Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a technical strategy that many digital marketers follow in order to get their digital content viewed by higher quantity and quality audiences. Best practices for SEO are constantly evolving, especially as major search engines like Google change their ranking and performance algorithms multiple times a year.
SEE: The complete Google SEO & SERP certification bundle (TechRepublic Academy)
So how can your business keep up with SEO best practices and create high-value digital content? SEO tools and software can help. In this guide, we’ll cover some of the best SEO tools available today, their best use cases and pricing information.
- Best SEO tools and software
- What is SEO?
- What are SEO tools?
- How do SEO tools work?
- How to choose an SEO tool
- Using SEO tools in your business
Best SEO tools and software
|Tool||Keyword research||Rank tracking||Backlink tracking||Competitor analysis||Automated reporting|
Semrush is perhaps the most advanced and comprehensive SEO tool on the market, with over 50 tools and a client list that includes some of the biggest consumer brands in the world. Semrush not only performs all the expected functions of an SEO tool, but it also has a broad suite of competitive analysis tools that help you analyze how your site compares to similar competitive sites. It also offers suggestions to increase your rankings.
With all this power comes a degree of sophistication that can be intimidating. Determining which tools are helpful can be challenging, but Semrush breaks down their tools by area of interest and the task you’re trying to accomplish. For example, a user can select Content as an area of interest and then Content Creation as their interest to be presented with three tools that are relevant to this discipline.
Semrush offers a free trial like most tools, although it’s a relatively short seven days. Be prepared to set aside some time to evaluate the tool’s depth and complexity, as there is a lot to explore.
Best use case
- Keyword research to direct traffic to users’ sites using the best keywords
- On-page SEO to deliver new ideas for site health and performance optimization
- Local SEO optimization for local search
- Rank tracking to track daily changes of target keywords in users’ target locations
- Link building to strengthen backlink profiles
- Competitor SEO analysis
Semrush is priced in three plans:
- Pro: Priced at $119.95 per month and costs $99.95 per month when billed annually.
- Guru: Priced at $229.95 per month and costs $191.62 per month when billed annually.
- Business: Priced at $449.95 per month and costs $374.95 per month when billed annually.
With over a decade in the SEO business, Ahrefs provides one of the best backlink databases on the web and an extensive keyword library that rivals even Google, due to a powerful web crawler that routinely scours the entire internet.
The robust link analysis and keyword library make Ahrefs an excellent research tool. For content-rich websites, it’s an ideal starting point to determine trending keywords and identify keywords that are relevant to whatever project you’re launching.
Best use case
- Site Audit for website auditing and optimization
- Site Explorer for competitor analysis
- Keyword Explorer to determine the keywords customers are using
- Content Explorer to learn from the top-performing content in your industry
- Rank Tracker to track ranking progress
Ahrefs’ four pricing plans include:
- Lite: Starts at $99 per month when billed monthly and $83 per month when billed annually.
- Standard: Starts at $199 per month when billed monthly and $166 per month when billed annually.
- Advanced: Starts at $399 per month when billed monthly and $333 per month when billed annually.
- Enterprise: Starts at $999 per month when billed monthly and $833 per month when billed annually.
It is worth noting that paying annually gets customers two months of free access.
While not exclusively an SEO tool, Google Analytics is one of the more ubiquitous options since it’s not only free but created and maintained by search giant, Google.
Google Analytics requires that you embed a small piece of code into your website and presumably share your site data with Google, but it provides a rich feature set for no monetary cost in most cases.
Google Analytics offers a robust set of site analysis tools to see where your site visitors are coming from, the keywords used to find your site when connected to Google Search Console and how they traversed your site. You can also set up the “conversion” feature, which tracks when users follow a specific path through your site. This feature was historically designed for e-commerce sites to track sales or conversions but can also be used to test the effectiveness of various keywords, links and content on your site.
Best use case
Data analytics to improve marketing ROI.
- Built-in automation
- Real-time and automated reporting
- Rank tracking using Search Console
- Backlink tracking using Search Console
Google Analytics is a free tool.
Another long-timer in the industry, Majestic focuses on backlinks. Backlinks can significantly influence your search engine rankings, based on the simple presumption that the more sites link to your content, the better a resource it is for the topic you’re covering.
Majestic can assess the quality of the links to your site, helping separate quality links from “link farms” and sites designed to game search rankings; in general, it works to evaluate the “freshness” of links to your content. A somewhat-limited free test of Majestic is available if you enter a URL into the tool.
Best use case
Detailed studies, such as link control, for corporate and personal websites.
- Majestic Site Explorer for backlink checking
- Ability to drill into link contexts of sites using Keyword Generator
- Trust Flow
- Bulk Domain Analysis
- Link Graph for visualization of networks
- Third-party integration with OpenApps
Majestic provides three pricing plans:
- Lite: Costs $49.99 per user per month billed monthly and $41.67 per user per month annually.
- Pro: Costs $99.99 per user per month billed monthly and $83.33 per user per month annually.
- API: Costs $399.99 per user per month billed monthly and $333.33 per user per month annually.
Moz Pro combines a variety of tools from keyword research to site crawler and optimization analysis. Moz Pro also includes a variety of advanced features for tasks like identifying page health issues.
There’s also an ability to create automated, customized reports. This can be particularly helpful for larger organizations with dedicated marketing or content creation teams that may not need access to an online dashboard for SEO tools. You can customize a report for “hot topics” for your editor or a competitive report for your product marketing team that arrives in their inbox regularly.
Best use case
Improving website ranking using Domain Authority.
- Keyword exploration
- Rank tracking
- Site Crawl to crawl and audit sites
- On-page optimization
- Link research
- Custom reporting
The four plans by Moz Pro include:
- Standard: $99 per month billed monthly and $79 per month billed yearly.
- Medium: $179 per month billed monthly and $143 per month billed yearly.
- Large: $299 per month billed monthly and $239 per month billed yearly.
- Premium: $599 per month billed monthly and $479 per month billed yearly.
SpyFu is focused primarily on competitive analysis and pay-per-click advertising. In addition to a typical set of SEO tools, including keyword research and backlink tracking, SpyFu also allows you to track your competitors by revealing traffic analysis, SEO, and PPC strategies they’re employing and identifying new market entrants.
SpyFu also offers scheduling reporting. The tool’s focus on competitive intelligence could have applicability in many areas of your organization.
Best use case
Tracking competitors via PPC and SEO Competitor Research.
- Competitor analysis
- Rank tracking
- Backlinks builder
- SERP analysis
- Keyword research
- Domain comparisons
SpyFu’s three pricing plans are as follows:
- Basic: It costs $39 per month billed monthly and $33 when billed annually.
- Professional: It costs $79 per month billed monthly and $58 when billed annually.
- Team: It costs $299 per month billed monthly and $199 when billed annually.
BrightEdge is squarely in the enterprise camp with a comprehensive SEO toolset that focuses on real-time research and analytics, targeted primarily at large digital marketing efforts. BrightEdge maintains a large set of proprietary data—called the Data Cube—that customers can use to speed up their keyword research with data that is constantly updated from the web. The Data Cube is integrated into other BrightEdge tools that are geared toward identifying an SEO strategy and then tracking and tweaking the results of that strategy.
The company works with an impressive number of Fortune 100 companies and has perhaps the richest set of executive SEO reporting features; these could be especially relevant to a large organization that is concerned with tracking the results of SEO spending. However, all of this functionality comes at an enterprise-grade price.
Best use case
Enterprise SEO and content performance management for executives and marketing professionals.
- Competitive analysis
- Backlink management
- Content-centric marketing
- Social content performance
- Universal search
- Local, global and mobile content performance
BrightEdge’s product pricing is not publicly available but is provided upon request.
As the name implies, BrightLocal is focused on geographic SEO and is targeted at companies that have a presence in local geographies. Retailers, restaurants, community organizations, vehicle dealerships and other entities with brick and mortar stores that rely on local reputation would likely benefit from this tool.
Rather than focusing on driving broad search traffic and optimizing keywords, Bright Local analyzes local search results like Google Reviews, Yelp and Facebook. It tracks and consolidates customer reviews and sentiment, allowing customers to quickly understand trends, respond to reviews and manage their local reputation. Bright Local works for both small, single-location businesses and large multi-location chains.
Best use case
Local search visibility.
- Comprehensive rank reporting
- Local SEO auditing
- Customizable white-label reporting
- Review management
- Citation building and tracking
BrightLocal offers a free trial in addition to its premium plans. It’s All-In-One plan has three tiers:
- Single Business: $29 per month billed monthly. $24.17 per month when billed annually.
- Multi Business: $49 per month billed monthly. $40.83 per month when billed annually.
- SEO Pro: $79 per month billed monthly. $65.83 per month when billed annually.
SEO PowerSuite’s unique proposition is that it’s a desktop-based application rather than a cloud-based service. The suite includes typical tools like a backlink checker, keyword research and ranking analysis, and it can be installed quickly, assuming one is willing to install the required Java runtime environment.
The purported benefit of being a locally installed software package is that SEO PowerSuite isn’t required to maintain a robust cloud-based platform and can essentially pass those savings along to the consumer. These cost savings lets them offer a completely free Personal Edition in addition to an annual license fee. Whether you are just getting started with SEO or you are an occasional user, the free edition provides all the core SEO tools without limiting the user to a trial period.
Best use case
For novice and expert users alike who want a comprehensive, all-in-one SEO suite for their SEO campaigns.
- SERP tracking and analysis
- Local rank tracker
- YouTube tracker
- Keyword research tools, difficulty checker and gap finder
- Backlink history and analysis
- Link prospecting and toxic backlink removal
- Site audit
In addition to a free license, SEO PowerSuite comes as professional and enterprise plans:
- Professional: $299 per year.
- Enterprise: $499 per year.
Similarweb may be best known for the list of top-visited websites and Android and iOS apps that the company maintains, along with ranks of top desktop and mobile web browsers.
In addition to its comprehensive rankings and core SEO services, SimilarWeb also offers a unique set of tools ranging from benchmarking to Investor Intelligence and Shopper Intelligence. The company also provides industry-specific recommendations and pre-built reports, making SimilarWeb more of a targeted intelligence tool than an SEO-focused toolkit.
SimilarWeb offers a limited Free tier, allowing users to explore the tool and access historical data. The more interesting intelligence capabilities come with a price that varies depending on the tools selected.
Best use case
Web analytics for ad-tech companies, e-commerce sites and numerous online services to improve reach and traffic.
- Keyword research
- Engagement metrics analysis
- Category Analysis tool to create benchmarks
- Conversion Analysis for analysis of website conversion rates
- Custom dashboards
- Digital research, digital marketing, sales, investor and shopper intelligence
Pricing information is primarily tailored to each business’s needs. As a result, you have to consult with Similarweb’s team to determine cost. For small businesses, the Competitive Intelligence package starts at $167 per month.
Ubersuggest is the brainchild of Neil Patel, and you’ll see his smiling avatar as well as links to his consulting and educational business sprinkled throughout the site. This friendly and personalized style extends through the tool, with clean reports and tool tips that make SEO less intimidating for beginners.
Despite the clean and friendly appearance, many of the reports contain sophisticated scoring algorithms and the ability to identify new content or backlink opportunities. The company offers multiple pricing options in addition to a limited number of free daily searches and reports, with three pricing tiers that each offer monthly or lifetime subscriptions.
Best use case
- Keyword Suggestions
- Content Ideas to inform your content strategy
- Domain Overview
- Top SEO Pages to expand top performing pages mentioned in Domain Overview
- Site audit
- Backlink data
Ubersuggest offers either a monthly subscription or a lifetime purchase for its three tiers:
- Individual: $29 per month or $290 for a lifetime purchase.
- Business: $49 per month or $490 for a lifetime purchase.
- Enterprise/Agency: $99 per month or $990 for a lifetime purchase.
What is SEO?
At its simplest, SEO is the process of increasing traffic to your website or other online property by improving its ranking in search engine results. If you think about your most recent web search, you probably scrolled through the top few results in Google or your favorite search engine and selected one of those results to explore further.
Search engines like Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo use proprietary algorithms to rank and display search results. SEO is part art and part science; SEO professionals use tools to measure performance and make educated guesses about what will improve a website’s rank in a search.
Usually, creating original content with appropriate keywords will elevate a site’s ranking. However, there is no “magic bullet” for improving results, and a change in a search engine algorithm could improve or hurt your rankings.
Can SEO be done wrong?
It is possible to over-optimize your content for SEO and ultimately hurt its overall search rankings.
There is a lot of competition in the field of SEO, as companies attempt to influence search engine rankings through artificial means. You’ve likely come across websites that have strangely worded content and hundreds of links, which are often websites specifically engineered to elevate other sites in search engine rankings.
Search engines want to provide high-quality results to users and prevent them from switching to another search engine; because of this goal, search engines regularly update their algorithms to prevent content that is designed more for search engine rankings from ranking over content that provides relevant information to a human.
What are SEO tools?
SEO tools provide metrics to help you improve your site’s search engine rankings, taking some of the guesswork out of SEO. The top SEO tools typically include functions such as the following:
- Site analytics: Assessing traffic metrics and viewer data for your website, including search terms or links that brought a user to your site.
- Keyword research: Identifying commonly-searched keywords that are likely to help elevate your site in search engine rankings that can be included in the content on your site.
- Content analysis: An overall assessment of the quality of the content on your site. After all, search engines try to identify the content that best answers a reader’s question, and if your site provides the best answer, it is likely to get better rankings.
- Site speed analysis: Fast load times presumably elevate your site in search engine rankings, so many SEO tools include various methods for testing your site’s response and load times.
- Backlink analysis: Discovery and analysis of sites linking to your content. High rankings are generally awarded to sites that are frequently referenced by other sites.
- Social media analysis: Reporting engagements with your brand on social media, references and links to your site on these platforms, and trending topics and keywords from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
- Site health: Discovery of broken links, invalid HTML tags, missing images, and other items that indicate site health. While not directly related to SEO, most search engines prefer sites without broken links and other technical defects, as these can be an indication of neglect and therefore aging content.
How do SEO tools work?
SEO tools generally work through a combination of two functions: Keyword research and site analysis. Keyword research tools can provide a list of keywords associated with a particular topic or term. These tools allow you to research topics and identify popular keywords that may be worth incorporating into your content to improve search results.
Site analysis tools target existing websites and are focused on analysis and recommendations for your current content. Most of these tools function by crawling your website, or using site logs or tracking tools.
SEE: Job description: Social media analyst (TechRepublic Premium)
Crawling is similar to how search engines function. An automated web browser starts from a URL you provide and reads the code for every page it can find, tracking performance and analyzing SEO metrics.
Site analyses might also use web traffic logs, which provide information about the who, when and where behind your visitors.
Site analysis tools may also use a special embedded site element that allows them to capture views and other data when people visit your site. One of the most popular SEO and general site analytics tools, Google Analytics, uses this approach by embedding an anonymous tag on your website that end users do not see. It allows Google Analytics to capture data about your site and how a visitor navigates it.
How to choose an SEO tool
When deciding on the best SEO tool for your company, first determine what functions are most important. A news site would likely focus more on content rankings and keywords, while a fashion commerce site might focus more on social media and backlink analysis.
With your required feature set in mind, the next thing to consider is price and technical requirements. Keyword research tools are the easiest to use, as they generally don’t require any changes to your existing sites and perform their searches based on a broad set of web data and your current sites. In contrast, tools with deep site analytics will likely require some technical setup.
SEE: Hiring kit: Digital campaign manager (TechRepublic Premium)
There’s no harm in using multiple tools, especially since each is effectively guessing what will provide the most benefit to your search rankings. Like seeking a second opinion on a medical issue, performing an analysis with two or more tools before making extensive changes to your site in the name of SEO optimization is often a good idea.
Finally, most tools offer a free trial or similar evaluation period. As they’re performing their analysis against web-based content, the vast majority are cloud-based and don’t require any software installed in your environment, aside from adding tags to your website or uploading web logs.
Using SEO tools in your business
Online content creation and sales is a huge business and there are dozens of SEO tools available at a wide variety of price points and configurations. Like many applications, it’s essential to start with your goal in mind when choosing an SEO tool and realize that even the best SEO tool will provide only a slight boost in rankings rather than performing some sort of magic to elevate your site.
Read next: Best website monitoring tools and services (TechRepublic)
Subscribe to the Developer Insider Newsletter
From the hottest programming languages to commentary on the Linux OS, get the developer and open source news and tips you need to know. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays