Quick question—do any of these sound like you?
If any of these resonate with you, then you’re in the right place.
Ahrefs as an SEO Tool
When choosing an SEO software, one of the names that often comes up is Ahrefs. They are an SEO software that helps you increase your rankings by giving you data on which keywords to rank for, who are ranking, and the backlinks they are getting. They also recently came up with a free (but super limited) plan which I’ll get to below.
The problem that most marketers don’t realize is that specialization often has a lot of limitations. This is the biggest reason why I always review the technology stack of my clients and provide recommendations if there’s often an overlap in features that are causing inefficiencies which almost always ends up costing more.
If you plan on improving your online presence, increase traffic to your website, and rank higher on Google, you have to first understand your goals.
Identify Your Marketing Goals
If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume that you are looking to increase your organic traffic, that’s why you are looking for Ahrefs alternatives.
But don’t stop there.
What other marketing goals do you want to achieve? How will you get there?
Researching keywords won’t do any good if you don’t create content around it. Simply adding keywords to your title tags and meta descriptions won’t get your website to rank either.
As you probably already know, there is no one individual approach that can drive growth to your business. And with over 200+ ranking factors, it’s pretty difficult to find out which one to focus on.
From my experience, there are three crucial areas you need to work on if you want to rank on Google:
- Fast website—aim for at least 3-second load times
- High-quality content—a good way to think of quality content is by answering this question, “Is it something that you’d want to publish in a big publication like Forbes, Wall Street Journal, or CNN?”
- Relevant backlinks—not all links are created equal. In fact, the wrong links can cause more harm than good/
Focus on the outcomes these three things get you and you will see your site improve its rankings in no time.
Now, the question is, does Ahrefs help you improve your standing on these three core pillars?
Let’s find out.
Essential Software Features You Need to Rank Higher on SERPs and Increase Organic Traffic
1. Site Audit: Determine Which Issues to Fix on Your Website
The ability to audit your website for issues is the first critical feature your chosen SEO software should be able to do. This is more known as a site audit or on-page SEO audit.
Most of the time, this focuses on technical on-page SEO elements such as anchor texts, internal links, etc.
That’s a basic requirement.
The one thing you need to look for is whether or not the tool also helps identify ways to improve your site speed.
The three most common culprits are unminified files, uncompressed images, and too much stuff going on (like animations) that adds bloat to the page.
Did you know that the top 10 results on Google have an average of 1.6 second page load times? That’s why it’s vital that you improve your site speed if you want to have a chance on ranking on the first page of Google.
2. Keyword Research: Know Which Keywords to Rank For
This is a given in any SEO software. You should have the ability to see which keywords you can rank for, or find out what other websites (primarily your competitors) also rank for. That way you can copy what’s working for them and apply it to your own business. This is commonly known as competitive research.
At the very least, you should be able to find metrics such as:
- Keyword difficulty
- Search volume
3. Content Marketing: Creating New or Improving Old Content
Finding all the keywords you can rank for won’t do you any good if you don’t add them to your website. But that doesn’t mean you stuff them in your title tags or meta description either.
You need to create content for those keywords.
Think about the last time you Googled something. Did you think the website owner simply slapped on a few keywords on that page then started to show up on the first position of Google?
Most likely, that article contains hundreds if not thousands of words, carefully written to answer the question you asked. It’s formatted properly with subsections and images to break up the copy.
This is why it’s vital that your software can help you craft the perfect piece of content that pleases both search engines and readers.
4. Backlink Audit: Find Out Your Backlinks Profile
Understanding your backlinks profile is a critical feature your chosen SEO tool needs to do. After all, backlinks are the single most popular determinant of rankings. The more backlinks you have, generally, the higher your rankings.
By knowing the links that are pointing to your domain or your competitors, you gain the ability to know where exactly you stand. This helps you identify what you need to do or improve on.
5. Link Building
The last critical feature your marketing tool needs is the ability to help you with link building. After all, we mentioned in the previous section that you need backlinks to rank higher.
So, knowing your link profile is only half the battle. That’s why there are so many link building strategies out there—because of its importance in your overall marketing performance.
How Ahrefs Rank Against These Essential Features
Now that we listed the essential features you need to have if you want to rank higher on Google, let’s look at how Ahrefs compare to these:
Ahrefs does a great job in its technical on-page audit and provides you with the recommendations on what you need to fix.
Finding keywords to rank for is the core of any SEO tool. Ahrefs does a great job at this as well.
Ahrefs helps you find the right keywords to add to your content, but it doesn’t help you create it, nor have any capabilities to audit existing content.
Finding out your backlink profile is critical to knowing where you are in relation to your competitors.
While you can find the domains you want to reach out to using Ahrefs, it doesn’t have any capabilities on helping you perform the actual outreach itself.
Ahrefs site audit tool performs an in-depth analysis on your website. It tells you the basic on-page SEO issues on areas such as indexability, links, redirects, and many more. The important part is it also tells you which pages on your site have slow speeds that are affecting your performance.
For example, clicking on anyone of the top issues, you’ll see a list of page(s) that are affected by it. You’ll easily know which ones you need to fix.
The one thing I don’t like though is that the image above is the overview of a single audit. Meaning, when you go to the site audit report, you’ll be greeted with an overview page that looks like this
And while it shows you your progress over time, you really can’t make sense of it unless you click on any one of those audit reports (which will take you to a screen that looks like the first image above).
Ahrefs keyword research tool is one of the best out there in the market.
Simply enter your chosen keyword and you can see tons of important metrics around it.
Another great feature in Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is it allows you to do bulk analysis too. Just enter the keywords you want to analyze and you can see. an overview page that looks like this.
From here, you can apply all your filtering options for your SEO analysis.
To improve your website traffic and rank higher, you need content. That means you either need to create new ones or improve existing content.
Ahrefs help you identify which keywords to target through its keyword explorer tool. It can also show you popular articles through its content explorer tool.
But that’s it. You will still need to read and analyze each of these posts if you want to make something better.
Ahrefs doesn’t help speed up this process.
When it comes to backlinks, most SEOs claim that Ahrefs provide the most accurate data. When you use the Site Explorer tool, you can find all sorts of data on any domain. This could be yours or any competitor you want to spy on.
Then, when you head over to the backlinks section, that’s where you can find the domain’s backlink profile. Here you can do all sorts of filtering to do your SEO analysis.
My experience with Ahrefs is that it picks up more backlink data than any other tool. But that’s it.
If you are performing an extensive audit to see if you are at risk of any penalties, you’d have to do a lot of manual filtering and going through each link.
This isn’t an issue for small or new websites. But if your site has been around for years and it’s only now that you’re taking your SEO seriously, you might have accumulated a LOT of irrelevant and spammy links that could be hurting your rankings.
The report from Ahrefs will most likely include the. But you’ll have to find out for yourself which ones are spammy and which ones are not.
The last aspect that you need to consider is link building capability.
Unfortunately, Ahrefs can only help you identify which ones to go after.
For example, the most popular link building strategy is the Skyscraper technique where you create a better version of a topic with lots of links. Then, you reach out to the websites linking to these pages and ask them to link back to your “better” content.
This can be done by searching for a topic using the content explorer tool, clicking on one of the results, then looking at the backlinks like this:
Or plugging in the URL like what I shared earlier in the backlink audit section.
As you can see, Ahrefs comes short in a few of these features.
As an SEO tool, it does well. It shows you keyword data, who your competitors are, what to fix on your site, and other important backlinks data.
But the rest of the things you need in order to rank higher—content creation and link building—it’s fairly lacking.
That’s why I highly recommend SEMRush because it has all these features and more. Take a look at how it stacks up against these essential features:
SEMRush provides you with the most relevant information you need to fix on your website through helpful graphs and charts.
With over 20 billion keywords in their database, SEMRush’s keyword tool can help you find more ideas for your SEO, content, and PPC campaigns.
SEMRush’s content marketing toolkit speeds up the improvement of existing and creation of new content for your website through the use of artificial inelligence.
Finding out your backlink profile is critical to knowing where you are in relation to your competitors.
SEMRush has a dedicated link building tool where you can do your own advanced search operators and integrate with email providers like Gmail or Microsoft 365.
SEMRush has a robust site audit tool which can provide you with the necessary information you need to fix if you want to improve your rankings on Google.
In one glance, you know example which ones you need to fix and let you see your progress over time.
Then, when you click on any one of those issues, you can find out exactly what they are. And if you’re a fan of Trello, they offer a one-click integration to push it there where you can work on every item you need to fix.
When it comes to keyword research, SEMRush offers the same thing as other tools. It provides you with the data you need like search volume, difficulty, competition, and many more.
You can also do bulk analysis of several keywords. But the one thing that sets apart SEMRush is its Keyword Magic Tool where it uses AI to group together keywords according to topics or sections.
If you look at the left section, SEMRush automatically groups the keywords together depending on the keyword you entered.
From there, you can apply filters just like you’d also do from other tools.
SEMRush’s content marketing toolkit sets it apart from all other marketing tools because it helps you improve existing content on your site and help you through the content creation process.
After setting it up, SEMRush’s content analyzer groups your content into different buckets as shown below.
From here, you can go into each bucket then start reviewing and improving them.
For the content creation side, simply plugin a single (or two) keywords you want to rank for, then the SEO Content Template creates recommendations on what you should do: from what semantically-related keywords you should add, backlinks to try to acquire from, and many more—all these taken from the top 10 ranking articles for that keyword.
The best part is that you can export this into a word doc, or integrate via Google Docs then share with other authors or writers.
Now, you can easily scale your content creation.
The SEMRush backlink audit feature boasts of artificial intelligence (AI) to help you determine which backlinks are toxic, irrelevant, or spammy.
The first thing you’ll see is the overall health or your backlink profile.
But knowing is only half of this process. When you audit, you have to make sure that your backlink profile is as clean as you can. That means removing any toxic and spammy links pointing to your domain.
You can easily do that by using the audit tool where SEMRush ranks each backlink it finds through over 40+ different toxic markers to help you identify which ones are irrelevant and which ones are relevant.
Building links is the last activity you need to do if you want to improve your rankings.
Knowing which sites to try to get links from is one thing, but having a predefined process or workflow to actually build the links is another. And that’s what SEMRush’s link building tool can do for you.
Simply follow the setup instructions, after a few minutes, you’ll be redirected to the overview tab where you can see all the relevant information about the link building process.
When you move to the Prospects tab, you can see all the potential list of websites you can reach out to. If they look relevant, you can add it to your in progress tab.
Here, is where you actually manage your outreach process.
The link building tool automatically finds email addresses, social media profiles, and contact us pages for you automatically.
You can use the templates here too so your outreach process is so much easier.
Verdict: SEMrush Is the Best Ahrefs Alternative
Ahrefs may be a popular choice among SEO professionals because of its pricing, but when it comes to looking at real-world essential features you need to get your website ranking higher and improving your overall presence online, SEMRush beats it across the board.
As mentioned above, you need to:
- Have the ability to fix issues on your website
- Find lucrative keywords you can rank for
- Create quality content
- Get more backlinks to your website
Ahrefs does a good job with most of these, but it’s lacking on certain aspects. If you want to get more value for your money, SEMRush is a better option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ahrefs vs SEMrush—which one should I pick?
SEMRush is not an SEO tool. It’s your all-in-one digital marketing tool. Why? Because apart from keyword research and analyzing link profiles, you can also use SEMRush to:
• Monitor and schedule social media posts
• Perform link building outreach within SEMRush
• Research, plan and create SEO-optimized content
• Search engine marketing (SEM) tools to manage your PPC ads
• Local SEO and business listings management
It also has a free trial which makes it the best Ahrefs alternative.
What do I get during the trial?
During the 7-day trial, you get the same things as you would in any Ahrefs plan plus more. Here are some of them:
• Keyword research tool which shows you metrics like search volume, ranking difficulty, and many more. It also shows you related keyword suggestions that help in uncovering hidden ranking opportunities.
• Domain analysis tool: this shows you overall domain metrics, which keywords it’s ranking for, the top pages, and its backlinks.
• Backlink Analysis tool that you can use to check your backlink profile or for link building strategies.
• Rank tracking or keyword positioning tool to show you how your pages stack against the
• Site audit tool that helps you identify on-page/technical issues on your website.
And many more!
Note that the names in Ahrefs and SEMRush will be different but the functionality will be similar.
Are there any downsides to SEMRush?
After using both tools for a while, there are two things where Ahrefs comes out on top: setup & user interface.
As with other reviews, I agree that Ahrefs has a better UI. SEMRush needs some time getting used to.
Ahrefs have more one-click links to show you what you’re looking for like broken links or lost links, whereas to get that in SEMRush, you’d have to click 4-5 times to find that data.
Despite that, you would still get a lot of value from an SEMRush plan because you can also use it to handle link building outreaches, manage social media accounts and your content calendar—all without leaving SEMRush.
Enjoy a 7-day Free Trial of SEMRush
SEMRush offers a similar pricing structure to Ahrefs which starts at $99/month. But remember, you’re getting more value for your money with an SEMRush account.
- You know the value of content marketing to your business/website
- You want to create high-quality content every single time
- You’re looking to scale content production
- You’re an agency or consultant working with more than 3 different websites (domains)
Good to Know
The links above to SEMRush are affiliate links.
Should you decide to click through them and purchase, I earn a commission. Regardless, I don’t endorse tools that I don’t use myself. In fact, I am a paying SEMRush customer.
SEMRush offers a 7-day money-back guarantee on any paid plan.
This technically increases your trial to 14 days. It gives you more time to take advantage of all the features of SEMRush and how it can add value to your business.
Email series to maximize your trial
I created a 7-day email series that you can join now to help you maximize your trial of SEMRush. Note that this is for a Guru plan.
I cover the following topics:
- Perform a site audit to fix your on-page SEO and other technical errors that are holding you back from getting traffic and rankings
- Research keywords to write about
- Uncover hidden opportunities your competitors are neglecting and steal this traffic from them
- Plan and create SEO-optimized content
- Analyze your link profile and disavow toxic links
- Perform link building outreaches
- And many more
You’ll receive an email each day to help guide you through setting up SEMRush and taking full advantage of its features.
At the end of this series (and your trial), you would have gained a lot of value. And since you can export most of the data, you can go ahead and cancel your trial.
Of course, I’d recommend you stay on and become a customer so that you can have historical data. This will help you see trends. Plus, you’ll also have a way to implement more advanced techniques to further grow your traffic and increase your website rankings.