With any project, having the right tools makes all the difference. Business owners cannot begin optimizing their site without the right SEO analysis tools. In the course of our work, we’ve tested many different SEO tools. Through this, we’ve formed a lot of opinions on which are the most accurate and reliable for specific types of SEO work.
Domains & Hosting: Laying the Foundation for Solid SEO
The companies in this category aren’t really SEO tools, but they’re worth a mention because they provide a reliable foundation for doing great SEO work on your site. Choosing a bad host or domain name registrar can really put a kink in your campaigns. Although hosting and domain name registration can be commodities, factors like slow page load times, constant down times, server errors, or domain name resolution errors can all cause your SEO campaign to stall.
Namecheap: Reliable, Inexpensive Hosting & Domain Names
Cost: Domains starting @ $1/year, hosting starting @ $15.44/year
Purpose: Domain name registration/hosting
Namecheap1 is a reliable host with many great features. It was founded in 2000 and provides domain name registration, hosting, security, and other web-based services. Here are some pros to going with Namecheap.com:
- Very cheap domain name registration
- The latest TLDs (Top-Level Domains)
- Managed WordPress hosting, shared hosting, and VPS hosting
- Excellent customer service (a huge plus when it comes to hosting)
- Ability to purchase SSL certificates
- Additional applications that make it easy to add functionality to your site
- Extensive knowledge base for do-it-yourselfers
To stand out in the hosting world, companies have to go above and beyond by offering new applications, support for popular platforms, easy-to-use tools, and exceptional service. Namecheap checks all those boxes.
WPEngine: The Only Hosting You Need for WordPress
Cost: Hosting starting at $35/month
Purpose: WordPress hosting
WordPress has a roughly 27% market share of all websites on the planet. That is a sizable chunk of the internet using this one CMS. WP Engine2 is specifically designed for managed WordPress installations (full disclosure: we are a WPEngine affiliate). WordPress is a phenomenal platform for onsite SEO so it’s good to go with a host that offers a lot of support for WordPress websites. Here’s what WP Engine brings to the table:
- Access to 35+ studiopress themes for your WordPress site
- Round-the-clock voice and live chat support (perfect for those middle of the night emergencies)
- Ability to build in different dev, staging, and live environments
- Latest versions of software to run WordPress
- Page performance features
- SSL security certificates
- Ability to host multiple sites and manage from the same WordPress interface
- Cutting edge security (particularly important as WordPress is one of the platforms most targeted by hackers)
Aside from those features in WP Engine’s range of plans, you can also add on services like priority customer service, dedicated environments for development, and additional security features. If you have someone managing your site for you, WP Engine will make those staff members more efficient and successful in their SEO efforts.
SEO Competitive & Link Analysis Tools
Checking out what your competition is doing is a cornerstone of a successful SEO campaign. Onsite and offsite SEO tools can help site owners learn what keyword phrases their competition is ranking for, the types of things they are doing to their site to make it perform well in search, and the type of promotion (i.e., link building) they are doing to move the needle.
Semrush: Priceless Intelligence on Your Competition
Cost: Pro License starts at $99.95/month
Purpose: Onsite and Offsite website analysis
SEMrush is an onsite SEO and backlink analysis tool3 . With this web-based software, you can make SEO projects and printable reports, analyze onsite elements like page titles and permalinks, and conduct offsite analysis on backlinks. The competitive analysis features in SEMRush are extremely useful and include:
- The ability to see what keyword phrases competing sites are ranking for
- Display and search ad analysis
- Full site audits so you can pick apart what competitors are doing on their sites vs. yours
- Detailed backlink audits and analysis that support strategies like emulating your competitor’s link profile
One of the things that sets SEMrush apart from other SEO tools is that you can also do some pretty in-depth analysis on PPC-related data. For example, SEMrush will show you keyword history as it relates to search ads, average cost for competitive keywords, and the same data for your competition. In addition, it also plays nice with BigQuery recipes, Google Data Studio, etc.
Ahrefs Site Explorer: Link Analysis on Steroids
Purpose: Link analysis on your own site & competitors
Cost: Plans starting @ $99 – $1,000+/month
Ahrefs is all about link analysis4 . They have developed a number of other features (which we cover later in this post), but their claim to fame has always been the analysis of links pointing at a website. Here are some highlights on why Ahrefs should be your go-to software program for link analysis:
- Get a complete picture of all referring domains to your site, including type of TLD, number of unique domains, number of backlinks, dofollow vs. nofollow, and even the anchor text used on each backlink
- See trends over time, in terms of when links were acquired (a very useful feature for tracking campaigns and spotting any fishy negative SEO behavior)
- See broken links going from your website to others, which is great for fixing usability issues
- At the time of this article, some of the newer features include organic keyword data, keyword rank tracking, PPC keyword analysis, and competitive link analysis tools
Moz Link Explorer: Backlink & Domain Authority Checker
Purpose: Link analysis & domain authority checker
Cost: Plans starting @ $99 – $1,000+/month
Link Explorer5 (formerly Open Site Explorer) is a link analysis feature in the suite of tools from Moz. A leader in the SEO software space, Moz is a direct competitor of the Ahrefs and its link analysis tool. Using Link Explorer, you can produce metrics for referring domains, anchor text profiles, and top pages in terms of links. There are also high-quality competitive analysis features, such as the Link Intersect tool and the ability to compare link profiles. Here’s a run-down on what Moz currently features:
- Inbound link analysis including PA/DA (Page Authority/Domain Authority), referring domains, and Spam Score metrics.
- Anchor text reports that break out number of linking domains per phrase and followed external links.
- Top pages ranked by PA
- Discovered and lost links
- Link profile comparison (very helpful for comparing what links you have compared to your competition)
- Link intersect (helpful for seeing the links your competition has that you do not)
You’ll find many of these features called by different names in Ahrefs, but one of the things that stands out about Moz is the look and intuitiveness of its interface. It’s just a little easier on the eyes when compared with Ahrefs. Moz is a good tool for site owners who want to tinker around with their own link profile, because there isn’t the granular minutiae that you see in Ahrefs.
Onsite SEO Tools
Onsite SEO tools in this section are those used for analysis and implementation of opportunities on a website itself to help it perform better in search. Most tools in this section are some form of crawler or spider that can scan and report onsite errors.
Screaming Frog: Onsite Auditing for SEO
Purpose: Onsite SEO analysis
Cost: Free / $167/year
Screaming Frog is simply one of the best onsite SEO crawlers. It’s great for light onsite analysis, but also has features for more advanced users. It’s also free to use for up to 500 crawled pages, albeit with the omission of some key features, like URL exclusions. For an annual license of $167, marketers can unlock all features and crawl much larger websites. This allows users a snapshot of what their onsite status is using Screaming Frog’s crawler6, a desktop software program for PC or Mac. With the free version up to 500 pages can be crawled and the following information extracted:
- Number of pages
- Page titles with length
- Meta descriptions with length
- Meta keywords
- Page status response code messages (like errors)
- SERP previews (so you can see what your meta descriptions and titles will look like in search results pages)
- Header tag analysis for each page
- Directives (i.e. redirects, robots tags, etc)
Screaming Frog is a simple onsite analysis tool that you can use to quickly get all the nuts and bolts of pages, helping you identify obvious issues with core onsite elements. We use Screaming Frog for our law firm SEO audits and to inform the initial stages of onsite SEO changes.
Copyscape: Own Your Content
Purpose: Plagiarism Checker
Cost: 3 cents per search for the first 200 words + 1 cent per additional 100 words
Copyscape7 is a tool for certifying the genuineness of a piece of content. Site owners may have content written by sources other than themselves on their site and it’s important to make sure that content is unique.
All you have to do is paste in a URL and Copyscape scans the internet for duplicate copies. It’s important to note that small snippets of sentences probably will not trigger the tool; that happens when large blocks of text are copied and pasted into a page. It’s also important to point out that even though Google has a lot of documentation8 on what duplicate content is and why it’s important to avoid, there are no duplicate content penalties.
Free Google SEO Tools
Google has a vested interest in making sure site owners provide a good experience to their users. They want people to click on a search result, have a good experience, and then think of Google the next time they have a need for information. They therefore provide site owners with myriad tools to be successful in optimizing their sites for Google search. They’re all free and they all work pretty darn well.
Google Analytics: Free SEO Analytics Tools
Purpose: User & Website Analysis
One of the most widely used analytics’ platforms is provided by Google…and it’s completely free. Google Analytics9 is relatively easy to use and provides site owners with a lot of basic (and some advanced) data related to their website visitors. Using GA, you can:
- Track the sources of visitors from search, social, email, direct traffic, and other channels
- See how long visitors stayed on certain pages, where they went within a site, and what content they found useful
- Set up conversion actions to collect data when people fill out forms, click on links, watch videos, and other interactions
- Learn about geographical information related to their website visitors
- Link data from Google Search Console to see keyword positioning in search
- Understand what types of devices people are using to view their website
All of this information can help inform future marketing decisions, such as whether or not to build a mobile version of their site or what kind of ROI their SEO campaign is generating.
Google Keyword Planner: Free Keyword SEO Tools for Keyword Research
Google’s advertising platform (AdWords) is accompanied by a keyword research tool, known as the Keyword Planner10, that you can use to get data on search volume for any given keyword phrase. Like Analytics, the planner is also completely free. Google’s tool is not the most comprehensive keyword research solution out there (i.e., Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Moz are better); however, if you’re in need of a free tool to see some search volume data, it’s perfect for that. You can also use it to generate more keyword ideas to see what types of phrases people may be using to find their services, which is helpful for drumming up content ideas.
Google Search Console: Free Google SEO & Link Analysis Tool
Purpose: Onsite, offsite, technical SEO analysis & reporting
Search Console11 is a tool for site owners to evaluate some common elements of SEO on their website. It’s not as full-featured as the paid tools, but it can provide useful data for site owners wanting to get a picture of how their site shapes up in Google search results.
GSC is good for:
- Viewing clicks, impressions, SERP positioning, inbound links, and click-through rate on a website
- Analyzing technical SEO elements like robots files, mobile usability, sitemaps, indexing, and HTML errors
- Submitting URLs for Google to crawl
You’ll have to submit your site to Google Search Console12 and verify it before you will be able to see any of this data or use the tools. Search Console can also be linked with other Google products like Analytics to get a more detailed profile of data about a website.
Google Mobile Friendly Site Testing Tool
Purpose: Mobile rendering analysis
In 2015 Google announced13 they would be giving mobile-friendly web pages preference in search results. In other words, sites that are easier to use on a mobile device would rank higher than similar sites without pages optimized for mobile.
The Mobile-Friendly Test14 is a scan provided by Google to make sure a website is mobile-friendly. Not only can site owners determine if their site is mobile friendly in Google’s eyes, but they can also get specific tips on how to fix any issues that exist. Although Google provides links to resources and more information on what issues the scan uncovers, there are no tools in the MFT to actually fix issues around mobile usability.
Google Page Speed Insights Tool
Purpose: Evaluation & diagnosis of page load times
Marketers can plug their domain name into Google PageSpeed Insights15 to see how quickly the page loads. As Google uses page load times as a ranking factor16 in search results, this means that (all else being equal) sites that have slower load times may not fare as well in Google search as those that load fast. Like the Mobile-Friendly Test, Google puts out a report from the page speed tool letting site owners know where to focus their efforts as well as links to resources that may help, but the tool itself does not fix issues it may find.
Google Search Trends
Purpose: Google search trend analysis
Google Trends17 can help businesses identify keyword search volume over a specific time period, as well as topic areas that are becoming popular. Where the Keyword Planner shows other keyword variations and their search volume, Google Trends provides insight into how users are searching over the long term. Here’s a snapshot of the data you can see:
- Trending topics
- The popularity of phrases per geographic region over time
- Related topics
- Related searches
- Search category (e.g., news, images, web, YouTube)
Google Trends is useful as a data visualization tool. You don’t get all the granular data that you do with Keyword Planner or one of the paid third party keyword research tools out there. It works fine as a free, quick reference resource.
Google Structured Data Testing Tool
Purpose: JSON, Microdata, and other schema analysis & diagnosis
Answer The Public
Purpose: Keyword research & ideation
Cost: Free / $99 for pro account
Answerthepublic.com20 is an amazing keyword suggestion tool that takes a primary keyword phrase and generates data in different formats, like questions, propositions, comparisons, and more. While it does not provide more granular metrics like search volume and competitiveness of phrases, it’s fantastic for generating seed lists of phrases and organizing them based on intent. If you’re having trouble creating topics for a blog post, it’s an indispensable tool. With a pro account, you get access to unthrottled use, saved reports, and a host of other features. The free account only allows you to do a limited number of basic searches without the ability to save any of your work.
SEO Reporting Tools
Keeping an eye on KPIs (key performance indicators) for SEO is important so you can see if your efforts are headed in the right direction. The true measurement of success in any SEO campaign is going to be more clients and better cases for your firm, but things like website traffic, SERP position, and other metrics can be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Agency Analytics: Simple & Easy, Automated Reporting for SEO
Purpose: Automated reporting for SEO & advertising campaigns
Cost: Plans starting @ $49 – $500+/month
Agency Analytics21 is a web-based analytics and reporting tool that can generate attractive, easy to read reports on your SEO campaigns. You can import data from a variety of sources, including Google Search Console, Google AdWords, and Bing. Marketers can track a wide range of data: site rankings, desktop and mobile stats, backlink data, and landing page statistics, like bounce rate and pageviews. The best part about Agency Analytics is the easy-to-read interface. Data is laid out in graphs and charts making it easy to quickly see how things are shaping up with a digital marketing campaign.
Callrail: Call Tracking for SEO Campaigns
Purpose: Phone number tracking for SEO and advertising campaigns
Cost: Plans starting @ $30 – $120/month
Tracking inbound calls is a must when running SEO campaigns. Callrail allows site owners to set up a tracking number and apply it to their site. They don’t even have to change the default number that shows on their pages, so they can truly get an accurate picture of where people are coming from (i.e., Google search results and making a phone call vs. those that visited through some other channel).
WordPress SEO Tools: Plug & Play Software for Your WordPress Site
Yoast SEO Premium for Quality SEO
Purpose: Onsite SEO tool for WordPress sites
Cost: Free / 1 site = $89
The Yoast SEO plugin is perhaps one of the most well-known SEO plugins for WordPress. With Yoast, businesses can easily do basic on-site SEO tasks for their blog or website by simply plugging values into text fields. Yoast also has helpful content analysis features that tell you if the text you wrote in a page or post is readable.
Schema Markup for SEO
JSON-LD Schema Markup Generator
Purpose: Automated JSON schema markup generator
There are many schema generators on the internet, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Web developer J.D. Flynn built a generator22 that allows users to choose from among several different types of schema markup commonly associated with their type of business. The generator then produces the code that you or your developer can paste into your website.
Local SEO Tools
Bright Local: Local SEO Tools & Citation Building
Purpose: SEO analysis tool & citation builder
Cost: Plans starting @ $29 – custom pricing
Bright Local23 is a local SEO tool and one of the leading platforms for building local citations. It helps organizations spread their business information across the internet quickly and consistently, with far less effort than doing so manually. Basically, you fill out your firm information (including name, address, phone number, website, etc.) and then Bright Local sends that information to multiple business listing websites and data aggregators. For about $2 a site, you can:
- Get manual citation cleanup (fixing any inconsistent NAP ((name, address, and phone number)) already on the internet)
- Build new citations
- Submit data to local aggregators
- Remove duplicate citations
- Claim and configure GMB (Google My Business) listings
Moz Local: Consistent Local SEO
Purpose: Local business citation builder/manager
Cost: Plans starting @ $99 – $249/year
Moz is another player in the local SEO citation game; however, they don’t have the robust list of business listing websites as other citation builders. Moz Local24 basically submits your business information to the major data aggregators and primary directory listings, such as Google My Business, Bing, Foursquare, Best of the Web, etc. Many secondary or lower-tier listing properties draw their data from larger aggregators or primary listings.
Yext: Power Listings for Your Business
Purpose: Local business citation builder/manager
Cost: Plans starting @ $499
Yext has been a pioneer and leader in the local SEO and citation space for a long time now. They were one of the first companies to do automated citation building properly and they continue to produce innovative local SEO products. By choosing their highest tier plan, marketers can have their information submitted to hundreds of different citation websites.
SEO Content Strategy & Research
BuzzSumo for Content Ideation
Purpose: Content ideation & research
Cost: Free / Pro plans starting @ $79 – $499+/month
It’s no easy task to come up with content that your audience will love. Fortunately, Buzzsumo25 makes that challenge a little less daunting. Using just a few keyword phrases, site owners can find other content on the web that has already been shared heavily. They can also see links built to those relevant pages, number of social shares, publication dates, and snippets of the content from the site that published it, as well as filter by date, language, country, domain, and content type.
Ahrefs Questions: Blog Idea Generator
Purpose: Question research for blog topic ideation
Cost: Plans starting @ $99 – $1,000+/month
We already mentioned Ahrefs in the link analysis section, but it’s also a great tool for generating topic ideas for blog posts. The “Questions” section of the tool takes the seed keyword phrase you’ve given it and generates questions that contain that phrase. It’s a really great way to see what people are actually searching for and create content focused on those topics.
User Experience Testing
Crazy Egg: Heat Maps & Click Activity
Purpose: User behavior evaluation
Cost: Plans starting @ $24 – $249/month
User testing can get expensive, but Crazy Egg provides an affordable and easy-to-use method for usability testing. All website owners have to do is apply a single snippet of code to their website and Crazy Egg will track clicks, displaying them in a heat map-like pattern on the page. Even though it is basically just clicks on the page, this can give a variety of insights into user behavior. They can see referral source, time on site, page views, bounce rates, and other metrics, all in relation to where people are clicking.
Hotjar: Visual Analysis of User Website Behavior
Purpose: Heatmap & click video tracking
Cost: Plans starting @ $89 – $589/month
Similar to Crazy Egg, Hotjar is a user-tracking tool that records visitor interactions with a website. You can video click movements as they’re happening, generate heat maps, view visitor paths through content, etc.
Visitor Conversion Tools
Lead Pages: Easily Convert Visitors from the SERPs
Purpose: Popup & landing page creation
Cost: Plans starting @ $25 – $199/month
Leadpages.net is a subscription-based web page and light box builder26. It has a drag-and-drop interface allowing users with no programming knowledge to build visually appealing landing pages and popups that are already designed to convert web visitors into leads. You can choose from among dozens of free and paid templates, host the content on Lead Page’s servers or use the WordPress plugin27 to host your creation right on your site.
Cheap Domain Names — Namecheap https://www.namecheap.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
SEMrush — Online visibility platform https://www.semrush.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Ahrefs SEO Tools: Backlink Checker & SEO Report https://ahrefs.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Link Explorer: Moz’s Backlink Tool & DA Checker https://moz.com/link-explorer. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool & Crawler Software https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Copyscape Plagairism Checker — Duplicate Content Detection Software https://www.copyscape.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Duplicate Content — Google Search Console Help https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66359?hl=en. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Google Analytics https://analytics.google.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
About Search Console — Google Search Console Help https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9128668?hl=en. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Get your website on Search Console — Google Search Console Help https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6332964?hl=en. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
“Rolling out the mobile-friendly update” Google Webmaster Blog https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2015/04/rolling-out-mobile-friendly-update.html. Published 21 Apr. 2015. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Mobile-Friendly Test — Google Search Console https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Google Page Speed Insights https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Google Trends https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=US. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
“Understand how search data works” Google Developer Guide https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/intro-structured-data. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Google Structured Data Testing Tool https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Answer The Public https://answerthepublic.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
SEO Reporting Tool & Marketing Dashboards for Agencies — Agency Analytics https://agencyanalytics.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
SEO for Everyone + Yoast https://yoast.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
JSON-LD Schema Markup Generator https://www.jamesdflynn.com/json-ld-schema-generator/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Local SEO Tools, Citation Building & Reputation Management — BrightLocal https://www.brightlocal.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Moz Local Overview https://moz.com/products/local. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Buzzsumo: Find the Most Shared Content and Key Influencers https://buzzsumo.com/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.
Leadpages: Landing Page & Lead Gen Software https://www.leadpages.net/. Accessed 16 Apr. 2019.