- 1About this Guide
- 1.1Free SEMrush Trial Account
- 2Guide to SEMRush
- 2.1IF YOU WANT A PDF VERSION TO DOWNLOAD AND READ, HERE IS THE LINK.
- 3Organic research
- 3.1Competitor rankings and keyword summary
- 3.2Check Site health and algorithmic and other penalties
- 3.3Organic Research: Positions
- 3.3.1Organic Positions Drill Down:
- 3.3.2Organic Snapshots
- 3.4Organic Research: Position changes
- 3.5Organic Research: Competitors
- 3.6Organic Research: URL
- 3.7Organic Research: Potential ads/traffic buyers
- 3.8Organic Research: Striking distance keywords
- 4Advertising Research
- 4.1Advertising Research: Positions
- 4.1.1Ads traffic Price
- 4.1.2Ads KWs Positions
- 4.2Advertising Research: Position changes
- 4.2.1Ad snapshots
- 4.2.2Ad block positions
- 4.3Advertising Research: Competitors
- 4.4Advertising Research: Ads copies
- 4.5Advertising Research: Ads history
- 4.6Advertising Research: URL
- 4.7Advertising Research: Potential ads/traffic sellers
- 5Adsense (beta)
- 5.1Adsense: TOP 30
- 5.2Adsense: Overview
- 5.3Adsense: Publishers
- 5.4Adsense: Advertisers
- 7Keyword Research
- 7.1Keyword Research: Overview
- 7.2Keyword Research: Full search
- 7.3Keyword Research: Related
- 7.4Keyword Research: Ads history
- 8.1Tools: Position tracking (Beta)
- 8.2Tools: Domain vs domain
- 8.2.1Using the Venn function
- 8.2.2Exploring KW gaps using the domain vs domain mapping function:
- 8.2.3Keyword Gap Analysis – By Adwords Competitor
- 8.2.4Keyword Gap analysis Paid vs Organic
- 8.3Tools: Charts
- 8.3.1Adwords Comparative Charting
- 8.3.2Organic vs Paid Advert Mapping
- 8.3.3Organic Vs Organic Country Mapping.
- 8.4Tools: Site Audit (Beta)
- 8.4.1Error Dashboard:
- 8.4.2Warnings Dashboard:
- 8.4.3Page Level Report
- 9.1Ranks: SEMrush Rank
- 9.2Ranks: Winners & Losers
About this Guide
I started writing this initially as a note to myself, but also for other SEOs that constantly ask for tools that SEMrush delivers fairly easily. With the growth of “Not Provided” and google locking down the public keyword tool, SEMrush becomes a bigger part of any SEO toolset. However to limit it to simply keword research isn’t fair, which is why I decided to try and cover as much ground as possible to explain in detail what the different parts of the application can do.
The links to SEMrush are affiliate links, which means I *could* earn a commission if you sign up, as long as you are a new user. However that isn’t the reason why I wrote this guide and I don’t expect to make huge revenues from it. I do however hope that if you find the piece useful, you will share it and rate it (there is a star rating at the bottom of the post) and if you like or enjoy my writing, you will subscribe to the blog.
Free SEMrush Trial Account
Guide to SEMRush
Frankly I find it really surprising when someone in SEO says that they don’t use SEMRush. In my personal opinion and experience, it is one of the most useful tools to have, and I use it extensively, and still don’t cover all aspects of it. As a result, I decided to note down the specific ways in which I use SEMRush, from the bog standard basic way, to some not so standard applications. I particular, using the data from SEMrush along with other tools makes life as an online marketer much easier, from visualisation, to presentation, from analysis, to investigation. Hopefully some of the ways in which I use SEMrush can be of some use to you.
SEMrush analyzes keywords in the first 20 search results in Google. We now have over 100 million keywords and 71 million domains from the Google top 20. We use our Live Update algorithm to keep our 25 regional databases fresh.
First of all, SEMRush crawls and scrapes – so it’s not exactly always right – you may see blips in its ranking data and sometimes disparities in KW volume vs other keyword tools, and googles own keyword planner. However the percentage of disparity is fairly low and generally I get much more good data from the tool than bad.
The core “modules” within the primary dashboard are:
- a) Organic Research
- b) Advertising Research
- c) Adsense
- d) Backlinks
- e) Keyword Research
- f) Tools
- g) Ranks
Majority users of the tool as far as I can tell, focus on the Organic and Keyword Research modules alone. However, when used in cross combinations and with data from other tools in the market, SEMRush really starts coming to life, as well as variations in using the tool, or using the data for more than just SEM. Some of these will overlap one another, but the fact is that each example I give below stands on its own if necessary as a way to use SEMrush, although as a whole they make it one of the best SEO and PPC KW research and competitor analysis kits out there.
Let’s look at each of the modules – some of this may be basic to heavy users:
This section is core to most SEOs, though I doubt most use ALL parts of the equation. It lets you check data on organic positions for a domain name or URL, and organic competitors and potential traffic buyers for keyword that url or domain ranks for. Now before I look at all the sub modules of this section, I want to highlight two major reasons why I use SEMrush everyday:
Competitor rankings and keyword summary
This is pretty much using the position report, however the aim isn’t position research but competitor research. With a simple domain query, I can pull out rankings that a site has for keywords that are in the first 2 pages of the SERPs. Now that is pretty powerful.
Example – say you have a client that deals in “Tyres”. They name 2 – 3 competitors, and you want to amaze them with data on the competition:
So assuming the competitors they name are “Black Circles:
What if it’s KwikFit?
I now have access not only to their top keywords, but their rankings too. Let them keep naming competitors and I can keep giving them their ranking and keyword data at a click of a couple of buttons J
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Check Site health and algorithmic and other penalties
No this isn’t a core function of SEMrush, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, SEMrush has ranking data on domains over many many months. If you have an advanced (Guru level) subscription, you can easily start seeing a sites data:
Remember how I highlighted Links Of London had a penalty recently? Well SEM rush is showing the dip too. And herein lies one of its secret powers – the ability to check ranking losses of a site at a glance. I know there are other tools out there that do this too, but I find in most cases SEMrush doesn’t fail to supply what I am looking for.
There are many uses for this of course:
- Agencies can use the tool to find penalty hit clients to convert to customers
- If asked to pitch, the sites historical ranking data is useful to have before the pitch / RFP
- It can also help in penalty identification, especially if used in conjuction with SEMrushes position loss tool (covered later on). And of course, you could use third party mashups of SEM data to figure out the penalty type – such as http://feinternational.com/website-penalty-indicator/
Moreover, I use this part of SEmrush to decide whether a site is worth buying (keyword rankings, keyword spread, steadiness of rankings etc etc) or even if a site is worth getting a link from – I wouldn’t want to get links from penalised or zero traffic sites after all.
Organic Research: Positions
One of the core modules of SEMrush and probably one of the most used functions. This lets you check a domain and its keyword rankings across the breadth of rankings that it has for keywords in the SEMrush database. This is the bog standard way to see what keywords a domain ranks for and a great way to run keyword discovery. For example, SEMRush records 1,470,043 keyword rankings for Amazon UK.
Organic Positions Drill Down:
What you may NOT have discovered is that the additional charts that you get can be used for some geekery:
See that chart? Let’s click on a column:
Its highlighted in orange, but what it DOES is takes you to a page that lists all the keywords that Amazon.co.uk had in positions 1-5 in organic in the month of Jan 2013 AND give you access to the advanced filters that lets you manipulate the data on the fly, and run cross variations as you like:
With this handy tool you can check keywords positions and export only the ones you are interested in, for any given month that the data exists for.
Sometimes it is very useful to have PROOF of rankings. And SEMrush gives you that proof – because they save every snapshot of their crawl!
Clicking any of those little icons will take you to the saved snapshot of the SERPS.
For example, in Jan 2013 Amazon.co.uk ranked for “Next” in Google UK. See the snapshot below:
For those of you who haven’t caught on to the significance of this yet – let me shout it out to you:
SEMRUSH IS LIKE THE ARCHIVE.ORG FOR GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS!*
*with the proviso that the KW has sufficient search volume to warrant a crawl.
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Organic Research: Position changes
A lesser known and used tool – but quite interesting nonetheless. It shows you the drops or gains in rankings for a given domain / URL.
Can you see the red boxes? That gives you data for new keywords, lost keywords, improved positions and declined positions. The data in this part of SEMrush is a goldmine for SEOs – especially during and after a new business pitch as it gives you access to data that isn’t really available outside the business.
At the same time, it allows you to manage and monitor improvements over time, AND check for any weird fluctuations.
For enterprise level sites with a lot of flexible content / inventory I would highly advise trialling this piece of kit for two reasons:
- Not provided means you can’t really easily figure out where your organic traffic is coming from at enterprise level
- Unless you are tracking every single KW under the sun, there is no way you can keep track of emerging KW rankings, or lost rankings for KWs you weren’t even tracking.
That’s not all though. Like most their detailed reports, you can use on the fly filters to further dig into the data:
The filters on that report are detailed, you can filter by position, cpc, volume etc – anything that SEMrush tracks for a KW, you can apply to those filters, and once filtered, you can export the data into CSV like every single report in SEMrush.
Organic Research: Competitors
An application that I use fairly often – it allows you to get organic competitors for any domain as ranked by SEMrush.
Interestingly, you can easily see which sites you are in competition with in the SERPs by looking for similar ranking keywords. Take for example Hobo-Web.co.uk – which I would say is a really good ranking site for SEO terms in the UK:
If I export the whole lot, I would get a list of sites that target common keywords to Hobo’s and I can now really start building a large competitor list if I was hoping to rank for a larger portion of SEO related traffic, and using my hit list to check for links, content etc etc.
Organic Research: URL
Pretty much the same as the positions report – but allows you to look at results for a single URL. Quite useful, and again, many people I speak to don’t realise that they can do this. Say you wanted to check how well a competitor is doing with any given page in the SERPs. Well SEMRush allows you to plug in any url from a site, and as long as their crawlers recorded it, then you can easily see what keywords that url ranks for.
Organic Research: Potential ads/traffic buyers
Report on potential buyers of traffic (advertising) that contains a list of domains that buy ads for the same keywords, for which your chosen site receives traffic from organic search results. Say I didn’t want to run adsense on my site anymore – how do I go about finding other advertisers direct? Well this section isolates sites that are spending money on KWs that you rank for.
For people trying to make money off their sites and are looking for alternate ways of monetising their traffic, this is quite useful. I could mine that database for use in one of three ways:
- Reach out to advertisers direct and agree continuous placement banners, adverts
- Find out what display marketing services they use and add my inventory to those services (CPMs can sometimes pay better than adsense if you don’t optimise for CTR)
- Find out if they have affiliate programs and add affiliate links to the pages I rank for the KWs they are targeting. Or even write MORE content that matches their inventory and add affiliate links to that, chances are I may rank well for these KW sets (or choose to if the affiliate commissions are worth the time).
Organic Research: Striking distance keywords
This technique and filter application was suggested to me by Conrad of 91 Digital (see his SEMrush post for more details).
The key tactic behind here is to find keyword rankings that are not only of value, but are also not far from the top rankings. Why this is important? Well to start off with, getting keywords that not only have volume, but are close to top positions could be where you need to focus on to get easier wins, as well as super focus your organic growth strategy.
So if I had limited resources, but would like to increase traffic to my site, maybe I could concentrate on driving these keywords up.
In this section you can check on advertising positions for domain name or URL, and advertising competitors, Ads texts, potential traffic sellers and adsense reports for domain name
Advertising Research: Positions
This report lets you see the keywords and positions for adwords inventory of a domain caught by SEMrush. For competitor adwords mining it is a pretty good piece of kit:
It is fairly easy to miss some of the really cool features in that report, but some that I like:
Ads traffic Price
Using their own CTR metrics, they give you an estimation of the overall spend that a business may be shelling out on adwords in search.
Ads KWs Positions
It is always useful to know what positions a competitors ads are at – and you can drill down into the top 3 or the 4-8 positions in serps. But just like the organic positions report – drill down can give you much more info:
Notice the orange highlighted section? I clicked on it, which took me to a drill down of keywords and positions that SEMrush captured in Nov 2012 for eBay that appeared in between position 3-9.
However using the advanced filters, I can pretty much dig down into any variation in positions for that month (or change the month by clicking on the columns above):
Advertising Research: Position changes
Pretty much like their organic changes report, here you can see new, lost, improved or declined their position keywords (queries) for adwords phrases. However, the detail gives you a few more data points that you may miss:
A little icon on the left has the ad that the kw displayed at the crawl time in question.
Ad block positions
SEMrush likes to hold as much data, and one of the data points for adwords it holds is WHERE on the page the advert was seen. See the little blue icon? It tells you where on the page it was.
But if that’s not enough, you can click on the result to see the screencapture :
Advertising Research: Competitors
This is a list of sites that advertise on common keyphrases as that of the site you are researching. The ranking is created by SEMrush based on the number of common keywords for these domains and your target site.
If I wanted to know who my major rival in PPC is, the best way to check is to see who bids on keywords common to my campaign. See the example for Latitude Express below:
Every single data point is click-able to expand you into the selection further should you wish, and the standard data points are:
- Competition level
- Common keywords
- Ads Keywords
- Ads Traffic
- Ads Traffic price
- SE Keywords
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Advertising Research: Ads copies
As SEMrush scrapes search results pages, it also collects ads for the keywords it scrapes pages for. Which is pretty good as you can get a range of your competitors ads presented to you for analysis.
Advertising Research: Ads history
Interestingly, this section is a historical snapshot of all the keywords that a domain ran adwords for in a 12 month period in a nice calendar type format:
Basically by clicking on any of the highlighted boxes, I can drill down into the kw that I want to check and see the add variations captured.
Advertising Research: URL
Same as “position” above, but instead of domain level, you can see URL level adwords keyphrases the URL appeared for. However the hidden trick behind this is you can use individual urls to understand how a competitor is splitting up its PPC spend. For example, we know that Amazon is spending copious amounts of money on its PrimeInstantVideo solution:
Notice the cost of the traffic? That’s a fair spend.
Now let’s compare with ALL adwords spend using the domain level query:
- Total Estimated Ad Spend: $3,580,545
- Spend on the Prime URL: $399,347
So just over 10% of their PPC budget may be going towards Prime. These are estimations of course, but this is as close to competitive data on ad spend you could get for the price you pay for using SEMrush.
And that is not the only use, you can figure out how they have set up their campaign structure, the keyword sets and even the valuable keyword inventory based on the prominence they give in positions using the position report in addition.
Advertising Research: Potential ads/traffic sellers
This is an interesting area – especially for media buyers. It pulls out sites that rank for keywords that your target site runs adwords for. Many of them would be commercial sites, but there may be many independents in the list.
This is a new and developing area of SEMrush, which in my opinion needs a fair level of work.
Adsense: TOP 30
The aim of this module is to see the top 30 advertisers and publishers of adsense as captured by the SEMrush crawlers. The cool thing is you can break it down by device and android and ios platforms.
This is an AdSense overview report for any domain. It lets you know whether a site publishes or advertises using adsense, with snapshots of their ads, ad type, and movement for the last 2 years.
A single view of a domain that is a publisher with added information such as movement in ads and publishers, number of publishers and ads caught, example of ads and ad types, and the REALLY cool thing for me – it shows the landing pages.
The landing page data is fairly valuable, for example I can marry up the KW that shows up on a site:
Again, as with all the datasets available in SEMrush, this data can be used to find link resources, other advertisers, understand offsite bidding strategy etc.
Pretty much the same as above instead of publisher, you get the advertiser data of a site, but no landing page data on this unfortunately:
This is another beta version which needs a lot of work to make it really worthwhile. To most SEOs, it shouldn’t be a surprise what the below levels are, as they are pretty much self explanatory.
- Backlinks: Root domain
- Backlinks: URL
However, like I said, it’s still in beta, and I would probably still stick to MajesticSEO which gives me a better data set as you can see the SEMrush data and the majestic data right below:
Keyword Research: Overview
This is an overview for the keyword report. You can use this report to discover new keywords for both, PPC and SEO. The keywords data is tracked more frequently than once a month.
All you have to do is drop a KW into their search bar:
However like I mentioned, there will always be a disparity between some data in SEMRush to the data in Google. Take for example the search volume for “SEO Companies London”
The blue slots show a match with Googles data, while the red shows a disparity:
The primary reason for this I find is that high volume keywords/phrases tend to have a closer match than the lower end, and I am assuming that SEMrush doesn’t refresh the low volume KW data as often as google does. Regardless, the trend in the volume is good enough for me to really start to get to grips with what head terms I should focus on, what the secondary and tertiary terms are.
The overview report also allows you to look at:
- Keyword summary which shows the CPCs, the competition for the phrase (in paid search), the search volume, and the number of results.
- CPC Distribution (showing which countries have the highest CPC) and trends. See below screenshot, but I don’t rely on this part of the data much as I am not sure its accurate enough to make intelligent marketing decisions.
- Phrase match report overview – typically displaying the top 10 matching matching keyphrases which can be expanded into more.
- Related keywords report – showing keyphrases that closely match your keyword, and a pretty good way of discovering related keywords to expand your campaigns.
- Organic Results – pretty useful – this is the list of the top 20 organic domains and URLs that rank for the phrases. Let’s assume I want to rank for “Search Engine Optimisation”. Ideally it’s not enough to just see how well my site does, but also which sites rank. You could do this by simply googling the term of course, but then you have to manually extract the sites / URLs.
I now have the top 20 sites ranking for that phrase, AND the URLs that rank for it. Simply clicking export will give me a nice spread sheet, which I can then manipulate or use in whichever way I like.
Hat Tip: I love using majestic SEO bulk look up when running a simple top level backlink analysis using the urls from the export:
- Ads – the top 15 sites that are running PPC ads for the phrase along with links to their landing pages.
Keyword Research: Full search
Depending on your subscription level, you can pretty much make life easier for yourself by extracting all phrase matches of a keyword (using the Full Search option) :
As you can see, we have about 186 variations of the phrase, and it can either be exported or be seen on screen under “full report”.
Digging deeper – a really great feature of SEMrush throughout; unlike other keyword tools, I can simply click on one of the phrases to get a sub level phrase match of that phrase alone. Eg, clicking “search engine optimisation services” gives me the following:
This is pretty good as it makes life easier when bundling keyphrase variations together and without having to fiddle about with excel much J
Keyword Research: Related
Along with phrase match, SEMrush makes my life easier once again by suggesting other related keywords that I should investigate, for example for “Search Engine Optimisation”:
There are some interesting correlations here, importantly stuff like “digital marketing agency”.
Now to most, especially in the SEO field, this sounds like very basic information. However when working with clients this report is actually very useful as a self-education piece.
Say for example it’s an industry you know nothing about. For example, a few years ago, a small business that makes horse supplements came to me asking for help. I didn’t know the industry, but the related search report certainly helped:
Can you see the phrases I highlighted? Well I had no idea that “equine” was the more “proper” use of the genus (excuse my ignorance!), and the client never mentioned it. Luckily the related searches opened that one up for me. The fact that people may also use brand names or actual compound names was all new to me, and despite extensive questioning of the client, he failed to highlight these. So as a keyword tool, this really made sure that I pick up stuff that I don’t know.
Using the related keywords side of SEMrush, and simply by clicking through each set of phrases I wanted (as shown in the Dig Deeper section above), I can start building a veritable fortress of keywords to target.
Keyword Research: Ads history
This is a pretty interesting element to the keyword report – it shows a list of adwords advertisers that bid on the term in question, along with links to dig into their full adwords keywords as well as a calendar based layout which you can click on further to see the ads that they ran for that phrase:
Tools: Position tracking (Beta)
Tools: Domain vs domain
“Domain vs Domain” analysis is a really great piece of kit that I think is underused by SEOs. This report lets you map a sites keywords and rankings against other sites:
How awesome is that? I can see at a glance (or export) how these sites compare to one another. I am going to go a bit deeper into this as it has MANY applications.
Using the Venn function
Now this is pretty much the same report as above, but instead of a list, for presentation purposes, I can pull the data as venn diagrams – I find these are very useful for client presentations for some reason. Unfortunately the data is shaky if you try and compare more than three competitors, so best used for three sites:
It’s clear that organically KwikFit may be the winner, but I wouldn’t be surprised as they offer way more than just tyres. The data is usually more interesting if you compare three exact service providers:
A much better commonality in keywords and rankings as is presented by a much more concentrated overlap in the circles.
Like any Venn diagram, you can see that there is a common area where keyword ranking coverage is common amongst the three, but there are also independent areas worth exploring.
Exploring KW gaps using the domain vs domain mapping function:
Like any Venn diagram, you can see that there is a common area where keyword ranking coverage is common amongst the three, but there are also independent areas worth exploring – ie areas where one site has rankings, but the other doesn’t:
Using the same Domain vs Domain tool you can drill down into the keyword gaps:
Can you see the plus sign? That can be switched to carry out the function you need, but the key is below:
- Plus Sign: All keywords for the domains
- Multiplication Sign: Common Keywords
- Minus Sign: Unique keywords for the domain on left
- Division Sign: Unique keywords for left and right domains
For ease of demonstration, I am going to use only two domains:
Using the “minus” or “subtraction function” I now have a handy list of keywords that BlackCircles ranks for that MyTyres doesn’t.
If I wanted, I can pull out the keywords common to both and see the rankings for these:
Keyword Gap Analysis – By Adwords Competitor
Like most of the data, the same report can be generated for PPC to get a better understanding of how under or over represented sites keywords in paid marketing are:
Keyword Gap analysis Paid vs Organic
The nice Venn diagram tool? Well you can flip that to AdWords or organic:
Or if you prefer to see and export keywords in organic, but not in paid (and you can do vice versa):
Seeing that SEMrush has ranking data for a pretty large subset of sites, and that they can match competitors by common keyword phrases, it should be no surprise that the site also allows you to match performance in the SERPs over time:
I simply charted the first five that SEMrush suggested. But you can chart sites against each other in any combination and region. For example, say the large search news sites are:
What if I wanted to pit them against each other?
The charting tool can also be used for way more applications than you would think. See some more below:
Adwords Comparative Charting
Pretty much the above – but for paid search:
It is always good to understand how competitive a sites PPC coverage is when building your own. And SEMrush makes it just that much easier…
Organic vs Paid Advert Mapping
You can flip the report to use it on the SAME domain, but different channels:
Organic Vs Organic Country Mapping.
Yet again, you can use different combinations – now compare the same domain organic keyword coverage in different countries:
You can do this in pretty much any combo, so I won’t bother showing the paid country vs country mapping. But you can start to see how powerful and useful this data can be.
Tools: Site Audit (Beta)
The site audit section is fairly new, and I haven’t used it extensively, but it is still under dev and refinement which means it may become a really good tool for auditing sites on the fly (small sites anyway):
The dashboard currently shows:
- The date of the last audit
- Any scheduled audits (you can schedule in many ways)
- The number of errors detected
- Any warnings
- The number of pages crawled .
Interestingly, you can also pull out a better summary dashboard:
Page Level Report
Interestingly, you can dig down to page level reports to see if you have page specific issues:
SEmrush is also working on industry wide ranking reports for sites, like other premium SEO tools out there. At the moment, I would still count the data as too low for use by the average SEO/SEM, but it’s interesting regardless, and I have no doubt it will grow. It is comprised of two modules:
Ranks: SEMrush Rank
SEMrush Rank is the rank of sites, based on the following parameters:
- The number of users coming from search engine search results.
- The cost of traffic the site receives from organic, defined in terms of cost of Ads on the same keywords.
This list is the top 100,000 domains in a given region, and could be really useful for media buyers at scale.
Ranks: Winners & Losers
Some market tools really specialise in winners and losers, suites such as searchmetrics have gained a lot of popularity based on their winners and losers reports. However SEMrush have their own winners and losers, considering the level of data that they hold for most sites, this could become a VERY useful tool in the future with a few enhancements. Ideally losses by categories and by organic alone etc would be really useful.
As you can see, there are some extensive uses of SEMrush. I don’t think I have covered EVERY way in which this pretty solid tool can be used, however I think I have covered enough to get people to understand its potential. I will be following up with some other ways in which I use SEMrush and might even expand on some of the sections I have covered here, as parts of SEMrush deserve more than just an honourable mention. Set up a FREE SEMrush account to test their tool Click Here! Or Try a free TWO week PRO account (card required, cancel any time)
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