Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, can feel like such a rollercoaster. An out of control rollercoaster. A lost cause. A mind game of the most frustrating kind.
SEO is hard. There’s a reason there are experts in the subject. People who make it their life’s work to stay up to date on all the algorithm changes, best practices, new tools, and strategies that will continue to work long after Google has changed things up, yet again. Fortunately, many of these people are happy to share their knowledge, and their tools, on that beautiful thing: the Internet. Often for free. (In fact, all of the tools we’re going to send your way have both free and paid pro plans. When you’re just starting out, the free plans offer more than enough tools and useful information for your SEO purposes.)
So, even if you’re just starting out, complete with a healthy case of fear-of-the-SEO, it can actually be made a whole lot easier by listening to those people, taking their advice (lock that ego back in its box big fella), and using the tools designed to make your SEO implementation, and tracking, slightly less of a brain bomb.
Here, we’ll outline our 7* favourite SEO tools for 2019.
*Full disclosure: Honestly, we could have given you at least 7 more tools that we love, but SEO can be overwhelming enough without adding more options to your plate. After all, nobody enjoys bloat. Even with this list of 7, we recommend you choose just your top two to start with. Once you’ve got a handle on those two, add another one or two to your arsenal and keep building from there.
1. SEO Tool #1: Quality Content
Full disclosure: this one isn’t really a “tool” as such. But when it comes to winning at SEO, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that quality content is king. After all, as Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, once put it: “Content is the reason search began in the first place.”
With Google’s algorithms constantly changing, only one thing remains certain: if your content is good, if it’s relevant to your business, product or service, and if it matches user intent, you will get found online. What SEO does, is to make sure you’re found “immediately”, rather than “eventually”.
Don’t fall prey to those loudly touted quick fixes, tricks, and SEO hacks you’ll see popping up online with frightening regularity. Just like trying to beat the house in Vegas (baby), you’re not going to come out on top in the long run. Yes, you may very well get in a few, seductive quick wins, but trust us when we tell you, at the end of the night, you’re going to lose. What’s the old chestnut? Oh yes: the house always wins. With Google being the house here, in case you were wondering.
So hacks or con-type tricks or out. There’s no conning Google – or other search engines. They will always weed you out and slap you down.
Quality content is in. Start there.
Learn More: For more on how to write quality content, designed to win at SEO by putting your users, or customers, first, read our post on blogging for SEO here. Although this was written specifically with blogging in mind, most, if not all, of it can be applied to content in general.
Top Tip: Not sure how good your content is? Is it relevant, does it match user intent for your industry? Head over to Text Optimizer for a state of the nation-type broad overview of your website and its current content.
2. SEO Tool #2: Google Itself
We’ve already established that there’s no conning Google when it comes to SEO. As Phil Frost, founder and COO of Main Street ROI, reminds us, “Successful SEO is not about tricking Google. It’s about PARTNERING with Google to provide the best search results for Google’s users.”
The best way to partner with Google? Go to the source. Get your SEO help straight from the horse’s mouth. Go direct to, yep, you guessed it, Google.
Google itself has a number of extremely useful free SEO tools that would be completely insane to ignore. Starting with…
Google Search Console
Make Google Search Console your first stop.
What is it? A suite of helpful SEO-checker tools, designed to (a) help you understand how Google and its users view your website and (b) allow you to optimize for better performance in Google search results.
We’ll let Google explain it to you:
“Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but Search Console helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.
Search Console offers tools and reports for the following actions:
- Confirm that Google can find and crawl your site.
- Fix indexing problems and request re-indexing of new or updated content.
- View Google Search traffic data for your site: how often your site appears in Google Search, which search queries show your site, how often searchers click through for those queries, and more.
- Receive alerts when Google encounters indexing, spam, or other issues on your site.
- Show you which sites link to your website.
- Troubleshoot issues for AMP, mobile usability, and other Search features.”
In short, is quite possibly the ultimate piece of SEO software, straight from the kings of the Internet and, thus, search itself. And it’s free to anyone with a website. Plus you know it’s 100% legitimate, coming as it does straight from Google.
Learn More: For more on Google Search Console, and how to use it, read our post ‘How to Use Google Search Console’ here.
Top Tip: If you use only one of the many, quite possibly overwhelming, features on GSC, make it the Index Coverage Report. This gives you a list of pages on your site that aren’t getting indexed, and tells you how to fix it. Gotta love that Google.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
It’s quite possible that you’re rolling your eyes at this one. We admit, it’s a tool we continue to trumpet, loud and long, to whomever, whenever they’re listening. (Or even when they’re not.) Why? Well Google’s mobile-first indexing is officially a thing. In May 2019, Google announced that “mobile-first indexing will be enabled by default for all new, previously unknown to Google Search, websites starting July 1, 2019. It’s fantastic to see that new websites are now generally showing users – and search engines – the same content on both mobile and desktop devices.”
Although this only applies to brand new sites that Google is not yet aware of, let’s be clear: Google wants your site to be mobile-friendly and there will come a day when they won’t index your site if it isn’t. For now, “For older websites, we’ll continue monitoring and evaluating pages for their readiness for mobile first indexing, and will notify them through Search Console once they’re seen as being ready,” says Google. The writing is on your smartphone screen: if your site is not mobile-friendly, not only will users stop visiting you, but so will Google.
Top Tip: Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is free. It’s easy. It’s one of the simplest, and best, things you can do for your SEO health. Just do it.
3. SEO Tool #3: SEMrush
SEMRush comes up repeatedly when talking to SEO experts and their favourite SEO toolkits. It’s also a go-to for big companies like EBay and Overstock.
What is it? It’s an all-in-one suite of tools that helps you improve your online visibility. And it really is an all-in-one SEO saviour, with many of its single-tool competitors’ features included in the one SEMRush suite. Not only does it give you a great overview of what’s working SEO-wise on your website and where to optimize, it tells you what’s working for your competitors and how to cash in on their success. (It sounds ruthless, but this is business.)
Amongst other things, SEMRush offers you the ability to:
- Compare your website to your competitors’ websites (see our top tip below)
- Find the exact keywords that your competitors rank for
- Monitor and assess your rankings
- Find new opportunities to improve your rankings
- See your leading web pages on a single dashboard – you can see exactly which content and associated keywords are working for you where – using the Organic Traffic Insights feature
- Analyze Google ranking factors affecting your website’s performance and get actionable recommendations based on collected data, using the On Page SEO Checker tool
- And even carry out in-depth comparison analysis of Google’s top 10 performers for your industry.
In short, SEMRush really is a keeper.
Learn More: For everything you need to know to get started with SEMRush, head to their appropriately titled ‘Getting Started’ page.
Top Tip: While we do love that whole elementary school ethos of “it’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game”, when the game is SEO, winning really does matter. (Sorry, Mrs Bindergarten of Kindergarten.) Which is why we love SEMRush’s Domain vs Domain feature so very much. This tool within a tool allows you to compare your website to your competitors’ websites by showing you side-by-side domains’ comparisons, domains’ common and unique keywords, and easy to read data. (PS. You can also see their best keywords… Do what you will with that information.)
4. SEO Tool #4: Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is widely considered by those in the know as the best SEO plugin for WordPress.
Yoast really does make SEO on your WordPress website seem deceptively simple. Almost too simple. Think ‘SEO for Dummies’. Don’t be fooled though: this is a powerful tool with far more to it than meets the eye.
Quite simply: if your website runs on WordPress, install Yoast ASAP. Today.
Let’s start with the SEO for dummies part. Yoast SEO is extremely user-friendly and helps you to easily make sure your content is, well, SEO-ed. The snippet preview allows you to set your keyword phrase for each page, then optimize your SEO title, meta description, and URL to suit. No guessing as to what length to make each of those either, as Yoast shows you exactly what your search engine result looks like in that snippet preview.
Yoast will then perform a readability check on your page, with detailed suggestions on where you can improve: headers, sub-headers, internal links, too-long sentences or paragraphs, post length. All these and more come under scrutiny. The plugin also detects if you have duplicate content on your page or post (with duplicate content being a real bug-bear for search engines, Google in particular); and it scans your page for images to check that all have alt tags to match your primary keyword or keyword phrase for that page or post.
Basically Yoast SEO will tell you if your content sucks or not – at least in terms of SEO. No hurt feelings allowed.
The free version is perfectly powerful, but if you really want to greet search engines at the door to your site with open arms, a bunch of flowers, and a bottle of bubbly, the Premium version offers upgrades which include things like content insights, a redirect manager, internal linking suggestions, and 24/7 support.
Learn More: Head over to Yoast SEO for full details of what they can do for you. As their own tagline says, this really is (Yoast) SEO for everyone.
Top Tip: Yoast’s XML Sitemap Generator helps search engines find, crawl and index all of the pages on your site by automatically updating your sitemap with every new page or post you add.
By setting primary categories for each of your pages or posts you can help Yoast determine the taxonomy for every single page on your WordPress website, and avoid a messy breadcrumb situation. Use it well.
Bonus Points: The plugin gets updated every two weeks, so they’re always up to date with the latest search algorithm shenanigans.
5. SEO Tool #5: Screaming Frog
We love this one, and we’re not alone. For many SEO professionals, the Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool is the first stop on a site and SEO audit journey.
Using a Google-like site crawler, Screaming Frog will crawl your entire website in seconds – seconds we tell you! – and find all your technical SEO issues.
Once you’ve found them, you can fix them.
If you’re looking to fix issues on your website related to content, bad redirections and link building – and why wouldn’t you be – the report Screaming Frog spits out for you is pure gold. With just one glance, you can, amongst other things:
- Find broken links and see which pages are returning 404 errors;
- Analyse page titles, H1s and meta descriptions and identify those that are too long, short, missing, or duplicated across your site;
- Discover other duplicate content;
- Audit redirects by finding temporary and permanent redirects and identifying redirect chains and loops;
- Visualise your site architecture and evaluate internal linking and URL structure;
- Generate XML sitemaps; and
- Find a ton of other actionable insights into your website’s data.
Screaming Frog is good for both quick audits when it comes to finding issues that need fixing, as well as a deep dive into a complete understanding of your website. Either way, it’s an invaluable resource for easy wins in your journey to SEO greatness. And let’s be honest, easy wins are few and far between, especially on the rocking sea of SEO.
Learn More: For full details on how to use this speedy spider tool, head over to their user guide. Don’t be dismayed by the extensive list it offers up: they do most of the work for you, and once you get that first report you’ll be amazed at just how much you can see, and fix, with just a broad overview.
Top Tip: Your website isn’t the only one Screaming Frog can crawl. (Did we mention it does that in seconds by the way?) Anyway, you can also use this nifty tool to crawl through your competitors websites to gain interesting insights. How you leverage those is up to you.
6. SEO Tool #6: Answer the Public
Here’s another piece of SEO candy for you. This one circles back to our #1 SEO tool: quality content. Content that is relevant to both your business and your audience. Content that matches user intent. Content that answers questions your users are asking. Enter Answer the Public. Answer the Public finds questions that people are asking online, in forums, blogs and social media, right here, right now, then turns those questions into keywords which you can leverage to get your answers to said questions out front and centre. Which also translates into getting your brand, product or service out front and centre.
By providing you with answers to what the public is currently talking about (see what we did there?), this tool allows you to easily find top-of-mind topics within your industry to write about on your blog. You can even structure your page content around your findings.
Coming up with regular, relevant, genuinely useful and not-yet done to death topics for your blog can be disheartening. Answer the Public makes it a whole lot more fun. All you have to do is enter a keyword you’d like to rank for and the tool will fetch popular queries, questions and phrases people use when they search for that keyword. Using this information, you can now craft useful and specifically targeted content to get you onto page one of search results.
Learn More: Answer your public now by visiting Answer the Public. (It’s just too easy.)
Top Tip: We’re going to forego technical advice here for just a second to give you some genuinely useful physical help: Answer the Public will give you your 450+ topic suggestions using a pretty, but neckache-inducing, visualization ‘wheel’. Just above that wheel, you’ll see a ‘Data’ button. Click that button to see the exact same info but in grown-up list form. No owl-like, Exorcist-level head rotations needed.
7. SEO Tool #7: Moz SEO Software
No list of SEO tools would be complete without a mention of SEO giant Moz.
Moz continues to impress SEO professionals, thanks,largely, to an amazing ability to stay up to date with pesky Google algorithm changes. More than that, though, Moz offers a full-service SEO tool that tells you exactly, down to the finest detail, what steps you can make to improve the SEO of every single page on your website. It offers keyword recommendations, site crawls, performance insights, comparisons to your competitors’ websites – right down to particular pages on their sites.
Other options included in their selection of free SEO tools include:
- Keyword explorer: search their keyword database to discover and prioritize the best keywords for your site.
- Link explorer: uncover content and link building opportunities, track your site’s link profile over time and compare to competitors for intelligent, targeted link building.
- On-page Metrics with MozBar: examine and analyze important search, social and page metrics of any site you visit right in your Chrome browser.
- Local marketing: see how your location appears on local search engines and directories, and how it can improve with Moz Local and optimize local business listings .
Top Tip: MozBar is a free SEO toolbar that works with the Chrome browser. By adding it to your browser, you are given SEO insights on the go with easy access to advanced metrics on webpages and SERPs.
Bonus Tool: Bulk Keyword Rank Checkers
These are like the candy of the SEO world. The type of candy that you just can’t stop eating.
Keyword rank checking tools – and there are about a million out there – allow you to see where you rank for a specific keyword in Google and other SERPs.
Bonus: it’s just so simple! You plug in your website (or that of your competitor), you put in the keyword (or keywords) you want to check, you choose your country and/or search engine (depending on which one you’re using), you hit go.
Like we said, there are a million out there, and many of the SEO tools we’ve already outlined include one in their suite of tools, but here are a few to get you into the game:
User Warning: This is addictive. Do not use on deadline day. This ‘game’ will suck you in and spit you out hours later.
Finally, we’ll leave you with this quote from Jill Whalen (SEO consultant, speaker and writer; WhatDidYouDoWithJill.com): “Good SEO work only gets better over time. It’s only search engine tricks that need to keep changing when the ranking algorithms change.”
The key word therein is “tricks”. We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. Trickery will get you nowhere. Not in Vegas. Not in SEO. This is no place for the con-men, the magicians, the promisers of quick fixes. While all of these tools do offer help and solutions, all require you to do the work, put in the effort. Fortunately, if you just don’t have the time or energy for it, there are many people who live and breathe SEO. (Yeah, we’re geeks, what can we say.) Contact us for help with your SEO strategy today.
If you still have questions about the SEO tools, please call our SEO experts here at 1st on the List at 1-888-262-6687.