If you embrace the do-it-yourself mentality with most aspects of your online business, chances are SEO tops your priority list. Since algorithms like Google’s are dynamic and unpredictable, employing the top tools of the trade is critical to your ranking success.
Today’s tools do their best to unravel the mystery of achieving high SERPs by dissecting each key element and aiding in top strategies and best practices. Below is a list of some of the current favorites in this space. Each one listed is free, but many require registration before using. With dozens to choose from, your challenge will be finding those that feel most intuitive, and of course, help you see positive results in the near term and beyond.
Google’s Webmaster Tools
The search engines themselves have some of the best tools around, and it stands to reason that in a sense, they would know best. While some brilliant minds have certainly improved upon the originals, you should absolutely be familiar with Google’s suite of webmaster tools as a DIYer. In addition to the following tools, Google has a stellar webmaster help forum and a great SEO starter guide that does wonders for demystifying much of the process, especially for beginners.
Google has a slew of free resources for the independent webmaster (which are also used by professional SEO experts too.) These tools help you tackle all of the following critical SEO tasks:
Identify sections of your site that Googlebot cannot successfully crawl
Display results that let you see exactly what Googlebot sees when crawling your website
Assist with creating the essential robots.txt files
Suggestions for improvements in meta data
Keyword analysis and comparisons
Be alerted when best practices are not used by your site
Notify Google of your XML sitemap submission
Remove duplicate content
Additionally, Google offers an excellent metrics tracking tool called Google Analytics, and a very powerful app called the Google Website Optimizer that lets you track conversion improvements with on-site changes. Don’t forget to track keyword popularity with the Google Trends tool too. While relying solely on this Google suite won’t be all-encompassing, this is a wise place to start your DIY SEO adventure.
Keyword Research Tools
Few things are more important in your SEO strategy than choosing the most effective keywords. Your keywords will also likely shift overtime, based on how people are actually searching for your content.
The following tools help you stay on top of search trends and competitive keyword analysis:
SEMRush – SEMRush does an exceptional job at competitive analysis, plotting top traffic-driving keywords for both your site and your competition’s.
SEOmoz Term Extractor – One of the most trusted names in SEO, SEOmoz has many valuable tools, with Term Extractor near the top. This is best used by entering your top competitor’s URL, and then analyzing their keyword strengths and weaknesses.
Alexa – Every webmaster should regularly check Alexa’s multitude of data. This site does more than just provide your traffic score, it also gives you valuable search analytics and keyword query info too.
Backlink Analysis Tools
Link building is another essential element to excellent search rankings, and without tools that help analyze your current progress, it’s tough to decipher how well your backlinks are faring. These tools will aid in giving you tangible data that will accurately instruct you on how your link building process is working for your site’s SERPs.
MajesticSEO – While many of the more robust features in Majestic are not free, the backlink history analysis report is, and it’s extremely useful in measuring competitor activity. The report tracks referring URLs by volume and effectiveness; access the “cumulative view” for the most useful data.
Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz – Open Site Explorer allows webmasters to compare their site with other domains, tracking domain authority, anchor text analysis, and full link analysis breakdowns. Reports can be exported into Excel too.
Monitoring SEO Campaigns
The suggestions above cover many of the basics in SEO, including keywords, meta data, competitive analysis, and rankings. To accurately monitor any of your future campaigns, however, check out Authority Labs. This is a super-site full of SEO tricks, including constant real-time monitoring of new campaigns, average ranks on all major search engines, keyword analysis, and much more. While most of the features are subscription based, they do offer a totally free 30 day trial (no credit card required), and the opportunity to continue tracking 1 domain for free after the trial ends.
To instantly track valuable metrics like page rank, Alexa ratings, and incoming links, install one of the many popular SEO toolbars.
Two of the best are:
SEOmoz Toolbar – For Firefox or Chrome, the SEOmoz toolbar lets you stay connected to metrics as you travel throughout the web. Create custom searches by search engine, country, or region, and expose page elements via the Analyze Page feature.
SEO Site Tools Toolbar – Available for Chrome only, this fabulously free browser extension displays the PageRank of the site you are currently visiting, as well as all standard SEO metrics. SEO Site Tools also critiques your own site and offers plenty of on-site SEO suggestions.
The web is teeming with valuable freemium SEO tools that actually deliver results. With a little knowledge and a lot of practice, these services can help a DIY business owner become well-equipped to achieve enviable search engine rankings. While the tools don’t replace the ease and trustworthiness of a dedicated SEO pro, until you can afford the luxury of handing over the reins, it’s good to know you’ve got an army of effective tools to assist in your SEO mission.
About the author: Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.