A Cash-Strapped Marketer’s Guide to Tools
When you are trying to run a successful SEO campaign on a tight budget it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. Usually, one of the main disadvantages can be a lack of tools giving you the insight you need to make winning strategic decisions. There are, however, some great free tools out there that may require a bit more manual work, but ultimately can get you the same depth of analysis as the more expensive toolkits.
In this following guide I am going to split out some free, low cost and more expensive tools (with trials!) by the type of task you might need them for. This list will grow, and I welcome any feedback you have on additional tools you have used and think should make the cut (@HelenPollitt1 is your best bet for getting in touch!)
This is a very popular and easy to set up tool for tracking traffic going to your website. With further customisation (see Google Tag Manager) you can track visitor interactions on your website. In terms of free data analytics I can’t recommend anything else that would be easier to set up, or simpler to use. With the wealth of information provided by Google on its use, and the many many guides online helping you understand it, it’s a very good choice.
It’s free to install on your website, unless you happen to go for the “Google Analytics 360” version, which is most definitely not free and largely aimed at enterprise sites.
This is an extension that can be added to your Chrome or Firefox browser and it very cleverly gives you an estimated average monthly search volume for any keyword that you type into Google
This used to be an entirely free tool, but at $10 for 100,000 credits (1 credit = 1 keyword) I think it deserves a mention. It is very versatile in allowing you to quickly get an idea of how popular a term is without having to log into another program. In fact, it will bring through the search volume of words you type into 16 different websites, including Amazon, YouTube and eBay. It’s important to note, that the search volumes are for searches in Google Search, but this is still useful to have when you are looking around these other sites and wanting to get an idea of how popular a product, or video idea is.
I tried this tool a few years ago and at the time found it to be intriguing, but not something that would replace my current keyword research habits. However, I would suggest it might be worth a look. It uses its secret sauce to bring back keyword data to Google Analytics, replacing “not provided” with search terms. Of course, it is based on estimations, but the algorithm they used to predict the keywords seems to bring back some interesting results. How accurate they are, I’m not sure.
Google Keyword Planner
If you haven’t had much experience in SEO to date, you may be familiar with Google Ads’ Keyword Planner but not realise the use it has for your organic campaigns. Using the tool is free, but the accuracy of the search volume data you get without ads running is limited – you will only be shown a range rather than an exact monthly average. Still, it’s better than nothing!
Google Search Console
Google Search Console should make this list for a variety of reasons, not least the fact it allows you to understand how your website is “seen” by Google. In this instance I want to highlight an under-appreciated use – keyword monitoring. Normally the tools you think of for keyword monitoring allow you to choose a set of terms you want to monitor and will give you an overview of how your site ranks for them over time. With Google Search Console you don’t get to specify the terms that you want insight into, it shows you the terms that have generated clicks to your site from organic traffic.
This is one of the dream tools you buy-in when your boss hands over the credit card with a smile on her face. It is not cheap, prices (currently) start at $99 per month for one user and 500 tracked keywords and they rise to $999 per month for the “Agency” package. I’m not adding it to this list just to make you a bit jealous, it’s here because of their trial option. For just $7 you can have seven whole days alone with their data. That’s right. You can get access to the entire tool for a week. You might not be able to afford to keep the monthly subscription going, but you can download the data you find in the keyword rankings tool and use that for as long as you want! You can look at paying for the trial again further down the line to check up on how your keywords are doing. I’m warning you now, you might get hooked on this and want to shell out for the ongoing subscription.
Not only can you monitor keywords with this tool it’s really handy for keyword analysis – with volumes for Google, YouTube, Amazon and other popular platforms.
If you are after a more basic program just to get an idea of how your keywords are doing, then Rank Tracker is a good alternative. You can start with a small number of keywords for just under £20 a month, not to bad if you are only looking after one website such as a personal project.
Structured Data Mark-up
Google Structured Data Testing Tool
Errors in structured data crop up all the time. It’s easy to miss a bracket here or there. Google’s own structured mark-up tester is a good place to start if you are writing your own code and want to test if it is correct.
The tool also allows you to run a page through it to identify if there is any structured mark-up on it. Very handy if you are auditing a site as it will detail the errors with the mark-up too.
Google Data Studio
Data Studio is my go-to reporting tool. Completely free to use, it is a handy way of visualising data from a large number of sources. You have the option of creating your own reports from scratch or using one of the hundreds of templates submitted by other people in the gallery.
I would recommend playing around with some of the templates to get inspiration for what data you can report on and how it can draw out insight.
Tools like BigQuery, Google Analytics, YouTube Analytics and Asana all have connectors that enable you to draw data straight into your reports.
I struggle to find a tool I love as much as Screaming Frog for the value. It is so very cheap for such a powerful tool. One licence currently costs £149.00 per year which, in my opinion, is a great price for what the tool offers. However, if that’s still a bit steep or you want to try before you buy there is a free version that is restricted in some of its features and only allows you to crawl 500 URLs.
Seriously, a great tool.
(Also, just an FYI – their log file analyser is top-notch too. Another good value tool if you are looking to dig deeper in your technical SEO)
We complain about Google a lot, but they do give us so many free tools to help us do our jobs. Lighthouse is an excellent example of that.
The range of reports it provides is quite comprehensive not just if you are looking into the technical SEO performance of your site, but also its usability. Reports cover code performance, accessibility for users, web best practice, SEO and progressive web app metrics (if you are auditing one).
The SEO score is based on checks for things like a meta title element being present on the page, that the page isn’t blocked from indexing and has a valid rel=canonical tag.
Google Search Console
In the list again, but I promise you I’m not just running out of ideas, it’s free and has a multitude of uses so I get a pass. Google Search Console will provide you with a sample of backlinks that Google has picked up as pointing to your website. It is not as comprehensive a list as the free tools provide but it should be sufficient to help get an idea of what sort of links are pointing to your site. If you have a manual action for links you may wish to invest in a paid tool for larger list. It will be worth the cost in the long run.
If you want a more substantial list of backlinks to a website then Majestic has a lower tier that starts at £39.99 p/m. You can submit a URL or domain to be analysed as often as you want as you are not paying to monitor them. Although it is still a bit pricey if you are working on a very limited budget I have found it to be the most comprehensive backlink tool for the cost.
There is even a free trial option if you just want to quickly check a domain.
Google Page Speed Insights
I love the simplicity of Google’s Page Speed Insights. Although it doesn’t give you a load speed it does give a score out of 100 which helps when you are assessing the priorities following tech audits. The scary small red numbers also look highly convincing in presentations to clients. It even splits it out by desktop and mobile device so you can identify if you have a particular issue with one or the other.
GT Metrix and Pingdom
Both of these tools will go into detail about what is slowing down your page as well as how slow it is. As with Google Page Speed Insights there are a list of the issues as well as recommendations of what you need to do to improve them.