hat is SEO exactly? In simple terms, SEO (search engine optimization) is the way that you get your pages to pop up first when someone conducts a Google search that’s relevant to your content. When someone types in “family friendly hotels,” for example, a search engine’s crawlers will go out looking for blog posts, websites and other pieces of content that contain both that exact phrase and others that are similar.
SEO comes in different flavors, including on-page, off-page and technical. They all focus on different areas but work together to help improve your rankings:
- On-page SEO: This type of SEO is all about the words on your website, including page titles, internal links, content, and more. Optimizing here helps your site rank higher in search results.
- Off-page SEO: These are tactics that you use in places other than your webpage, including social media marketing, link building, and more.
- Technical SEO: This is SEO work that you do in the back office (so to speak) to help your rankings. It can include tactics like improving your site’s download speed, creating a site that’s mobile-responsive, and eliminating duplicate content.
Keywords Are Key
The No.1 way to increase your search rankings is to have a strong keyword strategy. Keywords are the words and phrases that people use to make queries in your industry. Hawthorn Creative is a marketing agency, for example, so relevant keywords might include “content marketing” “social media marketing” “copywriting,” and longer phrases like “marketing agencies with experience in hospitality.” (Those are called long-tail keywords.)
When searching for keywords, it’s important to find the right balance of the most popular, the least popular, and keywords that rank somewhere in the middle. If there’s too much competition out there, it’s not likely to affect your ranking. But if you can find the sweet spot within an area of specialization, you can reach your target audience.
Most of the SEO tools on our list below offer keyword services, but here are two that focus specifically on that task:
- Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that turns your Google results page into an analytics dashboard. When you make a query, it offers similar suggestions and gives you information on those keywords and phrases rank. It’s a fantastic tool and free to use.
- QuestionDB is a tool that looks for question-based searches in your industry, but it goes well beyond Google. It also crawls sites like Reddit and Quora as well to bring back not only keyword suggestions, but content suggestions as well.
If your SEO contains the right mix of keywords in these key areas, it will shoot to the top of the list – and that’s where you want to be. According to recent research, most users don’t even scroll to the bottom of the first search results page, let alone move to the next one.
So, how do you find the right keywords? It’s part knowing your audience and part using the right keyword tools. We’ve put together a list of our top 7 SEO tools, and how each one of them can help:
No.1: Google Analytics
Google is by far the most used search engine (it has over 90 percent of the market share), so their tools are worth two spots on our list. The first is Google Analytics, which measures metrics like where your site viewers are coming from, what content they’re interacting with most, and how long they spend on your site. It also includes audience demographics, traffic-drivers, and conversion rates. Best of all? It’s free.
No.2: Google Search Console
This companion program, also free, allows you to monitor your presence in search results and fix issues if they arise. You can find out which queries brought users to your site (those can be turned into keyword phrases) and submit your site map to Google for the crawlers.
SEMrush is a paid tool that gives you access to more than 55 types of reports, including insights into your competitors’ SEO strategies. The tool helps you select the right keywords and optimize for a local audience, and it even offers suggestions for improving your on-page SEO.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive paid tool that’s been trending lately. Its features include auditing tools for your site, competitor analysis, rank tracker, keyword progress, and something we especially love – a content explorer, which lists the top-performing content pieces in your niche.
No.5 Moz Pro
Moz is a long-standing SEO tool that’s been building its reputation for a long time. The Pro version is the choice for most marketers, because it comes not only with rank tracking, keyword suggestions, and content optimization, it also includes a crawler that will dig through your site to find issues with your technical SEO and a robust analytics and reporting dashboard.
No.6 Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO stands out from the crowd because it was specifically built to be a WordPress plug-in. It works in conjunction with the popular website builder to optimize on-page SEO, giving users a green, yellow or red light to indicate the status of their SEO efforts. It also works on your technical SEO and helps improve readability.
No.7: Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is a desktop-based site crawler that focuses on technical SEO, working behind the scenes to help you optimize your site. Features include finding broken links, duplicate content, analyzing page titles and metadata, and more. It’s a more technical tool versus one that offers keywords, but it’s equally as important.