- Search by subject – analyze the content of your competitors and provide ideas for outclassing them in SERP. (Refer to the “Keyword Search” section of this article for more information on the tool)
- SEO content model – helps you create well-designed and user-friendly content for researching.
- SEO editorial assistant – check if your blog articles follow best practices.
- Brand monitoring – follows your brand statements and those of your online competitors
- Monitoring of publications – analyzes any publication by following its rankings, backlinks and social sharing
- Content audit – audit the content of your website and suggests improvements
Using these tools mentioned above, you can create a winning content strategy for your blog and outperform your rivals in search results.
Semrush also has superior reporting functionality. With Semrush, you can create, personalize and plan PDF reports to better organize your data in one place.
I consider this to be an essential feature if you run an agency where you frequently have to send SEO reports to your clients to show progress.
If you are just looking for a SEO toolbox to help you improve your ranking in searches, you may be satisfied with the information provided by Ahrefs. But if you are broadcasting Google ads, you may find that Semrush’s PPC keyword tool is invaluable in optimizing the results of your advertising campaigns.
With Ahrefs, you simply subscribe to a SEO tool for $ 99 / month. But with Semrush, you subscribe to an online marketing toolbox that will not only increase your research traffic but will also optimize your PPC as well as your campaigns on social networks.
Try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Tariff plans: Semrush against Ahrefs
In terms of price, there is not much difference between Ahrefs and Semrush. Semrush and Ahrefs base plans are at the same price at $ 99.95 / month and $ 99 / month respectively.
Regarding limits, Ahrefs has higher base restrictions than Semrush. For example, with Semrush, you can download up to 3,000 analysis reports per day, but Ahrefs only allows you to download 25 keyword explorer reports and 50 content explorer reports per day.
Here is an overview of the price structure that these two platforms follow.
Semrush pricing plans
Semrush increased its prices in January 2021. This is the current pricing structure for Semrush. If you switch to annual billing, you can save 16% on the total amount of your billing.
Click here to try Semrush PRO for free for 30 days (worth $ 119.95)
Ahrefs pricing plans
Ahrefs offers four monthly tariff plans. You can save 20% on the total amount of your invoice by opting for the annual billing:
As mentioned earlier, Ahrefs does not offer a free test. You can get full week access to one of their plans by paying $ 7.
Final reflections: Semrush against Ahrefs
Ultimately, the choice between Semrush and Ahrefs as a preferred SEO tool depends on your needs.
If content creation and backlink analysis are your top priority right now, opt for Ahrefs. But if you favor the search for keywords, technical SEO, and content marketing, then SEMrush is a better choice.