I have a confession to make: I am an SEO tools junkie.
In the good old days I had a team of programmers in-house who developed tools to my vision. Today, there are so many fantastic tools on the market that there is no need to deal with the hassles of home grown tools.
In this article I am going to share with you some of my favorite tools, why I love them, and how I use them to create SEO Strategies that WORK.
The 900 Lb Gorilla: LinkResearchTools
LinkResearchTools is my favorite of all SEO tools. It’s very expensive, yes, but worth every cent. I use it on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Within the suite there are a variety of tools that you can use, and I am going to show you examples of a couple of my favorite ones:
This is the most comprehensive report I’ve ever found that digs deep into a site’s statistics and backlinks. It outputs a number of key SEO factors such as anchor density and anchor text breakdown, links from unique C classes, Google Author ID for backlinks, PageRank, ACRank, Seomoz Page and Domain Authority, and so much more. This data, especially anchor density, is essential to determine the health of a site and guides me in building healthy backlink profiles.
By pulling a Backlink Profile report, I am able to determine a site’s strengths and weaknesses, and figure out exactly what we need to improve a site’s rankings.
In some cases for example, I will notice a site has an anchor density of over 30% for a money keyword, so I will recommend varied brand and fluff anchor text usage.
Other times I’ll notice a site has too many inbound links from pages that do not rank for their exact match title tag, indicating sites with penalties or low authority. The tool will also pull social shares and other information regarding social engagement.
Below you can see a sample site audit for my site www.mardel.com:
After looking at a BLP report, I can say that 90% of the time I know exactly what’s going on with a site, what it needs to improve in the rankings, a site’s strengths and danger zones.
Applying the same extensive research to the major competitors in a keyword sector allows me to find trends and commonalities in the space. For example, I can see keywords that have a lot of social engagement, or keywords with a lot of guest blog links, or keywords with lots of article marketing links.
By running a BLP for the top 15-20 sites I can analyze specific backlinks for each of the top sites, see what kinds of backlinks they have, the anchor density and spread for each of the major sites, and more. Once I know what’s working, I use this data to help me create our strategy to improve rankings in each particular industry.
Once I’ve completed my analysis, I drop all of the backlinks for the top competitors into a file and sort it by Domain Authority. I can then work with this list to eliminate all of the pages that are not indexed in Google, that have low Authority, low TitleRank, etc and voila I have a phenomenal list of link prospects.
I take this list and add it to Podio (more on this soon) and I’ve got a targeted list for our link builders to use. Podio keeps our outreach organized and streamlined.
Juice Tool (Bulk URL Analyzer)
This tool is fantastic for comparing keyword sector trends. You can run up to 2000 URL’s at a time and it will spider for the same basic information as above, but without going in-depth into specific backlinks.
Using the Juice Tool, I can compare averages and standard deviations for specific URL groups. For example, I can create a list of the top 300 sites in an industry by using a variety of keywords, scraping and aggregating the results. Then I will look for trends and averages.
Using this data is how I discovered that the average domain age for over 2000 URL’s that I analyzed is older than 10 years old. I also noticed a trend for sites with exact match domains to rank well with a smaller amount of links than others in the same keyword space.
Here’s an example for the keyword how to use pinterest for marketing:
In this image I cannot show the rest of the fields but I have a similar analysis for many fields. When you look at this type of data over the top 10-20 keywords in your space, patterns quickly emerge and then all you have to do is identify and follow similar patterns (if they are white hat and safe!).
Using link detox I can see a list of toxic and suspicious links to a domain. A variety of criteria are evaluated when identifying toxic or suspicious links. The tool will find pages with low link velocity, pages that are not indexed in Google, links from possible link networks, and much more.
Once I run the report, I download and evaluate each of the links separately. From this data I can then easily create a list of links to disavow with Google Webmaster Tools.
What’s great about Link Detox is that instead of having to analyze every single link, I can focus on the toxic and suspicious link, knowing that the rest of the links are healthy, which streamlines the process.
I use OpenSiteExplorer as a quick tool to look into the backlinks for a specific site. An example of when I’ll use this tool is if I’m talking to a site about guest posting for them, I’ll check their statistics on Open Site Explorer.
By checking the overall health of the site and who links to them, I’ll determine if I want to write for that site.
In the guest blogging world in particular there are many people who create sites with little value and populate them with guest content. Many of these sites have no social engagement, high PR because it’s from an expired domain or fake, and other indicators. Using OSE I can quickly identify unhealthy sites and make a quick decisions about them.
After looking at every single keyword tool on the market, I found SwissMadeMarketing to be the most comprehensive tool. It’s great for so many reasons!
SMM pulls keyword data from Google’s keyword tool, but then it adds other features such as the ability to filter the results, to search, CPC data, whether there are parasite sites ranking, and much more. I can also click on a keyword to have a quick view at the top 10 sites ranking for that keyword and the Domain and Page Authority for those sites.
I can create folders in order to keep my keyword research organized, and pre-run and save searches for future perusal.
Additionally, once I’ve found strong sites, I then add a site to the Rank Tracker for quick and easy benchmarking and tracking. Integration between keyword research and rank tracking is a great way to consolidate two important SEO processes into just 1 tool.
I find Citation and Trust Flow to be excellent metrics that I often refer to. Also, Majestic is the only one that gives me access to all 3 potential versions of a domain in one report so I can quickly/easily see if there’s a difference between site.com and www.site.com
Again, when I need a quick evaluation of a URL, I look at the number of referring domains, the number of external backlinks, and of course CF and TF.
All the other data available is excellent and I’ll look at it to complement data from OSE and LRT. Here’s an example of a report for Hostpapa.com, my current host:
From the Link Assistant tool suite, I use Website Auditor to perform an in-depth scan of on-page elements of a site.
The auditor files up to 3 levels of a root domain and will create a list with the URL’s, titles, and descriptions. It can also spider for a variety of other elements including the Pagerank of the internal pages, validation errors, broken links, duplicate title and description tags, and more.
Running the Website Auditor is one of the very first elements of any SEO campaign that we run. On-page and site optimization is generally a one-time process and this tool enables us to identify problems. Once we evaluate the report, we can correct the problems and then anything we do off-page will work much better. Here you can see part of a website auditor report for meditateinbirmingham.org:
From this very extensive report I create an actionable list for our programming and on-page SEO team to work on.
Given Google’s preference for aged domains, I’m always on the lookout for old, established domains with a strong inbound links. I use RegisterCompass to expedite the process and help me identify the best candidates.
RegisterCompass gives me a list of sites to analyze further. I then run those sites on LRT and OSE to get a better idea of their links and content. I will also look at the site on archive.org to make sure it hasn’t been burnt at any point.
RegisterCompass saves me tons of time and I’ve picked up some gems thanks to this tool.
I’ve installed the SEOquake chrome extension and use it to spot checks domains while I am researching. Having SEOquake allows me to look at the health of a domain without any effort. As I surf the web, I can quickly see the PR and links of a domain, plus other factors.
For example I may be performing research for an article when I notice a site with excellent statistics. I’ll then dig deeper into the site to see if they may be interested in a relationship, receiving guest content, or other ideas.
I’m a huge fan of SEMrush, and it’s my 3rd stop when analyzing a site. At SEMrush I can look at the overall traffic of a site, keywords it ranks for, and trends. For example, when a client first comes to me, depending on their knowledge of SEO, the information I receive may be fuzzy.
Just this week someone requested social media marketing services from us. After clarifying his goals, I believed we had a classic case of a client who wanted to expand his reach with social media. When I ran his site on SEMrush, lo and behold I saw a massive drop in his traffic in May of 2012. After I questioned him about it, he admitted that he got penalized by Penguin and wants to use social media as a way to improve his rankings.
Armed with this information, we suggested a link detox, link disavows, and authority link building alongside his social media marketing package.
Here’s an example of search engine traffic for Mardel:
And here is data about keywords they are ranking for:
I also use SEMrush to gain a strong picture of a site’s top competitors, and I’ll look at similar data:
Once I have an idea of who the competitors are, I will then look at keywords that they are ranking for that my client’s site may not be ranking for, and this will help me build up our keyword list for link building and content marketing.
Podio is a project management tool and also my seo right-hand man. All of the data above produces massive amounts of actionable items for every campaign. In the past we’ve used every possible system, including excel, google docs, basecamp, and more to manage all of the information that we need when running a multi-faceted Social SEO campaign. None of the tools worked as they lacked key elements.
With Podio, we can create workspaces for content marketing, link building, client reports and interactions, etc. All of the data from this tools is managed in Podio with apps that our team creates specific to our needs.
For example, within our content marketing workspace, we’ve created an app where we can track the life of a content asset from conception (keyword research) to completion (social shares and link building). We are able to task different team members at every stage of the process.
Podio is the glue that helps all of the data we’ve acquired with amazing SEO tools become useful. Here’s an example of a few of the fields that we use in our content marketing app (there are many many more fields):
I could write a book about all of the SEO tools that I use, how I use them, and what actionable data I gather from these reports (hey maybe I will!). But in this article I wanted to give you an overview of my very favorite tools.
I know I am leaving out some major players like Ahrefs and RavenTools. I could include WordPress Plugins that help with SEO and other SEOmoz tools that I love. But in this article my objective was to show my absolute favorite, most used tools, the ones I can’t SEO without. Watch for future articles on other tools I use and love, including Social Media Marketing tools and other outreach tools, plugins, and extensions.