How to Choose the Best Free SEO Tools for your Business
If there’s one constant in marketing over the past few years, it’s that relying on tools and tech is king. With the increasing number of businesses in every field, chances are you have fierce competition. Many free SEO tools for your business can truly set you apart.
Even if you’re brilliant enough to find virgin territories, there’s no doubt that you’ll need every competitive edge you can get. This is why it’s important to keep up with the latest software that can help you cut corners and save time.
This is especially important when it comes to digital marketing, due to the sheer size of it. A single aspect like optimizing for search engines can be tedious if not downright impossible if you’re busy.
This article is your ultimate guide to understanding the best SEO tools for your business and which ones you need.
See Also: What Is Online Advertising?
What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process website owners use to help search engines find, index, and rank their web pages, hopefully above competitors’ websites.
While there are several search engines you can rank on, including Bing and Yahoo, the majority of Internet search (80%) is done through Google. As a result, most SEO tips you’ll come across are geared toward getting noticed and ranked by Google.
Further, the tasks done to increase search engine ranking are geared toward organic or natural results.
This article is focused on organic search results with a goal of getting your website placed in the top 10 search results for your targeted keywords. There are several benefits to organic ranking over paid options including:
Consumers prefer organic search results over paid ads.
Sometimes getting ranked on Google feels like rocket science, especially since how Google decides to list your site is based on algorithms that frequently change. This requires you keeping up on current rules and trends.
For example, in 2015 Google decided it would give preferential ranking to sites that were mobile-friendly since so many people are now using mobile devices.
These changes forced website owners who want to stay well-ranked on Google to update their sites to be responsive and add SSL certificates (this is most important for sites that accept money).
With that said, SEO doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Understanding the basics of how Google and other search engines work can make it easy to help Google help you.
What Search Engines Look for When Ranking Your Site
Over the years, SEO has become more involved as search engines developed more aspects to how it ranked sites.
As the Internet grew, bringing order and reliable results became more difficult. There are many website owners who use black hat tactics to game the system. The problem with this is that it meant search engines weren’t delivering the content web searchers were looking for.
Google in particular has been fighting this which is good for web searchers, but more difficult for website owners.
Today, by understanding what Google does and wants, you can go a long way to improve your SEO. Here is a basic list of what Google looks at to rank your site.
When search engines visit your site they scour the page content and meta information to learn what it’s about. When people use these keywords in their engine, they know to deliver your page as a result.
That means it’s important for you to know what words and phrases your audience uses on search engines. You can do this through keyword research. Include keywords in your site and page title, in your meta tags, and in the content to help search engines understand what the page is about.
However, it’s important to not over use keywords, or it might think you’re trying to cheat the system. If a keyword comes up a lot, consider using variations of the word. Most SEO tools for your business are involved with keywords in one way or the other.
Search engines like to see links to other sites as well as within your site. Some SEO tools for your business help you with just that, finding relevant content to add value.
It’s also just hard to create valuable content without referring to other sites. For instance, it’s important to add supporting evidence like statistics and case studies to your arguments.
These are links to your website from other sites. Social media can be very helpful in this, but also, having other quality sites linking to your content goes a long way to improving your ranking. Search engines will judge you by the company you keep, so your goal is to have quality outgoing and incoming links.
With all the malware and viruses online, Google has decided to include security as one of the factors in website ranking. This covers two important issues: One is the SSL certificate mentioned earlier.
Another is ensuring your website and servers are up-to-date and free of infection. You’d be surprised at how many bots are poking at websites looking for vulnerabilities. Google will pull you out of search results if your website is compromised (although you can ask for re-ranking once you clean up your site).
Types of Free SEO tools
To compete you can choose from a variety of free SEO tools, enabling you to find new opportunities, save time and keep track of how your SEO can be boosted.
See Also: Content Marketing Strategy for Success
1. Keyword Analysis Tools
Brian Dean stated that “Without Keywords there is no such thing as SEO”.
Naturally, keywords guide search engine users to your site, meaning how popular your site is, depends greatly on how well you utilize them.
Now over the past 5 years or so, achieving effective Keyword Analysis and Research has become increasingly difficult thanks to Google Keyword Planner “hiding” data.
However, it’s a pivotal method of finding hidden opportunities, increasing the traffic flowing to your site and of course showing off that all-important shiny new content you create.
Although these tools are great, all they can do is provide you with data. It’s how you interpret the data and what you do with it that will make the difference.
See Also: Meta Keywords: To Use or Not to Use
SEMrush, although technically a freemium tool, offers far more insights and data using the paid version of the software. It allows you to see the keywords your competitors are ranking for, the landing page for each keyword and also the value of the keyword.
If you’re looking for lots of trending keywords, this tool is a must-try. It has a large, multi-country database of over 5.6 billion keywords presented with accurate metrics.
Search Volume is based on users’ clickstream data, while estimates of Keyword Difficulty are based on the amount of referring domains. That’s what Google’s ranking algorithm gives priority to. The dashboard also comes with unique metrics to determine traffic potential for each keyword – Clicks and Clicks Per Search.
2. Ranking Tools
Knowing where your site currently ranks is also incredibly important. It allows you to track which of your online marketing strategies are working best, letting you focus similar to your efforts across campaigns, maximizing ROI and seeing your traffic skyrocket.
These SEO tools for your business enable you to do so without hours and hours of monotonous wading through page after page of search results.
Google Search Console
Google’s very own suite of helpful tools to help users monitor the performance of their website. By using the “Search Traffic” tab then the “Search Analytics” tab, it will bring you up a list of keywords you’re currently ranking for.
Following from this, sort by ranking position and target the keywords that are on page 2 of the search results, with a bit of SEO magic, you should see them creep up onto page 1!
See Also: Small Business SEO
Authority Labs is a rather handy tool, thanks to its ability to track and graph the keywords for your site. Performing a daily check of the keywords you’ve highlighted, then turning the findings into a weekly report.
3. Content effectiveness tools.
As Bing’s Duane Forrester said, “all SEO Ranking signals revolve around content of some kind” highlighting the impact good content has on your site.
Coming up with fresh and unique ideas day in day out is incredibly hard, however necessary to keep your site not only relevant and engaging for your audience, but optimized for search engines. The tools below will enable you to find new ideas and optimize your current content.
If you want a little further reading around the topic, we also recently posted a detailed review for benchmarking competitor content marketing.
See Also: What Is Copywriting?
Outdated Content Finder
The chaps over at Greenlane Search Marketing created a particularly useful tool if you’re struggling for content Ideas. Put in the search term you want to rank for, or just the general topic of content you want to write about.
Put in the date parameters (I tend to look back about 3+ years) and have a read of some old content. See if you can jazz it up a bit and bring it into modern times, then get in touch with the webmaster and see if they’d be interested in posting the newer version.
This is an awesome WordPress plugin to ensure the content going on your site is “SEO Friendly”. It works on a bit of a traffic light signal basis and basically keeps your content in check.
Buzzsumo is quite simply a very good tool. It has an incredibly easy to use interface and allows you to quickly identify what content is working well around a particular topic as well as highlighting the major influencers.
4. Link Building Tools
Although google says we shouldn’t be “link building”, it still stands that links are one of the greatest ranking factors today.
Granted, methods of link building in the past have been incredibly manipulative, however, in our eyes, the likes of writing content on other sites is only beneficial to all involved.
Today many free SEO tools can be used for white hat link building
Provided the content is strong enough, one gets some lovely new content for their site, the other gets to raise awareness of their site or become a bit more of an authority on a subject matter.
Link Miner is the perfect tool for the broken link building tactic. It’s fast and very easy to use and understand. If you want to find a little more about broken link building check out the Broken Link Building Bible.
Moz SEO Toolbar & Majestic Backlink Analyzer Extensions
An absolutely essential tool for checking whether a site is up to scratch. Both do a very similar job, showing instant vital SEO information about the site you’re currently on.
We use both in conjunction with each other to find a better overall feel for the site using both as they look at slightly different indicators.
Ahrefs Site Explorer
This allows you to see the bigger picture, not just links from traditional HTML pages. Thanks to a bunch of handy features, Site Explorer makes backlink analysis dead simple.
You can set a time frame, filter the data by type, platform, and language, analyze anchor texts, and even track gained or lost backlinks right from your inbox with Ahrefs alerts.
Buzzstream is a tool which has many feathers in its cap. It’s superb for outreach management, generating/scraping prospects and finding hidden details, such as contact details. Howver, make sure you structure your account well, or you will end up despising it.
5. Link Removal Tools
Link removal is hopefully something you will never have to go through. Unfortunately, it is a necessity for sites which have been hit with a penalty from Google’s Penguin algorithm. It can be incredibly time-consuming, but ultimately can reinvigorate your site and give it a new lease of life.
Link removal can also be utilised even if you haven’t been hit with a penalty.
You may have bought some links in the past, been on the wrong end of a negative SEO attack or even have your content posted on multiple sites and these links can still impact you. Removing these can do absolutely no harm and will keep you in the good books with google.
If you want to read a bit more about link removal, here’s some further reading, try:
When Google’s Disavow Tools was finally introduced, it was a long time coming. It basically highlights the sites to Google that you don’t want linking to your site. Simple as that.
Cognitive is a monster of a tool, it helps with rankings, competitor research, backlink analysis, content auditing and most predominantly unnatural link detection and link removal.
It really is a fantastic tool, which has a preview screen so you can check the sites, before deciding whether to add to a disavow file or leave them as a link. CognitiveSEO then creates a disavow file for you, which you can upload immediately to Google. Job done!
6. Technical SEO tools
Being able to dig around on the ‘back-end’ of your site, getting to know how it functions and any issues with it is a pivotal step in reaching optimsation ‘Nirvana’. The tools below should help you in your quest to reach this mythical place.
We’re kind of cheating a little bit with this one, as technically it’s a freemium product. However, we’ve found it offers enough information to be useful as it’s free incarnation.
It scrapes your site and tells you of any inefficiencies, even offering checklists to complete. A great tool to get an overview of your site and competitors.
Screaming Frog is superb at scraping a site, much like a search engine would. It runs its rule over all links and pages of the website offering data on Status Codes, Page Titles, Meta Descriptions, Robots Meta Data and puts it all into a filterable spreadsheet.
Deepcrawl offers a similar service to Screaming Frog, however, is a lot easier to use if you’re new to Technical SEO. Instead of the spreadsheet you get from Screamingfrog, you get it in simple visual information in the form of graphs and charts.
Another feather in its cap is its ability to identify content, highlighting any missing titles, duplicate pages, the length of the content and much much more. This post could go on for a while due to the inordinate amount of features it has. So here’s a little further reading for you.
SEO Tools for Your Business
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a powerful and completely free website analytics tool.
Once installed properly on your website, you’ll be able to report on which marketing tactics drive the most traffic, which marketing tactics drive the most leads and sales conversions, how visitors use your site, which content they prefer, and so much more.
2. Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is Google’s free SEO tool.
Once you set up your account, you’ll get alerts if Google finds errors on your website and you’ll be able to view key stats like keyword rankings, number of clicks per keyword, number of times your website showed up in the search results per keyword, and your click through rate when your website showed up in the search results.
Plus, you can link Search Console to Analytics to unlock even more reporting tools in your Analytics account. For example, once you’ve linked these two tools, then in Analytics you’ll be able to review keyword rankings, click through rates, impressions, and the landing pages that are ranking in Google.
3. Google My Business
Back in 2011, Google launched their ill-fated social network, Google+.
The platform never really took off but Google did endow it with one very important feature: preferential SEO treatment. Businesses or individuals with Google+ accounts were much more likely to appear at the top of rankings or on side suggestion bars.
Then, in 2014 Google formalized the practice and gave us Google My Business.
Every single local business should have a well-maintained profile Google My Business profile.
Not only does it help your business to rank higher, it provides easy contact information, location information integrated with Google Maps, and testimonials from Google as well as other listing sites. In short, it’s a free and indispensable tool for every local business.
4. Rank Ranger
Rank Ranger is a robust, all-around SEO analysis tool. But before you get lost in the data, focus on what Rank Ranger does best: tracking your keyword rankings.
You’ll be able to track your website’s organic rankings over time in the major search engines, plus your local rankings in the “map” results. This will help you identify trends up or down in your rankings so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
5. Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is another SEO tool with lots of bells and whistles. What sets it apart is the free SEO Spider tool that you can use to quickly conduct a technical SEO audit of your website.
After downloading the tool, all you need to do to get started is type in your website’s domain name, and click the box to Crawl All Subdomains.
In just a couple of minutes, you will see a detailed audit of all of your webpages. From meta tags to error status codes, you can spot problems without taking the time to manually audit each and every one of your website’s pages.
6. Moz Local
One of the biggest factors in your local “map” rankings is citations.
A citation is simply a mention of your name, address, and phone number (NAP) on another website online. The most common citations are business directories like Yelp, Bing Local, and even Facebook business pages.
Moz Local is one of the best tools available to quickly audit your citations. You’ll see if your information is consistent across all directories, if you’re missing any important directories, and if you have duplicate listings that could be dragging down your rankings.
OK, this one isn’t exactly a tool, it’s a formula that is available in Google Spreadsheets. If you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, but you’re not familiar with ImportXML, then you’re going to love this!
Although it can be used to pull any type of data into a Google sheet, from sources as diverse as XML, HTML, CSV, TSV, and RSS feeds, it is particularly useful for businesses trying to organize SEO web page data.
For example, you can pull the current title tag, meta description, and even headers of a webpage into a single sheet, so you can review and document edits. Here’s a quick primer on using ImportXML for SEO.
This is a huge time saver!
As mentioned above, citations are important for ranking high in Google’s local “map” results. But how do you find citations?
That’s where WhiteSpark comes in…
WhiteSpark is a tool to find citations relevant for your particular business. Plus, they provide the option to pay them to set up the citations to save you time.
BrightLocal is yet another citation building tool that is similar to WhiteSpark. In our experience, these tools will uncover different citation opportunities so using both can ensure you get the most exposure. Plus, BrightLocal has the same option to pay them to create the citations for you.
Understanding and effectively using backlinks is critical for SEO, and Ahrefs gives you a full suite of backlink tools.
Use Ahrefs first to analyze your own site and make sure your backlinks are from legitimate websites.
If you find that many of your backlinks are from spammy sites, then Google may penalize your website and it’s going to be difficult to obtain high rankings until you remove or disavow those backlinks.
Next, use Ahrefs to analyze your competitors to see where they are getting their backlinks. This is invaluable information you can use to steer your SEO strategy.
11. Moz Open Site Explorer
Moz Open Site Explorer is yet another backlink tool. Unfortunately, no tool is 100% accurate when it comes to finding all of your backlinks or the backlinks of your competitors. That’s why we recommend using multiple tools to get the full picture.
12. Raven Tools
Raven Tools enables you to create automated marketing reports for SEO, PPC, and Social Media. The reports pull data from the most common tracking tools – Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Google Search Console, Facebook, and Twitter.
You can schedule these reports to be sent out weekly, monthly, or quarterly, which can help to save you and your team time and money.
Should You Hire an SEO Pro?
There’s no question that an ethical, or “white hat” search engine optimization firm can work wonders for your website traffic.
However, search engine ranking isn’t something you achieve indefinitely. Search engines are constantly searching and ranking websites, which means you can be ranked top 10 today, and on page 3 of results tomorrow.
As a home business owner on a budget, maintaining the expense of an SEO firm may not be feasible, unless you’re relying solely on search engines for traffic.
However, hiring a professional to get your site search engine-friendly, while you do the long-term maintenance, might be worth it.
Patience and Persistence Are SEO Virtues
Keep in mind that SEO takes time. You won’t see improvements by following the tips in this tutorial overnight, so don’t be discouraged if your traffic doesn’t jump through the roof right away.
And, don’t expect to use this search engine optimization tutorial tips once and then forget about them.
Make it a practice to keep these SEO tools for your business in mind whenever you update your website, go through a redesign, or plan a new site. Also, keyword popularity and competitiveness changes over time, so revisit your targeted keywords periodically to see if they still draw traffic.
Finally, check your analytics to learn how people are finding your site, what pages they like best, and what keywords they’re using, so you can tailor your SEO tools for your business specifically.
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