Search Engine Optimization, functionally, is the practice of fine-tuning a website’s content and performance to improve search visibility. More broadly, though, SEO is—or at least should be—a fundamental part of every company’s digital marketing strategy.
Why? The answer’s in consumer-behavior data.
- 81% of consumers do research online before making major purchases.
- 55% of consumers say search engines are their go-to for pre-purchase information.
- As of 2023, 43% of U.S. consumers said they’d rather shop mostly online.
If your potential customers are (mostly) researching online before they become current customers, and they’re (mostly) using search engines to do that research, logical conclusion: Doing your best to rank in related search results is to your benefit, in a big way.
The catch: Search Engine Optimization is complex and ever-changing. Since SEO’s inception, best practices have evolved significantly, largely in reaction to algorithm changes made by the major search engines. Businesses once got by on ugly keyword stuffing and simple backlink strategies. Today, SEO practices are far more sophisticated, encompassing quality content and user experience, mobile optimization, and a myriad technical elements.
So, for any company looking to increase online visibility, SEO isn’t a one-time task. It’s an ongoing process that requires continuous adaptation to changing search engine algorithms, evolving user behaviors, and technological advancements. Which means it requires three key things: expertise, tools, and time.
Time and SEO expertise are often hard to come by. The right SEO tools, however, are attainable. This post outlines a few powerful partners in SEO success that most digital marketers know and/or recommend.
Just keep in mind: Since SEO is always adapting, tools are ever-changing too. A leading name in 2023 might be a forgotten player in 2028. It pays to stay up on the latest SEO developments in practices as well as tools.
The Importance of SEO Tools
Before we dig into the “what,” let’s get clear on the “why.” Knowing basic SEO best practices isn’t enough to succeed in search. Updated data and the tools that deliver said data are pivotal in the process of crafting, executing, and analyzing SEO strategies.
The right tools will give you invaluable insights into keywords, backlinks, competition, and much more. And that helps digital marketers do the thing we always want to do: make well-informed, data-driven decisions.
Whether you’re looking to improve your website’s search engine results page rankings, understand competitor strategies, or pointedly optimize content, solid SEO tools give you a leg up.
Must-Use SEO Tools
These aren’t all the SEO tools available to digital marketers, but if you’re looking for a baseline or starting point, this encompasses the basics.
1. A Web Analytics Service/Tool
Why not start at the source? For any digital marketer, Google Analytics is the go-to tool for understanding web traffic and user behavior. Paired with Google Search Console, which provides detailed insights into website performance in Google Search, you’re building your fundamental foundation for SEO success.
About Google Analytics: The latest version, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), offers a user-centric approach to tracking traffic and customer journeys, providing detailed insights into user behavior across websites and apps. Unlike its predecessor, Universal Analytics, GA4 relies on event-based data collection, which helps us see how our users interact with content in real time. By digging into your GA4 data, you can get comprehensive reports on demographics, traffic sources, and engagement metrics, and that helps you understand the effectiveness of not just your SEO efforts, but marketing campaigns and content types too.
About Google Search Console: This complements Google Analytics by offering specific insights into your website’s performance in Google Search. You can dig into data on search queries that lead to your site, click-through rates, and the average position of pages in search results. It’ll show you in no uncertain terms how visible your website is on Google and can help you flag opportunities to improve your technical and content SEO.
2. A Comprehensive SEO Suite
As we get deeper into this SEO tools list, you’ll start to see repetitive mentions of comprehensive SEO Suites like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz. That’s because they all hold a broad mix of subtools that can complete your SEO tool palette. You can go a la carte, as many of the tool types below will show. But a suite makes it simple.
Semrush and Ahrefs and their competitors are highly robust, designed to provide an all-encompassing view of a website’s SEO performance. They’re built with a mix of individual tools that enable deep keyword research, backlink analysis, competitor insights, content optimization—every aspect of SEO research you might need.
The leading names are similar in a lot of ways, but most allow a free test drive, which gives you a chance to get a feel for how certain suites might align with your needs. When SEO suite shopping, digital marketers should lead with goals and needs. Are you more focused on deep competitive analysis? Is ease of integration with other tools top of mind? Does your team prize ease of use?
On Snapshot’s Digital Team, we like Semrush. It excels in its competitive intelligence capabilities, offering detailed insights into a competitor’s SEO strategies, advertising, and content marketing. If you really need to understand and outperform your competitors’ online strategies, Semrush is a game-changer.
Still, it’s just one of many well-made suites. Fans of Ahrefs love its backlink analysis tools. The comprehensive database allows for in-depth link profile analysis, which can be vital if your SEO strategy is particularly focused on building and maintaining a strong backlink profile.
Most SEO pros agree: It’s a good practice to try out several suites (and it’s usually easy to set up a walk-through with a representative) so you can see which aligns best with your team, your goals, and your business.
3. An SEO Plugin
SEO plugins, particularly for WordPress sites, can be a huge asset when it comes to simplifying your on-page SEO efforts. Once they’re installed, they typically review and analyze your content for SEO best practices (like readability and keyword density), provide recommendations for improvement, and offer real-time feedback as you edit. Some also integrate with analytics tools like GA4 to provide performance tracking.
The Yoast SEO Plugin is the best-known of the SEO plugin pack, used by millions of WordPress sites, with free and premium options available. It has a long track record (Yoast hit the scene as a comprehensive SEO plugin in 2010), and it’s established a reputation as a basic building block for SEO, especially for new businesses just getting started in search engine optimization.
There are plenty of alternatives, though, each with unique features and pricing structures. Rank Math, All in One SEO Pack, SEOPress, The SEO Framework, Premium SEO Pack, Squirrly SEO, and others provide different functionalities, from basic SEO needs to more advanced features.
While Yoast is mega-popular for WordPress CMS users, it’s not exclusive to that platform—businesses that use Shopify, Neos, and others can use it too. Whatever CMS you use, there may be a powerful plugin that’s set up to simplify your SEO.
4. Keyword Research Tools
Effective SEO starts with identifying the right keywords—information that can guide marketers in understanding the terms and phrases their ideal audience uses when searching online. When you know the right keywords, you’re able to tailor web content to match your users’ search queries. In simpler terms, you’re able to give your customers valuable answers to the questions they’re asking.
That all aligns with the basic premise of today’s SEO: Providing real value to your visitors/readers only improves your site’s visibility and relevance in search engine results.
Semrush and Ahrefs (and other suites) have robust keyword research tools that offer insights into search volume, keyword difficulty, and search trends. More streamlined options include Keyword Tool (there’s an optimized brand name for you), Mangools’ KWFinder, and Long Tail Pro, among many others. Google Keyword Planner focuses on paid keywords, but it can provide valuable context too (and it’s free).
Using the data these tools provide, you can select keywords strategically and pinpoint topics that are reasonably popular and reasonably competitive, which optimizes your chances of ranking.
It’s about more than just driving traffic, though. When you build content around well-researched keywords, your output is aligned with user intent. That makes your users happy, enhancing engagement and conversion rates. It’s a win all around.
5. Rank Tracking Tools
Rank tracking tools monitor and track the positions of specified keywords on SERPs. So if you’re gunning for Top 10 results on specific keywords, rank tracking gives you a clear bead on your progress (or lack thereof). More broadly, rank tracking allows marketers to fully understand how well their SEO efforts are performing and to identify trends or shifts in rankings.
Again, yes, SEO suites like Semrush and Ahrefs have solid rank and position tracking functionalities. But there are specialized rank tracking tools too, including Serpple and Nightwatch, that may serve your goals more directly.
Important things to take away: Closely monitoring your “goal” keywords is essential, and finding the right tracking tool might involve testing/adjusting (or it might be built into the suite you’re signing up for).
6. Backlink Analysis Tools
Backlink analysis: another functionality you’ll find in comprehensive SEO suites, and another key type of data for any strong SEO strategy.
The term “backlinks” (a.k.a. inbound links) means, essentially, another website linking to yours on a landing page or piece of content. These are vital for SEO because they tell search engines that other sites think your content is valuable.
Not all backlinks are created equally, however. Good backlinks come from reputable, relevant websites and contribute to a site’s authority. Negative backlinks, from low-quality or spammy sites, can harm a site’s SEO. (You can disavow links if they significantly affect your rankings, but it’s rarely necessary if you’re not engaged in shady SEO practices.)
Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, and many others have powerful backlink analysis tools that enable marketers to dig deep into their backlink profile. Using these tools, you can identify which sites link back to yours, assess the quality of these backlinks, and spot opportunities for new, high-quality links.
That data forms the framework of a backlink strategy, which may include direct outreach, content marketing, or collaborations.
7. SEO Audit Tools
SEO is a multi-faceted enterprise, as is obvious from all the details we’ve churned through thus far. But if you wanted to simplify it into two core buckets, those buckets would be Technical SEO and Content SEO.
Technical SEO involves optimizing website structure and technology to improve search engines’ ability to crawl and index your site. Content SEO is more about optimizing the actual creative stuff on your site to match user search queries and intent. For SEO success, the best approach is a balanced one, addressing both technical and content aspects.
Your comprehensive suites (Semrush, Ahrefs, etc.), once again, have excellent site audit tools that provide deep insights into technical issues. A very short list of other well-liked SEO audit tools: Screaming Frog and Sitebulb.
Tracking The Future of SEO Tools
All of the above barely skims the surface of SEO possibilities and capabilities, but it’s an SEO-tool framework to build on. There may be many, many new tools joining the mix soon enough.
SEO has always been a rapidly changing landscape, but the future has never looked less predictable—the integration of AI and machine learning can only revolutionize SEO practices and the tools we use to employ those practices. These technologies can enable more accurate keyword predictions, content optimization suggestions, and user intent analysis, paving the way for more sophisticated and effective SEO strategies.
So how do we prepare for the new wave of SEO sophistication? Odds are the comprehensive SEO suites will stay at the forefront, both in tools and thought leadership. So while a la carte SEO tools are always an option, a suite might keep you clued in.
Prefer to Outsource SEO Mastery?
The constant churn of search engine optimization isn’t for every team. But Snapshot’s Digital Team lives and breathes SEO.
If you need help auditing and updating your website to set it up for SEO success, developing a content strategy that aligns with your users’ needs, or anything else SEO-related, we’re here. Contact Snapshot, tell us about your SEO needs, and we’ll get started.