Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an essential marketing channel for small businesses, especially in 2019. To help small businesses with their own SEO efforts, these are the best tools to help you perform critical analyzes and measure success.
Without actual experience in the industry, it is near impossible to properly vet a digital marketing agency. This is why many small business owners choose to do their own SEO because finding a good SEO-focused digital marketing agency is a difficult and often expensive exercise.
In this blog post, I share with you the best tools you should be using to:
- gain real-world data so that you may make informed decisions
- measure the impact of your efforts so that you may prioritize your limited resources that will yield the most ROI for you
- analyse the competitive landscape in order to identify opportunities
- and execute certain aspects of technical, on-page and off-page SEO
FYI, some of the tools referenced on this page are free and some of these tools are by no means cheap. As someone who regularly audits sites and web pages across a diverse spectrum of verticals, I have access to a large array of SEO tools.
These are the best.
There are a plethora of SEO tools and even at an agency level, the monthly subscription cost of multiple tools can really add up. There are tools for SERP tracking, tools for estimating search volume, tools for performing SEO audits, tools that provide keyword ideas, and tools that help with contenting marketing.
Unlike other lists that include every tool under the sun, I’m going to recommend the minimum amount of tools you will need to do SEO yourself for your business.
And at the end of this blog post, I’ll show you where each tool falls in with my SEO workflow. So definitely stick around for that as experience-based insights always trump information.
But if you are looking for a complete list of SEO tools, Brian Dean’s article is a good one.
To make this list of best SEO tools easier to prioritize, I have categorized each tool into its core function and how it relates to your overall SEO strategy. Just as every potential customer progresses through a particular buyer’s journey, so should your SEO strategy and plan of attack.
So without further ado, here are the best SEO tools for small businesses in 2019.
- Best SEO tools for collecting user data
- Best keyword research tool for SEO
- Best SEO tools for performing competitor analysis
- Best tools for website speed analysis
- Best tools for identifying on-page SEO issues
- Best tools for link building
- Best Tool For Content Writing & Auditing
- So, what do you think?
Best SEO tools for collecting user data
Marketing is all about testing. And the only way to know whether something is working (or not working) is through the process of measuring. The only way to measure progress is with data.
There are two essential tools for collecting your website data, both are provided free-of-charge by Google.
Google Search Console (GSC)
Google Search Console is a tool that most small business owners under-utilize, mainly because GSC isn’t super intuitive to use. It is, however, a powerful tool for finding out how your web pages look like in the SERPs in terms of structured data, search phrases that have triggered clicks to your web pages, and the incoming links to your site.
Google Analytics (GA)
There’s nothing like having control of your own data and this is why Google Analytics should always be part of your arsenal. And as time passes, GA will have more data for you to make better decisions on where to focus your business and marketing efforts.
But what if your website is brand new, receives little to no organic traffic, and has insignificant real world data?
Luckily, there is a way to pay for insights. Read on to find out how.
One of my favorite ways to collect insights into user behavior is via Google Ads (previously known as Google Adwords. Whenever I start a project, I will run a short campaign with a small budget to get real-time data into the exact words and search phrases that people are using.
Google Ads reports the actual words and phrases that real people have used to trigger your ads. Rather than relying on educated guesses, this data can help you formulate an appropriate keyword strategy with ease, with real data, and in a short amount of time.
Most small business owners will not do this.
While your competitors are making decisions in the dark, think of this as is your opportunity to gain the insights necessary to make data-informed decisions on your marketing efforts.
Best keyword research tool for SEO
There are a tonne of keyword research tools out there (SEMRush). Some are even free to use (KeywordTool.io). If your site has been running long enough and has decent amounts of traffic, even Google Search Console + Google Analytics can provide useful insights into keywords that are performing better than others.
My pick, however, goes to ahrefs. Read on to find out why.
By far, ahrefs is my favorite tool when it comes to keyword research.
As the above screenshot reads, “research your competitors and monitor your niche”.
Rather than trying to guess what keywords a site should rank for, I am a firm believer that Google provides us with a map of what works. After all, for each search terms, Google has made a decision to rank certain web pages as the first, second, and third organic results. Therefore, all you need to do is to investigate each of the top ranking web pages to find clues as to what you can replicate to achieve the same, if not better, result.
And this is how I use ahrefs, by plugging in top ranking web pages into Site Explorer and looking for keywords and target pages.
Why invent the wheel?
Best SEO tools for performing competitor analysis
ahrefs Site Explorer
In business school, I was taught to analyze the competitive landscape. Applying the same framework, one of my tasks when optimizing a site is to take a step back to see what the competitive landscape looks like.
Fact: The demand for the first page search results far outstrips supply.
If we are wanting to improve visibility in the SERPs, we need to analyze who is performing well and why. And the Site Explorer feature within ahrefs does this with ease. Simply plug in the top ranking URL into the toolbar and ahrefs will produce a number of useful reports.
For example, let’s say my client is in the marriage proposal business in Sydney, Australia. From Google SERP, I know that the domain buythecow.com.au has the first organic position for the head term proposal planner sydney. Putting in the domain into Site Explorer, I can see what else this site ranks for.
After filtering to exclude brand terms, I can see the top ranking keywords and their corresponding web pages. As you can see, most, if not all of their commercial keywords are for their homepage which implies that a competitor could steal the traffic if they were to optimize a landing page for the same commercial intent.
Another feature within Site Explorer that makes ahrefs the best SEO tool for competitor analaysis is its database of crawled web pages. This allows you to see the links that a top ranking web page has and what you can replicate.
As you can seen from the above screenshot, buythecow.com.au has a handful of referring domains. Secondly, they all point to the homepage instead of to target pages. Therefore, if you were in the wedding proposal planning niche in Sydney, using Site Explorer, you could very easily build more links, better links, and to optimized landing pages as opposed to your homepage.
I have only just begun using this tool so for full disclosure, I’m not even scratching the surface of what this tool can do. However, with the little experience that I do have, I have included it into my SEO workflow because it provides so may actionable insights.
In a time where lack of information is no longer the problem, getting data-driven insights to make well-informed decisions is where you can improve your site’s competitive advantage.
SURFER provides you with the exact words that a web page has for its meta description, title tag, H1, and other heading elements.
And you can use this information, in conjunction with analyzing other top-ranking web pages, to conclude various things. For example, you may discover that the top 10 positions all have a certain keyword in their H1-H2. Or you may discover that the majority of these sites fall within a certain threshold for time to first byte. These are all decisions that you can make based on the data that SURFER provides you.
And for this reason, I am recommending it as one of the best tools for competitor analysis.
ahrefs Link Intersect
I know I have already promoted ahrefs before but there is another feature within ahrefs that I think deserves its own mention and that is Link Intersect.
If you believe links to be a ranking contributor then you are going to want to find out what referring domains you lack in order to match the top ranking web pages. This is where Link Intersect comes in super handy.
PS – SURFER also provides data on the number of referring domains and URLs that a webpage has.
Best tools for website speed analysis
Google is increasingly favoring web pages that load fast. It wants to give a solution to its user base as quickly and as efficiently as possible. However, this does not mean that you should spend time and resources on page speed optimization that would otherwise be better spent elsewhere (e.g., outreach, updating content etc).
I think many people get caught up in trying to achieve the perfect ‘scores’ when it comes to website speed. So long as your web page is not the slowest on mobile experience, there is no evidence of being penalized in the SERPs.
Unfortunately, for the average small business owner who has little to no web development background, speed optimization is extremely difficult to do well. One of the best things that you can do for your site is to pay for a premium web hosting service rather than a shared hosting service.
To see how your site performs in terms of page loading time, these are the two tools that I use frequently.
The basic version of GTmetrix is completely free and if you sign up for a free account (by supplying your email), you can pick the location in which you want to test your URL.
One of the best features of GTmetrix as a website speed testing tool is its Waterfall tab. Pictured below, the Waterfall shows every single element that is being loaded on a web page, and the corresponding load time.
Google first announced in early 2018 that they were rolling out mobile-first indexing and in their recent I/O event in 2019, a number of presentations referred to page speed. Therefore, it makes sense to compare how your site performs using the same tool that the leading search engine uses to benchmark us.
Again, achieving a certain PageSpeed score is not the final goal. With Google applying more importance of testing web pages based on 3G speed, PageSpeed Insights is a useful SEO tool.
Best tools for identifying on-page SEO issues
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
In 2016, SEMrush reviewed 100,000 websites and 450 million webpages and identified the most common on-page SEO issues, you may check out their findings here.
Common on-page SEO issues include missing H1 tags, overly long page titles, duplicate meta descriptions, broken internal links, and overly large image files.
Screaming Frog is a handy SEO tool for identifying these on-page issues.
For example, you can sort results by status code in its Response Codes tab to identify 5XX ad 4XX errors. You can identify large image sizes in the Images tab. In the Page Titles tab, you can easily filter web pages that have a missing page title and web pages with page titles that are too long in length.
If you don’t mind paying for a premium crawling tool, consider Sitebulb. Compared to Screaming Frog, it has a much more user-friendly interface and the results are very easy to interpret.
Best tools for link building
I use ahrefs almost every day – mostly because it has one of the largest indexes of web pages second to Google. And this comes in super handy when trying to optimize a client’s site against competitors.
Ahrefs doesn’t build links per se. It does however, provide you with target domains for outreach.
I know many people use Hunter.io. I just personally prefer to use Snovio. Both do the same thing essentially.
In terms of link-building, Snovio can provide you with possible email addresses for a particular domain. Using its Chrome browser extension, you can find email addresses on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any website you visit.
Snovio is one of those SEO tools that requires a significant time investment in order for it to produce effective results. So if you are serious about content marketing, outreach, and link building, this is a tool worth considering.
Best Tool For Content Writing & Auditing
I’m not going to sugar coat it. Clearscope is an expensive tool but I use it for almost every single piece of content I want to rank.
Clearscope is crazy good for telling you what words you should include in your writing. It even prescribes the importance of certain words and will give you a performance score as you write.
Before creating any form of content, you should look at what type of content is performing well. I believe search engines provide enough clues when you analyze the first page results. Therefore, using ahrefs to look at competitors should be one of the first things in your workflow to reverse engineer what’s working for yourself.
So, what do you think?
Did you find this list helpful?
What SEO tools do you prefer to use? And for what purpose?
Do you have any questions about DIY SEO?
Let me know in the comments section below.