Blogging, Reviews, SEO

SEMrush Review : The Best Competitor Research Tool

SEMrush review

This review of SEMrush gives a layman’s understanding of how SEMrush and its various functions work and its usefulness vis-à-vis Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s an assessment of SEMrush’s capabilities and ease of use, with respect to SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing).

Let’s say you are a blogger,  to be more specific, a tech blogger. You know you have the required expertise to do product reviews.For example, you know about the technicalities about latest gadgets and software products, but you also know that if there are many others just like you; people who like to blog and have the same skill set as you. If you’ve scoured the Internet enough about ways to increase the number of unique users who visit your blog, you will have come across ‘ten best ways to increase traffic’ or some self-styled expert’s take on how to write a great blog post. And you might have realized these posts, essays and so-called expert opinions which don’t do a great deal of good to your cause. A lot of these posts and opinion pieces just talk about SEO in a very generic way, without giving any concrete advice about how to go about it.

Small Business?

The same could happen to a small business that seeks to build an online presence, a newbie to the e-commerce space, or even an established player who is losing ground to new niche websites. Due to ignorance of affordable SEM solutions in the market and the availability of huge amounts of capital allocated to advertisement budgets, big players can just use their financial power to recruit internet marketing experts. So while big entities can get away without too much knowing about SEM or SEO (since they can just recruit people who know about such things), which the small businesses or blogs cannot afford to do, so due to limitations of capital and small spheres of influence (relative to big players like corporates). They make use of tools that are affordable, effective and within their reach. And many of them have been as successful as the big players. So what do smart bloggers, businesses and internet marketing experts know that the rookie doesn’t?

Search Engine Optimization

The answer to that lies in three letters, SEO, and/or SEM. SEO and SEO tools have everything to do with augmenting one’s visibility on the Internet. To put it in a crude way; it’s about improving your position in Google search results. And why that matter is basically because of two reasons:

  1. The majority of businesses aren’t disruptors. They aren’t very different from each other. Hence they spend so much on advertising to make themselves look unique. But that doesn’t work on the internet. Especially if you think that marketing on the internet is the same as it is in other fields. Marketing on the internet is a different ball game. Here your focus shouldn’t be just on making yourself or ideas or your brand popular. Additionally, your focus should be on getting traffic to the site. And that affects your success in more ways than you think.
  2. Everyone uses Google. Google’s search engine has proliferated so much that ‘Googling’ has become a legitimate verb now. You will almost never hear someone saying that they ‘Binged’ or ‘Yahooed’ a recipe for chocolate fudge cake.

Piece of Cake ?

“Okay, I get it. Unless you’re Steve Jobs, you have to stop trying to show how unique you are. Boring as it may sound my success depends largely on getting traffic to my site and not the ingenuity of my writing, product or service. And that happens if you are high up in result listings on Google search results pages. All that is fine. How do I get there?”


To explain that question, let me introduce SEMrush. SEMrush is basically an all-in-one suite of tools (or services if you like) that influence writing, designing and coding of websites in ways that enhance one’s websites’ visibility online. So, how does it influence that process? Actually, it is less of influencing and more of informing. The reason I say that is that SEMrush is grounded in empirical data, both historical as well as real-time.

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And it offers a broad range of tools under one umbrella that enables one to perform a holistic examination of a domains’ SEO capabilities. For an idea of the tools offered, look at expanded ‘Domain Analytics’ and ‘Keyword Analytics’ headings of the dashboard in the figure immediately below.

These involve assessing the quality of back linking, providing in-depth keyword research along with a ranking of keywords and competitor analysis. Keyword research, spying on competitor and competitor analysis from the main aspects of this review as these are also the core features of SEMrush that make it one of the highest ranked SEO tools.

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Keyword research

Keyword research can be carried out in two ways:

1. Firstly, by searching for keywords ranking for the domain.

2. Secondly, by searching for the keywords itself, and seeing which domains they rank for. In a first way, enter the domain name and look at the keywords that the domain ranks for. You can arrange the keywords results in terms of a number of times the exact keyword phrase was used in the search. That would help me in understanding the volume for each particular keyword. The higher the volume, the more I would want to use that keyword, as it is more likely that a Google search then will lead to incoming traffic.

Read : How to find Keyword Difficulty with SEMrush

However, SEMrush data is multidimensional and volume isn’t the only indicator to watch out for. There is CPC or Cost Per Click, which is the mean bidding price for keywords (if any). This is an indicator of how much competitors are willing to expend on a certain keyword, thus possibly showing how frequently used a keyword is. Pos or ‘Position’ explains at what place is the keyword is in the selected search engine results listings. The lower the number (for Pos), the higher the ranking of a keyword in the search engine. Com stands for Competitors. That is the number of advertisers competing for that keyword.

Read : How to Find high CPC keywords with SEMrush

Type of User ?

Each column affects or may affect the keyword ranking in different ways. SEMrush offers its own way of ranking a keyword taking all these data fields into consideration, using its own complex algorithms and formulas (nerds will have a field day figuring it out). But of course, each user of SEMrush has their own requirement; different target audience, different objectives, and priorities. It’s up to the user how to use the data. For some users, the position and number of competing advertisers could be more useful to one person than it is to others. For others, the Cost Per Click matters the most. So not only does SEMrush advise users as to what keyword to look for, they also give freedom for the user to choose from the data fields they need.

In a second way, what you do is you enter a keyword and you get the domains on which they rank for (this is also related to competitor analysis which I will elaborate on in coming paragraphs).

There are two kinds of reports with regards to keyword research. One is related to phrase matching. This looks for phrases with little changes used in place of the major phrase you are researching about. The other report is about keywords that are related to the major keyword phrase being researched. The latter report is especially useful when you want to extend your influence to additional demographics or target newer traffic.

Google it!

Note that, all these searches can be customised for search engine and geographical location. That is, you can choose Google, Bing, Yahoo and other domains (But let’s face it. Who use anything other than Google for a web search?). Further, you can choose results from the same domain in multiple regions (geographical locations). This allows one to just look at the keyword results in a specific region. And that allows me to use keywords in my website according to my target audience.

list of countries

Figure 3: List of country that can be accessed

Moreover, SEMrush churns through key phrases that are in non-English languages as well. SEMrush supports analysis of keywords in sixteen languages.

SEMrush is all about customised research that way. You can tweak the filters and parameters for the search. You can see keyword research results in real-time (See Figure 4) and you can see the results for a historical time period set by you (See Figure 5).

real time data


time period of historical data

Figure 5: Time period for historical data can be customised.

Through this feature, one can also find out about the seasonality of certain keywords, by looking at historical trends. Certain keywords may only be used during certain times of the year. For example, search queries for ‘play schools’ might peak during the end of an academic year, especially in metro cities where both parents are working. Or search queries for toys might peak during Christmas in the United States. News websites will also look to add election-related keywords to their domains during the start of the campaign cycle, so that they can direct search queries that seek latest election updates, opinion polls, etc. Also, you can check results for both organic keywords and keywords that are paid for.

The keyword research tool also helps to save money by avoiding uninformed Adwords purchases. Now, using the data from keyword research results, you can now make informed decisions about what keywords to use, what keywords to buy.

Competitor analysis and spying

“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

The first step in preparation to outperform your rivals is to know who your rivals are and to know yourself- your abilities and limitations and what opportunities you have at your disposal.

So what does that mean in the area of Search Engine Marketing?

The most amazing and badass feature of SEMrush is that you can type in any domain name (SEMrush has a HUGE database). And this includes that of your competitors as well! Let that sink in for a moment. You not only know what top keywords that rank which domains but you can know what keywords that know what keywords that your rival is using to attract traffic. If an SEMRUSH user keeps performing periodic keyword research for a competitors domain, one can keep tabs with what your rival is doing and why they have performed they way they have, regarding traffic trends.

This is done by the Domain vs. Domain tool (as the makers of SEMrush call it). This tool is very similar to e-commerce sites where you can select five phones in the same price range and compare them side by side, you are able to immediately able to compare the same parameters in each product and hence make an informed decision.  Similarly, in SEMrush, you can select a maximum of five domains to compare keywords that rank for those very domains. You can know how different are your rival’s keywords from you and the rest of the market. You can also identify what keywords are common between you and your rival. You can basically do away with the need for a marketing research professional. You yourself become a self-appointed (and very rightly so) pro in market research, at least as far your market is concerned.

“What can I do with competitor analysis?”

We can use keyword research data in two ways:
  1. You know what keywords that are top ranked for your rival domains. So now you can also gain similar ranking in search engine pages listings. So you can achieve that by ‘aping’ the competition in terms of the keywords used.
  2. You know what the competition uses. So conversely, you could try to be different from the existing rivals by using phrases that haven’t been already used. Thus, you could take the rivals by surprise and you could also take advantage of being the early bird to the scene. That is, you would be able to dominate in keywords that haven’t been monetized yet.

SEMrush may seem intimidating at first due to various short forms and tables. But it actually is one of the easiest SEO or SEM (Search Engine Marketing) tools to understand. The makers of SEMrush have made sure that unnecessary jargon can be done away with. Additionally, they have tried to make visualisation of data easy in order to understand large amounts of data. The results for say, a comparison of two domains, are listed in the form of a comparative table. In case you dislike tables, you have the option of choosing the ‘chart view’.

Data Visualisation

Figure 6: Visualisation of data through interactive charts

The same results can now be seen in a Venn diagram, line graph, bar graph or a pie graph. For example, the intersection of a Venn diagram of two domains could indicate the common keywords that both the domains have in common. The smaller the intersection area of the circles is, the lesser the number of common keywords that the two domains have. So the domains being compared are certainly doing things differently when it comes to attracting traffic. Conversely, the larger the intersection area is, the higher the number of common keywords that the two domains use. This could mean that the two domains are competitors or bidders for the same set of popular keywords; they could have the same target audience as well.

The same Domain vs. Domain tool can be used in chart form as well. Parameters of up to five domains can be viewed and analysed for keyword research. The charts are interactive as well. One, you can keep tweaking the inputs of time and domains. You can keep changing the metrics you are doing a comparison for. Two, when you hover the cursor over the graph it gives you exact information at that particular point in time (as shown in the screenshot above- Figure 6). If you use the paid version you can get even more interactive with the charts. You could even select on certain lines in the graph to get into further details.

Other features

Besides competitor analysis and keyword research (both of which are indispensable tools for any SEM strategy), SEMrush has a list of another service useful to any blogger, business or internet marketer. They have an advertising research tool that informs the user of their rivals advertising strategy and the accompanying expenditure. You can also follow the trends regularly and know the influence of the ad campaigns if any. Thus you can learn from your competitor’s mistakes and masterstrokes. A lot of money can be saved thus. Think of it as spying on your competitor. You can know:

  1. The keywords they are using, both paid and unpaid.
  2. For what period of time have they retained their campaign?

Thus, you can now modify the techniques and tactics you use to bid for keywords and campaigns. SEMrush helps in keeping a leash on the advertising budget in the long run.

Another important part of SEM strategy (or SEO audit) is backlinking. Backlinking is the process of leading links towards your website or to particular pages on your websites. The point is to get incoming links from websites of good quality and authority. More importantly, it is the heterogeneity and relevance of the links that is required. The higher the quality of links leading to your website, the higher Google is likely to place you in their search results.

SEMrush has a backlink checker tool to check for backlink quality. It checks for domain authority of the domain and the location of the same. You can check for the kinds and names of incoming links to rival domains and compare that with your own or that of market leaders’. After comparison and appraisal of one’s own link-building quality, one can plan the incoming links accordingly. Remember, good backlinking means two things:

  1. Better indexing and hence also the speed with which Google can find you when a relevant search query is made.
  2. You will be placed high by search engines’ algorithms.


The utility of SEMrush in providing rich and informed analysis of search queries data is obvious. However one must also recognize some things:

The quality of writing still does matter, in spite of what many SEM tool reviews will probably say.  However, the way we understand quality though needs to be tweaked a little. Quality writing is now informed by data and analysis about the highest ranking search keywords. So, in addition to writing well, as conventionally understood, one must also include keywords that will increase the amount of traffic.

Even though SEO isn’t an exact science, using SEO or SEM tools will remain an inevitable part of commercial domains. Unless one does keywords research, one couldn’t possibly know that bulk of the traffic to a blog (for example) might be due to keywords in a handful of posts.  Or that their competitor is now expanding to new audiences, going by their latest monthly rankings of keywords. Or that certain keywords are extremely difficult to buy and hence could possibly affect traffic; the opposite could also be the case here. But that’s exactly the point of using SEMrush. If you’re making a decision regarding the content on your website, you are able to know exactly why the decision you make is the best one because you have all details the background of the situation through the data and analysis that SEMrush provides.

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  1. Wow! You explained everything about SEMrush in this detailed guide. Thanks a ton for sharing this.

    And congratulations for winning $100 from SEMrush.

  2. I came here from berush 😛 congrats for winning 100$
    btw this is a great piece of content ..i wish i can also write such lengthy articles 🙂 good luck

  3. Got it all things about SEMrush.Thanks 🙂

  4. Hi Krishna,
    Awesome tutorial for every blogger. You’ve really described the use of SEMrush in simple, yet effective. Your article is very informative. I would say great job done by you.
    Keep posting such a informative blogs.

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