This is an independent review, but note that it contains affiliate ad links. When you buy via these, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you.
The quick verdict
Overall, Ahrefs is the better choice if you need to work with multiple search engines and multiple domains (so long as you can verify that you own or have access to them). But if you want to pull a lot of reports every month, or need a tool that gives you detailed data not just on organic search results but PPC too, the winner is Semrush.
|Reasons to use Ahrefs||Reasons to use Semrush|
|Works with more search engines||Much more generous reporting limits|
|More generous project limits||Gives you search intent data automatically|
|Can be used with unlimited domains, so long as you own or can verify them||Gives you not just organic search data but detailed PPC data too|
|Better broken link analysis tools||Better site auditing tools|
|Better topic clustering tools||Phone support is provided|
|Word count feature provided||Generous free trial available (Ahrefs only provides cut-down access to some of its tools).|
Ahrefs vs Semrush video comparison
Ahrefs and Semrush are two of the best-known SEO tools available — but which of the two is better for helping you drive more traffic to your website?
Well, in this post, I’m going to help you answer that question. I’ll show you how these industry-leading 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 dive in with a key question…
What are Ahrefs and Semrush?
Ahrefs and Semrush are two platforms 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:
- find out what people are searching for in your business’ niche
- 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 in ways that will help it perform better in search results.
Both tools, for example, provide you with keyword ideas (based on phrases that you enter) that can be used to create compelling blog posts that are more likely to rank highly.
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 rankings.
Both tools work with any CMS, so regardless of whether you’re using Squarespace, Webflow, Wix or Shopify (or indeed any other website builder), you can use the features provided by either Ahrefs or Semrush to improve your SEO.
I’ll go through all these features in depth as I progress through the comparison — starting with something called domain analysis.
One of the most useful things you can do with Ahrefs and Semrush is domain analysis.
This means getting a general overview of how a website is performing from an SEO point of view.
You typically perform domain analysis either on your own website — to see where SEO improvements could be made to it — or on a competitor’s, to see how hard it will be to outrank them in organic search results.
(And to find ways to do so).
Carrying out domain analysis is straightforward in both Ahrefs and Semrush — you just enter a domain and key metrics are returned quickly for you, in a dashboard format.
With both tools, these metrics include:
- An ‘authority score’ (Semrush) or ‘domain rating‘ (Ahrefs) 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 (generally speaking, the more of these the better from an SEO point of view).
- The total number of keywords the website ranks for.
- A list of key competing domains.
Overall, the quality of the domain analysis in Ahrefs and Semrush is similar, but Semrush surfaces a couple more metrics in its domain overview relating to branded traffic levels (searches where a site’s brand name is included in the query) and search intent (more on which later).
However, Ahrefs lets you see the traffic value of a domain immediately (i.e., the amount of money that you’d need to pay each month to buy ads that would deliver an equivalent number of hits to a site). This is a very important piece of data.
In Semrush, you’ll need to pull a separate report (‘Organic Research’) to view this information. This isn’t the end of the world, but it would be nice to see this figure immediately on Semrush’s domain overview page (pictured below).
What’s the difference between Ahrefs’ Domain Rating score and Semrush’s Authority Score?
Both Ahrefs and Semrush assign scores to websites to indicate how much ‘authority’ they have — a ‘Domain Rating’ or ‘Authority Score’ respectively. In both cases, a scale from 0 to 100 is used.
These scores give you an indication of how likely it will be that content published on a particular domain will rank highly, or how valuable a backlink from it might be.
The two products’ scores are calculated in very different ways however. With Ahrefs, the score is calculated entirely on the basis of backlinks, but Semrush factors in backlinks, site traffic estimates and ‘spam factors’ when calculating it.
(Among other markers, Semrush’s spam factors include an imbalance between links and organic traffic; an unnaturally high percentage of dofollow domains; and too many referring domains with the same IP address).
This theoretically makes the Semrush authority score more accurate than the Ahrefs equivalent. Despite this however, the Ahrefs domain rating score is typically used as the industry standard benchmark for evaluating the ‘quality’ of domains.
As part of their domain analysis overviews, both Ahrefs and Semrush give you reports detailing the monthly traffic to the domain you’re analysing — but it’s important to note that the figures provided here are estimates.
During my own testing and research — using sites for which I have access to visitor data — I found that both platforms’ estimates were more accurate when ‘bigger’ websites were being analysed (i.e., websites with higher monthly traffic figures — 50,000 organic visitors per month or higher).
Unlike Ahrefs, however, Semrush gives you an indication of how accurate the estimates are likely to be — high, medium or low (note that you’ll need to navigate to a separate ‘traffic analytics’ section to access this data however — it’s not displayed on the domain overview).
Ahrefs gives you a bit more immediate context about traffic though, by plotting visitor numbers against a list of all known Google updates; this gives you a sense of how a site’s organic traffic has been affected by them over time.
Now, the important thing to remember with either set of traffic stats is that they should generally be used to identify trends (i.e., is site A more popular than sites B and C?) — rather than being taken as absolute gospel.
To this end, both Ahrefs and Semrush provide you with ‘competitive positioning maps.’
These give helpful ‘at-a-glance’ indications of how a site is performing against key competitors, based on how many keywords it ranks for and monthly traffic estimates.
However, both platforms take a slightly different approach to competitive positioning however — with Semrush being best for showing how your root domain generally stacks up against competitors, and Ahrefs displaying more useful information regarding how a particular page on your site fares against them.
On the subjects of graphs, although Ahrefs has been gradually introducing more of them to complement the data it provides, it’s fair to say that Semrush still places a greater emphasis on data visualization — a lot of the domain analysis metrics you encounter in Semrush are immediately graphed.
In Ahrefs, you may find yourself eyeballing more ‘hard data’ and tables than in Semrush (which isn’t always a bad thing, of course — it very much depends on the context).
Both products’ domain overview pages make it easy to see country-level data for a domain thanks to their simple ‘worldwide’ and ‘country’ view switchers.
But Semrush has the edge when it comes to historical data: so long as you are on a $249.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher, you’ll get access to a simple dropdown menu that provides a domain overview for any month between January 2012 and the present day.
Although Ahrefs does provide access to historical data too, it doesn’t go back quite as far — information from 2015 to the present day is provided.
Significantly however, you’ll need to be on a $999 ‘Enterprise’ Ahrefs plan to access this data — which will put this information well beyond the reach of most users.
Overall, both products do well in the domain analysis department, with Ahrefs getting the points for making financial data more immediately accessible and Semrush being better when it comes to data visualization and access to historical data.
Now, let’s take a look at keyword research features — a very important aspect of both Ahrefs and Semrush.
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 — ‘Keywords Explorer’ in Ahrefs, and ‘Keyword Overview’ in Semrush — and you’ll get the info you need straight away — search volume for that phrase, its keyword difficulty score, the sites that are currently ranking for it, and a list of related keywords.
Both platforms use percentage scores to indicate keyword difficulty — with a higher percentage indicating higher difficulty.
How do Ahrefs and Semrush calculate keyword difficulty scores?
The way that Semrush and Ahrefs calculate keyword difficulty is quite different.
Semrush factos in quite a lot of different parameters when calculating it — including the number of backlinks pointing to top ranking sites; country; the word count of a keyword; whether or not a keyword is branded; and search volume.
Ahrefs, by contrast, focuses solely on the number of backlinks pointing to sites ranking highly for keywords.
Semrush claims that their approach makes their difficulty scores more accurate; Ahrefs counters this by arguing that “backlinks are probably the only easily measurable confirmed ranking factor.”
In practice I’ve found that generally speaking, Ahrefs tends to flag more keywords as easy to rank for than Semrush — an Ahrefs ‘easy’ score will often often equate to a ‘medium difficulty’ one in Semrush.
When it comes to giving you an overview of the sites that are currently ranking highly for a given keyword in search results, I’d argue that Ahrefs does this better. This is because when it lists the top-ranking sites, it accompanies them with more data.
Semrush gives you five bits of ‘ancilliary’ data beside each top-ranking page, namely:
- the authority score of the site that the page belongs to
- the number of referring domains pointing to the URL
- the number of backlinks pointing to the page
- the estimated organic traffic to the page
- the number of keywords that the page ranks for.
There’s a screenshot of these metrics below:
By contrast, Ahrefs gives you 10 pieces of data beside each search result — in addition to the above data, you also get the following information:
- an authority score for the domain that the ranking content is on (‘DR’)
- the estimated value of the page’s monthly organic traffic
- the top keyword the page ranks for
- the monthly number of searches for that top keyword
- the word count of the ranking page.
Of these, the most interesting is arguably the word count metric (which has been introduced quite recently as an Ahrefs feature).
Although Google says that the word count of a piece of content is not a direct ranking factor, it’s still interesting to know how many words the top-ranking posts for your target query contain.
This is because you could argue that Google’s userbase has decided that a particular word count answers a particular query in sufficient depth — and then use this as a guideline when creating your own content.
(At the very least you’ll know that when a top ranking page contains 5,000 words, a 500 word post is probably not going to compete with it!)
Identifying search intent
Semrush gives you more context about why users perform particular searches than Ahrefs, thanks to its useful ‘search intent’ feature.
As part of the metrics returned for a particular keyword, you’ll see an ‘intent’ box highlighting the context in which a particular search is made:
In the example above, you can see that for the ‘chocolate brownies’ search phrase, the intent behind the user’s search is likely to be ‘informational.’
Semrush also automatically highlights when the search intent is likely to be ‘transactional’,’navigational’ or ‘commercial.’
These types of keyword search intent are defined by Semrush as follows:
Informational = the user wants to find a specific answer to a question
Commercial = the user wants to investigate brands or services
Navigational = the user wants to find a particular page or website
Transactional = the user wants to complete an action (i.e., a purchase or other conversion).
There’s nothing really comparable from Ahrefs on this front, so it’s a significant win for Semrush here.
Now, Semrush’s keyword intent feature really comes in handy when you’re filtering keyword suggestions.
When you enter a phrase into Semrush’s ‘Keyword Magic’ tool, you’ll often end up with a very long list of suggested phrases — and this can be rather overwhelming.
But the ‘search intent’ dropdown menu helps massively here, because it lets you exclude a lot of irrelevant stuff really easily and focus on the phrases that are most likely to be revenue-generating for your business.
As a simple example of this, you could simply filter keyword suggestions by ‘commercial’ intent to view those that are most likely to lead to purchases.
Search intent in Ahrefs — a workaround
There is a workaround for establishing keyword intent using Ahrefs — but it involves a rather clunky process where you ‘infer’ it by looking at the ‘modifiers’ in a search query (words like ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘comparison,’ ‘review’ etc.).
For example, words like ‘what’ in a search phrase generally indicate that you’re dealing with an informational term, while words like ‘review’ in a phrase often imply a commercial investigation.
You can filter your keyword results — as per the screenshot below — to only include specific modifiers (what, how, why etc.) in your keyword research results.
This does get you to the data you need — but it’s a much more manual and time-consuming process than the Semrush way of doing things.
Keyword lists and topic clustering
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.
The functionality on offer from both tools is pretty similar here.
Both services recently introduced ‘topic clustering’ features, too.
The aim of these is to help you identify keywords that can help you build up topical authority on a subject (search engines can reward sites that cover all aspects of a particular topic in depth).
Of the two topic clustering tools, I prefer Ahrefs’ — it lets you cluster keywords more easily and into more logical groupings. It lets you cluster phrases that involve the actual keyword you entered more easily, while Semrush seems to give you a bunch of clusters that are related to it.
Additionally, when testing the Semrush keyword clustering tool, I found that some of the the topic suggestions and keywords surfaced were not always as relevant as I’d like; I had to eyeball the output carefully to ensure that the suggestions were a good fit for my cluster content.
Overall the Ahrefs topic clustering tool is simply more intuitive and it’s easier to make sense of its output.
Video guide: how to perform keyword research with Semrush
For a limited time, you can access a double-length free trial of Semrush here.
Using backlink data in keyword research
One thing I’ve always really liked 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 you’ll need in order to rank for it in the top ten search results.
Semrush introduced this feature considerably later than Ahrefs, but it does now take a similar approach to this:
However, whereas Ahrefs will always give you data on the number of backlinks it thinks you’ll need to rank for a particular phrase, Semrush currently only returns this for some keywords.
In certain cases, you’ll get a slightly vague message along the lines of “it will take a lot of on-page SEO and link building efforts to rank for this.”
For most queries that I tried out in Semrush however, the feature worked fine and returned an estimate of backlinks needed to rank.
There are a couple of other areas where Ahrefs has an edge over Semrush in keyword research.
First, 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). This data isn’t provided by Semrush.
It also shows you an extremely useful traffic potential figure — an estimate of the total number of organic visits that you could expect if you ranked #1 for a particular keyword.
This is different from a simple search volume figure, because it includes traffic generated by searches which involve variations of that keyword.
Below is an example of Ahrefs’ ‘traffic potential’ statistic in action. You can see that although the ‘online store builder’ keyword has a search volume of 1,000 per month, when keyword variations are accounted for, it has the potential to generate 4,000 visits per month to a site that ranks number one for it.
In many contexts, this data can be invaluable for identifying less ‘obvious’ keywords to target — search phrases that don’t in themselves generate much traffic, but which have a lot of minor variations that will.
For me, the traffic potential data provided by Ahrefs is arguably the strongest reason for using it over Semrush.
Ahrefs’ ‘Content Gap’ tool is arguably a bit better than the equivalent Semrush ‘Keyword Gap’ tool too. Both let you enter your domain and those of some competitors, and show you a list of keywords that your competitor ranks for which yours doesn’t — but Ahrefs’ ‘content gap’ tool lets you evaluate your site against more competing domains (10 to Semrush’s four).
Search engines you can perform research for
The biggest advantage Ahrefs has over Semrush in keyword research involves the search engines you can actually perform research on. Whereas Semrush only provides data for one search engine, Google, Ahrefs lets you perform keyword research for 9, including big hitters like YouTube and Amazon.
To be fair to Semrush, the emphasis on Google is pretty understandable, given its current dominance of the search engine market — nearly 92% at time of writing (source: Statcounter).
But some users will definitely appreciate the greater flexibility provided by Ahrefs here — the full list of search engines that it sources data from is as follows:
(The fact that Ahrefs provides Bing data may in time become quite significant, given the rise of AI and Microsoft’s recent integration of ChatGPT into the search engine).
However, what you should be aware of is that the data Ahrefs surfaces is considerably more detailed for Google than all the other search engines. Many of the most-useful metrics and features provided for keyword analysis in Ahrefs are only available for Google data.
Pay-per-click (PPC) research
If you’re looking for a research tool that gives you data on both organic search results and PPC, you’ll find Semrush to be the better option.
This is because it returns a larger amount of Google Ads data, including:
- ad positions
- adverts displayed
- ad campaign history
- landing pages
- subdomains used in ad campaigns.
You get to see this data (and more) when you enter a domain into Semrush’s ‘Advertising Research’ tool.
Ahrefs does show some PPC related info, but it’s more limited — you get to see the ‘paid keywords’ used to advertise a domain, headlines for the ads displayed and the landing pages used in PPC campaigns.
This data is displayed when you enter a domain name into the ‘Site Explorer’ tool and go to the ‘Paid search’ section.
Overall I’d probably say that Ahrefs has a bit of an edge when it comes to keyword research, because it lets you perform research for a considerably wider variety of search engines than Semrush, and its traffic potential tool — for which there’s no Semrush equivalent — is great.
Semrush’s keyword intent tool — for which there’s no Ahrefs equivalent — is extremely useful though, and if PPC data is important to you, the better tool is definitely Semrush.
(And, as we’ll see shortly, there are reporting limits in Ahrefs which limit the usefulness of its keyword research features).
Content marketing in Semrush and Ahrefs
In addition to providing keyword research tools, Semrush and Ahrefs also provide you with some content marketing features.
With Semrush, these come in the form of a ‘content marketing platform’, which contains a suite of tools that allow you to:
- identify new topics to write about
- use an ‘SEO writing assistant’ tool to help you craft search-friendly content
- audit your existing content from an SEO point of view
- identify keywords that your competitors are using in their posts
These features are definitely helpful in quite a few contexts and there aren’t really direct Ahrefs equivalents available. However, you do have to be on a more expensive plan — the $249.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher — to gain access to them.
Ahrefs’ content marketing features are less extensive, but still useful — you can enter a topic into its ‘Content Explorer’ tool and view information about its overall popularity; the sites that are currently dominating the searches for that topic; and top authors writing about it.
In light of the increasing use of ChatGPT as a means to create web content automatically, you might be wondering whether Semrush or Ahrefs provide any AI-powered writing tools.
There isn’t really anything available from Ahrefs on this front, but Semrush now provides a built-in AI copywriting feature: its ‘AI Writing Assistant’, which writes paragraphs based on prompts or headings you give it.
In my tests I found this worked pretty well, especially when I was prompting it to create factual — rather than subjective or review-based — content.
However, the feature comes with a catch: a monthly word count limit applies when you use it, and this limit isn’t generous, ranging from 800 words to 2,000 words per month (you can contact Semrush to increase it, but prices for doing so aren’t publicly available).
This limit may be in place to nudge you in the direction of ‘ContentShake,’ a $60-per month AI add-on developed by Semrush, which provides AI writing features without any limits to worry about at all.
Let’s take a look now at a very important aspect of SEO, 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 808 million domains to Ahrefs’ 206.3 million (figures correct at time of writing).
This means that in theory, Semrush should be able to provide more comprehensive data for analyzing backlinks.
I was curious to see how this played out in practice, however, so I conducted some simple tests on both tools’ ability to surface referring domains. These involved running some of the websites for ecommerce and design tools that we review through both Ahrefs and Semrush.
Here’s the number of referring domains found for each site by both tools:
So in my tests, there was a clear win for Semrush — its backlink analysis tool won 9 out of the 10 contests.
Of course, it’s important to note that this was a small-scale test — so you shouldn’t read too much into the results. However Semrush did seem to have a consistent edge when it came to the number of referring domains surfaced, suggesting that its bigger database may indeed translate into ‘bigger’ data.
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, Semrush and Ahrefs both provide you with ‘link intersect’ tools (with the Semrush tool being called ‘Backlink Gap’ and Ahrefs’ being labelled as ‘Link Intersect’).
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 gives you more fine grain information than Semrush’s, because — in similar way to its ‘Content Gap’ tool — it allows you to compare a URL against 10 others, while Semrush limits the comparison to 4 other websites.
When testing the Ahrefs’ link intersect tool, I found it a bit easier to use, too — the way it works is more self-explanatory (see screenshot below).
Backlink auditing and building
Semrush offers a couple of backlink-related features for which there’s no direct equivalent in Ahrefs.
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).
However, not all SEO professionals think that these sort of link spam identification tools are actually that helpful, and that a more manual approach to identifying poor-quality links works better. (The Ahrefs team take this view).
And interestingly, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller is not a fan of the concept of toxic links at all, or the tools that identify them!
(Recently, Mueller went to so far as to say that disavowing links based on third-party metrics is a ‘terrible idea.’)
So, although some users may find Semrush’s toxic link tool useful in highlighting particularly awful backlinks, I wouldn’t view Ahrefs’ omission of a similar tool as a key reason to choose Semrush instead.
The ‘link building’ tool in Semrush is more useful, however. This analyzes 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 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 strong backlink analysis functionality — but for me, because of its excellent CRM-style backlink building tool, the winner in this area is probably Semrush.
Trying out Ahrefs and Semrush before you buy
Ahrefs doesn’t offer a free trial, but you can access a free cut-down version of its ‘Site Explorer’ and ‘Site Audit’ tools here.
Semrush, by contrast, offers an entirely free trial. Normally speaking, this trial lasts just 7 days — but for a limited time only, Style Factory readers can get a double-length version of its trial using this special link.
Both Ahrefs and Semrush provide ‘site auditing’ features that allow you to evaluate how well your site is performing from both 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 an overall SEO health score along with 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.
There isn’t really an equivalent feature in Ahrefs — any suggestions provided regarding how to improve pages are of a more technical nature — i.e., you won’t get the ideas for improving your content or link profile that Semrush also provides.
Another neat touch that you’ll find in Semrush’s site audit tool that isn’t present in Ahref’s is the ability to send SEO tasks that the system has identified as needing attention to the widely-used project management tool, Trello.
(If you don’t use Trello, a Zapier connection lets you send technical SEO tasks to other project management apps — or alternatively, you can use a simple CRM tool that’s bundled with Semrush to manage them).
Finally, both Ahrefs and Semrush’s site audit reports now includes an assessment of your site from a ‘Core Web Vitals‘ point of view.
Core Web Vitals are a set of targets relating to the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of a website; sites that meet them can receive preferential treatment in Google search results.
Ahrefs and Semrush both pull data from Lighthouse (Google’s free site auditing tool) to give you these Core Web Vitals metrics; so you’re not getting data here that you’d otherwise have to pay for. That said it is useful to be able to view it in the dashboard of an SEO platform.
In Ahrefs you get two different types of Core Web Vitals data: ‘field data,‘ which is based on real user experience of your website (this comes from Chrome users) and ‘lab data’ (performance data collected within a controlled environment). Semrush only gives you access to lab data, so Ahrefs has an edge here.
One thing to note however is that to access Core Web Vitals data in Ahrefs, you’ll need to locate and enter your Google API key.
Overall, although I think that both Ahrefs and Semrush give you a wealth of useful information for improving the technical SEO of your website, I’d give a slight win to Semrush here, mainly because of the broader range of content improvement suggestions it makes, and the options it gives you for sending your site auditing issues to project management tools.
But there isn’t a huge amount in it.
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Broken link analysis
Broken link building in Ahrefs and Semrush
Broken link building is an important SEO tactic.
- finding a broken link (i.e., one that no longer leads anywhere),
- recreating the ‘dead’ content that it used to point to, and
- 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 may 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 the Broken backlinks option. 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 less easy to get at — you need to run a backlink analytics report, navigate to an ‘indexed pages’ section, click a ‘broken pages’ 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.
But overall, I prefer the Ahrefs approach here.
Identifying broken outbound links in Ahrefs and Semrush
It’s also 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 identifying broken inbound links, things are more straightforward with Ahrefs.
In 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.
In Semrush however, you have to run a site audit on your website to spot them. Once done, you go to the ‘warnings’ section of your site audit report, where you’ll be able to access a full list of problem outbound links.
However, using this method of identifying broken external links will involve using one of your ‘project slots’, which isn’t ideal.
(More on project slots — what they are and why they matter — in just a moment).
Interface and ease of use
For me, there’s really not a huge amount in it, but my feeling is that, Ahrefs is — in general — slightly easier to use than Semrush.
Its interface is cleaner than Semrush’s; its menus are laid out in a slightly more logical fashion; and its dashboards seem to group pieces of information together in a more relevant, coherent way.
While I was testing these products I noticed that Semrush’s data loads considerably faster, however — Ahrefs can be more than a little sluggish at times, which won’t please users in a hurry, and isn’t great for workflow.
(I’ve found this to be mainly an issue when you’re performing domain analysis on large sites with Ahrefs).
With Ahrefs, you get a really good ‘at-a-glance’ understanding of SEO information — whereas with Semrush, you often have to do slightly 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, search intent data, PPC data and pipelines).
And if you like data visualization, the Semrush approach will definitely appeal.
There is one area where Semrush definitely wins hands down in the ease-of-use stakes: 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.
Ultimately, if you want to dive in and get easily-digestible data, Ahrefs is arguably the better bet.
For project-based work and link building outreach, Semrush is the better option.
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 some pretty serious intelligence on your competitors.
Semrush offers 3 main pricing plans:
- Pro: $129.95 per month
- Guru: $249.95 per month
- Business: $499.95 per month
There’s also the option of creating a ‘custom’ Semrush plan — fees for this are negotiable, as are features.
A discount of up to 17% is available if you pay on an annual basis, and there’s also a free trial available.
How to get Semrush Pro free for an extended period — video guide and free trial link
Ahrefs comes in 4 varieties:
- Lite: $99 per month
- Standard: $179 per month
- Advanced: $399 per month
- Enterprise: $999 per month
If you pay upfront for a year, Ahrefs give you two months’ extra access for free.
There isn’t a free trial available for Ahrefs, but you can make use of a free cut-down version of the tool, Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. This gives you access limited access to Ahrefs’ domain analysis and site auditing features.
In terms of which product 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 work out which offers the most bang for the buck for your particular organisation.
Access to key features
Semrush gives you access to all its important features on its entry level plan — the main limitations of its cheapest offering are mainly to do with how many projects you can work on, and how much data you can pull each month.
Ahrefs is considerably less generous here — on its entry-level ‘Lite’ plan, you miss out on a lot of key features, including its content gap, link intersect and broken link building tools.
This will effectively nudge anyone who’s serious about SEO onto the more expensive ‘Standard’ plan (which is nearly twice the price of the Semrush entry-level one).
Number of users
By default, all Semrush and Ahrefs plans only come with one user account.
With Semrush, 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).
With Ahrefs, there are two different types of additional user accounts you can buy: a ‘power user’ account (this costs an extra $50 per month) and a ‘casual user’ account (an extra $20 per month).
The difference between the two types of accounts involves how many reports a user can pull each month. Each report that you pull uses up a ‘credit,’ with the number of Ahrefs credits provided depending on user type (‘power’ or ‘casual’) and plan. On the Lite, Standard and Advanced Ahrefs plans, power users get 500, 600 or 750 credits respectively.
To complicate things further, you can also add free ‘inactive’ Ahrefs users to your account — these are users who run 5 or less reports per month.
I’d say that certainly on the entry-level plans, all this makes Semrush better value when you add more users — simply because the number of reports that Semrush users can pull far exceeds the Ahrefs limit (more on this in just a moment).
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, Ahrefs’ offering becomes the more generous of the two — you can create 20 projects to Semrush’s 15.
And Ahrefs has the edge again when you compare its ‘Advanced’ plan’s project limits to Semrush’s more expensive ‘Business’ plan — its project cap is 50, 10 more than Semrush’s.
And that’s not the only way that Ahrefs is more generous when it comes to project limits.
This is because you can work with an unlimited number of ‘verified’ projects in Ahrefs.
Verified projects are sites for which you can prove ownership — this can be done via DNS records, HTML files/tags or Google Search Console.
This is extremely useful if you manage a lot of domains and are in a position to verify them in the ways described above.
A key thing I discovered 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 don’t render this impossible, it makes things more fiddly than you’d like — and you’ll effectively have to keep a project slot free for any ‘ad hoc’ work.
So in all, when it comes to project limits, it’s a win for Ahrefs.
Rank tracking (also known as position tracking or SERP tracking) lets you track a website’s daily rankings for a custom set of target keywords.
And Ahrefs’ rank tracker is a bit more generous. On its entry level plan you can track 750 target keywords, while Semrush’s equivalent plan limits you to 500.
It’s a similar story as you further go up the pricing ladder, with Ahrefs’ rank tracking tools letting you keep tabs on 2,000 keywords and 5,000 on its $199 and $399 plan respectively; the equivalent Semrush limits on its $249.95 and $499.95 plan are 1,500 and 5,000.
However, by default Ahrefs only sends you weekly notifications on your tracked keywords, while Semrush’s position tracking tool lets you receive them on a daily basis. If you want daily updates from Ahrefs, you’ll have to pay an additional fee of between $100 and $250 per month (depending on plan).
There are quite a few Semrush features that are not available without purchasing an add-on.
First up there’s the ‘Semrush .Trends‘ add-on. For an additional $200 per user per month (irrespective of plan), this gives you access to more detailed information on your competitors’ traffic and demographics.
There is also a local SEO add-on available ($20 / $40 depending on the features you need). The main functionality this gives you is the ability to:
- distribute business information to directories
- suppress duplicate listings
- track local rankings
- manage Google My Business and Facebook listings
- monitor reviews and user suggestions.
Recently, a content analytics tool, ‘Impact Hero,’ was added to the selection of add-ons. At $200 per user per month, Semrush describe this as “an AI-powered tool that breaks down your content by customer journey stages, detects the most impactful pieces, and provides recommendations for content that can perform better.”
(In many ways, Impact Hero resembles Google Analytics — my feeling is that users who have set up Google Analytics correctly and are using goals to track content performance and lead generation probably won’t need this add-on.)
And finally there’s the ‘Agency Growth Kit‘ add-on — this is for agencies who want to ‘white label’ Semrush data.
This lets you produce custom PDFs reports that have no Semrush branding on them; it also helps you list your business in a directory of Semrush certified agencies (probably the most valuable aspect of the add-on) and access client management tools.
The agency growth kit costs an additional $69 to $249 per month, depending on the plan you’re on and what precise features you need (the more expensive version gives you higher visibility on the Agency Partners platform, unlimited access to the Semrush CRM tool and access to a ‘bid finding’ tool that helps you identify contract opportunities).
Apps / integrations
In addition to purchasing one of the the Semrush add-ons discussed above, you can also add functionality to your Semrush account by investing in a third-party app from the Semrush app center.
35 third-party apps / integrations are currently available, with a focus that’s mainly on analytics and data; they range in cost from $10 to $150 per month, per user.
Key apps in here include Influencer Analytics, an app that’s designed to make finding influencer/content creator partners for your site easier, and AdClarity, an app that gives you a holistic view of your competitors’ advertising activity across lots of different advertising channels (display, social, video etc.)
(Eight free apps are also available; examples of these include a Amazon keyword research tool, a local listings checker app and a plagiarism checking tool).
Ahrefs doesn’t yet provide a similar ‘app store’, but depending on your needs, you can use its API to integrate it with other applications.
Semrush is much more generous when it comes to the number of reporting requests you can make each month — for example, even on its entry-level plan, you can pull 3,000 domain analysis reports per day. This is considerably more generous than Ahrefs’ credit-based limit, which restricts to 500 reports per month.
This comparative generosity continues as you go up the pricing ladder. While the Semrush limits increase significantly, letting you pull 10,000 reports per day on its Business plan, Ahrefs’ equivalent ‘Advanced’ plan limit is just 750 per month.
If you’re working on a mix of SEO and PPC projects, you’ll probably find that Semrush represents better value — as discussed above, you get considerably more data on Google ad campaigns that are associated with a particular domain (or have been in the past).
You can use Semrush to gain insights on social media activity related to your brand or a competitor’s. The platform connects to several popular social networks and gives you access to a dashboard that provides insights on followers, post reach and post engagements. You can also use these social media tools to schedule posts.
These features are fundamentally online marketing tools rather than SEO ones, and will be a ‘nice to have’ option rather than an essential piece of functionality for most users. But if you feel that a social media tracker or post scheduler is important to you, then you should note that there’s nothing really comparable in Ahrefs.
Semrush has a clear edge in the support department, because it offers three channels of support: phone, chat, and email.
Ahrefs, by contrast, provides chat and email support.
Both Semrush and Ahrefs make it really easy to contact support — there’s a clearly support window icon present at the bottom right corner of each interface.
Ultimately because Semrush offers phone support while Ahrefs doesn’t, it’s a win in this area for Semrush.
As discussed above, with Ahrefs, no free trial is available, but you can use its suite of free webmaster tools to get some cut-down access to its ‘Site Explorer’ and ‘Site Audit’ features.
Semrush, by contrast, allows you to try the product out entirely free via a free trial. Normally speaking, this lasts just 7 days — but for a limited time, the company has made a double-length free trial available — you can access this via this link.
Ahrefs vs Semrush: conclusion
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 a better option for users who need data from multiple search engines. It’s more generous when it comes to project limits, has easier-to-use broken link building tools, and the option it gives you to work with an unlimited number of verified domains is potentially very useful to certain business types too.
If I had to single out one particular Ahrefs feature for praise though, it would be its ‘traffic potential’ score — this gives you a really excellent way to identify keywords that are most likely to drive high levels of traffic to your site.
However, Semrush is the more feature-rich tool, offering quite a lot of things that are not available in Ahrefs, including detailed PPC data, CRM-style link outreach features, more customer support options, social media tools and, significantly, much more generous reporting limits. And the search intent data it gives you is extremely useful for identifying the keywords that are going to be most effective in driving sales and conversions.
Taking everything into account, here are the reasons why you might wish to use one of these products over the other.
Advantages of using Ahrefs instead of 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’s considerably easier to do broken link analysis with Ahrefs.
- The Ahrefs ‘content gap’ and ‘link intersect’ tools let you work with more domains than Semrush’s equivalent tools do.
- Its project limits are more generous.
- Its superb ‘traffic potential’ metric gives you a really useful way to spot juicy keywords that you might have overlooked.
- Its topic clustering feature is easier to use than the Semrush equivalent.
- The word count feature, for which there’s no Semrush equivalent, shows you the length of top-ranking pages, and lets you get a good sense of what users and Google may be expecting from a content size point of view.
- So long as you can verify ownership of a domain, Ahrefs lets you work with an unlimited number of websites.
- It’s cheaper to add additional user accounts with Ahrefs.
- Its rank tracking limits are more generous — so long as you can live with weekly, rather than daily updates.
Advantages of using Semrush instead of Ahrefs
- Its pricing structure is much simpler and its entry-level plan gives users a lot more features than the Ahrefs equivalent.
- Semrush is 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.
- 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 better option than Ahrefs.
- The Semrush ‘search intent’ tool is brilliant for identifying the most relevant keywords for your business (or those most likely to lead to purchases) — and there isn’t an equivalent Ahrefs feature.
- Its site auditing features are more comprehensive and easier to use.
- Semrush’s 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.
- Phone support is available for Semrush — but not for Ahrefs.
- Its interface generally loads data more quickly than Ahrefs’.
- Semrush doesn’t charge you extra for daily rank tracking notifications.
- You get social media marketing tools with Semrush, but not Ahrefs.
- A totally free and fully-functional trial is available — this is not the case with Ahrefs.
Alternatives to Semrush and Ahrefs
Semrush and Ahrefs are not the only options when it comes to SEO software. Alternatives include:
For more information about how Ahrefs and Semrush compares to Moz, do check out our Ahrefs vs Moz vs Semrush comparison (you may also find our Moz versus Semrush comparison and our Moz vs Ahrefs shootout helpful)
Finally, if you’re on a budget, you might want to check out a new tool called GrowthBar, a good keyword research tool that’s available at a lower price point than most of the products listed above. A five day free trial of GrowthBar can be accessed here, or you can read our GrowthBar review here.
Got any questions about Ahrefs vs Semrush? Leave a comment!
If you’ve got any questions about Semrush vs Ahrefs, do leave a comment below — I’ll do my best to answer them.
Similarly, feel free to share your feedback on this comparison in the comments section — this helps us improve our content.
Ahrefs vs Semrush FAQ
What do Ahrefs and Semrush do?
Ahrefs and Semrush are tools that help you optimize your website for search engines. They do this by giving you information that lets you establish what people are searching for in your niche; create new content that is likely to generate organic traffic; identify opportunities for building links from other sites to yours; and tweak technical aspects of your website in ways that help it perform better in search.
Can I use Ahrefs and Semrush for free?
Ahrefs lets you try the platform out via a 7 day paid-for trial that costs $7. Semrush provides an entirely free 30-day trial, however.
Who are the main competitors to Ahrefs and Semrush?
The main competitor to Semrush and Ahrefs is probably Moz Pro. Other popular SEO platforms include Majestic, Serpstat and Ubersuggest.
Which is cheaper, Ahrefs or Semrush?
Technically speaking, the three Ahrefs plans available are all cheaper than the Semrush equivalents. However, the feature sets and limitations of both products are quite different, and should be factored in when deciding which platform is actually best value for you.
Are there any discounts available for Ahrefs and Semrush?
Both plans are cheaper when you pay upfront for one year. You can learn more about Ahrefs’ annual discount on their pricing page; for more information about how to save with Semrush, please check out our Semrush discounts guide.
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- Semrush vs Moz (YouTube comparison)
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- Video guide: making your site more visible
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