Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it is more commonly known, is a skill to some, black magic to others, but essential to anyone responsible for running a web site. Many people pay extortionate fees to SEO agencies who promise to get a site to the number one Google ranking then fail to even make it into the top ten. The bad news is that sometimes this just can't be helped and it's unlikely Bob's Pet Shop in small-town Texas is ever going to make it to the number one spot for most pet related search terms, but by taking matters in to your own hands you can gain a much better understanding of why it can't and what it should do instead.
This is where SEO tools and services come into play. Most are quite easy to use, but to really understand what they are saying you will probably want to read up on the subject. However, doing our best to make things easy to understand, here's what we were looking at when reviewing the best and worst SEO tools out there.
Types of Tools
There are different categories of SEO tools and services available. Some monitor various aspects of your site to give you a picture of how well it is doing at attracting traffic and where it is placed in search rankings around the web. Others take a more active approach to SEO and try to either make suggestions on how to improve your site's search rankings or automate the process and perform tasks to push your site's ranking up. The former are always very useful, especially if you know what you are looking for and can interpret the data. The latter you have to be more careful with as they can often ruin your site's reputation by employing frowned-upon tactics.
It's also useful to pay attention to how you access the tool you are interested in. There's a fairly even split of tools that run on your computer and tools that run in 'The Cloud'. Running on your own computer means installing the software, keeping it updated and also backing up the data in case of a crash. This can be quite a hassle which is why we think it's best to opt for a tool that runs on the web and you can simply access it through a web browser. This means you can access it from anywhere and let the provider take care of all the details of running it.
At their core many of the tools and services we looked at are reporting tools that present you with all the necessary data to make informed decisions about where to take your SEO strategy. Since data is the single most important thing in SEO, it's clear that good reporting is essential. Of course everyone has their own preference when it comes to visualising data, but it's worth trying out a few different services at first to see what style suits you best.
Another point to look out for in terms of the data available is whether or not a service has its own database or relies on data from a third party collator. If data is being pulled in from a third party you may find yourself incurring extra charges if you go above your monthly quota for queries. There are only a few major sources of this type of data out there so it is quite likely that a service will be pulling it in from outside, but as long as you are savvy in the plan you sign up for everything should go smoothly.
Terms of the Price Plan
In a product such as an SEO tool where it is difficult for services to differentiate based on the features they offer, you will find many services differentiate plans based on how many campaigns you can run or how many search terms you can track. These can be widely different from service to service with some allowing you to track an unlimited number of keywords while others limit you to a handful. Just remember that if you are only responsible for one site you probably won't be interested in tracking hundreds of keywords and so you may get a better level of service or save money by opting for a plan that limits how many you can track.
As we have mentioned, many SEO services just offer reporting and monitoring, but others do try to help you with practical advice on how to improve your site's rankings. The technology behind this can often be quite clever and the best examples we have seen break things down into easy to manage and easy to follow tasks. Tasks are usually things like 'fix this broken link' or 'submit your site here' and can be carried out by people without much technical knwledge. If your site has never been optimized then simply carrying out these tasks can have a massive effect on your site's rankings. Essentially it's just what a SEO agency would do so you can save yourself a lot of money by doing it yourself.
If you aren't so keen on doing everything manually there is a category of SEO tool that tries to automate most of the optimization process for you. However, these can be very dangerous because they may do things that Google's search ranking algorithm will detect as spamming and therefore downgrade your site's ranking. Even if things seem to go well a change to Google's algorithm can spell disaster if you resort to these sorts of techniques, as many sites have recently found out. Some of these tools can be quite clever and will submit your site to online directories, build links and even generate semi-original content to submit to online article directories. We wouldn't recommend you go down this route unless you fully understand what you are doing, but the tools are there, and quite advancd, if you are interested.
The Bottom Line
SEO needn't be difficult or a black art. Using the right tools someone with very little technical knowledge can make huge improvements to a site's search rankings. Even if this just takes the grunt work out of it, you can leave the fine tuning to the expensive agencies and be on track to save a lot of money. After reading this guide you should be well equipped to check out our reviews and decide on the type of tools you think you need depending on how experienced you are. Good luck achieving the holy grail of a number one Google ranking for your site!