Ironically, the major difference between these two organic marketing suites may come down to pay-per-click features.

Website on a laptop with the term SEO.
Image: Adobe

While Ahrefs and Semrush are both superb all-in-one SEO suites, there’s a reason why some top agencies use both. Though they have significant overlap, they also have some unique features defined by each tool’s original purpose.

Ahrefs began its life primarily as a backlinks tool, which makes sense — Google started as a backlinks-powered search engine. Meanwhile, Semrush started as a keyword research tool — a tool for discovery and competitor analysis.

Let’s take a deeper look into why you might prefer one over the other.

What is Ahrefs?

Originally a backlink builder, Ahrefs has expanded to include keyword research, competitor analysis, link building, rank tracking, and site audits. Through Ahrefs, SEO marketers get the information they need to produce better-optimized content that appears higher in search results. Throughout the industry, Ahrefs is praised for its keyword research and technical SEO tools.

What is Semrush?

Semrush is a SaaS software suite built for keyword research, online ranking data, and marketing performance analytics. Semrush contains a wide breadth of tools including a site health checker, backlink checker, analytics system, and more. Semrush is frequently used not only for technical analysis of websites and their content but throughout the search marketing discovery and research process.

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Ahref vs. Semrush: A head-to-head comparison

  Ahrefs Semrush
Google rank tracking
Domain authority tracking
Competitor analysis
Backlink analysis
Keyword research
Site audits
Keyword click analysis 🚫
PPC analysis 🚫
Content explorer 🚫
Listings management 🚫

Backlink Analysis

Ahrefs backlink checker
Ahrefs Backlink Checker tool.

Ahrefs is built for backlink analysis. It has an easy to navigate UI and functional reporting. These two features set it apart from many of its competitors, as backlink analysis often produces large volumes of barely human-readable data; Ahrefs makes this data easy to read and accessible.

That being said, Semrush recently increased its link-building data to include 43 trillion backlinks. In 2021, it performed a massive push to build the biggest backlink database in the world. Until then, Ahrefs was firmly in the lead.

It is very likely that Semrush currently has the most accurate and comprehensive backlink database—but Ahrefs still has a slight edge in terms of usability. Most business users of the tools would likely find the interface of Ahrefs more comfortable to use, while SEO professionals, technical marketers, and some data-focused users may prefer Semrush’s advantages in speed and breadth of knowledge.

Keyword Research

Semrush PPC keyword tool.
PPC keyword discovery tool on Semrush.

In both Ahrefs and Semrush, you can perform rigorous keyword research. Type in any keyword, and Ahrefs and Semrush will return a dense list of related and long-tail keywords, all scored by traffic and whether your site is within reach of ranking well for that keyword according to several factors.

Ahrefs provides click data in addition to search data — it estimates how many clicks you might get for a given keyword in addition to the number of searches performed. This data is extraordinarily useful to marketers when deciding whether the page you build to target that keyword is likely to produce the desired number of conversions.

Semrush doesn’t provide click data, but it does provide information for PPC campaigns. During keyword research, you can see both the organic search results and the paid search results. This information isn’t as directly useful for purely organic campaigns, but is helpful for search engine marketers looking to boost performance through paid search campaigns.

Rank Tracking

For many companies, rank is the most important performance metric. Where are you ranking on Google?

Both Ahrefs and Semrush are actually evenly matched in terms of accuracy, but Semrush has a slight edge because it refreshes more frequently. Ahref and Semrush’s data generally match and even out, but Semrush will give you visibility into virtually real-time changes.

Competitor Analysis

Ahrefs has an extremely compelling tool called the Content Explorer. After you’ve selected a keyword, Ahrefs will show you all the high-performing content targeted to that keyword. The information will include domain authority, referring domains, social media shares, and meta tags.

Semrush does have a competitor analysis section, which provides key insights into what competitors are doing with their keywords. But it isn’t as content-based as Ahrefs as it’s designed mostly for keyword discovery.

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Technical SEO & Site Auditing

Both Ahrefs and Semrush have robust site auditing tools, which highlight technical SEO issues such as missing meta tags or missing pages.

Ahrefs provides visually dense information that is extremely useful but can be hard to read through for those who are unfamiliar with technical SEO and the tool itself. Semrush’s platform is designed to be a little more user-friendly. Reports in Semrush will both highlight technical SEO issues and suggest how to fix them, which is ideal for business users who are just learning SEO or very small teams where content marketers moonlight as the SEO pro as well.

Should You Use Ahrefs or Semrush?

You really can’t go wrong with either Ahrefs or Semrush. They’re both excellent suites that are improving and adding new features all the time. But in the world of marketing, you frequently need every advantage.

Use Ahrefs if:

  • You are interested more in keyword click data than keyword volume.
  • You need to dig deeper into competitor content and content analysis.
  • You don’t need to develop a PPC campaign.

Use Semrush if:

  • You are interested in having robust performance data delivered quickly.
  • You want more guidance as to how you can improve your site technically.
  • You want to develop a PPC campaign alongside an organic campaign.

For many companies, the determining factor will likely be whether they want to manage a PPC campaign. Otherwise, the two products are fairly evenly matched.