By combining metrics from multiple data sources, you can create more informative, more insightful reporting dashboards.
Marketing | Sep 21
Mara Calvello on February 3, 2021 (last modified on June 14, 2021) • 20 minute read
When was the last time you went an entire day without using a search engine?
With roughly 3.5 billion searches on Google each day, it’s more important than ever to track how your website stacks up against the competition. There are a lot of tools that can help you do so, but two of the most popular and commonly used are SEMrush and Ahrefs.
If you’re interested in utilizing one of these reporting tools, you may be unsure which one is better suited for your website and the metrics that matter to you the most. To help you decide, we asked over 30 experts to weigh in and break it all down, so you can make a smarter choice.
Let’s dive in.
Before we can dive into the ins and outs of each tool, let’s break down what exactly SEMrush and Ahrefs are.
SEMrush is a popular SEO tool that is used to conduct keyword research, competitor analysis, and Google Ad optimization. This software solution was designed with digital marketers in mind as they optimize their website to get as much organic search traffic as possible. It can also be used to see how you rank versus some of your competitors, as well as make smarter decisions around which keywords your website should be targeting.
Similarly, Ahrefs is another popular SEO research and analysis tool. While it’s most commonly used and known for its comprehensive backlink analysis feature, it has expanded over the years to help in many areas of SEO.
At the end of the day, both tools are exceptional SEO software solutions that draw a variety of users every day. Whether you use one or the other, or both, within your SEO strategy, there is a long list of features and functionality at your fingertips.
SEMrush and Ahrefs have similar features and can be used in complementary ways. As mentioned, it all depends on which metrics are most crucial to your organization.
As Lauren Amor from Tandem Interactive explains, “Deciding on a preference between SEMrush and Ahrefs depends on what you spend most of your day doing.
For example, if you spend most of your day focusing on link building, SEMrush has a larger link index, offering you a wider variety of backlink options. On the other hand, SEMrush requires a lot of digging and clicking, which can take up too much time.
Ahrefs offers a preview of the link’s text, which makes it easier to look through a long list of backlinks. When it comes to the more technical side of SEO, like the site’s health, SEMrush offers a much more detailed audit that includes errors with broken links, HTTP status code errors, crawl errors, and issues with robots.txt.”
Interested in a certain comparison surrounding a specific feature? Jump ahead to:
First things first — let’s talk about domain overviews.
Madeline McMaster at BluShark Digital shared how Ahrefs is her go-to tool for domain overviews, amongst other things. McMaster states, “Our agency has seen great success using Ahrefs. With Ahrefs our content team uses the content gap tool to find missing keyword opportunities, our link building team is able to pull client and competitor backlinks for comparison, and our accounts team is able to track key data points — like domain authority.”
* Editor’s note: Utilize this free Ahrefs’ dashboard template to track and analyze important search ranking factors for your website.
A heavy hitter in most SEO tools is features that focus on keyword research — but how do they compare?
Sam Gooch from Kinsta elaborates on keyword research by saying, “SEMrush started off as a keyword research tool, which it does very well. SEMrush has so many features and reports that it can sometimes feel a bit intimidating, but this isn’t a problem for someone who lives and breathes SEO and doesn’t mind getting lost in the data.”
Agreeing is Drew Estes at Massview, who shares, “I’ve found SEMrush to be very useful. It has sophisticated keyword research capabilities for SEO (and PPC), has a clean user interface, and makes it easy to find the best keywords to focus on — both the ones you’ve considered and many that you haven’t. Not to mention the competitor research tools are far better for informing content strategy.”
Also on team SEMrush is Ally Anderson from Akari Digital uses SEMrush for developing their content strategy, “I work primarily with developing content strategy and keyword strategy most often and I find that the keyword research tool for SEMrush is easier to use and provides better-related ideas and results.”
Finally, Alex Hamilton from White Chalk Road keeps it short and sweet by saying, “For keyword research and content ideas, we use SEMrush.”
* Editor’s note: Get a bird’s eye view of your website’s visibility in the SERPs with the SEMrush keyword audit dashboard.
And because we always need someone going against the grain, Joanna Vaiou tells us how they use Ahrefs, “I use both tools but I prefer Ahref in terms of usability and most specifically because of the Clicks per Search (CPS) metric that allows me to prioritize between a team of keywords for the same target page into main keyword and secondary ones. It helps my SEO strategy design process.”
Sam Richards at Trivia Games, Inc elaborates on why he prefers Ahrefs: “Ahrefs is more robust and can give instant visibility into what keywords a page is ranking for and what keywords are earning featured snippets. We can also easily see visual trend lines showing how keyword rankings have changed over time. And it’s important to note the initial configuration of Ahrefs is much less time-consuming.
Another popular feature for both tools is backlink analysis. Starting off the comparison is Buzz Carter from DotcomBlinds. Carter explains, “When it comes to links stats, Ahrefs just has SEMrush beat, as it literally has billions of indexed URLs in their system. While both tools are great, this is simply just flat out a bigger and better sample size than what SEMrush is working with.”
Sam Gooch from Kinsta is back to elaborate on how he uses Ahrefs for backlink analysis. He continues, “This isn’t an easy choice – I use both tools every day for different reasons and find both have excellent features and have continued to release new useful tools over the years.
Ahrefs started out as a link tool, which, in my opinion, it does a great job of. It’s easy to navigate and the tools are intuitive and easy to use. This makes it perfect for those with less time to dive into the data, but want to surface those low hanging fruits, and I especially love the broken links report!”
Also on the Ahrefs train is Filip Silobod at China by Teaching, so shares, “While both tools are great, I prefer Ahrefs because of it’s more focus on backlinks. Both tools are very similar, but according to some tests, the crawler that Ahrefs uses captures more URLs.”
Many people use SEMrush and Ahrefs to conduct site audits and take a deep dive into metrics surrounding technical SEO. But how do they compare?
Joe Balestrino starts things off by sharing, “SEMrush is a great all-in-one tool. I can run audits, track keywords, keyword research, find content ideas, and so much more. I use these features on a daily basis and it makes my job more enjoyable and easier.”
* Editor’s note: Stay on top of any errors, warnings and notices that are slowing down your site with the SEMrush site audit dashboard.
On the other hand, there’s Storm McManus from Storm Marketing Consultancy, who leans more towards Ahrefs. McManus states, “I’ve been using Ahrefs for over 12 months in my content marketing and SEO support business. I absolutely love their site audits that provide detailed areas for both on-page and technical SEO improvements. Being able to see all the audits and how the site has improved over time with fixes allows us to show clients exactly how their site is performing.”
*Editor’s note: Utilize this free Ahrefs dashboard that will help you track and visualize important search ranking factors like domain rating, backlinks, referring pages, and more.
Rounding out the comparison is rank tracking, where Bruce Hogan from SoftwarePundit believes SEMrush reigns supreme. Hogan shares, “Ahrefs and SEMrush are both outstanding. However, SEMrush is slightly more versatile – it includes a wider range of tools that support a greater percentage of our marketing efforts. For example, SEMrush’s keyword rank tracking is above and beyond anything we could ever need. It’s truly changed the game.”
*Editor’s note: Make the most of the SEMrush position tracking dashboard that displays the change in your online presence based on your keyword rankings over time.
Oftentimes, the tool that is best suited for you and your needs is going to depend on what exactly you’re using it for. So for that, let’s get a verdict on each of the features and functionality that these SEO tools bring to the table.
Need to know which tool is best for something specific? Jump ahead to:
If conducting keyword research is front and center in your SEO strategy, which tool should you add to your tech stack? The survey says… the winner here is SEMrush.
Here to convince you is Andrew Ruditser from MAXBURST, who kicks things off by saying, “Which tool you should use is always going to depend on what your main focus is. For all things SEMrush values keyword research, you should be using SEMrush.”
Agreeing is Tony Mastri from MARION Inbound Marketing. Mastri shares, “I prefer SEMrush because of its competitive keyword discovery functionality. This one feature makes SEMrush more valuable than any other SEO tool I have used in the last six years.”
Samuel Hurley from Novos also believes that SEMrush is the winner here. Hurley states, “Being an eCommerce SEO agency, we use both the tools but from purely an SEO perspective, I would say SEMrush is more preferable for keyword research. It offers the features to enable detailed keyword research which is one of the most important parts of any SEO strategy.
Although Ahrefs also offers similar features, the in-depth access to keyword related data given by SEMrush makes it the most comprehensive SEO tool out there.”
Moving along to analyzing backlinks, you may already know who is going to win this round, based on what was shared above. At the end of the day, the SEO tool that is an absolute must-have for taking a deep look into backlinks… is Ahrefs.
Starting off sharing the love for Ahrefs and the power it brings to backlinks is Kerry Sherin from Lifetime Value Company. Sherin says, “I prefer Ahrefs over SEMrush when it comes to building links and strategizing content. In my opinion, Ahrefs has a more comprehensive database of live links and the metrics associated with them.”
Another fan of Ahrefs is Gerald Lombardo from The Word Counter. Lombardo states, “I prefer Ahrefs which provides keyword research, traffic estimation, and an overall timeline of backlink growth. A huge benefit of Ahrefs is its massive backlink index. In my opinion, it is the most comprehensive solution for backlinks, and also the best for checking competitors’ search traffic and identifying which pieces of content creates the most income.”
Agreeing is Tim Absalikov at Lasting Trend, who shares, “At Lasting Trend, we use both SEMrush and Ahrefs for several years. Ahrefs has one of the best backlink checkers. It’s essential to see as many competitor’s backlinks as you can when you need to create a marketing strategy.”
Also a fan of using Ahrefs for backlinking is Josh Imhoff at Always Relevant Digital. Imhoff shares, “I’ve used many SEO tools, and hands-down I prefer Ahrefs. Ahrefs’ backlinks report is more useful than anything similar offered by any other SEO tool. It lets me easily research my own pages and competitors to find new linking opportunities.”
Finishing out explaining about backlinks is Quincy Smith from TEFL Hero, who shares, “Ahrefs is invaluable to our marketing. I appreciate the user interface of Ahrefs plus its link building functionality. There really is no better option for us and we use the tool daily.”
If you’re looking for a tool that can take your SEO site audit to the next level, Elizabeth Weatherby from CSI Financial Group believes that Ahrefs is the clear winner.
Weatherby shares, “I prefer to use Ahrefs. I think the data presented is just generally more accurate and Ahrefs tools seem to be a bit more helpful for the advanced level of SEO I perform. The site audit functionality gives you such good insight as to what your issues are, and how you can fix them.”
In regards to rank tracking, Ahrefs wins this round.
As Ronan Rohan Kadam from Vital Feedz shares, “I am a huge fan of Ahrefs. The tool covers every metric that should be measured for an effective SEO campaign. It has a good backlink analyzer, keywords generator, and an exceptional rank tracker. It can be pricey but I think the investment is worth it.”
While the above features are the tried-and-true functional dashboards that most SEO tools have, what about features that set them apart from each other? According to our contributors, it seems like SEMrush has more unique features than Ahrefs.
Milosz Krasinski starts off by believing that both tools offer unique features, “While both tools are great you can’t have everything in one place. Ahref will show you the total number of outgoing links from a given domain while SEMrush can’t do that. In contrast – the SEMrush traffic analytics module helps you to fully evaluate a given domain by showing you how much traffic is being delivered by different channels, from which countries – something that Ahrefs struggles to deliver.”
One unique feature that SEMrush brings to the table is its integration with Google Data Studio. Shilo Jones of 1970 elaborates to say, “The major reason we decided to switch to SEMrush is its integration with Google Data Studio. We’ve standardized all of our client reporting on Google Data Studio. We also prefer the intuitive user interface of the SEMrush site audit tool compared to that of Ahrefs.”
For others, it’s all about the level of reporting and ease of use. Carley Hanna at Supplement Warehouse states, “Our team prefers to use SEMrush. SEMrush’s reports are very extensive and are extremely easy to read and comprehend. I think the overall user-friendliness is, ultimately, what made us stick with SEMrush.”
Agreeing in regards to the user interface is Josien Galama at Salted.pro. Galama shares, “I prefer SEMrush above Ahrefs mainly because of the user interface. It’s much easier to navigate and work with.”
On the other hand, Victor André Enselmann from Bankly prefers the features that Ahrefs brings to the table, stating, “I prefer Ahrefs over SEMrush because Ahrefs has a number of unique features that no other tools have. I love that you can reverse-engineer your competitors’ backlinks to find link-building opportunities. You can also get unique data about different keywords, such as the click distribution between paid and organic results. And finally, compare a website’s current and historical rankings.
These are just some of Ahrefs’ features, and besides these, Ahrefs displays data in a very digestible way, which gives you a great overview of all the data you need. I use most of these features in my daily work, so I pretty much wouldn’t be able to work without using Ahrefs.”
Sam Bretzmann from BretzMedia thinks a little differently and believes it’s all about what you’re using the tool for. Bretzmann explained, “I think for strictly SEO use Ahrefs is slightly better, but I end up using SEMrush because it has additional features that I use for client work (like social media post scheduling). SEMrush also seems to be innovating more, trying and adding new features.”
Since most of our contributors have paid for both tools before (a whopping 93%), we can say that both Ahrefs and SEMrush have unique features that are worthy of your investment.
Now that we’ve broken down each SEO tool based on the features they bring to the table, you may be wondering, if you had to go with only one, which is the best overall value. The experts weighed in below.
Brett Greedy from Bee Greedy starts off, “Ahrefs has been an easy SEO tool with all of the upfront information to get your site on track and has a fantastic site audit tool that even a new kid on the block can wrap their head around.”
Janice Wald at Mostly Blogging shares, “I prefer Ahrefs. Ahrefs is considered the best in the SEO industry. Truly a one-stop-shop for SEO tools, Ahrefs has everything you could want in an SEO tool. Ahrefs has a keyword rank tracker, tells me the movements of all my keywords, even the keywords I am not tracking, and tells me new keywords. Ahrefs tells me content gaps so I can compete against other bloggers in my niche. Ahrefs support staff is helpful, friendly, and respond promptly. I look forward to paying up to enjoy even more features of Ahrefs.”
Agreeing is Miranda Perez at Miranda Made, who states, “Hands down Ahrefs. It’s a no brainer answer. Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO tool for everything you need for your SEO Campaign. Besides keyword research (both Ahrefs and SEMrush have this feature), Ahrefs has a ranking monitor, backlink monitor, and content explorer. You pay for one tool, and you could replace all other SEO Tools.”
Another expert on Team Ahrefs is Gabriela Covay from Bright Valley Marketing. Covay adds, “Hands down, Ahrefs is the gold standard when it comes to SEO tools. We wouldn’t be able to run our digital marketing agency without it. Compared to SEMrush, Ahrefs has an incredible amount of valuable tools that make our work as digital marketers so much easier. Their database is updated constantly, so the data you’re looking at is fresh and accurate. What’s more, Ahrefs is constantly innovating and providing more and more tools to its existing customers, without raising its rates. I’ve been grandfathered into a very generous rate since I signed up.”
Also agreeing is Alex Williams from The Website Flip, who uses Ahrefs when working for clients. Williams shares, “I definitely prefer working in Ahrefs whenever I’m doing SEO work for a client. I do a lot of work looking at the backlinks of sites and I find that Ahrefs is much better for backlink analysis than SEMrush. Ahrefs also regularly introduces new features that make it even more valuable. For my personal affiliate sites, I also prefer using Ahrefs for both backlink analysis and keyword research.”
Angela Han of Sharp Growth prefers using Ahrefs because it’s more budget-friendly for her needs, “Don’t get me wrong, I love SEMRush. But since I’m on a budget and I can only use one tool, I choose Ahrefs because it’s actually a bit more accurate in terms of the data that it provides. Ahrefs has a larger keyword database set. You can also see the seed keywords and get even more information if you really wanted to do your research. It is able to find more backlinks so you can reverse engineer your competitors.”
Rounding out the picks for Ahrefs is Carlos Rosado from Outlook Studios. Rosado shares, “After working with both over the years I have leaned towards Ahrefs as my SEO tool of choice. I love the updates they are making and the easy user interface. I’ve compared estimated traffic before on similar keywords that rank well and Ahrefs has proven to be more accurate. Competitor analysis has been one of my favorite features by reviewing link building, most popular pages, and keywords to target. Ahrefs has improved their platform and how much more you are capable of doing with SEO, competitor analysis, and link building.”
Starting things off for SEMrush is Sam Thomas at Embryo. Thomas shares, “Overall for me, it’s SEMrush because it’s a better all-rounder in terms of campaign and client management.”
Agreeing is Enric Batalla from Robert Silicon Valley HS. Batalla states, “As the marketing manager of a fully digital company I always need the most powerful tools to be able to perform my work. In my company, I choose to have SEMrush. I feel that it is a more intuitive and accurate tool than Ahrefs. During these last years, I found that SEMrush is easier to use for my novice employees, as a result increasing their efficiency. I also find that the information displayed in SEMrush has a higher grade of accuracy.”
Also a big fan of SEMrush is Kevin Miller from GR0. Miller adds, “SEMrush is a great tool and is best for their ‘traffic value’ metric and their position tracking. I use this to go and choose my top 25 keywords per brand and monitor their fluctuation day over day, week over week, and month over month. This is fantastic to keep track of where we are for our most valuable keywords to the business.”
Also agreeing is Jesse Heredia at Ravecode Solutions. Heredia shares, “Although both tools are excellent and offer a similar set of features, I prefer to use SEMrush because of its additional data available for keyword research and its inclusion of PPC data which you cannot find in Ahrefs.”
Vanessa Keen of webSMART thinks both tools are great, but slightly leans over toward SEMrush: “Both are great tools and we use both, but if I had to pick one over the other, SEMRush has helped streamline a lot of my work and reporting over the years. We use Data Studio for client reporting, and not only can I plug them into our data connectors, we also include the iFrame of their Sensor for SERP volatility. Plus, they’ve provided great customer support over the years, and that alone goes a long way.”
Finishing things off is Mark Robinson from Albion Forest who shares, “I use SEMrush as I prefer how it interacts. The level of information I get from it is great and it perfectly suits my needs. As a novice in the world of SEO, it is really user friendly and gives me regular updates on everything I need to know as well as fixing problems that I have.”
For the best of both worlds… look no further than Databox.
Because truth be told, each reporting tool has its limitations, but when you track metrics from SEMrush and Ahrefs in Databox, you are able to monitor your metrics in one spot.
The SEMrush integration is designed to pride digital marketers and online businesses across all industries with the most comprehensive data regarding marketing decisions, all while monitoring your data from anywhere.
There’s also the Ahrefs integration with Databox, which makes it easier than ever to stay on top of your content quality, in addition to metrics regarding link building, URL rankings, and keyword research.
No matter which one you choose, it only takes minutes to connect your account and start analyzing the data that matters most for your business.
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