Ahrefs vs Semrush (2023) — Which Should You Use?

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Ahrefs vs Semrush

In this Ahrefs vs Semrush comparison, I’m going to put two leading SEO tools head to head — and help you find out which of them best meets your needs.

The short answer

Ahrefs and Semrush are both excellent SEO tools and deciding between them will depend on how heavily you rely on very specific features.

Ahrefs is a better option for users who need data from multiple search engines — while Semrush only provides data for one (Google), Ahrefs lets you source data from 10, including big hitters like YouTube and Amazon. It’s more generous when it comes to project limits, and you can use it to work with an unlimited number of domains (so long as you can verify ownership of them). Its broken link building, link intersect and content gap tools are better than the Semrush equivalents too.

Semrush is better than Ahrefs when it comes to providing search intent and PPC data. Its site auditing tools are more comprehensive, and it gives you a suite of CRM-style project management tools that are not available in Ahrefs. Its key advantage over Ahrefs however involves its more generous reporting limits — you can pull significantly more reports with Semrush than Ahrefs each month on all plans. Finally its pricing structure is less complicated than Ahrefs’, and it gives you more customer support channels too.

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?

In this post, I’m going to 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
  • Support

…and more!

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.

The Ahrefs platform
The Ahrefs platform

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 results.

The Semrush platform
The Semrush platform

Now, you might be wondering if Ahrefs and Semrush will work with your website building platform or content management system.

The answer is yes — 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.


Domain analysis

One of the most useful things you can do with Ahrefs and Semrush is basic 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).

Performing domain analysis in Ahrefs using its ‘Site Explorer’ feature
Performing domain analysis in Ahrefs

Carrying out domain analysis is very 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 key 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.
  • Anchor text commonly used in links to the website.
  • A list of competing domains.

Although the 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 — more of them are displayed on one screen at once.

Traffic share statistics in Ahrefs
Traffic share by country in Ahrefs

With Semrush, by contrast, there’s a little bit more clicking around the place to do to get at a couple of key metrics.

For example, Ahrefs lets you see the traffic value of a domain immediately (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 pretty important piece of data.

The traffic value metric being displayed in Ahrefs
In Ahrefs, the domain traffic value is displayed as part of a domain overview report

In Semrush, you need to pull a separate report (‘Organic Research’) to view this data. 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).

Domain analysis being performed in Semrush
Domain analysis being performed in Semrush

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.

An organic traffic estimate report in Ahrefs
An organic traffic estimate graph in Ahrefs

During on 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).

Unlike Ahrefs, however, Semrush gives you an indication of how accurate the estimates are likely to be (high, medium or low — see screenshot below).

Traffic accuracy data in Semrush
Information provided by Semrush about the accuracy of its traffic estimates

Both platforms give you a bit more context about traffic in another way, by plotting visitor numbers against a list of all the known Google updates; this gives you a sense of how a site’s organic traffic was affected by them.

Ahrefs' graph of traffic plotted against Google algorithm updates
Ahrefs’ graph of traffic plotted against Google algorithm updates

However, while you have to pull a separate report in Semrush to access this data, it’s immediately visible on Ahrefs’ domain overview. And Ahrefs lets you display this graph for worldwide traffic as well as individual countries, while Semrush limits you to viewing traffic graphs on a country-by-country basis.

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, 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’ (pictured below).

Semrush's competitive positioning map feature
Semrush’s competitive positioning map feature is a useful tool for performing competitive analysis

This gives a really good ‘at-a-glance’ indication of how a site is performing against key competitors, based on how many keywords it ranks for and monthly traffic estimates.

On the subjects of graphs, although Ahrefs has been gradually introducing more of them to complement the data it provides, it’s probably fair 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 totally 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.

Semrush's "country switcher" tool
Semrush’s “country switcher” tool

But Semrush has the edge when it comes to historical data: so long as you are on a ‘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.

Accessing historical data in Semrush
Accessing historical keyword data in Semrush

Although Ahrefs does provide access to historical data too, it doesn’t go back quite as far: it lets you access backlink data from 2013 to the present day, and keyword ranking data from 2015 to the present day. Significantly however, you’ll need to be on a $999 plan to access this data.

Overall, both products do well in the domain analysis department, with Ahrefs probably getting the points for ease-of-use and Semrush getting the points for contextualising its data more obviously via graphs and data visualizations, and providing easier and cheaper 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.

Performing keyword research in Semrush
Performing keyword research in Semrush

Both platforms use percentage scores to indicate keyword difficulty — with a higher percentage indicating higher difficulty.

Keyword research being performed in Ahrefs
Viewing keyword analytics in Ahrefs using its ‘Keywords Explorer’ feature

Identifying keyword intent

Semrush gives you more context about why users perform particular searches than Ahrefs, thanks to its useful ‘keyword 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:

Keyword intent data in Semrush
Keyword intent data in Semrush

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 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

Transaction = the user wants to complete an action (i.e., a purchase or other conversion).

There’s nothing really comparable from Ahrefs on this front.

Keywords by intent data
Keywords by intent data in Semrush — this information is great for helping you identify the most profitable keywords

Now, Semrush’s keyword intent feature comes into its own 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 a bit overwhelming.

But the ‘keyword 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.

Filtering keyword suggestions by intent
Filtering keyword suggestions by intent

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.

Keyword 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; 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.

Identifying 'informational intent' keywords in Ahrefs
Identifying ‘informational intent’ organic keywords in Ahrefs — unlike Semrush, its ‘Keywords Explorer’ tool doesn’t surface this automatically.

This does get you to the data you need, but it’s a rather more manual and time-consuming process than the Semrush way of doing things.

Keyword lists

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.

Creating a keyword list in Ahrefs
Creating a keyword list in Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool

The functionality on offer here is pretty similar.

Video guide: how to perform keyword research with Semrush

For a limited time, you can access a 30 day trial of Semrush here (the normal trial lasts just 7 days).

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.

Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty score graph
Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty score is accompanied by an estimate of how many links you’ll need to rank in the top 10.

Semrush introduced this feature considerably later than Ahrefs, but the good news is that the platform takes a similar approach now:

Backlink target data in Semrush
Backlink target data in Semrush

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.”

Example of a 'very hard' keyword score in Semrush.
Unlike Ahrefs, you don’t always get a ‘backlink-building’ estimate from Semrush, especially where ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’ keyword difficulty scores are concerned.

For most queries that I tried out in Semrush however, the feature worked fine and returned the 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 etc.). This isn’t provided by Semrush.

Clickthrough data in Ahrefs
Ahrefs shows you not just the search volume of a particular keyword, but the likely number of clicks it will generate

It also shows you a really 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.

Traffic potential statistics in Ahrefs
The ‘traffic potential’ figure

In many contexts, this can data be extremely useful in helping you identify 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 also a bit better than the Semrush ‘keyword gap’ equivalent too. Both tools 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 4).

Ahrefs' 'Content Gap' tool
Ahrefs’ ‘Content Gap’ tool

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 for.

While Semrush only provides data for one search engine, Google, Ahrefs lets you perform keyword research for 10, including big hitters like YouTube and Amazon.

Unlike Semrush, Ahrefs lets you get data for a large number of search engines (Semrush only provides data from Google).
Unlike Semrush, Ahrefs lets you get data for a large number of search engines (Semrush only provides data from Google).

To be fair to Semrush, the emphasis on Google is pretty understandable, given its current dominance of the search engine market — 92.6% at time of writing (source: Statcounter).

But nonetheless 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:

  • Google
  • Youtube
  • Amazon
  • Bing
  • Yahoo
  • Yandex
  • Baidu
  • Daum
  • Naver
  • Seznam

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 metrics and features provided for keyword analysis in Ahrefs are only available for Google data.

PPC research

If you’re looking for a research tool to cover both organic search and PPC, you’ll find Semrush to be the more suitable tool.

This is because it returns a larger amount of Google Ads data, including:

  • keywords
  • ad positions
  • competitors
  • adverts displayed
  • ad campaign history
  • landing pages
  • subdomains used in ad campaigns.

You get to see this data when you enter a domain into Semrush’s ‘Advertising Research’ tool.

Conducting advertising research in Semrush
Semrush is the better platform where PPC data is concerned

Ahrefs does show some PPC related info, but it’s more limited — you get to see the keywords used to advertise a domain, headlines for the ads displayed for that domain 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.

Ahrefs keyword research video — a quick demonstration

Free Webmaster Tools from Ahrefs | Full Ahrefs review | Subscribe on YouTube

Overall I’d probably give Ahrefs the 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 superb.

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.

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 comes 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. However, you do have to be on a more expensive plan — the $229.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher — to gain access to them.

Content audit tools in Semrush
Content audit tools in Semrush

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.

Using Ahrefs to surface influential authors
Using Ahrefs to surface influential authors (in this case, people who write a lot about cake!)

Let’s take a look now at a very important aspect of SEO, backlink analysis.

Advert for Ahrefs

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.

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’ 216.3 million (figures correct at time of writing).

Semrush's latest statistics on its domain database size
Semrush backlink database and keyword database statistics (correct at time of writing)

This means that in theory, Semrush should be able to provide more comprehensive data for analyzing backlinks.

I did a simple test to see how this played out in practice, however, by 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:

WebsiteAhrefsSemrush
Amazon3.4m3.5m
BigCommerce445k350k
Canva378k362k
Ecwid63k67k
Godaddy1.5m2.3m
Jimdo742k740k
Shopify2.5m1.7m
Squarespace794k184k
Webflow300k233k
Wix1.6m1.4m

So although Semrush has the bigger domain database, in my tests, the Ahrefs backlink analysis tool generally performed better when it came to surfacing referring domains, it ‘won’ 7 out of the 10 contests involved.

Ahrefs domain database stats (correct at time of writing)
Ahrefs domain database statistics (correct at time of writing)

Of course, it’s important to note that this was a small-scale test and you shouldn’t read too much into the results. However, what they do show is that a bigger domain database won’t always translate into ‘bigger’ data — it will depend on the sites and research involved.

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.

Semrush's 'backlink gap' tool
Semrush’s ‘backlink gap’ tool

Ahrefs’ link intersect tool gives you more fine grain information than Semrush’s, because it allows you to compare a URL against 10 others, whereas 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).

Ahrefs’ link intersect feature.
Ahrefs’ ‘link intersect’ feature can be used to surface link building opportunities

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).

A toxic link report in Semrush — Ahrefs doesn't provide a similar feature.
Semrush provides comprehensive data on toxic backlinks

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).

In fact, 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!

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 reason to choose Semrush.

The ‘link building’ tool in Semrush is more useful, however. This 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 dealing with a spreadsheet of URLs — you’re dealing with a more ‘CRM-style’ interface, with each domain listed as a ‘domain prospect.’ 

'Domain prospects' in Semrush
‘Domain prospects’ in Semrush

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.).

Conducting link outreach using Semrush
Conducting link outreach using Semrush

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, 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, there’s a 30-day free trial available which you can access using this link.


Site auditing

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.

Ahrefs site audit results
Ahrefs site audit results

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.

Contextual SEO help in Semrush
Contextual help on site audit results in Semrush

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.

Suggestions generated by Semrush's on-page SEO checker
Suggestions generated by Semrush’s on-page SEO checker

Ahrefs also provides you with a decent on-page SEO checker, but the suggestions provided are more of a technical nature — i.e., you won’t get the ideas for improving your content or link profile that Semrush also provides.

One particularly neat touch that you’ll find in Semrush’s site audit 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.

Sending technical SEO tasks to Trello
Sending technical SEO tasks to Trello using Semrush’s site audit tool

(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.

Core Web Vitals data in Semrush
Core Web Vitals data in Semrush

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 I found a bit frustrating while trying to access this data in Ahrefs is that in order to view it, you have to locate and enter a Google API key — this isn’t particularly hard to do, but I’d prefer not to!

Enabling the Core Web Vitals feature in Ahrefs
Enabling the Core Web Vitals feature in Ahrefs requires you to enter a 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 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 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).

Finding broken backlinks in Ahrefs
Finding broken backlinks in Ahrefs

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.

Banner advert for Microsoft 365

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 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.

Accessing Ahrefs broken outgoing links report
Accessing Ahrefs broken outgoing links report

In Semrush however, you have to run a site audit on your website in Semrush to spot them. You run the audit and go to the ‘warnings’ section of your site audit report, where you’ll be able to access a full list of problem outbound links.

Using Semrush's 'Site Audit' feature to identify broken links
Using Semrush’s ‘Site Audit’ feature to identify broken 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).

Advert for Ahrefs

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).

The Ahrefs interface in use
Using the Ahrefs interface to get data on a target keyword

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, PPC data and pipelines).

And if you like data visualization, the Semrush approach will definitely appeal.

Data visualization in Semrush
Semrush places a big emphasis on data visualization.

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.

Semrush trial details

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: $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 discount of up to 17% is available if you pay on an annual basis, and there’s also a free trial available.

Plans and pricing for Semrush
Semrush pricing plans

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.

Ahrefs pricing plans
Ahrefs pricing plans

There isn’t a free trial available for Ahrefs, but you can pay $7 to try the platform out for 7 days, or alternatively 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 quite a lot of key tools, including its content gap, link intersect and broken link building tools.

This will effectively force anybody who’s serious about SEO onto the more expensive ‘Standard’ plan.

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).

Ahrefs pricing for 'power' and 'casual' users
Ahrefs pricing for ‘power’ and ‘casual’ users

The difference between the two types of accounts involves how many reports a user can pull each month: 500 in the case of a power user, and 100 in the case of a casual one.

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).

Projects

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.

Verifying domain ownership in Ahrefs
Verifying domain ownership in Ahrefs

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 doesn’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

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 $229.95 and $449.95 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.

Semrush add-ons

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 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.
Semrush's local SEO add-on
Semrush’s local SEO add-on

Recently, a content analytics tool, ‘Impact Hero,’ was added to the selection of add-ons. At $200 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 $150 per month, irrespective of what plan you’re on.

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.

18 third-party apps / integrations are currently available, with a focus that’s mainly on analytics and data; they range in cost from $14.99 to $169 per month, per user.

Some of the Semrush apps that are currently available in its App Center
Some of the Semrush apps that are currently available in its App Center

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.

Reporting

Semrush is much more generous when it comes to the number of reporting requests you can make every 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’ 500 per month limit.

This comparative generosity continues as you go up the pricing ladder: while the Semrush limits increase significantly, letting you pull 10,000 reports a day if you need to on its Business plan, all the Ahrefs plans cap you at 500 per month (and that’s the limit that applies to ‘power users’; as discussed above, the limit is just 100 for ‘casual’ ones).

PPC 

If you’re working on a mix of SEO and PPC projects, you may 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).

Social media

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 essentially 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.


Customer support

Semrush has a slight edge in the support department, because it offers three channels of support: phone, chat, and email.

Ahrefs provides two: chat and email.

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 (so long as you’re logged in) Semrush’s phone number is clearly listed at the bottom of the screen too.

Accessing Semrush customer support
An easy-to-access live chat option is available at the bottom of both the Ahrefs and Semrush interfaces.

Because of the fact that the company offers phone support and Ahrefs doesn’t, it’s probably an overall win in this area for Semrush.


Free trials

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 30-day 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, 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 a 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 few 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 ‘keyword 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 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’s much easier to do broken link analysis with Ahrefs.
  • Its ‘content gap’ and ‘link intersect’ gaps are better than Semrush’s equivalent tools.
  • 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.
  • 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 Semrush over Ahrefs

  • Its pricing structure is simpler and its entry-level plan gives users a lot more bang for the buck than the Ahrefs equivalent.
  • In particular, 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 ‘keyword intent’ tool is great for identifying the most relevant keywords for your business (or those most likely to lead to purchases).
  • 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 loads data more quickly than Ahrefs’.
  • It 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 — Ahrefs only free gives you access to some limited features.

Alternatives to Semrush and Ahrefs

Semrush and Ahrefs are not the only options when it comes to SEO software. Alternatives include:

  • GrowthBar
  • SE Ranking
  • Moz
  • Serpstat
  • Mangools
  • SEO Power Suite
  • Majestic
  • Google’s keyword planner (this becomes available for free when you advertise on Google).

For more information about how Ahrefs and Semrush compares to Moz, do check out our Moz versus Semrush comparison and our Moz vs Ahrefs shootout.

To learn even more about Ahrefs and Semrush, you can check out our full Ahrefs review here, or our full Semrush review here.

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 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.

Comments (24)

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Chris – great comparison! We have a well established NYC restaurant and clientele – 20+ years. We have used social media minimally to attract business. Between these two SEO resources is there one you think will be more optimal (Semrush vs. Ahrefs) for our needs. There is only one user. We should be doing more to increase traction, understanding their spending and dining habits and understanding from what areas our customers come from. We have a intl. and domestic clientele. Thank You. Bob

Hey Bob – thanks for the comment (and sorry for the late reply!). To be honest either of these tools would serve you well in terms of optimizing your website and finding keywords to target (but if there’s only one user involved I suspect Semrush will represent better value for you — you’ll probably be fine on its entry level plan, which has generous reporting limits for one user). To find out where your site visitors are coming from you’d be better served by an analytics tool like Google Analytics or Fathom Analytics, and to understand spending and dining habits you’ll probably need to look at the sales figures on whatever point of sale system you’re using to accept payment in your restaurant. Hope this helps a bit?

Hey Moh, thanks for your comment. Both tools have a similar learning curve; Semrush has an edge when it comes to pricing for newbies, however, as its entry level plan gives you more generous reporting limits. The main reason I’d go for Ahrefs over Semrush is to get access to its ‘traffic potential’ metric, which is a truly great feature (see details in the review above). But Semrush’s keyword intent tool – which is also really useful – is something that’s missing from Ahrefs! It’s a hard call, and my advice would be to try both out to see which you prefer before making a decision. But if you’re looking at it solely from a financial point of view, you’ll usually find that you get more bang for your buck with Semrush.

You need to look for the ‘Authority Score’ metric – this is Semrush’s equivalent of DR. You should see this when you perform domain analysis in Semrush. Some more details here: https://www.semrush.com/blog/semrush-authority-score-explained/

I have a few websites, all based on the same type of service. Auto Driveaway. Which one would be best, and most affordable, for someone with between 30k-40k visitors per year? I would love to be able to increase my traffic, through better knowledge and therefore better search results. Its overwhelming to say the least.

Thank you

Hi Mark, thanks for your query – yes, it can be tough deciding between these two products. My general take is that if your main focus is Google, then Semrush probably offers the most bang for the buck, because its project management tools are really good for managing link outreach (plus it does a bit of contact surfacing for you too).

If you are also doing a lot on YouTube, however, there’s a strong case for going with Ahrefs, as it includes data for the YouTube search engine and several others too.

There’s also the question of which one you find easier to use – I’d suggest trying both, having a play, and seeing if one product or the other jumps out at you as being more user-friendly, easier to understand etc.

Hope this helps a little?

A client just reached out to me and asked this question. I basically said in a sentence what you said over 4,000+ words; it’s a tie you need both 🙂

Thanks Simon – although I think one of these product will probably suit a lot of users perfectly well. Really depends on the context and whether you need access to non-Google search data.

Wonderfully unbiased piece, thank you. Started the trial for both. Have you looked at Sitebulb for the audit piece? It was recommended to me.

Thanks for the feedback Melanie! Haven’t tried Sitebulb yet, no, but will aim to look at it as we expand our SEO tool reviews section 🙂

Nice detailed comparison of the two most used tools in the SEO industry. I think you should include some result output comparison though?

Hello Chris, To be honest, Your Semrush and Ahrefs review and comparison is really genuine. You did not promote anything here and it’s natural flow.

However, I would like to use SEMrush. But after reading your guide, I’m happy that I’ve chosen SEMrush already. 🙂

Thanks SaranSaro

Hey, Nice detailed comparison of the two most used tools in SEO industry. I think you should include some result output comparison. For example, if you do a keyword research the result returned should have been compared.

Very helpful report, thank you. A key element for me is the visualisation aspect (for senior reporting to non-digital types).

I love and use both. As you said both are good at different things. They’ve both come in so much in the last 3 or so years too. I’ve used Ahrefs since the early days when it was just about backlink and SEMRush when it was SEO Quake and started as a keyword research tool. The other part of my toolset is Screaming Frog SEO Spider. It’s so quick and basic yet provides so much.

Thanks Michael. Screaming Frog is great too – particularly for checking that migrations have gone okay.

I think this is a really detailed report and very helpful, thank you! I’ll definitely need the seo audit and semrush is the winner here. But my feeling in general is that ahref is a bit better. I’m going to try both tools in the next week and decide then.

So after reading all that you don’t answer the question in the title whether or not one is better than the other. Thanks for wasting my time…

Thanks for reading the post and for the feedback Lee. I’d respectfully disagree — the post makes it clear that in certain situations, SEMrush is better, and in others Ahrefs. For a quick summary of those, check out the ‘Reasons to use Ahrefs over SEMrush’ / ‘Reasons to use SEMrush over Ahrefs’ sections at the very end.