With the trillion dollar plus annual value of SEO traffic, there is no lack of tools that help to understand Google and optimize websites accordingly. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of tools that can be used to help with SEO rather it is a list of tools that I personally use and find useful. I will continuously update this list as I discover more tools.
When working on a large domain, understanding the size of a site and how it might be viewed on Google is critical. A good crawler will crawl a site similar to how a search engine would discover all the pages on a site. The crawl of the site should tell you any technical SEO issues that might exist and should be fixed. For crawling I have a handful of go-to options, each with specific pros and cons.
Screaming Frog’s desktop crawler should be the staple of anyone doing technical SEO. For smaller sites the free version should be perfectly fine, and for larger sites there is a nominal fee to access the pro version. Screaming Frog allows users to crawl a site and then manipulate the data in a spreadsheet which is the preferable way, in my opinion, to handle large data sets.
My new favorite desktop crawler is SiteBulb which offers many of the same crawling capabilities as Screaming Frog, but also has some amazing visualization tools that negate the need to build charts in Excel. Additionally, it doesn’t have the memory leak issues of Screaming Frog and I have crawled hundreds of thousands of pages without needing to chunk out pieces of the site like I have done with Screaming Frog.
I learned SEO by doing backlink research on Yahoo Site Explorer and then replicating my competitors backlinks on my own site, so backlink research is an SEO process near and dear to me. Throughout my SEO career I have experimented with nearly every backlink tool from Moz to Majestic to SEMRush. My current favorite tool for backlink research (and many other functions) is Ahrefs. Although, again this is a personal preference as most backlink tools will have similar enough data to take action on for a linkbuilding campaign.
Most link building tools will help with basic competitor research which will show the types of links that competitors have as well as the keywords they ranking on. For more specific competitor research I like to use Similar Web which gives me data around total traffic and the percentage of organic traffic. I also use Alexa.com (yes, it’s still around) to show keyword intersections between websites.
When I first started in SEO there were only a few keyword research tools and none were very good. We are lucky that there are so many options to generating keywords that real users search. I typically try to optimize towards users and the queries I need for my sites rather than on search volume alone, but having this data can be very helpful for prioritization.
When I am working with a large site and a big Google Ads spend, I find the data in search query reports from Google ads and the Google Keyword Planner to be very useful.
I also use the competitive tools mentioned above to find new potential keyword ideas as well as keywords that competitors rank on.
For gathering Google suggest terms – which will be terms that users actually search and therefore Google suggests them, I use KeywordTool.io. This tool will also offer suggested ideas from other search engines including Youtube and Amazon.
As people view Google more as a friend than a search engine, they ask more questions within search and AnswerthePublic is a great tool to get question based queries.
International SEO efforts will be similar to domestic SEO except for that it is focused on another country or language. Most of the SEO tools on this list will work for international SEO except the language or country needs to be changed.
Site speed is a part of the Google ranking algorithm, but not a major part. The main reason anyone should care about the speed of a website is because users will bounce if a site is too slow. For site speed, I usually use multiple tools because they are free and quick so more data can’t hurt. Pingdom.com gives a waterfall of how a page loads. Gtmetrix.com displays helpful information on what can be fixed to improve a page/site’s speed. I also use Google’s page speed tool which adds some additional info on mobile page speed.
My favorite site speed tool is simply to lower my mobile device to 3G and to see how fast a webpage loads. If it takes too long to load, then I can assume a real user would bounce on a similarly slow connection.
As I have written previously, I am absolutely not a fan of ever checking search rankings because I think it is the wrong metric to look at. However, there are specific use cases where I find rankings to be very helpful. If a site made a number of changes, I might download a prior months queries and then put them into a rankings tool to see if there has been a massive shift from previously reported Google Search Console positions.
The two tools I use for rankings are Link Assistant’s Rank Tracker which runs ranking queries off of my desktop until I get captcha blocked by Google or my favorite: Rank Ranger. In addition to rankings, Rank Ranger has a ton of other features including competitive insights, schema creators, and social analytics.
My go to SEO tool is Google Search Console which is free and everyone should be using even if they don’t trust the data as much as they should. Google Search Console data can be pivoted in multiple ways to find insights, but the UI is still a bit limited. The way around this is to pull down data via the API. To access the API, I use a Google Sheets plugin called the Search Analytics for Sheets. I have found that this tool has had issues recently with maxing out its API calls so I have had to fall back to building my own lookup tools in R Studio which you can do to if you follow this guide.
Optimization and testing
Most of my testing and experimentation happens manually because getting the keys to the kingdom that is the codebase of a website is challenging. If you are able to get access to either Cloudflare or another CDN, you can use tools like Distilled ODN and Clickflow to do SEO learning at scale. Absent that you should absolutely be testing by making single variable changes on multiple pages and then recording the clicks/impressions over a long time period to discover if there are any statistically significant learnings.
For SEO teams that need to have quick access tools that can do everything on all in one place they might want to use an enterprise SEO tool that can also help with writing bug requests, tracking and dashboards. Searchmetrics is the enterprise SEO tool I have been using for many years and they now also have tools which help content teams draft content that includes all the related keywords that are ranking on other sites.
The goal of any SEO tool is to make SEO less manual and more efficient. These are the tools that I use on most SEO projects and I love that new tools keep being produced to make SEO even easier! If there are any tools I missed or might no have heard about, please let me know.