The Best Free SEO Tools
RECAP FROM SEO 101
Before we dive into SEO Tools, let’s do a recap of my last article, SEO & Local SEO 101.
First, a reminder on how search engines work…
An issue at any of these stages poses a major threat to your SEO, so you have to start at #1…
- Can your website be crawled by bots (aka spiders)?
- Is it being indexed correctly? You may be thinking “well crap, Abby! I don’t know what any of this is!” – don’t worry, I’m about to give you the tools to check for these problems!
- Are people searching for the terms you’re using?
- This is the big one… that damn algorithm.
- Getting to #5 is the goal of SEO.
I’ll get to the tools for #1 and #2, but let’s discuss the trickiest parts a bit more – #3 and #4 – Google and its algorithm.
How do search engines rank pages? How do they decide which is 1st, 10th, or 2,553rd?
That’s “the algorithm”. The mystery set of factors that can only be assumed. Of course, there are a lot of people busting their butts to get this algorithm figured out, so we do have at least a good estimate.
Side Note: Search engines don’t care if your website is WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Jumla, or plain HTML, so the fundamentals of SEO are the same for all types of websites.
As I mentioned in SEO 101, having reputable websites linking back to your site is the #1 influence on page rank. There are no tools* to help you get more backlinks – you just need to do a lot of footwork.
*To see what backlinks you have, and the authority rating of the domains who link to you, check out SEMrush. Just get their free account, go to Domain Analytics and then click Backlinks.
Also, remember that the algorithm is different for local and general searches. The biggest difference is that local search results rely on business reviews, your Google My Business listing, and other business listings. There is no tool to help you with these either, you just have to do it! If you need help though, call me!
Luckily there are tools to deal with the other 3 categories on the chart though; keyword strategy, page speed, and the structure of your pages and your website as a whole. These pieces are the foundation of SEO.
TOOLS FOR “DIY” SEO
First, a word of advice… your time is valuable and is probably better spent in other areas of your business.
I love doing SEO! It’s ingrained in everything I do, every day. I’d love to help! Hire Me!
Search engine optimization is time-consuming and is not a 1x project. SEO is ongoing. It needs monitored and tweaked over time and can take a few months before you see results.
However, if you can’t afford to hire a professional (heaven knows, I feel ya!) but you are at least a bit tech savvy, here are some tips on conducting your own SEO and the best free tools available to help optimize.
In case you didn’t know, “keyword” doesn’t mean just 1 word. Not sure why no one pluralizes it, but a “keyword” is usually a 2-word phrase. Keywords can be 3-word phrases or even longer; these are called “long-tail keywords”.
Keyword research helps find the exact terms people are searching for. You might think this would be obvious for most businesses, but it’s really not.
Let’s use a hair salon in Cleveland for our example. Their website says “Kathy’s Hair Design”, mentions “services”, “haircuts”… but never once says “hair salon”.
Can you spot the obvious problem?
Other than maybe being in a few business listings as a “Hair Salon”, search engines have no way of telling that this website is about a hair salon!
Keyword research helps you develop your keyword strategy, which includes:
- figuring out the exact wording people use in their searches
- finding the most specific terms related to your business
- narrowing the list down to keywords with little competition
Trying to rank for a term no one is searching for = 0 traffic. Example: “hair design”
Trying to rank for a keyword that’s too competitive = 0 traffic. Example: “hair salon”
Oftentimes, the best solution is finding a longtail keyword that fits just right. For this hair salon, it could be “hair salon in downtown Cleveland” or might turn out to be “hairdresser on Superior Ave”.
The #1 tool for conducting keyword research is Google AdWords. It’s free to sign up and to do endless amounts of keyword research.
Once you’re there, head to Keyword Research under Tools. If you’re a local business, be sure to narrow the target area down (by zip code, city, multiple counties, multiple cities, the entire state, etc).
Here are some resources to help you with performing keyword research and implementing your keyword strategy:
- ‘How to Get The Most Out of the Google Keyword Planner’ by Brian Dean of Backlinko, Chapter 2 of “Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide“
- ‘How to Use the Google Keyword Planner Tool for SEO’ – 6-minute video course from Quicksprout
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 5 “Keyword Research” from Moz.
- What is SEO? Free Ebook from Hubspot
Also known as “technical SEO”, this is the most vital part of SEO. Think of this as the wiring and plumbing of SEO; this is what makes it all work.
Tools for technical SEO will look at areas such as:
- If the website is allowing search engines to crawl it (step #1 mentioned above)
- If the website is being indexed correctly (step #2 mentioned above).
- Check for duplicate content (multiple pages with the same content = bad for SEO!)
- Check if links to your site, links on your site, and internal links are working correctly or if there are any redirects or broken links – (“404 Page Not Found” = bad for SEO!)
- Check for proper page structure (only one h1, h2 headings and beyond are in sequence, etc).
If you don’t know what an h1 tag is, you might want to hire a professional for your SEO. If you’re dead set on taking the time to learn all of this, start by researching what HTML is and how it works.
The first tool you’ll need to get set up is Google Search Console, aka Webmaster Tools. Other SEO tools will rely on data provided by Search Console too.
Next, head over to Ryte at https://en.ryte.com/ (previously OnPage.org). Ryte provides the most thorough review of any free tool I’ve come across. Even if you don’t have Google Search Console set up, Ryte will still provide you with a wealth of data on the health of your website.
Having a slow website makes for a terrible user experience. That’s why search engines ding slow websites.
In addition to telling you what’s bogging your site down, these tools will also provide you recommendations on how to fix it.
If you created your website yourself, there are a few things you can do yourself to help speed up your website. These are 3 easy things you can set up yourself (or with the help of your hosting provider) that all page speed tools will recommend:
- Compressing Images – Images drastically increase your page size and therefore your load speed too. Resize images to as small as possible before uploading to your website and then use an image compression tool. To compress the images, install the WPSmush plugin if you use WordPress, or use a tool like Optimizilla.
- Caching – Your website’s hosting provider may include one with your hosting plan. If you’re using WordPress, you can install a plugin like WP Rocket (is $40yr, but is the best-of-the-best and includes lazy loading for images), W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache.
- CDN – A content delivery network (CDN) like MaxCDN or Cloudflare helps to deliver your website to users faster based on their location because a CDN houses a cached version of your content on servers located all over the world.
My favorite tools to test page speed are…
GT Metrix is my #1 because they provide your PageSpeed Score and YSlow Score (from Yahoo!) and details on how you scored on several different factors. They provide a wealth of information and even provide you with compressed versions of your images if you need them.
Pingdom’s Website Speed Test is another good one. You can’t have too much data when it comes to monitoring page speed issues, so go ahead and try them all! Each test will give slightly different results, so if you see a problem on all 3 test’s results then you know it’s a definite issue.
Yoast, Ryte Magazine, and Moz all have amazing resources for SEO. If you have the time, they have everything you’ll ever need to know! Speaking of Yoast, if you have a WordPress website, make sure you have the Yoast SEO plugin!
Here are a few good reads if you’d like more information on doing your own SEO:
- Yoast recently launched a free beginners course that is excellent! It’s all videos (for you visual learners), has PDF’s of the courses to save for future reference, and has quizzes at the end of each section to check your retention.
- Moz has a great Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
- I’ve found Hubspot’s blog to be easy to read and very helpful. Even better, they put out free eBooks, articles, and more.
I hope this information has been helpful! Please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you have any questions or feedback!
About the Author
I'm Abby (Armstrong-Lehman) Buzon, Owner & Lead Designer of The Helpful Marketer, based in Medina County, Ohio. I got my start in marketing and website administration in 2010, became a mom in 2015, and left my day job in 2017 to begin The Helpful Marketer. I'm happier than I've ever been and I truly love what I do, so I'm here to share my story and give some marketing tips along the way!