Boaz Sasson on Marketing Tradecraft
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Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools: How Do They Get Traffic?

9 minute read

In this post, I want to analyze the top 4 most popular websites offering SEO tools. The idea is that the best way to learn how to do something is to look at how the experts do it.

Given that these websites specialize in all things SEO, they should know a thing or two about how to get traffic.

You’ll learn about each website’s marketing strategy and traffic channels. You’ll also find out which pages are the most popular.

The ultimate aim here is to help increase your own site’s traffic by using the insight gleaned from studying what these websites do.


Read on to get all the important details and the usual actionable data.


The Top 4

As of September 2016, the top 4 most popular SEO toolkit websites for the last 12 months are:

  1. SEMRush
  2. Majestic
  3. Ahrefs
  4. Moz

Let’s take a look at some key audience overview metrics for these 4 websites. The data in this blog post has been obtained using SimilarWeb Pro.

audience-overview-similarweb seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Audience Overview SimilarWeb


Despite giving just a basic overview, this data paints an intriguing picture. SEMRush is the clear winner in the monthly visits stakes, with nearly three times more visitors than two of its closest competitors – Ahrefs and Moz. Let’s look further into the data.

1. Bounce Rates

It’s interesting to note that three of these popular websites have impressively low bounce rates, hovering between 25-35 percent.

The exception is Moz at 60 percent. The reason for this is that despite the fact that Moz does market its own SEO tool, this website is also a huge content portal. The three competing sites focus the majority of their marketing efforts on the tools that they offer, with much less emphasis on content.

It’s important to note that Moz’s bounce rate isn’t bad. The typical bounce rate for content/blog sites is actually 50-60 percent.


2. Pages Per Visit

Again, Moz lags behind here, with Majestic as the winner. SEMRush and ahrefs aren’t too far behind. The pages per visit statistic generally points to two features of a website’s content:

  • How easy it is to navigate
  • How engaging your content is (do people want to read more?)

Despite each website offering similar tools, it looks like Moz is employing an entirely different marketing strategy to its competitors (possibly at a different stage of the marketing cycle), which would explain the differing metrics.

3. Average Visit Duration

This statistic completes the story of user engagement. Moz again appears to be the outlier here with an average visit duration of three-and-a-half minutes, while competitors each hit above the seven-minute mark.

Seven minutes is a high visit duration for any website – it appears Moz could be converting more efficiently. This is backed up by the lower pages per visit.

Then again, competitor sites are engaging visitors for longer, which could point to issues with Moz’s content strategy.

The above data leaves some important unanswered questions about the marketing strategies that each website employs. To glean further insight, I decided to take a deeper look at the sources of traffic coming to each site.


 **Word of caution: Even though basic metrics such as the above can be quite useful in giving you a general overview of a website’s SEO strategy, it’s important to note that drawing conclusions at this stage is premature. You should always delve deeper to understand where these figures are coming from.**


5. Traffic Sources

traffic_share-for-semrush-ahrefs-majestic-and-moz seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Traffic share for semrush ahrefs majestic and moz

To understand more about these sites, it makes sense to look at the traffic sources for each. The above bar chart was created using SimilarWeb pro. Here are some important points we can clearly deduce from this data:


  • Moz puts a lot of emphasis on ranking well organically. A  significant portion of traffic for Moz is driven by high placement on SERPs. As mentioned before, Moz is a content portal with tonnes of information about disparate SEO and internet marketing topics, with lots of indexed pages  As you can see from the below image, Moz ranks for lots of non-branded keywords.

moz-non-branded-seo-traffic-1 seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Moz non branded seo traffic 1 e1475677940732


This explains the low pages per visit and relatively higher bounce rates for the site. Perhaps users are getting exactly the content they need on arrival (thanks to the organic search results) and leaving shortly after that (they don’t need anything more from the site).

  • Majestic relies on its reputation. With over 75% of its traffic coming from direct sources, Majestic doesn’t need to rank high for organic search terms or other traffic sources. This makes sense – Majestic is one of the oldest and most well-known SEO Tools. People know about it already and have used it for years, so they’re more likely to have it bookmarked or they type the address directly into their browsers.

This is what marketing “gurus” refer to as ‘brand recognition’. When you think of toothpaste, Colgate probably springs to mind. In much the same way, when people think of SEO tools, Majestic comes to mind. This reflects a company at a much later stage of its marketing cycle than say, Moz.


Brand Recognition In Action. seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Brand Recognition Compressed

Brand Recognition In Action.

We can see clear evidence of this brand recognition in the below screenshots. First, let’s take a look at branded SEO traffic for Majestic:

majestic-seo-traffic seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Majestic SEO traffic e1475678309733


You can see from this data that five of the first six most popular search terms for Majestic relate to branded traffic. Traffic from these branded keywords accounts for an impressive 72.82% of Majestic’s entire website traffic.

Contrast this with Moz. As you can see below, branded terms related to Moz (OpenSiteExplorer is the name of the tool Moz sells) account for less than a quarter of its SEO traffic.

More people know about Majestic, so they can attract a lot of traffic without much effort on their part. This is the beauty of being identified as an authority in your niche — SEO and marketing strategies become more passive as time goes on. The hard work is mostly done and you can reap the rewards.   

moz-seo-traffic seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Moz SEO traffic e1475762246642


  • Low traffic from social media. This is perhaps the most surprising stat. According to a report from 2015, social media accounted for 31% of overall traffic to sites. This data is not congruent with the results of that study. Big brands such as Coca-Cola and BMW are very active with social media marketing, so it’s surprising to see none of these SEO tools pay much attention to social media.

Perhaps this is indicative of the niche these websites operate in. These tools are aimed at professional marketers who’ve likely already heard of them. The owners probably don’t see a need to promote on social platforms. Whatever niche you operate in, it’s a good idea to put some focus on getting traffic from social media. Pretty much everyone else is doing it – these SEO tools are the exceptions.

Except for SEO tools apparently. seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? seo

Except for SEO tools apparently.

product_life-cycle_curve seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Product life cycle curve

Majestic product life cycle

In this graph, Majestic is likely to be in the third area of its product life cycle.


  • Paid search traffic is non-existent. None of these popular SEO tools put much emphasis on Adwords campaigns, PPC, or other forms of search engine marketing. This might first strike you as surprising – paid search results are obviously the most visible on SERPs. But note that we are looking at the top 4 most popular SEO tools on the planet here. Visibility and click-throughs aren’t important for already successful websites – people already know about these sites. What is important is maintaining reputation (direct traffic) and continued growth with engaging/useful content (organic + referral traffic).


  • Referral traffic is still important. This data reveals that regardless of a website’s popularity, referral traffic always has a role to play in driving visitors to your site. When people like what you have to offer, they’ll link to your website. Moz does quite a good job of getting referrals with excellent blog posts.

6. Popular Pages

popular-pages-ahrefs seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Popular Pages ahrefs e1475763199433


Unsurprisingly for websites that have already established themselves, the most popular pages are the ones that existing users need to visit often. This is most evident when looking at Ahrefs –  nearly a third of its traffic is from people checking out their metrics from the dashboard.

What’s interesting is that this further explains the higher than average visit duration for ahrefs (and Majestic/SEMRush). It’s not that people are browsing across multiple pages for extended sessions – they’re probably analyzing their metrics in detail, which takes longer than a couple of minutes.

popular-pages-moz seo Top 4 Most Popular SEO Tools:  How Do They Get Traffic? Popular Pages Moz e1475766746968

Contrast this with Moz, a website at an earlier stage of its life cycle. There are no clear candidates for popular pages on Moz. Traffic is distributed evenly over several pages.

Also, note that Moz drives an impressive amount of traffic with its blog. It is the 6th most popular page on that website. This is in stark contrast to the three competing sites – their blogs don’t make it into the top ten most popular pages.

We can deduce that Moz is paying a lot of attention to content strategy, as any website with further growth aspirations should do. This also explains the differing bounce rates – blogs often have more users leaving after one session. People obtain the useful info they need from a blog post and leave.

The three competing sites SEMRush, Majestic, and Ahrefs –  see less of a need to drive traffic with engaging content. It seems like the direct traffic stats have influenced this choice.

7. Putting It All Together

Given that the whole point of this article is to deliver actionable insights for you to improve your marketing/SEO strategy, let’s summarize what you’ve learned from analyzing these sites.


  • Traffic metrics such as bounce rates, pages per visit, and visit duration are only useful in giving an overview of a site’s SEO strategy. When you want to analyze your own strategy or that of your competitors, you should always question where these figures come from to understand things with more clarity.
  • A great way to grasp how any successful online business operates is to check out its sources of traffic. This will always reveal crucial information about marketing strategy and how that changes over the course of the website’s lifetime.
  • Referral traffic is always important, even for the most popular SEO tools in the world. No matter how well-known your site is, you should focus on getting links from other websites with great content or useful products/services. This will ensure a continuous flow of new visitors.
  • As the data from shows, a good blog can really help the continued growth of your business by providing steady traffic.
  • If your online business is successful enough (like these SEO tools are), you’re likely to reach a point where you can become increasingly reliant on direct traffic sources. This represents a shift from actively seeking traffic with paid search campaigns, and trying to rank highly in organic searches, to a more passive approach.
  • Despite the previous point, you should still always try to provide useful content on a somewhat regular basis, regardless of your success. The value of referral and organic traffic is too good to miss out on.  

Now you know what to do next – analyze your own site against competitors. Check what they’re doing in terms of how they get traffic and try to emulate their results if you’re unhappy with your own website’s SEO performance.

Finally, remember that as your business grows, your marketing and SEO strategies will also need to evolve and change with it. Always keep this in mind.