These are the two big players of website analysis that exist today.

Long have these two SEO kings been engaged in a battle for the top spot.

They both do very similar things, but in quite different ways.

They are both premium pay to use software tools that are capable of performing in-depth analyses of websites and their contents.

They can scrape data from all over the world and present them to users in various ways.

They both perform a comprehensive analysis of:

So let’s get started.

To begin we have to go back and look at the origins of both of these companies and how they got started.

If we can understand their roots, then we can better understand their particular strong points.

Let’s start with Ahrefs

Ahrefs started out as a backlink index tool, and over 10 years after their conception, this is still what they excel at.

Since their early days, they have continued to expand their backlink analysis platform, as well as developing other tools that consumers have come to expect from SEO analysis platforms.

They are very proud of their own capabilities, boasting that their web crawler ‘processes up to 8 billion pages a day’ which is more than Google does.

They also have the freshest backlink information on the web, with updates occurring every 15 minutes or so.

Now we’ll look at their rivals, Semrush

Semrush has been around slightly longer than Ahrefs, with a year or twos head start.

They started out as more of a keyword orientated tool, which would research various keywords and their value for marketers.

They are now a global company that has also invested a lot of time and money into developing the platform into a full SEO analysis solution.

They are also one of the favoured tools for pulling data on competitors which can be incredibly useful when targeting keywords.

Now both companies have diversified to the point where they both do almost everything that the other does, with their own flair and specialist approach.

Each definitely still has their own strengths and weaknesses, but both platforms are competing on the same very high level of performance and insight.

Because of this, it becomes very difficult to determine which one is best overall.

A better approach would be to determine which one is best in one particular area, which is exactly what we are going to do.

Which Tool is Best For Keyword Research?

In order to perform a fair analysis, it makes sense to give a brief rundown of the approach that each company has towards keyword research.

First up, Ahrefs

Ahrefs uses two primary tools to analyse keywords:

Keyword Explorer

Keyword Explorer looks very similar to other keyword tools out there in terms of the data that it tracks and the information that is presents.

Here is the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Overview:

It has evolved to show real world metrics that actually have some significance to marketers, rather than simply telling you that a particular keyword gets X number of searches a month.

Along the top focuses on some simple insights like the search volume, how difficult it is to rank for that keyword, number of clicks and global search volume by country.

It then gives you the keyword sets that are organised by search volume, which are keyword ideas, questions, as well as the latest keyword search terms.

If you expand the keyword ideas by same terms section, you are met with this view:

It shows you the keyword ideas, the difficulty to rank for this keyword, the search volume, the number of clicks it gets, the cost per click for paid ads, and the return rate for users.

Even within this brief selection of metrics, we can determine a lot about a keyword and its value for marketing.

One of the most crucial of these is the click counter, a simple measurement that gives great insight into a keyword’s capabilities, especially when compared with keyword volume.

If a keyword is getting a lot of volume but not a lot of clicks, this is a good indication that the search results page alone is providing enough information to the user’s search query and no further navigation is required.

A perfect example of this is when you search for a celebrity like Rihanna for example:

Google has already served up some key information on the famous singer, which is why her search results on Ahrefs looks like this:

Notice this keyword is getting over double the number of searches than it is clicks?

This is because Google is already providing relevant information to do with this keyword, and is answering questions that often pop up in relation to a keyword:

This is great for Google users as it reduces friction and gives people the information they want quickly and easily, but it is not so good for websites that are missing out on the traffic.

Organic Keywords

The Organic Keywords feature on Ahrefs lets you plug in URLs and find out what that domain is ranking for and its keyword profile.

This is very useful if you are trying to analyse the competition and find out what approach they are taking and how well it is working for them.

SEMrush

Now let’s look at how SEMrush approaches keywords.

They have 3 main keyword tools within their platform.

Here is their keywords analytics overview:

As you can see, SEMrush prioritises slightly different metrics than Ahrefs does, although they ultimately show almost all the same information as the other.

It shows search volume numbers and the average CPC for the keyword, with a bar chart next to it showing where the paid ad clicks are coming from.

It also tells you how the keyword is trending, then underneath shows the keyword groups relating to it.

SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool is essentially the same idea in principle as Ahref’s own Organic Keywords tool.

Here it is expanded:

You can see all the information that you need when it comes to sizing up keywords and making decisions about what ones you want to use.

What works for some might not be useful to others, so you have to remember that each person will find each platform’s features different in terms of usability.

One thing that SEMrush really nails is the data that it presents relating to PPC ads.

This is one of the reasons why it is a platform favoured by PPC managers and marketers that are focused on running ad campaigns.

Check out the lower section of SEMrush’s Keyword Overview dashboard:

As you can see, it serves up a live example of an ad for your keyword, as well as a historical chart for all of the ads that have ran for this keyword.

This information is essential for marketers that are running targeted campaigns and want to get the most out of their marketing budget.

This is something that Ahrefs is lagging behind with very slightly, and would be good to see integrated into their platform.

For the first round of the SEO Face Off, we are going to have to call it a draw, as both platforms showed great performance for keyword analysis.

Backlink Analysis

Let’s move on to comparing how each tool goes about checking backlinks.

This is an essential part of each platform that gets a lot of use by marketers, web developers and more, so understanding the strengths of each tool is very useful.

SEMrush Backlink Analysis

First check out what SEMrush has to offer when you pull backlinks for our site:

backlinks-semrush

As you can see, it gives a visual breakdown of the link types and attributes, then starts to list the links below, listing the type of metrics that link analysis users have come to expect.

It doesn’t quite give as much detail that Ahrefs provides off the bat, but it is nonetheless very much on the ball.

Ahrefs Backlink Analysis

Ahrefs has always been the go-to platform for checking backlinks, so let’s look at their approach:

As you can see, it is a lot more data-intensive in the way it presents information relating to the site’s backlink profile.

This is one of the main reasons it has always been the go-to platform for web developers and marketers.

Moving from left to right, we can see the domain rating (DR), the URL strength (UR), referring domains, linked domains, traffic, how many links the target page has and more.

It even shows you how many keywords the referring page ranks for.

This is a comprehensive collection of data points that can all be used to really drill down on the value being provided by a certain backlink.

In contrast to SEMrush’s approach, Ahrefs actually provides substantial backlink information right from the overview section, with a quick breakdown of the number of links pointing to the site, as well as a referring domain graph plotted over time.

Whereas SEMrush focus more on the keyword capabilities of the website, like this:

This distinction clearly outlines each platform’s priorities and highlights their strengths.

Although both tools can be used to find out the same information, the way it goes about presenting it is very different.

This is why users working in different sectors will choose one over the other, however that is not to say that some people use both, which definitely happens.

For the winner of this round it is no surprise that we are going to give it to Ahrefs, their backlink information is simply more concise and feels nicer to use.

Website Auditing

This is something that both tools have adapted to overtime.

An audit lets you find technical SEO problems that need addressing in order to fully optimise your website.

SEM Rush Site Audit

Ahrefs Site Audit

Ahrefs Audit

We were quite proud of our Ahrefs health score of 94%.

Scroll down and you find details on links, which can be expanded to show you exactly where they are on the website.

Further down you will find links to on-page problems that may need to be addressed.

on page seo

So overall, this gives you a good idea of things that can be optimised further in order to help your website score and rankings.

SEMrush Audit

SEMrush wasn’t quite as generous with their health score.

However, they show separate pages relating to different points of information, which is great for getting a deeper understanding of your site’s problems.

Within the issues tab, we have a full list of problems as well as warnings that could be affecting your site’s rankings.

Both of these tools will flag up serious problems, and they even give you advice as to how you can fix the issues.

Auditing is a big part of everyday SEO, but SEMrush or Ahrefs has great interfaces to help you get on top of it.

We decided that this one was a very close call, however SEMrush seemed slightly more in depth in terms of the analysis provided, as well as being a bit more conservative with its scoring, which is always a good thing.

The Verdict

Now that we have given a run down of what each tool does best and how it can help you out, its time for the all important decision of which one we think is better.

Now we must first mention that this is a heavily subjective and partially biased opinion, mainly due to the fact that we used Ahrefs everyday in the office.

But, with that said we want to cast our vote on which one we prefer overall as a complete SEO tool.

Taking everything into account, the similarities make this a tough decision, and even the pricing of each platforms makes it hard to determine a winner, since they are closely matched in price point.

However, we can safely say that for website builders and technical SEO companies that need a more link orientated approach, Ahrefs is the clear winner.

But, on the other hand, for marketers and value creators that need a more keyword focused platform, SEMrush comes out on top.

In fact, we like it so much after this comparison that we are going to take out a years subscription and see what else it has to offer beyond what we already know.

If you are sizing up each platform and you haven’t quite decided which one to go for, we recommend trying them out with the trials that they have on offer.