When it comes to SEO advice, you'll likely be bombarded with a thousand and one suggestions that you should follow to succeed at the search engine game—from fine tuning the tiniest of details (e.g. the length of your meta title) to the macro level (e.g. doing a full site audit).
But at the end of the day, there's only one thing that really matters in SEO: having your posts appear on the first page of search results.
In this article, I'm going to get rid of the clutter and show you the best SEO tools to help you get there quickly, skipping all the bells and whistles.
Disclosure: Although I receive affiliate compensation for some of the links below at no additional cost to you that compensation in no way influences my recommendations, which are strictly informed by my years of digital marketing experience working with clients large and small. My aim is to always recommend tools that will offer you the best return on investment.
Let's look at it this way: websites don’t rank high or low on search engines—individual pages do. The more pages that you can rank high on search results, the higher your website will rank overall.
Contrary to popular SEO practices, I don’t believe you should look at your competitors at the site level, you know, where you go into a fancy SEO tool, you enter your site’s URL and then you’re presented with all your competitors on a chart.
You then are encouraged to look at their best ranking pages to see what keywords they are ranking for, look at their backlinks to see what domains are referring traffic to them in the hopes of “stealing” some of those, and so on and so forth.
The Truth About SEO
The thing is, the SEO game is not won at the site level—looking at how you compare with competitors and their metrics—it’s won on the playing field, page by page and one page at a time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that full-featured all-in-one SEO tools are not useful. They are, but only AFTER you conquer the tactical page-by-page SEO game.
Once you’re able to master on-page SEO you’ll be off to the races, and over time you’ll become a force to be reckoned with, leapfrogging much more mature websites with a much higher domain score than you.
Here’s an example of a site that made it to the first page of search results, with a tiny domain score (7) and even tinier traffic (5K/mth) showing up in 2nd place on a Google search outranking an industry giant with a domain score of 88, 10 million visitors per month and multi-billion dollar revenue:
Would you like to rank high on search engines slaying giants in the process? Let’s now look at the SEO tools that’ll help you get there, including: your best option overall, your best budget option, the runner up and your best free option:
This is the most advanced and easy to use on-page SEO tool currently available, in my opinion.
While there are other tools that do some of what Surfer SEO does, they don’t come even close to the way this tool manages to reverse engineer Google’s search algorithm when it comes to on-page optimization.
Surfer SEO allows you to audit your page against your competitors in the first page of search results for your chosen keyword, and shows you how you compare through the lens of over 500 signals that Google’s algorithm uses to rank your page on search results.
For instance, you’ll learn:
- The average word count you should use to place on the 1st page of results
- The ideal number of headings you should shoot for (H2, 3, 4, etc.)
- The average length of your meta title and description
- The number of bold words you should use
- The average number of paragraphs to write
- How many exact keywords you should use and where they should be placed
- What words are considered critical by Google and the number of occurrences
- What words are considered relevant but not critical that should also be included
- What words you should use to abide by Google’s natural processing language analysis algorithm
And more importantly, it’ll show you a running count of all of the above that changes as you write on their handy editor until you hit all the required targets for page-one ranking!
Surfer SEO Features that Stand Out for Online Earners
- Real-time content audits (find out how your page fares with your competitors on the first page of search results right at that moment, not based on a snapshot from the past, like most competitors show)
- Real-time counter of the most important SEO ranking signals in their post editor, which changes as you type! (when you hit the magic number you just stop, making sure you don't over optimize)
- Easy to use with a very intuitive user interface so you don’t waste your time trying to find where features are hidden
- True Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keyword extraction. These are those contextual keywords from page-one competitors related to your main search term that are most likely to land you on the first page of search results
- Real-time Natural Language Processing (NLP) phrase extraction from page-one competitors to give you a leg up in the latest ranking advances used by search engines
Now the Cons…
- Although the entry level plan is reasonable for $59/mth given how advanced this tool is, it can get pricey if you’re creating a lot of content (more than 25 articles/posts/pages a month).
- The entry level plan does not give you access to NLP keywords (this is a bummer!) almost doubling your monthly cost to get access to this important feature.
Find Out More About Surfer SEO.
Best Budget SEO Tool: Ubersuggest
This budget SEO tool doesn't have the ability to do on-page optimization, but it does have an excellent site audit feature that packs as much punch as other tools that cost two or three times more.
Ubersuggest is backed by Neil Patel, one of the industry’s most prolific SEO bloggers and a large agency owner. He has a tremendous amount of experience helping clients rank high on search engine results and has automated much of his knowledge in this powerful tool.
By simply entering your domain name into the tool and running a site audit, Ubersuggest will crawl all of your pages in real time no matter the size of your site and show you site audit results against a 44-point SEO checklist, broken down into critical errors, warnings and recommendations.
For example, you can find out if:
- You have any pages without a single H1 tag (your goal) or with multiple H1 tags (a no-no in SEO)
- You have pages with meta titles and descriptions that are either too long or too short
- You’re missing your meta descriptions
- You have pages with a low word count
- You have pages that take too long to load
- You have an SSL certificate that's about to expire
- You have pages with broken links
You can also find out what keywords your pages are ranking for, how many backlinks each page has and which pages on your website drive most of your traffic.
And as importantly, you can find the above information about any of your competitors! For example, what keywords are driving traffic to their sites, what pages are attracting the most visitors, and what websites are linking to their pages.
Ubersuggest Features that Stand Out for Online Earners
- Site-wide audits
- Backlink profile, including new and lost backings, shown on a daily basis
- Historical backlink data
- Demographic data about your searchers
- Keyword and content ideas, including keyword suggestions, related keywords, keywords phrased as question, keywords containing prepositions and comparisons
- Monthly search volume, average cost per click, pay-per-click competition and SEO competition for each keyword
- Facebook and Pinterest shares for your pages
- SEO Keyword ranking
- Priced much lower than competitors with similar features
Now the Cons...
- My main beef with Ubersuggest it its slow speed compared to other SEO tools, which can get quite annoying if you're a heavy user. This may be the result of its popularity due to the low cost, but this is an acceptable trade off if money in your budget is restricted
- A more limited database than its direct competitors, SEMrush and KWFinder, although this will likely improve over time
Find Out More About Ubersuggest Here.
Best Runner-up: SEMRush
SEMRush is the leading all-in-one SEO tool. Now I consider this tool to be the runner up because its focus is on general SEO and its on-page SEO tool pales in comparison to the power of the overall winner, Surfer SEO.
However, it can be a great complement.
What it lacks in on-page SEO sophistication, it more than makes up with the massive dataset of competitive information they’ve managed to compile over time, including:
- 20 Billion keywords
- 812 million domains
- 31 trillion backlinks
Basically, SEMRush is Ubersuggest on steroids!
In addition to competitive analysis, you can also do excellent backlink analysis and keyword research. Compared to Ubersuggest, it’s much faster so you don’t have to wait for seemingly long stretches of time between queries.
Like Ubersuggest, SEMRush has an excellent site audit tool to help you correct any errors that may be impacting your overall ranking, and it also has a rank tracker so that you can assess your progress over time as you optimize your website.
SEMRush Features that Stand Out for Online Earners
- Organic research (find out what pages your competitors are ranking for)
- Keyword research (see what keywords your competitors are ranking for and also use the tool to research your own topic ideas)
- Backlink building and analytics (see who’s linking to your competitors)
- Rank tracking with easy-to-use change monitor (see how your positions change on the page of search results over time)
- Site audit (similar to Ubersuggest's)
- Social media posting feature (this is a bonus if you need a tool to schedule your social media posts in advance)
Now the Cons...
- On-page SEO lacking compared to Surfer SEO
- It can be a bit pricey if you’re bootstrapping your website
- Their most popular plan is limited to a single user at one time. If someone else working on your project logs in, you’ll get kicked out.
Find Out More About SEMRush Here.
Best Free SEO Tool: SEO Quake
If you are absolutely on a tight budget and are looking for the best, most reliable—and free—SEO solution, you’re in luck! This free browser extension (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Edge) brought to you by none other than the folks at SEMRush, packs a lot of power.
Since the data is served by SEMRush, you can count on its reliability and accuracy.
Now, being free to use, you’re not going to find the range of features you'll find in any of the above tools. However, the on-page and domain SEO information it’s able to unearth is quite impressive.
Once installed on your browser, all you have to do is to visit a page (yours or your competitor's), click on its browser extension icon on the top menu bar and you’ll immediately see a wealth of SEO information, including:
- Page information including meta title and description
- Page parameters like the Alexa rank
- Page traffic
- Page backlinks
- Internal and external links
- Keyword density, and
- Page SEO audit
In order to make many of the features work, SEOQuake will ask you to create a free SEMRush account and will guide you through the integration process. Once the two tools are connected, you’ll be ready to dig deep into the page you're visiting.
The best part is, you can easily export the page SEO data into a file that you can then open and manipulate on a spreadsheet.
SEOQuake Features that Stand Out for Online Earners
- SEO data export (you can get a thorough analysis of SERPs and export the results with a csv format or even print reports directly from the browser)
- SEO dashboard (this is a compact mini-panel that opens on top of the page chockfull of juicy SEO information, including a brief SEO overview with page, domain and backlink details)
- Keyword analysis (you can get a detailed report on all keywords found on the page)
- Access to the SEMRush’s massive SEO dataset
- It’s 100% free!
Now the Cons...
- Since it’s free, you’ll get a much more limited SEO capabilities
- It’s missing key on-page optimization and audit features found in the above paid tools
- It’s only good to get you off the ground until you can afford its paid cousins
Find Out More About SEO Quake Here.
What to Do Next
Learning SEO takes time. SurferSEO has a $1/7-day trial (no credit card charges after the 7 days are over) and both Ubersuggest and SEMRush offer a 7-day free trial (credit card required to sign up for free trial, with automatic renewal after the initial trial period).
While on the trials, make sure you watch their videos and read their blog posts to get a handle on the tools. While at first they may appear a bit overwhelming to learn, with practice you'll find them to be really easy to use.
In fact, once you master any one of them, you'll find that the same knowledge will transfer to all the others.