May 8, 2013
I am not a big tool user in general. By that I mean the types of tools that supposedly help you "optimize" your website. There is no perfect page for SEO purposes, so in my opinion any tool that claims to give you information such as how many words you need here or there is simply wrong.
What most of those tools do is look at the top 10 ranking sites for a specific keyword phrase and then take averages of how many words they have in the Title tags, within the content, etc. Which to me is just silly. An average doesn't tell you anything. One page might have 1,000 words and another might have 50, but the average is then in the 500 range. That certainly doesn't mean that if you create your page to have 500 words it will somehow magically rank well.
SEO is more about fixing technical issues (which some tools can certainly help with), and it's about being sure you're using words that your target audience uses. And these days, in the wake of Panda and Penguin, it's also about diagnosing bad links and other things that may be bringing your site rankings down. Online tools can certainly help with all those things.
Keep in mind that I generally only do SEO site audit reports, and high-level SEO consulting and training (as opposed to rolling up my sleeves and actually doing the SEO for clients). So I may be missing some that I previously used. Please note that while I assume that the Google tools I'm mentioning are obvious, they're so integral to my work that I'd be remiss not to mention them.
Here are the tools I use regularly to help with my SEO consulting services:
Most critical tool at all, it diagnoses lost traffic for site audits, and of course is used to measure success. Especially helpful when combined with custom reports, dashboards, and advanced segments.
Google Webmaster Tools
Everyone with a website today needs to be signed up here. It offers tons of useful information, but basically it helps diagnose website problems and provides messages directly from Google if a site has a major issue or penalty.
This tool sends a spider out to sites and compiles a nice spreadsheet report on the pages. It shows you Title tags, URLs, Meta Descriptions, Canonical tags, etc. Plus, it tells you about pages that may have 404 errors, redirects, and lots of other things. I usually use this when I'm starting a new site review because it helps me get an overall feel for the site and quickly shows me any major technical issues. (And I just love the tool's name.)
Rex Swain's HTTP Header Viewer
This one is good for seeing what sort of redirect any page may have. For SEO purposes we like to see 301 redirects rather than 302s or any other kind. It will also show if there are multiple redirects for any URL.
This is a great tool for learning about any website's backlinks. You can get a lot of that also from Google Webmaster Tools these days, but I often find different ones showing up in Ahrefs that I may not have seen in GWT. Plus, you can learn about the backlinks of competitor sites. I mainly use it to see if the website I'm reviewing has a lot of spammy links. It's especially helpful if the site has received an unnatural links warning in the GWT account. It's a great way to see the distribution of anchor text as well. This tool also has a spidering component similar to ScreamingFrog mentioned above.
Google Keywords Tool
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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