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SpyFu vs. SEMRush & Other Keyword Research Tools

Looking for a competitive edge in your paid search efforts? You should be, because it's a tough landscape. You could focus on honing your Google Ads skills, maximizing ROI by following best practices and finding your groove. You could pay to use a bid-optimizing tool. Or, you could take a look at what your competitors are doing and form a strategy from there. That is, you can see what their ads look like, see the keywords on which they bid, see the funds they spend, and even view a diagram showing the keywords you and the competitor both use and the ones you use individually. You will need a keyword research tool to do these things. They are reasonably priced but you'll need to figure out which tool is best for your specific purposes.

Researching a Specific Competitor

If you think you're in a position to compete directly, you might use a keyword research tool to check out what a competitor is doing. On the other hand, you might want to avoid competing head on. Maybe you want to avoid bidding on keywords a competitor bids on because you know the competitor has a lot of money to throw at those keywords and you don't. Or maybe you just think a company has everything figured out and you want to see how they do their PPC advertising. It's a matter of strategy. Most keyword research tools are good for digging into a specific competitor's campaigns. Here are some questions they can help you answer:

  • How much is the company spending on ads?

  • Which keywords is the company bidding on?

  • What do the company's ads look like? (not available in WordTracker)

  • What are the most common keywords on the site or on pages?

  • How many keywords does the competitor use?

  • How many clicks does the competitor get on paid ads? (not available in WordTracker)

  • How many organic clicks does the competitor get? (not available in WordTracker)

Viewing Top Competitors

Another great use for competitor research tools is the ability to find out who your top competitors are and how they operate. In Google Ads, you can view an impression share report which shows competitors bidding on the same keywords as you. You don't get much more than that, though. Research tools go farther. Most allow you to generate a list of domains advertising a keyword you specify (WordTracker doesn't do it). On SpyFu's advertiser history tab, you can see monthly budgets, keyword quantity, ad position and coverage for every competitor listed. You can also see a history of the ads the competitor has used for the keyword you entered or selected. It's a great feature that gives you the opportunity to test similar ad copy, differentiate yourself or craft your value proposition in a way that makes you look superior to competitors on the search results page.

Another tool you can find in many keyword research tools allows you to see the keywords different competitors all bid on and the keywords that are unique to each. In other words, you can see the keyword "overlap" and the unique keywords of your business and its competitors. That gives you an opportunity to decide where to spend your budget and where to hold off. This is available for organic and for paid keywords but some tools are more accurate than others. We'll discuss that later.

The image above show's SpyFu's "Kombat" tool, which shows you how many keywords you have in common with other domains. You can hover over any of the areas in the chart to see the total number of keywords in common and click on that area to get a list of the keywords. SEMRush's "KeyWord Gap" tool is nearly identical.

Which Keyword Research Tool is Best for You?

Are you looking for a competitive edge in advertising?

Keep in mind that some tools are meant for SEO optimization while others help with PPC and organic optimization. Let's assume you're looking for advertising (PPC) keyword tools, primarily. We'll discuss SEO later.

PPC keyword tools like Spyfu, WordTracker, Serpstat and SEMRush can't see inside Google Ads accounts and they don't distinguish between keyword match types when they list competitor keywords. Therefore, the competitor keywords you see in research tools are not always accurate. Some are more accurate than others, however. We endorse SpyFu's accuracy for paid keywords (as opposed to organic keywords). When I enter a domain I advertise in SpyFu, I see phrases that should trigger my ads, based on my match types in Google Ads or Bing Ads. I do not see keywords that I do not bid on, for the domain I'm researching. In a chat with SpyFu support, we learned that the tool enters search queries and indexes the first two pages of ads, cataloging the domains that are advertising. That makes keyword lists very accurate, but not perfect, in our experience. That being said, SEMRush is also quite accurate. You can test both tools at their websites for free. SpyFu here, SEMRush here.

Are you looking for an SEO (organic) keyword tool?

WordTracker might be best for organic keyword research, considering the pricing is low. It's a trade-off for subpar keyword lists, though. Some of the keywords you'll see in WordTracker just aren't useful. The algorithm that determines a site's organic keywords doesn't always pick up on the correct ones, in other words. WordTracker has also been buggy from time to time, in our experience; not so often that we would caution you against using it, but once in a while we get error messages. You can "inspect" a site's keywords at

Need a keyword tool that can handle both SEO and PPC?

Most tools can do both organic and paid keywords pretty well, but some may be more expensive or lack data for certain keywords or domains. As a general rule, the better-known tools have more keyword data stored in their databases. SEMRush might be your best option if you want all kinds of tools. Tools for SEO, tools for PPC, and additional tools such as a lead gen tool and SEO writing assistant tool (If you're using WordPress, you can try Yoast for that. It's free). The variety will cost extra, however. We're sticking with SpyFu as our top choice for PPC campaign optimization due to its reliable lists and ad spying capabilities. Plus, its pricing is rather low.

Some Key Takeaways (click headers to visit the sites)


  • Has the most limited range of features, but is also pretty cheap.

  • Doesn't let you view competitors' ads or click quantity, but does give a search engine results page preview.

  • Organic-focused, as opposed to paid-search-focused.


  • Most accurate for paid keywords, in our experience.

  • Pricing is very reasonable and it does not limit the data you can access, no matter which plan you choose.

  • Highest-rated among well-known, widely-used keyword tools on G2 Crowd.


  • Widest range of features (e.g. lead generation tool).

  • Pricey.

  • Strong 2nd place for paid keyword accuracy, in our experience.

  • Spiffy-looking, neat user interface.

We hope our SpyFu vs SEMRush comparison has helped. Please add a comment below if you have further questions!

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