SEMrush homepage screenshot

I’ve used a lot of tools to help improve SEO and content marketing research. Tons and tons.

I currently subscribe to four paid SEO tools, and these are the two most valuable that I’m currently paying for: SEMrush and Ahrefs.

First a recap of some of the paid tools I’ve tested (and this is only a fraction of all of them out there):

  • Majestic
  • Moz
  • Raven Tools
  • Brightedge (corporate level)
  • URL Profiler
  • Keyword Snatcher
  • Advanced Web Ranking
  • Authority Labs

All of the above tools have their strengths and weaknesses, and a different blend is required depending on your project. This is just one man’s opinion. This actually might be the most incomplete list of SEO tools to use in 2015, but we have enough content deluge in our life so I’m keeping it short for you.

Why I use SEMrush

Quite simply, there’s nothing that will give you a better way to quickly size up the SEO value of a site than SEMrush. It’s very intuitive and fast, especially when you need to size something up very quickly.

Here are my top uses for SEMrush throughout the month:

  • Researching a prospective client’s website
  • Comparing a client’s current organic traffic vs competitors
  • Benchmarking a company vs its closest competitors
  • Quickly seeing how quickly a company has grown with search traffic
  • Getting a feel for how well a company’s content strategy has worked for them
  • Detecting Google algorithm penalties
  • Finding an outsized weakness or strength of organic traffic vs other traffic sources
  • Looking at sites in an industry to see who the top dogs are and how much revenue they generate from SEO
  • Determining if a new business idea is worth the investment
  • Generating new keyword ideas based on competitors rankings
  • Finding competitor weak spots on keyword rankings
  • Seeing what keywords a client is ranking for
  • Uncovering what content investments are paying off for a website

Quite simply, SEMrush is excellent for initial market research and comparisons. It is snappy and fast, and the most addictive part of it is seeing essentially how much revenue companies are earning from organic traffic.

There are a bunch of other beta features such as rank tracking, backlink comparison, PPC and display ads spying, and more – but those aren’t as much the core strengths of the tool.

There are some drawbacks of the tool – one being that only the top 20 positions are analyzed for keywords. Realistically, however, anything below the 20th position is not commercially lucrative so that’s why they leave it out. If you need more than that data, Google’s Search Console provides all of that.

SEMrush is a simple enough tool to get started with – most website and business owners can play with it – but there are tons of features that will allow an advanced expert to make some power moves with.

Can’t Live without Ahrefs

I’ve tried a bunch of backlink checking services, and Ahrefs takes the take for the fastest, most user-friendly, and most powerful. Many tests have been run comparing backlink checkers. After testing a few of the tools mentioned earlier, I love Ahrefs the best.

Like SEMrush – they make it super user friendly to get started. Just punch in the URL you want to look up and it gives you some limited sample data. Anything more and you’ll need a paid subscription. This tool is probably more on the intermediate to advanced end for users.

My top uses for Ahrefs:

  • Seeing how popular a potential client’s website is on the web
  • Seeing if a client has ever generated publicity from major news outlets
  • Determine if a website has performed any link building outreach
  • Checking how difficult it would be to catch up to a competitor’s website
  • See the newest links for a website
  • See the overall volume and quantity of backlinks for a website
  • See if a website is trending upwards or downwards in popularity
  • See the top pages of a website (based on # of links)
  • See the most popular content on a website (based on social shares and links)
  • Tons of other combinations of metrics

Some of the cooler new features they’ve introduced are the content analysis checker (like Buzzsumo) and keyword checker (like SEMrush). I don’t believe Ahrefs is powerful enough just yet to replace those two tools, but it’s a pretty good solution if you could only choose one.

The combination of these two tools works for me and gives me a ton of power when doing content and SEO research. It may not work for your projects, but definitely check these out and see if they work in your workflow.