SEMRush is one of the most powerful search engine marketing tools on the market in 2020. In this guide, I’m going to show you how to use SEMRush like an SEO pro.
Let’s jump right in.
What is SEMRush?
“SEM” stands for “Search Engine Marketing” and that’s exactly what SEMRush focuses on. They created this tool to help both SEO experts and paid search professionals achieve even greater results.
In this guide, I’m going to show you how to use SEMRush for SEO-driven purposes.
6 Ways to Use SEMRush for SEO
1. Analyze Trends + Competitor Analysis
The “Overview” section within SEMRush can give powerful insights at a glance. Enter your domain and click on “Overview”.
The first section to analyze is the traffic trend section.
These traffic numbers are nothing more than estimates from SEMRush based on the search volume and click-through rate of the keywords you’re ranking for. Take this section with a grain of salt.
However, it can be useful if you don’t have access to Google Analytics and you need a high-level overview of performance. That said, Google Analytics will show you your true organic search traffic numbers.
And not to be captain obvious, but you want to see these “Traffic Trend” numbers rising.
If they’re declining or flat, then you’ll need to investigate further. Conducting an SEO audit is a good first step.
The next section worth investigating is the “Top Position Changes”. This is useful to see what keywords are performing well and which ones are losing traction.
In the “Overview” section, you’ll find the “Branded Traffic Trend” chart.
Your branded search volume is an indication of how well you’re marketing your company. In general, your goal should be to increase branded search volume overtime.
That’s because it’s the most reliable type of organic search traffic.
For example, let’s take a doomsday scenario.
One day you wake and Google decides to strip you of all your non-branded keyword rankings. If you hadn’t been working to grow branded search volume, your revenue from organic search would go to $0.
However, if you’d been working to grow your branded search volume, you may still have 20-30% organic search traffic.
Branded search can be the difference between surviving and going out of business. It’s critical.
2. Find Low Hanging Fruits
I classify “low-hanging fruits” as any keywords that are ranking from positions #2 – #15. These keywords often just need a little push.
That means you can grow your organic search traffic without a huge investment.
These types of keywords should ALWAYS be your targets at the onset of any campaign. That’s because you’ll be able to score some quick wins out of the gate.
Fortunately, SEMRush makes it super easy to find these low-hanging fruits.
Click on “Organic Research” and then “Positions”.
Then click the “Positions” dropdown and enter 4 – 20 in the “Custom Range”.
These keywords should be your targets at the beginning of any campaign.
Sometimes some additional on-page SEO is enough to push these terms up. However, if they’re competitive, you’ll likely need to acquire more backlinks to these pages.
If both of those actions don’t move the needle, then you should add more content to the page.
3. “Steal” Your Competitor’s Keywords
Some of your competitors are likely ranking for keywords that you aren’t. SEMRush’s new Keyword Gap tool can help you narrow the gap.
Click on “Keyword Gap” under “Domain Analytics”.
Then enter 1-4 of your competitor’s domains.
The “Keyword Overlap” section will give you an idea of how many opportunities you’re missing out on.
But the real value is when you scroll down and get to see all of the keywords that your competitors are ranking for. By default, SEMRush will show you “Shared” keywords.
The “Missing” tab is where you should focus because these topics can become targets for future content and pages.
Keep in mind, you still need to go through the process of keyword qualification. You also need to always compare your website against your competitors.
For example, Moz has a much more powerful and established domain than Gotch SEO.
Therefore, it makes sense that they can compete for some of these highly competitive keywords. It would be a waste of time and resources for Gotch SEO to attempt to compete on some of these.
That’s why it’s critical that you always qualify your keywords.
4. Qualify Keywords
Anyone can build a huge keyword database, but it takes skill to qualify and prioritize that keyword set. In fact, keyword qualification is 100x more critical than finding keywords.
That’s because going after keywords that your website isn’t capable of ranking for can burn resources and even waste time.
This needs to be avoided.
Now SEMRush is a powerful tool, but it alone isn’t enough to qualify your keywords to the fullest extent. It should be used to supplement your keyword qualification process (not replace it).
Here are a few ways to use SEMRush to help qualify your keywords:
Find keywords with high CTR
Keywords that have many SERP features will likely decrease your organic CTR. The opposite is true as well.
For example, less SERP features can increase your organic CTR. Now it’s becoming rarer-and-rarer to find SERPs without features, but here’s how to find them:
Enter a competitor’s domain in SEMRush and click on “Positions”. Then click the “SERP Features” dropdown and select any of the SERP features.
You can then mark what keywords have the least amount of SERP features.
You can then estimate that you’ll get a higher CTR (more traffic) when you rank for these keywords.
Keep in mind, that it can change fast. SERPs are always changing.
Take Advantage of the “Keyword Difficulty” Tool
This tool can give you a nice high-level overview of the keyword competition. Go to “Keyword Analytics” and click on “Keyword Difficulty Tool”.
Just enter your target keywords into the box and start the analysis:
The Keyword Difficulty tool will show the estimated difficulty, the search volume, the total number of search results, the quantity SERP features, and even how well the keyword is trending.
I recommend stacking SEMRush’s and Ahrefs‘ keyword difficulty metrics to get a strong high-level overview of competition.
5. Acquire More Backlinks
SEMRush has a lot of competition on the backlink analysis side of SEO. For example, I lean more towards Ahrefs when it comes to link analysis and research. However, SEMRush has really improved its capabilities.
Here are a few ways you can use it to acquire more backlinks:
Use Backlink Gap
The “Backlink Gap” tool helps you identify link opportunities that your competitor already secured, but you haven’t. This is super important because you want to narrow the gap between you and your competitor’s link profiles.
In other words, you need to acquire as many (if not more) backlinks than they have.
Just go to “Gap Analysis” and click on “Backlink Gap”.
Then just enter your domain and a couple of your competitor’s domains:
You can then see what domains are linking to your competitor’s domains (but aren’t linking to yours):
Qualify Your Link Opportunities
For the remaining portion of this checklist, go to “Domain Analytics” and click on “Backlinks”.
Topical Relevance Analysis
The “Categories” feature is super useful. It does remind of Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow Topics (which is great too). You can use SEMRush’s Categories to review your own link profile.
For example, if your link profile isn’t relevant to your niche, then you’ll want to focus more on relevant opportunities. This ties back to the concept I created years ago called The Relevancy Pyramid.
In short, you want to focus all of your time acquiring links from your most relevant opportunities first. Then once those are tapped, move down the pyramid towards less relevant opportunities.
Naturally, there will be more opportunities as you descend down the pyramid.
Another way to use SEMRush’s Categories feature is to qualify link opportunities. You can run any link opportunity you have through this tool to see if it’s relevant to your website.
Relevance is king when it comes to link building, but you should also aim to get links on websites that have organic search traffic.
Think about it: If Google if sending organic search traffic to the website, then it’s an indication that the website is doing something right. That means it will likely be a link opportunity worth pursuing.
SEMRush’s “Traffic Cost” isn’t just based on total organic search traffic though.
It calculates the search volume and CPC for each keyword to settle on the traffic cost. That means that a website can have large organic search traffic numbers, but have a low Traffic Cost and vice versa.
In other words, not all traffic is created equally. Some keywords are far more valuable than others. And how is the value determined? It’s determined by how much a company is willing to pay per click for Google Ads.
You should prioritize link opportunities that have higher traffic costs because the traffic is of high value.
Link Profile Analysis
Link Authority Analysis
It’s normal for most of your backlinks to come from lower authority websites. However, if your link profile is lacking high-authority links you’ll need to fix it.
Look at the Referring Domains by Authority Score section to audit the strength of your link profile.
Link Distribution Analysis
One thing that many people overlook is how backlinks are being distributed across your website. It’s natural for some pages to have a much larger number of backlinks. That’s because some pages will do better than others.
That said, you’ll often find a correlation between pages that aren’t performing well and a lack of backlinks to those pages.
That’s why it’s important to first identify what keywords aren’t performing well. Then see if those pages are lacking the necessary backlinks to perform.
You can see the number of links that each page on your website has under the “Top Pages” section.
More often than not, low performing pages/keywords just need more backlinks. There is one thing you need to consider though.
Why doesn’t the page have backlinks?
If it’s because of a lack of promotion then you know what to do. But if you’ve been promoting the page and you’re still not getting backlinks, then you may need to revisit the page itself.
Ask yourself a simple question: would YOU link to your page?
It’s important to be honest about your answer. Your page needs to be worth linking to. That means it needs to add tremendous unique value that impels websites to link to it.
If you’re getting enough backlinks, always go back to the page itself. If you believe it’s truly link-worthy, then work to promote it more.
Link Profile Growth Trend Analysis
Your backlinks profile should be growing steadily over time. SEMRush gives a nice high-level overview of your link profile growth. Look under the “Referring Domains” section:
I recommend checking this on a quarterly basis to make sure you’re growing. If not, you’ll need to revise your link building strategy.
Link Profile Analysis
I recommend auditing your existing link profile at least bi-annually to make sure nothing low-quality has slipped in. That means you’ll need to manually analyze your link opportunities.
In most cases, you can just analyze new links that have popped up. I’m a little obsessive and I monitor new link activity on a daily basis. That helps me stay on top of negative SEO attacks that may occur. I recommend you do the same.
Anchor Text Analysis
Anchor text is the easiest thing to over-optimize in an SEO campaign. Most people think using keyword-rich anchor text is the best way to drive SEO results. It isn’t. In fact, it’s the best way to leave huge footprints of link building.
You can achieve great SEO results without having to use aggressive anchor text. I recommend using SEMRush to analyze your anchor text to make sure you’re on the right path.
6. Rank in Featured Snippet Position
You may have noticed that featured snippets appear on many Google search results. Landing in these featured snippets can produce huge organic search traffic gains. The cool part is that SEMRush allows you to find all of the featured snippet opportunities you need.
The first step is to enter your domain:
Click on “Organic Research” > “Positions”:
Click the “SERP Features” dropdown:
Select “Domain doesn’t rank” and click on “Featured Snippet”:
Set a filter so you only see positions #1 – #10 because these are the low-hanging fruits to tackle
You’ll now have a nice list of featured snippet opportunities to attack.
Try SEMRush Today
If you’re serious about growing your organic search traffic in 2020, then you need to use SEMRush.
SEMRush has been stepping up their game recently and I’ve actually been using it more than Ahrefs for keyword research, keyword qualification, and competitor analysis.
IMO, they have more comprehensive and accurate keyword data.
Here’s a 7-day free trial (affiliate link) if you want to give it a test drive.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Gotch SEO is an affiliate of SEMRush. That means we will earn a small commission if you decide to invest in their software. We only promote tools that we personally use and believe are the best in the industry.
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