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Essential Tools for SEO

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This post is part of a series called SEO Fundamentals for Web Designers.
All You Need to Know About XML Sitemaps
Optimizing Images for SEO

During this session we’ve had some rather technical articles about SEO, so it’s time for a short breather. We'll do this by taking a look at some of the tools that are useful for search engine optimization.


Search Engines

The most obvious tools for an SEO are the search engines themselves. They’re free to use and you can use them as much as you want.

With a simple search you can see how your pages are displayed in the SERPs and check your titles and meta descriptions. Perhaps you’ll even see rich snippets, created by structured data. But if your page doesn’t show up at all, you might have gotten a penalty or you have problems with duplicate content. You can even check the amount of pages that are indexed via the site: search command.

There’s a lot you can do with a search engine. To get the most out of your search effort, you could use advanced search operators such as site:, intitle:, inurl:, etc.


Webmaster Tools

Both Google and Bing have Webmaster Tools where you can find a ton of information about your website. You can discover crawling errors, check the index status, control your sitemap, get traffic information and more besides. They serve as dashboards for everything that search engines do when indexing your website.

These services are free and they take just two minutes to set up, so why wouldn’t we use them?


Web Analytics

Web Analytics are a *must* have for every website. No matter how small it is, web analytics can give you valuable information on how to improve things.

How do web analytics have an influence on SEO? Well, you can see where your visitors come from (Google, Bing, Facebook, Ads...), which pages they visited, how long they stayed on your site... You can even see which keywords they used to find your site in search engines and the average position for certain queries. Geographical data, social analytics, visitor flow information... are also included. The possibilities are endless.


Keyword Tool

Every website owner wants to attract as many visitors as possible. That’s why choosing the right keywords is essential.

A simple example: let’s say I’m planning on selling football jerseys online. Is ‘football jersey’ the best keyword to use? Or should I use the term ‘football shirt’?

To get an idea about the traffic potential of both keywords, I can use the Adwords Keyword Tool. When I enter both keywords I can see that there are roughly 110.000 search queries per month for ‘football jersey’, compared to 165.000 for ‘football shirt’. In this case I would use the keyword ‘football shirt’ throughout the site and create some landing pages that target the ‘football jersey’ keyword.

Traffic potential of two keywords in Adwords Keyword Tool

The Keyword Tool can also give me ideas for new pages. The term ‘football shirt kits’ is frequently used in search queries, so I might want to create a page for that.

The great thing about this tool is that you can apply several filters. You can filter by location, language and device, giving valuable information for local campaigns.

Don’t forget that these are estimates. Simply creating a page about football shirts will never get you 165.000 new visitors. Nevertheless, this data can give you a good idea about the potential of certain keywords.


Google Trends

Another useful tool from Google. Google Trends shows how often a term is searched for. Search volume is relative to the highest point in the chart (100) and allows you to discover seasonality.

If we take a look at the search volume for ‘christmas gift idea’ for example, we see that this term has high seasonality (duh...).

Google Trend for christmas gift idea

This data can be used to analyze sudden changes in traffic and discover new opportunities. After all; SEO is not only about adapting and optimizing websites, but also about foresight and even a bit of speculation.


SEO Software / SaaS

There are tons of web services out there that specialise in certain subdomains of SEO. Below you’ll find some of these services that might be worth your time (it’s impossible to list them all, so I made a selection):

  • Screaming Frog: software that mimics the crawling process of search engines. It helps you analyze a website from an onsite SEO perspective. This is especially useful for larger websites where checking every page manually would be too time-consuming. The free version of Screaming Frog is limited to 500 URLs, but for £99/year this limit is removed.
  • Xenu’s Link Sleuth: Xenu checks your website for broken links. It's also useful if you want to find duplicate content. This software is also frequently used on other websites to identify link-building opportunities (more on that later).
  • Majestic SEO: Majestic SEO has a huge link index, which allows you to perform backlink checks (analyze the links pointing to your website). The free version is pretty basic, so you need a subscription plan if you want to use all the features.
  • SEOmoz: one of my favorite software packages. It has dozens of tools, such as rank tracking, competitive analysis, on-page recommendations... Free for 30 days, then $99/month.
  • Open Site Explorer: this is another SEO tool by SEOmoz. It allows you to check the link data of a website and compare it with competitors. Features and number of requests are limited for non-paying users.

SEO Browsers

I've already mentioned in one of the previous articles of this Session that search engines can’t read certain content types; they have problems with images, flash and other rich media types.

We can see what search engines can see by using an SEO browser such as Browseo. You can also check other important elements, such as page title, headings, response code, etc.


Browser Plugins

Some of my favorite SEO tools are browser plugins. They’re really handy if you want to do a quick check of a website.

Plugins for Google Chrome

  • SEO Site Tools: this plugin is packed with great features. You can check external page data, page elements, domain info and much, much more. It even enhances Google Webmaster Tools with additional data.
  • Mozbar: this toolbar provides easy access to all the great function of SEOmoz, including the very useful ‘mozRank’. If you want to access all features, you need to upgrade to a SEOmoz Pro account.
  • SEO for Chrome: this plugin used to be called ‘Chrome SEO’ but had to change its name. Nevertheless, it’s still packed with useful features that will make your SEO efforts easier.
  • PageSpeed Insights: page speed is one of the ranking factors of Google. With this plugin you can analyze the performance of your pages.

Add-ons for Mozilla Firefox

  • SEOQuake: this add-on is really helpful because it not only adds a toolbar, but it also adds page-specific parameters to the SERPs.
  • PageSpeed Insights: check the performance of your website with this add-on. PageSpeed Insights works inside the Firebug add-on.
  • SearchStatus: with SearchStatus you can analyze keyword density, check the robots.txt file, meta tags, discover canonical links and much more.
  • Mozbar: the same toolbar from Chrome. Lots of features but you need a SEOmoz Pro account to unlock its full potential.

Information

SEO is a field which changes frequently; search engines release algorithm updates, new tools are released, markups change, etc. These constant changes make the optimization process so interesting.

That’s why it’s important to stay up to date about the latest developments in the SEO world. As you all know; knowledge is power. You can use the following websites to stay up-to-date:

  • SEOmoz Blog: one of the best sources of information when it comes to online marketing. They also have a YouMoz blog, where user can post articles (also worth checking out).
  • Google Webmaster Help: this is the YouTube channel of Google Webmaster Tools. Most video’s are made by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. He talks about certain questions webmasters might have, such as negative SEO, reconsideration requests, unnatural links...
  • Search Engine Land: this website covers news about the search engine industry. You’ll find general news and information as well as tips and tricks.
  • Search Engine Watch: besides SEO you’ll find articles about analytics, social media, mobile... Great site with a lot of information.
  • Twitter: Twitter is actually a great source of information. You’ll find interesting news or articles that are related to SEO on a daily basis.

Conclusion

There you have it! An overview of some of the tools that might be useful for SEO-related tasks. As you can see, a lot of these are free, so give them a chance and try them.

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