Search engine optimization is the foundation of every sustainable digital marketing strategy, but professional tools get super expensive. Start with this free SEO tool suite instead of handing over your hard-earned cash. Here we’ll take a look at the most common ones and what they do aside from Yoast SEO. We all love Yoast, but it’s not enough to take your SEO game to the next level alone.
You’ll be surprised at how far you get!
Google Search Console Belongs in Every SEO Tool Suite
The first of of Google’s tools (originally launched as Webmaster Tools back in 2006), Google Search Console has been a mainstay of professional SEOs for well over a decade.
Search Console can tell you important things like:
- How many people viewed your site in the search results.
- How many people clicked on your site in the search results.
- The click-through rate (CTR) of your pages in the search results.
- Your site’s average position in the search results.
That’s what you’d review most often. You just set a date range and away you go!
That’s not all it can do, although the new rebranded version is missing some features from the original version we knew up until 2018. Still, it’s useful for carrying out these tasks:
- Researching which links and domains are pointing toward your site.
- Disavowing links from disreputable sites.
- Request indexing for specific pages in case Google didn’t pick it up.
- Manage errors Google’s experiencing with pages on your site.
- Check the performance and usability of your mobile pages.
- Address any manually enforced penalties Google may have put on your site.
We use it everyday to watch the search engine clicks go up, but be warned: it can take 3-4 days to see a day’s full data (to our daily disappointment).
Google Analytics is easily the most well-known of Google’s software in the digital marketing community, and for good reason. It’s the most cost-effective analytics platform on the market (being free), making it a staple of every SEO tool suite. It provides pretty intense data on your website performance, including:
- Sessions, users, and pageviews.
- Bounce rate and time spent on a page.
- General demographic data.
- Site speed (as measured by users’ browsers).
- Geographic data.
- Day and time of day.
- Where your traffic comes from.
- What your visitors do on your site.
There are paid services out there with more intuitive layouts, but few of them are deep enough or customizable enough to match Google Analytics itself. That’s why most web analysts use it as their platform of choice.
Google Search Console vs. Google Analytics
Google has created many free measurement tools over the last 15 years. Many digital marketing newbies confuse Search Console and Analytics, both being made by Google, but they serve very different purposes:
- Search Console metrics for people using a Google Search.
- Analytics measures deeper metrics about user behaviour once they’re on your website.
You’re not alone in thinking that they might as well roll the two into one platform, but that’s not generally how the Big G itself likes to roll. Instead, it like to create purpose-built tools and then integrate them if they prove useful.
Search Console lets you do these things that Google Analytics can’t do out of the box:
- See the keyword data behind organic traffic.
- See how many impressions your pages earned.
- See the click-through rate to your website.
- See your average position in the search results.
- Submit site maps and URLs for Google to index.
- Review security issues or manual actions on your website (as seen by Google).
- View and export backlinks pointing toward your website.
Screaming Frog has been a mainstay of every SEO’s tool suite for longer than I’ve been in the industry, and for good reason. It lets you scale your time much better while tackling the fundamentals of on-page SEO without wasting time on manual data entry.
Specifically, Screaming Frog crawls websites for this information:
- Internal and external links.
- Response codes for each page.
- Redirects and broken links.
- URLs for every page on a domain, including image file URLs.
- Page Titles
- Meta Descriptions
- H1 and H2 tags, as well as their length.
- Canonical tags on every page.
- Pagination tags.
- Directives for robots.txt files.
- Hreflang tags (for international sites or bilingual regions).
- AJAX code
- Accelerated mobile pages (AMP).
- Structured data markup.
- Basic page load information.
There are plenty of tools out there that can do one of those things for a single page, and perhaps provide more details in depth. However, nothing else out there covers such a wide range of on-page SEO factors for so many pages in such record time (much less for free).
Even better, you can export this data as well! That’s the best part. You can mix and match it with other data in a spreadsheet for several purposes, like auditing a website, running in-the-trenches competitive research, or just troubleshooting for your own website. It’s versatile.
There is a paid version with some upgraded features, but the free version delivers a huge amount of value for serious SEOs all on its own.
Open Site Explorer by ahrefs
ahrefs recently made its open site explorer a free resource, making modest waves in the SEO community. It can show you the general profile of a website, including these data points:
- Organic search traffic
- Keyword coverage and rankings.
- Keyword coverage by country.
- Backlinks and referring domains.
- Your site’s overall health score.
They’re helpful metrics—and while ahrefs isn’t the first SEO platform to offer some of them for free, it is considered one of the best paid SEO software products on the market. In other words: its data is top-notch for the industry.
There are a few limitations to keep in mind with the free open site explorer:
- You can only use it if you can verify ownership of the website you want to analyze. This means you can’t use the free version for competitive analysis.
- The good features are reserved for the paid version of the software, so you can’t go too in-depth with it.
It’s still a nice resource if you’re looking to get started with some basic SEO analytics, letting you do a couple of things to improve your website’s presence:
- Gain visibility into your keyword rankings to make more informed decisions about content production.
- See which websites link to yours to get an idea of who finds your content reputable.
- Get a snapshot of your website’s health.
- See an approximation of your traffic from Google, if you haven’t started setting up Google Analytics in Tag Manager yet.
Google My Business (Formerly Business Manager)
While not purpose-built for your SEO tool suite, Google My Business does play a significant role in your search presence. It plays a big role in local SEO in particular, providing these things to users interested in your business:
- Location data via Google Maps.
- Reviews from customers based on a 5-star rating.
- Hours of operation.
- Phone Number.
- City or province.
- Quick links for directions and the website.
- Photos to humanize your brand.
- Quick links to your social profiles, including Facebook reviews.
When you set up Google My Business you can actually divide the dashboard into different locations, giving specific people access to specific location (with their own varying levels of permissions, just like other platforms).
From the GMB dashboard you can:
- Add, delete, or manage other locations (great for franchises).
- Respond to customer reviews and flag ones you feel are unfair.
- Set your business hours.
- Post content updates, accessible right from the search results.
More to the point, you can reap these benefits from this free SEO tool:
- Get featured in the “local pack” of the top three results for searches.
- Appear more often for voice searches, especially local ones.
- Analytics about your business listing, including click-to-call data (super handy!).
You don’t need to set your business for a specific city, either. You can set an entire service area, like a cluster of cities, province, or state. For example, a restaurant with a fixed location should play to its strength with an exact address, while a towing service should cover a service area to avoid being filtered out in a wider area.
GTmetrix for Site Speed
This is definitely for the tech-savvy out there, but it’s also an invaluable part of your free SEO tool suite that you can show to your development team, consultant, or agency. GTmetrix was made by a team in Vancouver that provides web hosting services, and still does to this day.. It measures the time it takes to load, and even tells you which elements on your page are taking too long to load!
The waterfall reports are particularly useful in handing off site improvements to developers because they can see exactly which elements on the site are causing issues, and (in many cases) why. You can also see aggregate speed data inside Google Analytics to get a better view of how your visitors experience page loading speed on average, but the deepest metrics you can look at are things like Server Response or Redirection Time. GTmetrix gets into the “why” and “how” of website speed with specific factors that Google Analytics wasn’t built to spot.
Pro Tip: don’t panic if GTmetrix shows you a single slow report. All websites rely on servers, and every server experiences peak usage times as well as hiccups. Show concern if you it displays slow results consistently across different days and different times of the day.
Pro Tip #2: GTmetrix also gets puritanical with speed scores, so don’t fret if it gives you a “C” or a “D” rating. “Fully Loaded Time” is the metric that matters. We’ve seen a site with an amazing load speed of 1.4 seconds get a score of 30%, which is bonkers. Make sure you take the top-level metrics with a grain of salt from these reports!