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Search engine optimization can be one of the highest-yield investments you make in your brand. But if you’ve spent much time with SEO, you know it’s both an art and a science.

Emphasis on “science.”

Because let’s be candid. A thoughtful, beautifully-written piece of content won’t pay the bills.

What will make you more money is more qualified website traffic. Crafting elegant content that’s backed by research and data will help you earn that traffic. And that’s what SEO is all about.

What are SEO tools?

It’s nearly impossible to nail the data-driven aspect of SEO without tools. SEO tools help you effectively deploy SEO techniques for your website. They provide research and insights to help you focus your SEO efforts instead of just shooting in the dark.

What is the most effective tool for SEO?

Although some platforms claim to be a “one-stop shop” for SEO, most marketers use a variety of tools to carry out their SEO strategy. The best tool for the job depends on your goal.

What kinds of research should drive your SEO plan? There are three big ones:

Here are the tools we recommend for each.

To evaluate current performance:

One of the best predictors of future performance is past performance. For assessing your current content’s performance, Google’s free products can provide all the insight you need. Use Google Search Console to learn which queries are already bringing users to your site. You can also see which keywords are earning impressions but have a low click-through rate. These are golden SEO opportunities.

To see which content is getting the most traffic and engagement, check out the reports in the Engagement tab of Google Analytics. Google Analytics has a learning curve, but you’ll get the hang of it after spending a bit of time with it. For step-by-step resources to mine meaningful data in GA, we love Analytics Mania.

For competitor research:

Knowing who your competitors are and what they’re doing is foundational for SEO. This information helps you determine where you need to cover the same bases as your competitors. And more importantly, it can uncover content gaps that are opportunities for your brand to shine.

For competitor research, you’ll want a third-party SEO search tool. SEMRush’s competitive research tool allows you to find some information for free. In most cases, you’ll need to pay for a tool to get substantial competitor data.

For keyword research:

Keyword research is an essential step in developing an SEO marketing strategy. The more you know about what your target audience is searching for and which terms they’re using, the better your keywords will perform.

Ahrefs has an excellent free keyword generator that can get you started. Just enter a keyword to see useful metrics like search volume, traffic potential, and keyword difficulty.

What 3 Google tools would you use for SEO?

If paying for sophisticated SEO tools is outside your budget at the moment, you can accomplish a lot with these three Google tools.

1. Google Analytics

Once you’re comfortable in GA, a world of valuable data opens up. Of course, you can see how users are engaging with your existing content. Here are a few other ways to use it for SEO:

Google Analytics

2. Google Search Console

GSC isn’t as notorious as its cousin Google Analytics, but it has a wide range of uses in SEO. In addition to query data, it also tracks backlinks to your site. This information is a great place to start when targeting publications to build future backlinks.

Google Search Console can help you identify technical issues that might impact your site’s search rankings, like broken links, duplicate content, and crawl errors. It will also alert you of any potential security issues such as malware or user-generated spam.

3. Google Keyword Planner

Many marketers use Google’s keyword planner for paid search campaigns, but you can also use the data for SEO. You can even enter your website to see examples of SEO keywords that match your existing content.

Build your data-driven strategy with SEO tools

An SEO strategy without data is… well, it’s not much of a strategy at all. Like many of the finer things in life, SEO strikes a balance between art and science. Between the tangible and the intangible. Luckily, there are lots of SEO tools out there to help you with the research portion of your plan.

Picture this: You’re scrolling through the latest business news, sipping your coffee, when a statistic jumps out at you.

Nearly 70% of online experiences start with search.

What? No way. That can’t be right.

You tap the microphone icon on your phone. “What percent of online experiences start with search?”

And then the irony hits you.

These days, search engines are the ports from which our inquiring minds disembark. And yet, search engine optimization is basically a footnote in your marketing strategy.

If you’re ready to devote more resources to search engine optimization techniques, you want to get it right. You might be wondering, Can I do SEO by myself? Do I need paid SEO tools? An agency partner?

Let’s dive in and answer these questions.

Can I learn SEO myself?

The short answer is yes. You can learn a lot about SEO strategy on your own if you’re a business owner or a marketer who’s never dipped your toes into SEO. It’s possible to DIY SEO for small business, at least for the basics.

Does SEO work for small business? Absolutely! Even small teams with modest budgets can produce strategic content to bring in organic web traffic over time.

Can I do SEO for free?

Yes, you can do SEO for free to an extent. Between free tools, self-learning, and manual research, you can address many of the important SEO factors.

However, most marketers and business owners eventually hit a ceiling when doing SEO for free. Most of the free tools available have built-in limitations to drive users toward a paid subscription. (Hey, we’re all out here to make a living.)

It can be frustrating to make it so far through an optimization process only to hit a wall. You might decide that paying for subscriptions to some tools is worth the investment. Our recommendation: Try the free version of the tool first to see whether it meets your needs. Many tools also offer a free trial of advanced features.

What is the best SEO checker tool?

There are lots of SEO tools out there, ranging from completely free to $500+ per month subscriptions. If tackling SEO by yourself seems intimidating, start by evaluating your existing content. Here are some of the best SEO checker tools to help you create a great SEO strategy

Audit your site

Most SEO tools include a site audit feature. Why start with an audit? Using a tool like SEMRush’s free website audit will help you identify glaring issues and opportunities for improvement. With the report from a tool like this, you’ll see how your site stacks up in terms of speed, crawlability, internal linking, and more.

Identify high-performing keywords

Most searches happen on Google, so it’s no surprise that several of the best SEO tools come from Google. To see which keywords are already bringing in traffic, look no further than Google Search Console. Go to the Performance tab and look in the Queries section to see what your visitors searched to end up on your site.

Analyze backlinks

Curious how many backlinks your content has earned? Serpstat’s backlink analysis tool will give you all the data you need. Reviewing this data will give you a good idea of which types of sites are likely to link to your content in the future.

Assess overall site performance

Google’s got you covered on site performance as well. Google Analytics is a trove of valuable data. To see which content on your site has gotten the most traffic, go to the Reports tab and then Engagement > Pages and Screens report. You can also build custom reports to dig into the nuances of your content’s performance.

Efficiently scaling your SEO efforts

The main reason folks often decide to pay for SEO tools or partner with an SEO agency is efficiency. Sure, you can cobble together your manual research with insights from free tools. You’ll be able to make some progress that way.

But is that the best use of your time? What else could you accomplish for your business if you invested in getting better results more efficiently?

If your budget allows, the most effective and efficient way to achieve your SEO goals is to partner with an agency. They’ve done the research. They know your industry. And they have the relationships to earn your content authoritative backlinks.

The bottom line is: Yes, you can build an SEO strategy by yourself for free. But when you start to see results (and you will!), it’s hard to scale a DIY approach. When you get to that point, it’s time to get out the big guns by paying for SEO tools. Or better yet, hire the big guns by partnering with a full-service SEO agency.

Abraham Maslow said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When it comes to search engine optimization techniques, it’s important to make sure you have the right tools for the job. Otherwise, you might end up with SEO content that shines in one area but misses the mark in another.

Which SEO tools do you absolutely need, and which can you skip? And is it possible to do SEO yourself for free? Let’s explore these questions and more.

What are SEO tools?

SEO tools are programs that help you use SEO techniques for your website. With these tools and techniques, you can work to improve your website’s ranking and appearance on the search engine results page (SERP). Over time, a well-designed strategy can earn you a high volume of traffic that’s organic - meaning you haven’t paid for it.

Of course, organic traffic isn’t free. It takes resources to research and develop your strategy. And it takes even more resources to deploy it. You must plan the content, create it, and promote it with organic tactics like backlinks and social sharing.

But done right, the return on your initial investment in SEO will be astonishing. With the right tools, your SEO strategy can build your authority and bring in qualified organic traffic for years to come.

Can I do SEO by myself?

In short, yes. Armed with some foundational knowledge and valuable tools, you can get started on SEO basics by yourself. Some marketers and business owners prefer to start this way.

If you have the time to invest in self-learning, a DIY approach is a good way to get some hands-on SEO experience. That experience will contextualize any work you do with an expert down the road and help you make better decisions.

However, if you don’t have time to spend learning SEO and need results right now, it might make sense to hire an expert. That could be an in-house specialist or a full-service SEO agency.

Can I do SEO for free?

There are both paid and free SEO tools available to boost your efforts. Some of the best SEO tools for beginners are the free versions of paid tools. As you start to make progress, you’ll eventually run into features that are only available for paid users.

Using a trial or free version will allow you to learn what the tool does and decide whether it’s worth paying for a more robust version. You don’t need a tech stack of 10 expensive SEO tools. Instead, try several as you build out your systematic SEO process. Take note of where you consistently hit a wall with free tools.

Evaluate: Is there a way to gather the desired information manually? Can you build that into your process? How much time would you save with the paid tool? Often, it’s worth it to pay for a feature that buys back your team’s time for more strategic work, and less data entry and basic research.

How much do SEO tools cost?

The functionality and cost of SEO tools vary widely. Many of the big players in the SEO tech space position themselves as all-in-one solutions. Their target customers are large brands in competitive industries.

These companies have a lot to gain from dialing in their SEO efforts and capturing the top SERP rankings for all their target keywords. With such a high ROI, enterprise-level SEO platforms can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

However, there are also free SEO tools and everything in between. Tools that are less comprehensive than the big players but still sophisticated can cost around $50-$100 per month depending on the level of functionality you need. Typically, you’ll need to pay for any tool that gives you access to exclusive information like competitor analysis.

Why should you use SEO tools?

Most SEO tools are designed to help with the research that goes into an effective SEO strategy. They provide data you don’t have access to, or quickly synthesize data that would take a long time to pull together.

And, well, we don’t have to tell you about the importance of rooting your strategy in data. It takes a lot of time and resources to create high-quality content with a chance of ranking. Even if your marketing budget is in the millions… you can’t afford a “spray and pray” approach to SEO.

Here are a few ways you can use SEO tools to build a data-driven plan:

Chances are, once you start digging into your SEO tools of choice, you’ll be blown away by the data available to inform your SEO strategy and tactics. The most successful brands are using tools for SEO, and you should take the opportunity too.

Does Google have free SEO tools?

Yes, as the world’s largest search engine, Google has several free tools that are valuable for beginners and experts alike. They can give you baseline information and complement any paid tools or services you might use.

The three main Google SEO tools are Google Analytics, Keyword Planner, and Search Console. We’ll talk about all three as well as some of the leading paid SEO tools on the market.

Google Analytics

Which is the best SEO tool?

What are the best SEO tools for digital marketing? It depends. There are tools for each phase of your SEO plan. Most of the huge, all-in-one solutions have features that can help with every phase - and price tags to match.

Should you invest in one of these all-inclusive platforms? You might decide that approach works best for your organization. But first, let’s pour one out for our brothers and sisters who have fallen talk about falling for to the SEO tool “paradox of choice.”

Getting sudden access to 50+ new features can be paralyzing. Without the right context and experience, you might feel unsure how to use your new platform effectively… and therefore, not use it at all.

To avoid this, you can put together an efficient plan by choosing to pay for specialized tools where you need them most. Or, if you don’t have an in-house SEO expert to manage a suite of tools, it might make more sense to hire an agency.

Keyword research tools

High-performing content starts with choosing the right on-page SEO keywords. Sure, you can win some organic traffic with excellent content even if you haven’t chosen a keyword. But since you’re spending all that time on content, don’t you want to get more than “some traffic”? Don’t you want to get the most traffic you can?

That’s the purpose of researching and optimizing to for keywords. It’s not keyword stuffing. It’s not “black hat SEO.” It’s simply adding a strategic layer into your content creation process. We’ve said it before, elegant content doesn’t pay the bills. Strategic content does. And the best SEO content is both.

What are the best SEO keyword research tools? We like Ahrefs’s keyword generator. It provides volume and difficulty metrics for any keyword. For a free tool, try Google’s keyword planner. You can enter your website to see keywords that match your existing content. You can also get volume forecasts.

Tools to audit your site

Before you can create new content and deploy new SEO tactics, you have to know how your current site is performing. There are a few tools to help in this area. SEMRush’s website audit tool will give you a report on the technical aspects of your site. You’ll easily identify concerns and opportunities with elements like site speed, crawlability, and internal linking.

To assess your existing content’s performance, Google Analytics has you covered. You can build custom reports on your most important content metrics, like:

Google Search Console also has several features designed specifically to help you check your website’s current search performance. You’ll be able to answer:

Google Search Console top landing pages

Content optimization tools

The information you uncover when auditing your site will help you optimize it. As you’re creating new content, you can also use SEO tools to ensure it’s optimized and ready to put its best foot forward. Among the big SEO players, SEMrush and Moz both have features to help optimize your content.

If you host your site on WordPress, you can also use a search optimization plugin like Yoast. In addition, newer tools like use artificial intelligence to help you build and optimize your content.

All these content optimization tools are designed to give your content has the best chance at ranking for your target keyword. They’ll help you make sure the keyword appears in all the right places and including meta data fields. Some of them also look at the content currently ranking for your keyword, and then provide additional keywords to include and questions to answer.

Tools for analyzing backlinks

Building backlinks is an off-page SEO technique you can’t afford to skip. One of the best ways to target publishers for future backlinks is to look at who has linked to your content in the past. Serpstat’s backlink analysis tool provides insights like number of backlinks, referring domains’ quality scores, and competitor backlinks.

If you don’t need that much detail, you can look at the Links report in Google Search Console. You can also  find insights into the engagement of your backlink traffic in Google Analytics. Here’s how:

  1. Check out the User acquisition report under Reports > Acquisition.
  2. Filter the first column to First user source / medium. Now you can see how many users were referred from specific websites.
  3. Click the plus sign to add a new column to the report. Add a column for Landing page + query string. Now you have insight into where users landed on your site for each referral source.
  4. Look to the engagement-focused columns on the right to see how engaged each group of users is and how they’re converting.

You might need to use data from any or all of these sources to put together a well-rounded view of your backlink performance. You know what they say: The more data, the merrier.

SEO tools help you prioritize and thrive

Search engine optimization is a broad field that can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to prioritize the work. And when it comes down to it, this is what SEO tools help you do. They provide data and context to help you figure out which elements of your SEO strategy are the most important.

Without the right tools, your SEO marketing strategy will fall flat. You won’t get the results you expected. And worse, you’ll waste a lot of effort doing work that a program could’ve done in a fraction of the time.

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