This post assumes you already have a basis of knowledge of what search engine optimization is
and why it matters. In order to get the most out of your SEO efforts, I highly encourage you to use a handful of SEO tools. These tools will help you to 1) Figure out what
you should be doing and 2) Figure out how
Once you know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and that you’re going the right direction, you’re well on your way to Google Nirvana.
Now, what are the tools you should use to figure all this out?
While there is a whole host of tools out there that you can pay for, I prefer to let folks know of the free options. Bear in mind, that the trade-off for using free tools is that you will spend more time using them.
The value of most of the paid tools is that you can be more productive. Sometimes it makes sense to spend money so that you can focus your time on making more money. That’s up to you to decide. Here is a quick rundown of the tools I’ll be discussing and how they fit into your inbound marketing strategy:
- Where You Want To Go
- MOZ Keyword Explorer (free & paid)
- Keyword Planner (Google) (free but paid for better results)
- Webmaster Tools (Google) (free)
- Analytics (Google) (free)
- Figure Out Your Current SEO Position
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider (free & paid)
- Moz Open Site Explorer (free & paid)
- Authority Labs (free & paid)
- How To Get There
- MOZ Open Site Explorer (again)
- SEO Review Tools (free)
- Google Sheets (free)
- Gmail (free)
- BuzzStream (paid)
- Sneaky Trick
Sneaky SEO Tool Trick
Instead of leaving you in suspense for the entire article, I’ll go ahead and tell you about the “sneaky trick.” A number of the free tools I’ll discuss below have daily or monthly limits on them so that once you exceed the quota, you either have to start paying or you have to just wait.
The way around this is to access their site via proxy once you hit your limit (a proxy is basically using someone else’s IP address so that a website can’t figure out who you are and where you’re at every time).
You can do this through a number of methods, but one I like is called TunnelBear
. Simple to use and they have a free version (limited to 500 MB/mo, so use it wisely). Their paid version isn’t too pricey either, but that’s up to you to decide. Since the free tool websites likely cookie you (in addition to tracking your IP), I recommend you use them in Private/Incognito mode in your browser so that you can just close the browser window when you hit your limit, fire up TunnelBear, and head back to the site as a seemingly “new” user.
Where You Want To Go (i.e. Google Ranking)
Before you can go anywhere, it’s pretty helpful to know where you want to end up! For SEO, you do that by researching keywords and phrases. What you’re looking for here are keywords/phrases that have good volume and that you can conceivably rank for. While the keyword strategy you should take is another conversation in itself, there are a few tools you can use once you figure out the road you want to take. The most straightforward tool is MOZ’s Keyword Explorer
tool (free for 20 queries per month). Plug in the sort of keyword you’d like to rank for and MOZ will provide you with up to 1,000 suggested keywords/phrases plus provide you with the estimated monthly search volume. Another tool to use to research target keywords is Google’s Keyword Planner tool. This free tool is nestled inside Google’s Adwords app, so you’ll have to sign up for a free Adwords account to get access to it. If you sign up for Adwords, DO NOT CLICK ON THE GUIDED TOUR LINK!
Just click “Skip Tour.” If you accidentally click the guided tour link, you’ll be stuck in a loop that will require you to run an ad before you can get access to the Keyword Planner. If you’re stuck in the Adwords guided tour loop, then just use the legacy Adwords sign up link. You’re welcome.
A note on Google’s Keyword Planner is that it’s not as good as it used to be for free. If you’re not buying much in Adwords (over $100/mo) then you get fairly loose keyword volumes (like a provided range of 10k – 100k searches per month). If you’re spending decent money on Adwords, then you get much more accurate results.
You can also research what to target by reviewing your website’s Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics accounts. Look at what you’re currently ranking for and what you’re getting traffic (clicks) from. If you find a phrase that’s getting you some clicks/impressions but you barely rank for, you might have just found the next keyword/phrase to target (heck, you’re already ranking for it, get to the front page with it!).
Your Current SEO Position
In order to know if you’re improving, you have to figure out where you’re starting from.
To do that, I recommend you run your website through the Screaming Frog SEO Spider
in order to understand how a search engine crawler likely sees your website.
A quick and highly rewarding way to use Screaming Frog is to 1) crawl your site, 2) click on the “H1” tab, and 3) filter by “Missing.”
This will quickly show you if your site is missing any H1 tags (very important tags in regards to good on-page SEO).
Next is MOZ’s Open Site Explorer
(free for 10 searches per month) to record your current Domain Authority and your current number of inbound links. Also, be sure to review your current link profile to make sure you don’t have any “spammy” links pointing to your site.
The second tool to use is Authority Labs
. This is a service provider that lets you know how you rank on Google for your target keywords (also known as Search Engine Rank Position, or SERP).
They do offer a free 30-day trial, but they’ve also created a handy free Rank Checker tool
(connects to your Google Sheets account, FYI). You won’t get any tracking with the free tool, but you can just copy and paste the results into your own spreadsheet.
How To Get The Rankings You Want
Now that you know what keywords you want to target and where you currently stand (and want to improve), it’s time to start on the journey to ranking on the first pages of Google searches. While there are a number of factors that affect rankings, the main factor is links. How many external links you have pointing to your site, the frequency/recency of those links and where the links are from all matter to your rankings. There are a few ways to figure out what websites you want to actively target for links, but one of the best ways to start is to see who is already linking to your competition. MOZ’s Open Site Explorer comes into play here again since it provides you with all the inbound links for the site you search for.
Once you have a list of websites you want to target for link-building, it helps to prioritize them. The fastest way to determine the value of a link from a site is to know what the “Domain Authority” (DA) is for the target site. Again, MOZ’s Open Site Explorer is a great resource (especially since they created the concept of Domain Authority), but as you can tell, you’ve been using it a lot and have likely burned through your monthly quota already. MOZ is also pretty good about figuring out when you’re using a proxy to get around their quota.
Enter Website Authority Checker from SEO Review Tools. This is a free tool that actually lets you tie into MOZ’s system to figure out the DA for a site. While they have a daily limit as well, they can’t figure out proxies the way MOZ can, so you can just reset your connection to them when you hit your limit.
Knowing the DA for a target site is important since you can use it to decide what sites to target first with your limited time and also helps you figure out what you’re willing to do for a link. Low DA site wanting you to bend over backward for them? Eh, focus on someone else instead. On the other hand, you might make a point to meet the webmaster of a high DA site at a convention in order to increase your odds of getting a link from them.
How To Manage a Link-Building Campaign
So now that you’ve got your targeted list of websites and the keywords you want to rank for, how do you manage the link building side of this equation? One of the easiest tools to use for any outreach management is BuzzStream. They’ve got a great solution in that they provide you with the DA of the sites you’re targeting, allow you to store email templates and you can even email out from their service (keeps all your communication with a website in one place, instead of scattered throughout your inbox). It’s great, but it’s also not free. A free solution to managing outreach is actually a combination of free tools. First, set up a tracker in Google Sheets (feel free to use this simple outreach tracking template
). Second, get your email setup on Gmail/Google Inbox. Third, set up your own outreach templates (you can create these on the fly as you send out different outreach emails, just make sure you save the draft as a template for future use).
Now, just be diligent and record when you email/contact your target websites. I highly recommend following up at least twice but if you don’t get a response from them, stop there. Don’t waste your time and don’t be SPAM.
SEO Wrap Up
So there you have it, a handful of both free and paid tools to help you achieve your SEO goals. If this all seems a little too overwhelming (or you feel like you just don’t have the time to do this AND run your business), just let us know. We’re happy to help get you set up for SEO success either by roadmapping
with you or doing the work for you.