When you’re just starting out, the number one question I see people asking (including myself) is:
“How can I optimize my website for free?”
In this post I’ll share 6 of the best FREE tools I’m currently using and highly recommend for everyone who’s new to SEO (as of the writing of this post).
When you’re just starting out with SEO and content marketing, it’s vital to start getting results without forking out a ton of dough for fancy tools.
‘Cause while those tools are amazing and save loads of time, they also eat up a tiny or non-existent budget quickly with subscriptions priced anywhere from $49 to over $100 a MONTH.
When it comes to getting traffic to your content, there are no shortcuts. You absolutely MUST optimize, monitor and track so you can outrank, outsmart, and outplay the competition. #onlinebizsurvivor
Note: If you want to get more people visiting your blog and actually READING what’s there (not just showing up and then leaving), your first step is to write quality, long-form content – something I walk you through here .
The tools I’ll cover in this post are:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console (including a complete tutorial)
How can I get people to visit my blog?
With over 2 BILLION websites in existence today, it’s pretty clear that getting traffic to yours is no longer a nice-to-have when you’ve got more money.
The survival of your business depends on traffic, whether it’s free or paid.
Want more traffic FAST? Then you drive it with money and paid ads.
Want FREE traffic? Then you put in a little time and legwork to attract it organically (something I’ll help you with here).
6 Best Free SEO Tools
Whether you’re just starting out with content marketing or you’re a seasoned pro who wants more traffic, the six tools I’ll be discussing here will be your biz BFFs when it comes to generating free traffic.
Tool #1: Yoast
Yoast is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to quickly optimize on-page content. There is also a premium version available at a paid upgrade, but for the purpose of this post I’m only talking about the free version, which provides an amazingly robust SEO tool.
Yoast lets you set a focus keyword…
…which it then helps you optimize your on-page content for, such as title, slug (the url) and meta description, which appears as the snippet you see on search engine results pages (or SERPS).
Here’s a peek at how I might optimize a blog post title, slug and meta description for the phrase “content marketing for beginners”:
Once you’ve set your keyword (in this case, “content marketing for beginners”), as you fill in each field, the progress bar below turns from red (not optimized) to yellow (meh…s’okay), to green (yay!).
What’s especially helpful with Yoast is that it gives you a play-by-play analysis of SEO as-you-go, throwing down suggestions for further improvement where necessary graded with “traffic lights”.
The best part is, the Yoast plugin for SEO guides you through the process as you edit, telling you exactly where changes are needed.
And, if writing’s not really your bag, Yoast has an integrated readability analyzer as well, to make sure your content hits the mark for your readers.
Tool #2: SEMRush
The veritable Swiss Army Knife of SEO, SEMRush lets you get a taste of the incredible amount of wildly useful data they provide without upgrading.
SEMRush helps with everything from traffic stats to keyword research to identifying competitors and their backlinks.
Let’s explore a few of the most helpful features of SEMRush’s free version:
➡️ Keyword Difficulty Tool
➡️ Keyword Gap
➡️ Backlink Gap
Keyword Difficulty Tool
Not sure whether the keyword or search phrase you’ve selected is a winner? The Keyword Difficulty Tool will help.
Simply select the tool from the menu, enter your keyword or phrase (free allows you to enter up to 10), and click “show difficulty”.
The Keyword Difficulty Tool will return your results, showing you how difficult it’s going to be to rank for those particular keywords, monthly search volume, the number of search results the term brings up, and more.
As you can see, trying to rank for the term “content marketing” would be an uphill battle, and likely just a giant waste of time with an 80.55% difficulty rating and more than 60 MILLION search engine results.
If your results look similar, it’s time to re-think your keywords, including a long-tail keyword approach.
Next up, let’s talk about Keyword Gap.
This tool lets you compare up to 5 domains, and will display keywords for each, including those that are common and unique for each, plus keywords that are different from the first domain.
Keyword Gap analysis also shows you each domain’s rank in Google for both organic and paid.
In this example, I’ve compared 3 SEO experts for common organic keywords.
When I click GO, I’m presented with a report that shows me the first 10 results, including the common keywords, volume, difficulty, cost per click (CPC), competitive rank and more.
Want to know what keywords your competitors are ranking for and how you stack up? Plug them into the Keyword Gap and take a peek!
Like it or not, you need more than just great keywords to rank on Google and get more traffic. And getting high-quality backlinks is part of that.
This is where SEMRush’s Backlink Gap analysis comes in.
Simply enter your competitors and click the green arrow…
…and ta-daaa! You get to see what sites are linking back to each, how many times they’ve linked, along with the domain score and trust score.
Go and give it a try with your competitors right now to see what you come up with.
Can YOU get backlinks from any of the same websites? (Hint: YES, you can!)
Of course, a giant part of getting and keeping traffic is monitoring. Which leads me to the next tool…
Tool #3: Google Analytics
If you’re not already using this free tool from the Grand Poobah of search, you’ll want to get on this, pronto.
Google Analytics is an amazingly robust tool and a must for any serious online business owner to monitor where your traffic is coming from, where they’re landing, and where they’re leaving.
But first…you need to install it (this article has a great play-by-play tutorial).
Fun fact: I was SO much of a GA nerd at one point, I actually wrote an entire chapter about it for the first edition of this book…
If you haven’t seen it before, Google Analytics can be a giant heap of overwhelming data. But, they’ve refined the tool beautifully, and it’s actually fairly intuitive to navigate (way better than a decade ago).
Here are some areas you should start paying attention to:
➡️ Organic search, which gives you an idea of how people are searching for and finding you. In my opinion, Google Search Console actually does a better job of showcasing this (it’s next in this list), but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what GA is reporting.
➡️ Significant increases and/or declines in traffic. There’s no good way to track and monitor your SEO and content marketing efforts if you don’t have a clue of what’s happening with your traffic.
When you know this, it’s easy to find out…
- What’s giving you the best return for your efforts
- Events or cycles that affect your traffic (especially helpful for anyone affected by seasonal activities, like travel sites or eCommerce)
- Activities you’re doing that aren’t pulling their weight (and you can then stop doing them)
➡️ Top pages, which are the pages most people are checking out on your site.
➡️ Bounce rate, which is the rate at which someone lands on a page and then quickly backtracks. A high bounce rate on a page may indicate either content that’s irrelevant to the search, or your content is actually scaring people off.
Tip: On pages with a high bounce rate, take a look at…
✔️ Keyword selection – you want to ensure your keywords are relevant to what’s on the page
✔️ Title vs. content (are you actually delivering what the title of your page or post is promising?)
✔️ Content structure- is your content inviting and engaging? Does it beg someone to read or watch it? If not, remember to make sure to break up your text to increase the amount of “white space”, and add images.
➡️ Internal site search – are people actually searching for things on YOUR site, and if so, what? (Valuable intel to have when it comes to content creation.)
➡️ Referring domains and new backlinks – What websites are linking to you and which ones are giving you the most referrals?
➡️ Time on site – A long(er) time on site usually indicates people are sticking around and reading your content, exploring your website and learning more about you. It’s a good thing:D
➡️ Pages per visit – On average, this will show you how many pages someone is viewing when they land on your site.
Good things to keep an eye on and start monitoring:
➡️ Mobile traffic – Mobile use is increasing exponentially, and forecast to climb even higher. If your site’s not getting mobile traffic, there’s a reason for it. Consider making your site responsive if it isn’t already, and make sure you’re using mobile-friendly landing page layouts.
➡️ Site speed (go to Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings). Load time and overall site speed is an important factor in SEO and content marketing.
It doesn’t matter how amazing your content is if it loads at a snail’s pace. ‘Cause no one’s gonna stick around to read it.
The quicker your site loads, the better the experience it provides for people, which is what Google’s ranking system is all about.
➡️ Returning users shows you who keeps coming back for more. A high percentage of returning users most likely indicates you’re producing A+ content that people are loving.
Right next to Google Analytics, there’s another freebie from Google…
Tool #4: Google Search Console
Another versatile, but hugely overlooked tool for improving SEO is Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools.
Note: If you’re not tech-savvy or unsure of yourself, you may need a little help here getting Google Search Console set up for your website(s).
While Google Analytics provides great information on your traffic, Search Console gives you the dirty deets on your site’s content. And, it’s where you order Google to crawl your site (newsflash, this doesn’t “just happen”).
It doesn’t stop there though…
Search Console allows you to identify spam issues, crawl errors, top content and more.
Here are some reasons why GSC is an excellent free tool to get to know:
Here are some items to pay attention to:
➡️ Crawl errors – 404 errors
➡️ Page traffic
➡️ Search Analytics
I’m not going into detail here on how to use GSC, since Google and a bazillion other resources out there do an excellent job.
But here’s a peek at how the GSC Search Analytics Report can be used to improve your content, and why you should be using it.
Here’s what you’ll see when you open Search Analytics:
As you can see, the top row provides options for filtering your reports by either clicks, impressions, CTR (click-through-rate) or position.
Here’s what you’ll see for each:
Selecting the Clicks filter will show you the number of clicks you’ve received from search engines.
Impressions shows you how many of those search engine results people have seen.
CTR is the click count divided by impressions.
And Position provides you with a picture of the average position where your best-ranking result currently sits.
How to use Google Search Console to improve your content
Below the filters, you’ll see more options to further refine your results. The two I’m interested in for the purpose of this article are Queries and Pages.
Selecting Queries will return all the search terms people used, or keywords, to get to your site.
When you dig into the keywords people are entering to find you, take a look at the results with high impressions, but low CTR and low clicks (high impressions don’t mean jack if people aren’t actually clicking through).
You can then run a quick search of your own by entering the keywords into Google and taking a look at what comes up.
Now, you can start asking yourself why people aren’t clicking through.
Things to consider:
➡️ Your title (also called “title tag”)
A great title is what gets people to click. And, while you may have a well-optimized title, is it just begging to get clicked on?
If not, that’s a great place to start.
Here’s an example of a great title tag that’s optimized and is compelling enough to get someone to click on:
If you’re interested in the Keto Diet, this title is clear and concise about what the article covers, and you know right away whether it’s something you want to read or not.
However, this one…
This headline may be ranking for “keto diet”, but doesn’t give anyone a reason to want to click through.
We don’t know exactly what this article is about, other than the keto diet in general. Is this a breakdown of the whole diet? A research paper since it’s written by a medical professional?
This title leaves too many questions and too much room for interpretation, and my educated guess that the only reasons this article is even appearing on page 1 of Google is that a) the keto diet is supremely popular right now, and they’re riding the wave, and b) it appears to have been written by an actual doctor. That’s it (note: I haven’t actually read the article and don’t know anything else about it. It could in fact, be an informative piece).
So now can you start to see how important having a compelling title is? It goes beyond simply being clever or optimizing with the right keywords.
Next, you need to consider how your meta description looks in SERPs.
➡️ Amplify your meta descriptions
The meta description is the snippet of copy or text that appears below the title and page url on the results page.
Unfortunately, in our original keto diet example above, this article has a great title, but the meta description falls short and could easily sabotage the likelihood of someone opening and reading the article.
Meta descriptions should be crystal clear about what the reader will get out of your article.
What are you going to help them do? What problem are you solving?
While your title is the attention-getter, your meta description should encapsulate what your article’s about and why someone should read it. Make them curious about what they’ll get out of it.
Don’t forget to include your keyword in your meta description, and keep it short. You don’t want to see the “…” at the end!
Here’s an example of a title tag and meta description done right:
We know right away what the article is about, and that the subject doesn’t have to be hard (totally bookmarking this for further reading…).
Next, let’s take a look at what selecting the Pages option does.
➡️ Pages shows you exactly what pages of your website actually appeared in search results.
When you sort in descending order by popularity, you’re able to see right away which pages are the most popular on your site…
…and those that need some improvement (or are currently completely invisible).
Don’t just focus on the pages in the bowels of the SERPS. Take this opportunity to tweak and improve your more popular posts and pages to get even better results. Because while you may like that a particular post or page is at least getting some traffic, the name of the game here is MORE. Not just SOME.
Go back through the tutorial above to write better headlines and meta descriptions, or revise your content by adding new data, videos or images. This post walks you through the process of creating blockbuster blog posts, step-by-step.
Changed up your content or added new stuff?
Get Google to re-crawl your site!
To order the Google bots to re-index your site and pick up the new, improved content, simply select Crawl from the GSC menu.
Then, select “Fetch as Google”
After that, simply follow the instructions and click “Fetch”. You can either have Google crawl your entire website, or specific pages and posts.
Pro Tip: Anytime you’ve added new or updated content, get Google to re-crawl your site.
Now, let’s take a look at a tool I loooove using to spy on competitive content.
Tool #5: Buzzsumo
While not necessarily a tool specifically designed for SEO (though it’s got some clout here too), Buzzsumo is a go-to in my arsenal of content marketing tools.
With Buzzsumo, you can get the lowdown on the top-performing content from around the web by keyword, domain, and so on, and get the lowdown on what your top competitors are publishing (maybe even uncover new ones).
You can see backlinks, the top content sharers, plus top questions being asked on sites like Facebook, Quora, and more in your specific niche.
And, Buzzsumo is extremely useful for finding influencers for outreach to promote your content.
‘Cause without some kind of outreach, it’s a long, slow road to get traffic to your blog.
To get started, simply enter a topic or domain. In our example, we’ll use the popular keto diet.
When I click “Go!”, the free version returns 9 of the most shared articles (although my image only shows 4) :
The results are sorted in descending order, from the most shared to the least. At a glance, I’m able to see what blog posts and/or other content is getting the most eyeballs and shares around the web, and where.
Buzzsumo breaks the shares down by social media outlet so you can easily see where most of the content is being shared. In this example, the most popular piece has not bad shares on Facebook, but Pinterest has blown up.
This intel is invaluable to you as a content marketer, since it’s essential to know exactly where your desired customer is hanging out.
‘Cause if you’re posting on Facebook, but your dream client’s hangin’ on Pinterest, well…that’s a problem. And it calls for a pivot in your content strategy.
Want to see what’s so great about these popular articles that’s making everyone share? You can click through on each article to check it out for yourself and do a little competitive recon.
The free version of Buzzsumo also lets you apply various filters to your results so you can see top shared content from a various range of dates, types of content (infographics, videos, how-to articles, etc.), by language and country.
Pro tip: Use the Word Count filter to separate thin content from in-depth articles. What you’ll find here will be especially helpful for outranking the competition and determining what type of content to create for which channel.
If you like your search results, the free version allows you to save your search, but you’ll need to upgrade if you want to create an alert or export the results.
An upgrade is also required if you want to see the backlinks to each article and the top sharers of the content – valuable if you’re serious about amping up your SEO through links and outreach.
I was originally going to end this post after #5 above, but decided to add this wildly helpful tool to the collection: Quicksprout.
Tool #6: Quicksprout
If you want to take things a step further than simply optimizing your content, Quicksprout will help.
Simply enter your website’s address (url), click the giant green button, and voila! Quicksprout returns an analysis of things you can change to better optimize your overall website content.
Similar to the Yoast plugin, Quicksprout will provide a breakdown of what needs to be fixed and where, and what’s already working.
Here’s what Quicksprout returned on my previous home page (I’ve since updated to a new one that’s optimized WAY better):
As you can see, it’s not exactly optimized for SEO (truth is, it’s not optimized at all).
When you enter your website in Quicksprout, you’ll see a box similar to the one above, plus a list of titles, headings and images. As you click “Next”, Quicksprout will take you through each item line by line so you can make changes.
Once the suggested optimization changes are made, each line item will get a green checkmark (perfect for those of us who love that sort of thing;).
In some cases, you may not want to optimize an element, so you can choose to skip it.
For ease of navigation, Quicksprout also allows you to view only elements that are not optimized, those that are, or all elements together so you get the full picture.
Once you reach a certain point in your optimizations, you’ll have the option of saving your changes by signing in with your Google account, and then continuing with Quicksprout to complete your website optimization.
If you want, you can upgrade to the premium version and Quicksprout will even publish all the changes you just made, saving you from having to log back into your website and make the updates yourself.
Now it’s your turn!
We’ve covered a LOT in this post (whew!).
To recap, you’ve learned:
- How to use Yoast to optimize your content
- How SEMRush can help you select keywords you can actually rank for…and uncover potential high-quality backlinks for your content
- Things to monitor and watch closely with Google Analytics. Search engine optimization is always changing to keep up with the search engines, which means your traffic – and optimization tactics – will change too
- How you can get Google to crawl your site anytime you make an update with Google Search Console
- How to use GSC to write better content
- How to uncover the most popular content in your niche…and possibly identify new competitors to outrank, outsmart, and outplay
- How a simple online tool can quickly and easily help you optimize ALL your content, just by entering in your domain
Even though SEO and content marketing can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. And you can easily do it on a shoestring budget with the 6 free SEO tools mentioned in this blog post.
Over to you: Let me know in the comments which of these tools you’re going to try first!