Tools of the SEO Trade

Stephan Spencer on
  • Categories: All Things SEO Column, Channel: SEO, How To: SEO, SEO & SEM Tools
  • In SEO, success is as much about your toolkit as it is about your skillset. Without great tools at your disposal, your ability to get the job done is really hampered. At SMX East this month I presented some of my favorite tools on the “Tools, Glorious Tools” panel. (Download my Powerpoint.) What I came to realize from gauging the audience’s reaction to my presentation was that many of the tools I presented were new to much of the audience. That surprised me. This stuff isn’t exactly a government secret. There are blog posts about them, and many are free or inexpensive.

    Sure, there are proprietary, secret tools developed for in-house use, that few of us have heard passing rumors of, and even fewer have been fortunate enough to see. I’ve heard stories of amazingly sophisticated tools both built for in-house use and by agencies.

    We at Netconcepts have developed our own top-secret internal tools too. One of our tools — the Google Directory Mining Tool — I “outed” in the “Give It Up” session at SMX Advanced this year (I’m still questioning the sanity of my decision!). It’s a tool that spiders the Google Directory (Google’s robots.txt allows this), and along the way, compiles a list of all sites in DMOZ with their URLs, ODP categories, PageRank (length of pos.gif), site name etc. This information goes into a database which can then be queried via web interface for high-value link targets (you can isolate sites by factors such as super high PageRank, category, and TLD). So you can, for example, identify all .edu and .gov sites with PR8+ in science-related categories, and export that to a TSV file. The tool can run an optional second pass over the results set to determine data such as each target’s site age and toolbar PageRank. Further automated assessment is planned, like link neighborhood analysis, presence of AdSense or other monetization, presence of attribution links, and presence of paid links. Now that the ‘cat is out of the bag’ on this Google Directory tool, and undoubtedly SEOs are making their own knock-offs of my tool, I figured what the heck, I might as well donate the tool’s source code to our friends at SEOmoz so the tool can have a good home in SEOmoz PRO (subscriptions run $79/month and up). It should be up by the end of the year.

    It’s a huge investment to build your own tools, and many SEOs don’t have such resources — in terms of internal staff or budget — at their disposal. That’s okay, you can accomplish a lot with publicly available tools. Note that you’ll still need to spend some money — for subscriptions.

    Essential subscription-based SEO tools

    There is a small set of paid tools that I consider essential for the serious SEO. These include:

    • SEOmoz PRO tools (page analysis, anchor text analysis, popular searches, crawl test, keyword competitiveness, etc.)
    • Internet Marketing Ninjas tools (common co-citation analysis, your and competitor’s common backlinks, deep link ratio, your neighborhood authority finder, outbound link check with reciprocal analysis)
    • ShoeMoney Tools (backlink analysis, text optimizer, backlink finder, keyword rank checker with email alerts, PPC tools for keyword and ad copy generation)
    • Raven (Firefox toolbar, link manager tied in to analytics and conversion tracking, with multi-user agency support)
    • Enquisite (search analytics. Identifies top-converting terms on one engine that are non-performing on another, your page 2 rankings that are driving good traffic so you can send those pages more link juice, etc.)
    • (keyword research with historical data and graphs, projects, an API, etc.)

    And if you have a big budget, add Hitwise to the list too. Are all these part of your tool chest? If not, you’re leaving money on the table.

    Essential free SEO tools

    With SEO tools, you usually get what you pay for. Lord knows I appreciate free tools. My heartfelt thanks go out to the developers of such tools. However, free SEO tools can be prone to malfunction, outages, nonexistent customer/tech support, inaccuracies, bugs, lack of updates, and premature obsolescence.

    With that said, there are some great, reliable, accurate, free tools out there.

    SEOBook offers such goodies as:

    • HubFinder (find link targets that link to multiple competitors)
    • Backlink Analyzer (review anchor text of inbound links)
    • SEO for Firefox extension (displays for each listing in the Google SERPs the page’s PageRank, domain age, site age, cache date, numbers of backlinks with .edu and .gov broken out, etc.)

    SEOmoz offers for free:

    • Trifecta (estimates popularity and importance of a page or domain, pre-dates the much better Linkscape tool)
    • TermTarget (analysis of a page’s declared keyword focus)
    • a limited version of Linkscape.

    Linkscape is SEOmoz’s most ambitious project to date, unveiled to much fanfare this month at SMX East. Underpinning Linkscape is a search index of 30+ billion recently crawled URLs and algorithms emulating PageRank and TrustRank which are used to evaluate the entire Web’s link graph and domain graph.

    Another free tool isn’t specifically an SEO tool but it’s incredibly handy for us SEOs, nonetheless: the Web Developer extension for Firefox.

    Some other free favorites include:

    • Thumbshots Ranking (compare common results between engines, keywords)
    • (page analysis)
    • Soovle (for keyword research)
    • SEO Title Tag WordPress plugin (title tag mass editing and automated optimization — granted I’m a bit biased on this one, as I created it)
    • Xenu Link Sleuth (broken link checker)
    • QuantCast (traffic and demographics of competitors)
    • Compete (traffic and referral analytics of competitors)
    • Woopra (web analytics with real-time reporting, user identification and visitor chat)
    • Robot Replay (record and replay visitors’ mouse gestures/movements)
    • QuarkBase (site and company stats)
    • Xinu Returns (site stats)
    • SpyFu (competitors’ top keywords, estimated PPC budget)
    • Copyscape
    • Google Insights for Search (keyword popularity on Google with historical trends and top rising related searches – be sure you’re logged in or you won’t see numbers)
    • Yahoo Site Explorer (backlink reporting on competitors)

    Granted some of the aforementioned tools are more analytics tools than SEO tools, but analytics are a key component to gauging SEO success.

    About The Author

    Stephan Spencer
    Stephan Spencer is the creator of the 3-day immersive SEO seminar Traffic Control; an author of the O’Reilly books The Art of SEO, Google Power Search, and Social eCommerce; founder of the SEO agency Netconcepts (acquired in 2010); inventor of the SEO proxy technology GravityStream; and the host of two podcast shows The Optimized Geek and Marketing Speak.