SEMrush and Ahrefs are the most popular SEO tools in the industry.
Both newbies and veterans alike get confused at times about which tool to choose from.
I’ll be performing a deep comparison between these tools when it comes to various aspects like:
- SEO features
- Paid marketing features
- Content marketing features
- Reporting features
- Support and pricing
Let’s get started!
SEMrush vs Ahrefs – Unique features
Unique features of SEMrush
- SEMrush has the biggest keyword database by comparing the metrics that are present in websites of both these tools. So, SEMrush returns more keywords than Ahrefs when doing keyword brainstorming with their Keyword Magic Tool.
- It comes with solid content marketing tools like Market Explorer, SEO Topic Research, SEO Content Templates, Content Analyzer, etc. So, when it comes to optimizing your content for semantic and competitor SEO, SEMrush is the way to go.
- It has better features for paid advertising campaigns like PLA, ad history, display advertising, and ad history
- It comes with Competitive Intelligence Addon that helps you easily view the site analytics of any site on the internet. It displays some great metrics like average page visit duration, bounce rate, visits/session, much more.
- It comes with a more in-depth site audit feature with suggestions for internal links, crawl depth, and also toxic backlink detection.
- It comes with a more feature-rich rank tracker tool that updates your rankings every day vs weekly or 3-day updates (depending upon the plan) on Ahrefs.
- It comes with comprehensive reporting features and also a drag and drop report builder with attractive dynamic modules to “wow” your clients if you’re into the agency business.
- SEMrush can be considered as a true all-in-one digital and content marketing platform.
- SEMrush’s speed of implementation of features is commendable whether it may be database expansion or new features. It is a much bigger and well-funded company than Ahrefs.
- It comes with better semantic SEO tools like SEO content templates and also TF-IDF features
- It comes with a social media poster that is a viable alternative to Buffer or HootSuite.
- Ahrefs has a better UI/UX than SEMrush. Even if you are a newbie to SEO and digital marketing space, you feel intuitive using the platform.
- Most of the features of Ahrefs are developed keeping end-user benefits in mind. So, you feel pretty easy to make sense of the data as it relates to your SEO business.
- Ahrefs is the best when it comes to backlink prospection as it displays the backlinks present in your target sites along with the context in which the links are present. So you don’t need to visit that site again just to figure out the nature and context of the backlink.
- It comes with the keyword SERP volatility feature that lets you know how consistent are the top 10 webpages for a keyword when it comes to rankings. It helps you determine whether the search intents of the keyword are being fulfilled by those webpages.
- It has a feature called “outbound links” that helps you analyze what sites that a particular site is linking for.
- They have a really good content explorer with advanced search and also various SEO filters to knit pick the most potent topics to cover on your blog.
As you can see above, SEMrush is more of an all-in-one content marketing platform. Whereas, Ahrefs focuses only on the SEO side of things and it does it well.
Now let’s go into some of the details.
The main complaint people have regarding SEMrush is not a lack of features, but the UI/UX.
Although it has been improved a lot in the more recent updates of SEMrush (feature categorization), it is quite cluttered. Of course, this can be attributed to the fact that SEMrush offers more features. But still, the ability to tame the sheer number of features matters a lot.
As you can see in the above screenshot, all their toolkits and tools inside them are jammed inside a single sidebar leaving the top navigation bar quite unused.
It takes quite a lot of time to get used to it and make sense of the data.
On the other hand, Ahrefs comes with a very simple UI. For a beginner, it’s easier to make sense of the features.
You’ll be accessing the features that Ahrefs offers you through its navigation bar. Inside those pages, you’ll find all the features that are present under that section.
As a user, you’ll be always seeing all the categories of features that Ahrefs has got to offer you without an extra click on the dropdown menu, unlike SEMrush.
Also when it comes to user experience, Ahrefs displays some extra metrics and also has features to especially address some most-common use-cases in SEO.
- Displaying dofollow referring domain count in the “top pages” report of a site to know whether the content is ranking due to backlinks.
- Displaying “Most-linked pages” report for a website to brainstorm topics for your own site that attracts more backlinks.
- Displaying the traffic that all the top-ranking web pages are getting for a specific keyword to know SERP click distribution.
- Displaying the context in which the backlinks are present to easily carry out link prospection.
If you are in the SEO space and execute some strategies like broken link building, guest post prospection, etc. you’ll find some of the features and extra metrics presented by Ahrefs very helpful.
Winner: Ahrefs. It has an easy-to-use interface and also you feel intuitive to work, to begin with.
Both of these tools come with a lot of great SEO features.
Let’s compare the keyword and backlink databases of both SEMrush and Ahrefs.
As of writing this post:
- Keyword database: SEMrush had 19.8 billion keywords across 142 countries. Whereas Ahrefs had only around 10.2 billion keywords but around 171 countries.
- Backlink database: It’s 29.5T for SEMrush spread over various locations and languages. With Ahrefs, it’s 2.3T.
- Indexed domains: It’s for 790 million for SEMrush and 170.2 million (post-vetting) for Ahrefs
Until 2 years ago or so, Ahrefs used to be king of backlinks and Majestic used to be the runner up.
But ever since SEMrush got $40 million funding, they are investing a lot into expanding their database.
Their largest database update happened in their May 2019 update. You can compare the database size that used to be in 2018 to that of 2019.
Winner: SEMrush. They are spending millions of dollars in expanding their database.
Both SEMrush and Ahrefs are really good competitor analysis tools out there.
With either of these tools, all you need to do is just enter in any of your competitor domain names.
The tools will return all the essential metrics like the organic search traffic, paid traffic, keywords, and also the backlinks a website is having.
In the case of SEMrush, it allows you to do market research even before you start your online project.
They have their “Market Explorer”, which lets you enter in your niche related keyword and easily benchmark yourself against the competitors you’ll be facing in that niche.
It helps you analyze domain vs domain dynamics, audience interests, traffic share, compare the metrics of various sites, etc. It effectively helps you benchmark yourself against your competitors.
If you want to do deep analysis of a specific website, you need to enter the domain name under the domain overview section.
As you scroll down, you can see the traffic trend for DrAxe, it is declining after every Google update.
You can also correlate the Google algorithm updates with the traffic trend, and to see if a specific website has been affected by Google updates.
So when I enter the same domain name in Ahrefs, it displays you the URL ratings, domain ratings, backlinks, referring domains, organic keywords, organic traffic, and also the traffic value.
When you scroll down you can see the growth of the referring domains and also the referring pages.
If you head over to the organic research section you can see that the organic traffic for this website that is promoting natural remedies has declined over time.
But Ahrefs does not help you correlate the Google updates with the traffic gain or traffic loss, so you need to manually check the date on which the Google updates occurred. Then see if the traffic loss or traffic gain is due to Google updates.
Apart from domain overview features, with both of these tools, you can further drill down and carry out backlink and keyword research for the domain names. I will cover these in my next sections.
One really impressive tool that SEMrush comes with is a competitive intelligence addon. It comes with a feature called Traffic Analytics.
When you enter any domain name, you can see the visits, unique visitors, average page visit duration, bounce rate of the website that you're researching, etc.
Added to this, you can make use of the audience insights section to see the other sites that the visitors of this site are visiting.
You can also display the traffic journey, top pages of a website, geo-distribution, subdomains, and much more.
It's literally like spying on your competitor’s Google Analytics account.
Next to the traffic analytics, you can also see the estimated accuracy indication by SEMrush.
This traffic analytics feature is not present in Ahrefs and is only found in much costlier tools like SimilarWeb.
If you want to further compare the competitor insights features of SEMrush with SimilarWeb, you can refer to my blog post.
Along with these, there are some more features like:
- Market explorer
- Competitor benchmarking that allows you to effectively compare the insights of up to 5 websites
- Bulk traffic analysis that helps you display the traffic and other metrics of up to 500 web page URLs.
Winner: SEMrush. It comes with a traffic analytics feature that effectively lets you spy on your competitor on-page metrics like bounce rate, visit durations, top pages, etc. It’s like having access to your competitor’s Google Analytics.
The main tool you’ll be using when it comes to keyword research is their Keyword Magic Tool.
This tool suggests various types of keywords like Questions, Broad match, Phrase match, Exact match, and also Related.
Here you need to enter the seed keyword, and apply the relevant filters to display potentially low competitive keywords that may be suitable for your business.
One thing I really liked about SEMrush is that it displays the trend graph for every keyword. With this, if you come across any keyword for which there is a declining search per month, you can skip it.
Similar to SEMrush, with Ahrefs too, you will get different types of keywords and also filters.
Some extra features here are:
- Newly discovered keywords
- Extra filters like clicks, clicks per search, and return rate (in SEMrush you’ll get “clicks” option once you add keywords to their Keyword Manager)
The ability to filter the keywords based on the clicks they are generating for the websites matters a lot. Because there’s no point in ranking for a keyword for which the audience won’t click on any search results.
In both of these tools, there are options for you to add keywords to the lists, export them for further analysis, and much more.
Winner: SEMrush. Because as I told you before it has the biggest keyword database in the SEO world. Many times, I encounter new keywords that I’ve encountered nowhere else with SEMrush.
Now, let’s discuss the keyword difficulty score of these tools.
SEMrush displays you the keyword difficulty score in percentage from 0%- 100%. The more the score, the more difficult it is to rank for that keyword.
According to my experience, any keyword below the KD of 60% would be easier to rank depending upon the authority of your website.
Ahrefs also comes with a keyword difficulty score from 0-100.
This keyword difficulty score is only based on the number of referring domains the top 10 ranking web pages for a keyword has. Anything below 5 would be best to go with.
None of these tools is completely reliable when it comes to keyword competition analysis. You need to still do manual competition analysis once you shortlist the keywords using various metrics inside these tools.
Winner: Tie. Both of these tools offer you good keyword competitive scores. Also, these tools offer you a SERP analysis feature and also browser extensions to enrich your manual SERP analysis with various metrics.
Let’s see what are the features that both these tools offer when it comes to researching your content.
When it comes to SEMrush, there are three main features that help you in content marketing.
- Topic research tool
- SEO Content Template
- SEO Writing Assistant
With their topic research tool, you need to just enter in the niche or the main seed keyword.
When it recommends you all the sub-topics that come under whatever the topic name you entered, you can click on any of them to drill in deep. Here you can research some headline ideas, keyword ideas, and also questions that people are asking when it comes to your main topic’s subtopic.
On the other hand, the “SEO Content Template” tool helps SEMrush to analyze your top 10 competitors for a keyword and recommend you the SEO best practices.
This is really an awesome feature and can potentially replace SurferSEO (if you’re using).
SEMrush comes with SEO Writing Assistant, where you can paste in the text and let SEMrush analyze it for SEO best practices.
This same tool is also available as an add-on for Google Docs and also as a plugin for WordPress.
When it comes to content marketing, Ahrefs does not come with any competitor content analysis tools like SEMrush.
But it does come with a really good Content Explorer that is a viable alternative to BuzzSumo.
When you enter in any keyword, Ahrefs will return you all the popular content on that topic across the internet.
You can also make use of their search filters to refine the results for it to only return the high-traffic results from low authoritative sites. Now, if you target the same keywords that they are targeting, you too can rank well.
This is a really good feature for getting really good content ideas.
Winner: Tie. SEMrush wins when it comes to semantic suggestions and content templates. Ahrefs, when it comes to the “Content Explorer” tool that combines the merits of both BuzzSumo and Ahrefs.
As I told you before, Ahrefs was the best tool when it comes to the backlink database size. But after various database updates by SEMrush, SEMrush leads the show at least by the numbers.
In SEMrush, when it comes to backlink research it comes with:
- Backlink Analytics
- Backlink Audit
- Link Building Tool
- Bulk Analysis
Most of the time, you’ll be making use of their Backlink Analytics for research competitor backlink profiles.
SEMrush also comes with a “Link Building Tool” that helps you do prospection, outreach, and follow up all in one dashboard.
Personally I’ve never used that tool, as I already have my workflow set with MailShake.
On the other hand, Ahrefs too comes with a similar backlink explorer.
Some unique features of Ahrefs here are broken backlinks report, internal backlinks (internal links analysis of a site).
Another cool feature with Ahrefs is the page “Top pages by links”.
On this page, you can discover the pages on your competitor websites that are most linked to other websites. With this, you can also consider writing articles about the same and get some backlinks.
Link intersect is really a great feature that enables you to discover low-hanging backlink opportunities that all your competitors have got in common, but you haven’t.
Both SEMrush and Ahrefs come with their link intersection or backlink gap analysis tools.
Winner: Ahrefs. It comes with various features like internal backlinks, broken links, and top pages by links.
Both SEMrush and Ahrefs come with their own Rank Tracking tools so that you don’t need to rely on any external tools like Accuranker.
Note: I’m personally not making use of their rank tracking tools as I track my rankings on Accuranker and I don’t like to lose my historic data.
Similar to other rank tracking tools, you can track your rankings by making use of SEMrush’s Position Explorer.
You can also add your website’s competitors and the tool will help you compare your site against your competitors when it comes to visibility trends, estimated traffic, and average positions.
You can even set alerts and export the reports.
SEMrush updates your keyword positions on a daily basis.
Ahrefs also comes with a feature to track your keyword positions.
You can visualize the movements of your web pages in the SERPs, analyze the graphs, etc.
One really big downside of Ahrefs is that the ranks are updated every 7 days in their first two plans and every 3 days even in their Advanced and Agency plans.
Winner: SEMrush. Mainly due to its daily updation and added features like competitor discovery, and much more.
When it comes to technical analysis and auditing, both SEMrush and Ahrefs come with a variety of features.
SEMrush comes with below features:
- Site Audit
- SEO Content Template
- On-Page SEO Checker
- Log File Analyzer
- Listing Management
First, you need to set up your project if you’ve not yet done it in SEMrush.
Once the analysis of your site is complete with SEMrush, it’ll display you the audit reports.
The reports I found really helpful are the Thematic reports that helped me optimize by crawlability with internal links, site performance, and much more.
It also displays you various issues that you need to fix on your site.
These suggestions are really helpful and actionable.
It also comes with an on-page SEO checker.
It does a really good job of scanning the content across your entire website and recommends you things to implement in your content for more rankings.
It even analyzes your competitor content and suggests to you the keywords that your competitors are using, but you are not. And also, backlinks you’re missing out on.
The above feature alone makes SEMrush one of the viable alternatives to SurferSEO.
It also comes with a Backlink Audit Tool, that helps you easily identify the potential toxic backlinks and disavow them.
You also have a Site Log Analyzer that helps you analyze your server log files for potential problems.
Ahrefs also comes with a really good site audit tool.
Similar to SEMrush it also suggests you various tasks that you need to implement on your website to enhance the SEO.
For the crawled pages, you can easily add advanced filters to further sort down the results. This kind of advanced filtering option is especially useful in case you have a very large website with tons of webpages.
There are even a lot of site audit features that both of these tools come with.
Winner: SEMrush. It comes with a lot of features related to semantic SEO and TF-IDF. It also comes with an on-page SEO checker, backlink audit tool, and log file analyzer.
Similar to how you explore a website for organic traffic and keywords, you can also enter in any domain name and display the PPC report for that site.
It even shows you all the display ads a specific site is running.
It also comes with CPC map features that helps you display and compare the CPC of different countries for targeting them in Google Ads.
You can also display the “Ad History” for any specific keyword.
Added to this, SEMrush also comes with an ad builder that allows to easily build the ads by taking inspiration out of the existing ads for specific keywords.
So what about PLA ads?
If you are running any eCommerce business, you can make use of the PLA Research tool.
When you enter any eCommerce site, in above case I’ve entered BestBuy.com, it’ll display me the keywords in which the site is bidding for PLA ads and also ad copies.
Compared to SEMrush, Ahrefs really lacks when it comes to advertising features.
It comes with only three features:
- PPC keywords: Displays you all the ad keywords for a specific domain
- Ads: Displays you the search ads that the site is running
- Top landing pages: Top pages to which the ads are driving traffic
Winner: SEMrush, hands down. It comes with extra features like display ads, PLA ads, ad builder, ad history tool, and much more.
Reporting is a really important part of any SEO tool especially if you’re into agency business.
SEMrush comes with a really comprehensive reporting feature.
When you head over to “Reporting”, and create a report, SEMrush will ask you to select some of the templates that you can use for your report.
If you don’t wish to use any of these templates, you can even create a report from the “Blank” template.
Here, as you can see in the sidebar, there are various categories of modules and under each of them, there are different modules you can drag and drop to build your report.
The report builder is really refined and is fluid.
But in case Ahrefs, it doesn’t have any report builder.
The only reporting feature is that you can export the regular reports that are generated while using the tool in PDF or spreadsheet formats based on the nature of the data displayed to you.
Winner: SEMrush. It comes with a dedicated report builder to help you generate professional reports for your clients.
When it comes to support, SEMrush supports email and also live phone support. You have more channels for communication as it’s a pretty big company.
On the other hand, with Ahrefs you only have live chat and email support. But the replies are usually very swift.
The prices of both SEMrush and Ahrefs start at $99.95/mo and $99/mo respectively.
If you end up paying annually, you can save 16% with SEMrush
You can refer to the complete comparison table here. You do need to note that the Competitive Intelligence Addon is available at an extra cost of $200/month as of writing this blog post.
SEMrush also comes with our reader-exclusive extended free trial if you are interested.
With Ahrefs, the pricing is as follows.
If you pay annually, you end up saving 2 months of your subscription.
If you’re an agency owner, and want to have a report generation mechanism and also Google Data Studio integration, SEMrush may be better for you.
With both of these tools, depending on your plan there’s a limit for the number of the projects you can manage. At any time you can pay some money per month with Ahrefs and SEMrush (buy limits), to add in more projects as you start serving more clients.
To sum it all up, SEMrush is right for you if you want an all-in-one digital marketing platform for managing your or your clients’ online businesses.
If you’re also into paid advertising, the features that SEMrush comes with are really a no-brainer. The report builder feature also will be really handy.
SEMrush comes with still a lot of features that I haven’t covered in this comparison. For knowing more about SEMrush, you can refer to my detailed review on it.
On the other hand, although Ahrefs has limited SEO-centric features compared to SEMrush, the interface and the features are really well-thought-out as I told you earlier.
But, I’m quite afraid that if you choose Ahrefs over SEMrush you may miss some of the extra keywords and data SEMrush suggests you, due to its database size.
I also have a detailed review on Ahrefs you can refer to for more details.
I highly suggest you make use of table of contents to navigate back to the section where I mentioned the unique features of both of these tools. You can then more clearly decide which would be a good pick – whether it’s SEMrush or Ahrefs.