Excellent feature set for small business marketers
SEMrush comes in slightly behind our Editors' Choice winners among SEO tools, but it remains a solid digital marketing choice for small to midsized business users.
SEMrush starts at $99.95 per month, and delivers most of what typical small to midsized business (SMB) marketers need out of a search engine optimization (SEO) tool. SEMrush delivers a wide array of functionality across ad-hoc keyword research, ongoing search position monitoring, and crawling. While we found our Editors’ Choice winner, Moz Pro, to have an edge over SEMrush in terms of overall feature depth and our other Editors’ Choice, SpyFu to have an easier overall user experience, SEMrush remains a solid overall choice and one any SMB looking for SEO help should consider.
SEMrush’s starting price point of $119.95 per month is for its Pro plan (an increase from $20 since our previous review), though you can save some money by opting for an annual plan. The Pro plan gives you 10,000 results per report across both SEMrush’s domain and keyword analytics tools, and up to 3,000 reports or searches per day. SEMrush also prices in terms of “projects,” or every piece of SEO research associated with a particular domain. The Pro plan allots five projects, 500 keywords to track, a 100,000 crawled page limit, and up to 50 associated social media profiles along with 5 scheduled PDF reports. To SEMrush’s credit, most SMBs can probably get by just fine at this price tier making it a very affordable option.
The next rung up is the $229.95-per-month Guru plan. At this tier you get 30,000 results per report and 5,000 reports/searches per day. The big jump is in a bump to 50 total projects for the SEO team expanding their research and targeting. The Guru plan also gets you 20 PDF reports with custom branding available as well as historical data access, plus 1,500 tracked keywords, 300,000 crawled pages, and 100 social media profiles. Finally there’s the $449.95-per-month Business plan. Aside from upping all the quotas substantially, this tier gives you unlimited projects, access to product listing ads, white label PDF reports, multi-user management and access to API.
SEMrush also offers custom solutions for businesses with special marketing needs. These include custom keyword databases, custom limits, on-site trainings, and other add-on features upon request.
The SEMrush dashboard is very straightforward. The first thing you see is a snapshot of Domain Analytics, showing a quick breakdown of current keywords and traffic coming from organic and paid sources. Below that are widgets for each facet of your most recent SEO project. So for my PCMag test project, I was presented with boxes for me to set up tools like position tracking, a periodic site audit, backlink auditing, and brand monitoring. While tools like Moz and Ahrefs also integrate with social media sources and conduct brand monitoring and mention tracking, SEMrush is the only SEO tool I tested that can also double as a social listening platform.
The main SEMrush left-hand navigation bar has five main tabs: Domain Analytics, Keyword Analytics, Project, its Lead Generation Tool, and My Reports. This wave of reviews is focused primarily on ad-hoc keyword research, because that’s what business users will find themselves using most often when identifying the best possible search engine results pages (SERP) to target with an rank optimization strategy. As such, I focused my testing largely on SEMrush’s Keyword Analytics tooling.
During testing, I used the same set of five keywords focusing on how SEO metrics, results, and related keyword recommendations differed. The five keywords I used were: “pcmag,” “digital marketing,” “online shopping,” “IT consultant,” and “small business accounting.” The reason I chose this combination was to simulate real-life business search terms then find related search results and competitive spots ripe for targeting.
The search bar atop the SEMrush interface can be configured for any metric, so to search keywords I selected Keyword Overview from the drop-down and ran queries on my five keywords. The keyword overview then populated a variety of tables, charts, and interactive data visualizations. For my “digital marketing” keyword, for instance, SEMrush gave me a breakdown of organic versus paid search with average monthly search volume and a cost-per-click breakdown of how much a paid result would cost in different countries. SEMrush doesn’t let you filter search results by specific cities, as does KWFinder , but it does include the option to filter by country. One unique filter SEMrush provides is an option to toggle between desktop and mobile search traffic. Despite the fact that mobile is eating up a fast-growing chunk of search traffic, SEMrush is the only tool I tested that broke down traffic that way. The company has expanded its mobile-specific database from US-only in our initial review to 16 new international databases, largely for companies in Europe.
SEMrush has also enhanced its traffic and SERP breakdowns since our initial review. In the Positions report, SEMrush populates what specific keywords your competitors lost, so you can find opportunities for your domain, and which keywords are new for them, and track changes with the Position Changes report. To conduct even trickier comparisons, the company created a Domain vs. Domain tool, which allows you to see what keywords your competitor is ranking for and you are not yet.
The platform’s renovated Position Tracking tool includes smart filters that allow you to check which of your target keywords trigger different SERP features, which of those SERP features you’ve managed to earn, and which of them your rivals occupy. The tool also identifies what pages have the highest probability of ranking in SERP results, with an added bonus for hyper-local SEO targeting: you can set up multi-targeting campaigns that track several locations or devices at once, drilled down by city, within a single project. The tool’s Trello integration with also allows you to create a Trello task and delegate work to team members.
Below the traffic breakdown is where I found the meat of SEMrush’s ad-hoc keyword search. SEMrush lists both related keywords and phrase-match keywords, which is a Google AdWords parameter(Opens in a new window) for close variations on a keyword. Both of these breakdowns are also available from the left-hand nav. These boxes only include search volume and CPC, so it wasn’t until I clicked “view full report” that I found the difficulty scores I was looking for to identify the related keywords most worth targeting for optimization.
For reference, a difficulty score is an all-in-one 1-100 number that factors Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) SEO metrics in with other data like keyword search volume, how heavily paid search ads are influencing the results, and how the strong the competition is in each spot on the current search results page. Experts indicate that a good score on which to target here is 50, while anything above 60 is significantly more difficult to topple.
While “digital marketing” had the highest search volume compared to the related keywords, it had a keyword difficulty score of almost 75. Using SEMrush I was able to identify a phrase match for “digital marketing agency” with lower, but still significant, search volume and a difficulty score of 51. Though when I clicked the SERP icon on the right of the table expecting a detailed table breaking down the PA/DA scores, search volume, and difficulty of each spot on the search results page, SEMrush simply took me to a cached version of the Google results page with no overlaid metrics. SEMrush (like Moz Pro) has a browser toolbar extension that overlays those metrics on an organic search results page, but I would’ve liked to be able to get those metrics directly in the platform.
One key missing piece of SEMrush’s ad hoc keyword research capabilities is the lack of keyword organization and list management. After finding the related keyword I wanted to target, my only option was to export it as a Microsoft Excel file or CSV, rather than giving me the ability to quickly add “digital marketing agency” to a keyword list or group as you can in KWFinder and Moz Pro. You also can’t save keyword searches for later use. This roadblock in my keyword investigation process was frustrating for a product that otherwise checks all the keyword research boxes. The company has since added an Export Manager feature, available above any table in its analytics reports, which lets you export keywords word-by-word rather than through batch CSV or Excel. This is an improvement, but still requires you to do keyword management in a separate application rather than built-in functionality within SEMrush.
That said, SEMrush does offer quite a bit of built-in reporting and organization functionality, particularly through its Projects feature. Clicking on the Projects tab in the left-hand nav brings you to a dashboard centralizing all the domain data on your site including a current “health score” based on SEMrush crawling data, position tracking information for ranking on particular keywords, and maybe the most useful feature in SEMrush: SEO Ideas.
The importance of an SEO tool’s ability to offer proactive suggestions and optimization recommendations can’t be overstated. The SEO Ideas feature allowed me to enter all my test keywords and associate them with specific landing pages on my site that I want to optimize in those particular search results. After running an analysis that took a minute or two, SEMrush gave me a number of ideas broken down into different categories: Strategy Ideas (suggested highly ranked pages that have room to grow), Semantic Ideas and Content Ideas (on-page content and keyword suggestions), Backlink Ideas, and Technical SEO Ideas. SEMrush also integrates with both Google Analytics and Google Search Console, and allows you to pull specific landing pages from both of those sources.
SEMrush has also released a new tool in this vein called Keyword Magic, which generates up to three million ideas for keywords based off a seed keyword you’re targeting. Keywords are automatically divided into groups and subgroups (based on the frequency of other words’ presence inside keywords). The keywords can be sent directly to the Keyword Analyzer, but not sorted into custom lists and campaigns. The Keyword Magic tool you can also filter all keywords that trigger different SERP features, and find all the keywords that contain questions, which helps to target Google’s Featured Snippets for specific keywords.
Some of the suggested Content Ideas I got, for instance, were to use target keywords in the body and h1 tags on the page as well as to enrich the page content with more related keywords. Then on the right of each idea is a little bar showing how difficult the idea would be to implement, and most importantly a short “Why should I do this?” explanation.
SEMrush has enhanced SEO Ideas since our initial review with even more on-page optimization recommendations. The platform already integrated with Google Search Console, but now you can use filters in SEO Ideas to identify the highest value pages for optimization based on click-through rates (CTR), impressions, and other metrics. After you choose which pages you want to work on, SEMrush will prioritize them for you based on how easy it would be for you to implement all the necessary changes and how much traffic you could possibly gain as a result. Compared to our initial review, where SEMrush provided ideas without context, the updated tool applies these recommendations to your pages and compares them to competitors’ pages. For an SMB user without much SEO experience, this kind of a feature can be invaluable. The SEO Ideas feature in SEMrush was by far the most helpful recommendation tool I tested.
Finally, SEMrush includes a drag-and-drop custom PDF report builder. When creating a new report, I was able to easily change formatting and design templates to add columns, headings, or page breaks, and then pull in any domain analytics or keyword analytics metric or results into the layout. Reports are also the area SEMrush has enhanced most since our initial review, rolling out a number of new reports and additional capabilities.
Traffic Analytics reports estimate which channels (search traffic, direct traffic, referral traffic, or social traffic) your competitors are investing in and gaining traffic from, based on clickstream and third-party provider data. The Pages Report identifies competitors’ top-performing pages and does a full subdomain keyword analysis with rankings for specific keywords and URL-by-URL reports.
The SEMrush Site Audit Tool includes a number of reports as well, largely related to backlinks and crawling. The tool now includes an HTTPS Implementation Report to identify errors that might lead to sales losses during a website migration from HTTP to HTTPS, as well as a mobile crawling report for Google AMP pages. SEMrush also offers advanced crawl settings to choose the number of pages to check, the type of crawler, whether to allow or disallow whole groups of URLs based on specific parameters, and re-crawl scheduling. While not as comprehensive a scan of website health as DeepCrawl, it’s excellent functionality for a tool where crawling is not the primary directive.
On the backlinks front, SEMrush runs backlink profiling reports to identify “toxic links” to remove from your site with its Backlink Audit tool. Once you set it up for your or your client’s domain, you’ll automatically see all the backlinks in the SEMrush database and the tool will link you directly to Google’s Disavow Tool(Opens in a new window) to register bad links. In terms of its backlink database size, the company is right behind Ahrefs and Majestic. SEMrush’s Backlink Analytics reports show you all your lost backlinks, a list of referring domains where you no longer have any backlinks, and backlinks coming from broken pages.
The one caveat with all of these reports is that whatever widget you add, you need to run a fresh query rather than choosing from the searches you’ve already executed and ideally saved, if SEMrush had that feature. Adding keyword list management integrated with its custom reports would greatly improve the platform’s overall ad-hoc research functionality and bring it on par with Moz Pro and KWFinder.
SEMrush is a powerful all-in-one SEO platform. The company has taken off the beta tag for many of its most innovative features, and offers just about everything besides keyword management that a business needs to spearhead its SEO strategy. The lead generation, SEO Ideas, and Keyword Magic features in particular could be a huge boon and help SEMrush better connect SEO directly to sales and marketing as with Editors’ Choice winner Spyfu.
Editors’ Choice Moz Pro might sport a better overall SEO optimization tool set, and Spyfu the better user experience and bottom-line business metrics, but SEMrush is a powerful SEO platform in its own right. Beyond its keyword management shortcomings and a price hike since our initial review, the platform remains a solid choice. Considering the unique value in its SEO Ideas recommendations, there’s a lot to like in SEMrush. It certainly warrants consideration as an SEO optimization tool that can do almost everything for your business.
SEMrush comes in slightly behind our Editors' Choice winners among SEO tools, but it remains a solid digital marketing choice for small to midsized business users.
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Rob Marvin is PCMag’s Associate Features Editor. He writes features, news, and trend stories on all manner of emerging technologies. Beats include: startups, business and venture capital, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, AI, augmented and virtual reality, IoT and automation, legal cannabis tech, social media, streaming, security, mobile commerce, M&A, and entertainment. Rob was previously Assistant Editor and Associate Editor in PCMag’s Business section. Prior to that, he served as an editor at SD Times. He graduated from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. You can also find his business and tech coverage on Entrepreneur and Fox Business. Rob is also an unabashed nerd who does occasional entertainment writing for Geek.com on movies, TV, and culture. Once a year you can find him on a couch with friends marathoning The Lord of the Rings trilogy–extended editions. Follow Rob on Twitter at @rjmarvin1.
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