In this post I’m going to put Ahrefs and SEMrush to the test.
So if you’re looking for a DEEP comparison of these two popular SEO tools, you’ve come to the right place.
Because in today’s post I’m going to compare Ahrefs vs. SEMrush in terms of:
- Keyword research features
- Backlink analysis
- Technical SEO tools
- Pricing and value
- Unique features
- And lots more
Let’s do this!
Introducing: The Two Competitors
In the blue corner, we have Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is best known as a backlink analysis tool. But over the last two years they’ve added A TON of new features.
Which is why it’s even possible to do an SEMrush vs. Ahrefs comparison. A few years ago Ahrefs was 100% focused on links.
Today, Ahrefs has a ton of features that make it a direct competitor to SEMrush, including:
- Keyword research features
- Keyword competitor analysis
- Technical SEO tools (like a site audit feature)
- Rank tracking
And in the red corner, we have SEMrush.
SEMrush’s killer app is the fact that it lets you spy on your competitor’s rankings.
That way, you don’t need to sit down and brainstorm keywords. Just pop a competitor into SEMrush and get a complete list of keywords that they rank for.
As you’ll soon see, Ahrefs now has a similar feature. And we’ll compare the two later.
But it’s important to know that SEMrush started as a keyword research tool, which is where their focus is.
That said, SEMrush recently upped their feature game quite a bit.
In fact, today, you can use SEMrush to:
- Optimize your content for SEO
- Analyze competitor PPC campaigns
- Reverse engineer a site’s top traffic sources
- Analyze log files
- Lots more
SEMrush has even started to get into the link analysis game. They’ve had a link index for years.
(In fact, I recently compared the size and freshness of the Ahrefs and SEMrush index).
Ahrefs and SEMrush tied in that analysis. But a few weeks ago SEMrush announced a HUGE update to their link index.
The bottom line is that Ahrefs and SEMrush have similar feature sets.
So it’s time to answer the key question: which SEO tool is the best overall?
Let’s get started.
Which Tool Is Best for SEO Keyword Research?
First, I decided to see which tool was best for finding new keywords.
Let’s see who came out on top.
Ahrefs has two main keyword research features:
- Keyword explorer
- Organic keywords
Let’s see how each one works.
Keyword explorer is like most other keyword tools on the market.
Type in a keyword. And get a list of ideas.
What’s unique about Keyword explorer is the fact that Ahrefs doesn’t just show you search volume.
(Although they give you that data too).
They also let you know how many CLICKS you’ll get if you rank for that keyword.
Why is this important?
It’s no secret that Google is packing the SERPs with features that “steal” clicks from the organic results.
And Keyword explorer takes this into account.
For example, the keyword “leonardo dicaprio age” gets 12k searches per month:
When you search for that keyword, the answer shows up in a Featured Snippet.
Which is why 1.2k people (around 10% of all searchers) actually click on an organic result.
One other thing that makes Keyword explorer cool is the fact that you can expand the results to get hundreds of different keyword ideas.
You can also reverse engineer a competitor’s site using “Organic keywords” report.
As you’re about to see, this is very similar to SEMrush’s bread and butter feature.
Like with Ahrefs, you can see all of the keywords that a competing site currently ranks for.
Again: this feature is basically the same as Ahrefs with some minor differences.
(For example, they have different ways of estimating how much organic traffic a site gets from their first page rankings).
The unique thing about SEMrush here is that you get A LOT more in-depth keyword data in this report.
Ahrefs basically shows you search volume, CPC and competition. But SEMrush shows you A TON of data on each term, like the search volume trend and number of results.
Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your needs. I personally prefer to focus on the key metrics. And I find SEMrush’s UI here too cluttered.
But if you’re a keyword analyst that needs to quickly analyze 100+ terms, it is super helpful to have everything you need in one place.
SEMrush also has a traditional keyword research tool.
Like most keyword tools, you can see that keyword’s search volume and competition.
And get a list of suggestions based on what you typed in.
What makes SEMrush’s keyword research feature unique is you also get data from Google PPC.
So if you’re an in-house SEO or run an agency, you’re probably doing SEO and running Google Ads campaigns at the same time.
And having SEO and PPC data at your fingertips can be SUPER helpful.
Overall, I have to say that SEMrush wins this feature battle by a hair. Ahrefs may have a better overall UI. But SEMrush just gives you lots more data (both SEO and PPC), which makes it a more well-rounded keyword tool.
Which Tool Is Best for Analyzing Backlinks?
Next, I wanted to see which tool had the best backlink checker feature.
Like I mentioned earlier, I actually compared the link index in SEMrush and Ahrefs (along with Moz Pro and Majestic), a few months ago.
In that analysis, SEMrush and Ahrefs were virtually tied.
Let’s see which tool can find the most backlinks today.
For this mini-test, I used my own blog, Backlinko.com.
Ahrefs found a total of 17,463 referring domain links. And SEMrush found 19,114.
|SEO Tool||Total Referring Domains|
And when it comes to total backlinks, Ahrefs found 54,444. SEMrush found 714,477.
|SEO Tool||Total Backlinks|
So based on this tiny case study, SEMrush has a larger link index. Which shows that they’re seriously investing in their link index and backlink analysis feature set.
That said, the size of the index is only ONE factor to consider.
For example, the UI also matters… a lot.
If you can find everything you need without needing to click 57 times, that’s a HUGE win. Link building is time-consuming enough. You don’t want it to take even longer because your tool is hard to use.
For example, I LOVE the fact that Ahrefs shows you a sneak preview of the text that appears around each backlink.
This makes it easy to see WHY people are linking to a specific page.
I personally find Ahrefs much easier to use overall for link stuff. It takes fewer clicks to see a page’s best links. The pages that have the most links. And more.
This was another tough one. But I have to say when it comes to backlink features, SEMrush and Ahrefs are tied. SEMrush’s newly-expanded index is great. And the UI has come a long way. But when I want to analyze a site’s link profile, I still find myself opening up a new tab and firing up Ahrefs (mostly because it’s got a GREAT UI).
Which Tool Has The Best Technical SEO Site Audit Feature?
The next feature I wanted to look at was technical SEO analysis.
In other words:
Which tool is best for finding technical SEO problems (and opportunities)?
Like with my backlink analysis, I ran my site through each of their site audit tools.
Let’s see what happened next…
Ahrefs gave my site an overall SEO health score of 81%.
This was largely based on the fact that my site 300+ pages with the “noindex” tag.
This isn’t actually a problem (we add them to pages that we don’t want Google to index).
So I don’t agree with Ahrefs that this is actually a problem. It definitely CAN be an issue. But it’s something that should be placed under a “thing to look at” category vs. something that impacts your SEO health score.
They also found a few other issues, like slow-loading pages and meta descriptions that were too short.
To me, those ARE real problems that are worth fixing. So it’s nice to see that Ahrefs found them. Unfortunately, these actual issues were kind of buried underneath “issues” like noindex tags and pages that have a 301 redirect.
Ahrefs also recently added a “Site structure” feature.
As the name suggests, this shows you how “deep” different pages are from your homepage.
In general, you want to have a “flat” site architecture. So this is a really easy way to see whether or not your site has pages that are too many clicks away from your homepage.
SEMrush also has a very solid site audit feature.
Yes, you get an overall health score that gives you a general idea of how SEO-friendly your site is.
(At least when it comes to technical SEO).
And SEMrush also lets you know if your site has issues in terms of:
- Broken links
- HTTP status code errors
- Crawl errors
- Issues with robots.txt
Plus, they give you a list of things to start working on right away.
Finally, SEMrush has a cool “internal link distribution” report.
This breaks down how well your internal links are set up for SEO. In general, you want to internal link FROM high-authority pages TO pages that need more authority.
And this report lets you know if your site’s link authority is flowing in the right direction.
When it comes to technical SEO features, SEMrush comes out on top. It’s site audit feature it more robust. And in my opinion, it does a better job of letting you know what you need to take action on first.
Which Tool Is Best for Rank Tracking?
Both Ahrefs and SEMrush have rank tracking tools.
Let’s see which one is the best.
Like any rank tracker, Ahrefs regularly checks to see where you rank in Google for a set of keywords that you give it.
I spot checked a few of the keywords, and the rankings seemed to match what Ahrefs reported. There’s not much else to say here.
SEMrush also has a super accurate rank tracker.
That said, SEMrush does have a few more features than Ahrefs here. For example, they have a “Visibility” score.
The other thing that separates SEMrush is that they update tracked keywords pretty much every day.
And Ahrefs only updates theirs once or twice a week (depending on your plan).
So if you’re someone that needs to stay on top of rankings changes, once per week may not cut it.
In terms of rank tracking, SEMrush beats out Ahrefs. Both do what rank trackers are supposed to do: track your rankings. But SEMrush updates more often and has more robust features.
Which Tool Has The Best Support?
For some people, the support that a piece of SEO software comes with is as important as any feature.
Which is why I decided to put each tool’s support to the test.
For this test I send the same exact question to each support team:
Hey guys, I’m wondering how you calculate search volume for keywords. Is data from the Google Keyword Planner or another source?
This was a relatively simple question. But not something super basic like “how do I change my password?”.
Let’s see how each tool performed.
To send my question to Ahrefs, all I needed to do was click on a little chat button in the bottom right corner of the page.
It wasn’t actually live chat. But I was happy with the fact that it took about 5 seconds to actually ask a question.
(Something that, as you’ll see in a minute, is not the case with SEMrush).
And about 10 minutes later, I received this helpful reply:
Unfortunately, asking a customer support question to SEMrush isn’t nearly as straightforward.
First of all, there’s no link to contact support that I could see from my dashboard.
I actually had to scroll down to the footer and click the “Contact Us” link.
Then, fill in a bunch of details about my question.
THEN I was able to ask what I wanted to ask.
To be clear: this only took a few minutes. But it was literally 5x harder than with Ahrefs.
On the plus side, I got a helpful response about 30 minutes after I submitted my question.
Although both tools got back to my question promptly, I have to give the edge here to Ahrefs. It’s 5x easier to ask questions. And I got a response back a little bit faster.
Which Tool Has Cool Unique Features?
At this point we’ve compared the main features of each tool. Now it’s time to look at some of the unique features that makes Ahrefs and SEMrush unique.
In my opinion, the one feature that makes Ahrefs different than most other SEO tools is: “Content Explorer”.
If you’ve ever used BuzzSumo before, then you know how this feature works.
Type in a topic that you want to write about…
…and see which content has already done well in terms of backlinks, social shares and more.
Ahrefs also has a handful of “mini features” that I use all the time… features that few other tools have.
For example, I tend to rely on Ahrefs for broken link building.
That’s because I can EASILY find broken external and internal links in Ahrefs. In fact, this simple feature has saved me dozens of hours.
Ahrefs Content Explorer
SEMrush also has a few cool features that Ahrefs doesn’t have.
The biggest is their complete paid search software suite. Ahrefs literally has zero features for PPC.
And SEMrush has A TON of PPC competitor analysis features to help you get the most out of your Google Ads campaigns.
And if you do a lot of local SEO, SEMrush has a “listings” tool that help you setup your NAPs the right way.
(And find NAP opportunities that you may have missed).
I have to say SEMrush is the overall winner in the “cool feature” department. Honestly, both Ahrefs and SEMrush have unique features that no other tool has. But SEMrush’s unique features (especially their full-fledged PPC software) are a must if you’re running Google Ads campaigns along with SEO.
Which Tool Is The Best Overall Value?
Now it’s time for the question that’s probably on your mind:
“Which tool is going to give me the most bang for my buck?”.
Obviously, this depends A LOT on what’s important to you. And what you work on most.
For example, if you spend most of your day link building, you’ll appreciate that you can find what you need in Ahrefs FAST.
But if you’re an agency that does PPC and SEO for clients, you’ll love that SEMrush combines PPC and SEO into one tool (and monthly fee).
With that caveat out of the way, here’s how the pricing for each tool breaks down.
If you pay monthly, Ahrefs ranges from $99 all the way up to $999.
For 99 bucks, you get access to most of the important features (like backlink analysis and keyword research). But you can’t get access to features like their historical index.
So yeah, the main limitation of the $99 plan is how much data you can get from each feature… like how many links you can see. And how many keyword reports you can run.
I personally use the Advanced Plan ($399/month) because I use most of Ahrefs’s features on a weekly basis. But if you’re just starting out, the $99 plan can get you started.
SEMrush pricing is basically the same as Ahrefs ($99-$399… with an entreprise plan that depends on needs).
Like with SEMRUsh, you can still use most of the main features with a $99 plan. But it’s kind of limited.
When it comes to pure value, SEMrush wins. That’s mostly because you get a fully-featured SEO software suite AND Google Ads software for the same monthly price.
SEMrush vs. Ahrefs: And The Winner Is
I’ve personally used both tools since 2012. I happily pay for each tool every month because I think they complement each other well.
So to come up with a winner, I took lots of factors into account:
- Link features
- Keyword features
- Support and documentation
- New feature updates
- Bugs and problems
- Overall value
But if you had to make me pick ONE tool to use for SEO, I’d have to go with Ahrefs.
This was a REALLY hard call to make. I honestly think you can’t go wrong with either tool.
And if you do any PPC at all, I highly recommend SEMrush over Ahrefs.
But taking a big picture look at features, value, UI, updates and bugs, I have to crown Ahrefs as the winner here.
Now It’s Your Turn
And now it’s time to hear what you have to say.
When it comes to the SEMrush vs. Ahrefs battle, which tool do you prefer?
Are you Ahrefs all the way?
Or do you prefer to use SEMrush?
Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.