I never get tired of saying it – I love me a good free tool.
This article is dedicated to the best – those free SEO tools that I use frequently and give me that warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s nice to have a huge arsenal, but it can be more powerful to wield a few powerful weapons expertly, so I’ve included some links and tips on how to make these tools work harder for you.
At the end of this article, you’ll find the 2016 version of this list with notes on changes. There’s also a bonus list of links to more free SEO tools.
Without further ado, here are my current fifteen favorite freebies.
Having a tool to examine page speed and diagnose opportunities for improvement is now an essential part of the SEO toolkit. Anything that impacts user-experience impacts SEO, and site speed is a big deal for UX, especially for mobile. Many page-speed tools exist; I’ve found GTmetrix reliable and a good balance between thorough and user-friendly. Other page speed tools that are good include Pingdom, WebPagetest (great visual waterfall), and Google PageSpeed Insights. That last one is especially good.
The Web Developer Toolbar has become much relied-upon during the technical phase of our SEO audits. To learn how to use it for SEO, read Glenn Gabe’s SEO Audits & the Web Developer Plugin: 12 Helpful Features for the Technical SEO.
SEO Quake shows data on traffic, links, social shares, on-page keyword optimization and more. The SEO Quake website has lots of helpful tips on what to do with all this data.
In 2015, social media is typically vital to SEO success. Hootsuite is one of many platforms for managing social media. I’m not saying Hootsuite is the best social platform, but it is what I’m most familiar with and is plenty helpful for promoting new content and staying on top of opportunities to engage with key influencers.
The Wayback Machine is the Internet’s most complete historical archive and lets you see what a website used to look like back in the day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this free tool for detective work to crack client cases of missing traffic. For that reason, the Wayback Machine holds a special place in my heart. If the numbers for a site have changed and something about that site has changed but you don’t have a site back-up available to figure out what – the Wayback Machine has your back.
“F12” is now the SEO button, because it is the shortcut to major awesomeness built right into Chrome. Some SEO tasks you can do with Chrome DevTools include: examining mobile UX and SEO with the amazing mobile emulator, diagnosing page speed, picking apart source code, examining HTTP status codes, and mocking-up live edits to a webpage (including the title tags and Meta descriptions in the SERPs). Resources below.
- My Favorite SEO Tools isn’t an SEO Tool | AJ Kohn
- Discover DevTools | CodeSchool
- Chrome DevTools Hacks for Digital Marketers | Distilled
Marketers who know where the puck is heading tend to win more. Google Trends shows changes in search query volume for specific queries (and topics and entities).
For marketers, especially in volatile industries like technology and fashion, it’s critical to at least keep up with the market. And, if you can master online trends analysis and get a step ahead of the competition, the results can be quite profitable indeed. For search marketers, it’s plain good sense to analyze changes in search query behavior. Even everyday writers can improve their results by understanding which topics are trending.
Bottom line: while often overlooked, Trends is an extremely powerful tool in the right hands. Below are some helpful articles:
- 6 Ways to use Google Trends for Your Business | Inkling Media
- How to Use Google Trends for SEO | Search Engine Watch
- 7 Ways to Use Google Trends to Punch Up Your Content Creation | Content Marketing Institute
Enter a query in this freemium tool and it will quickly spit out a ton of great keywords based on the autocomplete feature of Google, Bing, YouTube, or App Store Search.
Keywordtool.io is great for generating a ton of keyword ideas containing your seed term, especially long-tail keywords that won’t show up in the AdWords keyword tool due to having very low volumes. I usually use Keywordtool.io when I am building a list of potential keywords, especially when I need long-tail keywords.
Keywordtool.ie is new to this year’s list (thanks to a reader who shared the tool with me in a comment on last year’s list). Shout out to Ubersuggest, the original tool of this kind.
Bing Webmaster Tools (aka BWT) remains extremely overlooked. It’s great for keeping an eye on how Bing (which powers Yahoo) is treating your site and also enables you to have some control in the matter. It also shows you clicks to your site from Bing by search query, and it has a feature for looking up Bing search query volume. It also offers benefits beyond Bing by providing insights into crawling, indexation, on-page keyword optimization, and other elements that can impact your performance in Google.
6. Google (and Bing)
This is one is so obvious that I forgot to include it last year: the Google and Bing search engines themselves are veryuseful SEO tools. Mastery of search engine functionality is part of mastering SEO. With some Google-fu (and Bing-fu), you can examine indexation and duplicate content, find content scrapers, check keyword rankings, analyze SERP listings, and scout for outreach and link prospects.
Below are useful official help guides, followed by SEO-specific searching tips. Read those and you’ll be on your way to your black belt.
- Google Search Help Center
- Search Operators | Google Search Help
- Search Tips & Tricks | Google Inside Search
- Advanced Search Options | Bing Help
- 25 Killer Combos for Googles Site Operator | Moz
- Google Advanced Queries for SEO | Teach to Fish Digital
- 10000 Search Engine Queries for your Link Building Campaign | Optimize Smart
Screaming Frog is a website crawler designed specifically for SEO. Within mere minutes, you’ll get critical data on every URL. Best to just download it and take it for a spin. Once you see all that data, you’ll have questions, but there’s resources to help you:
- Official Screaming Frog User Guide
- 10 Features in the SEO Spider You Should Really Know | Screaming Frog Blog
- Analyzing Your Website with the Screaming Frog SEO Spider | Tuts+ Web Design Tutorial
- Free Excel Workbook for Analyzing Screaming Frog Data | Sean McQuaide, LunaMetrics
Google’s Keyword Planner, the tool formerly known as Adwords Keyword Tool, lets you pull monthly Google search query volume estimates for dozens of keywords in seconds. I can never understate the importance of knowing what people search for.
Moz is a suite of user-friendly inbound marketing tools. Below are my favorite free Moz tools:
- Open Site Explorer is a backlink analysis tool with helpful metrics approximating link equity.
- Followerwonk shows data on Twitter.
- Moz Local (formerly Get Listed) lets you see the state of a company’s local citations and is the first place you should go when you first start local SEO on a site.
- Mozbar is a browser toolbar that lets you quickly get at Moz’s key features for the page you’re on.
- The SERP Overlay (seen on the right) is part of the Mozbar and shows OSE metrics on individual search results.
Analogous to BWT (yet much richer), Google Search Console – formerly “Google Webmaster Tools” – provides data and configuration control for your site in Google. That’s a pretty big deal. For more, check out our extensive guide.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve used Google Analytics. I think we may have written about it once or twice.
The most valuable SEO data is that which helps you understand your visitors and how they interact with your site. No tool I’ve used delivers that data like Google Analytics, and none of the tools I mentioned does a better job providing data that helps you understand the number that matters most – the bottom line.
Thus, GA is the tool I depend on the most.
List of Favorites
I first published my list of favorite free SEO tools in February of 2014. In just 1 year, SEO tools and priorities changed enough that I now have a very different list of tools that are essential to my job as an SEO. Certainly, we operate in a dynamic industry where it is important to update one’s toolkit.
Below is the original list. I linked to tools that didn’t make the cut this time, and I included notes on major changes.
14. SEO-browser – SEO-Browser does one simple thing: it takes a web-page and shows you what it looks like to a search engine. Understanding what a search engine can see is essential to SEO. Browseo is just like SEO-Browser, but it includes your images and a bit of additional SEO info. I dropped SEO-Browser from the list after learning that it and Browseo were not completely up-to-date with Google’s crawling capabilities. To really know what Google can see, use Google Search Console’s Fetch as Google feature. That said, I still use both SEO-Browser and Browseo very frequently for getting the “feel” of what the content looks like to the search engines.
13. Wayback Machine
12. Xenu Link Sleuth – Don’t be fooled by the unassuming website. Xenu is the OG web crawler, and is still powerful enough to crawls all the links on your site and report on URL metrics like HTTP status code, content type, page size, and more. And it’s really good at finding broken links. I dropped it from the list because the free version of Screaming Frog recently became more awesome, rendering Xenu far less important.
11. Web Developer Toolbar
10. Majestic SEO is the best tool for backlink analysis, boasting the largest and most up-to-date database of link data available to the public . However, I dropped it from the list because there’s been a major reduction in the capabilities of what the free version can do. That said, the free version is still worth playing with from time to time, especially to look at historical growth in link metrics.
9. SEO Book SEO Toolbar – I stopped using this toolbar, which is similar to the SEO Quake toolbar, because it was only available on FireFox – a browser which I, like the majority of consumers, rarely use any more.
8. SEO Quake Toolbar
7. Google Trends
6. Screaming Frog just keeps getting better, and the free version is far more powerful than ever.
5. Google Keyword Planner
4. Bing Webmaster Tools is still essential for seeing Bing data, though there doesn’t seem to have been any improvements in over a year.
2. Google Webmaster Tools
1. Google Analytics