Recently I’ve been asked by fellow marketers whether SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush are worth their price tag of $100+ per month. After all, budgets are tight these days and SEO tools are historically hard to try before you buy, especially without entering a credit card.
There’s good news, though! Semrush has what I’d call a semi-secret free plan that allows you to explore a ton of important functionality. In fact, most of my own Semrush workflow for competitor research is doable on the free plan.
Here’s how you can do that same competitor research with Semrush for free.
The Semrush free plan vs. the Semrush free trial
Many Semrush users don’t even know that Semrush has a free plan. It's not super easy to find.
The Semrush site will, understandably, try to guide you toward the free, 14-day trial, which requires a credit card number (and the risk of rolling into that $100 monthly payment).
The free version is free, forever. No credit card required.
The main difference between the two options is the number of credits that you’re provided. You can think of Semrush credits as actions, or requests, you're making in the web app.
The free account gives you 10 credits a day in perpetuity. After the 10 credits have been used, you’ll hit a pay wall and will need to wait another 24 hours. The paid trial gives you unlimited credits but requires a credit card. If you’re on a limited budget or just want to test things out without an expiration date, you can get some solid competitor research done with 10 free credits daily.
How to access the Semrush free plan
Follow these steps to get the free tier:
- Sign up for a Semrush account
- Skip the Trial offer (this is your escape hatch to Free)
- Skip adding your phone # (unless you want to be contacted by sales)
- Zoom through the onboarding questions
You now have access to the same interface as if you started a 14-day cc-required trial or paid account.
SEO competitor analysis checklist
Imagine you want to investigate a competitor who is doing an awesome job with content. You're seeing their posts everywhere. What are they doing well, and how well are they actually doing?
👉 Go to "Domain Overview" and enter the company domain. From there, I recommend checking and documenting the following things per competitor.
(Note: You can research 2 competitors a day this way. 🕵️♀️)
1) View the traffic makeup of organic vs paid over time
✨ Understand how much of their monthly traffic is coming from organic search vs paid search.
💡 Use this to check out traffic volume across various competitors to get a sense of volume (often correlated to market share for internet companies) and how it's distributed between branded and unbranded keywords.
2) Check Organic Search Traffic -> Keywords
✨ See top keywords bringing in organic search traffic to the site and the content ranking for those keywords
💡Use this to understand the split of branded vs unbranded search traffic and to understand the content topics resulting in substantial volume for your competitors
3) Check Paid Search Traffic -> Keywords
✨ See what keywords your competitor is bidding on and at what scale
💡 Use this to get a sense of paid search investment (and if it's increasing or decreasing), and to understand what topics your competitor likely believes correlate to eventual customer acquisition.
4) Check Backlinks -> Referring Domains
✨ See the top sites referring traffic to your competitor
💡 Use this to get insight into your competitor's referral traffic, and to develop your own backlink strategy that borrows from their most relevant referrers.
Ready to try it out for yourself? Let us know how it goes, or if you have any questions along the way.
And if this little Semrush experiment gets you excited to do even deeper research into your competitors, we’ve built a free SEO competitor analysis template as well. (That analysis, however, requires a paid Semrush account—or you can reach out to us for help.)