SEO tools are online utilities and services that support SEO campaigns and analyses in a variety of ways. Search engine optimization tools are available as free services, paid services, stand-alone utilities and parts of SEO tool suites that provide information and analysis for many aspects of SEO execution and research.
Types of SEO Tools
- Website optimization tools, for the most part, analyze your website to identify issues that prevent search engines from crawling your website content properly and ranking your site’s pages according to their merits. These tools serve many functions, including checking for duplicate content, broken links, page-loading speed and much more. Other types of technical tools automate the creation of content and Meta information to support SEO campaigns, such as tools that create XML sitemaps, and tools that create Rich Snippets following the proper structured data formats. These SEO tools can also be used to analyze much of the same information about competitive websites.
- Backlink analyzers provide data about the number and quality of your website’s backlinks, as well as data on any other site — your competitors’, for example. Since a backlink profile is critical for high organic rankings on Google and other search engines, understanding the starting point and monitoring progress in this area is critical.
- Keyword research tools provide data and analysis of keywords that help you identify the best target keywords for your campaign. Some of these tools are quite sophisticated, providing information about keyword search volume, competitiveness and several other factors. These tools may also suggest alternative keywords better suited to your campaign and budget.
- Rank checking tools give you some clarity on where your website pages rank for various keywords, as well as how competitors rank. Rankings are a bit difficult to pinpoint, because Google serves organic results differently depending on a user’s geographic location, search history and other factors. Nevertheless, over time, rank checkers help you understand whether your SEO campaign is going forward, backward or sideways.
- SEO tools for content include technical utilities such as keyword density checkers and the Rich Snippet generators mentioned earlier, as well as qualitative tools such as utilities that analyze the reading level or grammatical correctness of the content in question. Simple niche tools, such as character and word counters, help SEO content producers create items such as Title tags and Meta descriptions with the proper number of characters or words. Content-related SEO tools have grown in importance as Google’s ranking algorithm has become more sophisticated in identifying — and rewarding — high-quality content.
Reliability of SEO Tools
SEO tools vary in reliability. The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to these tools to a great extent. Free tools tend to provide less data and less accurate data than tools that require a fee or subscription. Nevertheless, many free tools provide excellent value, and not all paid tools are worth the price.
It’s important to remember that Google does not provide the public with detailed and complete information about the keywords associated with organic website traffic. In other words, you can’t really tell (anymore) which keywords a Google user used to land on one of your website pages. Thus, SEO tools can’t tell you exactly or predict with perfect accuracy which keywords will produce what amount of organic traffic. And, as mentioned earlier, ranking tools are also approximations that provide data as a snapshot in time rather than data you can rely on to be consistent day in and day out. Ranking tools do have some value in terms of tracking trends in ranking.
A tool’s reliability hinges on the source of data it uses. Google and Bing are the most reliable sources of information — and even with those sources, results can vary from one query to another. We’ve discussed rankings as an area where data is inexact; another good illustration of the problem is website traffic. Traffic reports, even from Google, do not always capture the true source of the visitor. Website traffic can be direct, referred from another website, from a paid ad, from a search engine, etc. For various reasons, traffic sources get put in the wrong bucket, which can make the data rather unreliable depending on the composition of a given website’s traffic.
One way to get a handle on reliability is to compare results from one tool with that of another. Do they match? Are they close? Is the data they produce substantially different?
Another approach to gauging reliability is to read user reviews of SEO tools you are considering. Do they come recommended by professional SEOs? Have organizations obtained quantifiable SEO results using the tool in question? Has the tool been available for several years, or is it untried and untested?
To recap, the data from any SEO tool is going to be inaccurate to some degree. Perhaps what is most frustrating about this is the difficulty in assessing the degree of inaccuracy — is the tool giving you something you should act on? It’s never a good idea to base an SEO campaign solely on data from SEO tools. It takes an experienced, professional SEO provider to interpret data, evaluate its validity and then — and most important of all — determine what if any SEO execution activity should be undertaken based on that data.
In short, SEO tools will not make you an SEO expert.
Google Search Console
No discussion of SEO optimization tools would be complete without a discussion of Google Search Console. Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Analytics, is the most important SEO tool one can have in the arsenal — not only because of the reliability of the data, but also because it provides information about your website with importance beyond SEO (that is extremely valuable to SEO).
Google Search Console is one of many website analytics packages on the market, but is almost always used for SEO campaigns. Search Console captures data on all aspects of user behavior on the site, including time on a page, entry pages, exit pages, traffic sources and much more. Reports can be customized with relative ease. For website optimization, it’s prudent to start looking for the information you’re after on Search Console. If you can’t find it there, you can then consider other SEO tools.