SEMRush Review: Pros, Cons & Use Cases

This post originally appeared at SEMRush Review: Pros, Cons & Use Cases via ShivarWeb

SEMRush Review

SEMRush is a suite of digital marketing software covering organic search (SEO), paid search (PPC), social media, and more. The company has been around for more than 11 years, and is a mainstay among many marketing agencies & consultants.

See SEMRush’s Current Plans & Pricing

I’ve been and off & on user of SEMRush for more than 7 years. While I’m a current subscriber of Ahrefs, one of their semi-direct competitors, I’ve recently reactivated my subscription due to volatility and massive changes among marketing data vendors.

What is SEMRush?

SEMRush is a suite of tools for digital marketers, so it’s hard to say precisely what it is. It’s almost like a Swiss Army Knife – a general purpose data & analysis tool for digital marketing.

Background on SEMRush

Their tools revolve around their backlink index, their keyword index, and their domain database. Their tools mix, match & cross-reference all these datasets to help marketers make better decisions about building content, building links, running ads, and running social media campaigns.

For example, their Keyword Explorer takes keywords that people are searching for in Google and cross-references their backlink index & ads index to determine how difficult any given keyword will be to rank for.

Here’s their official overview of their products.

SEMRush has been around for a long time. They have seen their share of controversy and can generate some extreme opinions among the digital marketing community.

Their one thread of consistency (and the reason they are still around) is that they have a very good sense of their target market. They have always sought to be the best all-around, single toolset. This will be the general theme and tl;dr of the pros & cons below.

They are not the “best” for any single one of their tools, but their strength is that they are really strong across a bunch of different tools…and they bundle it all into one.

How SEMRush Works

SEMRush has three subscription tiers. The higher tiers are meant to almost exclusively appeal to agencies with more reporting options and sharing limits…which they helpfully explain right on their pricing page.

Once you sign up, SEMRush revolves around Projects. Your website would be a single project. All the tools revolve around auditing your current domain, finding domain competitors, understanding your current link profile, your current keyword targeting, and all your opportunities.

SEMRush works by pulling data and attempting to help you convert that data into actions that you can take to improve your marketing.

Their Dashboard is busy & cluttered – but does show all the tools that you have available. They show all the use cases & example tasks that you can do to prevent decision overload.

Like a Swiss Army Knife, their tools work best if you know exactly what you want to do. It helps to start small to solve a single marketing problem.

For example, I needed a way to audit and share local citation opportunities with a client. SEMRush not only has that dataset, but it also provides recommendations on what to do – and it will create an automated, white-label PDF report to send my client.

I’ll get into these examples in my pros / cons, but in general, SEMRush works by taking your problem request, pulling data, converting that data into potential actions, and letting you take those actions to improve your digital marketing.

Pros of Using SEMRush

The broad upside of SEMRush is that it’s a full toolset from dataset, to recommendation engine, to automation tool, to reporting tool.

They are consistently focused on being the *one* tool that any agency, freelancer, or in-house marketer can buy and dramatically speed up their marketing operations. Here’s how that general upside plays out.

Feature Breadth

SEMRush has an incredible breadth of features – much more than I can write out and summarize.

They really lean into the “but wait, there’s more!” vibe.

Usually, a customer (like myself) joins for a specific tool, but quickly finds out that they have much more to offer.

For in-house marketers, it’s useful to have SEO, PPC, Social, PR, and Content tools all in a single software suite.

You are likely running multi-channel campaigns, so to have PPC & SEO keyword metrics are useful…but also to have link building & prospecting tools.

For solo freelancers on a budget, it’s useful to have a variety of tools to solve whatever marketing issue that you’re dealing with at the moment.

It has all the tools from a social media scheduler to toxic backlink checker to site auditor so that you can solve & diagnose any marketing issue that a new client is having.

For growing agencies, it can be shared by your PPC and SEO team to cut costs. Additionally, the reporting tools are invaluable for saving time and money while increasing client value & transparency.

They even have a lead generation tool to help agencies recruit new clients.

Here’s what the SEMRush Dashboard looks like –

Here’s what their backlink tool looks like.

It’s interesting how they not only pull basic backlink metrics, but also categorize them for you. It provides a quick snapshot of whatever domain you’re looking at.

Their link building tool takes your existing backlink index and generates ideas for new link building campaigns.

Here’s what their CPC Map tool looks like to help you generate new CPC ideas.

Here’s their local SEO tool – which is truly a “but wait there’s more” tool for any agency or freelancer.

Local clients are very hard to work with & scale due to the limited (and usually expensive) tools on the market. The fact that this tool is bundled is huge. It competes with Moz Local, but I found it to be solid.

Here’s their Market Explorer tool to help gather a better picture of any given industry so that you know who to copy, who to avoid, and who to learn from.

Again, I could go on. SEMRush’s biggest strength is their breadth of tools. No single tool can compete with a direct competitor, but on whole, they are a solid fit for the people most likely to use / need their product.

Feature Depth & Accuracy

Now – SEMRush has a wide breadth of tools. But even on their own, their tools are solid and have industry-leading depth & accuracy to them.

With their SEO tools, their backlink and keyword indices are not necessarily the best, but they are industry-leading. Comparing backlink indices is notoriously difficult. I will leave the academic research to others.

But from a day to day keyword research and link building perspective, SEMRush is good enough to do almost any job.

They are at that point where the person using the tool matters more than the tool itself.

I use Ahrefs on a day to day basis. They consistently have a more useful, and more complete keyword and link database than SEMRush.

But I also know how to effectively use Ahrefs’ data. In fact, one reason that I pay for both Ahrefs’ and SEMRush is that I like to collate their data with my Search Console data. Having 3 indices is better than 1.

But either way – SEMRush is a solid #2 or #3 in keywords & link database world…and they have depth in their PPC, Social, and Content tools.

Their PPC tools have a universe of data that other SEO-focused tools like Moz and Ahrefs (or Majestic) simply do not have. It has data that only Google’s Keyword Planner has.

But again – it’s a top tier dataset & PPC tool that also comes with SEO and everything else.

Having a range of robust tools might not be the best fit for everyone, but it’s a good fit for many others. With a growing agency that cannot afford multiple subscriptions, SEMRush has everything all in an overall value bundle. And that’s a huge pro.

Consistency Over Time

SEMRush has been around since 2008. For a marketing SaaS company, that is positively ancient. And that’s a good thing. There are lots of marketing software companies with a good product, and a good culture…but don’t really make it.

They get distracted and overextended. They try to become more than they should. They take venture capital and try to go beyond what their core market wants.

SEMRush has always been focused on the same core market with the same core suite of products. I was using them as a freelancer in 2011. The agency where I worked at in 2013 used them for their PPC and SEO teams. A friend who runs an in-house marketing team uses them today.

Their software suite has gotten bigger and better through incremental improvement and customer feedback.

They have been a bit tone deaf in their product launch communications and their own marketing tactics, but it’s never been a distraction from their main product suite.

When I commit to a tool, I want it to be around for a while. The fact that SEMRush has been around is a solid advantage.

Reporting & Recommendations

Marketing data can be just undecipherable noise unless you’ve worked at an agency or spent some time learning from someone who does digital marketing for a living.

That’s a huge problem with a lot of tools. There are two responses to this. One is to provide all the education and training yourself. That’s what Ahrefs does. They have the best SEO & content blog on the Internet.

The other response is to build in recommendations and reporting. That’s the route that SEMRush takes. I’ll get to the downsides of this approach, but overall, it’s really helpful.

If you are an in-house marketer or freelancer who juggles lots of marketing responsibilities, it’s incredibly useful to have reminders, recommendations, and reporting built into your software.

It provides actions in addition to education so that you can make fast decisions and understand the value of the data.

Cons / Disadvantages of Using SEMRush

There are a *lot* of highly charged opinions about SEMRush online. They have certainly courted plenty of controversy in the SEO community with their own “gray-ish hat” marketing tactics.

But they do have some downside and negatives as a tool set. Most of these are simple tradeoffs that they’ve made to get the pros that they have. But it’s important to be aware of the downsides & tradeoffs to understand what you’re getting and whether they align with your own goals and needs.

Feature Excellence

Plenty of SEOs and PPCers have done analysis on who has the “best” backlink or keyword index. You can get really deep in the weeds here. If you want to go read about crawler analysis and behavior, go check out this post or this post.

But, in general, and in my experience, SEMRush’s tools are solidly great – but they are not the best in any single category.

Their backlink & keyword index is good enough to do all the SEO & link building you’ll need to do to be competitive. But I still don’t think it’s as high quality or as deep as Ahrefs’ links or keywords.

Their PPC tools are great, but they are nowhere as user-friendly as AdEspresso or WordStream. And with their PPC keyword research tool, well, they are competing directly with Google’s Keyword Planner.

Their social media tools are great, but again, they are not as useful or usable as HootSuite, Buffer, or Buzzsumo.

Their link building & outreach tools are great, but again, they are not as usable or as useful as Buzzstream or other outreach tools.

And their local SEO tools are also solid, but not as good as Places Scout or Whitespark.

Now – this is all just the flipside of Feature Breadth.

SEMRush is the jack of all trades and master of none.*

*but don’t forget the rest of the rhyme which is “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Jargon & Feature Overwhelm

SEMRush has a lot going on. They have so many different features that they have them bucketed into different toolkits…even though the tools in those toolkits usually overlap.

The tools themselves are busy and present a ton of information.

And all that information is usually presented with industry jargon instead of plain language.

It’s confusing and overwhelming for me – and I’ve been in the industry for more than 10 years.

I’m not sure they could solve the user experience issue, but it’s a pretty big disadvantage compared to their competitors.

Automated Recommendations & Alerts

As mentioned in the pros section, one of SEMRush’s solutions to data overwhelm is to provide automated recommendations and alerts about what you should actually do.

Mostly, it’s a good thing. But any recommendation engine, no matter how smart, will only provide recommendations based on its inputs and parameters rather than actual knowledge.

And when you are working with human language and human knowledge, it gets tricky. SEMRush’s recommendations are great as an onboarding tool…but they can provide a false sense of security and accuracy.

This false sense of security could lead misinformed customers to make poor marketing choices.

For example, take their SEO content template tool.

In some ways, it’s great. In other ways, it just perpetuates some of the same old spammy tropes that have brought SEO down for years.

It is good to know semantically related words to your topic and it’s good to know about your competitors’ backlinks. And it’s good to consider text length.

But nothing about SEO is “paint by the numbers.”

It’s a bad idea to take a word salad, make a page full of those words, and throw a bunch of links at it.

That’s not what any professional SEO would recommend…but it’s the kind of thing that SEMRush’s automated recommendations would lead you to believe if you didn’t have any background or education.

It would be ideal to integrate some training directly with their recommendations. Until then, it’s a bit of disadvantage.

Workflow & Organization

SEMRush is not set up for a fast, efficient workflow…unless you really commit to the platform.

This downside can vary person to person, but it’s worth understanding. Some tools, like Ahrefs, just give you the data. The real analysis & work is done in a spreadsheet.

That’s how I like it and how most marketing professionals work.

SEMRush’s tool organization is setup to do analysis & actions within SEMRush. That’s great and can be super-handy…but only if you commit to using their workflow.

If you are the type of person who likes to work within SEMRush, it can have lots of advantages. But if you are like me and like to get the data into a spreadsheet, it can be frustrating.

SEMRush Use Cases

SEMRush has excelled by not trying to chase different markets. Here are the types of people that they are built for.

Solo Marketing Freelancer

If you have a wide range of clients & frequent projects, SEMRush’s tool variety will allow you to just have a single subscription to handle all types of clients.

In-house Marketer

If you are an in-house marketer that wants to run or knowledgeably assist your agency with multichannel campaigns, a subscription to SEMRush will give you the tool variety to effectively do that. Their pricing & reports will also be easy to sell to your boss.

Growing Agencies

SEMRush’s white label reports and team sharing options can help you provide value to clients while also controlling your overhead. It will also help you standardize agency processes with a single tool so that you don’t have a jumble of tools as your teams grow.

Next Steps & Conclusion

SEMRush is a solid all-in-one marketing tool suite. They aren’t the best in any one area, but they excel at providing a bunch of tools for a single subscription.

If you do PPC, SEO, Social, and/or Local – they are the tool to buy. You can see how they diagnose your own site with this tool –

If you are solely into SEO / Content, you should also look at Ahrefs. With a head to head comparison, they are better. And if you have the budget and clients…you should just pay for both. More data gives you a competitive advantage.

SEMRush

SEMRush is a suite of digital marketing software covering organic search (SEO), paid search (PPC), social media, and more. The company has been around for more than 11 years, and is a mainstay among many marketing agencies & consultants.

Application Category: Marketing Software

Editor's Rating:
4

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