How to Use SEMrush for Affiliate Marketing

As I was preparing for my twelfth Affiliate Summit speaking appearance, looking into the various tools that affiliate managers may use to streamline their daily activities, I took a dive into SEMrush. Some of the things I discovered pleasantly surprised me by their applicability to various affiliate marketing contexts. However, I was able to cover only a couple of scenarios in my Affiliate Summit West 2015 presentation. So, I’ve asked SEMrush’s Phillip Brooks to elaborate on all the possible ways affiliate marketers can benefit from the tool. You may find his guest post on it below…

When thinking of “must-needed” tools that should be the arsenal of an affiliate marketer, I’m guessing that SEMrush isn’t usually high on most lists. I think that’s a mistake. Using the reports in SEMrush, an affiliate marketer can find a treasure trove of useful information that can help he or she not only identify new opportunities, but also perform competitive intelligence to see what other people are doing within the space.

A tool like SEMrush can be invaluable in determining what kinds of strategies your competitors are using, what has worked for them in the past, and, perhaps more importantly, what has not. Why re-invent the wheel when you can let your competitors provide cautionary tales of what not-to-do?

You can learn just as much from their failures as you do from their successes.

What and Where are Affiliate Networks Advertising?

At the most basic level, if you are an Affiliate Marketer or Network Manager, you probably advertise your affiliate network. By using SEMrush, affiliate managers can see what keywords another affiliate network may be bidding on. For example:

Wealthy Affiliate Report

But SEMrush can be used for far more than that. Let’s take a look at some of the other SEMrush reports that an affiliate marketer could use to make their job easier.

Display Advertising

Top 30

Here you can see TOP 30 sites that are showing display ads (publishers) and TOP 30 sites advertising themselves through display advertising (advertisers), sorted by number of ads.

SEMrush - Display Advertising - Top 30

Top Advertisers may make good prospects for Affiliate Managers to consider. Results can be sorted for additional insights into Top Display Publishers and Advertisers on Desktops, iOS Smartphones or Tablets, or Android Smartphones or Tablets.


SEMrush can reveal the top AdSense Advertisers, who often have affiliate programs. SEMrush also displays AdSense Publishers. Most AdSense publishers make great affiliates because they’re interested in making money online and work to improve performance.

First, identify your strongest competitors. Take your Keyword Competitors and test them in the Display Advertising Overview.

AdSense Advertiser

When a competitor’s domain is entered in the Overview, “As Advertiser” results present affiliate sites that offer space upon which this competitive domain’s ads appear.

SEMrush - AdSense Advertiser

The publishers of the competitor’s ads are looking for revenue (albeit, small) that results from enabling Google AdSense Network to display ‘relevant’ ads on their pages. As an Affiliate Manager, if the Publishers are strong domains, and advertising your competitor’s wares, they may be worth further investigation. Clicking on a Publisher will show you what domains are Advertising there.

AdSense Publishers

AdSense “As Publishers” report for a competitor’s Domain should contain potential competitors who are affiliate customers (Advertisers), those who have inventory and are looking for publisher sites to carry their ads.

SEMrush - AdSense Publisher

To affiliate networks, these Advertisers may be good prospects to buy affiliate marketing services, as they are familiar with a ‘pay for performance’ model of advertising. To brands and Affiliate Managers, these Advertisers may be comprised of competitors who are buying ad space to leverage traffic.

  • The scale of the brands that are Advertising on that Publisher may be an indication of the inherent value.
  • A high number in the Ads column represents significant effort to display ads that work.
  • A long span between First Seen and Last Seen dates may indicate a long-standing relationship that is providing significant value to the Advertiser.
  • A recent date in the Last Seen column is a sign of ongoing value.
  • A high Time Seen hints that the Advertiser relies on this particular Publisher.

Organic Keywords Reports

Enter your Keywords with transactional intent, e.g. “Uggs boots on sale”. In the resulting Overview, and you will see the competitor Domains listed under SE Keywords – these are ranked by their ability to attract traffic using the entered keyphrase. Any site you consider as an affiliate for that Keyword should be listed here.

SEMrush - Organic Keywords Reports

Grab the top 5 from that list and drop them into the Charts Tool, for a quick competitive comparison of relative organic strengths and weaknesses.

Organic Keywords Reports - Chart Tool

Change the parameters to get an idea of relative momentum of the sites listed by viewing New Keywords and Improved Keywords.

Click on a domain in that SE Keywords list to see a particular competitor’s Domain Overview. 

Competitor’s Domain Overview

SEMrush - Competitor's Domain Overview

Within that page, scroll down to see the:

Organic Top Keywords

Keyword Position Distribution of that site (are they achieving the best positions?);

Main Competitors

(the sites vying for rank); and the

Competitive Positioning Map

(that should afford a quick understanding of monthly organic search traffic, as well as total number of keywords for which they obtain top 20 results).

Affiliate Marketers were once the kings of exact-match domain names. Finding these domains among your site’s competitors may be a useful discovery method to find potential affiliate sites that are competing well into the first two pages of Google for your keywords. Evaluate those for recent and ongoing organic gains to judge their merit.

Keyword Research Tools

Enter a Domain or a Keyword, to see the Overview report, and scroll down a bit to see side-by-side Phrase Report and Related Keywords Report.

Keyword Research Tools

Phrase Reports

Smart Affiliate Marketers engage in well-tuned SEO campaigns that leverage long-tail terms indicative of Middle Of The Funnel (MOTF) or Bottom Of The Funnel (BOTF) searchers. Export the data and examine it for “buy” words, keywords and phrases with transactional intent, or signaling the decision-making process that occurs toward the end of the Buyer Journey or Path to Purchase.

Phrase Reports

Click through to the terms with the clearest conversion intent and capture the most competitive domains for them. Take those domains over to test them out in Organic Search Positions.

Export the Phrase Report to work with all of its depth.

Related Keywords Report

Google’s Related Searches are one thing. SEMrush’s are another. Keyword competitors enjoying traffic from Searches that are delivering traffic to both your site and that of your competitor are likely to be listed.

SEMrush - Related Keywords Report

You can find a rich trove of similar Keywords here, including mis-spellings, location-based searches for outlets and stores, hunts for discounts and coupons, and clear transactional intent to buy online with words like “for sale”, “cheap”, “clearance”. Look for relevant keywords, then expand on that group by clicking a Related Search Term to see even more words related in the same way. Find those of sufficient volume to warrant effort. Then, discover who is receiving the lion’s share of Organic Search Traffic for those particular Related Keywords. These may be competitors, or perhaps potential affiliate marketers or enthusiast sites to be cultivated as affiliates.

Organic Search Positions

The graph will describe the domain’s historic strength for Traffic and the total number of Keywords for which they are visible. The tabular list shows the top-ranking Keywords for that site, according to the volume of that site’s organic traffic that each keyword is delivering. That domain’s most valuable keywords are therefore listed at the top.

SEMrush - Organic Search Positions

This enables one to choose Keywords that are proven to deliver traffic to competitors.

Why stop at Keywords? Steal Your Competitor’s Content and formats. See the Keywords that deliver the highest volume of Organic Search Traffic to competitor or affiliate domains, and the URLs of the pages that are receiving that traffic. Click on the blue arrow next to each URL to open the webpage to take a closer look at the quality, length and format of the content, as well as on-page SEO elements. If those URLs are collecting contacts and not credit cards, you could well be looking at an effective Affiliate site.

Now is the time to check on the Keyword Competition Level of particularly good phrases. Save the Keyword targets into a list.

Keyword Competition Level

Cut-and-paste Related Keywords or Phrases into the Keyword Competition Tool to reveal the relative ease with which you might expect to gain visibility for the particular Keyword.

SEMrush - Keyword Competition Level

Keep in mind your own site’s Domain Authority or PageRank when considering which Keywords you might best target.

If your site is powerful enough to steal search share for those terms, then you can gain traffic and weaken the competition at the same time.

If your domain is new, untrusted or has weak PageRank, then you have the option to dig deeper in the list for Keywords that are working and yet, due to the lower volume of Monthly Searches they generate, are less avidly pursued by the competition. These ‘longer-tail’ phrases are therefore easier targets for you to obtain higher search positions.

See also the prevalence of ‘branded’ keyword strength as opposed to descriptive or informative terms.

Link Report


Get a quick idea of the link strength of the competition. Test a particular competitor’s conversion page to gain insights into who may be an affiliate that may be linking to them in order to deliver traffic. Review the affiliate’s site, subdomain or URL to research their links for potential link sources, domains that add strength to that competitor’s affiliate via links.

SEMrush - Link Report


Use SEMrush’s Link Report to find the competition’s Backlinks. Export the list. The most valuable link sources are at the top.

Referring Domains

See the competition’s Link sources, ranked by their own number of Backlinks to infer their own PageRank and therefore potential link value to you.

SEMrush - Backlinks Report

NOTE: the simple fact that these link sources have been detected indicates that they are most likely search indexed and ranking on Google. Therefore, link sources in SEMrush results are themselves of proven popularity in Search. These referring domains can have greater potential to deliver both traffic and PageRank.

Clicking through to the referring Domains in this report will give you the Overview for a quick indication of their Organic Search success, historical performance, keywords that are working for them, and how well.

Indexed Pages

Count how many of a domain’s pages are indexed in Google. See the title, URL and more important, the number of Referring Domains and the number of Backlinks to those domains as a demonstration of the potential power of that domain to infuse outbound links with PageRank.

The primary purpose of affiliate marketing is to attract traffic to an affiliate page in order to drive those visitors to yet another domain, usually an E-Commerce site that sells items online and is willing to pay for the resulting traffic.

The best affiliates will be able to send you qualified visitors who are definitely interested in what you have to offer.

Google AdWords bans affiliate activity in ads, so your focus should be on receiving referrals from organic search traffic, rather than paid.

If you were an affiliate manager, you’d be looking for potential affiliates who’d be interested in driving targeted, motivated traffic to your page for your own conversion purpose. These might be the people whose content ranks high in searches for particular keywords and related terms.

What does that look like, in practice? Perhaps a stranger ranks for the keyword “Ugg boots for sale” because he wrote a good, unsolicited review. We may reach out to that author or domain and say “hey you’re getting relevant traffic for a Keyword of interest to us, why don’t you join our affiliate network and make some money while you’re at it”?

If you are new to this game, consider how you will distinguish brands from affiliates. In industries and keyword spaces that have high CPC, there is an excellent chance that a considerable number of organically top-ranking sites are operated by affiliate marketers. These sites may also appear to be informational in nature (e.g. blogs). Affiliate sites often lack clear branding as a big-name manufacturer or retailer. The types of conversions sought by affiliate sites are likely to resemble forms that collect contacts or answer questions from visitors, rather than sales orders.

Many beginners at affiliate marketing seek large, established networks that are trusted, well-governed, and offer educational resources.

3 thoughts on “How to Use SEMrush for Affiliate Marketing”

  1. Pingback: Marketing Day: Pinterest Acquires Kosei, Facebook Adds Super Bowl Targeting & Taco Bell CMO On Mobile Marketing

  2. I am an OPM and in the market for more affiliate recruitment tools, and this post was very helpful. Having recently attended Affiliate Summit East and getting a demo of Similar Web, which offers comprehensive website analysis as well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that SEMRush does many of the same things, but at a fraction of the cost.

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