SEMrush Review: The Best SEM Competitor Research Tool

Keyword research, position tracking, competitive analysis, and a regular site audit are a few of the key factors that are essential to strengthen and enhance one’s online presence in search engines.

Big business houses tend to have their own in-house SEO teams, but if you’re a small business owner or blogger, outsourcing your SEO campaigns may be beyond your budget.

For those who decide to do their own SEO, most market tools are either too pricey or complicated to use. But that is not always the case.

We show you how you can make use of one of the most comprehensive keyword research, business intelligence and online competitor analysis software to break the barriers to ranking on the first page of Google.

Before we get to that, let me tell you about my good friend Jim. He worked as an accountant in a nice big firm, but his 9 to 5 job, which he mostly ended up working for over 16 hours a day, (Saturday included) was starting to wear him thin.

Sunday was his day to do what he loved – fly fishing.

In fact, he loved his hobby so much that he wanted to quit his day job and devote all his time to doing what he loved. He heard a lot about blogging and online businesses and decided to explore the idea some more.

He spent about a month researching various websites on how to set up a niche business. After reading the income reports of popular bloggers and how it was possible to make a LOT of passive income just by working for a few hours a week… he decided to take the plunge.

He quit his job, followed the advice from a few popular blogs and had his website up and running in no time at all.

Jim was flying high and feeling confident. He was about to become a very rich man!

Time passed and instead of minting money from his business, he was struggling.

He could not understand why people were not coming to his website, reading his awesome content and buying the products he recommended. His meager savings were dwindling and it was becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

He was starting to get desperate!

Jim’s story may ring familiar to many of us who are caught up in the lure of making easy money online. After all, thousands of people are professing their success stories and there’s plenty of advice and guides for anyone eager enough to give it a try.

Every coin has two faces; every story – two sides. If there are people making money online, there are just as many who are shutting down, but you never hear of their failures.

Successful bloggers will tell you how they made $25K in one month, but do they reveal all their money making strategies to you – in a step by step guide? – they say they DO but in reality they DON’T!

That’s why you NEED to take their advice with a PINCH OF SALT!

People can tell you a lot of things – some probably true and some probably not – you’ll never know.

However, what remains true for all time is that NUMBERS NEVER LIE!


Just like Jim, we make business decisions relying on hearsay or unreliable factors. What we should rather be doing is using reliable tools to derive meaningful information that we can use to make business decisions and develop marketing strategies.

One such tool that I use for analyzing my web projects is SEMrush. The tool offers a variety of metrics on the most important parameters a business needs to look out for, and it does a really good job of making the data available in an easy to read manner.

Why not sign up for a free trial and follow along analyzing your website?

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If your website is heading in a meaningless direction, here’s how SEMrush can help you:

Understand Your Traffic Sources

Before you begin any sort of SEO or PPC campaign, you first need to understand where your traffic is coming from. For instance, do you know:

How much of your traffic is organic and how much is paid?

If your website is ranking in the top 3 search results on Google?

If so, what those keywords are?

Knowing this information will help you track where your traffic is heading: up or down, and if your rankings are improving or declining. Once you have the stats at the back of your hand, you can decide on the steps you need to take to improve your traffic. Then its just a question of continually monitoring your efforts and fine tuning it.

How to Monitor Your Traffic Using SEMrush

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On the left pane, make sure you are on the Overview tab. In the top right of the screen, in the Search bar input your website URL and hit Enter.

You will instantly get a birds eye view of all the factors we discussed above. Here’s an example of a top marketing blog’s traffic stats.



Learn From Your Competitors

Now that you have a basic idea of your traffic sources, its time to see figure out how your competitors are faring. Doing a competitor analysis will give you insights on the efforts of your competitors and help you capitalize on areas where you are failing apart from giving you a bucketful of fresh ideas on how to optimize your content.

How to do a Competitor Analysis Using SEMrush

On the left pane, select the Organic Research tab. Then select Competitors.

You will see a chart instantly showing your top organic search competitors and how you are faring against them. Hovering over the bubble will reveal the number of keywords your competitors are ranking for in the top 20 searches as well as their traffic.



If you scroll down further, you will find a list of your competitors, the keywords that are common to your sites as well as a whole lot of other information.

List of competitors



Take a look at the competition level. The more common keywords you have with your competitor, the greater is the competition.

Take a look at the SE Traffic price column. A high traffic price is synonymous with greater value for the keywords that the competitors are ranking for. If your competitors are ranking for more SE price keywords, you need to monitor them closely.

Export a copy of your top competitors, filter them by SE traffic, SE keywords, or other criteria. Then retain the top 20.

Common keywords

Now click the common keywords column for your top competitor. In the next screen, you’ll see the sites ranking in the search results, the average monthly searches, CPC and competitive density of advertisers among others.



Export this list of keywords to a spreadsheet. You can analyze this data in a number of ways.

Sort by CPC: The higher the CPC, the more are advertisers willing to pay for the keyword. Take note of these keywords and optimize your content using them.

Sort by competitive density: The higher the density, the more are advertisers using the keyword for their campaigns. Sort by this factor to discover low competition keywords. You will have a much better chance of outranking your competitors. Re-optimize your page, build backlinks, and do a content upgrade to outrank your competitors.

Now you identified common keywords to improve upon, but what about the untapped uncommon ones. Just hit the Enable Charts button at the top right of the section and you’ll see a Venn diagram. Click that part of the diagram that is exclusive to your competitor, in this case the light orange section.



Go back to the Table view to discover a whole lot of potential keywords you should be ranking for, but aren’t. Once again, you can export it, sort it according to CPC or competitive density and optimize your site for the most relevant keywords.

Discover Fresh Content Building Strategies

You can use SEMrush to discover what type of content is engaging readers. For instance, type in a competitor’s URL in the Search bar and select Organic Research->Position from the left bar.

Scroll down and you’ll get a list of the top 100 organic search keywords along with the URL. Once again, export and sort the table according to traffic.

Review all the top links and see how your competitors are delivering their content – how long the content is, what content enhancements are available, how differently is the material presented compared to yours.

Now identify posts on your website that needs to be upgraded, apply the changes and track the keyword ranking.

Discover the Most Profitable Keywords

Are there keywords that both your and your top competitors have not yet managed to discover and capitalize on? Sure there are and SEMrush makes the discovery of such keywords easy.

Looking for Related Keywords

Just type a keyword with a large search volume in the Search bar and hit Enter. Now scroll down to the related keywords section and click View Full Report. You’ll get another big list with of keywords each with their search volume, CPC, competitive density and other data.



Once again you can filter the data to refine the results.

Sort by search volume and eliminate results lower than 1000 searches. You can then click on the keywords from your list and find more related keywords for that. Again, you can filter the data and collect keywords above 1000 searches.

Continue the process until you have a rich long list of keywords to target. You can add this to the list you already built when doing a competitor analysis.

SEMrush’s related keywords tool is particularly awesome as you can find a rich list of long tail keywords to target and spread throughout your content.

Keyword Difficulty

You probably have a decent link of keywords to intend to target, but some of them may not be worth targeting. Why? Simply because that require way too much time and effort. You should therefore try and identify the keyword difficulty standing for your list and then work on targeting the easier ones. How do you do that?

SEMrush offers a Keyword Difficulty Tool to help you quickly ascertain the details. Head over to the left and and select Tools->Keyword Difficulty. In the text box, copy and paste the targeted keywords you collected from your analysis. Hit Show difficulty.



You will get a result showing you the difficulty level, volume, and results among others for each of your keywords. Any keyword with a difficulty level exceeding 60% is not worth pursuing. Eliminate them from your list and focus on a powerful content and link building strategy to boost traffic for the rest of the pages.

Finding Improved Keywords

Another method of discovering new keywords to rank for is by heading to Organic Research->Position Changes with your competitor URL in the Search bar. Here you will see a bar chart depicting lost and improved keywords.



Select Improved keywords. Export the data and filter it by position difference. This shows you where your competitors optimization methods are paying off as Google is returning these results to keywords that visitors query.

Analyze Paid Ad Strategy

Your advertisement strategies should encourage more clicks, conversions, and sales. If that is not happening, there’s a reason for it.

SEMrush’s smart Advertising Research feature lets you access the top performing keywords that industry leaders are using to drive paid traffic to their website.

You can see if the big guns are using high volume keywords, long tail keywords, or branded ad copies to get higher conversions.

Analyzing the period of time an ad campaign has been running will indicate whether the business has met with success with a specific ad campaign.

SEMRush’s database lets you analyze keywords and ad copies in 16 regional languages so you can not only focus on global campaigns in English but also pay attention to local ad campaigns in regional languages.

You can compare your website’s PPC to that of your competitor to identify areas for improvement. To know about your competitor’s ad strategy, on the left pane, go to Advertising Research->Competitors. Enter your domain URL in the Search bar and hit Enter.



You will see an ad bubble chart showing how you stack up against the competition. You’ll also see a list of competitors with the competition level, volume, ads keywords, ads traffic, and ads traffic price.

Identify your top competitors from the list and click on each of the column numbers to see which specific keywords they are bidding on, the search volume, CPC and competition density for those keywords.



Also note if there are specific trends you can see in your data. Take a look at the ad copies, see the landing pages and see if your competitors are consistently bidding on specific keywords. This requires a lot more effort and planning but at least you know what to look for.

If you click the Ads copies link in the Advertising Research section, you can find various ad copy formats used by your competitors. You can drill down further to see the keywords that are triggering the ads and you can further filter them on a variety of criteria.



Finally, if you take a look at the Ads history link on the left pane, you can see how often your competitors are bidding on a keyword.

Click on a blue box to see which ad copy is used to target a keyword. Any ad copy that is used repeatedly is probably performing well, but if a particular keyword that is on your list is discontinued from the campaign, you’d be better off removing it from your campaigns as well.

Use the information from the advertising research to optimize your keywords effectively.



As you can see from this approach, you don’t really have to run outside tests to determine the success of your ad campaigns. SEMrush makes your competitors do all the hard work for you and you can simply study the findings to optimize your campaigns.

Analyze Backlinks

The quality of backlinks to your site has never been more important than in today’s Penguin ravaged environment. You’ll always want to keep a check on all backlinks pointing to your domain, evaluate which ones are authoritative and have do-follow links.

You’ll also want to know the anchor texts used and compare your backlinks to that built by your competitors. You also need to keep track of your follow and nofollow links and maintain a balance between the two.

SEMRush Backlinks tool, which has over 160 billion links making it easy to conduct a deep link analysis so you can improve your link building strategy as well as spot new referral traffic sources.

If a page that is linking to your site has hundreds of external links, its most likely that the site is a spammy one and you must consider removing the unnatural link.

You also need to check to see if your site is earning .edu or .gov backlinks. If not, you need to make efforts to earn them. You also need to see which strong authority sites your competitors are linking to and try and leverage them for your own website.

Go to Backlinks->Overview and enter your competitor’s domain in the Search bar. You can instantly see an overview of the total number of referring domains and see the distribution of do-follow and no follow links.



Click the Referring Domains link to get a list of all the domains linking to your website. Note down the top linking sites and if you are yet to engage with these sites, you now have an opportunity to do so as your audience is right there. If possible, consider doing guest posts on such sites.



Now lets dig a little deeper to see which pages the links are coming from. Click the Total Backlinks link. You can see the title of the backlinks and URLs of the source and target pages. Other useful metrics such as anchor text and number of other external links are also available.



Export the data and filter the backlinks by zone and .org or .edu and take note of the results. You will want to focus your link building campaigns on these results.

Go to Backlinks-> Indexed Pages and sort the Domains column in descending order.



You can now see which of your competitors pages are getting the most number of backlinks. You can then note down the type of content that is attracting these backlinks and try to create similar type of content (with upgrades to make it one step better than what your competitor is offering) to draw backlinks.

Tracking Tracking Tracking

By now you have an idea of where you stand with respect to traffic, you know what your competitors are ranking for, where they are promoting their content, the type of content that they are ranking for, the keywords you can target and the ad campaigns you can focus on to draw traffic to your website.

Great work so far!

You have also worked on creating the right type of content people are looking for, built backlinks and strengthened it with smart ad campaigns.

Now its time to track the results of your efforts!

SEMrush has a Position Tracking tool (Tools -> Position Tracking) where you can set up a new project to track up to 500 keywords. Just fill in the form with all the requisite details, grab your top 20 keywords and add them in the sandbox keywords text box, and select the option to get notified via email every week.

When the results are in, note down the keywords where you are losing rankings and examine why that is happening.

You can check for on page elements like titles, tags, page speed, internal links, keyword variations, and other areas where you can better optimize your site.

You can also add internal links from your top performing pages and build quality links to boost the ranks of these pages.

Then, examine your competitors who are ranking better for that keyword and replicate their SEO efforts (guest posting; directories; forums; and so on).

You can also create alerts in BuzzSumo to see what your competitors are promoting and replicate your learning.

Keep an Eye on Mobile Analytics

Google’s latest mobile friendly algo is another factor that users need to watch out for and SEMrush has you covered here as well.



Just hit the Mobile button in the Overview page and you’ll get a view of your site’s mobile friendliness, the search performance, the performance trend and more. You can dig deeper to find out pages that are not mobile friendly and need fixing.

Regular Audit

If you’ve been running your website for a long time and have been hit by various Google algo changes, you are better off doing a site audit to understand what has gone wrong. You can make use of the SEMrush Audit Tool to check your website’s health.

Go to Tools->Site Audit and configure your website. SEMrush will pull out a report on issues your site may have with crawlability, broken images, missing tags, coding, duplicity and more and they will be displayed according to their severity – as errors, warnings, and notifications.



The Overview section will show you the top problems with your site. To fix an issue that is common across your website, just go to the Issues tab and check out all the affected URLs. For issues related to your landing page, head to the Page Report tab.

Once you have taken a look at the various issues you can decide where you want to start fixing them from. You can also set up a recurring weekly schedule to make sure that issues are correctly fixed. Plus any new issues can also be identified and corrected.

Final Thoughts

Building a website isn’t just about writing great content and sharing it. It also involves a lot of technicalities and if you want to be one of the top 10 results on Google from the millions of competing sites, you have to get technical and be good and consistent at it.

The Internet is constantly evolving and if you don’t stay on top of the changes that are happening, you’ll only end up writing for a non existent audience. SEMrush is a powerful tool that lets you capture, monitor, and learn about these various changes in a meaningful manner without needing to spend hours and days.

Charts, lists, side by side comparison, deep linking, top lists are just some of the styles in which SEMrush delivers its results for users. These methods give a birds eye view of various aspects of your website. Clicking the links provides a deeper analysis and reveals a story of how your competition is beating you. There are easy guides and tutorials if you ever need help, and the support team is very helpful as well.

If you pick up the Pro version of SEMrush, you can get a comprehensive results: about 10,000 results per report, (3000 reports a day), 500 keywords tracking, 100,000 page crawls and 5 scheduled PDF reports to download, not to mention various additional filters for deeper analysis.

However, you can simply sign up for a free 14 day FREE TRIAL to test its various features.

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