You've heard the saying, 'A poor craftsman blames his tools'. In our world, it's more like 'really awesome tools make me look good to my clients', or similar. Making sure you use the best tools is critical to being thorough, competitive and exceptional at your craft, but staying up-to-date is pretty difficult.
I've been working in the trenches of the SEO industry for 10 years, watching different tools come and go, all gaining in complexity and usefulness as time goes on. Our industry evolves extremely rapidly, and so does your need to keep an eye on what's out there to help you be more effective and agile, especially when it comes to carrying out essential, but often mundane, digital marketing tasks.
Let's take a look at what are new, useful or downright awesome tools in inbound marketing, focusing on some of the key stages of the SEO process: research, technical, link building and content marketing outreach.
To write this post, I enlisted the input of some good friends in my industry, and of course, my team of over 20 SEOs at Builtvisible who work with these tools all day, every day.
Keyword research and audience profiling
Among the classic keyword research tools has always been the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Unfortunately, the Google Keyword Tool is due to close very soon. In its place, Google announced the Keyword Planner, which has most of the data available from the original keyword tool and more to come.
If you're looking for even more keyword ideas, try tools based on the Google Suggest API like Ubersuggest. You'll get far by simply creating a list of keywords and prioritising them by search volume. A really nice tip (first heard via Wil Reynolds, CEO at Seer Interactive) is simply don't click search in Google. Type in your keywords and see what appears in the autocomplete box to get an idea of how people are searching around those words.
If you're building a serious data set, the smart money is in combining different data points for extra validation. Finding low competition, high volume keywords is every search marketers' Holy Grail. For that quest, Moz.com's Keyword Difficulty Tool can help estimate search volumes and combines data aggregated from Bing, rankings for that particular keyword by location and Moz's own link data source, Mozscape.
Bing Webmaster Tools has a nifty keyword tool, showing your average ranking position, the number of clicks you received, and the number of impressions for that particular keyword.
If you're lucky enough to have an Adwords API key, you could consider extracting keyword search volumes via its API by working with your development team (or using an Excel Tool like our Adwords API Extension for Excel).
SEMrush have a powerful API and present search volumes as reported by Google. This excellent article by Russ Jones of Virante found that SEMrush's data had the lowest error rate (compared to its own index) and a high level of coverage.
What about the new stuff? Keyword research as a subset of our industry can move slowly at times. Because there's no direct return for your efforts (just because you've done some keyword research hardly means your traffic will grow), I suspect lower levels of investment find their way into this corner of the SEM universe.
With that said, we're excited about Grepwords (currently in beta) as a newcomer to the keyword research tool space, as well as Searchmetrics, which calculates a search volume based on its own traffic algorithms.
Search engine visibility monitoring
When it comes to your organic rankings, there are lots of interesting tools that are handy for a quick health check or larger scale monitoring challenges. If you're working in multiple locations, and you'd just like a little data, small web apps like Search Latte help you check rankings in different countries quickly and easily.
With that said, some of us want to see all of the data! We use a few tools for rank checking on a day-to-day basis. Getstat is an excellent, enterprise-level keyword tracking platform, with detailed reports, clear data presentation and useful alerts service. It's able to collect ranking data at the regional level, which is useful for tracking rankings by US state, for example.
Advanced Web Ranking is a powerful solution for scheduled, localised ranking, link monitoring, keyword research. It's also a powerful, site-crawl-based search engine accessibility monitoring platform. Combined with proxy services like Trusted Proxies, it's fast and scalable enough for most in-house SME SEO teams and agencies. Usefully, it can be configured to run on a server, with AWR clients connecting to a single data source across your network.
Technical SEO and search engine accessibility
I've always thought Bing SEO Analyzer in Bing Webmaster Tools is a really good tool for quickly identifying on page issues, like malformed containers, missing H1 elements and the like. Its real power comes from a simple to interpret user interface, often lacking in so many 'technical' SEO tools. The tool visibly renders the web page you're analysing, and highlights any issues it finds during the analysis process.
Moz.com's PRO toolset comes with a deep site crawler (lovingly referred to by its team as Roger Mozbot). Approximately once a week, you receive an update to your crawl data, with a user interface that updates you on crawler discovered errors, warnings and notices. Moz have a very simple to use, visual interface that's ideal for newcomers to SEO. Its data export, API services, link analysis and social monitoring make for a well-rounded advanced SEO campaign solution. Export data from its tools includes advanced, technical SEO features like the contents of your X-Robots filed in your server header response. Hardcore!
Lately, Screaming Frog's SEO Spider has become the 'go to' site crawler. Able to highlight SEO accessibility issues, it comes with powerful filtering to weed out specific issues, like missing Google Analytics tracking code. It also has a nifty sitemap generator.
I'm very excited about the premium service, DeepCrawl. It's a great deal more pricey than annual subscription tools like Screaming Frog, and free tools like IIS SEO Toolkit (which is excellent, by the way. Follow these handy installation guidelines), but has the capacity to crawl industrial-size websites with millions of pages. This is something the others simply can't do.
Log analysis has taught me more about SEO than any other single activity in the last decade. You learn so much about SEO simply by looking at the resources Googlebot requests on your website. On that note, we recommend you try the free edition of Splunk with a recent log file export, to see what you can find.
Link analysis, monitoring and reporting
Link analysis has always been a rapidly-evolving area of our industry. In light of Google's very recent Penguin algorithm updates, that evolutionary rate of change has increased exponentially. Every day, Chrome extensions like Check My Links are extremely useful for broken link building and general on page link checking. The rather wonderful Scraper makes light work of fetching URLs in batches from web pages.
Redirect Path from Ayima cleverly logs each redirect step taken when a URL is requested by the browser, frequently highlighting when SEO-unfriendly, multiple hops are mad, or worse, where 302 redirects are lurking in the chain.
There are some well-known players in the link data industry. Majestic SEO and Moz.com's Mozscape both have a vast reach into the link graph (our agency uses the API services offered by both companies for our in-house tools). Probably the most frequently used tool in-house for fast link appraisal at SEOgadget would be Open Site Explorer. For really deep dive stuff we consolidate data from all sources, including Google's Webmaster Tools.
If you're an Excel junkie, managing all of these data sources gets a lot easier with SEOgadget's own Links API Extension for Excel. The Excel plug-in talks to API services from Majestic, Moz, SEOgadget's own Links Contact API and soon, the Ahrefs API.
If you're into deep SEO auditing with Excel, and you'd like a few new tools (like a regex parser) in Excel, install Niels Bosma's SEO Tools for Excel and check out all of the incredible new features your otherwise standard Excel installation now has.
New to the link data scene are Ahrefs. The link data monitoring is extremely fast (new and lost link discovery seems to be a real strength for these guys). We rate the toolset in the 'hardcore' category for link data mining. It has a very powerful API, too.
For the Python-minded, Benjamin Estes's Pyscape is for you. It solves the problem of getting data from the Mozscape API in bulk. Anyone who can run a Python script in Google App Engine should be up and running with this in minutes.
For those times when you think you may have been working with the wrong SEO agency, and your links could be to blame for a recent drop in your organic rankings, we're excited about LinkRisk as a fast and powerful link audit tool. It identifies suspect links that may need removal, and it's a useful tool to base some of your outreach for link building on, too.
Social monitoring and metrics
Social Crawlytics is a site-crawl-based competitive social analytics tool that (among other useful reports) provides page-by-page social metrics, author popularity and a breakdown of page level shares by social network via a solid UI or API interface. It's free, which is nice!
On the subject of social, my favourite tool on the web is Topsy. Topsy's a powerful real-time social search engine, allowing you to search by URL or search term, delivering mentions by social profiles on Twitter and Google+. Here's an example search result for 'SEOgadget.com. Note the ability to filter for 'influential only' results.
The new darling of the real-time mentions monitoring scene is Fresh Web Explorer. You can compare mentions of your favourite terms found on the internet up to four weeks ago, export the data and combine it with other information from your tools. My favourite feature is the ability to find mentions of your site that don't currently link. Very useful.
Hopefully, you've found this list as useful as I've had fun have compiling it! I'd like to thank my friends and contributors to this article: Tom Bennet (@TomBennet88), Chris Yee (@eeYsirhc), Dan Butler (@DBseo), Ally Biring (@timeallytravels), Ian Lurie (@portentint), Aleyda Solis (@aleyda), Sam Crocker (@samuelcrocker), Gianluca Fiorelli (@gfiorelli1) and Geoff Kenyon (@geoffkenyon). All great people in the industry and well worth a follow on Twitter to keep on top of great new SEO tools and tips.
Words: Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter writes for .net. He's a regular contributor to the SEO and inbound marketing industry while running a busy, technology-based SEO and inbound marketing agency, Builtvisible.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.