Review of: Semrush (plus tutorial)
Use: Online competitor analysis
Most powerful all-in-one competitor analysis tool I've ever used
Ease of use
The tool takes a little getting used to, but the UI is super intuitive
A $69.95 monthly recurring fee...but the data is well worth the price
Loads of tutorials, documentation and a responsive support team
What I Like:
- Second-to-none keyword research
- Pages report finds new content ideas
- Powerful PPC analysis
- Site audit and rank tracking tools
- Drag-and-drop report builder
What I Don't Like:
- Backlink data not as complete as some other dedicated link analysis tools
- New display and video advertising reports are still in beta
A word from the experts
Semrush was recently rated the #1 keyword research tool by 58 online marketing experts
Summary: Semrush is the swiss army knife of online competitor research. I use the tool every day for personal and client SEO/PPC campaigns. It allows you to get an (almost unfair) behind-the-scenes look at your top performing competitors and use the insights to build profitable online marketing campaigns right from the beginning.
Find profitable keyword opportunities, pinpoint high-converting ad and landing page copy, dissect competitor content strategies, audit backlink profiles, identify new site monetization opportunities, track metrics in real-time...and a lot more.
A Closer Look at the Numbers
Before we dive into the review, let's take a quick look at the numbers:
There are no gaps here. Semrush provides real-time access to an unbelievable amount of data.
Eliminate the Guesswork and Build Profitable Online Marketing Campaigns (from the Beginning)
When setting up any type of online marketing campaign a LOT of marketers and business owners try to "reinvent the wheel". They spend countless hours and money trying to come up with the “next big idea” that will blow their competitors out of the water.
Don’t. Do. This.
(At least not right in the beginning).
Instead, use data to plan, build and launch marketing campaigns you know have a fighting chance of success (and profitability).
Find out what is working for your top competitors and do MORE of that.
Simple, I know.
But, very few people do it.
By first looking at your top-performing competitors you’ll be able to eliminate all the guesswork and start with a campaign that has a proven track record.
This process doesn’t have to be time consuming or a huge draw on your wallet.
Semrush will give you a powerful behind-the-scenes look at what is and is not working for your top competitors....FAST!
Armed with this knowledge, you'll be using data (not guesswork) to make strategic marketing decisions and deliver results for your boss or business much faster!
In this SEMrush review I’m going to show you step-by-step how to use the tool to dissect your online competition and model their success.
A Taste of What You'll Learn:
- How to find all your competitor's most profitable keywords
- How to identify which ad copy and landing pages are generating the most sales
- How to uncover content ideas that drive serious traffic
- How to find high quality link building opportunities
- How to find simple ways to monetize your website
- How to build data visualizations and get actionable insights
...and that's just the beginning.
If you're a marketer, agency, business owner or someone serious about building profitable online marketing campaigns, grab a 30-day free PRO trial and follow along with the review.
This post provides the most comprehensive SEMrush review (10,000 words) you’ll find anywhere on the web. I’ve broken it down into easy-to-navigate categories below.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
#1: Build benchmark data
#2: Identify top competitors
#3: Analyze organic search performance
#4: Uncover proven content ideas
#5: Long tail keyword research
#6: Common keyword analysis
#7: Finding keyword gaps
#8: Measuring keyword competition
#9: Competitor rank tracking
#10: Paid search competitors
#11: Paid keyword analysis
#12: Paid keyword tracking
#13: Ad copy breakdown
#14: Ad history
#15: Product Listing Ads report
#16: Video ad campaigns
#17: Display ad campaigns
#18: Monetizing web traffic
#19: Backlink analysis
#20: Domain vs. domain comparisons
#21: Data visualizations
#22: Website audits
#23: Keyword position tracking
#24: Drag-and-drop report builder
The Ultimate 24-Part Semrush Review and Tutorial (2016 Edition)
Each section of this review will highlight a product feature, walk you step-by-step through how to use it, and provide an action item for immediate implementation.
#1: Collect Benchmark Data
Before starting any type of competitor analysis, it’s a always a good idea to first look at how you’re currently performing across organic and paid search channels.
Head over to SEMrush and enter your domain into the search bar:
Click into the Domain Analytics >> Overview tab:
This report will give you high-level benchmark data in a number of areas.
You can see if traffic is going up or down, if your rankings are improving or getting worse, top organic and paid keywords, backlink data, display ad metrics and more:
Set a date range for the report and download it as a PDF.
Use the data on the overview dashboard to establish some baseline benchmark metrics. How much organic traffic are you getting? How much paid traffic (if any)? How many keywords do you have ranking in the top three search results?
Put this data into a spreadsheet.
You can return to these metrics periodically and see if you’re SEO and PPC efforts are proving effective.
#2: Identify Your Top Organic Search Competitors
The next step is to identify your top organic competitors.
Enter your domain into the search bar and navigate to the “Domain Analytics” >> “Competitors” tab.
Competitor Positioning Map
You will see a competitor positioning map highlighting the top organic search competitors.
This visualization provides a quick snapshot of where you rank in the competitive landscape in terms of the number of keywords ranking in the top 100 search results, as well as the amount of search traffic going to the domain:
In this example, we can see that GrooveHQ is a top competitor in terms of both search traffic and number of keywords ranking in the top 100 search results.
Hover over the bubbles to see the exact numbers:
Click on the bubble and you’ll be taken to a dashboard covering different organic keyword, paid ad and backlink data (more on that later).
Organic Competitors Table
Now it’s time to dive a little deeper.
Scroll down from the competitor positioning map and you’ll find the organic competitors table.
This table highlights lesser-known market competitors, and allows you to drill in and find loads of actionable data:
You can see in the table we’ve instantly been able to uncover 13,776 potential competitors. These are domains your site is competing with in Google’s top 100 organic search results.
Now, no one has time to analyze over 13,000 competitors, but can you imagine how long it would take to go out to Google and manually sift through the SERPs and put together a list this size?
A LOT longer than the three seconds it just took you.
Time is money, and you just saved a bunch of it.
Pay close attention to the following metrics in the table.
Competition Level: the larger the number of common keywords, the greater the level of perceived competition.
Common Keywords: how many of the same keywords your competitor is ranking for in the top 100 search results.
SE Keywords: the number of keywords bringing visitors to a website via Google’s top 100 organic search results.
These metrics will reveal your top organic search competitors.
I would recommend starting with the Common Keywords column. This will filter out the domains currently ranking in the top 100 search results for the same keywords you are ranking for.
The more common keywords, the stronger the competition.
Select a domain from the Competitors table that has a high number of common keywords. This is the first competitor you'll be analyzing in greater detail.
#3: Take a Behind-The-Scenes Look at Your Competitor's Organic Search Performance
Once you've selected the domain of a top competitor, navigate to the Organic research >> Positions report.
You'll see a high-level overview of the competitor's organic search performance, including the number of keywords the domain is currently ranking for in Google's top 100 search results, the amount of organic traffic the site receives each month and the estimated cost of the organic keywords if you were to bid on them in AdWords.
You can view the data for both mobile and desktop devices.
Pay close attention to the trend graphs in this report:
These will tell you if the number of keywords and amount of organic search traffic your competitor is receiving is increasing or decreasing over time.
A graph that is trending up and to the right (like the one shown above) indicates a successful SEO campaign is in place. Dig deeper.
Organic Search Positions Report
It's time to see which specific keywords are driving the most organic traffic to your competitor's website.
From the trend graph shown above, scroll down to the "Organic Search Positions" table:
(Click to enlarge image)
This table will show you all the keywords the competitor is currently ranking for in the top 100 Google search results, along with a number of other value metrics, including -
Search volume: Average number of monthly searches for each keyword
CPC: How much advertiser are bidding on the keyword in the AdWords PPC auction
URL: Which content is ranking for the given keyword.
Traffic Percentage: The percentage of traffic each keyword drives to the website.
Competition: This is on a sliding scale from 0 to 1. It can help you determine if the keyword is a realistic target in your search campaign.
SERP: Get a real-time snapshot of the SERP and assess the competitiveness for each keyword.
I know that Helpscout gets around 59,900 organic visits a month.
I also know that they rank #1 for the search term "customer service skills" which accounts for 14.19% of their total monthly organic traffic:
So, after doing the math:
0.1419 (traffic %) x 59,900 (monthly organic visits)
I can calculate Helpscout is getting roughly 8,642 monthly organic visits from this single keyword!
If this search phrase is related to my business, I'll definitely want to dive deeper and find out which content they are using to rank for it (and see if I can compete for some of that traffic).
Export the keywords you are currently ranking for, as well as the keywords of your competitor and import them into a master excel spreadsheet.
Remove any duplicates so you are left with a list of keywords your competitor is ranking for, but you are not.
Sort the list by search volume and competition to find new keyword targets to incorporate into your content strategy.
#4: Uncover Your Competitor's Top Performing Content
Open up the new "Pages" report:
This report shows all the pages your competitor has ranking in the top 100 Google search results.
It also provides an estimation for the amount of traffic brought to the page from organic search, all the keywords the page is ranking for, as well as additional backlink and AdWords data.
Above, you can see that Helpscout's "customer service skills" post is ranking for 2250 keywords and accounts for almost 40% of the site's organic traffic.
Scrolling further down the table we can quickly see all the different customer service topics Helpscout is using to capture loads of top-of-the-funnel organic search traffic.
This report alone will give you loads of new keywords and topics to incorporate into your content strategy:
Enter your competitor's domain into Semrush and navigate to the Pages report.
Look over the different posts and pages generating the most organic traffic.
Once you find a piece of content there are three things you need to look at:
Click the blue link under the "Keywords" tab:
This will bring you to the keyword overview report for that specific page/post:
You'll be able to see all the different long tail keyword variations the post/page is ranking for, along with search volume, position and percentage of traffic.
Export the list of keywords for manual review and sorting. These are all variations you'll want to consider integrating into key on-page elements - title tags, headings, body copy, alt text, URL.
Click the link to open the post/page:
What type of content are they using?
In this case, Helpscout is using a 15-point long form list post and targeting the keyword "customer service skills" in the URL, Title tag, H1 tags and body copy.
How is your competitor optimizing on-page SEO for the target keyword?
For each keyword the post/page is ranking for, you'll be able to view the level of "Competition" - a direct measure of the number of advertisers bidding on the keyword in AdWords:
You'll want to take it a step further.
Click the SERP snapshot button to open the Google results page for a given keyword, in this case "customer service skills":
Scroll through and take note of the different sites competing for the search term.
Install the Mozbar chrome extension to get a quick view of each site's domain and page authority.
Note: Avoid targeting keywords where the competitors have insanely high domain and page authority. These include big names brands like Forbes, Inc, YouTube, and .Gov sites.
If there are a bunch of websites with significantly higher domain authority, it might not be a keyword you want to target just yet.
Generally, go after keywords where there is at least 1-2 sites with comparable domain and page authority already ranking on the first page. This is usually a good sign.
If the competition isn't too high, build out a piece of content that will blow your competition out of the water.
Use the exported list of keywords to prioritize which variations you'll be targeting in the post content.
#5: Find Dozens of Long Tail Keywords
There is a reason 60 online marketing experts rated Semrush the #1 keyword research tool.
It allows you to quickly find all the common keywords you and your competitors are ranking for, as well as loads of new keyword opportunities your competitors are targeting but you may have overlooked.
In this section we're going to find all of these keywords and then look at ways to expand your keyword list by mining dozens of long tail variations.
But first, why are long tail keywords important?
Long tail keywords are longer, more specific keyword variations. They contain at least 3-4 keywords and are likely searched for when the user is closer to the bottom of the funnel.
Long tail keywords usually have much less competition compared to the more popular "head" terms, which means they are usually easier to rank and have a lower CPC. In fact, long tail keywords account for roughly 70% of all online searches.
From the "Search Positions Report" click one of the keywords your competitor is ranking for and go to the "Keyword Overview" report:
This is where you'll be able to see a bunch of organic and paid search data for the given keyword, including:
- Search volume
- CPC bids (higher usually means more commercial intent)
- Search trends
The metrics can be filtered for both mobile and desktop traffic.
Scroll down "Phrase" and "Related" keyword reports:
This is where you'll be able to find dozens of great long tail keyword variations you might not have ever considered targeting in your content.
This table will show all the long tail keywords with the requested phrase in it:
Click "View Full Report":
This table contains 272 queries containing the phrase "customer service skills“.
Export the "Phrase Match" report and sort the data by search volume and competition.
Look for all the long tail variations you can target within a single post.
Search terms such as...
"Good customer service skills"
"Excellent customer service skills"
"How to improve customer service skills"
All have decent search volume and could be targeted within a single post.
Helpscout ranks #1 for each of the long tail variations, driving thousands of additional visitors to their site every month.
You can scale this process easily by clicking on a keyword and drilling further into the report.
Clicking on "customer service skills training" will take me to a "Phrase Match" report for that keyword:
Instantly we are presented with several other long tail keyword variations we could incorporate into an article about customer service skills training.
Drilling into each of these keywords could return numerous other keyword opportunities with even larger search volume.
This report will show keywords with a similar thematic focus to the selected keyword:
Click to view the full report.
The table is synonymous with Google’s related search functionality:
Look at the search volume, CPC and SERP source for each of the keywords.
Click to view the the full report.
This will provide several additional metrics for each keyword such as the competitive density and trend analysis:
The key hear is to try and find relevant keywords to add to your growing list.
You can get extremely granular.
Click on one of the related search terms and you will see a list of keywords related to that related search term:
The cool thing about this feature is that as you continue to click deeper and deeper into the related search terms report you will find valuable long tail keywords relevant to all stages of your sales funnel:
Sort the list by search volume.
Set a cut-off threshold.
For this example, we’ll export and sort the keywords, deleting any with a monthly search volume below 100.
Add these terms to your master keyword list and remove any duplicates.
Now, only those related terms not already on your list are added.
Search for a commercial intent keyword. For example, “buy underwater boat lights”.
Click 2-3 levels deep into the related search terms report to find loads of long-tail variations.
These are the search terms you’ll want to be sprinkling throughout your content in order to maximize the topical relevancy (more variations = more clues = stronger relevancy) and ranking potential for those pages.
#6: Find Out Where the Competition is Getting the Upper Hand
So far you've managed to identify your top organic search competitors, find all the keywords they rank for, identifed their top performing content, and unearthed loads of potential long tail keywords to target.
Analyze the Common Keywords report...
In this step you're going to find all the keywords you and your top competitors are ranking for, find where they are beating you, and identify key areas for improvement (and growth).
Head back over to the "Organic Competitors" table and click the "Common Keywords" link:
You’ll see a table listing all the keywords both you and your competitor are ranking for in the top 100 search results:
View the specific ranking positions for each of the keywords, along with the average monthly search volume, CPC and competitive density metrics.
The keywords with high average monthly search volume, CPC and competitive density are GOLDMINES.
Think about it this way:
Higher search volume = more potential traffic.
Higher CPCs = advertisers are willing to pay more for the keyword.
Higher competitive density = more competitors are bidding on the keyword.
All of this put together equals commercial intent!
Export and/or filter the data to show your competitor's top ranked common keywords:
This view will show you all the keywords your competitor is ranking highly for, but you are not. These are immediate areas of potential growth.
Click on one of the common keywords and identify which content they are using to rank for it.
Click through to the post and analyze the content.
Are there any glaring signals pointing to why this piece ranks and your's doesn't?
Level of detail?
Number of referring domains/ backlinks?
Take these insights and start re-optimizing your existing competing content to gain quick wins in the SERPs.
Here are a couple ways to sort the data to get some valuable insights:
Sort by competitive density to uncover low competition keywords you’re competitors are ranking for highly. Re-visit your on-page optimization and link building strategy to see if there are opportunities to improve content.
You can climb the rankings for low competition keywords very quickly with a couple quality backlinks and some basic on-page optimization.
Sort by CPC to find high commercial intent keywords that you can use to attract more bottom-of-the-funnel traffic.
Sort by search volume to find keywords that are bringing your competitors a lot of traffic from the SERPs. Often, you'll come across several keyword you had never considered, but could easily be ranking for.
#7: What About All The Keywords You've Completely Missed?
OK, so you’ve found a ton of keywords that both you and your competitor are ranking for and identified which keywords have commercial intent and will be relatively easy to rank for.
But, what about the uncommon keywords?
The keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you’re completely overlooking.
Domain Vs. Domain Chart
From the common keywords comparison table, toggle to the “Chart” view:
You will see a Venn diagram that visualizes the share of keywords each domain has in common, as well as keywords unique to each website.
Click on the section of the diagram that contains keywords exclusive to your competitor.
This will return a table of hundreds (maybe thousands) of keywords that your competitor is ranking for, but you are not:
In a matter of seconds you've managed to uncover loads of new keywords you might not have ever thought to target.
Set the Chart filter to display all the keywords exclusive to the competitor and view the results in table report:
Sort by search volume, position and competition.
This will give you a boat load of new high volume/ low competition keywords you can target with content, rank quickly and use to drive new traffic to your site.
#8: What Are Your Chances of (Realistically) Outranking the Competition?
You've found dozens of potential keywords to target.
But, what are the chances of actually ranking for them?
The last thing you want to do is invest a lot of time, money and resources into targeting keywords you might not ever rank for.
The Semrush Keyword Difficulty Tool allows you to simultaneously assess the level of competition for a large batch of keywords.
This can save you a lot of time filter excel spreadsheets and manually review keyword competition within the Organic Search Position reports.
Go to the tools section and hit the Keyword Difficulty link:
Next, enter a list of your target keywords.
I’m currently using the PRO plan so I can test up to 100 keywords at a time.
Once you’ve entered your keywords hit “Show Difficulty”.
You’ll see a table that lists the difficulty percentage, volume and SERP snapshot for each keyword:
The higher the percentage the more difficult it will be to rank for those keywords. Click on a keyword and you’ll be able to see which of your competitors - and the corresponding URL - are already ranking for that search term.
Copy and paste a list of your target keywords into the Keyword Difficulty Tool to determine how hard it will be to steal your competitor’s position in the SERPs.
In general, I would recommend targeting keywords with a difficulty percentage at or below 40% to start. With a solid SEO and content promotion strategy in place you can target and realistically rank for these keywords pretty fast.
Export and filter the results to only include those keywords with a difficulty rating at or below 40%.
As your site gets more traffic and links, the authority will grow and you'll be able to start targeting higher difficulty keywords.
#9: Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
The Organic Position Changes report removes the manual work associated with comparing a domain's keyword report from the current month to the keyword report from last month in order to find new, lost, improved and declined keywords.
Head over to the Organic Research >> Position Changes report. You’ll be able to view all the New, Lost, Improved and Declined keywords:
Click the “New” tab to get a list of new keywords the domain has started ranking for in the last 30 days. This report can help you identify new potential keyword targets:
Look at the “Improved” tab to get a list of keywords where the given domain is gaining ground in the SERPs:
Sort the list by “Position Difference” to see which keywords have shown the largest ranking improvement over the last 30 days. Check out the search volume and landing page URLs for relevant keywords to see how competitors are targeting each search term.
On the other hand, use the “Declined” position report to see which keywords you are losing ground in the SERPs:
BONUS VIDEO: How to Get More Organic Traffic (Without Writing New Content)
Most people think that in order to grow traffic they need to immediately start investing more time and money into things like content production, ad campaigns, guest blogging and other areas.
While all are important…
It’s not necessarily the best place to start.
The truth is:
You can get QUICK traffic gains without spending money on ads or writing any new content at all.
Derive more value from your existing assets.
In this short video tutorial I’m going to show you how to find ALL the low hanging fruit on your website (in minutes), and turn it into quick traffic gains:
#10: Save Hours and Thousands of Dollars in Wasted Ad Spend
I run a lot of paid search campaigns for clients across a wide range of verticals.
Everything from real estate to agriculture to dentists to marine electronics.
SEMrush is one of the first tools I use to start planning out my campaigns. It allows me to see which keywords my competitors are bidding on, where they rank, as well as the ad copy and destination URLs they are using to increase quality score and conversions.
Here are a few reports you can use to beef up your ad campaigns and make your dollars do work!
Identify Your Top PPC Competitors
Before we can analyze and learn from our top PPC competitors, we first need to identify who they are.
You could start typing in a bunch of keywords into Google and see which companies are buying ad placements.
But, this would take you a LOT of time.
Instead, fire up Semrush and enter your domain into the search bar.
Click the "Competitors" tab.
First, you will see a competitor positioning map showing the top competitors by amount of paid search traffic and number of paid keywords:
Click on any of the bubbles to be taken to Paid Search Overview for the given domain.
Next, scroll down the page and you'll see the Paid Competitors table:
You'll be able to view a number of valuable metrics, including:
Competition Level: higher number of common keywords = higher competition level.
Ads Keywords: the number of keywords your competitors are bidding on in paid search.
Ads Traffic: how much traffic the paid ads are sending to your competitors’ site.
Ads Traffic Price: how much your competitors are spending each month on their paid ad campaigns.
Select one of the PPC competitors and click the "Ads Keywords" link:
You'll arrive on the "Paid Search Positions" report.
Look at the “Keywords” and “Traffic Cost” graphs. See if there are any trends:
There are a number of high-level indicators you can get from this preliminary analysis.
For example, if your competitor is bidding on more keywords but seeing a lower traffic cost, this could tell you two things.
First, the competitor is trying to scale their PPC efforts by bidding on more keywords. This could indicate they are getting a positive a ROI from their campaign. Dive deeper.
Second, if traffic cost is decreasing while number of keywords is increasing this could indicate the competitor has a well optimized PPC campaign in place. Typically, higher quality scores equate to lower CPCs.
Pay close attention to ad copy and landing page experience (more on that soon).
#11: Where (and Why) is the Competition Getting the Upper Hand in Paid Search
From the "Paid Competitors" table, click the "Common Keywords" link:
Similar to the Organic report, this domain comparison chart will show you all the keywords both you and your competitor are bidding on in paid search.
Run two separate data filters:
1. Sort competitor keyword rankings in descending order:
You'll be able to see which paid keywords the competitor is outranking you for.
Find out why.
Do they have a larger ad budget?
Is competition driving up the average CPC?
How well optimized is their ad copy and landing page experience?
Are they using custom campaign landing pages?
Look for areas of improvement within your own ad campaign.
Nextgen is ranking #4 for “ehr vs emr", whereas Athenahealth is ranking #1:
Click the keyword and you'll be taken to an overview report where you can see the ad copy used to target that keyword:
Click on the ad and you'll be taken to a custom campaign landing page:
You'll notice the page is optimized for the target keyword, there is loads of social proof, a phone number to contact the support team and form to start a free trial.
How does your ad copy and landing page experience stack up?
2. Click the "Volume" column to sort the chart by search volume:
This will return a list of all the common keywords sorted from highest to lowest search volume.
This is a quick way to find all the high-traffic keyword opportunities you are not taking advantage of.
You might need to increase your keyword bids or optimize your ad copy and landing page layout to improve your quality score and rankings.
3. Click the "Competitive" column to sort the keywords by level of competition:
This sort the keywords from lowest to highest level of competition.
This will not only give you a quick over view of the overall keyword competitiveness, but sometimes it will reveal some new low competition keyword opportunities you might not have previously though of.
This is really helpful if you have a small PPC budget because typically lower competition keywords have MUCH lower CPCs.
#12: Track PPC Competitors, Find New Keyword Opportunities, and Reduce Wasted Ad Spend
Your competitor's PPC campaign will be changing constantly.
The "Position Changes" report allows you to monitor daily changes in your competitors paid search campaign:
Get updated when your competitors target new keywords or launch new ad copy.
Target ads when your competitors are losing visibility.
Optimize and improve your ad's relevance by monitoring when your competitor's update landing pages.
You can see the main navigation markers at the top of the report (above).
New Keywords show all the keywords your competitor that are triggering your ads that previous weren't.
Lost Keywords show all the keywords where your competitor has fallen out of the rankings.
The Improved and Declined Keywords report will show all where your competitors are gaining and losing ground in the paid ad rankings.
You should always be on the look out for new opportunities to increase traffic and sales from paid ads.
This report makes it easy to find opportunities and identify low-performing keywords before you spend a ton of time and money running A/B tests.
1. Look through the New Keywords report and look for any new offers or products your competitor might be promoting. Pay attention to the keywords and ad copy by hovering over the yellow ad icon:
These insights could generate new campaign and product development ideas.
2. Click the "Improved" tab to look at all the keywords that have increased in position:
Sort the report by "Position Difference" to see which ads have improved the most. This can usually be attributed to an increased budget.
If your competitor is bidding more on the keyword it might be an indication that particular keyword is converting well and might be one you want to incorporate into your own campaign.
3. The "Declined Keyword" tab will show all the ads that have decreased in position.
Select the "Position Changes" report to show all the keywords with the largest decrease in rankings:
Typically, a large decrease in rankings will indicate your competitor has stopped bidding on those keywords. This is usually a sign that it was an underperforming keyword with a low conversion rate.
This kind of insight can save you a lot of time and money running different A/B tests.
#13: Write Attention-Grabbing Headlines, Increase Click-Through Rates and Get More Traffic from Paid Search
You can target all the right keywords and have highly-optimized campaign landing pages, but with out the right ad copy your campaign can still fall flat on it's face:
Ad Copy Report
This report will show you all the ad copy your competitor's are using in an aggregated report, along with all the keywords triggering the ad copy.
Use the insights to:
- Write "attention-grabbing" headlines
- Write better ad descriptions and CTAs to get more people clicking through to your landing pages
- Optimize display URLs
1. Headlines have the greatest impact on whether someone reads an article, opens an email, or in this case, reads the rest of your ad.
Analyze the successful ad copy of your competitor's to see which headlines they are using to capture attention in paid search:
What type of headlines are they using to capture attention?
Brand mentions to reinforce trust?
By modeling the headline formula of your top competitors you can quickly capture more attention, boost your CTR and increase overall quality score. This will help lower CPC and drive more traffic to your landing pages.
2. The next step is to look at the description copy.
Are your competitor using alpha numeric numbers to standout?
What type of offers are they using to draw the click?
What CTAs are they using?
3. Display URLs can have a big impact on the relevancy and CTR on your ads.
Look at patterns across your competitor's ads.
Are they using keyword rich display URLs to boost quality score?
Do they using dynamic keyword insertion to increase relevancy?
Do they using product names in the URL?
4. Click the "Keywords" link to reveal all the keywords triggering the ad:
Look for new keyword opportunities and see how well each ad is ranking.
You can export and sort the data to find new low competition/ CPC keywords to target.
#14: Find High Converting Ad Copy
Don't spend loads of time and money testing ad copy and keywords.
Instead, let your competitors do all that heavy lifting while you reap the rewards.
Enter the “Ads History” report.
It allows you to determine when, and how often your competitors bid on each keyword.
If you notice that your competitors have bid on a particular keyword over a long period of time, you can reasonably infer it is a profitable keyword.
You can also uncover which ad copy is performing best by looking at the historical data.
Go to Advertising Research >> Ads History and enter your competitor’s domain.
You will see a table that looks like this:
If the cell is filled blue then your competitor was bidding on the keyword that month.
The keywords showing blue for each month are likely high performing since they have chosen to bid on them for over a year straight.
Click on a blue cell and you’ll see which ad copy they are using to target each keyword:
This provides insights into the different types of ad copy your competitors have been testing. If you notice they have used the same ad copy for a long period you can predict that this ad copy converts well.
Conversely, if you notice that your competitors tried certain ad copy and then quickly changed it the next month, then it must not have performed well.
You can use your competitors historical ad data to optimize your own ad copy and keyword bids without having to spend a lot of money testing.
Enter your competitors domain into the Ads History report and look for trends.
If your competitor has bid on a specific keyword or ran the same ad copy for a long period of time, it likely converts well. You might want to replicate some of their ad copy and bid on those keywords.
If you notice that they bid on a certain keyword for a few months and then discontinued, you can determine that keyword did NOT perform well and elect to remove it from your paid keyword list.
#15: Uncover Competitor Pricing Strategy with Product Listing Ads
If you sell products online you probably have product listing ads running through Google’s merchant center.
SEMrush recently launched the “PLA Positions” report.
You’ll be able to view the PLAs your competitors are running, where they rank, the keywords triggering the ads, the landing page URL, search volume, product title, and my favorite…
PLAs typically have the highest CTRs, and in my experience, conversion rates. This can be attributed to the top-of-page ad placement and visual real estate they occupy in the SERPs. Plus, they are positioned more for bottom-funnel traffic.
This report is great for analyzing the pricing strategy of your top competitors.
Enter five of your top competitors into the “PLA Positions” report.
Make a note of your competitor’s pricing strategy.
Sort the PLAs by position.
Click through to the landing pages of the top ranking ads and see how they have optimized the landing page experience.
Do they incorporate keywords in PLA title, landing page headers and body copy?
#16: Build Profitable Video Ad Campaigns
YouTube has over one billion users and is the second largest search engine on the planet.
The number of people earning six figures a year from their YouTube channel is up 50% year over year.
And, all of the top 100 global brands have run some kind of YouTube ad in the past year.
Videos ads are an important consideration in any paid search campaign.
Whether you're a seasoned professional or just entering the world of video advertising, the Semrush Video Advertising report can help you build more profitable video ad campaigns:
Use the Video Advertiser Overview report to find out how many video ads your competitor is running, across how many different channels and within which specific videos.
Get a full list of all the landing page URLs your competitor is using to convert video ad traffic:
Quickly see which landing pages have been promoted the longest, and which ones are receiving the most traffic.
Look at each YouTube channel your competitor is promoting ads on:
You’ll also be able to see how long competitors have been targeting each channel, the number of subscribers and percentage of videos on each channel that provide ad placement opportunities.
For example, I can see Microsoft is targeting the Electronics Engineering Video Blog which has over 320,000 subscribers:
Look at a full list of individual videos showing ads:
Click on a video and you’ll be able to see an over summary for the video:
Finally, get a full list of advertisers promoting ads within the video, the landing pages associated with the ads, as well as the individual ad creative:
Enter your competitor’s domain into Semrush and look closely at the following:
1. Video Content
What type of videos are they using to promote their products or services?
Pay attention to the video messaging – is it funny, serious or controversial? How long is the video? What type of CTAs are they using to drive traffic or capture conversions?
Look at the number of times the video has been seen. This is usually an indication of how aggressively the video is being promoted across other channels.
The video shown above has been seen over 10,000 times. This suggests Microsoft has been promoting this campaign for a relatively long period of time. In some cases, this could indicate a high-converting video ad and give you some ideas on how to position your own video ad content.
2. Landing Pages
Find out where your competitors are sending video ad traffic.
Pay attention to the conversion goals.
Are your competitors capturing emails? Selling a product? Promoting an affiliate?
In the example above, you can see Microsoft is using video ads to promote a campaign asking people to vote for non profits making a difference in the world.
Analyze your competitors landing pages and look for opportunities to better optimize your own. Are they using social proof? What about value proposition and benefit statements? Product images? Sign up forms? Free trials? Special offers?
Find out where your competitors have been promoting ads the longest. This is where you will want to launch your first ad placements.
#17: Dissect Competitor Display Ad Campaigns
The Display Advertising report is currently in beta.
Although the data is not complete yet, the report still provides a handy overview of your competitor's display campaign activity.
Go to the "Display Advertising" >> "Overview" tab and enter your competitor's domain:
You'll be able to see if the competitor is advertising on Google's on display network, publishing ads on their own site to monetize traffic through AdSense, or both.
I can see that Apple is currently promoting display 5,056 display ads across 24,363 websites:
I can also see they are mostly displaying text ads.
You can drill deeper and view all the sites displaying their ads, and review both the text ad copy and display ad designs:
Enter your competitor's domain and look at the following four reports:
1. Overview Table
Is your competitor an advertiser, publisher or both?
2. Text vs. Media Ads
If your competitor is advertising on the display network, find out what percentage of ads are text vs image based:
3. Trend Graph
Is your competitor showing ads on more sites? If so, this could indicate the display campaign is performing well.
Are the number of publishers decreasing? This could indicate one of two things. Either the campaign is not delivering a good ROI and the competitor is cutting back investment in display ads, or they are excluding under-performing placements and building a more targeted campaign.
Either way, start your display campaign with the few remaining sites because you know those are still being targeted for a reason :)
4. Ad Reports
Click through and look at the text ads :
And display ad creative:
Filter the report to identify which ad creatives have been in rotation the longest.
Usually this will indicate a high-performing display ad you can model in your own campaign.
Take note of trends for each different ad type. This will help provide a little more context to Publisher graph shown above.
Look at all the different sites your competitor is showing ads on. You might find some targets you hadn't thought of yet:
Look at how many ads are being promoted on each site, whether they are text or image based, and for how long ads have been seen on the site.
The longer your competitor has been placing ads on a site could indicate it might be one to consider testing as a target placement in your own display campaign.
6. Landing Pages
Get a full list of all the landing pages your competitor's are targeting with display ads:
Look at the "Times Seen" and "Ads" columns to get an idea which landing pages are being targeted the most.
#18: Find New Site Monetization Opportunities
If you’re a blogger driving solid traffic and are open to on-site advertising, this section is for you.
There are many sites out there paying for the traffic you are driving through organic search.
So, if you were able to identify those sites and offer them advertising on your site, you could quickly start to monetize the traffic. Semrush makes this SUPER easy.
Here’s how to do it:
Go to Organic Research >> Competitors and enter your domain.
Scroll down to the “Organic Competitors” table and select one of your competitors:
Pay attention to “Ads Keywords” column.
Look for competitors that are bidding on the keywords you are ranking for.
In this example I would click on the “Common Keywords” metric next to Sproutsocial.com.
You’ll be taken to a “Comparison of Domains by Keywords” report. Set the filters so you are returning the keywords that you rank for organically and your competitor is bidding on in paid search:
You will see this report:
The first result is for “social analytics platform”. If you take a look a the SERP snapshot and you’ll notice razorsocial is ranked #1 organically for that search term, while Sproutsocial is currently bidding on the search term:
Semrush is a great place to source partnerships with companies that are bidding on the keywords you rank organically for.
Reach out to some of these companies and see if they are interested in placing ads on your site. This can be a win-win, especially if they are spending a lot of money on the keywords you rank for.
Negotiate an ad fee and start monetizing your organic traffic.
#19: Find High Quality Link Building Opportunities
Semrush provides the capability to analyze your competitor backlinks profiles.
You can can uncover the number of backlinks, referring domains, follow/no follow and top level domain distribution.
These features can help you better understand your competitor’s link building strategy and highlight new sources you can tap into to build backlinks and referral traffic.
Go to Backlinks >> Overview and enter your competitor’s domain.You’ll see the following high level metrics:
Pay attention to the number of referring domains. This is a strong indicator of the diversity of your competitor’s link profile.
A large number of relevant referring domains will boost a site’s overall domain authority.
Another piece of data you’ll want to look at is the type of backlinks your competitor is getting.
As you can see in the graph on the previous page, over 97% of Backlinko‘s backlinks are “text” links. This is another indication of a killer backlink profile. The site likely has a large number of contextual backlinks.
The best kind :)
Backlinko also has quite a few .org backlinks.
.org, .edu and .gov backlinks will typically pass more authority onto your site.
From the Backlinks Overview page, click on the “Referring Domains” metric.
You’ll be able to see a table containing all the domains sending backlinks to your competitor’s website:
Brian has nice list of high PR domains linking to his site, including a healthy mix of net, .org, .com TLDs.
You can also see how many backlinks are coming from each domain.
Look closely at the type of sites linking to your competitor.
In this case, it looks like Brian is active on forums such as Warrior Forum and Inbound.org. These are communities you could start engaging in to drive traffic to your site.
He also has a large number of links coming from searchengineland.com and kikolani.com. He might be guest posting there. Maybe an opportunity to pitch a guest post of your own…
He has 46 backlinks coming from Scoop.it. This could indicate that he is leveraging the social channel to promote his content.
Backlinko is getting links from AllTop indicating that he may have submitted his domain to the directory.
Smart move. AllTop provides authoritative backlinks for hundreds of different business categories.Use these insights to guide your own content and link building strategies.
Ok, so you know which domains are linking to your competitor…
Now, it’s time to see which specific pages are linking. This show you exactly how they are getting their links.
Are they using guest posts, forum marketing or directory submissions to build links and drive traffic?
Let’s find out.
Click on the “Total Backlinks” metric.
You’ll be able to see where the backlink originated, as well as which page on your competitor’s site received the backlink:
Other useful metrics including the anchor text and number of other external links pointing to your competitor’s site from each referring page.
You can also see if the links are follow/no follow.
One thing to note here is that Backlinko has a nice mix of brand, keyword and naked URL anchor text.
So, you have a huge list of backlink URLs…
But, how the heck do you extract actionable insights?
You are able to filter the backlink URLs by “type” and “zone”:
I might want to see how Brian is getting his .org backlinks, since these are powerful links.
I’d filter the results by “zone” and “.org”:
This will return a list of only those .org sites linking to the domain.
See if there are any backlinks you can replicate in your own link building campaign.
How would like to know which specific pages on your competitor’s website are attracting the most links?
Go to Backlinks >> Indexed Pages.
You’ll see a list of your competitor’s best link building assets:
Sort the domain column to return results in descending order.
Backlinko’s YouTube SEO post has attracted the most referring domain backlinks.
If you’re in the SEO/link building space, you instantly know that content targeting this subject could be used to build links and traffic.
Take a look at which of your competitor’s posts/pages are generating the most backlinks. This will give you an idea of the types of linkable content you can incorporate into your own content strategy.
Explore the content in depth and see if there any opportunities to expand and make it better.
This insight forms the foundation of my content promotion strategy.
Enter your competitors domain and check the “Indexed Pages” report to find which posts and pages are attracting the most backlinks and referring domains.
Click the referring domains link and see how different sites are linking to your competitor’s content.
Are your competitors building links from guest posts, roundups, resource pages, blog commenting…?
Now you know which topics generate the most links and where your competitors are getting those links. The next step is build a superior piece of content and replicate as many links as possible. Or, at least use the insights to guide your own link building strategy:
#20: Scale Competitor research with domain comparisons
It can be difficult to see exactly how you stack up against the competition.
The Semrush “Domain vs. Domain” report makes it easy to analyze up to 5 competitors at once, across both organic and paid search channels.
This can help you build high performing organic and paid search campaigns based on your competitors most successful keywords, saving you a lot of time and wasted ad spend.
Go to Tools >> Domain vs Domain.
Enter up to five domains you’d like to compare across organic and paid keyword data:
You’ll see how each domain is ranking for common keywords.
This tool will show you how you rank against your competitors in organic search:
Toggle to the chart view to segment common and unique keywords for each domain:
By clicking on different intersection points within the venn diagram you’ll be able to view common and unique keywords, as well as the keywords your competitors are ranking for but you are NOT.
You can repeat the same process to see which keywords your competitors are bidding on in paid search, but you are missing:
What if you’re setting up a new campaign and don’t know where to start?
Enter at least 3 competitors into the Domain vs. Domain and select “Keyword Type”:
By default, this report will show a list of the keywords each of your competitors are targeting and provide ideas for keywords you might want to consider including in your campaign:
You’ll be able to see where each competitor ranks for the search term, find out search volume and assess the level of competition for each keyword.
You can remove overlapping keywords by selecting “Advanced Mode” and adding your domain to the report and selecting the “Unique to the First Domain” option:
This remove your keywords from the report and leave you the unique keywords of the three competitors you’re missing.
Export the search terms and sort by level of competition to find new low-competition keyword opportunities to target in your search campaign.
The Domain vs. Domain tool can also help you save money by identifying the keywords you are bidding on in AdWords, but already rank for organically.
Enter the same domain into the report. Choose organic keyword type for one and paid keyword type for the other, with the common keywords filter selected:
Next, filter the list of keywords to only show those ogranic keywords ranking in the top 3 organic search positions.
Statistically, keywords ranking top 3 in organic search get the same, if not more traffic from the SERPs than top ranked PPC keywords.
#21: Create Powerful Data Visualizations
The “Charts” tool is great for producing quick data visualizations for up to five different domains.
You can generate graphs based on search traffic, number of keywords, traffic price, new keywords and much more:
Here is a graph showing the blog’s organic search traffic increase:
You can represent the data in a line, bar and pie graph format.
Export or print the graphics as a PDF for reporting.
The charts report can be used to forecast advertising budget by looking at the historical ad spend of your competitors:
Is your competitor increasing or decreasing their ad spend? Are they running seasonal ad campaigns?
Another way to measure the effectiveness of a paid ad campaign is to compare the amount spent to the traffic coming from paid ads:
Above, you can see that towards the end of 2015 Southwest was spending less on paid traffic, but getting more traffic. This indicates a highly optimized ad campaign that is generating the most traffic for the budget.
If your competitor’s are showing similar trends, it could be an ad campaign worth analyzing further and potentially modeling.
Use the Charts tool to gain insights into the historical performance of your competitors organic and paid search campaigns.
Look to see if they are investing more in their paid ad campaign:
Drill in and look at which new keywords your competitor is targeting. Are there any opportunities you may have overlooked? Identify related keywords and test them in your campaign.
The Charts Tool is also an easy way to see how your competitor’s organic search campaign has been performing over time. Are they ranking for more keywords? Are they getting more organic traffic?
We can see here that Helpscout has seen a consistent increase in organic traffic over the last three years. If I was in the customer support/ helpdesk industry, I’d definitely be looking closely at their search strategy very closely and looking for ways to model their success.
You can even use the Charts Tool to win new clients. For example, let’s pretend I am trying to convince Kmart that they need more help with their SEO efforts.
An agency could compare the growth of Kmart’s organic search traffic with Target. The graph below shows a clear gap:
If tables and excel spreadsheets aren’t your thing, use the Charts tool to get a quick visual snapshot and identify competitors you might want to analyze further.
#22: Audit Your Website in Minutes with the Semrush Audit Tool
Semrush is continually adding new featured to it’s already powerful competitor research platform.
On top of in-depth SEO, PPC and backlink analysis, users can now use it’s new Site Audit tool.
Head over to the “Projects” tab and select “Site Audit” from the options:
Enter your domain and set up any of the advanced crawl settings. You can select which user agent you want to crawl the site, exclude certain URLs and parameters, as well as schedule recurring reports highlighting the health of the website and areas for optimization.
Once the audit is complete you’ll see a report highlighting any problems that may be occurring on your site that may be hurting SEO:
In minutes I’ve been able to identify dozens of issues on my blog.
Select each of the tabs at the top of the report to get more information and find the exact areas that need improvement:
You can export these reports as a PDFs to pitch potential clients and build reports.
#23: Track Keywords from Any Location in the World
Keyword rankings form the foundation of any SEO or PPC strategy. The higher you rank in the SERPs, the more traffic and potential customers you will drive to your website.
Keeping track of where you rank for target keywords is very important for measuring campaign performance and identifying areas of opportunity.
But, it can be extremely time consuming to manually enter search terms to monitor your progress in the SERPs, especially if you’re targeting hundreds or thousands of different keywords.
Enter the Semrush “Position Tracking” report.
This allows you to monitor national, regional and local search rankings for any domain or keyword, across any device – mobile, tablet and desktop.
Here is what it looks like:
You’ll be able to monitor weekly changes in a website’s search visibility and track movement for individual keywords.
If you rank #1 for every keyword you are tracking, your search visibility score will 100%.
From the main Position Tracking overview report you’ll be able to get a historical view of search visibility of your website and competitors, for the keywords you are tracking. You can also toggle the report between organic and AdWords rankings:
You’ll also be able to view a rankings table showing improved or declining rankings, identify the landing pages ranking for each keyword and identify new competitors to track your performance against:
The Semrush Position Tracking report also makes it easy to quickly identify which competitors are gaining or losing the most visibility in the search engines over time:
The keyword grouping feature makes tracking thousands of search terms a breeze. You can group them by specific keywords or brand names. Each keyword can up to 5 difference tags and be housed in multiple groups.
Export the data to excel or PDF to use in client reports.
#24: Build Professional Reports (in Seconds)
An essential part of any marketing is measuring performance.
For a lot of companies this comes as a monthly report highlighting metrics such as organic traffic increase, new keyword rankings, PPC traffic and more.
The new Semrush Reports tool allows you to build professional branded campaign reports by simply dragging and dropping widget into their pre-built reporting template:
Select the report widget from the left menu, enter the domain URL and select the device type.
You can also drag-and-drop heading and text blocks to organize data and add commentary to key metrics in the report. Use the layout widgets to create columns.
Export the report to PDF when you’re done.
How Does Semrush Get So Much Keyword Data, Despite Google's "Not Provided" Encryption
Some of you may be wondering how Semrush collects its data, despite Google’s move to “not provided” encryption.
So, I did some research and found an answer.
Rae Hoffman asked David Black, the Head of Customer Relations and Video Content Development at SEMrush the following question –
Rae: You offer estimated traffic data for sites. How do you determine how much traffic a site is receiving without access to their analytics? Additionally, You offer a listing of keywords you (SEMRush) believe drive traffic to a site. How are you identifying those keywords and how does Google’s recent move to 100% secure search (not provided) affect your ability to identify those keywords (if at all)?
Black: We take a database of the top 95 million keywords worldwide and automatically query each keyword on a regular basis. Sometimes, as often as everyday, depending on the popularity of the keyword. Then, we record the first two pages of search results for each keyword and parse that source data in order to determine which domains rank for these keywords and where.
Since we’re looking at Google from the outside and reflecting what we see, that’s exactly why we’re not affected by the “(not provided)” issue.
In order to determine a domain’s traffic coming from organic and ads keywords, our algorithms factor in the search volume for each keyword in their report, along with their ranking position to find what percentage of the monthly search volume is going to them based strictly off of where they rank on the SERP. We do that same calculation for each keyword and then total it all up.
Plans & Pricing
There is a free version of the tool. However, the reporting features are very limited.
Semrush has two paid plans and three pricing options. The Pro plan is $69.95/ month. If you’re an individual blogger or small agency the PRO account will be plenty.
The Guru plan is designed for larger agencies. It goes for $149.95/mo. The Guru plan allows you to run 3 simultaneous sessions (multiple people can be logged in and working in the account at the same time) and run more reports and store historical data. You’ll also be able to create branded PDF reports for clients.
The Swiss Army Knife of Competitor Research
Semrush is my go-to tool for keyword research, PPC analysis and competitor research. I use it every day to find keyword opportunities, analyze PPC campaigns, brainstorm content ideas, and perform in-depth competitor research.
At $69.95, the tool is by no means cheap, but if you act of the mountain of actionable data the tool provides, it will pay dividends in a very short period of time.
And, although this review is very in-depth, I have only covered a small fraction of the tool's use cases.
If you are a serious marketer or online business owner, Semrush is one of those "must-have" tools.
Did you find this review helpful? Are there any ways you use the tool to get actionable insights that were not covered in this review?
Please let me know in the comments below.