Thinking back at all the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. The biggest mistake, by far, was not putting enough emphasis on keyword research. Yeah, I always heard that it was really important, but I was stubborn and just wrote about what I wanted to write about. And you know what? Growth was glacially slow. Then, in early 2019 I discovered the power of competitive analysis using SEMrush. Is SEMrush really worth it? You bet it is.
To be honest, I started with a few other tools in addition to SEMrush. I own a portfolio of 8 websites, so I need a lot of data. I decided to try several different keyword research platforms just to see how they compare, and I’ve finally reached the point where I can say that I prefer SEMrush.
Why exactly is SEMrush worth it?
I could literally write pages and pages telling you all the benefits of how good keyword research catapulted my blogging business to the next level. However, I’ll show you some images instead. FYI, the charts below show monthly traffic numbers for three of my websites dating back to around 2017 or so. As you can clearly see, they all jumped significantly once I started doing keyword research using SEMrush.
As you can see, SEMrush absolutely does help you hone in on the topics that you need to be writing about. On top of that, it will show you exactly what your competitors are ranking for and if there’s any opportunity for you to get a slice of that pie. Think of it as hiring a full-time SEO expert for a fraction of the cost.
|Please note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means that I will get paid a commission if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of them.|
Yes, it’s a little expensive. However, the amount of money that I’ve been able to make with affiliate marketing and display ads from all the extra traffic across my portfolio of blogs more than makes up for it. $99 a month is a bargain for the value it provides.
|Everything you get with SEMrush:|
|In-depth keyword analysis. See search volume and difficulty scores for any keyword.|
|Powerful keyword research tools which are smart enough to suggest keywords you may have not thought of on your own.|
|Spy on your competitors! See what keywords they rank for, how many backlinks they have (+ what they are), and lots more...|
|See where all your backlinks are coming from, how "healthy" they are, and find opportunities for new ones.|
|Schedule social media posts, and see engagement and performance reports of past campaigns.|
|Full (exportable) performance reports - which are very handy for agency owners who manage websites for clients. Get a professional-looking presentation with the single click of a button.|
Pros and cons of SEMrush
Just as with all the tools that I use to help me run my business (such as Sync, Evernote, GumRoad, and Shopify), there are good points and bad points. No software solution is 100% perfect, but some are better than the others. How does SEMrush perform?
- As I’ve already shown, SEMrush has catapulted my business to the next level with huge traffic increases across my entire portfolio of websites.
- The powerful competitive analysis feature allows me to spy on my competitors to find out all the terms and keywords that they ranking for. I can see their position in the search results, and I can see how much traffic they are getting from those specific keywords.
- The keyword suggestion tool is pure gold. Sometimes I have no idea what kind of keywords to target, but SEMrush can generate lists of possibilities within seconds.
- SEMrush data is highly accurate. After using it for almost a year and a half now, I’ve never once run into a situation where I wrote a post based on a keyword suggestion only to find out that the traffic estimates were way off and it wasn’t worth writing. If anything, their traffic estimates are on the low side and I generally get more traffic per keyword than they predict.
- The keyword difficulty score they provide it is very accurate as well. If anything, it might be slightly too aggressive, since I’ve been able to rank fairly easily for keywords that they said were very difficult to rank for. But most of the time, they are spot on and it helps me avoid wasting my time on keywords that I have no possibility of ranking for in the search results.
- It’s expensive. $99 a month for the starting plan is not exactly affordable for most beginners. However, the data they provide can save you years worth of work. I’m living proof of this, so all I can tell you is that it will be worth it – even though it may seem uncomfortable at first.
- Expect to spend the first two or three weeks trying to learn how to use it to its greatest potential. Keyword research can be a little complicated, and even though SEMrush simplifies it as much as possible, there is a slight learning curve.
My favorite features of SEMrush and how they helped me transform my blogs into informational powerhouses
There are so many great features of SEMrush that it would be impossible for me to summarize it all in a short article such as this. I’d recommend going over to their features and plans page and spending a little time coming through all the stuff you’re going to get as a subscriber.
To make it easy as possible to help determine whether or not SEMrush is worth it for you, let me give you a real world explanation of my favorite features:
Having the ability to quickly see how well my websites are performing in terms of keyword ranking (and overall site health) is nothing short of addictive. With the SEMrush Dashboard, I can quickly view important metrics such as how many backlinks I have, what keywords I am (and am not) ranking for, the value of all the keywords that I rank for, and more. And, compared to ahrefs, it’s cleaner and more organized IMHO.
The best part about the dashboard is that I can do a deeper dive on any of the metrics I choose. For example, timer clicking on any of the keywords will lead me to a plethora of other datasets, including:
- How well my competitors rank for those same terms
- Keyword opportunities that I may be missing
Competitive analysis is the point that I try to drive home whenever I try to explain to people whether or not SEMrush is worth it. SEMrush refers to it as “Competitive Intelligence”, and having the ability to do a deep dive on your competitors websites and to see how well they perform for specific keywords is ultra powerful. Not only does this give me a sense of the kind of content that I need to be writing about, it also helps me figure out how to gain a competitive advantage over them.
For example, if I have a baking website and I’m completely out of ideas for topics to write about, I can view the data on one of my competitors websites to see what terms and keywords they rank the highest for. Not only that, SEMrush will show me how much search volume those keywords have, as well as how well they rank for each.
This helps me into ways:
- I can quickly see where the content overlap is between my site and theirs. If they are ranking very well for a specific keyword that I haven’t covered, it behooves me to write about it. Chances are I’ll outrank them if I write a better article.
- Second, having the ability to know how well they rank for each keyword is amazing. If SEMrush is showing me that they rank in position 12 for a high-volume low-competition keyword, it’s absolutely worth me taking the time to write an article around that keyword. As a matter fact, that’s exactly the strategy I used to achieve the explosive growth on my portfolio of websites over the past year and a half or so.
Keyword search volume and difficulty
Knowing exactly what keywords to write blog posts around is one thing. Knowing exactly which keywords are worth your time or not is another. Of course, SEMrush can help you to figure this out.
- Step one: do a search for a keyword. Any keyword.
- Step two: take notice of the results, but focus your attention on both the search volume and keyword difficulty. Personally, I like to target keywords that have decently good search volume with relatively low difficulty. In SEMrush, a difficulty score of anything below 70 is fairly easy to rank for with a website that has low domain authority.
The best way to explain this is to tell you exactly what’s working for me. This is how I rank keyword possibilities based on search volume and difficulty score in SEMrush:
- Amazing: A keyword with a search volume of 90 and a difficulty score of 50
- Good: A keyword with a search volume of 200 and a difficulty score of 80
- Bad: A keyword with a search volume of 1000 and a difficulty score of 88
- Terrible: A keyword with a switch volume of 10,000 and a difficulty score of 97
As you can see, it’s not always wise to chase keywords with high search volume. SEMrush’s powerful keyword analysis tools will help you figure out what’s worth going after and what isn’t.
I’ll admit it: I’m not very big on actively building backlinks. My strategy has always been to create great content and let the backlinks come organically. So far it’s been working well and I have no plans to switch things up.
However, SEMrush is very much worth it for content creators who focus heavily on building backlinks. Not only will it show you all the backlinks that your website has, it will show you a multitude of other metrics such as:
- Overall trends which can help you track the progress of your back linking efforts
- The overall score of each backlink so that you can determine which ones you should disavow or not. FYI, you can disavow links directly from SEMrush without having to go into the Google Search Console to do so.
- It will help you identify back linking opportunities. It does this by analyzing the back links of your competition and showing you exactly what their best performing backlinks are.
Exportable performance reports
This is especially great for SEO professionals and website developers who have clients. With one click of a button, SEMrush will spit out a beautiful performance report in PDF format showing metrics such as keyword ranking, performance over a period of time, the best and worst performing keywords, and overall backlinks (with a quality rating assigned to each one).
In other words, SEMrush is an extremely valuable tool for agency owners to help them manage and present client information. If I was an agency owner, SEMrush would no doubt be the back bone of my business.
I can’t believe I was so stupid prior to 2019. Beyond being a little stubborn with the type of content I was creating, I wasn’t really sure if SEMrush was worth it. My strategy all along had been to write entertaining content which attracted a returning audience.
Yes, I tried to write about things that were popular, but I didn’t put any emphasis on finding out what people really wanted to read about.
Finally, after listening to years of success stories from others who found success within a year of starting a blog made me really start scratching my head. What was I doing wrong? I had been blogging consistently since 2011 and I was nowhere near as profitable as I should’ve been by that point. It was then that I finally got it through my thick skull that maybe getting serious about keyword research was important, so I decided to spend the $99 per month on SEMrush and start building my content strategy around the keywords I found there.
Yes, I did consider alternatives (such as ahrefs), but after doing the ahrefs vs SEMrush comparison, I knew I made the right choice.
It was a total game changer for my blogging business. Even though I was super excited to have finally figured things out, I’m frustrated that I wasted years and years trying to fight the system and do things my own way. It turns out that I’m not as smart as I thought I was.