Don’t get left in the dust. Google is continually updating its algorithms to ensure sites are ranked based on quality. That means you have to do your part, stay current and share your content optimally.
This can seem daunting, but don’t be overwhelmed. There are great tools to optimize your site. The best part? They’re free!
There are plenty of tactics you can use to ensure Google takes the quality of your content into account. Optimizing means your website’s ranking will improve naturally, so spending a little time on an overhaul can make a huge difference.
Let’s take a look at how you can make it happen with these six free tools.
1. Google AdWords Keyword Planner
Google has provided various keyword-planning tools over the years. The most well known is its free Keyword Tool, an online research tool that’s standard issue in any SEO analyst’s armory.
The AdWords Keyword Planner is an evolution of the original Keyword Tool. It’s built on the same principles: businesses and SEO experts can use it to drill down into keyword ideas, experiment with combinations of words, estimate the performance of a keyword and so on.
But the Keyword Planner does a few other things too. For example, it provides a rough estimate of the traffic for a keyword.. Keep in mind that its data is based on AdWords, rather than organic searches, so it may be slightly skewed. But it’s useful nonetheless.
The Keyword Planner is also more intuitive and user friendly. It allows the user to save plans, export them and tweak them over time. It also includes some nifty new functionality for experimentation. One neat tool is the mix ‘n’ match keyword planner; you can create multiple lists and blend keywords from each list to find combinations that work for you.
Tip: you can upload data from your own keyword research campaigns to save time.
2. Open Site Explorer
When it comes to optimization, few companies have the clout that Moz offers. Formerly known as SEOMoz, the company offers a premium suite of optimization tools for a monthly fee. Few professionals would argue with Moz’ expertise in this area.But if you’re not a pro, you may not need the full Moz package. That’s where Open Site Explorer comes in.
Open Site Explorer helps you find backlinks without the tedium of manual searching. Sure, you can perform a simple site: search via Google, but you then have to wade through results to find what you want, and the data you’ll get back is pretty limited. Open Site Explorer analyzes links, presents them in a friendly table and shows how those links may influence your ranking.
Using the tool is easy: just paste in your URL and, optionally, a few competitors’ URLs to compare. Open Site Explorer returns a chart showing your backlinks (only the top five have full data in this free version, but it’s still useful data to have). You can check your nofollow links, review anchor text and crunch a range of numbers for your chosen domains.
Open Site Explorer is free for a limited number of queries per day, so use it wisely and plan ahead.
3. Google Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics is a flashy, polished tool. Webmaster Tools is a little less ostentatious. But it’s packed with information that’s just as vital to a successful optimization project.
The Optimization section includes a variety of helpful features:
- Remove URLs: Allows webmasters to wipe a page from Google’s search results
- HTML Improvements: Picks out problems with content titles, meta data and content that can’t be indexed
- Data Highlighter: Helps Google make the most of the content structure you’re using on your site
- Structured Data Testing Tool: Gives you the opportunity to check that Google is analyzing special types of content effectively
Don’t be alarmed if the data you pull from Webmaster Tools doesn’t match your Analytics data exactly. For the purposes of optimization, Webmaster Tools is more important in completing the feedback loop. Analytics will just help to back up what you learn.
4. SEO Centro
SEO Centro offers fascinating insight into the way your site is being interpreted, ranked and shared. Despite looking rather plain, its SEO Tools pages are a powerhouse of valuable, free data.
- Use the Meta Tag Analyzer to see your site as search engines see it, right down to the author information.
- Check your site’s PageRank, or its ranking for a particular keyword.
- Get keyword suggestions, or analyze your site for keyword density (note: this is a little outdated, but there are times you might want to scan for long-tail keywords).
- Check how your content is being shared socially across the web.
5. SEO for Chrome / SEO Toolbar for Firefox
Browser toolbars are fantastically useful in optimization projects. They give you instant feedback in a click – no need to keep running checks on third party sites. Also, extensions are a huge time-saver, so it’s no wonder optimization pros use them all the time.
A toolbar offers another convenient benefit: you can quickly check out a competitor’s position, or analyze the PageRank of a blog you might work with when producing guest content. The right toolbar makes Alexa research really easy, too.
We’ve worked with SEO for Chrome and the SEO Toolbar for Firefox. But there are many more free toolbars to choose from.
As you continue to optimize your website, you’ll inevitably wind up creating lots of content. Outsourcing content production is a real time-saver, but manually checking every submission can become a chore.
Copyscape is a cloud content scanner that takes the strain off your admin load. By pasting in your article’s URL, it will tell you whether the content you’ve paid for is truly unique – and therefore valuable to Google. It will also flag duplicates and close matches; the type of content you definitely don’t want to publish.
There are a few situations where Copyscape won’t work. The free version won’t scan your content until it’s published online somewhere, so you can’t scan drafts. Copyscape may not pick up on duplicate content where the writer has used special characters to disguise duplicate text. But assuming you trust your writer not to scam you, Copyscape gives you peace of mind.
Content is the key to shares, likes and visitors. That’s why SEO is a massive industry. Optimization is the key to getting the best return on investment, and that’s why businesses invest so much money in it.
Even if you only compete on a small scale, a little optimization will go a long way. Naturally, no one free tool can replace expert advice, but familiarizing yourself with the techniques behind optimization will ensure you’re half way there. After all, there’s no need to pay a fortune if you’re just dipping your toe into the world of optimization. Start with these tools, and then build on the valuable knowledge they provide.