If you’re a beginner to the world of website building, then you’re probably wondering how to get more people to visit your website. One of the first steps for you is to learn the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). But if you’re already more experienced than that, you’re likely looking for practical SEO tools and tips. So whether you’re thinking about building your first website or you’ve already built a few, I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 free SEO tools that you should consider using.
1. Google Analytics
Experienced online marketers know that analytics are an important tool in measuring website success. Learning to track search queries, traffic sources, referrals, and conversions will make you a veritable analytics ninja, so that you can make regular improvements to your site. As of February 2014, Google Analytics is set up with five unique reporting categories: Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions.
The “Real-Time” report includes six tabs that all focus on real-time analytics data. I’m a firm believer that historical data is more useful than real-time data, as it allows you to see what’s working over time. But real-time reports are certainly interesting, especially after you’ve just launched a new website or you want a quick snapshot of what’s happening during a new release.
The “Audience” report includes a slew of data dimensions that mainly focus on user demographics. You can review metrics such as age, gender, language, location, and browser type. There’s also a visitors flow chart to see where your users enter and which pages they visit next.
The “Acquisition” report provides deeper insight into your traffic sources, such as direct traffic, organic traffic, referral traffic, social traffic, and keyword traffic. The two most important are direct traffic and organic traffic. Direct traffic is from visitors that type your URL into a browser or that enter via a bookmark. Organic traffic is all visits that come via a search engine.
The “Behavior” report allows you to drill down even further into your individual website pages. For instance, if you wanted to find your top 5 most visited pages, you would go here. Google also offers “In-Page Analytics,” which displays visual click-through rates on any page of your website. This can be a great help for those of you looking to improve user experience.
Lastly, the “Conversions” report focuses on your goals (e.g. newsletter signups, form submissions, and sales) and how many have been completed, as well as conversion rates for each one. If you are running any sort ecommerce website, then you’ll be especially interested in this report.
If you’re looking to become a real Google Analytics expert, they offer a free training and certification course. And if you’re looking for how to install your Google Analytics tracking code on a Jimdo website, check out this quick Google Analytics installation tutorial.
2. Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is another great free tool that gives website owners detailed reports into their website’s visibility within Google’s search engine. These are the most important areas to review:
Search Appearance > HTML Improvements
This is where you can find website issues related to duplicate title tags, missing title tags, duplicate meta-descriptions, and missing meta-descriptions.
Search Traffic > Links to Your Site
This shows you who links to your website the most, as well as your most linked content.
Google Index > Index Status
In this report, you’ll be able to make sure that your website is being indexed.
Crawl > Crawl Errors
Here you’ll be able to see any Google crawl errors on your website. Google also provides additional information on how to fix any errors that may arise.
Once your website is set up, you’ll want to test and submit a sitemap to Google. Sitemaps help you easily inform Google and other search engines that you have pages ready to be crawled.
If you have any issues with malware on your website, Google will notify you here.
You’re able to test structured data in this section, such as whether you correctly set up Google+ authorship. Google+ authorship helps make your content more personal by showing your actual Google+ photo next to your content in Google search results.
If you’d like to learn even more detailed information about Google Webmaster Tools, then definitely check out the Webmaster Tools Help Center.
3. Google Adwords Keyword Planner
At its core, the Google Adwords Keyword Planner is meant for paid search advertising campaigns. However, it’s arguably the best free tool available for organic keyword research. If you’re interested in what keywords have the most competition or monthly searches within your vertical, then you’ll want to start using this right away.
Within the tool, you are able to search for new keywords based off similar keyword ideas. For instance, if you entered the keyword “seo tools,” the Keyword Planner would give you additional ideas, such as “best seo tools” or “seo software tools.” You’re also able to see search volume averages for whole lists of keywords. As with the other two great Google tools, they have excellent tutorials for the Keyword Planner.
The MozBar, also known as the SEO Toolbar by Moz, is a plugin extension available for Chrome and Firefox. There is a paid version of the toolbar that gives you access to advanced metrics and features, but the free version is still very useful.
The MozBar provides easy to read on-page elements (e.g. title tags and meta descriptions) and link data, such as how many websites link to that web page, for any website that you visit. If you’re curious about a competitor’s on-page SEO strategy, this is a quick and easy way to get some of that information. You’ll be able to sneak a peak into your competitor’s online mindset by seeing their Domain Authority, which shows how relevant a website is in relation to the entire web, as well as their title tags and meta descriptions for key landing pages. The MozBar also offers a SERP (search engine results page) Overlay extension. This shows you Page Authority and Domain Authority for each search result in Google. Similar to Domain Authority, Page Authority measures that page’s importance as compared to other pages on the internet. Check out the screenshot below.
NOTE: The Firefox version allows you to export Page Analysis and SERP data to .csv files. Otherwise, the two extensions are essentially the same.
5. Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer (OSE) is yet another great tool from the people at Moz. It allows you to check on any given website’s backlinks, and it displays them in an extremely clean format. Backlinks, otherwise known as inbound links, are links that come from other websites, and they are extremely important to improving your Domain Authority. With the free version of OSE, you are somewhat limited in terms of the information you’re provided. However, it’s a fantastic tool for finding out more information on your competitors. If you’re interested in comparing your Domain Authority, Page Authority, or Total Links with those of your competitors, then check out this example below.
NOTE: With the free version, you are limited to running three reports per day. And you will only be able to see the following information for five of your backlinks: Domain Authority, Page Authority and Link Anchor Text.
Those are what I consider to be the top 5 free SEO tools in 2014. It’s never easy to make a short list like this, and while there are a few other tools that almost snuck in, these were the clear cut winners for me. I plan on writing more in-depth articles on each individual tool listed above over time, but let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. Are there other free SEO tools that you find essential to your online success?