If you are serious about taking your SEO game to the next level in 2021, it’s time to start using the best tools at your disposal.
SEMrush has been raising the bar for SEO professionals and aspiring digital marketers for years, and their toolkit continues to get better.
From keyword research to site audits, link building to in-depth performance analysis, SEMrush has everything needed to optimize SEO campaigns and deliver results to clients.
In this ultimate guide, we will give you all the info you need to start mastering your SEO with SEMrush.
So, What is SEMrush?
SEMrush is an all-encompassing marketing platform that features several unique toolkits:
Each one is a suite that serves a specific marketing purpose. Everything from advertising to social media to content marketing to competitive research.
Today we are here to talk specifically about the SEO Toolkit. Let’s explore some of it’s top features you need to use to improve your rankings today.
Get all the insights you need to outrank your competitors with the acclaimed Organic Research feature. It’s been a SEMrush mainstay for years, and it’s clear to see why.
You can gather any important metric for a competitor’s website, then use this data to help rank your own site.
Just type a URL into the search box in the Organic Research section and hit “Search.”
See any site’s keyword rankings, traffic performance over time, top pages, and much more. Take eBay.com as an example…
This section shows us that eBay is ranking for 37.9 million keywords. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
But is this the most reliable metric for us to use? The answer is, most often a no.
Note that this is the TOTAL number of keywords a site ranks for. In many cases, they could be ranking for terms that are of little to no value (or little to no relevance for your site).
A much more accurate metric is found via the “Positions” tab at the top.
This will show you which specific terms the site is ranking for. You can see for yourself which terms are relevant to your brand and which ones aren’t.
Plus, you can see which terms are ranking in the top 10 and driving the most traffic to the site.
Back on the “Overview” tab, we can see a section for “Traffic,” showing the estimated amount of traffic the site gets over a period of time.
You can set the date period to 1-month, 6-months, 1-year, 2-years, or all-time.
These numbers may not be completely reliable, but they should give you a rough idea about the average traffic flow through a website.
It’s useful to see if a competitor has recently suffered a hit to their traffic, or just how their SEO is going in general.
Knowing the commercial value of site traffic is crucial to picking the right keywords and building a successful online business.
The “Traffic Cost” section shows us the CPC (cost per click) value of a site’s keywords. In other words, how much they’d have to bid if they ran a Google Ads campaign…
This metric is pretty sweet. It essentially combines the quantity of traffic with the quality of that traffic to give us a nice, digestible dollar amount.
It’s great for niche research too. If you’re looking into joining an affiliate niche, you can use “Traffic Cost” to gauge how profitable the niche can be.
We touched on this briefly, but the “Positions” tab should be one of your go-to resources. It will show you which specific terms a site is ranking for and in which spots (top 3, 5, 10?).
The graph view provides a quick look into the amount of overall rankings and in which spots. You can easily set the date range to view growth (or decline) over time.
But the true value of this tab is in its beautifully laid out list of organic keywords. Here you can literally export your competitor’s keywords into a spreadsheet, and use them as reference while you optimize your own website.
You’ll notice that this list shows you “traffic %.” These are the terms that are actively driving the most traffic. You can also note each term’s CPC as well as the ranking URL.
Tip: It’s always useful to visit the ranking URL so you can see how that page is doing its on-page optimizations.
What else can you do with this list?
Sort by CPC to see what are the most profitable terms ranking.
You can also set filters based on specific conditions. For example, excluding keywords that are brand names…
You can also filter by CPC value, traffic, keyword difficulty, and appearance in featured snippets.
So yeah, there’s A LOT of info you can gather from the Organic Research section in SEMrush. It’s a great baseline for keyword research and on-page competitive analysis.
Hone in on great keyword possibilities and reverse engineering your competitors rankings!
If you don’t have access to a site’s Google Analytics account, this feature is the next best thing.
SEMrush allows you to view estimated site traffic metrics for any website, in a way that’s similar to GA.
Get a sense of how your site stacks up by looking at visits and unique visits, then see for how long people are staying on the site by looking at pages/visit, avg. visit duration, and bounce rate.
You can even enter your own domain to see a direct comparison!
There’s also a nifty chart if you’re a more visual learner.
You can look at a site’s full traffic breakdown, including referral sources, organic vs paid traffic, and more.
The traffic journey tab is one of the most useful areas to explore for backlink prospecting…
You can see all of the “referring sites” that are driving traffic and decide which sources might be useful for you to pursue.
There’s also a “social network” option which shows the top locations for social traffic.
See where traffic is coming from in a global sense, by clicking the “Geo Distribution” tab…
Gap analysis is a super important part of competitive research. SEMrush makes this easy by allowing to compare keyword rankings among several websites.
You can choose competitor sites versus your own to see where your keyword “gaps” exist.
You can see the visual overlap, plus a list of “Top Opportunities for You” (these are the terms your competitors are ranking for but you aren’t).
Scroll a little lower and see the terms that are shared, missing, or unique to your site. This will give you a sense of what targeting changes you need to make in order to compete.
Similarly to “keyword gap,” the “backlink gap” gives you a way to see backlink possibilities from your competitors.
You can type in 5 competitor URLs or type in your URL vs 4 competitor URLs to find the gaps.
Let’s say you want to launch a new project and start tracking its ranking data? In SEMrush all you have to do is go to the “Position Tracking” option beneath “Rank Tracking” and enter you project details…
For this example let’s say our website is ebay.com…
We’d simply click “Set up,” then enter our location details followed by the keywords we want to track.
We can add keywords manually, or from an existing campaign, or we can connect our Google Analytics account and import keywords from there.
There’s also an option to “Import File,” which could be a spreadsheet of terms from your keyword research.
Position Tracking Overview
In this example we grabbed 10 keywords from the “SEMrush” to track…
There are several ways to view your position tracking. The way I like most is to use the “Pages” tab on top so you can see which pages are housing which keywords.
You can also sort the data by keywords counted, estimated traffic, average position, and total keyword search volume. It’s an easy way to see which pages are ranking the best.
You can set it up so that you’ll receive a daily update about your rankings, sent to your email.
For a more broad view of your keyword activity, try the “Landscape” tab. This will highlight three overarching areas that are really important.
The first is “Visibility,” which indicates the progress of keyword rankings through the top 100 results. Closer to 100% means you are holding the top position for nearly everything, while closer to 0% means you have few keywords ranking in the top 100.
The second section is “Estimated Traffic,” which indicates the amount of traffic you should be driving given your current keyword rankings. This is usually fairly accurate and seems to be getting more spot on over time.
Third section is “Average Position,” which tells you the average ranking spot among all the keywords you’re tracking.
Once again, these are very BROAD metrics. They require much more of a drill down into individual keywords to see the true variations.
Simply click on any of the three to see a list view of individual keywords. From there you can sort them by Positions, Estimated, Traffic, and Visibility.
Another great project level feature is the “Site Audit.”
Here you can document critical errors, warnings, and other info sent directly to your email on a weekly basis.
SEMrush measures the overall site health to show you how well-positioned your site is from an SEO perspective.
You’ll see a host of suggestions and recommendations to improve your site, as well as an easy export option (PDF) to share with your team or client.
Where should most of your time be spent? I’d recommend the “Errors” section.
These are the issues that are most imminent to fix. Things like 404s, 500 errors, or expired SSL certificates can bring your site to a crashing halt, so it’s vital that you get these corrected right away.
In contrast, “Warnings” tend to be less important but still may require fixes relatively soon. It’s up to you as an SEO pro to determine what needs tweaking and what can wait.
By setting your audits to run automatically on a periodic basis (daily, weekly, or monthly), you can compare crawls from different time periods to track your website’s progress.
On-Page SEO Checker
Get your on-page factors dialed in with the “On-Page SEO Checker,” that’s accessible via the Project area.
Plug in your top keywords to see the top recommendations for boosting your on-page factors.
SEMrush lists the “Top 10 averages” for a number of important on-page SEO factors per keyword.
When it comes to keyword research options, SEMrush keeps getting better and better.
Their suite includes some amazing tools for finding the best keywords and storing them for future reference.
It starts with the “Keyword Overview” section that details all the important high-level metrics for a given term…
Not only will you quickly see the term’s search volume (in any country), but you’ll also see its CPC to get a better understanding of the term’s commercial value.
There are 3 boxes underneath this data that will be immensely helpful.
“Keyword Variations” shows you tons of other terms that you can use for secondary keyword possibilities.
“Questions” shows you some of the most common questions around your keyword, which you can use for blog post topics and to score a featured snippet.
“Related keywords” shows you closely related terms to your main keyword, which can help you find additional keyword possibilities in your niche.
Keyword Magic Tool
One of SEMrush’s newest and greatest features is the beloved “Keyword Magic Tool.”
This gem reveals thousands of amazing keyword ideas. You can customize this area how you see fit.
The best part is the area to the left where you can filter your keyword search by a specific subtopic of your main keyword. In this example we typed in “games” so it’s giving us “video,” “download,” and even “thrones” (in case we were searching in context to “Game of Thrones”).
Those options on the left allow you to hone in on the most topically relevant keywords for your research, instead of wasting time looking at terms that aren’t important.
If you were using a more specific seed keyword, like “video games” instead of “games,” then you’d benefit from filtering by “phrase match.” This will only include keyword suggestions that have your keyword phrase included.
Once you’ve gone through and checked the boxes of your favorite keywords, you can easily export them to a list.
Just click “+ To Keyword Manager.”
Sorting is made easy too. You can review keywords by search volume, keyword difficulty, CPC, or trends.
Once you’ve got your terms loaded into a list, you can easily export them into an active project for position tracking.
Keyword Manager explains this process in straightforward fashion…
SEMrush isn’t just renowned for its on-page wizardry, it also includes a few useful backlink tools to help beef up your link profile.
Track your current backlink efforts with ease using “Backlink Analytics.”
See your improvement over 6 months, 1 year, or all-time in terms of Referring Domains and Overall Backlinks.
You can also monitor anchor text diversity with the “Anchors” tab, if that’s your thing:
Find link building prospects by entering your top competitors and keywords.
SEMrush will give you a list of sites where you can focus your outreach efforts.
Once you have some backlinks pointing to your site, you should check in regularly to gauge the healthiness of your links.
This feature shows you toxicity levels of each link. You can use this info to determine whether or not it’s necessary to disavow…
Link Building Tool
When it’s time to build more links, look no further than the handy dandy “Link Building Tool.” This is SEMrush’s way to help you find high-quality links that are also uber relevant to your niche.
It basically launches an email outreach campaign for you, helping you track potential prospects and send them inquiries about posting links on their site. You can program an entire email sequence designed to follow-up with websites who don’t respond.
Bonus: SEMrush Sensor
As SEOs we need to constantly be on top of SERP volatility.
SEMrush makes it easy to keep track of potential algorithmic updates with the “Sensor” feature…
You can check Google SERP volatility overall, or by specific category. It’s a great way to isolate algorithmic shifts and updates, seeing if they affect only your industry or others more broadly.
It’s just another way that SEMrush gives SEOs an unfair advantage. Are you ready to boost your rankings?