Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, does pretty much what it says on the tin – it’s all about increasing your brand or company’s visibility in organic (non-paid) search results. Put like that, it sounds simple. But search engine algorithms are far from simple; there are dedicated SEO experts for a reason. Of course, you don’t need to hire an SEO expert to enhance your search engine prominence. As with everything else, there’s an app for that. Every year, a range of exciting SEO tools are released onto the market, making SEO more painless and effective than it’s ever been before.
It’s also important to remember that search engine optimisation should be a constant process, and one not entirely divorced from your general digital marketing strategy. SEO isn’t just the remit of specialists or big companies that can afford a dedicated SEO budget. Every company and every individual with a web presence should be somewhat engaged in the ongoing process of maintaining a search engine optimised site. Luckily, SEO tools, most of which are free or highly affordable, allow ordinary users to monitor and improve SEO over the long run.
So, to help you get to grips with all of the essential SEO tools out there here’s a rundown of the top five.
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is a favourite of many site builders. What does Open Site Explorer do? According to the masterminds behind the tool, it explores backlinks, finds backlink opportunities, and discovers links that might be harmful.
To understand how Open Site Explorer can help your SEO endeavours, you probably need to know what a backlink is. “Backlink” is probably one of the most frequently used words in SEO, and for good reason – they are essential to good SEO. Backlinks are basically any incoming link to a webpage. When website A links to website B, that’s a backlink.
What do backlinks have to do with SEO? They’re a major metric when it comes to the ranking of websites by search engines. In the past, any backlink would do. It was a question of quantity over quality, but much has changed. As SEO whizzes began to abuse the backlink metric, search engines like Google grew smarter and began scrutinizing the type of backlinks in question. Nowadays, only “high-quality”, relevant links from popular, trusted sites will help your SEO.
This is where the last part of Open Site Explorer’s mission statement comes in. Open Site Explorer helps you discover links that might be harmful, i.e. low-quality, spammy links, and invalidate them.
The best way to gather quality backlinks is to create quality content that other sites want to link to. But that’s easier said than done. Open Site Explorer helps you refine this strategy. Firstly, by checking your back references and those of your competitors. Once you have this information available, you’ll be better able to target sources of potential backlinks and learn from others in your industry. Open Site Explorer will also enable you to identify opportunities more broadly speaking. If you want to build links, you’ll need a strategy, and that’s exactly what Open Site Explorer is there for.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool that you can use for pretty much all of your search engine related needs. Although all of the products listed here are “essential SEO tools”, Ahrefs is probably the most fundamental in that it performs a variety of important functions.
Ahrefs basically takes you through the basic SEO process from start to finish. That process involves three general steps: picking a keyword; creating a great piece of content around that topic and promoting that content to boost rankings.
When you begin your journey with Ahrefs, you’ll be using their Keywords Explorer to find the right keywords to drive traffic to your site. Finding the right keywords is often a strenuous and thankless task; without using a tool like Ahrefs it all boils down to guesswork on your part. With Ahrefs, the Keywords Explorer does a lot of the thinking for you. Simply enter in several ‘seed’ words – keywords loosely related to your chosen topic – and Ahrefs will suggest thousands of good ideas.
Again, using Ahrefs you can then test these keywords, finding out which words and phrases would be best at driving traffic to your site. This process is partly about gauging the success of your competitors. Ahrefs can find out which keywords drive traffic to websites in the same industry, and it can learn from their success or failure.
But Ahrefs takes you beyond finding and assessing keywords. Ahrefs can also help with strategy, assisting you with prioritising keyphrases and finding the keywords with highest traffic potential. For instance, if you are a small tea company, you shouldn’t necessarily seek to rank highly for the word “tea”. That’s because you’d come up against every tea company in the world and you’d be swimming upstream against some fairly heavy competition. Ahrefs can tell you this, much more besides, and what to do instead.
Even then, Ahrefs’ utility is not yet exhausted. At the end stage of things, once you have found the perfect keywords and produced some great content, Ahrefs can help you with link building and the more complex aspects of SEO like broken backlink building.
Check the complete guide to use ahrefs.
Of course, no list of essential SEO tools would be complete without Google. When we talk about search engine optimization what we’re basically talking about is Google optimisation. Nowadays, who uses anything else to find search results?
Google AdWords can help you with things like geographic targeting and enhance your Click Through Rate (CTR), but where it really shines is in the picking of keywords. Keywords are the foundation stones of any good SEO campaign, and there are lots of keyword research tools out there, but Google AdWords certainly stands out.
For a start, you can trust the results, because, well, it’s Google. They know what they’re talking about. Google AdWords is also super easy to use. You can enter seed words, or even just your URL in order to generate a long list of potential keywords.
Google AdWords can then help you pick keywords that convert well for you. Google is especially good at helping you avoid keywords that look easy to rank for on paper, but which might not be suitable for you as a business.
Answer the Public
Many people swear by Google AdWords, but SEO isn’t such a simple topic that we can declare one tool the outright winner in the race. Google AdWords certainly has its advantages, but there is more than one way to figure out the basis of a great SEO campaign.
Google AdWords is great at picking high-ranking individual words, but there is one essential SEO tool that takes home the prize when it comes to seeking out and visualizing important SEO key phrases. In order to fully understand the beauty of Answer the Public, you really need to use the tool yourself.
Answer the Public basically lays out, rather attractively, the most frequently used sentences associated with a particular topic. For instance, “Florists in London” yields a variety of results related to specific geographical areas and questions frequently asked about “Florists in London”. Answer the Public is thus perfectly suited to local companies looking for ways to boost their search engine rankings. Of course, the best bit about Answer the Public is that it’s totally free!
Last but not least we have another fantastic essential SEO tool – Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is an unfathomably useful tool for maintaining good rankings and improving your website’s SEO over the long run.
Rather than keyword searches or backlink generation, Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is focused on providing you with data about your own and your competitors’ websites so that you can better improve SEO. SEO Spider is essentially a web crawler – a web bot that systematically crawls the web for the purpose of web indexing. This organisational process generates data, which, in the right hands can help you with your search engine ranking.
The data that SEO Spider collects can sometimes be confusing, but Screaming Frog helps you interpret this information, and there are plenty of guides out there that can help you make the most of this complex web crawling tool. One of the things that really drags down SEO scores is if your website is full of dead links and duplicates. SEO isn’t just about active campaigns, but about maintaining a healthy, well-functioning website that Google algorithms will want to rank highly.
If the keyword research tools cited above function as a kind of active component of SEO then Screaming Frog is definitely more about the maintenance and overall well being of your SEO score.
Taken together, these five essential SEO tools provide everything you need to ensure that your website comes out top in search engine rankings.