Hopefully everybody here understands that no tool is going to do your SEO for you. Results demand a diverse skill set. But one of those skills sets is undoubtedly data analysis, and without a good source of data, it’s much more difficult.
Yes, you can get by on keyword research with Google’s keyword tool. You can track your rankings and links by exporting them from Webmaster Tools to a spreadsheet and painstakingly creating your own graphs and data analysis. (And yes, there will always be cases where this is still necessary).
But if you want to get all of this done in a reasonable about of time, it’s going to take a paid tool. And if you want to explore the link profile of the web, audit your site, and find data with any real depth, you’ll still need to open up that wallet.
There are affordable tools within your grasp. Here are a few of the options available.
At a minimum price of $48 per month, this option is a bit more expensive than most of the tools on this list, but I’m listing it first because I still use it quite often, despite having the budget for more expensive tools.
The most impressive feature is the unique SEO correlation testing feature. It’s built to help you test what tactics are actually improving your rankings, and which ones aren’t.
This really gets to the heart of what data driven marketing is all about. If you aren’t using tools to identify the connection between your efforts and your results, you’re using tools for all the wrong reasons.
As for the main dashboard, you get a more organized view of your key metrics than Google Analytics or webmaster tools will give you, plus SEOmoz link metrics (without paying the full SEOmoz price).
The tool sends out alerts if there is a statistically significant shift in your rankings, tracks the impact of your social signals, and comes with its own keyword tool. It also uses extrapolations to estimate what keywords comprise your “not provided” traffic.
The PDF reports are also great for working with clients.
The $48 price tag allows you to track up to 300 keywords and 10 websites, and up to 3 clients. This should be more than enough for startups and small businesses. Odds are, if you have more than three clients, you can also afford the $98 price tag, which gives you 10 client accounts, 1,000 keywords, and 25 websites.
If you only buy one tool, I’d go with SERPS.com for the correlation tests alone.
This is another tool that I still love to use. With the Pro version weighing in at only $49 a month, and the Starter version at $15, it’s hard to argue that this is outside of any company’s budget.
While it doesn’t have a standout feature like the SERPS correlation tests, it offers a well-rounded collection of tools that every SEO can benefit from:
Site Analysis. The website analysis tools essentially audit your domain for errors and areas for improvement. Even those of us who are versed in SEO can lose track, and these tools help catch our mistakes.
The domain analyzer helps with navigation, redirects, and hierarchy, while the crawler warns you about unreachable pages, no-indexes, sitemaps, malware, and so on. A content analyzer also checks for issues like duplicate content.
Link Analysis. The link analyzer tracks your links, and the links of 3 competitors (up to 15 competitors in the Pro version). While this tool lacks PageRank or authority information, it helps you discover anchor text, and measures the spread of no-follow vs. do-follow links.
You can see where your competitors’ links are coming from, and find keyword opportunities.
SearchEnabler also lets you track your rankings for specified keywords, track social media activity and its impact on traffic, and look at visually appealing SEO reports.
While a lot of the functionality that comes from this tool can also be found through a combination of Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, it’s organized and simplified for easy use.
The link analysis is great for finding new keywords and outreach opportunities, and the audit tools can be really helpful for spotting things you might have missed. Considering the price tag, this is a worthwhile investment if your resources are limited.
Another well-rounded tool, this one’s available with several different pricing options, ranging from $7 to $40 per month. They recommend a $15 version, which offers everything but their competitor analysis feature. A $25 version includes competitor analysis, and it’s only limitation is 100 keywords instead of 400.
As you might have gathered, the tool tracks rankings and imports Google Analytics data.
It also includes a surprisingly large and helpful collection of tools for the price tag. One of the most useful is a blog review request tool. You use it to set up a message to send to bloggers in order to request a review of your site.
The tools seeks out relevant blogs and lets you manually select which ones to send the message to. This alone isn’t going to cause your site to overflow with traffic, but it’s a good way to seek out some contextual links.
It also comes with a directory submission tool, but we’d advise against using it since this is a dated tactic with very little (possibly counterproductive) value.
The Facebook and Twitter tools are great. They track mentions on the social networks, even if they use a shortened URL. You can see the messages themselves as well as trends over time. Great four outreach and tracking social engagement.
The $15 and $40 versions also offer a keyword traffic estimation tool. This uses data from the Google keyword tool to estimate how many clicks you should get from a keyword with your current rankings.
A supplement index ratio tells you what percentage of your pages are in Google’s “supplemental index,” the pages that are stored in Google for algorithmic purposes, but which don’t show up in search results.
The tool also lets you track your competitor’s backlinks, although frankly SearchEnabler offers more complete and valuable information on this front.
This is really more of an educational resource than a tool. Small businesses interested in doing SEO for themselves can benefit from the tool, because it walks them through the process, helps them choose keywords, and offers some rudimentary tracking features.
With costs as low as $19.99 a month, it’s worth using for a few months while you are learning SEO.
However, as we have said before, SEO is not a cookie cutter process, and this tool can only take you so far. This tool can be good as an introductory training course in SEO, but after a few months it’s very important to start working on more advanced link building and link baiting tactics that no piece of software can guide you through safely.
5. SEO SpyGlass
If all you’re looking for is a tool to check out backlink profiles, this is a good bet. While it’s certainly no competitor of OpenSiteExplorer, Ahrefs, or Majestic in terms of power, it’s offers comparable results for those with limited resources. Unlike the options mentioned above, SpyGlass isn’t cloud-based. You pay a one time fee of $99.75.
Use SpyGlass to uncover the backlink profile of any page on the web. This is great for competitor analysis. The tool reports the PageRank of each link and lets you sort results by PageRank in order to find the most important links. While PageRank alone isn’t a perfect estimator of rankings, it’s very helpful when you don’t want to dig through an enormous pile of links.
SpyGlass also goes deeper and reports the Alexa ranking, which helps you get some estimate of the amount of traffic you can expect from the link. In addition to reporting the anchor text, SpyGlass reports the title of the linking page, which tells you a lot about relevancy.
Another great thing SpyGlass does is report the IP address of the link. A bunch of links from different sites with the same IP address is a red flag for black hat manipulation, and a sign to avoid grabbing links from those domains.
You can also sort by link type, so that you can exclusively look at links from blogs or forums. Obviously, blogs are better suited for guest posts. Seeking our forum links isn’t necessarily best practice, but it can be useful if you play the forum for awareness and branding.
SpyGlass also goes a step beyond reporting the PageRank by reporting the number of outbound links on the page. It uses this and the PageRank to make a proprietary calculation called “Link Value,” so that you can really highlight the most promising links worth targeting.
At the price of just a single one time fee, SEO SpyGlass is one of the highest value tools out there for link analysis.
You don’t have to break the bank to get your hands on some SEO tools worth using. While it’s worth upgrading from some of these tools as your SEO budget increases, all of these tools are useful at some stage in development.
Remember, if you can’t measure the effectiveness of your efforts, you’ll end up wasting time and resources. It’s worth investing in tools in order to really live up to the name “optimizer.”
Any other tools you recommend?