An Honest Look at SEMRush’s Content Marketing Tools

Jill Conway


June 30, 2021 (Updated: October 19, 2023)

SEO analytics optimization desktop dashboard blue flat design.

When it comes to planning major content campaigns, CopyPress has developed our own software that allows us to plan and scale production. That is also our core business. For companies looking to get started with a content marketing program, it can be difficult to find the right tools for the job. 

Great content tools should help in some very basic functions:

  • Help plan content around topics
  • Help forecast value of content
  • Help in the creation of content in a way that achieves goals
  • Help monitor content for successes

This week, I thought I would take a look at SEMRush and their various content tools. CopyPress is a SEMRush subscriber. We utilize it largely for monitoring, and we utilize its API more than we do its cloud-based software. We do not utilize its content tools, and so I am writing this from the vantage point of a new user with a high familiarity with the other products in the market.

Topic Research

The first stop on our tour is the Topic Research tool offered in the SEMRush suite.

You can do topical research in two ways here:

  1. By topic
  2. By topic on a specific domain. This could be a valuable strategy when looking to use competitors as a blueprint for your work.

Once the data is pulled, you can view your content ideas. The first view is a series of “cards” with clustered concepts. The below data is from our first search for “content marketing” as a topic without a domain. Interestingly, the same cards were delivered to me for “content marketing” +, so I am not sure that this view is filtered by that criteria.

You then have the option to manage the cards on the macro level:

You can also add headlines and questions to your “Favorite Ideas” working within the card:

I didn’t find this card view valuable. Most of the macro topics had only a tangential relationship to content marketing. If you are running a blog specifically, this view likely has the most value, as the topics delivered fit within that content type best.

The “Explore” screen in the Topic Research tool breaks things down in a more linear fashion with subtopics and specific content topics. 

What I found most interesting about this screen was that SEMRush didn’t include keyword volume data for the subtopic or the URL associated with the subtopic. Instead, they show values for backlinks, Facebook engagement, and total shares. These may be the metrics for some campaigns, but this is a rather limited approach to evaluating a topic. 

The “Overview” screen gives us a mashup of top headlines by backlinks, top 10 interesting questions, and top subtopics from the “cards” view. 

The issue with the “Top Headlines by Backlinks” is apparent from the supplied data:

The three top “headlines” aren’t headlines, they are brands. SEMRush would be well served to use a methodology to extract html from a page to make sure it is an article or blog post to add to this section.

Probably the most useful functionality in this tool is the Favorite Ideas screen. Once you find your favorite ideas, you can store them here and then schedule them to be written, send them to Trello, or create an SEO Content Template. On the favorite ideas screen you are also given a “subtopic volume,” but I am not sure what this data represents. In the example below, you can see the subtopic “white papers” has a subtopic volume N/A, which has an estimated volume of 12,100 visitors a month in the U.S. per SEMRush’s keyword data.

I will also note that you can order content directly from SEMRush within this tool. I didn’t test this feature to see if it tied in with the topics you select to favorites. I didn’t want to test this service since I would likely not be able to give an impartial review of the product. The cost for content seems to be around 5 to 7 cents a word.

My impression: This tool would be most valuable for someone managing a blog. Its wide array of topics and focus on backlinks and social shares fit well with that content type. The fact that it integrates with Trello makes collaboration and content calendar building easy. 

However, the tool just doesn’t have enough bite. You can’t effectively plan content from an SEO perspective. You don’t get deep insights into potential traffic generation capabilities. This is not a tool capable of helping plan large content projects at scale.

SEO Content Template

We have the ability to craft an SEO Content Template from our “Favorite Ideas” in SEMRush, but I wanted to approach this tool as a standalone. 

With this tool we begin with a keyword, and SEMRush generates an SEO template for us. You have the option to export the template as a Word document or view it within SEMRush.

The SEO template is based on the top URLs ranking for your keyword in Google. The data delivered includes:

  1. Semantically related words: Useful in crafting your text to be relevant.
  2. Backlinks: Sites that link back to the URLs ranking for the keyword and which you should pursue backlinks from for your content.
  3. Readability: This score is based on the Fleisch-Kincaid test.
  4. Text Length: Recommended text length for your content.
  5. Content from the articles ranking: SEMRush provides extracted content from the top 10 URLs and highlights where they utilize variations of the main keyword.
  6. Page Title: Recommendations on page title creation.
  7. Meta Description: This just displays the optimal meta description length.
  8. H1: Keyword to put in your H1.
  9. Text: This section tells you to add your keywords at least once in the text.

You once again have the option to order content from the SEO Content Template screen, but it still isn’t clear if this actually integrates with the SEO template created.

The tool also has a “Real-Time Content Check” which allows you to craft your content in their text editor and measure it against the recommendations made in the SEO Content Template. 

My impression: I thought this tool was going in one direction, and then it zigged where I thought it would zag. 

My main issue with the tool is the initial URL data they utilize. They strictly pull in the top 10 URLs regardless of the content type. So again we had a brand homepage URL in the mix and a Wikipedia article. These are the types of items I would clear from a dataset to get an actual representation of how an article should be written. 

Some of the data in the template really let me down. The H1 and text data is just boilerplate text with your keyword added in. The meta description seems to just always tell you how long a meta description should be.

The extracted content from the top 10 URLs doesn’t add much value to this offering. It isn’t summarized information, and they don’t highlight any of the semantically related keywords they suggest at the outset of the template. 

We don’t get URL or keyword-level traffic volumes again, so this tool is built for someone past the planning phase. I found it strange that you couldn’t assign the SEO Content Template to the same calendar or Trello board you could add your topics from the previous tool. This may be a capability if you start a topic first, but if you would like to assign your content to someone starting from a keyword using the SEO Content Template, I think you may be out of luck.

This tool is built for someone with a very entry-level understanding of SEO. If you have internal writers who are simply not strong SEO content writers, I think they can find value utilizing the text editor in conjunction with the SEO template. It will help them make sure the content is properly optimized for the topic. If you are looking for a competitive edge, a product like MarketMuse is probably a better investment.

SEO Writing Assistant

I thought this was going to be a unique tool, but this is the “Real Time Content Check” editor we discussed previously. I did notice a couple of different features on the standalone version:

  1. You can just start a document, enter your keyword and go, bypassing the template creation process.
  2. They offer add-ons for Google Docs and WordPress.

My impression: This product feels a lot like Yoast’s Real-Time Content Analysis product, but it doesn’t have as much data. They do have an originality checker, which I think is a nice addition. However, the recommended keywords were a bit bizarre. Below is an example of the recommended keywords for the topic of “content marketing”:

I don’t know how John Deere keeps sneaking in here, but there it is.

Post Tracking

Post tracking does what it says. Once you have written a post or article, you can add the URL to post tracking and begin to see how many keywords, backlinks, and shares are added over time. It also estimates your reach and allows you to sync to Google Analytics to pull in your referral traffic.

You are able to create “groups” in this section to monitor groupings of URLs and get macro-level data. You can click into the individual URLs to see charted growth over time. They also pull in the timestamp, word count, and author for the piece. You can add your own custom tags.

My impression: This is a solid product offering. Marketers are often left pulling data from multiple sources to show their granular growth on a URL level. I like the data provided, the groupings, and the ability to filter by authors, tags, and other data points. This is a simple but effective tool for content marketing, and I would recommend it for anyone looking to track the results from their content creation efforts.

Content Audit

The content audit allows you to pull in specific areas and articles from your website to monitor the content, find poor performing content, and manage rewrites.

When I ran my audit I was met with this pop-up:

This left me wondering if the tool had utility or was more of a sales funnel for the content writing service. 

The content audit gives you the ability to connect to Google Analytics and Google Search Console to get real-time data on the URL level. When I saw the term “Not Analyzed” on the dashboard, I expected some kind of automation for analyzing the text.

This feature is actually a manual workflow. This tool was built to centralize various metrics, find your winning content, and then manually analyze winners and loser content.

The audit pulls in some data like title tags, meta descriptions, status codes, and word counts. 

But even the word count functionality isn’t great. It’s showing a bunch of articles on the CopyPress site that are over 1500 words in length as less than 20 words long. There seems to be an issue with text extraction.

My impression: This tool confuses me quite a bit. I can see the value in centralizing data to find winning content, but the data provided is incomplete. I am surprised, again, that useful data like SEMRush traffic estimations, keywords, and rankings aren’t included here. 

There really isn’t anything here you can’t do with Screamingfrog and get more interesting data by combining it with outside data sources. 

My Overall Take on SEMRush’s Content Marketing Tools

SEMRush is one of my favorite SEO tools. It has been for a long time. CopyPress is a customer, and we purchase a good amount of data via their API. They have the best traffic data in the market currently.

These content tools just aren’t on the same level as some of their other offerings. 

I know how hard software development is, and hopefully no one at SEMRush gets this newsletter and thinks I am being a pain in the ass. But the reality is that I expected more from a software set that has given me so much. If you are doing a heavy duty content marketing campaign, I just don’t see the value here.

I do, however, think this toolset is a great fit for:

  1. A small business with one marketing person wearing multiple hats. This type of marketer or business owner needs a quick way to find ideas for their website, optimize their content, and passively monitor the results.
  2. A content marketer who is specifically focused on creating blog content. Someone managing a blog will likely find the most utility here, with a full suite of products that can help them ideate, optimize, and measure. 

It is very likely I did not understand all the functionality available with some of these tools. If that is true, it is still an issue with the tools overall. If a veteran user of the SEMRush product can’t jump into these products and find value, then the new user is highly unlikely to be able to do so. 

I think these tools are likely a starting point for SEMRush and we will see them morph into something with utility long term. I will be the first in line to test them when they do.

Author Image - Jill Conway
Jill Conway

CopyPress writer

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