In this comparison review, I’m going to put Ahrefs and Semrush head to head — and help you find out which of these leading SEO tools best meets your needs.
I’m going to discuss how these products compare in terms of:
- Domain analysis
- Keyword research features
- Backlink analysis
- Site auditing
- Broken link analysis
- Ease of use
- Pricing and value for money
Let’s start with a simple overview of both tools.
What are Ahrefs and SEMrush?
Ahrefs and Semrush are two products that help you optimize your website for search engines.
They do this in lots of different ways, but the main thing they give you is information — information that you can use to:
- create new content that is likely to attract organic search traffic
- identify opportunities for building links from other sites to yours
- change technical aspects of your website so that it performs better in search results.
Both tools, for example, provide you with keyword suggestions (based on phrases you enter) that can be used as the basis for writing blog posts that are likely to perform well in search results.
They’ll also tell you how difficult it will be to rank for specific phrases.
They’ll help you identify websites that it might be worth approaching for backlinks.
And they allow you to perform an “SEO audit” on your website to find out if there are any technical improvements you can make to it that will help you achieve better search results.
That’s just scratching the surface though — there are many other features provided by Ahrefs and Semrush that are designed to help you climb up the search rankings.
I’ll go through these in depth as we progress through the review, beginning with something called domain analysis.
One of the most useful things you can do with Ahrefs and Semrush is basic domain analysis — this means getting a simple overview of how a domain is performing from an SEO point of view.
Generally speaking, you perform domain analysis either on your own website — to see where SEO improvements could be made — or on a competitor’s, to see how hard it will be to outrank them in search results (or to find ways to do so).
Carrying out domain analysis is straightforward in both tools — you simply enter a domain into an input box, and key metrics are returned quickly for you (in a dashboard format).
With both tools, these include:
- An ‘authority score’ that gives you an at-a-glance indication of how well a website is likely to perform in search results
- An estimate of the total number of visitors to the website per month
- The total number of external links — backlinks — pointing to the website (the more of these the better from an SEO point of view)
- The total number of keywords the website ranks for
- Anchor text commonly used in links to the website
- Competing domains
Although quality of the domain analysis in Ahrefs and Semrush is similar, I’d argue that Ahrefs has a slight edge when it comes to ease-of-access to the key stats.
Once you’re in Ahrefs’ ‘Site Explorer’ section, you get a really easy-to-use menu on the left hand side of the screen that allows you to drill down into the areas you’d like to explore in more depth (competing domains, keywords, internal links etc.).
With Semrush it feels like there’s slightly more clicking around the place to do; this is possibly because domain analysis sits under a broader section called ‘Competitive research’ which contains 5 different sections, all containing data relating to domain analysis.
And, whilst Ahrefs shows backlink data as part of its domain overview, you’ll need to run a separate report to get that in Semrush.
As part of their domain analysis overviews, both Ahrefs and Semrush give you an estimate of the monthly traffic to the domain you’re analysing — it’s important to note however that the figures provided here are estimates.
Based on my own (small-scale) personal testing — using sites for which I have access to traffic data — I’ve found that the Semrush estimates tend to be more slightly more accurate; and furthermore, Semrush contextualises its figures a bit by giving you an indication of how accurate its estimates are likely to be (high, medium or low).
The important thing to remember with either set of traffic stats is that they should be used to identify trends (i.e., is site A more popular than sites B and C?) rather than taken as absolute gospel.
To this end, there is a nice feature in Semrush’s domain analysis that you won’t find a direct equivalent for in Ahrefs: its ‘competitive positioning map.’ This gives a really good at-a-glance indicator of how a site is performing against key competitors, based on how many keywords it ranks for and monthly traffic estimates.
Both products make it easy to see country-level data for a domain — Semrush particularly so, thanks to a simple ‘worldwide’ view and ‘country’ switcher at the top of its domain overview page.
Now, let’s take a look at keyword research features — a very important aspect of both Ahrefs and Semrush.
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Keyword research features
Keyword research is generally about four things:
- Establishing how many people are searching for a particular keyword
- Establishing how difficult it is to rank for that keyword
- Finding out who is already ranking for that keyword
- Getting suggestions for other ones.
Both Ahrefs and Semrush make it very easy for you to find out all the above information.
You just enter a keyword into their respective keyword research tools (‘Keyword Explorer’ in Ahrefs, and ‘Keyword Overview’ in SemRush), and you’ll get the info you need straight away: search volume, a keyword difficulty score, the sites that are currently ranking for it, and a list of related keywords.
Semush uses a percentage score to indicate keyword difficulty — with a higher percentage indicating higher difficulty. Ahrefs uses a score out of one hundred — as with Semrush, a higher score indicates higher difficulty.
When you check out the keyword suggestions section of Semrush, you’ll notice that its difficulty score differs slightly from Ahrefs’ in that it is provided as a decimal number (with 2 digits after the decimal point), whereas with Ahrefs, it’s always provided as a whole number.
This means that you arguably get more ‘fine grain’ information on keyword difficulty from Semrush, (although I suspect that this would only ever come in useful in ultra-competitive niches).
Semrush and Ahrefs both allow you to create lists of keywords that you can refer to any time you like (using their “Keyword manager” and “Keyword list” features respectively) and view evolving keyword difficulty scores.
So far, we’re talking about a pretty similar feature set when it comes to keyword research. But both products have a couple of nice keyword-related features that the other doesn’t, however.
One thing I really like about Ahrefs’ approach to keyword difficulty scores is that not only does it tell you how hard it will be to rank for a given keyword, it also tells you roughly how many backlinks (links from other sites to yours) you’ll need to get in order to appear on the first page of search results.
Additionally, Ahrefs shows not only the volumes of searches but the number of clicks they’ll be likely to generate (not all users click on organic results — some click on ads etc.). This isn’t provided by Semrush.
There’s also a useful ‘return rate’ statistic provided by Ahrefs which indicates how often the same person searches for the same keyword over a thirty-day period. Again, you won’t find this in Semrush.
But possibly the biggest advantage Ahrefs has over Semrush in keyword research involves the search engines you can actually perform research for.
Whereas Semrush only provides data for Google searches, Ahrefs lets you perform keyword research for 10 search engines, including big hitters like Youtube, Yahoo and Amazon.
Now, admittedly, the vast majority of searches are still performed on Google — 91% at time of writing — but if you need to perform keyword research for other search engines, then Ahrefs is a better option.
However, if you’re looking for a research tool to cover both organic search and PPC, you may find Semrush to be the better tool. This is because it returns detailed CPC competition and distribution data, along with live ads. (You can also use it to craft entire PPC campaigns.)
Ahrefs does show some PPC related info, but it’s limited to cost per click data.
So overall I’d probably give Ahrefs the win here, because it provides more useful ‘at-a-glance’ information when it comes to organic search, and also lets you perform keyword research for a considerably wider variety of search engines than Semrush.
If PPC data is important to you however, then Semrush may be the more suitable tool because it highlights both organic and PPC data.
Content marketing in SEMrush and Ahrefs
In addition to providing keyword research tools, Semrush and Ahrefs also provide you with some content marketing featires.
With Semrush, these comes in the form of a ‘content marketing toolkit’, which contains a suite of tools that allow you to:
- identify new topics to write about
- audit your existing content from an SEO point of view
- identify keywords that your comeptitors are using in their posts
- monitor mentions of your brand.
These features are definitely helpful in quite a few contexts. However, you do have to be on a more expensive plan — the $229.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher — to gain access to them.
Ahrefs’ content marketing features are less extensive, but still useful — you can enter a topic and view information about its overall popularity; the sites that are currently dominating the searches for that topic; and top authors writing about it.
Let’s turn now to backlink analysis.
How well a site performs in search results very much depends on how many backlinks — external sites linking to it — exist for the site in question.
With both Ahrefs and Semrush, you can enter a domain name and see a list of all the backlinks to it that each tool can find.
Backlink database size
Based on the figures published by Ahrefs and Semrush, Semrush’s database of domains is considerably bigger than Ahrefs’, containing 818 million domains to Ahrefs’ 175 million (figures correct at time of writing).
This means that in theory, Semrush should be able to provide more comprehensive domain and backlink analysis.
Interestingly however, in my own testing, how many backlinks each tool found seemed to vary quite a bit depending on the domain I was looking at.
As I analysed more domains, this pattern continued — sometimes Ahrefs provided a more exhaustive set of results, sometimes Semrush did.
But on paper at least, it would appear that Semrush has the larger database.
Backlink reports and tools
In terms of the backlink analysis itself, both Ahrefs and Semrush give you LOTS of useful information about the backlinks that point to a domain, including breakdowns of:
- the number of ‘dofollow’ links vs ‘nofollow’ ones
- the country of origins of backlinks
- anchor text used
- new vs lost domains
- linking domain types (government, education etc.)
I generally prefer the way that Semrush presents this information — simple but attractive graphs spell out the key stats in a way that helps you digest them easily.
Additionally, Ahrefs and Semrush both provide you with ‘link intersect’ tools. These allow you to compare a URL from your website against corresponding ones from competitor websites, and give you an exportable list of websites that are currently linking to your competitors, but not to you.
Ahrefs’ link intersect tool is slightly better than Semrush’s, because it allows you to compare a URL against 10 others, whereas Semrush limits the comparison to 4 other websites. And I find Ahrefs’ a bit easier to use.
Backlink auditing and building
Semrush offers a couple of backlink-related features for which there’s no direct equivalent in Ahrefs — and very useful features at that.
First, there’s a ‘backlink auditing’ tool which identifies potentially ‘toxic’ links (spammy links that can lead to you being penalised in search results). You can output a list of these links, which you can then upload to Google as a ‘disavow’ file (this asks Google to ignore them).
Second, there’s a ‘backlink building’ tool which analyses your domain or URL and gives you a list of websites to target with a request for a new backlink.
What’s interesting about this feature is that you’re not just dealing with a spreadsheet of URLs — you’re dealing with a more ‘CRM’ style interface, with each domain listed as a ‘domain prospect’.
You can click on a button beside each domain prospect to move it into different stages of a link-building pipeline, and send outreach emails directly within the Semrush interface (by connecting a mailbox — Gmail, Yahoo etc.).
This is a lovely feature, and there’s nothing similar within Ahrefs.
Overall, it’s fair to say that both Ahrefs and Semrush give you great backlink analysis functionality — but for me, Semrush comes out a bit ahead here, because of its ‘toxic backlink’ reporting and excellent backlink building tool.
Trying out Ahrefs and SEMrush before you buy
You can try Ahrefs and SEMrush out before committing to a monthly plan.
With Ahrefs, you can avail of a 7-day trial for $7.
SEMrush by contrast offers an entirely free trial. Normally speaking, this trial lasts just 7 days — but for a limited time, there’s a 14-day free trial available which you can access using this link.
Both Ahrefs and Semrush provide ‘site auditing’ features that allow you to evaluate how well your site is performing from a technical SEO and on-page SEO perspective.
During a site audit, both tools will look out for issues which might be having a negative effect on your search ranking, including:
- Slow-loading content
- Duplicate content
- SSL problems
- Crawl errors
- Missing headers
- Overuse of keywords
- Broken links
Both tools provide you with a a wide range of really useful technical SEO suggestions.
They also give you really good contextual help on what each suggestion means, and tips on how to address any problems found.
I particularly like Semrush’s on-page SEO checker, which goes through your whole site and gives you actionable tips for improvement for each page (in order of priority). These can include suggestions on
- which keywords to add
- steps you can take to make a page appear as a Google ‘featured snippet’
- how to improve your body copy and meta descriptions
- which websites to approach for backlinks
- length of content
- internal linking strategies…
…and much more.
Semrush’s on-page SEO checker feature is super easy to use, and a really great tool to have in your SEO arsenal.
Ahrefs also provides you with an on-page SEO checker, but the suggestions provided are more of a technical nature — i.e., you won’t get the suggestions for improving your content or link profile that Semrush also provides.
Because of this, I’d give Semrush a win in the site auditing department, but both Ahrefs and Semrush give you a wealth of useful information for improving the technical SEO of your website.
Broken link analysis
Broken link building in Ahrefs and Semrush
Broken link building is an important SEO tactic.
It involves finding a broken link (i.e., one that no longer leads anywhere), recreating the ‘dead’ content that it used to point to, then asking anybody who used to link to the dead content to link to yours instead.
This approach allows you to build up new backlinks to your content — and the more backlinks that point to your website, the better your content can perform in search.
In order to make this tactic work, you need to be able to identify broken links, and both Ahrefs and Semrush provide features to do so.
Ahrefs makes it extremely easy to find broken links. You simply enter a domain name into its ‘Site Explorer’ section and click Backlinks > Broken. This then gives you a list of all that domain’s broken inbound links (and the sites where these links feature).
Semrush’s broken link building feature is slightly less easy to get at — you need to run a backlink analysis report, navigate to an ‘indexed’ pages section, click a ‘target errors’ option and then export the results to an Excel or CSV file. You can then sort or filter this file to identify the 404 errors (broken links).
This is a bit of an unwieldy process, but on the plus side you can reimport this file to Semrush and do your broken link outreach directly within the platform, using a connected mailbox and the CRM ‘pipeline’ approach referred to earlier.
Identifying broken outbound links in Ahrefs and Semrush
It’s important to ensure that your web pages don’t contain broken links to other sites, as these can be interpreted as a sign of poor quality content by Google and other search engines (with negative implications for rankings).
Ahrefs and Semrush both provide you with a means to spot broken outbound links; but as with broken inbound links, things are more straightforward with Ahrefs.
With Ahrefs, you just enter a domain into its ‘Site Explorer’, go to the ‘outgoing links’ section and hit a ‘broken links’ option to view results. With Semrush however, you have to repeat the process described above (running reports, targetting errors, outputting to Excel) to identify the links.
(Alternatively, you can run a site audit on your website in Semrush to spot them — but this will involve using one of your ‘project’ slots. More on these in a moment!).
Interface and ease of use
Although there’s not a huge amount in it, my feeling is that in general, Ahrefs is — in general — slightly easier to use than Semrush.
Its interface is cleaner than Semrush’s; its menus are laid out in a more logical fashion; and its dashboards seem to group pieces of information together in a more relevant, coherent way.
With Ahrefs, you get a really quick ‘at-a-glance’ understanding of SEO information — whereas with Semrush, you often have to do more digging, or clicking around the place, to get at the data you need.
That’s not to say that Semrush is particularly hard to use, and to be fair to the product, perhaps part of the reason for the increased complexity in Semrush is because it often makes more information available to you than Ahrefs — in terms of graphs, PPC data and pipelines.
And if you like data visualisation, the Semrush approach will definitely appeal.
There is one area where Semrush definitely wins hands down in the ease-of-use stakes however: outreach tools.
Its CRM-style approach to link building means that a lot of the time you can identify and contact prospects ‘in the box,’ whereas with Ahrefs, it’s more a case of exporting data to Excel which you then reimport into other apps (contact finders, email marketing tools etc.) for outreach purposes.
Pricing and value for money
Compared to other types of ‘SaaS’ (software as a service) apps, Ahrefs and Semrush are expensive.
That’s understandable however, as you’re not just paying for functionality, you’re paying for access to a lot of data, including intelligence on your competitors.
Semrush offers 3 main pricing plans:
- Pro: $119.95 per month
- Guru: $229.95 per month
- Business: $449.95 per month
Corporate users can also create a bespoke ‘Enterprise’ plan — fees for this are negotiable, as are features.
A 16% discount is available if you pay upfront for a year, and there’s also a free trial.
Ahrefs comes in 4 varieties:
- Lite: $99 per month
- Standard: $179 per month
- Advanced: $399 per month
- Agency: $999 per month
If you pay upfront for a year, Ahrefs give you two months free.
In terms of which is better value, this will depend in no small part on your business requirements (and budget).
That said, there are a few key things to zoom in on when trying to out which offers the most bang for the buck for your particular organisation.
Number of users
By default, all Semrush plans only come with one user account. You have to pay an additional monthly fee to add additional users to a plan ($45 per month per ‘Pro’ user, $80 per month per ‘Guru’ user and $100 per month per ‘Business’ user).
Ahrefs is a bit more generous in this respect, with its ‘Advanced’ and ‘Agency’ plans allowing you to make use of 3 or 5 user accounts respectively.
And, if you need to purchase additional user accounts, Ahrefs is considerably cheaper than Semrush — an extra seat costs $30 per user to Semrush’s $45-$100.
Ahrefs and Semrush both let you create 5 projects on their entry level plans (‘Lite’ and ‘Pro’ respectively).
As you move up the pricing ladder, and compare Semrush’s ‘Guru’ plan to Ahrefs’ ‘Standard’ plan, Semrush’s offering becomes the more generous of the two — you can create 15 projects to Ahrefs’ 10.
And Semrush’s Business plan ($449.95 per month) lets you create 40 projects to Ahrefs’ Advanced plan’s 25.
With Ahrefs, you can simply pay $10 per month to add another project, however — this pricing flexibility is commendable.
One thing I noticed when testing these two tools is that an important piece of functionality, site auditing, is only available in both if you are working within a project.
So, for users needing to perform a site audit on a bunch of different websites, this could become a headache — although the project limits doesn’t render this impossible, it makes things more fiddly than you’d like, and you’d effectively have to keep a project slot free for any ‘ad hoc’ work.
This is an area where Semrush’s more generous project limits — particularly on its Guru and Business plans — may come in handy.
Semrush’s competitive intelligence add-on
There are quite a few Semrush features for analysing competitors’ websites that are not available without purchasing a ‘competitive intelligence’ add-on.
- Market Explorer (market players, market shares, audience age, gender and behavior, seasonal peaks, etc.)
- Extended traffic analytics (visitor engagement, traffic sources, desktop and mobile, audience overlap, historical data, geographical information.)
- Competitor benchmarking (the ability to cross-compare up to 5 competitor websites).
- Bulk traffic analysis (web traffic data on up to 200 prospects in a click)
- Top pages (web traffic data on up to 200 prospects in a click).
Disappointingly, this add-on costs $200 per month. To be fair, most of the above metrics could be considered worthy of paying a bit extra for, but this aspect of Semrush pricing feels rather steep.
Reports per day
Semrush is much more generous when it comes to the number of reporting requests you can make each day: for example, even on its entry-level plan, you can pull 3,000 domain analysis reports per day — this massively outnumbers Ahrefs’s 25.
This comparative generosity continues as you go up the pricing ladder: the SEMrush report daily limit for domain analysis reports on its $399 plan is 10,000; the Ahrefs $399 plan’s limit is just 250.
If you’re working on a mix of SEO and PPC projects, you may find that Semrush represents better value. This is simply because it features more PPC data — whereas Ahrefs gives you CPC figures for individual keywords, Semrush goes beyond far this, giving you detailed CPC competition and distribution data, live ads and PPC campaign planning tools.
When it comes to customer support for Ahrefs and Semrush, I’ll have to admit to not having much experience of either company’s support teams. This is probably a good thing, as I’ve not really needed much support for either tool!
You could however argue that Semrush has a slight edge in the support department, because it offers 3 channels of support: phone, chat, and email.
Ahrefs by contrast, doesn’t provide any phone support.
Both Semrush and Ahrefs make it really easy to contact support — there’s a clearly visible chat window icon present at the bottom right corner of each interface; and Semrush’s phone number is clearly listed at the bottom of the screen too.
A bit of a win for Semrush in the support department overall however, because of the fact that the company offers phone support and Ahrefs doesn’t.
Both Ahrefs and Semrush allow you to try out the product before committing to their monthly plans.
With Ahrefs however, you have to pay to do so — $7 will give you access to a 7 day trial of either its ‘Lite’ or ‘Standard’ plans.
Semrush, by contrast, allows you to try the product out entirely free. Normally speaking, this trial lasts 7 days —but for a limited time they’ve made a 14-day free trial, available using this link. The length of this trial is pretty generous given how much data you can theoretically access during it. Note however that you do need to enter your credit card details before commencing the trial — this is a bit annoying.
Ahrefs vs SEMrush: the conclusions
So which is better, Ahrefs or Semrush? Well, I would be very happy to use either of these tools for an SEO-related project — they’re both absolutely brilliant sources of SEO data. However I do feel that, depending on the context in question, one of these tools might prove a better ‘fit’ for your business than the other.
Ahrefs is definitely a better option for users who need data from multiple search engines, and its pricing for businesses requiring multiple accounts is considerably more competitive than Semrush’s. However, Semrush is the more feature-rich tool, offering quite a few things that are not available in Ahrefs, including detailed PPC data, CRM-style link outreach features, phone support and more generous project and reporting limits.
Taking everything into account, here are the reasons why you might wish to use one of these products over the other.
Reasons to use Ahrefs over SEMrush
- You can use Ahrefs to perform keyword research for a wide variety of different search engines — Semrush only works with Google.
- Ahrefs is arguably a bit easier to use than Semrush, and gives you more digestible, ‘at-a-glance’ information.
- It gives you a helpful estimate of how many backlinks you’ll need to rank for a particular keyword — SEMrush has yet to introduce a similar feature.
- It’s easier to do broken link analysis with Ahrefs.
- Its higher-tier plans permit you to have multiple users accessing your accounts; by default SEMrush limits user accounts to 1 across all plans (with SEMrush, you have to pay more for additional seats, no matter what plan you’re on).
- It’s cheaper to add additional user accounts with Ahrefs.
Reasons to use SEMrush over Ahrefs
- Semrush provides a lot of data relating not just to SEO, but PPC too — if you want a tool that covers both areas, it’s a much better option than Ahrefs.
- Its project limits are more generous.
- Based on figures published by both products, the Semrush domain database is the larger of the two.
- Semrush is much better at identifying and outputting toxic links than Ahrefs.
- Its site auditing features are more comprehensive and easier to use.
- Its CRM-style approach to outreach means that you can create really great link building campaigns without ever leaving the app. With Ahrefs, you’ll need to use more third-party tools to do so.
- It’s MUCH more generous when it comes to the number of reports you can pull per day. If you envisage doing a lot of backlink or keyword research every day, then Semrush is considerably better value than Ahrefs.
- Phone support is available for Semrush — this is not the case with Ahrefs.
- A totally free trial is available — Ahrefs charges you to try the product out.
Alternatives to SEMrush and Ahrefs
SEMrush and Ahrefs are not the only options when it comes to SEO platforms. Alternatives include:
SEO Power Suite
For more information about how SEMrush compares to Moz, do check out our Moz versus SEMrush comparison.
If you’re a Chrome user, you might also be interested in a new SEO tool called GrowthBar. This works as a Chrome extension and is available at a lower cost than most of the products listed above. A five day free trial of GrowthBar can be accessed here.
Got any thoughts on Ahrefs vs SEMrush? Leave a comment!
If you’ve got personal experience of Ahrefs and SEMrush, or any questions about either tool, do let me know — your input on our reviews helps us improve them.
Feel very free to leave any queries in the comments section below — I’ll do my best to answer them.