Track your digital marketing progress with the right DIY SEO tools

Having an endless number of SEO tools to play with is an occupational hazard of being an SEO strategist.

There are always new tools being released into the wild, promising to be faster, more accurate and offer greater insight into the minds of the Google Gods. And it makes sense that DIY SEO tools are always being refined.

Search is built on a forever-changing landscape. What worked a month or six months ago, might not work as well today due to changes in how search works.

While this excites me—someone who lives and breathes SEO day-in, day-out—it’s been brought to my attention that for small business owners searching for DIY SEO tools, it’s an overwhelming experience. (Thanks clients!)

Like, I’ve heard it’s the same level of overwhelm as trying to choose what to watch on Netflix when you have no idea what you’re in the mood for so 30-minutes later you’re still scrolling, no closer to pressing play on anything and eventually turning it off in a fit of rage because there’s “nothing good on” and sitting in silence is preferable.   

via GIPHY

If you’re in this boat then this article is designed to be your life raft.

Coming up are my tips for finding the right DIY SEO tools for tracking your marketing efforts, plus some words of wisdom from my fellow SEO professionals.

By the time you’re done reading this article you’ll understand:

  • what an SEO tool is
  • that different tools work best for different SEO tasks
  • how to make the most of introductory offers and freebies
  • how to confidently choose the right DIY SEO tools to track the metrics that are important to your business.  

What are SEO tools?

An SEO tool is a program or piece of software. It gives performance insights so you can assess how well your online marketing is working in the eyes of the search engines. SEO tools help you: 

  • monitor keyword rankings
  • generate content ideas
  • monitor backlinks
  • analyze website speed
  • technical aspects
  • monitor your local standings
  • create schema
  • spy on competitors’ SEO
  • monitor search engine algorithm updates
  • or find and correct business citations.

As this list shows, there are many insights you can use to propel your business forward. 

If you’ve researched DIY SEO tools already you’ll be familiar with a few of the big industry names. Companies such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz.

Knowing who builds tools is a great first step. The next is understanding the information each company’s program or software shows you. 

Some SEO tool building companies create multifunction software. These tools display all of the SEO metrics and data you need in one place. Others specialize.

“Some tools are better at one thing than others,” says Kerstin Reichert. “When it comes to backlinks, for example, I would probably [use] SEMrush or Ahrefs because they just have a larger backlink database.”

In a similar way, I would suggest Answer The Public for content creation ideas. 

When talking to UK-based SEO manager Flo Guerrouani about SEO tools, she appreciates the flexibility of using several different tools dedicated to the various facets of SEO. But she also recognizes the drawbacks. “I’m quite surprised when I hear people saying that they’re using 10 different tools. I’m like, ‘How do you do this?’” Flo has a good point. 

Of course, the more tools you rely on, then the more time spent flicking between sites, logins and platforms which inevitably eats into the time available for the actual doing of SEO.

It’s a balancing act and leads us to the biggest catch that holds many small business owners back from getting started with a DIY SEO tool: choice.

Sorting through the available tools 

Search for ‘DIY SEO tools’ and there are around 339,000,000 results. There are:

  • free ones
  • the best ones
  • the complete list of…
  • the simple ones
  • the top ones
  • the recommended ones
  • the industry specific ones
  • the most loved
  • the most hated
  • the ones that increase traffic
  • the ones that improve rankings
  • the all-in-ones
  • and the ones you actually need,

to name a few. 

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A lot like the Netflix example from earlier, it’s pretty normal to get frustrated and give up on finding the right SEO tool. This feeling of overwhelm has a name: decision paralysis. So how can you avoid this? How do you cut out the noise of the less relevant tools and focus on the ones that will best help you optimize your website leading to higher quality organic traffic? 

Start here…

There are a few things you can do right away to filter out the crap tools from the ones that are worth your time and energy. 

  1. Read reviews left by customers or reviews on trusted SEO publication sites, such as searchenginejournal.com.
  2. Ask for recommendations from people in the SEO industry. This is what Tory Gray of The Gray Dot Company does. She’s more inclined to try a new tool when it’s recommended by a fellow SEO and with many SEOs being on social media, all you need to do is drop a comment on their latest post or send a DM. Most will be only too happy to share. 
  3. Get clear on what you’re trying to achieve. By knowing what SEO metric you’re trying to track and monitor, you can narrow down your search by only looking at tools that will analyze the data you need. 

Tip: Read Seven SEO measurements you must track

Choosing the right SEO tool takes time 

Hopefully now you have a shortlist of SEO companies who provide tools you like the look of and are relevant to the metrics you want to track. Next, set some time aside to start using them. 

Begin with any that offer free and low cost trials. These let you evaluate each tool you are drawn to. Pick three that jump out at you based on reviews and demo videos. 

Once you’re signed up, keep the following evaluation questions in mind. 

  • Is the interface pleasing and easy to navigate?
    If something isn’t easy to navigate relatively quickly, frustration sets in. (Or worse, the SEO work needed to support the business grinds to a halt.)
  • What will this tool help me accomplish?
    Understand the main function of the tool and the information you want it to show you. Is it just to measure rankings? Is it to analyze competitor keywords?
  • Is the tool within budget?
    At the end of the free or low-cost trial period can you continue to see value in the tool and is it within budget? Most tools are subscription based and offer tiered pricing. Work out the monthly and annual cost. See if you can make a saving by paying an annual, rather than a monthly subscription.  
  • Will this tool improve my workflow?
    Consider how you and your team will use this tool. Will it be your own personal source of reference to pull in to another reporting method or will you use it directly?

Do you really need more than one SEO tool to get found on Google? 

Imagine a tool box. Inside the box are several tools that help you do all sorts of jobs but there’s one tool you use more than any other. One ratchet or drill that you’d be lost without. Everything else in the box is an accessory to that one tool. That’s how you should look at SEO tools. 

In digital marketing land, that tool-you-can’t-do-without is your website.

When that’s fully charged and working correctly, everything else is an accessory that makes sure it keeps doing the job it needs to do.

And just like tool boxes, there’s always more than one accessory that can help you get the job done better, faster, more accurately. 

Having at least one SEO tool will help you identify opportunities to improve your website’s Google appeal.

Using a handful that are carefully curated to measure the SEO metrics you want to measure will, ultimately, make your life so much simpler.   

Whatever tool you choose, give it time. Get used to the new interface.

Remember that you are not stuck with the tool you choose. You can choose a different one later. Your goals may change as time passes and tool requirements cause you to want to change.

Find your next favorite SEO tool in my Tools list.

Barb Davids - SEO Consultant

Barb Davids is an SEO consultant and owner of Compass Digital Strategies. Driven by data and analytics, she works hard to get business-changing results for her clients, such as 256% more website traffic and 22% more leads. As lockdown began and clients lost budget, she continued working on some pro bono for a couple of months. Offering free help to select industries. Her own business as a result has pivoted and begun to offer online courses so that business owners can work to gain more site traffic and leads at a more budget friendly cost. 
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