Competitive Research Tools: SEMrush Review

7 Reasons SEMrush is the Best Competitive Research Tool on the Market

Leveraging the reach of the internet is the most powerful move you can make to grow your business. However, it comes with a new set of challenges and more competition.

Google’s search landscape will have you competing for attention from three different types of competitors: indirect competitors, direct competitors, and potential competitors.

Knowing who these people are and which category they fall in is critical to your survival online. The more you can peek behind the curtains for an inside look into their strategy the better.

Regardless of the tactics, research or tools I during this process my journey always begins with SEMrush.

In the 15 years I’ve been working in SEO and digital marketing this is honestly the best SEO tool I’ve come across that offers such an in-depth look into all aspects of online marketing and the search landscape.

Particularly when it comes to competitive research.

SEMrush is probably most known for providing a competitive advantage because it offers such a complete look into any root domain – within seconds.

Trust me, it will feel like you’re doing something illegal. It doesn’t feel like this much information can be publicly available! It’s almost as as if you’ve logged in directly to someone else’s Google Analytics account.

Okay, enough hype. Let’s walk through the primary competitive research features I personally use to find out how competitors are marketing themselves online.

Why SEMrush is the Best Tool For Competitive Research

1. At-A-Glance Insights

Start by entering any root domain in the SEMrush search bar. For this example I used PPC Hero. (A great resource for learning pay-per-click advertising, btw.)

Competitive research tool overview screen

In seconds you’ll see the dashboard above that displays traffic estimates for:

  • Organic search volume
  • Organic traffic over time
  • Paid search volume
  • Paid search traffic over time
  • Number of backlinks
  • Referring domains and IP addresses
  • Display advertising
  • Traffic by geographic channels

This information immediately communicates how other websites stack up against this domain and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

There is also a toggle option to see this information specific to mobile vs. desktop as well as Google indexes across multiple countries. Not just U.S.

Competitive data from multiple countries

Competitive research for mobile rankings image

As you scroll down there is another set of information that summarizes keyword information and a display chart that identifies other sites targeting keywords similar to yours. These widgets include:

  • Top organic keywords driving traffic
  • Main organic competitors also using your keywords
  • Organic keyword distribution (my favorite!)

Organic summary dashboard overview image

Keyword distribution shows how many keywords are ranking in the top half of page one, the bottom half of page one, page two, three and so on.

Keep in mind there are typically 10 positions for each page is the search results. Meaning position 1-10 is page one, 11-20 is page two, etc.

The positioning map is fantastic for identifying new or potential competitors. This is where you can find if a new website was launched in your space or if a known competitor is starting to make a move in rankings.

That’s not all! Scrolling down even further there is more competitive data waiting.

Competitor backlink overview dashboard

In-depth data behind the domain’s backlink profile highlights:

  • Top referring domains and their title tags
  • The anchor text and actual link used
    • Including the URL providing the link
  • Nofollow vs dofollow status
  • Type of backlink
    • Text link
    • Image link
    • Form link
    • Frame link

Understanding competitor’s link profiles provides great insight for finding potential link opportunities for yourself.

Scrolling down further there is even more backlink information further analysis for where my competitors receive links, and how those links were acquired.

This is just the overview – we haven’t even dove in yet!

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Competitor research domains and indexed pages

2. Organic Research

SEMrush competitive research menuThe organic research tools are my favorite. This section provides nitty-gritty details that allow me to clearly plan a strategy.

The top metrics from this tool are:

  • Keyword rankings
  • Which keywords drive the most traffic
  • Top landing pages driving traffic
  • Number of keywords indexed (in Google)
  • Historic trend of organic traffic and keywords indexed

The overview dashboard for organic research will look something like this. Again, using as an example you can quickly see:

  • The downward trend in organic traffic (see line graph below)
  • Number of keywords indexed
  • Amount of traffic driven by organic keywords
  • The estimated value of this traffic (if you were to pay for them via Google AdWords)
  • Type of result in search engine results pages (SERPs)
    • Featured snippet
    • Local business listing
    • Instant answer
    • News box
    • Carousel

Again, all of this information can be toggled to show mobile-only data. Also, it’s easily exported to a PDF if you need to print or present it to a client.

Export options for SEMrush competitive research

Below the fold is the actual list of keywords currently driving traffic and a thorough analysis of each keyword including data such as:

  • Current ranking position
  • Previous ranking position (based on the time-table set in calendar options)
  • Monthly search volume of each keyword
  • Exact URL of the landing page
  • The percentage of traffic each keyword is driving (another favorite!)
  • Competitive score for each keyword
  • Search trend for the keyword over the past year
  • And much more

Organic keyword table from SEMrush

What to look for.

Using advanced filters will help sort relevant keyword information on the fly. This is a great way to find potential non-branded and long-tail keywords.

In the PPC Hero example, notice the keyword ‘doubleclick bid manager.’ It generates 1,300 searches a month, shows an increase in popularity over the last year, and only has a competitive score of 0.07.

It’s that easy!


3. Organic Competition

Organic competition summary

It’s important to understand that your organic competition might be different than your list of known competitors. It’s surprising how many other websites will rank for the same keywords as you.

You might not be aware of this type of competitor and some may be irrelevant while others will be the competitors you already knew about.

Regardless of which category they fit, if they rank higher than you then your potential customers will visit their website before yours.

If you don’t want that to happen then it’s important identify this now and create an SEO plan to outrank them immediately.

SEMrush makes it super easy to figure it out. There’s even a nice bubble chart that shows how competitive each of these websites are based on current organic traffic and the number of keywords indexed.

The table that follows makes for a quick comparison on how tough it’ll be to outrank these sites. Pay close attention to the competition level, common keywords, and SE keywords.

Being aware of how many keywords you have in common with these sites and the number of keywords competitors have indexed is extremely valuable!

5. Backlink Research

SEO tool for backlink research image

Backlinks, also known as incoming links, are the most important ranking signal in Google’s algorithm. By understanding who is linking to your competitors you can begin an outreach process to acquire links from these same places.

In many cases, you can get these websites to link to you instead of your competitor. That’s right – steal their backlinks!

The backlink research tool is dynamite. It’s one of the most advanced tools not only within SEMrush, but compared to any other SEO tool on the market.

Let’s get into the dashboard.

The summary widget begins with a breakdown of backlink types and whether they’re nofollow or dofollow.

It’s important to note that nofollow links don’t pass link juice! Aim for dofollow. Click To Tweet

Secondly the “backlink types” bar graph shows where their links tend to come from. Text links, image links, within forms or frames, etc.

Most will be text-based links. If you see a high number of image links they might be using a paid banner on partner or affiliate sites. Think of a “Trusted Partner” logo or something along those lines.

Backlink table header column

Backlink table data


Moving down the dashboard is this table of top link sources. Based on the quality of the link, it displays the page title, the anchor text and the exact URL of the page that’s linking to the domain.

The table above also illustrates the type of link it is, when the link was first discovered and the overall Trust Score for that link.

Pro Tip: If the Trust Score is strong, and you think you can create a better piece of content than the one being linked to – you should! This would be a perfect opportunity to steal the link.

6. Paid Advertising Research

Pay-per-click advertising can be costly. Having more knowledge on keywords and landing pages that have proven to be successful is priceless.

SEMrush provides a full-access backstage pass to your competitors PPC wins and losses. Click To Tweet

The research in this section will pay for itself month over month.

To explain how to get the most out of this information I’ll use White Shark Media as an example. The previous example, PPC Hero doesn’t actually use pay-per-click advertising. Ironic!

PPC research with SEMrush dashboards

The top of the paid advertising dashboard summary looks like the image above. Clear metrics highlighting traffic estimates for:

  • Number of keywords being bid on
  • Monthly traffic volume from PPC ads
  • Monthly cost for the current PPC efforts
  • Historic view of traffic, # of keywords driving traffic, and costs over time

The following widget shows a fully sortable and exportable table displaying:

  • Exact keyword being used
  • Its current average position (and previous position)
  • Monthly search volume for each keyword
  • Estimated cost-per-click (per AdWords)
  • PPC landing page URL
  • Percentage of traffic being generated from each keyword (very important!)
  • Competitive score for each keyword
  • Number of search results for the keyword (in Google)
  • Popularity trend for the keyword
  • A link to view the search engine result page (SERP)

Competitor research paid ads screencapture

What to look for.

The strategy to look for with this table is finding keywords that are driving high percentages of traffic to your competitors website, and shows a low competitive score and cost-per-click. Additionally, if monthly search volume is high, and the total number of results is low you’ve struck gold!

The next level in paid research provides actual ad copies your competition is using and how many keywords are triggering ad impressions.

This is a fantastic starting point when you begin setting up a new PPC campaign and aren’t sure how your industry is currently describing products or services.

From this screen you can also click through to view the landing page to get more ideas for how they’ve structured calls-to-actions and opt-in forms.

Competitor ad copy from SEMrush

In addition to copies of competitor’s text ads, SEMrush also pulls copies of the display ads being used. Here you might find more ideas for headlines, messaging, powerful bullet-points, and more.

Competitor display ads from SEMrush

7. Traffic Analytics

Traffic analytics from SEMrush

This is a new feature that feels like we’re taking a peek inside someone else’s Google Analytics account. The traffic analytics metrics parse out traffic metrics like:

  • Unique visitors
  • Avg. pages per visit
  • Avg. visit duration
  • Bounce rate
  • Acquisition channels
  • Geographic distribution
  • And more

The line graph segments this information over time to help uncover trends, opportunities, and threats.

Competitors marketing channels from SEMrush


The SEMrush features covered in this post alone are enough to make big changes in your business. Honestly, you could base an entire business model on the SEO tools mentioned in this post.

Believe it or not this is just handful of tools that I use everyday when helping clients, but there are a lot more available that we did not cover.

New beta features are released all the time putting SEMrush at the forefront of SEO and marketing tools. It constantly updates their data to address all new algorithm changes from Google and connects new APIs to make sure we have access to the latest analytics and data visualizations.

If you want the competitive advantage you need to start generating more leads this is the perfect place to start.