For start-ups and small businesses trying to establish their online presence, good content is key. But content alone is not enough — people have to see that content for it to make an impact, and they can only do that if your site has a strong online presence. Many growing companies come to this realization late and then must scramble to figure out how to improve their visibility. #Search Engine Optimization (#SEO) is the way do this and there are a number of tools out there that can help businesses of all sizes, with all levels of SEO experience.
Fully utilizing SEO is an evolutionary process. Companies have to first identify what questions they’re trying to answer before they can decide which tools they should adopt. This process entails three stages:
- Foundational: where are we now? A business should get a grasp on how its site is currently organized with a baseline SEO audit.
- Comparative: how do we stack up? Next, businesses should determine where they currently rank, where they could improve, and where their competitors are besting them — all through examining keywords to see what is working and what is not.
- Tracking: how are we doing? The only way to measure your SEO strategy is by ongoing tracking.
Software solutions exist to help companies handle each of these stages. Given my experience in SEO, I’ve tried countless products and have included my recommendations below. But this is in no way meant to be exhaustive – there are many more products out there that I haven’t tried than those that I have, so just because a particular one is not mentioned does not mean it is ineffective. Rather, the products named here are ones that I can stand behind.
As companies begin their development, gaining familiarity with a basic SEO tool is smart. What’s key to remember is that these tools only work if they lead to behavior changes. You’re not really doing SEO if you don’t alter how you operate based on your findings.
In this initial period, companies should determine what keywords are most popular and how they relate to the brand, as well whether they’re ranking those words. So what’s needed is a planning tool like Google’s Keyword Planner. Keyword Planner is a free service that helps you select keywords that drive volume. It includes a multiplier tool that allows you to enter a variety of terms and get all combinations of those terms. Google will provide you with average monthly searches, competition and suggested bids (which we use to determine if a term is educational or transactional). This is important because small businesses (SMB’s) often can’t compete with established websites that have built SEO over many years. We therefore tell SMB’s to choose terms with long tails — the more specific the better. This means avoiding one- or two-word keywords and instead opting for longer keywords that will give you a better chance to rank. As your reputation builds, so too should your efforts to rank with shorter keywords.
Google Trends, another free service, helps you to identify what people are searching for over time. With Trends and Keyword Planner, companies can deduce how many people they can reach with a particular keyword and see the historical search volume to gauge the market and understand seasonality.
Once a company has covered the basics, it helps to know how you stack up to the competition.
A great product for daily SEO tracking is Authority Labs. With Authority Labs, you can enter your company, your URL, along with a number of keywords, select your competitors, and see how you’re ranking on a weekly basis. Gaining insight into your rank over time, as well as what’s working for your competitors, is key to successful SEO.
While Authority Labs is really just a reporting tool, SpyFu helps a company identify what keywords it should be using. SpyFu goes much deeper than Google’s tools, as it offers reporting on competitors, as well as pay per click results. It’s a marriage of organic and paid search. Being able to compare your top performing ads with those of your competitors is a crucial competitive advantage.
A compliment to SpyFu is Raven. Raven is used with access to Google Analytics and a company’s webmaster tools and uses those to integrate all your SEO factors into a single, deep-dive reporting interface. Using SpyFu and Raven together is a great way to audit the findings of each tool and to spotlight any opportunities one of them might have missed.
Moz is a direct competitor to Raven and offers a similar range of SEO services with different pricing models dependent on a company’s needs. Moz offers advanced reporting and analytics and can help a company thoroughly track most aspects of their SEO platform. The only drawback to it is that the full-range of services can become quite expensive.
To thrive with SEO, you need to have good website hygiene. Screaming Frog to the rescue. It will scrape your site to give you all the meta-information – from URL to H1 tags to meta-description – that can either make or break your SEO strategy. Its reporting tool is easy to read and companies can find the best and worst aspects of their sites and make changes accordingly.
Once companies have become comfortable with SEO, it becomes a part of every decision they make in their marketing and online strategies. This evolution leads to businesses asking more complex questions. When a business reaches this stage, it can implement products that truly elevate the SEO experience.
Conductor, which is a bit more sophisticated than the other products I’ve mentioned, falls into this advanced category. It’s a tool designed for teams, which helps to raise it a step above the rest. With Conductor, different tasks can be assigned to each member of a team, which enables collaboration across the business. Conductor can grow alongside your business.
In today’s landscape, SEO is not optional. To succeed online, SEO is essential. But SEO shouldn’t be intimidating. As I’ve outlined here, there are a range of products that can fit wherever you are with your SEO strategy.
I get pretty excited about things like your SEO rankings, conversion rates, and digital strategy, as well as methods to improve them. I enjoy seeing your numbers grow, especially beyond your expectations.
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