Any business with an online presence can benefit from Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Having an amazing website is pointless if nobody can find it. Effective SEO will improve the visibility and searchability of a website, resulting in more traffic, leads and, if done right, amazing conversions. This is great news for both business and customer: you benefit from an increased bottom line and the consumer benefits from great, relevant content and a standout browsing experience. But how do you use SEO effectively to drive traffic and boost the ranking of your website in Google? Beginners and experts in SEO need the best SEO tools to bump their website to the top of organic search results.
What Is SEO?
SEO “officially” landed in the world of digital marketing in 1997 when Google.com was registered as a domain and search engines became a popular means for people to find information. In the early days, keyword stuffing was king; that is, adding keywords repeatedly throughout the content to improve rankings. SEO has changed significantly since then and continues to evolve. Anyone hoping to improve the ranking of a website and increase traffic must first develop a good understanding of how search engines work, what people search for, how they search and what kind of content their target audience wants to see.
The fundamental purpose of SEO is to optimise a website and its content so that it appears at the top of the search results for relevant keywords and phrases. For example, a website that sells women’s footwear might optimise its website for keywords such as “women’s shoes” and “ladies ballet pumps” in an attempt to rank for those terms, meaning their website will appear front and centre when a user searches for these keywords. Optimisation is the act of making changes to your website design and content to make it more attractive to search engines.
How Does SEO Work?
Websites are regularly “crawled” by search engine “spiders” that help them learn about a site, including what its content is about and how each page relates to another. The ranking signals search engines use to rank content are complex, but in its simplest form, the search engine places the most-user friendly websites offering high-quality and well-written information in the prime positions on its search engine results page (SERP) — providing these pages meet the search intent behind each keyword. It is important to note that SEO is as much about improving user experience as it is about having a well-optimised page, as first and foremost, Google wants to give users the information they need, and if they can’t access that information because of a complex navigation system, for example, the search engine knows that users won’t stay around.
SEO is separate to paid advertising such as Pay-Per-Click (PPC), where a business can pay for ads to appear in the prominent “ad” section on a SERP. Paid ads can deliver fast results for a price, whereas SEO takes considerable time and patience to achieve results. That’s not to say that SEO isn’t worth the investment, though, and it’s a viable strategy for businesses that want to save money and continue to see results years after they first began using digital marketing. But the world of SEO never stands still for long and website owners must keep up to date with Google algorithm updates and new developments in best practice to stay ahead of the competition.
Why Does My Business Need SEO?
SEO takes time and effort, so why shouldn’t you just shell out for fast results with PPC? Paid advertising is a great option for many businesses and it can work hand-in-hand with SEO, which offers a ton of unique business benefits:
- The higher your website ranks, the better click-through-rate (CTR) you’ll enjoy. According to recent research by Backlinko, the top organic result is 10 times more likely to be clicked on than a page ranking in position 10.
- SEO will improve the reputation of your brand. Search engines like Google use a number of factors to determine the authority and ranking of a website, including the quality of its user experience. By optimising your site in this way, SEO provides a credibility boost that instills trust in consumers. Likewise, the more often your website appears at the top of the SERPs for related keywords, the more users will see your brand when conducting research, establishing you as a leader in your industry.
- Local SEO Increases Traffic and Conversions. Whether you own a brick-and-mortar store or you serve individuals in a specific location, Local SEO can be highly effective at moving the needle and getting your business in front of users in your area or the area you’re targeting. Find out more in our Ultimate Guide to Local SEO.
- SEO is Cost-Effective. Compared to PPC and other digital marketing strategies, SEO is relatively affordable. It can take time to see results, but the investment will pay off for years to come.
Listen our podcast with the founder of Brighton SEO, Kelvin Newman, to learn more about the future of SEO and how you can use it to generate big results for your business.
What Are the Best Free SEO Tools?
All businesses have a budget, big or small. There are some great paid SEO tools, but some tasks can easily be performed using these great freebies.
- Google Analytics is the most popular free web analytics tool, and it’s a must-have. Google Analytics allows marketers to track the success of their SEO efforts by providing a wealth of data on the traffic arriving on a website. With this data, businesses can develop and adapt their SEO strategies to achieve better results.For SEO purposes, the “Channels” report (located under “Acquisition” and “All Traffic”) is the most interesting feature of this platform. By clicking on “Organic Search” you can drill down into metrics such as the number of visits and how long they spend on your site, while you can use the Organic Keywords report to see your top-performing keywords. You can even build an SEO dashboard to get an overview of your most important metrics.
- Screaming Frog is a great SEO tool for on-page optimisation. The free version of the SEO Spider Tool allows users to crawl up to 500 pages of a website. Find out how your website appears to search engine crawlers and pick up on errors that are impacting your overall site health, such as duplicate title tags and missing tags. Screaming Frog can also analyse page titles and meta descriptions, find broken links, flag errors and redirects, generate XML sitemaps and provide site visualisations.There is a paid version of this tool that offers extra features, but the free version is ideal for smaller sites and provides plenty of insights into SEO performance to get you started.
- Answer the Public is a user-friendly tool that helps businesses generate ideas for target keywords and phrases. Simply enter a keyword or topic related to your offering and select your language and region. You’ll then see a visualisation of questions and search terms related to your keyword, grouped into categories such as “how”, “why”, “can” and more. If you’re not keen on the visualisation, toggle the view to “data” in the top left of the screen to see a list of the same questions.This is a fantastic tool that marketers can use to identify target keywords and create high-quality content based around questions people are seeking the answers to.
- Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console have a similar offering, although Google, as the more popular search engine, tends to grab more attention. It’s worth checking both out and seeing which interface you prefer, although if you’re more interested in ranking on Google than Bing, or vice versa, you might like to use the dedicated tool.Both tools allow you to monitor a website’s performance. Bing’s keyword reports, keyword research and crawling data will be of most interest to marketers tasked with improving SEO. Google Search Console’s “Fetch as Google” feature provides a quick and easy way to detect SEO issues and make modifications, as it allows users to view URLs as Google does. If you’re concerned that Google isn’t effectively crawling — and, therefore, ranking — your site, Google Search Console should be your first port of call.
- Keyword Hero helps marketers to tackle the issue of missing (“not provided”) keyword data in Google Analytics, which can make it difficult to determine if a particular keyword is a viable target. It’s quick to set up and easy to use; simply grant the tool access to your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts and away you go. Then you can view organic search words for key landing pages and drill down into session metrics such as “sessions per keyword” and “keyword conversion”.Understanding the intent of organic traffic is a key element of effective SEO and Keyword Hero can help you do this.
There are hundreds of free SEO tools that can make life easier for marketers. Narrow down your search by picking an area of SEO to focus on, such as on-page optimisation, link prospecting or technical auditing. Each tool offers something different and the free versions often have a lot to offer.
Are you seeking a little SEO inspiration? Check out our podcast to see how a company dominated its market in just two years using some awesome SEO strategies.
What Are the Best Paid SEO Tools?
Free tools should not be discounted, but sometimes, the only way to access the feature-rich SEO tools you need is to pay for them. These tools are some of the most established and well-reviewed on the market.
- Majestic SEO is a huge piece of kit that provides comprehensive reports on a website’s backlinks, keywords and more. It advertises itself as a backlink checker and link prospecting tool. Majestic’s “Citation Flow” (CF) is similar to Moz’s “Domain Authority” (DA) in that it indicates how influential a particular URL is. It’s important to note that third-party metrics like DA and CF aren’t official ranking factors, but they can help you identify the most authoritative and relevant publications to achieve links from, which can give you a healthy ranking boost. You can link the platform’s webmaster tools to your Google Webmaster Tools account for an extra punch.There are three payment plans to choose from — Lite, Pro and API — and prices range from $49.99 to $399.99 per month depending on the level of usage and features you need. Majestic offers its customers massive datasets that are easy to use and understand. It’s well worth the investment to gain access to information that could put you leagues ahead of your competitors.
- SEMrush is one of the most popular tools with experts in the industry. It can generate analytics reports to help you understand website search data and competitor activity, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.The On-Page SEO checker allows users to monitor their ranking and brainstorm ideas to improve it. There’s also a handy domain analysis tool that allows businesses to compare their website’s performance with that of competitors. It’s great for keyword analysis, too. SEMrush will analyse the top 100 domains for a keyword or phrase, and the Full Search Report can be used to generate alternative keyword ideas.There are three price plans available plus a custom solution — Pro, Guru, Business and Enterprise. The Pro plan starts at $99.95 per month, with the Business plan coming in at $399.95 per month. The lower-priced option limits the number of results returned for reports and it lacks some of the more advanced features that come with the Business plan, but it still packs a real punch and many professional SEOs wouldn’t be without it.
- MozPro is a user-friendly favourite with beginners and experts. It provides a suite of tools, including its “Link Explorer”, which provides a detailed analysis of any URL entered. You can use the “Keyword Explorer” to generate keyword volume data, such as monthly search volume and organic click-through rate, as well as related keywords to target. Some features, such as the MozBar, are available for free. This toolbar is a quick and easy way to see the authority of a page or domain and its metadata — it’s perfect for a quick check.Moz has established its reputation by keeping up to date with Google algorithm updates and providing excellent customer service via its help hub and podcasts. There are four price plans — Standard, Medium, Large and Premium. Subscription fees range from $99 to $599 per month, but businesses benefit from a reduced monthly fee when opting for an annual membership.
- Ahrefs is one of the most highly recommended SEO tools. A one-stop-shop for all things SEO, it allows you to identify competitor backlinks, flag areas of your website that need improving using the Site Audit feature, track trending content and research keywords. You name it, Ahrefs can do it. It has one of the largest databases of backlinks and is second only to Google in terms of website crawl capacity.It shares a lot of similar functionalities with SEMrush, so you won’t need both. You can take advantage of trial periods to take each for a test drive and see which platform you prefer. There are four price plans for Ahrefs, ranging from $99 to $999 per month. Choose from Lite, Standard, Advanced or Agency plans.
Getting to grips with SEO is essential for developing a website that drives high volumes of relevant traffic and, importantly, converts users. There are countless tools available to help you succeed, so why not build your own SEO kit by mixing paid and free tools to meet your business needs on a budget?