Any good SEO understands that SEO is a process, and the key to mastering SEO is mastering that process. When SEO tools are applied without a process and the skill to wield it, results are limited.
At the same time, the abilities of an SEO can be severely hampered or enhanced by the tools they have access to.
In this post, let's take a look at 14 tools suited for the professional SEO. This list is built primarily with agencies and enterprise businesses in mind. In other words, this list isn't intended for small time bloggers. We'll start by talking about three tools we use almost every day, then we'll move on to some other high profile industry tools.
Three Platforms We Use Almost Every Day
We'll start this list by looking at three tools we use almost every day at Northcutt: SEMrush, Screaming Frog, and Ahrefs. Before talking about any other platforms you might want to consider looking at, understand that we consider these three, or at least a close replacement of each, virtually essential to do SEO well.
We use SEMrush nearly every day to identify new keyword opportunities, evaluate competition, track our own keyword performance, and for various other tasks.
Entering a domain into the tool allows you to see:
- An estimate of how much traffic the site receives, based on the popularity of the keywords it ranks for and the ranking positions
- A list of, in many cases, tens of thousands of keywords that the site ranks for, and the ranking positions, out to the 100th position
- Question key phrases the site ranks for
You can do the same for a specific URL to get similar information about just one page on a site.
You can also use it to set up tracking for your own clients to track rankings more rigorously, with more frequent historical data, and for keywords that SEMrush may not automatically track.
SEMrush also provides a topic research tool for keyword ideas, an SEO writing assistant, a lead generation tool, and more.
This tool's greatest strengths are with competitive research, tracking, and keyword research. The backlink tool will serve you quite well if you don't use any others, and the remaining capabilities are certainly worth having.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
We consider Screaming Frog an almost must have, especially since even the free version is so incredibly useful.
You can use Screaming Frog to crawl your own site, or any competitors, in order to analyze essentially all on-site meta-data and all internal and outbound links on your site. This is one of the most important tools to have on hand in order to optimize your site's technical SEO.
This tool is virtually a prerequisite when you are:
- Optimizing title tags and meta descriptions
- Fixing server errors and redirects
- Analyzing your site's internal link structure and folder architecture
- Finding page duplicates
- Properly canonicalizing pages
- Auditing a site
- Optimizing crawling
- Identifying pages that search engines might have trouble finding or be blocked from accessing
Make sure you have this tool in your arsenal.
We recommend Ahrefs over any alternative for analyzing your and your competitors' backlinks. The primary reason for this is that Ahrefs simply has a larger pool of backlink data. This means that new backlinks are discovered sooner, backlink history is more accurate and can be tracked more usefully, and that backlink profiles more closely resemble what Google is looking at.
Backlink analysis is mostly useful as a way of evaluating competition that ranks for specific keywords and as a way of identifying link earning strategies that your competitors are using and that you may want to emulate. It also allows you to track how well you are earning natural links, outside of your manual outreach.
A less common, but still important use, for tools like this is to identify potential sources of spam links or negative SEO. A large number of links sharing the same keyword, especially if it isn't the brand name or the title of the page, can look like an attempt to manipulate search results dishonestly using automated spammy tactics. This may result in your site being manually penalized or negatively effected by an algorithm such as Google Penguin. Ahrefs can help you identify suspicious links.
While other tools can do backlink analysis, Afrefs is the best tool for the job in our experience.
Our SEO Tools
We wouldn't want to put this list together without showing off our own work, would we?
Our site hosts 47 completely free SEO tools that you can access without any kind of membership.
What we are most proud of, however, is our 1,200 point SEO checklist, with in depth instructions and links to tools that you can use to rigorously audit your or your client's sites. We built it off of our comprehensive list of sourced Google Ranking Factors.
Internally, it is our single most useful SEO tool so, understandably, we don't give this one away entirely for free, but we do make some parts of our checklist publicly available.
This platform is built to offer SEOs insight into the the motivations and intent of searchers, leads, and customers. It offers information about what topics are trending and which topics are associated with each phase of the marketing funnel. You can use it to build custom dashboards that let you measure and refine your SEO processes, as well as demonstrate results.
While you can use other tools to research what your potential audience is searching for, Conductor's standout features are its ability to recommend specific actions, and to measure the impacts of those actions. Rather than simply offering data, Conductor is specifically designed to offer insights.
The platform has a high usability score in part because of its unique "Insight Stream," a feed of recommendations that regularly populates with new suggestions. The insights are offered from a variety of different tools built into the Conductor platform, and SEO team members can communicate directly through "stories." In other words, the platform's main interface is built to function much like a social media activity feed.
Features include some familiar ones such as competitive research, keywords, internal and external link analysis, and analytics integration, but deep learning and AI assisted tools strengthen the platform, and Conductor is fairly unique in that its feature set is very frequently updated and improved in response to trends in the industry.
While this company made a name for itself primarily by becoming one of the most successful SEO blogs at the beginning of the modern SEO industry, their SEO tools are where they make their money. Their suite of tools is meant to be a comprehensive collection that you can use for virtually all elements of your inbound marketing efforts. SEO specific tools include rank tracking, site audits, link opportunities, keyword analysis, content grading, and site crawling. Users mostly speak highly of keyword tracking and recommendations, and backlink analysis.
The primary limitation of Moz is that the individual tools aren't necessarily on par with the tools produced by companies that focus most heavily on a single tool. Moz can effectively function as a suite of SEO tools for smaller companies, but as you move into the realm of enterprise SEO, it may be more effective to work with more specialized tools from a wider variety of companies.
BrightEdge is another company that offers a large suite of SEO tools including features for SEO recommendations, forecasting, reporting, dashboards, backlink management, and competitive analysis. Most users of this platform speak most highly of the keyword research tools and speak highly of the forecasting. Most seem to agree that the auditing tools could be improved upon.
This is a WordPress plugin that allows you to easily adjust important SEO settings on your site. If your site is powered by WordPress, you should definitely have Yoast or a similar platform set up in order to easily adjust SEO settings without needing to edit your theme code.
Some useful features include:
- SEO scores for each page
- Readability scores for content
- Redirect tool
- Easily change the SEO title separately from the headline, and update meta descriptions
- Easy settings for canonicalization and other technical SEO
Some problems can include:
- Default SEO options might sometimes actually be counterproductive
- Some features that rely on Google APIs are currently broken due to API changes
This tool is primarily designed for competitive SEO analysis, allowing you to analyze their content, backlinks, and and keywords, as well as compare them with your own. While SpyFu is useful, we prefer SEMrush due to the fact that the competitive research tools are more in depth and seem to have larger databases, and because SEMrush has a broader suite of SEO tools. The primary benefit of SpyFu is a lower cost, which becomes less important at the Enterprise level.
The suite of tools available on this platform should at this point sound familiar: website research, auditing, competitor monitoring, rank tracking, and scoring content for SEO. What people seem to like most about the tool is the ability to pull together data from multiple sources including Analytics, social media, Google search console, Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Ads, and others, and to put all of this information into a single report.
The reporting capabilities are the most highly praised, although the fact that Instagram is missing from social media reports is conspicuous.
Other than Moz's link tracker, Majestic is the primary rival to Ahrefs as a source of backlink information. Majestic and Ahrefs both have much more comprehensive link data than their other competitors. Purely from the perspective of providing useful link data, both tools are acceptable to get the job done.
The main reason to choose Ahrefs over Majestic is that Ahrefs has more tools for rank tracking, content planning, and backlink outreach. Since these tools are also informed by link data in a way that comparable tools from other platforms aren't, that makes them especially powerful.
Majestic SEO lacks these additional tools, but it is cheaper, and some argue that is more effective at spotting spammy links, although this is debatable and hard to measure.
BrightLocal is one of very few SEO platforms designed specifically to assist with local SEO and local online marketing. Some familiar tools get a local twist, including local keyword rank tracking, local SEO audits, the ability to find your existing local listings and ensure that they are consistent, the ability to set up new local listings, and the ability to easily monitor and respond to reviews.
Users praise the ability to gather all online listings and citations and to generate local reports. Some issues are no ability to set up unified reports for multiple locations, and occasional bugs and missed citations.
This platform is built to solve a problem faced by many ecommerce sites: the problem of optimizing a very large site with potentially millions of pages. Enterprise sites often end up with so many pages that it isn't uncommon for more than half of the pages to fail at even making it into Google.
Features include a log file analyzer, crawler, keyword tracker, and an integration with Google Analytics. You can use it to track your site's performance at every stage of the search process and how it is impacted and changes over time.
Since it is built to cover the entire search spectrum, it is very useful for technical SEOs who need to tackle some of the most complicated on-site SEO issues. Use Botify to:
- Identify trending keywords
- Fix indexing problems
- Analyze website architecture
The crawler is the core of the tool, allowing you to evaluate the structure and content of every page in the same way search engines do, in addition to tracking those changes over time.
The log analyzer lets you feed your server log files into a dashboard that collects all of the information in a more easily digestible format.
This is an incredibly useful tool for technical SEOs working on enterprise sites.
This platform is built on petabytes of keyword, crawl, and historical data analyzed with machine learning algorithms.
The actionable insight feature offers suggestions that you can choose to implement or override for your on-site SEO.
One of the most interesting features is Content Fusion, which analyzes top ranking content and provides suggestions to produce content that covers what searchers are interested in more quickly.
Rank Intelligence provides up to date ranking data on an unlimited number of competitors based on 27 or more SEO metrics. A Research Grid allows you to dynamically research keyword data, an auditing tool allows you to crawl your site for over 40 technical factors across millions of pages.
Other features include a content marketing suite, a log file analysis tool, page level analytics, and workflow management for team collaboration.
All 14 of these tools, and in our view, especially the first three, are all powerful and useful for the professional SEO. Save this list and use it to research which tools would be best to consider adding to your SEO process.
Not sure what your SEO process should look like? We recommend starting with our 1200 point checklist.