You’ll be glad to know that none of the tools we use at SearchWorks are particularly obscure or expensive. Even the ones that are somewhat pricey can be considered investments in the context of professional SEO work.
Below are some of our most-used tools for different areas of search engine optimization:
1) Competitive Keyword Research
Our Pick: Semrush.
If you’ve only ever used free tools like Google Analytics to do competitive keyword research, Semrush might blow your mind. Where other tools can only offer wide, and often useless estimates of keyword competition, Semrush’s detail and granularity stand out. We’ve been using it for several years now and based on our experience, we believe the data Semrush presents is highly accurate for this competitive keyword research and analysis.
Semrush isn’t just a great investment for SEO agencies either. It can be extremely useful for all digital marketing agencies as well as internal marketing teams that have to handle very large websites. The ability to hone in on specific competition levels and see the actual keywords your keyword competitors are bidding on makes Semrush a must-have for any serious digital marketing department or agency.
These alternatives are no slouches when it comes to competitive keyword research, but we generally prefer Semrush specifically for competitive keyword research.
If you do a lot of link building and can only use one tool, you may want to choose Ahrefs as it comes with a range of useful functions for that area of SEO. MOZ is, of course, a widely-recognized name in SEO, particularly among small-to-medium businesses and, fortunately, its competitive keyword research functions aren’t bad either.
2) Topic Ideation
Our Pick: Semrush
Topic ideation can be incredibly tough, particularly if you want your topic choices to have an impact on a site’s search engine rankings. Fortunately, Semrush is as good at giving you prime topics as it is at finding low-effort/high-value competitive keywords. Semrush’s topic generation results are extraordinarily data-rich, making it easier to gain insights into keyword usage and topic viability that you would not have had, otherwise.
One great feature is the ability to choose topics based on search volume, difficulty, or topic efficiency. It also lets you filter content ideas by trends, topic clusters, or by the kinds of questions people ask.
Runners up: Ahrefs Keywords Explorer Tool
Ahref’s Keywords Explorer tool makes it easy to quickly identify keywords with low competition and high traffic potential. While not as data-rich as Semrush, It doesn’t provide as much data as Semrush for topic generation but it is more than enough for the vast majority of use cases.
Free Alternative: Hubspot Blog Ideas Generator
While ultimately limited compared to the paid alternatives, the Hubspot Blog Ideas Generator gives you more than enough to get started, particularly when paired with other free alternatives like Google Search’s “People also ask” section. If you only have modest topic generation needs, Hubspot’s tool may be sufficient.
3) Content Gap Analysis
Our Pick: Ahrefs Content Gap Tool
When it comes to figuring out missed opportunities in your own content, Ahrefs has an edge over the competition. Content gap analysis is something that technically anyone can do by exporting data from SEO intelligence tools and playing around with Excel. However, it’s a tedious process that requires some experience and a lot of copy-pasting.
Ahrefs makes this all quick and easy with its Content Gap tool. It not only identifies gaps in your own content but also in your competitors’, giving you a massive list of actionable keywords that can give you an edge in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Free Alternative: TheHoth Keyword Gap Analysis tool
For a free tool, TheHoth’s Keyword Gap analysis tool is surprisingly powerful and quite adequate if you don’t have the budget for Ahrefs. So long as you manage your expectations, you can easily get solid recommendations that will lift your site over the competition.
4) Plagiarism Detector
Our Pick: Copyscape Premium
Copyscape has had a long run in the market precisely because it works so well. While other alternatives like Grammarly, Turnitin, and CopyLeaks also work well enough, Copyscape usually just outdoes them while also having a great workflow that requires minimal training to use.
For us, it’s an essential tool for several reasons. First, it helps us avoid potential legal action resulting from plagiarism. Next, it also helps ensure that content is sufficiently unique and, therefore, gives the right signals to search engines. Lastly, it helps ensure that our writing team is honest and acts ethically.
Runner Up: Copyscape Free Version
If your content creation needs are limited, Copyscape’s free version should be more than sufficient.
5) Technical and On-Page SEO Auditing
Our Pick: Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool
We’re huge fans of Screaming Frog and we use it for virtually all our site and link audits. Unlike many other tools, Screaming Frog also returns data in real-time, giving it a huge edge over Google Search Console, which only offers periodic (i.e. possibly outdated) data. We’ve also been using this tool for years and we can attest to the accuracy and timeliness of the data that it pulls up.
Runner Up: Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool Trial Version, Google Search Console
Screaming Frog’s trial version is actually quite powerful and its only real limitation is the limited number of pages you can crawl. If you can’t be bothered to download Screaming Frog, Google Search Console should also be just fine for most uses. However, the lack of real-time data can be seriously limiting for high-level SEO.
6) On-Page SEO Implementation for WordPress
Our Pick: Yoast SEO
Given how popular WordPress is, it’s not surprising that a huge proportion of the sites we optimize are on the platform. If you’re lucky enough to optimize a WordPress site, definitely install the Yoast SEO plugin. The plugin makes it trivial to do basic on-page optimizations such as meta tags and so much more.
What’s even better is that the free version is already almost as powerful as the premium one. Unless you need something very specific, the free version of Yoast should more than suffice for all your on-page SEO implementations on WordPress.
7) Link Intelligence for Link Building
Our Picks: Ahrefs, Moz, and Majestic
While some SEOs have a preference for one of these three market-leading link intelligence tools, we find that we get the best results when we use the three of them together. Each of these tools excels in giving visibility in specific areas of link building and using them together has worked very well for us, so far.
If you only have the budget for one tool and you do a lot of link building, Ahrefs may be the best pick, as it has the best data visibility and the feature set of the three. One useful feature is its organic traffic estimates, which allow you to easily spot and sort out sketchy sites like PBNs. We also consider Ahref’s Link Intersect tool to be an incredibly underrated way to save time on your link prospecting.
Majestic’s link intelligence tool is invaluable to SearchWorks primarily because of its Trust Flow scoring system. Trust Flow is a highly accurate way of finding real established and authoritative sites that have potential for your link-building efforts.
Moz, of course, is a brand that is well recognized not just by SEO professionals, but by many other kinds of digital marketers. Its Domain Authority (DA) scoring system, for all its flaws, remains an industry standard for good reason. Also, its other features and reports help us validate the data that we draw from our other link intelligence tools.
8) Link Outreach
Our Pick: BuzzStream.
Sending high volumes of effective outreach emails for link building can be an extremely time-consuming process. Buzzstream is great at streamlining the creation of outreach emails, giving you everything you need within just one interface. It’s also useful for other types of email-based campaigns.
While other tools we’ve tried were more feature-rich or cheaper, Buzzstream is just that much easier to use, at least, from our perspective. This means we spend more time actually using the tool than figuring out how to make it work.
9) Local SEO Monitoring
These services are broadly similar in that they submit your business NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) to several local listings and monitor them to ensure they remain uniform. NAP is especially important for local SEO as it helps Google validate the existence of a business as a real-world entity, giving it a reason to bump it up on its SERPs.
We don’t have a strong preference for either of these services and we’ve found both BrightLocal and Moz Local to give good results. One thing you do have to take note of is their differing price structures, the sites they submit to, and the countries these services are available.
10) Analytics and Reporting
Our Pick: Google Analytics
Google Analytics gives you almost everything you need for client presentations, including some types of reports that you will probably never use. However, one thing Google Analytics can’t do is track the movement of SERPs rankings (i.e. keyword position tracking or rank tracking). To generate a report of historical SERPs movements, you can use any serious link and keyword intelligence tool, including the previously mentioned Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic, and Semrush.
One thing you have to keep in mind is that link intelligence tools are not always accurate, which means that you will need to validate their results with each other or through spot checks on Google Search.
Note that these are just the tools that work for us. Chances are you might find alternatives to these tools a better fit for your operations, preferences, or workflow. At the end of the day, the best tools are whichever ones you’re most comfortable with.
Fortunately, there is no need to spend an extraordinary amount of cash on your tools to get good results. However, as you gain experience and scale up your SEO activities, we would suggest paying for full versions of the tools that you prefer. The time savings and ability to gather as much data as you need are often more than enough to justify upgrading to full versions, particularly for agencies and large digital marketing departments.
Which tools do you prefer to use? Do you agree or disagree with our top picks? If you’d like to talk shop or want to find out how we use these essential SEO tools, feel free to contact us to set up a meeting.