When we started our blogging journey in 2020 we knew absolutely nothing about SEO (or Search Engine Optimization).
And we knew nothing about how to establish a real online presence or get our website to rank on search engines like Google.
Zip. Zero. Nada.
And yet, just two years later, I and my two business partners were the proud owners of a travel website that was bringing in over 6 million page views annually and produced over $200,000 in revenue in its first full calendar year with hundreds of our blog posts appearing on the first page of search results on Google for their target keywords (and often in the top three organic search positions).
How did we do it?
We used SEO services like SEMRush.
In fact, I also used SEMRush to get you to click on this article and read this review.
And that’s actually quite the feat considering the fact that there are hundreds of other websites out there all competing for the same key phrase: “SEMRush review”.
Yet, you wound up here.
As you might imagine, it’s safe to say that I believe in the power of SEO.
And so, in this article, I am going to walk you through exactly why we think services like SEMRush are so powerful, show you how we personally use the service, and recommend at least one cheap alternative.
Is SEMRush worth the money?
SEMRush, for the uninitiated, is essentially an SEO toolkit. It’s the darling of the SEO world and is considered to be one of the best SEO tools (and best digital marketing tool) on the market today.
But is it worth the money?
If you’re currently flirting with the idea of signing up for the service, the first thing you should know is that there are both free and paid premium plans available.
So really there’s no excuse not to, at the very least, sign up for the free version.
How to get a free SEMRush account
There are two ways to get a free SEMRush account. Both require the same basic steps:
- Click here to create an account.
- Follow the prompts until you get to the “Choose Your Trial Page”
- Here, you can either choose a free trial (recommended) OR you can click on “Skip Trial”
- Next, select an interest.
- Finally, you will be taken to your new SEMRush dashboard.
But keep in mind, that the free version has extremely limited functionality. And you’ll be prompted to upgrade regularly. This is why I really recommend giving the free trial a spin so you can get a real feel for the product.
SEMRush’s paid plans
There are three different paid plans available on SEMRush: Pro, Guru and Business. Prices range from $119.95 to $449.95 per month. With Business plans being the priciest option.
There’s also a discount available (17% off) if you pay for a full year in advance.
We use the SEMRush Pro plan – the cheapest paid plan – at $119.95 per month.
And honestly, I think that’s all that most small businesses will ever need. That’s what got us to over 6 million pageviews a year in a fairly short amount of time.
SEMRush tools we use most often include the:
- organic research tool
- keyword research tool (featuring keyword magic and keyword gap)
- site audit tool
- link building tool (for disavowing toxic backlinks).
The only tool that I would recommend upgrading to Guru for is the SEO writing assistant (aka the content optimizer tool).
We upgraded temporarily but didn’t think the $110 extra per month was worth it in the end. Especially considering the fact that we can utilize (basically) the same content optimization tool at RankIQ for as little as $29.
I will talk a bit more about why we use both SEMRush and RankIQ later on.
Is it worth it?
In a nutshell, yes, I think SEMRush’s Pro plan is in fact worth the money. In fact, to me, it’s worth its weight in gold.
It’s the number one thing I credit to our ability to grow that first blog as quickly as we did.
SEMRush helps us:
- Identify top keywords our audience is searching for and rank them by keyword difficulty
- Discover technical problems via a website audit
- Keep an eye on the competition with comprehensive competitive research and competitor analysis
- Predict (with roughly 75% certainty) how articles will rank before we write them
And here’s the best part – we’ve since launched two more blogs, which are both starting to see the same sort of rapid growth we experienced on the first.
We didn’t just get lucky. We’ve genuinely figured out a way to utilize SEMRush in a replicable way, that produces results every time.
Is SEMRush easy to use?
As with anything new, you may experience a slight learning curve if this is your first time using an SEO toolkit.
However, considering that we were complete novices (and easily intimidated) when we started, I found SEMRush pretty easy to use.
And it’s made easier by the fact that you can request and schedule a walk-thru over Zoom from an account representative about how to use some of the service’s most popular features after signup. Which we highly recommend.
We use the keyword research tool to come up with topic ideas. This tool allows users to discover popularly searched keyphrases, and even exploit keyword gaps from competitor websites (using the domain overview competitive analysis tool and the keyword gap tool).
And the keyword manager is able to predict (with roughly 75% accuracy in our experience) exactly how our sites will rank for selected keywords before we even write the article. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of our decision-making.
The site audit tool gives us a list of specific technical things we should be tweaking on site to keep it healthy, making it more attractive to Google, and how to properly format web pages to maximize our ranking potential.
For instance, who knew that your title should always be less than 70 characters long? We didn’t. And that’s just one hot tip out of hundreds that we’ve learned by using this tool.
And finally, we use the link-building backlink audit tool to discover toxic backlinks that are harming our website and disavow them. It’s a bit like cleaning out the old website cobwebs, so to speak.
Is SEMRush the best tool for SEO?
I personally think SEMRush is an incredibly powerful tool. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t other useful tools out there.
In full disclosure, I’ve never personally used its direct competitor, Ahrefs. So I’ll have to rely a bit on hearsay for this part, but the good folks over at Style Factory cite the following differences between the two in this article.
Below are a few of their findings.
Things that SEMRush does better than Ahrefs:
- Estimates search volume more accurately
- Provides more detailed reporting
- Categorizes keyword intent (commercial vs informational vs transactional)
- Provides a larger amount of Google Ads data
- Has a backlink analysis tool that identifies toxic links
- Offers a backlink building tool
- Provides a way to directly contact customer support by phone
- Offers a free trial (Ahrefs does not)
- Is overall more feature-rich with a larger domain database
Things that Ahrefs does better than SEMRush:
- Has generous project limits
- Allows keyword research on a variety of search engines (including Youtube and Amazon)
- Allows for a greater number of link intersect analysis comps
- Has a better tool for finding broken links
- Has a slightly easier to use interface
- Offers cheaper add-on accounts (for multiple users)
Which one is cheaper?
Ahrefs also has a slightly lower introductory price with their Lite plan at just $99 per month. But it’s far more watered down than SEMRush’s base service at $119. If you truly want to get a comparable plan at Ahrefs you’ll want to upgrade to the Standard plan at $199 per month.
But if you’re looking for a truly affordable SEO toolkit, I actually have an even better recommendation …
RankIQ: The $29 alternative
Before you get too excited. I’m going to burst your bubble, just a bit.
RankIQ is not nearly as robust as SEMRush or Ahrefs.
But it does have many of the basic features we previously mentioned plus one premium feature that costs extra with the other guys – which is why we maintain a RankIQ subscription as a supplement to SEMRush.
- Allows users to identify keywords using a keyword library
- Features a traffic analysis rank tracking tool
- Has a built-in content optimization tool
While we were slightly underwhelmed by the keyword library (which wasn’t nearly as robust as SEMRush), we were super impressed with the content optimization tool at RankIQ.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other content optimizers on the market today. But it costs $110 extra on SEMRush (on top of the base subscription) and charges $100 for just 10 briefs a month (or $199 for 25 briefs per month).
By comparison, RankIQ’s base subscription (at $29) includes 8 content briefs. Their $49 plan includes 15 briefs, their pro plan includes 36 briefs at $99 per month and their agency plan includes a whopping 80 briefs at $199 per month.
It is by far, the most affordable content optimizer tool that we’ve found. This is why we just subscribe to RankIQ rather than upgrading our SEMRush account.
And sure, SEMRush’s content optimizer integrates directly with Google Docs and WordPress but is that really worth an extra $110 per month?
Personally, I think not.
Is RankIQ worth it?
Overall, I think RankIQ is a useful tool and a good value for money. And it might be a great place to start if you’re on a budget (starting at just $29 per month). It’s just not as robust or feature-rich as SEMRush.
But it is probably one of the best options I’ve ever seen at that price point.
Are you thinking about taking your SEO strategy to the next level? Are you thinking about subscribing to any of the above-mentioned tools? Let me know in the comments below.
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