Spyfu vs Semrush (2024) — Which SEO Tool Should You Use?

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The quick verdict

Overall, Semrush is a much more powerful SEO platform than SpyFu, giving you access to more competitor analysis data, more SEO tools and more report types. And, unlike SpyFu, there’s also a generous free trial available for the platform. Key features from Semrush that you won’t find in SpyFu include site auditing, search intent data, broken backlink building tools and a CRM-style interface for backlink building.

The key reason to use SpyFu instead of Semrush is its price — it’s considerably cheaper, and on two of its three plans you get unlimited access to reports. Its rank tracking limits are more generous than Semrush’s too.

Key reasons to use SpyfuKey reasons to use Semrush
It’s considerably cheaperMuch bigger and more powerful feature set
Historical data is available on all plansBigger backlink database
Multiple user accounts on premium planSearch intent data provided automatically
More generous rank tracking limitsGives you data for more countries
Arguably a bit easier to useBuilt-in project management tools for outreach
Unlimited reporting available on some plansGenerous free trial

Semrush vs SpyFu video comparison

Try the products out

SpuFu and Semrush are two of the most popular SEO tools available — but which of the two is better for generating more organic traffic to your website?

In this post, I’m going to help you find out. I’ll cover…

  • Domain analysis
  • Keyword research features
  • PPC research features
  • Backlink analysis
  • Site auditing
  • Broken link analysis
  • Ease of use
  • Pricing and value for money
  • Support

…and more!

Let’s start with a key question…

What are SpyFu and Semrush?

SpyFu and Semrush are two platforms that help you optimize your website for search engines.

The SpyFu platform
SpyFu

They do this in lots of different ways, but the main thing they give you is information — information that you can use to:

  • discover exactly what people are searching for in your business’ niche
  • create new content that will attract organic search traffic
  • identify link-building opportunities
  • change technical aspects of your website in ways that will help it rank higher in search results.

Both tools provide you with keyword ideas — based on phrases that you enter — that can be used to create engaging blog posts that are more likely to rank highly.

They’ll also tell you how heard it will be to rank for specific keywords.

And they’ll help you identify websites to approach for backlinks.

The Semrush platform
Semrush

Both SpyFu and Semrush work with any content management system, so regardless of whether you’re using Squarespace, Wix or Shopify (or indeed any other content management system), you can use all the features provided by either platform to improve your rankings.

I’ll go through all these features in depth as I progress through this comparison — beginning with something called domain analysis.

Domain analysis

One of the most useful things you can do with SpyFu and Semrush is domain analysis.

This means getting a general take on 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.

Accessing domain analytics in SpyFu
Accessing domain analytics in SpyFu

Carrying out domain analysis is straightforward in both SpyFu and Semrush — you just enter a domain into a ‘domain overview’ section and and key metrics are returned quickly for you, in a dashboard format.

Performing domain analysis in Semrush

With both tools, metrics provided include:

  • An estimate of the total number of organic visitors to the website each month.
  • An estimate of the amount of paid search traffic to the website each month.
  • The total number of keywords the website ranks for.
  • The top keywords the website ranks for.
  • A list of key competing domains.

Semrush gives you some pretty important metrics that you won’t find in SpyFu’s domain overview dashboard, however.

Chief amongst these is an authority score — a piece of data that tells you, at a glance, how ‘powerful’ a domain is from an SEO point of view. The higher the score for a domain, the more likely it is that content placed on it will rank highly, or that a link from it will positively influence the rankings of a site being linked to.

Semrush's authority score
The authority score in Semrush

(That said, there is a ‘domain strength’ metric available in some SypFu reports. For example, if you look at a backlink report for a domain, you’ll see this beside each linking domain listed. But weirdly, SpyFu doesn’t show you an authority score for the actual domain you’re investigating!).

Then, there’s search intent data. Semrush doesn’t just tell you about the number of keywords a site ranks for — it also gives you information about why people are using them during searches.

Its ‘keyword by intent’ box breaks down the type of keywords that a site ranks for into four categories: informational, navigational, commercial and transactional. These tell you what a user is trying to do when performing a search (find information, locate something, buy a product etc.).

Semrush's search intent data
Semrush’s search intent data

I’ll discuss search intent in more depth shortly, but for now I’ll just say that it comes in very useful in SEO, and there’s nothing really comparable from SpyFu in its domain overview.

Another key difference between Semrush and Spyfu’s domain overview tools is the number of countries you can perform domain analysis for. While Semrush shows you how a domain is performing in circa 120 countries, SpyFu limits you to doing so with 14 territories (see screenshot below for the exact list).

Supported countries for domain analysis — when comparing Spyfu vs Semrush, you'll note that Semrush lets you access data from considerably more countries
Supported countries for domain analysis in SpyFu

And unlike Semrush, SpyFu doesn’t let you get a global overview of domain data — you have to do things on a per-country basis. This stops you from getting a more holistic view of a domain.

As you can see in the screenshot below, Semrush gives you a simple ‘worldwide’ button that gives you an analysis of a domain at a genuinely global level.

Semrush's 'worldwide' button
Semrush’s ‘worldwide’ button

Traffic analysis in SpyFu and Semrush

As part of their domain overviews, both SpyFu and Semrush give you reports showing the monthly traffic to the domain you’re looking at — but it’s important to note that the figures provided here are estimates.

Unlike SpyFu, however, Semrush gives you an indication of how accurate the estimates are likely to be — high, medium or low. (You’ll need to navigate to a separate ‘traffic analytics’ tool to access this data however — it’s not displayed on the domain overview.)

Semrush traffic accuracy estimate
Information provided by Semrush about the accuracy of its traffic estimates

And, as discussed above, SpyFu doesn’t give you a ‘global’ view of a domain’s data. This causes particular headaches when it comes to traffic estimates, because you’ll only ever see a partial view of how much traffic is going to a site.

During my own testing and research, using sites for which I have access to visitor data, I found that Semrush’s estimates were the more accurate of the two — although in several cases, not terribly so!

(In general I’ve found Semrush’s estimates to be more accurate when sites with higher traffic levels — typically 50k+ — are being examined.)

In truth, the important thing to remember with either set of traffic statistics is that they are best used to identify trends (i.e., is site A more popular than sites B and C?) — rather than being taken as gospel. But of the traffic estimates returned, Semrush’s are more useful, mainly because you can use them to get a sense of global traffic levels to a website.

Overall, both Spyfu and Semrush will give useful insights into the SEO peformance of a domain. But due to its more comprehensive data, its global overviews and the provision of an authority score, the winner here is definitely Semrush.

Now, let’s take a look at keyword research features — a very important aspect of both platforms.

Keyword research features

Keyword research involves four key processes: 

  • 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.

And both SpyFu and Semrush make it fairly easy to to carry these tasks out.

In both platforms, you just enter a phrase into a keyword overview tool 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.

Semrush's 'Keyword Overview' feature
Semrush’s Keyword Overview report

Both platforms use scores out of 100 to indicate keyword difficulty — with a higher percentage indicating higher difficulty.

The SpyFu keyword difficulty score
The SpyFu keyword difficulty score

However, with Semrush, you get more context about keyword difficulty — not only do you get you a general score that indicates how hard it will be to rank for a keyword, you’re also told how many backlinks you’ll need to for it to rank in the top ten search results on Google).

Semrush's estimate of the number of backlinks needed to rank for a query
Semrush’s estimate of the number of backlinks needed to rank for a query

(Google effectively treats backlinks as votes — the more high-quality links you have pointing to a piece of content, the more likely it is to rank highly in search results).

How do SpyFu and Semrush calculate keyword difficulty scores?

The way that SpyFu and Semrush calculate keyword difficulty is rather different.

Semrush examines 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.

SpyFu, by contrast, focuses mainly on backlinks pointing to sites ranking highly for particular keywords (and the quality of those links).

During my tests of both platforms, I ran a few keywords through both tools to see if they were consistent in identifying particular phrases as easy or hard to rank for. Here are some examples from my results:

PhraseSypfu difficultySemrush difficulty
Beatles albums3467
Blue iPhone case1733
Chocolate cake2382
Chromebook5089
Google Workspace42100
Harry Potter66100
Les Paul guitar2945
Pancake recipe2584

As you can see from the data above, my tests revealed a large discrepancy between how hard SpyFu and Semrush think it will be to rank for keywords (on a broad range of topics).

In each test, SpyFu flagged the keyword involved as being easier to rank for than Semrush did.

To benchmark this data, I ran the keywords through another SEO tool, Ahrefs (another well-respected SEO platform), to see what Ahrefs made of them from a difficulty perspective.

In effect, I wanted Ahrefs to be a judge of sorts. And, in six out of my eight tests, the Ahrefs keyword difficulty score was considerably closer to the Semrush score than the SpyFu equivalent.

Although we’re talking about a small sample of data here, my impression based on these tests (and from playing around with SpyFu’s keyword research tool in general) is that SpyFu tends to downplay keyword difficulty at times, especially where branded keywords are involved.

Getting keyword suggestions

When you look up a keyword in SpyFu and Semrush, in addition to being presented with the the ‘difficulty’ metrics discussed above, you are also given access to a wide range of keyword variations — alternative phrases that you might want to consider using in an SEO campaign.

Keyword suggestions in SpyFu
Getting organic keyword suggestions in SpyFu

In SpyFu, you use the appropriately-named ‘Related Keywords’ tab to access this data; in Semrush, you click on its ‘Keyword Magic’ tool.

When testing keyword suggestion features, I found that both tools returned large and relevant lists, with the number of suggestions returned by Semrush for a given keyword typically being larger.

This is not surprising, given that its keyword database is considerably bigger than SpyFu’s — it contains 25+bn keywords to SpyFu’s 7bn.

The Keyword Magic tool in Semrush

The other thing you get more of with Semrush when it comes to keyword suggestions is contextual data. Each keyword suggestion in Semrush is accompanied by nine additional pieces of data, namely:

  • search intent
  • search volume
  • the trend of searches over time
  • keyword difficulty
  • cost-per-click value
  • PPC competitive density
  • SERP features
  • the number of search results for a keyword
  • the date that it was updated in Semrush’s database.

By contrast, SpyFu accompanies its keyword suggestions with just three pieces of contextual data — volume, keyword difficulty and cost-per-click value.

In terms of the filters that you can use to narrow down your keyword suggestions into realistic targets, both platforms give you a good range of options here, with Semrush giving you a few more options (18 filters to SpyFu’s 15).

Unlike Semrush, SpyFu gives you quite a few filters relating to ad campaigns — you can filter by things like the percentage of paid clicks through to a particular keyword, or the total number of advertisers bidding on a particular phrase.

SpyFu filter examples
Examples of keyword research filters in SpyFu

Semrush’s filters are more to do with sifting through organic search results — and give you more fine grain control over things like format (broad match, phrase match, exact match, question etc.), language and search intent.

Semrush keyword research filters
Examples of keyword research filters in Semrush

And speaking of search intent…

Identifying search intent

As discussed briefly earlier, Semrush gives you more context about why users perform particular searches than Semrush, thanks to its very 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:

Search intent box in Semrush
Search intent box in Semrush

In the example above, you can see that for a search phrase of ‘Microsoft 365’, Semrush thinks that the intent behind the user’s search is likely to be ‘navigational.’

Semrush also automatically highlights when the search intent is likely to be ‘transactional’,’informational’ or ‘commercial.’

These types of keyword search intent are defined by Semrush as follows:

Informational = user wants to find a specific answer to a question

Commercial = user wants to investigate brands or services

Navigational = user wants to find a particular page or website

Transactional = user wants to complete an action (i.e., make a purchase or complete a form).

There’s nothing really comparable from SpyFu on this front, so it’s a definite 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 typically end up with a huge list of suggested phrases, and it can be hard to spot the phrases that are most likely to generate revenue for you.

But Semrush’s ‘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 lucrative for your business.

Using search intent filters in Semrush
Using search intent filters in Semrush

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.

Although SpyFu does provide some help resources on identifying search intent, it doesn’t give you a comparable feature, so it’s another clear win for Semrush in this area.

Semrush banner advert

Keyword lists

Semrush allows you to create lists of organic keywords that you can refer to any time you like, using its ‘Keyword Manager’ tool (pictured below). This lets you create lists of target keywords and keep tabs on their evolving difficulty scores and search volumes.

A Semrush keyword list
Creating a target keyword list in Semrush

Recently, Semrush has enhanced this feature by adding a ‘keyword clustering’ feature to it. You can use this to get Semrush to either:

  • suggest topic clusters based on a keyword you enter
  • organize your keywords into topical clusters.

The aim of this feature is to help make the process of establishing ‘topical authority‘ on a website — where you cover a topic in an exhaustive and logical way — quicker and easier.

Clustering topics in Semrush
Clustering topics in Semrush

(Google can give preferential treatment to sites that are clearly authorities on certain topics, and contain a lot of content focused on topically relevant phrases).

I like this ‘clustering’ feature, but I think it needs a little bit of work — some of the results can be a little bit off target.

SpyFu lets you build keyword lists too, but the process for doing so is quite confusing. Rather than just being able to create individual lists based around topics of your choosing (as is the case with Semrush), you have to associate them with particular domains and ‘projects’.

And, when you do so, your keyword list — known as a ‘Keyword Universe‘ — is pre-populated with a lot of keywords that SpyFu thinks should be on your list (based on the content on your domain). This can be useful — but also a nuisance, depending on your aims. You can create ‘groups’ of keywords within a ‘Keyword Universe,’ which serves as a workaround, but overall the process is clunky and not remotely as intuitive as Semrush’s.

Additionally, SpyFu’s keyword lists don’t display keyword difficulty scores, making them considerably less useful than the Semrush equivalents.

So, when it comes to creating and managing keyword lists, it’s another clear win for Semrush.

What search engines do SpyFu and Semrush pull data from?

So far in this comparison, we’ve seen Semrush winning out in the keyword research department. However, SpyFu does have one advantage over its rival in this area, in that it lets you access data from more search engines. While Semrush only provides data for one search engine, Google, SpyFu gives you some organic ranking history data from Bing, which you can access when viewing a project.

Bing data in SpyFu
Bing data in SpyFu

Now to be fair to Semrush, the emphasis on Google is pretty understandable, given its current dominance of the search engine market — 91.61% at time of writing (source: Statcounter).

And the Bing data you get from Semrush is pretty limited too — you won’t get search volumes or keyword difficulty scores for Bing, just some rank tracking data.

But nonetheless, the presence of some additional search engine data in its platform does represent a bit of a win for SpyFu.

Pay-per-click (PPC) research features

In addition to letting you access data relating to organic search restuls, both Semrush and SpyFu let you access a considerable amount of Google pay-per-click (PPC) data. Both are considerably better than key rivals Ahrefs and Moz for this purpose.

In SpyFu, a dedicated ‘PPC research tab‘ gives you access to a wealth of data about the ads currently being run by a particular domain (and key competing ones).

SpyFu's PPC research tab
SpyFu’s PPC research tab

Metrics and tools available from SpyFu in this section include:

  • the paid keywords currently being used by a company
  • traffic being generated by those paid keywords
  • the cost for using those keywords
  • key competitors bidding on the same keywords
  • a history of the PPC ads that the company you’re researching has run
  • suggestions on what keywords to bid on
  • campaign templates for use with Google Ads

To access PPC data in Semrush, you go to its dedicated ‘Advertising’ tab, where you can access a range of similar features.

Performing PPC research in Semrush
Performing PPC research in Semrush

In terms of the key differences between SpyFu and Semrush’s PPC research tools, one edge that SpyFu has over Semrush is its ‘Google Ads Advisor’ feature. This quickly surfaces a list of PPC keywords that SpyFu thinks you should consider bidding on (based on competitor activity and cost).

The Google Ads Advisor feature
SpyFu’s ‘Google Ads Advisor’ feature

Another nifty feature offered by SpyFu for which there’s no direct Semrush equivalent is its ‘Google Ads Templates’ tool. This works with the downloadable Google Ads Editor and aims to give you ‘ready-to-import’ Adwords campaigns based on criteria you specify.

Downloading ad templates in SpyFu
Downloading ad templates in SpyFu

SpyFu also wins in the PPC department when it comes to ad history — at time of writing, over 17 years of data is available to draw on (which compares positively with Semrush’s 12 or so years of history). This ad history data informs the PPC keyword suggestions that SpyFu provides, and the keywords included in its ads templates.

Semrush is no slouch in the PPC department, however, and provides some advertising research features that are not available in SpyFu.

Most significantly, Semrush gives you the option to conduct advertising research for services other than Google — you can, for example, use a paid-for third-party app like ‘Ad Assistant’ or ‘AdClarity’ to research and optimize advertising opportunities on other platforms (including social media).

The 'Adclarity' app for Semrush
The ‘AdClarity’ app for Semrush

And finally, Semrush has a dedicated section for analysing Google’s ‘Product Listing Ads’ (PLA). These are the product ads that typically appear in carousel format at the top of Google search results (see screenshot below for an example of some of these).

Example of Google PLA ads
Example of Google PLA ads

You can enter a domain into Semrush’s advertising dashboard and get a detailed list of PLA ads that are being run by a particular company (along with the keywords used to place them).

Overall, when it comes to PPC and advertising data in SpyFu and Semrush — and unlike the other features we’ve discussed so far — the products are pretty closely matched, both giving you lots of useful data about advertising campaigns.

The key advantage that Semrush has in this department is flexibility — you can access data about more campaign types using the tool (albeit sometimes at a price, via paid-for third-party apps).

SpyFu’s advantage here is that it gives you access to comprehensive PPC data at a much lower price point than Semrush (I discuss pricing in more depth shortly).

Content marketing in Semrush and SpyFu

In addition to providing SEO and PPC research features, Semrush also provides content marketing tools.

These come in the form of a ‘content marketing platform’, which helps you:

  • 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

Semrush also provides ‘Compose with AI’ option; this works in a similar way to the increasingly popular ChatGPT tool, writing short sections of texts based on prompts you give it. In my tests I found this worked pretty well, especially when I was prompting it to create factual content.

Semrush's 'SEO Writing Assistant' feature
Semrush’s ‘SEO Writing Assistant’ feature in use

However, you will have to pay extra to get the most out of this AI feature: by default it only writes 1,500 words for you per month. A $49 per-month fee extends this to a more practical 200,000 word limit.

Ultimately Semrush’s content marketing tools are very helpful in quite a few contexts. However, you do have to be on a more expensive plan — Semrush’s $249.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher — to gain access to them.

Example of content created using Semrush's 'Compose with AI' feature.
Example of content created using Semrush’s ‘Compose with AI’ feature.

As for SpyFu, there isn’t much in the way of built-in content marketing tools available from the platform, but the company behind the software has recently released a related AI writing tool, ‘RivalFlow AI.’ This costs between $79 and $199 per month to use.

RivalFlow AI looks at your content and gives you data on:

  • questions your competitors answer that you don’t
  • questions your competitors answer more thoroughly than you do
  • questions you both answer.

Based on this information, you can adjust your content to make it more comprehensive and (theoretically at least) outrank your rivals.

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

A banner advert for Semrush

How well a site performs in search results usually depends heavily on how many backlinks — external sites linking to it — exist for the site in question.

Both SpyFu and Semrush let you enter a domain name and view a list of all the backlinks to it that each tool can find.

Based on the figures made publicly available by SpyFu and Semrush, Semrush’s database of domains is considerably bigger than SpyFu’s, containing 808 million domains to SpyFu’s 123 million.

The latest Semrush backlink database stats
Semrush backlink database and keyword database statistics

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

SpyFu domain stats
SpyFu domain statistics

I was curious to see how this played out in practice however, so I conducted some simple tests on both tools’ ability to surface backlinks. These involved running some of the websites for ecommerce and design tools that we review through both platforms.

Here’s the number of backlinks found for each site by SpyFu and Semrush:

WebsiteSpyFuSemrush
Amazon48m9.6bn
BigCommerce3.9m817m
Canva91m90m
Ecwid90k18.4m
Godaddy592k1.2bn
Jimdo3k151m

As you can see from the data in the table above, Semrush beat SpyFu in terms of backlinks surfaced in each contest (and fairly comprehensively too).

Yes, this was a small test, but the results were consistent with other research I did into both platforms — whenever I pulled backlink reports using both tools, Semrush always gave me more data.

So when it comes to backlink database size, and the number of backlinks surfaced by both tools, it’s another win for Semrush.

In terms of the backlink analysis itself, 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.)

And Semrush presents this information nicely — simple but attractive graphs spell out the key stats in a way that helps you digest them easily.

Performing backlink analysis using Semrush
Backlink analysis in Semrush

You won’t really get comparable data from SpyFu — the backlink reporting is extremely basic in nature. You do get the option to filter by backlink type (blogs, news, .gov sites etc.), which is helpful, and the ability to surface backlinks that might be relevant to particular keywords.

Refining backlink results in SpyFu
Refining backlink results in SpyFu

Semrush and SpyFu both give you ‘link intersect’ tools, which allow you to compare a URL from your website against those from competing sites, and gives 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

Both these tools work in similar ways, but Semrush’s is better — simply because it uses a much bigger link database to provide results.

Advert (Semrush)

Semrush offers a couple of backlink-related features for which there’s no equivalent in SpyFu.

First, there’s a ‘backlink auditing’ tool which identifies ‘toxic’ links (spammy links that can lead to you being penalized 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 when ranking websites).

A toxic link report in Semrush
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.

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!

So, although some users may find Semrush’s toxic link tool useful in highlighting suspicious backlinks, I wouldn’t really view SpyFu’s omission of a similar tool as a key reason to choose Semrush instead.

Semrush’s ‘link building’ tool 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.’ 

'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 your email mailbox to Semrush).

Linkbuidling outreach using Semrush
Conducting link outreach using Semrush

This is a lovely feature.

Now, SpyFu does give you a backlink outreach tool too — however, it’s a lot more basic.

First, rather than automatically suggesting websites for you to approach (based on a URL you enter), SpyFu needs you to supply your own list of target sites. Once it’s got that, it will try to surface contacts for these.

But when testing this feature, I found that while SpyFu occasionally managed to surface Twitter or Facebook profiles for websites, unlike Semrush it didn’t didn’t give me any email addresses (it’s technically capable of doing so — it just didn’t give me any results for the sites I was targeting).

And, while SpyFu does let you associate tasks with websites, you’re not talking about a fully-fledged ‘CRM’ tool (i.e., similar to the one that Semrush gives you).

So all in all, when it comes to backlink auditing and building, the better tool by far is Semrush.

Trying out SpyFu and Semrush before you buy

SypyFu doesn’t offer a free trial, but does give you access to a free version of the tool that lets you run a small number of reports.

Semrush, by contrast, offers an entirely free trial. Normally speaking, this trial lasts just 7 days — but for a limited time, there’s an extended, 14-day free trial available which you can access using this link.

Site auditing

Semrush provides ‘site auditing’ features that allow you to evaluate how well your site is performing from a technical SEO and on-page SEO perspective.

A site audit will highlight issues that 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
  • Core web vital scores (site speed and stability metrics)
  • Broken inbound links

It will also give you an overall ‘site health’ score along with a list of problems that you need to address.

The Semrush ‘site health score’

Each problem is accompanied by contextual help regarding the issue involved, and tips on how to find a solution.

Example of contextual help in Semrush
Contextual help on site audit results

And in a nice touch, Semrush lets you export any problems it finds as tasks to the project management app Trello (you can also use Zapier to send them to other task management platforms).

Sending a task to Trelo
Sending a task to Trello

You can also send these tasks to Semrush’s own simple CRM tool, which is built into the platform.

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:

  • the best keywords to add to your content
  • steps you can take to make a page appear as a Google ‘featured snippet’
  • how to improve your body copy and meta descriptions
  • websites to approach for backlinks
  • the length of your content
  • internal linking strategies…

…and more.

As for SpyFu, unfortunately there are no site auditing tools included in the platform at all, meaning that when it comes to identifying technical improvements you could make to your site, it’s yet another win for Semrush.

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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, and
  • asking anybody who used to link to the dead content to link to yours instead.

This approach lets you build 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 however, you need to be able to identify broken links — and the bad news for SpyFu users is that this is not possible with the tool.

By contrast, Semrush does have a broken link building feature — to access broken links, you run a backlink analytics report, navigate to an ‘indexed pages’ section and click a ‘broken pages’ option.

Broken link identification in Semrush
Broken link identification in Semrush

So, if broken link building is likely to be an important part of your SEO strategy, the better tool here is Semrush.

It’s also important to ensure that your web pages don’t contain broken links to other sites — these can be interpreted as a sign of poor quality content by Google (with negative implications for search rankings).

Again, Semrush wins over SpyFu here — because it provides you with a means to spot broken outbound links while SpyFu doesn’t.

In order to find broken outbound links with Semrush, you’ll have to run a site audit on a domain; once this is 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.

Identifying broken outbound links in Semrush
Identifying broken outbound links in Semrush

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 — shortly).

A banner advert for Semrush

Interface and ease of use

It’s probably fair to say that SpyFu is, in general, a bit easier to use than Semrush — it’s interface is less cluttered, makes use of large fonts and it’s very easy to find key tools. Simple tabs at the top of the screen let you navigate easily between features.

SpyFu interface
The Spyfu interface

However, SpyFu’s ease-of-use is in large part down to the fact that it is considerably less feature-rich than Semrush — the reason that Semrush’s back end feels a bit busy at time is because you can do far more with the tool.

And, while testing these products I found that Semrush’s data loads considerably faster — sometimes it took a very long time for SpyFu to load data.

(For the record, this seemed to be more of an issue with organic search data than PPC data).

And, if you like data visualization, the Semrush approach will definitely appeal. It graphs just about every key piece of information you can think of.

Data visualization in Semrush
Data visualization in Semrush

There is one UX 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 SpyFu, 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, SpyFu is easier to use when it comes to getting at-a-glance information.

But for detailed analysis, project-based work and link building, Semrush makes life much easier.

Semrush banner advert

Pricing and value for money

Compared to other types of ‘SaaS’ (software as a service) apps, SEO tools can be very 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 competitive analysis data.

Semrush pricing plans (2023)
Semrush pricing plans

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.

SpyFu comes in 2 varieties:

  • Basic: $39 per month
  • Professional: $79 per month

If you pay upfront for a year, these fees are reduced dropping to $33 and $58 per month respectively.

So as you can see, SpyFu can work out considerably cheaper than Semrush.

(Further ‘lifetime’ discounts are currently available for SpyFu if you sign up for the platform and then start a free trial of its new ‘RivalFlow AI’ product — these let you use the product for a little as $8 per month).

There isn’t a free trial available for SpyFu, but you can make use of a free version of the tool — one that limits you to pulling just a few reports.

In terms of which product is better value, this will depend 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 you. Let’s take a look at these now.

Number of users

By default, all Semrush plans only come with one user account. If you want more seats, 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).

It’s not that clear at the moment what the situation with multiple user access is on SpyFu. There used to be a ‘Teams’ plan that let you work with five seats for $149 per month — but seems to have disappeared from the SpyFu pricing page, and neither the ‘Basic’ or ‘Professional’ plans support multiple users.

I reached out to the SpyFu customer support team to see if they could clarify the situation regarding multiple logins, but was informed that nobody was available to help (due to a national holiday in the US).

(I will reach out again to the SpyFu customer service team shortly and update this comparison with the relevant info on multi-user accounts).

Projects

It’s important to be aware that some features in Semrush and SpyFu can only be used on domains that have been added as ‘projects.’

Key Semrush features that fall into this category include site auditsbacklink auditslink prospect identification, on-page SEO checking and rank tracking.

Key SpyFu features that require a project slot include creating keyword lists and surfacing contacts for link building.

Now, with Semrush, how many projects you can have on the go depends on the plan you’re on — the entry level plan, at $129.95 per month, facilitates 5; the ‘Guru’ plan 15 and the ‘Business’ plan 40.

By contrast, there aren’t any limits on project slots in SpyFu at all (but that said, what you can actually do with a project in SpyFu is much more limited).

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 SpyFu’s rank tracker is more generous. Its ‘Basic’ plan lets you track 5,000 keywords and its ‘Professional’ plan lets you track 15,000.

The equivalent limits across Semrush’s plans are much less generous — 500, 1,500 and 5,000 on its ‘Pro,’ ‘Guru’ and ‘Business’ plans respectively.

So if rank tracking is a big part of what you do, you’ll find SpyFu to be the better value option here.

Historical data

SpyFu gives you access to historical data more cheaply than Semrush.

You have to be on a $249.95 ‘Guru’ plan or higher to get access to it in Semrush, while SpyFu gives you 6+ months of historical data on its $39 per-month ‘Basic’ plan and full access to its 17+ years of data on its other ones.

However, what you have to remember here is that Semrush’s database is much bigger than SpyFu’s — so with Semrush, you’ll be dealing with historical data that is better from both a quality and quantity point of view.

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 user per month (regardless of the plan you’re on), 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 your local rankings
  • manage your Google My Business and Facebook listings
  • monitor reviews and user suggestions.
Semrush's local SEO add-on
Semrush’s local SEO add-on

A content analytics tool, ‘Impact Hero,’ has recently been added to the selection of Semrush add-ons too. 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 and events 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 $69 to $249 per month extra on top of your plan, depending on what precise features you need (the more expensive version gives you higher visibility on the Agency Partners platform, full access to the Semrush CRM tool and access to a ‘bid finding’ tool that helps you identify contract opportunities).

The Semrush App Center

In addition to purchasing one of the the Semrush add-ons discussed above, you can also add features to your Semrush account by paying for a third-party app. These are available from the ‘Semrush App Center.’

At time of writing, 40 third-party apps / integrations are available. Their focus is mainly on analytics and data, and they range in cost from $10 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

Key apps in the Semrush app store 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 360 degree view of your competitors’ advertising activity across multiple advertising platforms.

SpyFu doesn’t provide a similar app store — but if you’re on its ‘Professional’ plan, you can use its API to integrate it with other applications.

Reporting limits

SpyFu is more generous when it comes to the number of reporting requests you can make each month, allowing you to pull unlimited reports on its ‘Professional’ plan, and 10,000 of any type of report on its ‘Basic’ plan (per month).

Semrush technically limits things a bit more tightly — but that said, it’s still one of the most generous SEO tools on the market when it comes to reporting (especially by comparison to key competitor Ahrefs). For example, even on its entry level plan, you can run 3,000 keyword reports per day — which in practical terms probably feels like unlimited reporting.

And you have to remember of course, that the quality of reports you can pull in Semrush is considerably higher than the SpyFu equivalents — as we’ve seen throughout this comparison, the amount of data you get from Semrush is much more comprehensive. The variety of reports you can pull in Semrush is much greater too.

PPC 

If you’re working exclusively on PPC projects, SpyFu is arguably the better value tool. It gives you a very comprehensive set of Google Ad related tools for a considerably lower price than Semrush.

However, if you’re happy to pay extra for Semrush — in the form of third-party apps — you’ll find that you can use the tool to do more comprehensive advertising research (i.e., research that is not limited to just Google ads but display advertising services too).

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 key 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 basically online marketing tools (rather than SEO ones), and will probably be viewed by many users as a ‘nice to have’ option rather than an essential piece of functionality. 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 from SpyFu.

Customer support

Semrush and SpyFu offer a similar level of customer support, both providing three channels of support: phone, live chat and email.

This offering is more comprehensive than that offered by key rivals Moz and Ahrefs (which more or less limit you to email support).

Both Semrush and SpyFu make it easy to contact support — there’s a support icon present at the bottom right corner of both interfaces. Semrush’s phone support is easier to get at however, thanks to a phone number shown prominently in the footer (you’ll need to be logged into your Semrush account to see this, however).

Free trials

As discussed above, with SpyFu, no free trial is available, but a free plan with limited access to data is available.

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 an extended double-length trial available. You can access this via this special link (note that you’ll need to enter your credit card details to start your trial, but so long as you cancel at the end of it, you won’t be charged).

SpyFu vs Semrush: conclusion

So which is better, SpyFu or Semrush? The answer is Semrush. It’s a much more feature-rich and capable tool that can be used to drive real improvements in organic traffic to a website. Yes, it’s considerably more expensive than SpyFu, but the quality of its data is higher, its database is much bigger and you can perform a much wider range of SEO tasks with it.

There is one area where SpyFu arguably wins, and that’s in its provision of detailed PPC data at a much lower price point than Semrush. Users on a low budget who only ever work on paid search campaigns may find that SpyFu represents the better-value choice.

But if you work on SEO, or a mix of SEO and PPC, the better option is unquestionably Semrush.

Pros and cons summary

Advantages of using SpyFu over Semrush

  • It’s considerably cheaper, especially if you use it in conjunction with its standalone ‘RivalFlow AI’ tool.
  • It gives you access to historical data on all its plans.
  • Unlimited reporting is available on its ‘Professional’ plan.
  • So long as you’re on its most expensive plan, you get access to multiple user accounts (Semrush limits you to one seat on all plans unless you pay for additional users).
  • Its rank tracking limits are more generous.
  • Its Google Ads template feature, for which there’s no Semrush equivalent, has the potential to speed up PPC campaign creation considerably.
  • It’s arguably a bit easier to use (although not where keyword lists or identifying domain authority are concerned).

Advantages of using Semrush instead of SpyFu

  • Semrush’s feature set is much more comprehensive.
  • Its backlink database is bigger and better.
  • It gives you easier access to domain authority data.
  • The Semrush ‘search intent’ tool is brilliant for identifying the most relevant keywords for your business (or those most likely to lead to purchases) — there isn’t an equivalent SpyFu feature.
  • Semrush gives you comprehensive site auditing features.
  • It lets you perform keyword research and domain analysis for more countries.
  • You can get a worldwide view of SEO data with Semrush; this isn’t possible in SpyFu.
  • It facilitates broken link building.
  • Its keyword list features are much 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 SpyFu, you’ll need to use more third-party tools to perform link building tasks.
  • So long as you’re on a ‘Guru’ plan or higher, you can avail of content marketing tools from Semrush. None are available from SpyFu.
  • Its interface loads organic search data much more quickly than SpyFu’s.
  • You get social media marketing tools with Semrush, but not SpyFu.
  • A totally free and fully-functional trial is available — this is not the case with SpyFu.

Alternatives to Semrush and SpyFu

Semrush and SpyFu are not the only options when it comes to SEO software. Other SEO tools that you might want to check out include:

  • Ahrefs
  • 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 Moz compare to Semrush, do check out our Moz versus Semrush comparison, our Ahrefs vs Semrush comparison and our Ahrefs vs Moz vs Semrush comparison.

You can also check out our full Ahrefs review here, our video review of Ahrefs below, or our full Semrush review here.

If you’d like to learn more about how SpyFu and Semrush stack up against each other, check out our YouTube video comparison of SpyFu vs Semrush.

Got any questions about SypFu vs Semrush? Leave a comment!

If you’ve got any questions about Semrush vs SpyFu, 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.

SpyFu vs Semrush FAQ

Is SpyFu better than Semrush?

No. In nearly all respects Semrush is the more powerful tool, giving you access to a much larger domain database and considerably more SEO tools and reports. SpyFu does have an edge when it comes to pricing, however — it can be availed of at a much lower price point, meaning that it may appeal more to users on a very low budget.

What are the main drawbacks of Semrush?

Semrush’s main drawbacks are its pricing (it’s expensive), the fact that all its plans only come with one user account and the way that it only provides data from Google (some competing SEO tools provide data from other search engines, including Amazon, Bing and YouTube).

Who are the main competitors to SpyFu and Semrush?

The main competitors to Semrush and SpyFu include Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, Serpstat and Ubersuggest.

Why is Semrush expensive?

Semrush is expensive mainly because it provides a huge amount of data on your competitors. Not only is this data very valuable in its own right (and arguably worth charging a premium for), it is costly to collate and maintain, and some of these costs are inevitably passed onto Semrush customers.

What is the best alternative to Semrush?

The best alternative to Semrush is arguably Ahrefs, which is comparably specced, although — depending on how you use the platform — a bit more expensive.

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