Despite all the attention that gets paid toward all sorts of different traffic sources these days, like Facebook and Twitter, search engine traffic still represents by far the largest source of visitors for a great number of websites. Whether you go about this from a search engine optimization perspective or a search engine marketing perspective, Google simply cannot be ignored.

Some people might throw caution to the wind and simply hope for the best, taking a haphazard and ultimately random approach to getting more traffic from the search engines. But you’re not some people. You have to realize that you are only as strong as your data. If you want to take a much more calculated and strategic approach to your SEO and/or SEM, then adding SEMrush to your arsenal could be a very worthy investment.

Rushing to the Top of the SERPs

SEMrush aspires to provide “digital marketing professionals” with the “competitive data” they need to get ahead of the game.

What you get is a full-featured SEO suite of tools that can arm you with a remarkably amount of data. This enables you to tackle the search engine conundrum from innumerable directions.

What is critically important here is that you can not only access the pertinent data about your own web properties, but also for that of your key competition. If you can discern at least a portion of why they are successful (and what keywords are working for them), then you may be able to apply a similar set of tactics to your own websites.

Getting Started

The main dashboard after logging into your account presents a venerable cornucopia of data and possibilities. There are navigation areas both along the top of the page and along the left side, though they will direct you to drastically different places.

The drop-down set of navigational links along the top of the page lead to more publicly accessible areas. The full library of video tutorials is open to the public, for example. The links along the left side of the dashboard, however, are where you’ll find the SEO meat you crave.

If you’re not really sure where to start, SEMrush is more than happy to provide you with some added guidance. The blog post on competitor analysis is particularly compelling. There are also webinars and video tutorials.

Domain Analytics

A remarkably robust place to start is with the section on domain analytics. You could use this to inspect some of the data surrounding your own website, but you’ll find this set of tools to be much more valuable in analyzing your competition.

The main domain overview gives you a sense of how much traffic the site receives from organic search and paid search, as well as data about backlinks and more. It can be both intimidating and inspiring to pit yourself against such juggernauts as Buzzfeed.

When you scroll a little further down the main domain overview page, you can uncover far more data about the organic search engine traffic that the site receives. The overview lists the top five organic keywords and main organic competitors, but you can click on the associated “view full report” button to see much, much more than that.

You can also see how the site is positioned against its biggest competition, both in terms of organic keywords and in terms of organic search traffic. While this may appear to be mostly a linear relationship — more keyword rankings usually lead to more organic search traffic — the connection can be more complex than that.

Using our hypothetical example of Buzzfeed, it won’t surprise anyone that one of the top keywords sending traffic to the site is “buzzfeed.” There are also related search queries like “buzzfeed quizzes,” but it might raise a few more eyebrows to see “food” and “drinking games” make the top 10. In this current example, we also see that Buzzfeed ranks for “inari fox.”

When looking through the keyword chart like this, you can see the associated keywords, the site’s position (by default in US-based Google.com, but you can switch to other geographic locations of Google, as well as the US-based Bing), an estimate of how difficult it would be to rank for this keyword (KD), and the average CPC for that keyword, among other useful information, like the trend over time.

Sometimes, it might pay to go after some low hanging fruit with a lower KD score. Alternatively, you may realize a far better ROI by looking for keywords with a lower CPC relative to how much traffic the keyword is generating for the competitor’s site. This competitor analysis is positively invaluable and a veritable treasure trove of useful information.

Keyword Analytics

If you would prefer to go about tackling the problem from a different direction, the keyword analytics of SEMrush are equally noteworthy.

Fundamentally the same mindset and approach can be taken here as when inspecting the keywords associated with your competitor’s website as described above. The difference is that you’ll start with what you believe to be your target keyword(s).

Let’s say that you’re interested in getting traffic from people who might be searching for Donald Trump. What related keywords are most worth your while? The exact phrase match is obvious enough.

Based on the data generated by SEMrush, it looks like there is a definite upward trend in searches for “donald trump wife” and “how old is donald trump,” but a downward trend for “donald trump president” and “donald trump speech.” Given this, you may want to adjust your content strategy accordingly. You’ll also notice that the CPC for “donald trump age” is about 50% more than “how old is donald trump,” so you may want to adjust your SEM strategy too.

Site Audit

As much as analyzing the competition and zeroing in on the best keywords are truly critical to your SEO/SEM success, change really does have to start at home. Even if you have the best strategies in place, your site needs to sound. That’s where the SEMrush Site Audit feature comes into play.

It comes as part of the “projects” sub-section available through the main dashboard. To access a site audit, you must first add the website as project, providing a name and the main URL. Other useful tools associated with a project include social media tracking (across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and YouTube), brand monitoring to track all mentions of your brand (or that of your competition), and the SEO Ideas tool to audit your landing pages that appear in the Google search engine results page, comparing them to your competitors for the same keywords.

Interestingly enough, the site audit feature works on any website, not just your own. This means you can also analyze the competition in your vertical to see where they are coming up short (and how you can capitalize on the opportunity). But of course, the main goal here to check the SEO health of your own site(s).

You can discover internal and external links that may be problematic, where you may want to add tags, how to optimize the meta information for the best SEO performance, and reveal error pages that can be deleted or fixed.

In this example with Buzzfeed, the site audit took a few minutes to complete and it crawled through 119 pages (you can adjust this number in the options). It’s somewhat surprising to see that only 6 of these pages is actually “healthy” and, aside from the 20 blocked pages, the rest have some issues that should be addressed.

The biggest problem with Buzzfeed is the lack of alt attributes on images. When you consider just how image-heavy Buzzfeed can be, between its listicles and quizzes, this can come as a bit of a surprise. If you owned Buzzfeed, you might see how search engine traffic to site can increase even more if editors inserted alt attributes on all the images on all articles.

The site audit would also look for issues like duplicate content, which can be particularly hazardous from an SEO perspective. After the audit is complete, you can prioritize the issues that should be addressed first.

Feel the Adrenaline Rush

The cost to use the SEMrush suite of SEO tools depends on the volume you expect to analyze, as well as some of the key features that you’d like to utilize. There are three main pricing plans to choose from.

The most affordable is the Pro plan for a monthly fee of $69.95. This includes up to 10,000 results per report and up to 3,000 reports a day. You do max out at 5 projects, 500 keywords, 100,000 crawled pages, and 50 social media profiles.

Stepping up to the $149.95 Guru plan or the $549.95 Business plan empowers you to analyze more results and more reports. In particular, the Guru plan supports up to 50 projects and the Business plan provides unlimited projects. The Guru plan also adds historical data, whereas the Business also allows for multi-user management.

All plans come with a 7-day money back guarantee. If the three default plans don’t quite fit your particular needs, you can request a custom plan too. Alternatively, an enterprise solution for much higher volume is also available.

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