SEMRush is an obvious favorite for SEOs as one of the leading SEO tools out there in the industry, alongside Ahrefs, Moz, and many others. It offers extensive reports on keywords, PPC, competitors, and pretty much everything else under the search umbrella. I’m writing this review from the perspective as a digital web analyst who looks at data everyday and everywhere. I’m going to talk through the top characteristics that make SEMRush a strong contender to add to your analytics toolkit.
First, let’s go through SEMRush’s general methodology, which allows them to calculate metrics for all domains on search engines.
Where does SEMRush data come from?
SEMRush uses machine learning algorithms and third-party data providers to collect Google’s actual search results pages for the 500 million most popular keywords. Then, they’ll grab just all search information for domains in the top 100 positions for every keyword, for both organic and paid search results. They also aggregate the data for the following from more data providers:
- Online Advertising
- Social Media (which you can choose to activate)
But the biggest question that drives all benchmarking of metrics in SEMRush is how does SEMRush calculate domain traffic?
The domain traffic is estimated by multiplying average CTR, click-through rate, by overall keyword search volume that the domain is ranking for, then is divided by 30 (average number of days in a month).
So this is a key distinction here because the traffic in SEMRush is NOT actuals. It will not be the same as your Google Analytics data or any other data in that case. So it’s important to know that the numbers here can only be compared to numbers within SEMRush.
Now we got that out of the way.
Let’s dive into the cool stuff that SEMRush can offer and how you can complement your normal web analysis with SEMRush data.
With the Domain Analytics report, you can review any type of search data related to a specific domain - whether you want to dive into your domain or another domain floating around on the Internet. You can also drill down into the subdomain and URL level if you really want to go down that rabbit hole.
Even though you might already have Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Google Search Console to give you the actuals for your internal reporting, SEMRush Domain Analytics can really give you an idea of where you stand against your competitors based on their proprietary methodology.
As an analyst from the agency (or external) perspective, it’s a great tool to review potential clients’ data without getting access to their internal accounts as well.
Unique Use Case
Domain Analytics provides Backlink data for any domain you enter, including yours. Backlink data isn’t available in any of your internal Google tools, so this is especially helpful to see where you can build and optimize your External Link Equity. These reports provide details like anchor text, backlink types, along with the good ol’ estimated traffic to reference as a benchmark.
Other than going deep into your competitor’s domain analytics, you can also use a multitude of SEMRush’s other reports like Keyword Gap Analysis, Backlink Gap Analysis, and even Paid Search and Display Ads. It’s really a great way to see where you stand versus your competitors and identify “gaps” or opportunities that you can take advantage of. These reports will help you figure out keywords that you can work towards if you want to go head-to-head with your competition. They will also help you find sites to place backlinks that were not top-of-mind that are helping your competitors rank.
Unique Use Case
As an analyst, it’s tough to see what your competitors are doing in the paid advertising space because they’re always changing and there’s always 500 variations for one search result page. Even though SEMRush can be a little slow in updating, the snapshots into a competitor’s previous ad placements can be quite helpful in competitor research.
These paid advertising reports even include snapshots of previous display banners. Because we all know how hard it is to chase after a display banner in the normal research way. SEMRush gives you screenshots of the actual banners your competitors used.
Performance Tracking & Reporting
Now of course, I couldn’t leave this topic out. How does SEMRush allow you to grab data and track it over time? Well, with the Pro version (the first paid subscription tier), we’re only allowed to see current data as in today’s data. Not very ideal from an analyst’s perspective as we’re always looking at historicals. Today may have been better than yesterday, but we don’t know unless we go into the dashboard every single day.
Or the workaround is Project Tracking by setting up a project for one specific domain at a time. That way, you can tell SEMRush to follow this domain’s performance from the time you set it up. But if you want to have full functionality of tracking performance with all the reports...
Then, you have to upgrade to the Guru subscription, which allows you to see Historical Data at an added cost per month. Yay, now you can properly follow search performance for both you and your competitors and see how you all stack over time.
But another way they get you is when you want to do automated reporting like in Data Studio, well you have to bump up to the next subscription tier (Business). And I’ll tell you a little bit about what the Data Studio connector is like for SEMRush.
SEMRush to Google Data Studio Connector
With the Data Studio Connector in the Business subscription, you’re allowed to choose from two sets of reporting options: Domain Analytics and Position Tracking.
Domain Analytics pulls one domain at a time with metric options like keywords, backlinks, estimated traffic. Position Tracking allows you to pull position data and visibility, limited to an existing Position Tracking campaign in an existing project.
So is the extra bump in subscription cost worth it just for the Data Studio connector?
And this is why. The advantage of SEMRush dashboard is that you can see all your competitors stacked against each other in the Gap Analysis reports, but you can’t even do that in Domain Analytics. Only one domain at a time where you’ll end up with multiple visualization graphs stacked next to each other in Data Studio as an easy workaround. No bueno.
Another advantage is that SEMRush dashboard will have historicals for everything with just the Guru subscription, but you’ll only be able to access the historicals in Data Studio if you set up a campaign beforehand. Again, no bueno.
But don’t get me wrong. The connector has helped me save some time in terms of tracking search performance in automated reports, but not as much as I’d like to.
Well, this is typically not a normal web analyst’s job to research keywords to drive content. But I still love the tools they offer to help you with keyword research if you’re interested. My favorite is the Keyword Magic Tool where you can enter in any word or phrase, and SEMRush gives you a multitude of options categorized by common keywords, phrase match, and more. It’s quite an interactive tool to explore more keyword options to lead your content. But of course, this is not a typical web analyst’s job. It’s just a fun tool to check out.
What’s my suggestion for optimal SEO analysis and reporting?
Personally, I like the Guru subscription for limitless dashboard research for $199/mo. SEMRush is great in complementing your current web analytics as you can get more context as to how you stack up against your competitors. You can also see if there are current market trends that are affecting your current traffic performance, and whether you have any opportunities to improve your search marketing initiatives overall.
If you’re interested in SEMRush and want to give it a try, check out this link to get started with a 7-day Pro subscription trial.
Check out all the different reports I mentioned to help you get a feel for what SEMRush is like. And if you like it, of course upgrade for historical data with the Guru subscription, so you can start ongoing reporting for search performance.