When you’re first getting into search engine optimization you’ll quickly find out that there’s a simply astounding number of different tools out there.
For the newbie, it can be extremely hard to pick and choose what you need in order to make sure that you can get keyword research done, your site audited, or whatever else you may find yourself in want of.
I’ve taken the time to find five of the best tools around for you, to make sure that you’ve got a wide range of options right out of the gate.
Eliminate the guesswork and you’ll be able to get ahead with these tools. I’ll detail what they’re good for and how to use them in order to take your page to the next level.
The Top 5 SEO Tools
|Majestic SEO||$49.99-$399.99/month||Backlink Information||4/5|
|Yoast SEO Plugin||Free or Premium for $69 and up||Wordpress Users||4/5|
|Google Keyword Planner||Free||Free Keyword Research||3/5|
While it’s hard to call any SEO tool perfect, Ahrefs has the best overall value for most people. It’ll allow you to do just about anything and while it may fall in second place in some of the areas it’s the cohesion of the whole which most people will find truly impressive when they use it.
For instance, while it might not be as great as Majestic SEO when you’re looking for backlinks, it can certainly give the Majestic network a run for its money.
It may not be quite as good as SEMRush at keyword research… but it’s certainly a lot better than many of the tools out there.
You’ll also be able to get real time tracking through the company which is great for those who want to make sure that they’re constantly on the bleeding edge of their SERP.
On the negative side… it’s pretty expensive. Even the lightest plan they offer is going to set you back a hundred bucks a month. They’ve got a free trial, however, so you can see if you think that it’s going to be worth it before you dive in.
While SEMRush is a fine tool for newbies, Ahrefs might just be the best overall tool for those who are planning on making a living at this whole SEO thing.
Ahrefs is one of the best overall tools around. It’s also expensive and probably better suited for people working in the industry than most of the competition, if you can afford it however then you may be looking at a magic bullet solution with a single tool.
- Great overall tool
- Awesome browser extension
- Suitable for industry professionals
- Free 14 day trial
- No Google analytics integration
Best for Keyword Research
SEMRush is one of the big names in the SEO world. For good reason too: they’re one of the best around overall and when it comes down to it it’s pretty much the best keyword research tool you’ll be able to find.
This is where their specialty lies, with a ton of features which will help you find the most profitable keywords without having to spend hours in Excel and poring over notes. Like most tools, the big advantage is simply in the time saved.
It works great for both examining competitors and mining their keywords and for finding the profitable ones within your niche which you may have overlooked. They’ve also got a ton of fairly accurate proprietary metrics although you may want to take the results with a grain of salt if your intuition tells you something different.
In addition to this, their site auditing features are pretty much second to none. You can’t fix broken links and other problems if you can’t find them, and these can have a deleterious effect on your SEO overall.
Being able to quickly find and fix these can help quite a bit, websites inevitably break at some point after all.
Where SEMRush really shines, however, is in their dedication to keyword research. This tool is simply the best around for it and is one of the best additions a beginning web master can make… if they can afford it.
- Superior keyword research
- Excellent site auditing
- Functional all-in-one tool
- 30 day free trial
- Expensive for most beginners
- Interface can appear overly complicated at times
Best for Backlink Information
Majestic SEO is kind of unique among the tools that we’ve reviewed. It stands out for one good reason, however: it’s simply the best at any kind of link information you may need.
It’s also fairly cheap if you go with the lower end plans, which are enough for most singular entities who might need to be spying on the competition while getting ahead in the rankings.
What it doesn’t really do well is… anything else. Majestic SEO is best used as a complement to one of the more famous suites of tools.
Their historic, crowdsourced database reaches back to 2011, although you won’t be able to access it without going with their pro plan which costs a bit more than the basics.
The entire system is based around their proprietary search engine, called MJ12, which… well, it’s not going to dethrone Google anytime soon although it’s not really all that bad.
It’s an extremely specialized, professional tool for backlink research and not much else. The information can be presented in a wide variety of formats, although much of it overlaps. It’s really easy to use, and quite handy for the entire process however. Pretty much no other tool on the market can equal it in this regard.
Majestic SEO, being as specialized as it is, is something that’s a bit too in-depth for the average webmaster and is instead best suited for those working on SEO in the field constantly. Due to this, it certainly wouldn’t be my first recommendation for someone trying to rank.
Overall, the average webmaster or entrepreneur can give Majestic SEO a pass. If your business is SEO or you’re running an agency, however, it’s a tool which makes a great accent to some of the others on this list and you might just find it indispensable.
- Low cost
- Excellent backlink research
- Quick loading
- Several information display types
- Overly specialized for most users
- No free trial
Best Free Keyword Research Tool
Google Keyword Planner
The Google Keyword Planner is something which you shouldn’t ignore even if you’re paying for the good stuff. There’s a simple reason why: it’s information which comes to you right from the source.
It’s also remarkably simple to use, although many of us find the interface to be quite primitive.
The main thing that you need to keep in mind if you’re using the tool to do your research, however, is the fact that it’s primarily made for AdWords campaigns so the information tends to be slanted in that way.
The suggestions also aren’t all that great for most people, but if you’re creative you’ll be able to dig a bit and find some gold.
Like many of the free tools, the main thing that keeps people from using it exclusively is the fact that it does take a bit more time to use. It also doesn’t have nearly the depth of metrics which you’ll find with services like SEMRush or Ahrefs.
It’s also only usable for keyword research.
Altogether, this makes the Google Keyword Planner an absolutely invaluable tool for those who can’t afford expensive tools, and a good side research project for those heavily invested in their SEO.
- Completely free
- Accurate information directly from Google
- Simple to use
- Simple to read metrics
- Only for keyword research
- Lacks complex metrics which advanced users desire
Best for WordPress Users
Yoast is a pretty much indispensable plug-in for anyone using WordPress. Instead of playing guess work it will clue you directly in to what you need while you’re working.
The fact of the matter is, unless you have oddly specific tastes, nearly anyone running a WordPress site will be using the free version of Yoast. It allows for you to quickly find out keyword concentration, and can point out other flaws in the formatting which can hurt your rankings.
In fact, many hosts which use WordPress will install it right from the outset.
The people who developed it have a deep understanding of what makes the internet work and the plugin is aimed at helping you design content which will strike well with the majority of internet users.
I find that it removes a lot of the guess work.
Of course, that’s all just the free version. If you’re willing to fork over a bit of money to the company you can get a lot more features.
These include the ability to track five keywords per page, suggestions for internal links with your site, and includes even more metrics for keeping track of what’s going on with your content from the user’s eyes.
If you’re using WordPress, I strongly recommend using the free version of Yoast. If you really want to push your content to the next level, then the paid version is a great way to get pushed in the right direction.
- Free version is one of the most useful plugins around
- Super easy to use
- Helps with content readability and all on-page SEO factors
- Paid version offers even more functionality
- Paid version is rather expensive
- Can be troublesome until you get used to it.
Choosing Your SEO Tools
One of the cooler things about SEO is finding the tools that you need, because when you find the right program you’ll often have a “click” moment. When that happens you know you’ll have found the right program for you.
Of course, the only way to know for sure is to try them out which isn’t always possible without spending money. Look for free trials before just about anything else.
Determining Your Needs
For most people, search engine optimization can be broken down into a few different categories and it’s up to you to decide which of them is the most important.
- On-page SEO
- Backlink organization
- Competitive analysis
- Keyword research
Figure out what you need the most before you decide on your tools. Many of us find ourselves using a ton of tools, but as a general rule: paid tools work better, so prioritize them for the information you need the most.
Since each tool is a unique case it’s not often that you can make a simple side-by-side comparison which will solve all of your problems.
This can make it hard on newbies who aren’t sure what they’re looking for just yet, if you’re still in that category you may want to work with free tools for the time being in order to figure out where your weak points are.
A lot of data can be gathered using free tools that didn’t make our list, but it will usually be a much harder process.
There are two tradeoffs for your money that you really won’t get with free tools: access to databases and saved time.
The truth of the matter is that each tool generally offers only a snapshot of the total available data on the internet. It’s simply unwieldy and unrealistic to try to keep track of everything on the internet.
Some companies, such as Majestic, use their own databases which are generally crowdsourced. Others pair with their commercial partners in order to get data from a wider net.
Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages, but the real effect for you is the accuracy of the data you’ll end up with when you make your searches.
Databases are most important if you’re planning on checking backlinks, especially for competitive analysis.
What you can afford is probably one of the most influential factors in how you do things.
If you’re just starting a business on a shoe string budget, for instance, you may be best off working with free tools for the time being. Spend that money on other parts of your business rather than investing in expensive tools.
On the other hand, if you’ve got some serious financial backing or simply have more money to invest than the average dreamer, you may want to consider carefully what you can afford.
The SEO tools you use fall second only to your developed skills in your ability to rank and grow a business quickly, so choose wisely when you’re doing this. Indeed, many e-commerce sites may instead start with social media ads instead of relying on organic search engine traffic to get started.
If you can afford a high-end tool, and you use it frequently, you’ll quickly find that the jump in revenue outweighs the initial cost within a few months.
Keep in mind that just paying for a tool isn’t a guaranteed jump. You still have to do the groundwork, whether it’s a free plug-in or an agency plan with a high-end tool.
Of course, many of these products have free trials as well. If you’re planning on using them then don’t sign up until you have a block of time where you can actually work with the tool extensively in order to make sure that it does what you need.
The capabilities of the Google SEO tool you’re looking for matter quite a bit.
Some tools might be little more than a marked up Google Keyword Planner with some optional, attractive charts.
Others might allow you to analyze every little intricacy of the data you need without any difficulty and present it in a number of ways.
For the most part, much of the capability is going to be based on the internal metrics for the SEO software you’re looking at. Things like “difficulty” and “trust factor” are inevitably going to vary between services due to differing algorithms.
Each tool will have at least one or two of their own metrics, if not several.
No tool does everything perfectly right from the outset, but if you’re a newbie looking for a paid tool the following are probably the best to look for in order of preference:
- Keyword research is pretty much the absolute basic for those who aren’t quite needing super advanced tools yet. Without the right keywords, all of your efforts may end up being in vain after all.
- Competitive analysis is right behind keyword research although it takes a little bit more skill on your part with even the best tools. Scoping out the competition takes many forms, whether you’re looking at their keywords or trying to find where they’ve been backlinked from in order to cut in on their strategy and outrank them.
- Self-auditing your on and off page SEO is another great feature to have. It may rank above competitive analysis as a “must have” for those who aren’t great at it, but I’ve placed it lower because there are simply a ton of free tools to handle it for you.
- In-depth backlink analysis is mainly used by agencies and other professionals in the SEO realm. If you’re planning on breaking into the industry you already know why this is important, but if you’re working in a different field it’s something you likely won’t be doing often.
Some of us grew up on old DOS-based computers and basically anything with clean tables and clear data presentation is fine.
Others are a bit more technically challenged and might find that they need a sleek, modern interface in order to ensure the smoothest experience possible.
If you’re in the latter spot then you’re going to want to find something with a smooth, user-friendly interface. These tools tend to be more expensive, but the easy data presentation can save some time even for technically gifted users.
Interfaces aren’t just about usability, however, and if you know the best way that you can analyze information then you’re on the right track already. A lot of tools can give you a visual representation of data in the forms of different types of graphs or other visuals.
For many people this can help to make sense of things much more quickly than if you were to be looking at raw numbers.
Desktop vs. Plugins vs. Online
Pretty much any SEO program is going to require internet, but if you have to install software in order to use it then it can be a pain to switch from machine to machine.
Others are installed as plugins in WordPress, which means you’ll be using them from the WordPress console.
Your choices here really aren’t that many, just keep in mind that most high end tools are now accessible only from their page… which is actually better since it means you don’t need to download anything.
Bringing it All Together
Tools aren’t going to do the job themselves, but you’ll need them if you’re planning on making any headway.
Like any other industry, the more you know the more tools you’ll end up needing to make sure that your knowledge and SEO skills are being used to their utmost.
I recommend playing with any free trials you can, but if you really want to know if you’re going to receive a good return on the investment it’s probably best to only use one free trial at a time and make sure that you use the tool as often as possible until it’s over.
Either way, pairing yourself with the right SEO software can make all the difference in the end.
Keep your eyes on the prize, keep learning, and happy rankings!