A beginner’s guide to SEO tools (and what to use them for)
How do you find the right keywords to use on your web pages? Which tools should you use to check the quality of the sites linking to yours? And how can you “spy” on your competitors and find out what they’re doing online to attract more customers to their site?
There are excellent search engine optimisation (SEO) tools for each of these tasks and more. But since there’s a plethora of plugins, apps and software, and many of them are useless, expensive or simply a replica of established tools, we’ve prepared a list of the most useful SEO tools that you can use to optimise your website and step up your SEO game.
And since there are so many and you might just be looking for tools for a specific SEO task, like site issues, keyword research or competitor analysis, we’ve split them into categories based on various tasks. So feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in.
If you’re not sure where to start with SEO, you can check out these guides first:
- 7 simple yet vital SEO first steps for a new website
- A beginner’s guide to SEO competitor analysis
- The beginner’s guide to Webmaster Tools
You can also
Table of contents
Ready? Let’s get started.
Initial SEO analysis
To start with, you might want to get an overview of the SEO issues on your site. You might want to test your site’s speed, check rankings, see if there are any crawl issues or errors in your robots.txt files.
Here are some of the tools you can use to:
Run complete scans to evaluate your entire site’s SEO health The 123-reg Search Engine Optimiser tool lets you run in-depth scans for dozens of SEO factors so you can get a complete overview of your site’s health. This allows you to spot problems without having to check every page on your site manually and also get SEO recommendations to fix them. It’ll let you know if you have pages with missing or duplicate titles and descriptions, which keywords to focus on to optimise your site, the backlinks you’re getting and more. This tool is perfect for beginners as it doesn’t require much technical knowledge. You can start with a free report and then choose the package that best suits your needs.
Check site rankings To check your site’s rankings in search engines I recommend one of the following tools:
- SeoBook’s rank checker (free)
- Authority Labs (free 30-day trial)
- Moz’s rank checker (free 30-day trial)
- Advanced Web Ranking (free 30-day trial)
- SEMRush – Unlike the four tools above, SEMRush allows you to see what keywords a page ranks for, instead of you having to add a list of keywords and seeing how they rank. (With the free version, you can only check ten keywords).
Detect SEO issues It’s important to know if your site has any issues, like broken links, missing meta data and more. A free tool like SEO Site Checkup allows you to check all issues with your site so you know what needs fixing.All you need to do is enter your website URL, select which issues you’d like to check (or leave it to default to All factors) and click “Checkup”.
Other tools you can use:
Check the number of pages indexed by Google Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) includes various invaluable tools that help you identify issues with your site as well as opportunities to improve its performance and boost website traffic. So, to find out how many of your site’s page Google has indexed, go to Google Index -> Index Status.
If you want to find out what else you can do with Search Console, make sure you read our in-depth beginner’s guide. Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT) is also a valuable resource that provides loads of insightful information about on-site issues and more, and it’s also free. Here’s a good guide on how to add your site to BWT, how it works and what other information you can retrieve from it.
Website crawling A crawl tool is used to analyse your site’s links and check for issues like missing title tags, 404 not found pages, duplicate content or anything else that might affect your site being properly crawled and indexed by search engines. To find out if your site has any issues, you should run a full crawl. Here are a few tools you might consider using:
- Screaming Frog (free version limited to crawling up to 500 URLs)
- Site Condor (free 30-day trial)
- Moz Crawl Test (paid)
- Xenu’s Link Sleuth (free, without any limits or restrictions)
Generate and validate a sitemap A sitemap is a file where you list all the web pages on your site that you want Google and other search engines to index. Google offers a plethora of free sitemap generators which can generate new sitemaps automatically. If you have a multilingual website, a good tool to create your XML sitemap is HREFLANG. To validate your XML sitemap and ensure it’s error-free before you submit it to Google, you can use a free tool like the XML Sitemap Validator.
Find errors in robots.txt file Robots.txt are files where you specify web pages that you don’t want search engine spiders to access and index. This Robots.txt Checker analyses the format of a robots.txt file and checks to see if it contains errors. Find out more about robots.txt files and how to create one from this tutorial.And, of course, let’s not forget the robots.txt Tester tool from Google Search Console which checks your robots.txt file and shows you whether it blocks Google web crawlers from specific URLs on your site. Here’s how to use this tool.
Is your site accessible to both visitors and search engines? Is it loading quickly so your visitors don’t get frustrated and leave? Have you checked all your links to ensure they work properly and aren’t broken?
The following tools will help you to:
Check your site’s speed Google recommends a page load time of under three seconds, and that loading time will be a ranking factor for mobile websites. Also, an Amazon study showed a 1% decrease in sales for every 0.1s decrease in response times. In addition, page speed is linked to better rankings and user engagement. So it’s important to check your site’s speed and improve it if necessary.Here are a few free tools you can use to check how fast your pages are loading and to get recommendations to reduce page load speed:
Find 404 pages A 404 page is what users see when they try to reach a page on your site that isn’t found – either because they have clicked on a broken link, mistyped a URL or the page has been moved or deleted. You don’t want to have any 404 not-found pages on your site which is why you need to constantly check for this error and fix it quickly. Google Search Console detects these pages for you and you can find a list with 404 pages on your site in Crawl-> Crawl Errors -> Not Found:Other tools you can use to find broken links on your site:
Analytics tools allow you to see how your visitors are interacting with your website and find detailed information about the number of unique visits, most visited pages, the average time a visitor spends on your page and/or site, and more.
Here are a few tools you can use for this purpose:
- Google Analytics (GA) – If you already have a site up and running, you’re probably using this already as it’s the most popular of all the analytics tools available. Find out how to set up GA and what you can do with this excellent tool.
- Piwik – A lightweight open source web analytics tool and a good alternative to Google Analytics.
By checking your inbound (external sites linking to your site) and outbound (links going out from your site to other sites) links you get to see where most of them come from or which sites you’re linking to, if you’ve experienced a decline in inbound links, if there are any broken links on your site, and more.
Here are some free tools to check for broken links on a page:
- Check My Links – This Chrome extension quickly finds and checks all the links on a web page. It highlights which ones are valid and which ones are broken so it’s very easy to use, even for beginners.
- Link Checker for Firefox – If you prefer a Firefox plugin, this one is just as easy to use as the Chrome extension and it checks the validity of links on any webpage.
- Xenu’s Link Sleuth – This tool checks you entire site for broken links. It analyses every link on your site, on images, frames, scripts.
- Integrity by PeacockMedia – Scans your site’s internal and external links as well as images and highlights broken links.
The following tools you can use to research and analyse the sites linking to yours to ensure they’re quality and coming from reputable sources:
- Ahrefs.com – One of the most popular tools for backlink research, Ahrefs offers a large index and nice anchor text distribution charts. Check the All-time referring pages chart to see the evolution of backlinks for any site. They do offer a free plan but it’s limited to five backlinks and three backlink reports per month.
- Majestic SEO – It’s one of the most powerful and widely-used analysis tools on the web. It crawls the entire web and makes the link data available to you. You can use it for your sites as well as for your competitors. However, if you can verify that you’re the owner of a site, you will have access to many more links pointing to the site, compared to the amount of links you’ll get when checking your competitors’ sites.
- Open Site Explorer – Excellent tool from Moz.com that allows you to get more insights into your links and compare against four of your competitors. Perfect for finding link opportunities.
- SEO Effect – This tool analyses your backlinks and gives you information on their quality (PageRank and Page Authority for each URL) as well as the type of link (image or text link).
- Raven Link Manager – Research and analyse websites for link quality. This tool checks for links to your site, domain age, Google PageRank, Alex Traffic Rank and more.
- Link Research Tools – Evaluates incoming links to determine their quality and helps you find link prospects.
- Linkstant – A cool little tool that alerts you the moment someone links to your website.
- Anchor Text Over Optimization Tool – Worried about being penalised for over-optimised anchor texts? Simply type in your URL and get a report with the links that might raise flags.
Is there duplicate content on your site? Are your pages missing page titles or descriptions, or are these too long? Here are the tools you can use to help you tackle these issues:
- SEOTools for Excel – This free tool runs as an add-on to Microsoft Excel and features some functions which are incredibly useful for everyday SEO tasks. You can get information on all sorts of on-page elements like meta, headings, robots directives and custom tags. Here is a good post with some examples of how to use this tool.
- Xenu Linksleuth – Very good for finding duplicate tags in your page’s headers (title, description), and for many other tasks that require crawling your site.
- Screaming Frog – Another web crawler that does a good job at finding duplicate tags.
- BuzzStream Extractor – Use it to pull title tags and meta descriptions for a list of URLs from your site.
- Snippet Optimizer – Use this tool to see how your web page will look in Google’s search results. Type in your title and bold the main keywords to see how it looks and if it’s the appropriate length.
- Copyscape – The most popular tool for detecting plagiarism and duplicate content across the web. It also has a free content comparison tool that allows you to compare two web pages or articles.
- Siteliner – Very useful at finding thin content pages. It’s easy to use and allows you to quickly identify pages on your site with duplicate content.
For some great tips on dealing with duplicate content, this article is a must-read and it also explains how you can use Google and Google Webmaster tools to find duplicate content.
Doing a proper keyword research is vital to your site’s success. The biggest mistake site owners can make is to skip this step and optimise for keywords their audience aren’t actually using to search online. So if you want to ensure you’re using the right keywords and attracting the right customers to your site, use any of these tools to get started:
- Wordstream Free Keyword Tools – Offers thousands of keyword ideas from a huge database of unique searches. There are four powerful tools you can use to get keyword suggestions, discover long-tail keywords and identify irrelevant keywords that you shouldn’t be targeting.
- Keyword Eye Basic – A visual keyword suggestion tool that’s great for brainstorming ideas. You can view related keywords visually by search volume or search engine.
The free version is limited to ten keyword searches per day and up to 100 suggestions per report.
- Übersuggest – Uses the “Suggest” data from Google and other search engines. A terrific tool for developing long-tail phrases to ensure you’re attracting the right audience.
- SEMRush – This is a fantastic research tool that gives you related keywords, as well as sites that are competing for those keywords.
- Google Trends – An extremely powerful tool, it shows changes in search query volume for specific keywords and also the topics that are trendy now. Check out this excellent article on how to use Google Trends for SEO.
- Google AdWords Keyword Planner – Find out search volumes for keywords to see just how much competition there is for a specific search term. Note that Google only shows ranged search volume data for small spending AdWords accounts.
- Moz – Measure how difficult it would be to rank for a specific keyword.
You might also want to check out Moz’s complete guide to keyword research.
While many site owners skip this step, you shouldn’t. Performing a competitive analysis and seeing what your rivals are doing online is vital to your success. By getting some insights into their strategy, you might uncover ideas to attract more customers your way (and even steal some of theirs).
Here are some of the tools you can use to find out more about your competition:
- Majestic’s Clique Hunter – Allows you to see links pointing to any site, yours or your competitors’.
- Moz’s Open Site Explorer – One of the best tools you can use to analyse your competitors’ links and understand why they’re ranking.
- Similar Web – Compare traffic, keywords, backlinks and more between your site and your competitors’.
- KeywordSpy – This tool lets you “spy” on your competitors to find out who they are and what keywords they’re targeting. Useful for discovering missed opportunities.
- SEMRush – Compares two domains by keywords so you can see where yours intersects with your competitors’.
Make sure you also read our beginner’s guide to SEO competitor analysis to find out how you can perform your own analysis in order to outrank your competitors.
Malware and hacking
Use these tools to find out if your site has been hacked or infected with malware. This allows you to deal with it right away and prevent it from harming your reputation online.
- Google’s Safe Browsing Tool– Follow the link and replace “mysite.com” in the URL with your domain. This will show you if there’s anything suspicious about your site and if it has been infected with malware over the last 90 days.
- KeywordSpy – Run a scan and see if your site is suddenly ranking for spammy keywords.
- Sucuri SiteCheck Malware Scanner – This is a free security plugin that allows you to scan your WordPress site security and malware issues. If you don’t want to install it, then simply go to their main site and check any page for free.
- Akismet – Automatically detects comment and trackback spam.
Other cool SEO tools
Want more? Here are some other tools you might find useful:
- Wayback Machine – A great tool if you want to see the history of your site or your competitors’ sites and track important changes.
- Content Strategy Generator Tool – This tool lets you see what’s popular in your niche. Simply add a keyword or keyword phrase into the content tool and be inspired.
- Browseo– See SEO stats for a web page, as well as how a search engine views the page.
- Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tool – This handy tool lets you preview and test rich snippets.
These are the most important and widely-used free and paid SEO tools on the web, and they get the job done. Of course, there are many more and this is where you come in: Are there any other tools you’re using that we’ve not included in our list? Share your favourite one in a comment below and tell us why you find it useful.