The A to Z Guide to Excellent SEO Using 16 Free Tools
From research to writing to publishing to promoting, here’s the right tool to cover every step along the way
Let me just say this upfront, I love keyword research. It can be dry at times, but once in a while I come across a common search term so hilarious, it compels me to keep going.
You read that right; to rank as a freak in the sheets, you’re competing with a domain score of 69. Or is Mr. Patel just messing with me?
My Content Optimization System
I don’t just practice Search Engine Optimization on my blog posts for comic relief. Understanding search volume and intent can be extremely informative as to the type of content my audience is looking to consume.
About a year ago I started studying and practicing digital marketing, and I’ve been learning all aspects of optimizing for search since then. In that time I learned that while social media marketing can be very effective, it has a short lifespan compared to the longevity of driving traffic through search.
If (like me) you’re a beginner and don’t have a big audience already, SEO is even more vital because it augments your discoverability. Even if you’re only getting one click a day from Google or Bing, that’s one more potential supporter of your blog.
I should note that this guide is meant to be applicable to any platform. Whether your blog is on WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or a blogging platform, you’ll be able to use all of these tools.
Since you’re reading this post you probably already realize the importance of optimizing for search engines, but just in case let’s go over some basics before getting into the tools.
Why Is SEO Important?
Search Engine Optimization is crucial for bloggers because it lets us know what kind of content people are interested in consuming, and enables us to deliver that content to them reliably with little or no cost. People look to search engines for everything from solutions to their problems to product recommendations, so regardless of your niche SEO should play a key role in your blogging strategy.
How Does SEO Work?
Modern search engines scan or “crawl” websites in an attempt to find the best content related to the search query entered by the user. Google is the world’s most powerful search engine and evaluates web pages based on over 200 ranking factors. As a blogger, the easiest factors to focus on at first are keyword research, creating rich content, and promotion.
What Are Keywords?
These are words or phrases that are used as search terms. While they can be broken down into many different categories depending on who you ask, for the purposes of this guide we’ll focus on three types of keywords: head, body, and longtail.
Head keywords are common search terms usually composed of one or two words. These terms tend to have high competition and are exceedingly difficult to rank for, but it’s still good to have relevant ones used logically throughout your content.
Body keywords usually consist of two to three words. They can be very competitive or not, and often contribute to headings when used in blog posts.
Example: “SEO tools”
Longtail keywords are almost always three words and longer, and they’ll usually be the main target words for your posts. Use them in your titles, headings, and subheadings, and on occasion throughout the body of your posts as well. While longtail keywords can be incredibly competitive, the whole point is to discover and target the most attainable ones first.
Example: “SEO tools for bloggers”
Best Free SEO Tools for Bloggers
While there are many more free tools out there that you could use, these are the ones I personally find the handiest for deciding which keywords to target, and for analyzing and marketing my own posts.
- Google Search
- Keyword Sheeter
- Answer the Public
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
- Keyword Permutation Builder
- Ahrefs Free Backlink Checker
- SEOReviewTools.com Content Analysis
- Yoast.com Real-Time Content Analysis
For me, SEO typically falls into three stages: brainstorming and ideation, research and validation, and writing and promotion. Each stage has at least two tools associated with it, although some tools are useful throughout the entire process.
Recommended software for getting started
I strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with Google Docs and Google Sheets or comparable products before you embark on any serious research. If you don’t understand the basics of using spreadsheets, it’ll be difficult for you to store, work with, and ultimately benefit from all the information you uncover.
If you struggle with learning these types of software, simply search Google or YouTube for the relevant tutorials.
Brainstorming and Ideation
I’ll walk you through an example of how I might have come up with the idea for this post using these tools.
Using Quora for keyword research
Quora.com is a question and answer platform where users can upvote queries and responses based on their own relevant experience. I went to Quora and typed “SEO” into the search bar.
The first topic that came up was “SEO tools”. I clicked on it and scrolled through the most popular questions. The third one down was someone asking about good SEO tools for beginners.
Quora can be a great place to find out what many people are curious to learn because you can see how many upvotes are on each question. However, popular questions on Quora may be competitive keywords, or they may not be searched at all. That’s why we have more resources to work with.
Using Keyworddit for keyword research
Keyworddit is a tool that gathers search queries from subreddits and delivers them along with their monthly volumes. Since Reddit is another platform where many people go to find information, this is also a great source of potential blog ideas.
I selected the “SEO” subreddit and hit that friendly Get Keywords button.
Keyworddit returned a long list of queries, many of which would make for one or more good post ideas. I scrolled down until I found one I felt confident writing about: Free online tools.
Another way to brainstorm ideas is to simply type different phrasings of topics and questions into Google Search to see what autocompletes.
This is a popular method of finding topics, but it can be time-consuming compared to using some of the other tools available.
Using SimilarWeb and UberSuggest to generate content ideas
If you’re stuck brainstorming, there are other options available for finding blog ideas. You can simply use SimilarWeb and UberSuggest to analyze a competitor’s traffic, finding their best performing posts so you can outshine them with fresh content of your own.
SimilarWeb’s free version has some frustrating limitations, but it’s still a good way of getting a quick look at a website’s traffic sources. UberSuggest has a variety of functions, but one of the most valuable is its ability to tell you which pages or posts on a site bring it the most search traffic.
To use the two tools mentioned above, click on the provided links and enter the URL of a competitor’s website.
With SimilarWeb, all you need to do is scroll down and look at the data. On UberSuggest, you just need to scroll until you see the “Top SEO Pages” section, and then click on the button beneath it.
Since I wanted to write an article about SEO, I searched on searchenginejournal.com.
When I click on the top pages button, I’m taken to a list of the website’s top-performing posts, alongside the number of backlinks and social shares each has received.
Using the information from UberSuggest on this page, you can potentially find your competitors’ weaker posts that are getting traffic and attempt to outrank them. Alternatively, you can just use it as inspiration, to get ideas of what people are searching for.
Research and Validation
This is the phase where I decide on the exact keyword(s) I’m going to target with my article. The topics that I decided on in the previous steps were “SEO tools for beginners” and “free SEO tools.”
Note: My chosen topics are already decent keywords to target, so if I wanted I could skip this part of research and validation, but I’m going to go through all the motions to demonstrate how each tool works.
Be aware, Answer the Public limits the number of free searches you can perform per day. With the other two, feel free to enter multiple variations of your topic to see what comes out.
In this case, I noticed the longtail “SEO tools for blogger” being recommended by both Keyword Sheeter and InfiniteSuggest. I have a feeling this refers to Blogger the platform, but it gave me the idea to use “Free Seo Tools” in my title.
Either copy and paste or export all of the relevant keywords you find into a document or (preferably) a spreadsheet. Now that you’ve turned your topics into keywords, you can validate those terms for search volume.
How to validate keywords
Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, and UberSuggest work well in combination to give an idea of search volume and to a lesser extent, difficulty. Google Keyword Planner can be a bit confusing at first so here’s a link to a guide for using it, but the other two tools are quite straightforward.
The main value you want to look at here is the monthly search volume. Pay attention to search difficulty as well, but realize that the figures provided by these tools are not completely accurate in many cases.
I think this is where many people end up paying for more advanced SEO software because when using only the tools outlined above it can be difficult to choose the easiest keywords to target. Fortunately, there are more free tools that will help you take a closer look at the competition.
Using SEOQuake and Ahrefs Backlink Checker to assess competition
As you can see from the screenshot below, installing the SEOQuake Chrome browser extension adds a considerable amount of information to your search engine results page.
Notice that beneath each search result there is a value for L (page backlinks) LD (domain backlinks) as well as the page’s Bing index and Alexa rank. I tend to pay the most attention to the backlinks pointed to that specific page. I also take a quick look beneath the search bar, where SEOQuake provides a difficulty percentage:
If the SEO extension gives me a low percentage of difficulty and the top-ranking pages don’t have a large number of backlinks, it’s a good indicator that I may be able to rank on page 1 for this search term.
You can get an even clearer idea of how difficult it might be to rank by evaluating the top-ranking sites’ backlinks using Ahrefs free backlink checker. Simply copy and paste the page URL into the Ahrefs tool and you’ll get to see the site’s domain and page rating as well as details about each of its backlinks.
Another valuable aspect of SEOQuake is its page analysis tool. When you’ve navigated to a page you’d like more information on, click on the “SQ” symbol in your browser extension menu and then select density.
Doing this will call up a new tab containing a breakdown of the page content, displaying the word count and keyword repetition and density.
How to use all this information
Here’s everything that I like to know before I start writing an optimized blog post:
- Search volumes and difficulties for relevant keywords,
- Main competitors who are currently ranking for those terms,
- Domain and page authority for those competitors,
- How long the competitors’ content is and the most common word densities.
Once I know everything listed above, I have the power to create an article that will potentially rank on page one of Google because:
- I’ll include my main keyword in the title and related terms in the headings and body text.
- I’ll write a piece of content that provides more information than is currently available.
- I’ll make my content at least as long as the competition’s without exceeding their keyphrase densities.
Let’s be clear about something, content length and word density are not actual ranking factors. However, the longer a piece of content is the better chance it has to provide value, and while having a “perfect” density probably won’t help you at all, having a high keyword density can be damaging.
That’s why I like to use the current ranking posts as a model for my own. I also take a look at the number of subheadings each article uses so I can use a similar number.
For my longtail phrase “SEO tools for bloggers,” I looked at the three top ranking websites and analyzed the relevant information. Here’s what I came up with:
Search Query: SEO tools for bloggers
1st Place: magnet4blogging.net
Total words:4053 Word Instances: seo=56 tool=34
Ahrefs Backlinks: 3 Domain Rating: 45 URL Rating: 13
2nd Place: presslabs.com
Total words: 3396 Word Instances: seo=61 tool=33
Ahrefs Backlinks: 17 Domain Rating: 56 URL Rating: 17
3rd Place: razorsocial.com
Total words: 1343 Word Instances: seo=12 tools=13
Ahrefs Backlinks: 18 Domain Rating: 73 URL Rating: 17
Notice how the first-place site has the lowest domain rating, URL rating, and number of backlinks, but the longest content. In other words, it’s most likely winning the top spot based on the quality and quantity of content.
This gives me a measure of confidence that if I create a high-quality article around 3000 words long, I may have a chance of ranking on page one despite how competitive the SEO niche is.
Writing and Promotion
If you’re a blogger or a writer, you’re probably grateful to have made it to this phase of the process. Now you finally get to sit down and do what you do best — write content!
Of course, it can get annoying trying to remember all the various keywords you may want to include. This is when the Keyword Permutation Generator can come in handy. It’s a pretty simple tool; input the building blocks of your longtail phrases and then let the generator do its thing.
Now I have a nice list of search terms that I can cross off or delete as I use them in my article. I probably won’t use all of them, but using as many as is reasonable within the context of my content is often a good idea.
Content analysis software
SEOReviewTools.com and Yoast.com both offer free online content analysis software that provides a real-time optimization rating while you work on your post.
I don’t personally use these programs because I feel I have most of the rules they enforce memorized, but I formerly used SEOReviewTools Content Analysis and found it quite intuitive and helpful. I also took a quick look at Yoast Content Analysis and found it user-friendly and perhaps a bit more advanced.
For both of these software tools, all you need to do is input some target phrases and then start building your post in the provided text box. Scroll down once in a while to see what suggestions the software makes for improvement.
Once you’re finished writing and editing your post, it’s a good idea to run it through software such as Grammarly or get a peer to proofread it for you. After that, it’s finally time to go live with your post. Remember to include a strong meta description and alt text for all images.
Alt text for an image should ideally contain whichever target keyword is most relevant to the picture as part of the text.
Promoting Blog Posts
I’m not going to get into a whole tutorial on how to market blog posts, but I’ll explain the one tool that I haven’t touched on yet. With a free account at Hunter.io you can easily find email addresses contained within any website.
This is important for finding contacts to reach out to regarding your published posts. For example, say you create a piece of content that is superior to the ranking posts in every way, but it fails to beat them because your competitors have many strong backlinks.
One approach you could take would be to find their backlinks using Ahrefs free tool and then scan those websites for email addresses using Hunter.io. You can then reach out to the owners of the sites to let them know about your content.
Please note, I’m not encouraging you to pester anyone or ask for backlinks. That’s against Google’s policy and it’s a poor way to get them in any case. However, there’s nothing wrong with using the tools available to find out who is likely to link to your content and then make sure they’re aware it exists.
Final Thoughts on Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers
Want to download a free PDF version of this post? Go to alextucker.ca/social!
I’m no SEO expert, but I’ve been studying the subject for almost a year, and I know my process is a bit more complex than those used by many bloggers. Even if you just select a few tools from the list provided and add them to your arsenal, it could increase your chances of getting search traffic considerably.
As a beginner, I feel the first and second stages are the most important and may be the most time consuming until you become efficient at those skills.
The good news is that even if you don’t rank your posts, your time won’t be wasted. Topics that get high search volume are topics that people are interested in and thinking about, so they’re bound to be received well by at least a section of your audience.