Although some of SEMRush's features could use refinement, this tool gives thorough keyword insights and valuable, competitive search traffic insights.

We’re always on the lookout for search engine optimization data and tools that can help inform content marketing plans, and the team at SEMRush was nice enough to offer us Pro-Level access to their platform. This professional-grade software for SEO and SEM research is ultimately worth your time and interest.

Here is my experience with the platform, specific to conducting SEO research.

Introduction to SEMRush

SEMRush provides its users with tools that allow them to better understand their websites’ standing in regards to current target keywords (and potential key phrases), competitors’ relative positions and the potential for improvement on rankings or placements with other given keywords. The platform draws on a wealth of information (which SEMRush notes is growing), citing:

  • 80 million keywords listed in its database
  • Rankings records from Google US, 9 non-US Google domains and Bing
  • 42 million domains on record

The tool gives the user everyday SEO metrics like keyword rankings and search volumes, but also provides less common measures like the percentage of traffic gleaned from a keyword, or the number of indexed results Google has for a given term. All of its output is available for review through your browser, or it can be downloaded as an XLS or CSV file.

Analyzing a target SEO keyword

Entering a given keyword into the search field yields a wealth of information: • A top-level summary of the term for key metrics like search volume, cost per click and competition levels

  • A list of other words that include the exact phrase, with the same key metrics
  • Other, related keywords (which are not a match for the exact phrase)
  • Which sites perform best for the word: its 20 highest SERP listings, plus a list of those sites purchasing the term and the ad text that they’re providing for it

As is often the case when managing a great deal of information, I found some of data points more helpful than others. The phrase match report and the related phrases could be helpful to someone starting a strategy from scratch and looking to expound on a core phrase or idea. 

They’re less important to someone who simply needs to learn more about a given term. I am undecided on how effective the data would prove – as many terms yield 500+ phrase matches and keyword ideas.

All told, I don’t know of another resource that gives this degree of detail in one place, making this tool a great one-stop shop to learn all angles of a given keyword. This feature allows someone to quickly and effectively understand the potency of a term, as well as the competitive landscape for both ad buyers and top-ranking sites.

Researching competitors’ search engine optimization standings

I found SEMRush’s competitor information impressive and useful. The platform offers a simple way to understand which PPC and SEO keywords are providing traffic to a given website. As has become a recurring theme, SEMRush gives the user a bona fide wealth of data when conducting competitor research. If searching SEMRush for a single competitor web domain, one finds:

  • The top 1,000+ keywords for the site (For each keyword, one can view: search volume, CPC, the linked URL for the SERP, its competition, the proportion of traffic it provides, etc.)
  • Every PPC keyword that the site buys, along with the ad text for each term
  • That site’s top PPC and organic competitors
  • Potential ads/traffic buyers and sellers

I don’t fully understand how the two metrics about ads buying and selling were calculated – but I believe that ultimately, these listings are suggested (algorithmically) as top potential partners for ad sales, link exchange, etc. This was not my leading focus in this review, as SEO is my area of expertise.

As an SEO competitor research tool , SEMRush is terrific. It basically equips a marketer to lift ideas, tips, and strategies directly from competitors – allowing the user direct visibility into sites’ organic keyword performance, Google ad placements (and copy) , alongside macro-level data like how much traffic is coming into the site from paid and organic sources, with its estimated worth. The tool allows ordinary marketers to pull solid ideas from other companies within their competitive atmosphere, and equips more skilled marketers to fine-tune their strategies and guarantee they haven’t missed any “hidden gem” keywords that others were savvy to.

Here’s a quick view of what a business in the retail industry who would cite ToyRUs as a competitor would see when using the tool:

Evaluating your content marketing strategy

Using the same domain search also puts the user in a strong position to evaluate the hundreds or thousands of keywords that are currently driving his site traffic (as well as all Google PPC results). Conducting research on through this lens, I used a few new features:

The (new) backlinks report

This data was somewhat unwieldy to review in my browser (the results list out much like Google SERP’s do), but some spot checking showed that the data was reputable. Essentially, this lists the web pages that link to your domain: the linking page’s title and URL, plus the link’s anchor text and URL. It’s interesting for a quick or off-hand review of which of your content pages are effective for link building, but it lacks metrics to evaluate the links. It is a bit shallow for those seeking a more in-depth review.

Competitors in organic search

The intent here is great: I was excited to learn which sites were deemed my top competitors so that I could review their keyword and content marketing strategies. However,’s top competitors (of a field of 3,473) included Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo and Facebook. In other words – this algorithm could use some refinement, de-emphasizing the importance or authority of “competing” sites. In its current form, I could not effectively use this tool to understand a website’s competitors because it is weighted improperly.

Even with that said, SEMRush gives users data that helps them understand the nature of their organic traffic: which terms bring the most site traffic, and which have the most potential for the future (also, which are risks to taper-off with time). I don’t know of another tool that combines site-specific, traffic-proportionate, data one might find in Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics with measures like search volumes and CPC that one normally finds in paid SEO tools. SEMRush gives a helpful cross-section of information.

Other notable features and functions

Organic keywords Top 200

This feature supplies a researcher with SEMRush’s suggestions for the 200 keywords that could provide the target site with the most benefit (if it improves its visibility around them). It’s a calculation that combines the current ranking of the term (distance from first search position) with the term’s search volume and the value of the term (as calculated by CPC). It’s a great concept, but in my experience one should probably expect to sift through a number of irrelevant terms (that are trending at the time of research) in hopes of identifying one or a couple of new, focus keywords.

Traffic trends

SEMRush allows for simple charting of your site’s search engine traffic versus up to four competitors. The format is clean and user-friendly, but the functionality is a little limited: the time span cannot be toggled, for instance. However, the same feature can also be used to run checks for a site’s paid traffic, the value of its search traffic or the value of its paid traffic. In the end, this is a helpful tool.

Tutorial Videos and FAQ’s

The site supplies its user with basic support materials explaining the service and its functionality. While generally helpful, they would benefit from a little more depth (there is only about six minutes of video help) and clarity. They are working in the right direction, but need more development.


SEMRush makes an API available to members. This was not something that I utilized or explored, but I would be interested to learn more about its potential applications: could it perhaps allow integration with proprietary dashes, or facilitate auto-reporting? For me, this stands as an interesting, admittedly unexplored, feature.

The bottom line on this SEO tool

SEMRush puts a wealth of data at its users’ fingertips – and the majority of that data is easily digested and helpful to an SEO.

I have not seen another tool that supplies users with the ability to identify their websites’ competitive, current standing on focus keywords with the thoroughness and nimbleness that SEMRush does. I have also not worked with a tool that enables so thorough a review of a single keyword.

Its capacity for competitor researching is its greatest asset in my view – as it essentially allows voyeurism to the brunt of web traffic to one, or all, of your competitors. I haven’t encountered another service that makes it so simple to identify the sources of a competitor’s traffic. SEMRush would be a great ally to someone looking to break new ground with an unproven website, or someone seeking a competitive edge in a tooth-and-nail battle for top positions.

Overall, SEMRush as a holistic offering could still use some refinement with regards to features, functions, and display types – but it should prove a valuable resource to any SEO committed to understanding the best keyword strategy to incorporate in content marketing for his or her website. I look forward to watching its evolution in coming weeks and months, and also to utilizing it as part of my ongoing work.

Matt Churinske joined Brafton in 2009 as an account manager. He had previously worked as the project manager for an online marketing and web design agency in Raleigh, NC. Matt is a proud UNC Tarheel who spent six years in North Carolina before moving back to Massachusetts, his home state. He formerly served as the lead account manager for Brafton's implementation team.