I want to preface this article with a quick note: I love SEMRush. Simple as that. It’s expensive, yes, but it’s by far the best software out there for finding keywords and for checking site data. It has been essential for my writing business and I recommend it to anyone who has their own at-home writing/SEO business and anyone who wants to do their own SEO. It cover data that isn’t easy to source accurately and I think they do a great job.
However, I’m going to say a lot of negative things about them in this guide. My purpose is not to discredit them, but to hopefully teach newcomers to SEO that they should not be too reliant on software like this. Yes it helps and yes it’s probably as good as you’re going to get, but it’s not gospel and it should not be taken as such. Here’s why:
The Traffic Is Wrong
According to Majestic, my writing website is currently on 1k hits a month from the US and 120 from the UK, all of which are desktop hits (it doesn’t measure mobile hits in the same way).
But I have analytics setup on that site and I know that it gets unique visitors in excess of 150 a day, with more than half coming from desktop users. That means it actually gets 4,500 a month, of which 2,2k to 2,5k are desktop users. It doesn’t seem like a huge error as it’s only 1.2k, but it’s actually off by more than double.
This is a trend common with all sites I have seen on SEMRush. One of the worst cases was a site that SEMRush insisted was only getting 200 hits a month, even though I knew it was getting 400 a DAY!
Look, I get it. It’s hard to measure traffic when you’re not Google and you don’t have access to the site. But like I said, my goal is not to pick holes in SEMRush but to remind website owners that this is not the accurate tool they think it is. Nothing is. It’s a guideline and it should be taken as such. Most webmasters know that, but there are those who take it as gospel.
I once had someone interested in buying a financial site I owned and I asked him to make an offer. When he did, it was a pitiful amount that he insisted was more than it was worth. When I quizzed him on this, I realized that he was getting his information from SEMRush, which was out by more than 500%.
The Keyword Data Changes
Credit where credit is due, SEMRush is the best in the business when it comes to keywords. It knows where you are ranked and for this, it is super accurate. It also knows how many people are searching for specific keywords every month. However, that information is freely available so it’s easy for the algorithm to calculate.
The KD score, however, is not as easy. It’s as much of an estimation as the Majestic Trust Flow score is, but like the TF score, it has been taken as gospel and this causes problems.
I’ve managed to get small content sites to the first page with KD scores of more than 90 and highly competitive terms relating to aspects of insurance law, something that should be near impossible for such sites according to this parameter. But at the same time, I’ve seen huge sites fail to hit keywords less than KD 50.
For the most part, the KD score is awesome, it really is. But it should be taken in combination with search volume and competition, because if you take it on its own then it’s just not as effective as you might think.
The Backlinks Don’t Show
According to SEMRush, one of my biggest sites of the moment has a handful of backlinks, when in actual fact there are hundreds. And most of these are high quality, despite the fact that SEMRush seems to think only a few low quality ones exist.
For whatever reason, it has never been very good at recognizing backlinks. It does pickup a few more of the “obscure” backlinks, the ones that make you think “where the hell did that come from?” than Majestic does, but it misses many of the big ones. There are sites where it is accurate with about 80%, but there are others where it misses that amount.
I do like the way the backlinks are measured and the split between extensions that it shows you, but the fact that it misses so many of them means it is simply not as reliable as software like Majestic in this department. It can give you a false impression of the state of a site. If I were to focus only on SEMRush for the aforementioned site of mine, I could be led to believe that it was in dire need of a massive digital expungement.
As it happens (thanks to Majestic) I know that is not the case.