Ahrefs vs. SEMrush: Which is the Better Option in 2021?
As more and more digital marketing software options arise on the market, selecting the right software for your business can feel daunting. What features should you look for and how can you utilize them to fuel your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy? What are the best SEO tools to help you get a well-rounded view of your online presence and craft actionable next steps?
Together, we’ll compare two of the most well-known tools in the industry, Ahrefs vs. SEMrush. We’ll evaluate Ahrefs and SEMrush across a variety of core features and capabilities to determine the overall winner. Afterward, you’ll be equipped to select a digital marketing software that best suits your business needs.
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Why Do You Need Digital Marketing Software?
As the digital marketing industry evolves, top-quality software will empower you and your team to remain competitive in the online space. If you work in a highly competitive niche, you’ll need to track your competitor’s marketing efforts to keep ahead of the curve. This entails analyzing all aspects of your SEO strategies including link building, keyword rankings, and content marketing. On the other hand, having a clear scope of your own site metrics is essential for crafting powerful campaigns that provide the correct answers to your target audience, at the right time.
We analyzed Ahrefs and SEMrush’s most vital functions to determine a clear winner for 2021. The aspects that we assessed include pricing, user interface, and ease of use, as well as each tool’s research and auditing capabilities. Let’s begin!
What is Ahrefs?
Ahrefs is multi-faceted SEO software that enables digital marketers to perform a variety of research-based tasks. Its original Site Explorer tool was launched in 2010, which allowed companies to conduct backlink analysis for both their own website and the websites of their competitors. Throughout the years, Site Explorer has continued to evolve and now crawls over 6 billion pages per day. Every fifteen minutes, they update their index with the newest backlinks throughout the web.
Since its original Site Explorer launch, Ahrefs now offers several other research tools such as:
- Keywords Explorer: Find the best keywords for your content using search volume, keyword difficulty, relevant topics, and related search terms.
- Content Explorer: Search for any topic to locate relevant SEO and social media performance data.
- Rank Tracker: Set up projects to track both you and your competitor’s keyword rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Site Audit: Crawl your website and find detected internal URL errors in addition to receiving an overall health score.
What is SEMrush?
SEMrush is all-in-one SEO software that provides insights for marketers to increase their online visibility and seize new marketing opportunities. It was initially created in 2008 by a group of SEO specialists and IT experts with the mission to help businesses compete in the digital space. Today, SEMrush now serves over 7 million users internationally, bringing them the data they need to make key decisions.
SEMrush has continued to transform its product and they now offer various new research capabilities. These features include but aren’t limited to:
- Keyword Research: Use SEMrush’s Keyword Magic tool to research over 20 billion keywords, discover keyword value and uncover the top organic keywords that your competitors rank for.
- Content Optimization: Write better article content and web copy by receiving tips to better target your keywords, as well as the keywords of your competitors.
- Rank Tracking: Track your and your competitor’s keyword ranking positions on SERPs while monitoring signs of potential Google Algorithm updates.
- On-page SEO: Audit your website and get actionable insights within minutes to fix existing issues on your pages.
Ahrefs vs. SEMrush Pricing Overview
SEMrush and Ahrefs both offer multiple pricing plans, as well as trial options for new users. We’ve created a chart to compare their pricing plans, trials, and free options side-by-side.
- Starts at $99 USD
- 7-day trial for $7 USD
- Free option
- Starts at $119.95 USD
- 7-day free trial
- Free option
Ahrefs offers four different plans to suit your project needs and business size. Their cheapest plan, Lite, starts at $99 per month. From there, larger plans cost the following:
- Standard: $179 per month
- Advanced: $399 per month
- Agency: $999 per month
The more expensive the plan, the more tracking capabilities available. For instance, the Ahrefs Agency plan enables users to track 5,000 keywords in their account while the Standard plan only allows for 500 keywords. Users can also choose to pay for their plan annually in which they’ll receive two months free of charge.
Ahrefs Paid Seven-Day Trial
If you’re on the fence about which plan to choose, you can start by registering for a seven-day trial for $7. Throughout the trial, you’ll have access to all of Ahrefs’ paid features. However, the trial is limited to the Lite plan and the Standard plan. If your business requires a larger plan, you won’t have the option of an initial trial period. This makes it difficult to test the waters, prior to making a sizable purchase.
Their assortment of free tools can also help you get a glimpse of their capabilities before you make an upgrade. Check out the free versions of their link building, keyword research, and SERP insights tools to get a better idea if Ahrefs is the right fit for you. Keep in mind that since these tools are free, the results will be far more limited than a paid tool.
SEMrush has three different plans for businesses of all sizes. Their most inexpensive plan, Pro, costs $119.95 per month. Their higher plan tiers include:
- Guru: $229.95 per month
- Business: $449.95 per month
SEMrush’s plan sizes directly correlate with reporting sizes, reporting frequency, and website crawling bandwidths. Similar to Ahrefs, SEMrush’s Business plan allows users to track up to 5,000 keywords while their Pro plan only tracks 500. Users who are billed annually save 16%.
SEMrush Free Seven-Day Trial
Unlike Ahrefs, SEMrush’s seven-day trial is completely free of charge. With the free trial, users can explore either the Pro plan or the Guru plan. However, the Business plan isn’t included in the free trial option.
If the trial ends and you’d prefer to continue using the tools for free, you can revert back to a free SEMrush subscription. Keep in mind that this version has many limitations. As a free user, you can only create and manage one project. In addition, domain analytics and keyword analytics only allow for ten searches per day.
Next, we’ll jump into the comparisons of each feature and category.
User Interface and Ease of Use
The quality of both the user interface and ease of use play a vital role when selecting a digital marketing software. A simple-to-use interface will lead you to the insights you need fastly and efficiently. Now the question is, which tool has the better interface when it comes to Ahrefs vs. SEMrush?
Ahrefs User Interface and Ease of Use
Ahrefs’ dashboard is straightforward and lists existing projects, row-by-row. At a quick glance, you can view each website’s domain rating, number of backlinks, and number of organic traffic. Each specific tool is listed in the upper left-hand corner for easy navigation.
Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, Site Explorer, and Content Explorer tools all contain a search box at the top of the pages where users can launch their research. Reports and results are then displayed in an orderly fashion.
Next, let’s dive into the pros and cons:
- The dashboard displays related insights by groupings
- Menu options have a concise layout
- Simple page layouts allow for better skimmability
- There aren’t a ton of data visualization options
- Doesn’t offer any outreach tools
SEMrush User Interface and Ease of Use
In comparison to Ahrefs, SEMrush’s user interface and ease of use are on the clunkier side. The dashboard also contains project analytics, yet lacks clear labeling of the various tools. This makes navigation more complex, as you’ll need to dig deeper to find the tool you’re looking for.
That being said, if you’re a visual learner, SEMrush may be a better choice. Unlike Ahrefs, SEMrush presents an abundance of visual data including charts, tables, and graphs. You can also manage your email outreach efforts directly in SEMrush, which is a feature that Ahrefs lacks.
- There are plenty of data visuals throughout the platform
- Pay-per-click (PPC) data is prominently displayed
- Offers outreach tools
- Outdated dashboard appearance
- The menu lacks clear labels for each of the tools
- Overall navigation takes longer
Which Platform is Better?
Although both platforms have their strengths, we’ve picked Ahrefs as the winner for the best user interface and ease-of-use. Ahrefs’ fast navigation and simple menu layout enable users to easily dive into their research and retrieve information. Its dashboard also displays data by groupings, which removes most of the guesswork. SEMrush’s interface is complex and requires more exploration for project-based tasks.
Keyword research tools offer the latest keyword insights to help you find the right terms to target. Two of the main metrics that you’ll need are search volume and ranking difficulty. Additional insights such as related search terms, questions, and SERPs will help you make smarter decisions when optimizing new and existing content.
Ahrefs Keyword Research
The Ahrefs Keywords Explorer generates data pertaining to keyword difficulty, search volume, cost-per-click (CPC), related search terms, and most-searched questions. It also allows you to search for multiple keywords at once and create lists. The bulk keyword research option is a significant time-saver for busy marketers.
Its SERP Overview feature also provides a sneak-peak at Google SERP results for the keywords on hand. Once you’ve created your list, you can export it in just a few clicks. With Ahrefs, you don’t have to waste time by manually entering keyword data into separate spreadsheets.
- Provides bulk keyword research options
- Easy list exportation
- Offers SERP previews
- Shows limited CPC data
SEMrush Keyword Research
The SEMrush Keyword Magic tool doesn’t offer a bulk research option, which can extend the keyword research process. That being said, the Keyword Magic tool pulls up a variety of valuable insights like the visual trends of searcher interest.
If you’re focused on both SEO and PPC, SEMrush provides more CPC data than Ahrefs does for each keyword. For example, you can view the level of competition between advertisers that have bid on keywords for their campaigns. Each keyword search is also accompanied by the existing SERP features such as featured snippets, local packs, and videos.
- Provides both organic and CPC data
- Show competitive density
- Lists the different types of SERP features
- No bulk keyword research tool
Which Platform is Better?
We’ve selected SEMrush as the winner for the best keyword research tool. Although the bulk research tool allows for faster keyword research on Ahrefs, SEMrush provides a larger amount of insight for both organic keywords and paid keywords. If you’re a digital marketer who focuses on both of these efforts, SEMrush is the preferred choice for gathering the data you need.
The right backlink analysis tool is a game-changer when forming your link-building strategy. In fact, a thorough backlink analysis serves several purposes:
- Monitor new inbound links to your website
- Spot and address potentially harmful inbound links
- Identify lost backlinks
- Create a broken link building strategy
- Conduct a competitor backlink analysis
- Identify your competitor’s most linked-to pages
- Uncover your competitors link building strategies
By analyzing backlinks regularly, you’ll remain one step ahead of the competition while ensuring the health of your own link profile.
Ahrefs Backlink Analysis
The Ahrefs Site Explorer tool tracks every link in your backlink profile, including new, lost, and broken links. Site Explorer also allows you to adjust your dates to monitor inbound links for a specific timeframe.
Ahrefs is an excellent option for viewing backlinks in seconds. You can also follow the same steps to analyze your competitors. Review the anchor text and backlink data to learn how often and in what context competitors are being referenced on the web. Then, review the types of websites that are linking to them and access their quality indicators. Quality indicators include domain authority (DA), the number of referring domains, and traffic.
If your goal is to easily identify toxic backlinks, Ahrefs may not be the right fit for you. Ahrefs lacks toxicity scores, which makes it more time-consuming to address low-quality backlinks. Unlike SEMrush, it also doesn’t offer any link disavow capabilities.
- Inbound link tracker and custom timeframe options
- Use quality-indicator metrics to uncover backlink quality
- Competitor backlink analysis tools
- No link disavow tool
- Does not score toxic links
SEMrush Backlink Analysis
SEMrush’s Backlink Audit is ideal for marketers who need to weed out harmful backlinks and address them in real-time. After you run your domain through the audit, you’ll receive an overall toxicity score. However, we’ve found that a high toxicity score can be potentially misleading.
Before you decide to disavow backlinks, we recommend conducting a manual review. This can prevent you from removing an excessive number of backlinks that are in fact, harmless. To get more data, connect your Google Search Console account to SEMrush
- Provides link toxicity scores
- Data visualizations represent backlinks by page types
- Includes a link disavow tool
- High link toxicity scores may be misleading
- A campaign must be created to run the backlink audit
Which Platform is Better?
We’ve selected Ahrefs as the winner for the best backlink analysis tool. Ahrefs Site Explorer provides efficient ways to research your own backlinks, as well as your competitors. You can track inbound links in real-time without the hassle of creating a campaign. Although SEMrush’s toxicity scores can be helpful, they also require manual reviews to ensure accuracy. We found that oftentimes, toxicity scores can be misleadingly high, in reference to links that aren’t always harmful.
A rank tracking tool will analyze and track the organic keywords your website ranks for. Many digital marketers also use rank tracking to monitor the keywords that their competitors rank for on SERPs. This type of tool will account for both intentionally targeted keywords, as well as unexpected search terms.
Ahrefs Rank Tracking
The Ahrefs Rank Tracker allows you to track your keyword positions on both mobile and desktop devices. It also accounts for keyword rankings in over 170 countries. The Rank Tracker tool simply requires a list of keywords, countries, and competitor URLs.
Ahrefs will also display an interactive graph of your visibility, average position, traffic, and position distribution. View your ranking progress and track lost keywords to always know where you stand on the web. If you need to track PPC keywords, you’ll probably need to use additional tools, as the Ahrefs Rank Tracker focuses more heavily on organic keywords.
- Accounts for different countries
- Tracks competitor rankings
- Monitors lost ranks
- Not always 100% accurate
- Less focused on PPC keywords
SEMrush Rank Tracking
The SEMrush Position Tracking tool works essentially the same way as Ahrefs. With SEMrush, you can plug in specific domains and view a variety of data, such as:
- Rankings distribution
- Estimated traffic
- Average position
- Competitor insights
- Devices and locations
In tangent with position tracking, you can also use the SEMrush Rank tool to review a variety of domains. This tool pulls data for SEO, as well as PPC. SEMrush is a better option for those who need to track both paid keywords and organic keywords.
- Tracks both SEO and PPC keywords
- Data visualizations showcase ranking distributions
- Accounts for different locations
- Not always 100% accurate
Which Platform is Better?
Although both of these tools share similarities, SEMrush emerges as the winner for best rank tracking tools. We based this on SEMrush’s rank tracking capabilities for both SEO campaigns and PPC campaigns. They also offer more charts and graphs than Ahrefs which is perfect for users who want to track their rankings through visual displays.
An SEO audit tool will crawl your website to find internal errors. Errors include but aren’t limited to:
- Technical problems
- Site Structure issues
- Broken pages
Afterward, you’ll be equipped with the data you need to resolve the issues and prevent future errors from reoccurring. SEO auditing is the final feature we’ll compare for Ahrefs vs. SEMrush.
Ahrefs SEO Auditing
The Ahrefs Site Audit crawls websites and provides an overall health score, based on its findings. It’ll alert you to the issues found on your website, paired with recommended solutions. Ahrefs Site audit also does an excellent job of visualizing the data.
This tool is built for small websites and large websites alike. It does a thorough analysis of issues concerning inbound and outbound links, the quality of your content, HTML tags, and overall website performance. On the downside, audits can take an extensive amount of time to be completed, up to several hours.
- Breaks findings down into easily digestible insights
- Provides an overall health score
- Showcases issues with visuals
- Website crawls can take a long time
SEMrush SEO Auditing
SEMrush SEO Auditing is an all-in-one technical SEO audit tool. It scans websites for over 130 technical errors like slow page speeds, content issues, poor crawlability, meta tags, internal linking, and HTTPS security protocols.
Once the crawl is completed, SEMrush will provide you with theme-based reports and recommendations. Issues are presented based on the priority levels, making the reports easily digestible. To speed up the process, consider automating your reports through SEMrush’s My Reports integration.
- Easy-to-use features
- Fast website crawling
- Tracks new errors consistently
- Lower page crawl options than Ahrefs
Which Platform is Better?
We’ve chosen SEMrush as the clear winner for SEO Auditing. We’ve found that overall, SEMrush auditing reports are more comprehensive than Ahrefs. Website audits are fast and efficient, while Ahrefs Site Audits can sometimes take hours to complete. SEMrush’s SEO auditing tool is simple to set up and run reports on regularly. We also like the fact that SEMrush offers automated reporting options to further streamline the process.
Frequently Asked Questions – (FAQ)
Is Ahrefs Legit?
Yes, Ahrefs is a credible SEO software suite that’s been in operation since 2010. They’re a multinational company with approximately fifty employees. Their company is headquartered in Singapore.
Is SEMrush Legit?
Yes, SEMrush is an established digital marketing software suite that’s been in business since 2008. They’re now an international company with over 1,000 employees. They have seven offices located throughout the world. Their headquarters is based in Boston, Massachusetts.
How Long is Ahrefs’ Trial?
The Ahrefs $7 trial lasts for seven days. Once the trial ends, you can either purchase a paid account or continue using Ahrefs for free. Ahrefs’ free tools contain limited data caps.
How Long is SEMrush’s Trial?
SEMrush’s free trial is also seven days long. After the seven days conclude, you’ll need to upgrade your account to a paid plan. Alternatively, you can downgrade back to a free subscription which includes limited use of select tools.
How Does Ahrefs Get Data?
Ahrefs utilizes its own search crawlers, as well as its own independent database. Its crawlers run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for optimal results.
How Does SEMrush Get Data?
SEMrush uses its own machine learning algorithms to retrieve and present data to users. They also use trusted data providers. Once data is retrieved, it’s run through a proprietary cleaning process to ensure the most accurate results.
The Overall Winner
In the table below, we’ve carefully assessed Ahrefs vs. SEMrush in each category. We’ve analyzed which tool had the most category wins to determine the overall winner:
The Overall Winner
We’re excited to announce SEMrush as the overall winner! We selected SEMrush as the winner, based on their diverse capabilities in leveraging both SEO and PPC-related insights pertaining to keyword research and rank tracking. We also found SEMrush to be the more comprehensive tool for conducting site-wide SEO audits in a fast, efficient manner. SEMrush is also the best option for visual learners, due to their well-crafted data visualizations. We highly recommend SEMrush for collecting detailed insights for project-based tasks.
On the other hand, if you’re searching for an easy-to-use interface, Ahrefs may be a better fit for you, due to its quick navigation and simplistic dashboard. Ahrefs also provides more skimmable insights and take-aways that can be viewed in a matter of seconds. Additionally, if your primary SEO focus is on backlinks, Ahrefs is the better option.
Final Thoughts From Digital Marketing Experts
We checked in with experts in Digital Marketing to see what tool they prefer using on a daily basis. Most importantly, whether you’re using SEMRush or Ahrefs, the tool needs to work well for you and your business needs.
We use SEMRush daily for competitive analysis, keyword research, ranking analysis and for their content analysis tools. It’s cool because there is more to it than that; it also has a lot of impressive features, like the writing assistant. It scores your content and shows you which semantically related phrases you might have missed. It’s a tool that helps you understand SEO and improve it all at once. I recommend picking the tools that are most useful to your company and start slow. There are so many features it can be a little overwhelming at first.
Amanda Gant, Marketing Director, Orbit Media Studios
We also found that numerous marketing agencies were opting to utilize both tools for their different needs.
We appreciate SEMRush for research on organic and paid traffic but for going deeper on backlink research, we lean on Ahrefs a bit more.
Paul J. Scott, Chief Digital Strategist, GoingClear
Ultimately, this came down to preference as well, with some experts preferring to do their backlink analysis through SEMRush and others through Ahrefs.
One of the greatest features of SEMrush are the Backlinks Analytics. We love how the platform breaks down the analytics and lays it out in an easy to use format—and the fact we can also review competitors’ backlinks is a plus. In addition, we enjoy the site audit feature as it offers a quick but helpful review of the overall site health, performance, and warnings. This is a great tool that provides suggestions for site improvements.
Nathan Williams, Principal + Owner, Baseline Creative
Originally I was an avid SEMrush user but have since switched to Ahrefs. While SEMrush is loaded with features, Ahrefs has a much better link database, making it more useful for link building & auditing purposes. When it comes to tools, like most things, the ones that really specialize in one area tend to perform best and Ahrefs has nailed that with their current tool suite.
Travis Bliffen, CEO, Stellar SEO
These tools are here to stay, and the varied uses of each continue to help companies thrive.
SEMRush is our source of truth to audit, plan, monitor, research, and the whole lot for all our clients. We use the tool extensively on a daily basis. It helps us stay on top of all the work we do in SEO, SEM, and Social Media marketing. I recommend anyone focusing on digital marketing to use SEMRush.
Kevin Bhadra, Founder, FIBER
If you’re considering hiring a digital marketing company or an SEO company to help you streamline your efforts, check out UpCity’s list of the top digital marketing agencies in the United States.