As an online marketing and SEO sleuth, I’m acutely interested in tools that I can use during the keyword research and optimization phases of my work. However, I’ll be the first to admit that, while traffic is great, it’s useless if you lack a converting offer. Clearly, there’s more to life than free organic search traffic, but it’s certainly something that online marketers like myself salivate over.
The truth is that there’s a bit of a conundrum when it comes to SEO — a Catch-22, if you will. When you’re a newcomer to the so-called “playing field” and you lack very much authority and trust, no tool is going to help you no matter what you do. There is no innocent-until-proven-guilty scenario in the eyes of Google anymore. It’s been wronged one too many times, and it no longer takes on an approach of blind trust.
Translation? You can do all the keyword research and optimization work that your heart desires, and do it until you’re blue in the face, you’re still going to have difficulty ranking for those highly-competitive keywords if you lack Google’s trust. Trust, is in fact, the pathway to overall Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) domination. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. As long as you have value to give, and you don’t harbor a short-term mindset, using the right SEO tools in your work can make all the difference.
By spotting the right opportunities and focusing on the right methods and techniques, you can definitely make significant strides, even if you entirely lack Google’s trust or any semblance of authority in the beginning. Clearly, we all have to start somewhere. But if you play your proverbial cards the right way, not only can garner a fair amount of traffic early on, but you can also build a foundation that will help to catapult you into online stardom.
Okay, so maybe that sounds a bit far-fetched. Yes, I’ll admit it myself. But the fact remains that optimizing any content, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing, can be excruciatingly difficult. Today, you need to build value, and you need to deliver that value, less for search engines, and more for humans. Thus, it’s imperative to ensure that you write for humans and optimize (but not over-optimize) for search engines.
But before I layout the right tools that you should be using in your work, I need to cover one very important concept before you do anything. The concept of search intent lays the groundwork for the type of optimization efforts you should be leveraging or utilizing no matter where you might fall in Google’s trust equation.
There are three types of intentions when anyone searches for anything:
- Navigational intent (i.e. discover or visit a specific website or brand’s homepage)
- Informational intent (i.e. learn more information about a specific topic or subject)
- Purchase intent (i.e. specifically locate something with an ultimate intention to buy)
For the purposes of optimization, the latter two are most important. I’m not going to cover navigational intent because it lacks relevance in this article. When someone wants to navigate somewhere on the internet, they’re often looking to visit a specific website such as Amazon or Microsoft or any other.
The reason why the two latter search intentions are important is because of just how your optimization efforts will be impacted depending upon which one you’re going after. When you’re targeting an informational intent, you’re effectively optimizing for short-tail keywords. When you target a purchase intent, you’re often targeting long-tail keywords. Here’s the difference:
- Short-tail keywords
- Generally one to three words long
- Usually have a high search volume
- Often have less buyer intentions associated with them
- Are incredibly difficult to rank for
- Long-tail keywords
- Generally four or more words long
- Usually have lower search volume
- Often have very high buyer intentions associated with them
- Are far easier to rank for
Once you understand the difference between the two types of keywords and realize that long-tail keywords are far better to target and have much more buyer intention, you can begin using a variety of tools for your SEO optimization efforts. Now, while these are the tools that I swear by, it doesn’t mean that you should or have to yourself.
When you look at any of these tools, you have to realize that each of them are effectively attempting to build a backend for Google. I think that some of them fail in this aspect whereas others succeed. Now, this is purely my opinion, but I prefer tools like SEMRush over other software suites like MozPro or Ahrefs, which I find cumbersome, but still somewhat useful in their own little ways.
The reality is that each of the companies behind these tools has a massive hurdle ahead of them in their efforts, but I find that SEMRush does one of the best jobs in really giving you access to more functionality that helps you do better research. In turn, you’re more likely to rank your content higher and faster.
Clearly, driving any formidable amount of website traffic is hard. It takes a considerable amount of work and effort. If you’re targeting short-tail keywords, then good luck because you’ll definitely have your work cut out for you. The truth is that it’s very difficult and non-achievable in a shortened time frame to optimize for those types of keywords. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, offer a Holy Grail of sorts to SEOs out there.
Here’s the exact process I go through and the tools I use myself to achieve top SERP rankings.
#1 — Google Search Console
An absolute must-have for anyone who’s serious about doing SEO is Google’s Search Console, formerly known as Google’s Webmaster Tools. Over the years, there’s been some confusion about this as the switch was made to HTTPS, but the current iteration is terrific.
One of the extremely important aspects of this tool is to receive updates and news directly from Google itself. If something with your site or its content is amiss, Google will directly notify you, which is an invaluable tool to have considering that a very large portion of search traffic is coming from the search giant itself.
Other useful aspects are the search analytics. While other SEO tools can provide keyword positioning and changes over time, getting the information directly from Google is highly useful. In fact, most of the other tools don’t provide the level of richness in the dataset that Google provides. In fact, how could they?
The Google Search Console will provide you with keyword-specific information such as:
- Total number of clicks
- Total number of impressions
- Average click-through-rate (CTR)
- Average position
- Accurate depiction of links to your site
- Manual actions taken by Google
- Mobile usability
- and more…
#2 — SEO Quake Tool
I’ve been using the SEO Quake Tool for years. It’s available as either a plugin or an extension, depending upon what browser you’re using. The best part about this? It gives you x-ray vision into Google’s SERPs. You can see the domain’s age, authority and other trust factors that include links to the domain and the page itself.
I find this information to invaluable during my efforts to research keywords and optimize any content. In fact, I would go as far as saying that the SEO Quake Tool is one of the best free utilities any online marketer can use when they’re conducting their research on keywords.
The tool is simple and easy to install. Best of all, it’s free. However, it is a gateway to the SEMRush system, another great tool, which offers a paid service but can also be used for free in a limited sense.
#3 — Google Analytics
By far, Google Analytics offers up a treasure trove of information to any SEO or SEM. It allows you to deep-dive into your traffic, and gives you insight into, not only acquisition data, but also visitor behavior data. You can see what they did on your site and when or where they left.
Important insights that I often glean from this have to do with the average time a user spends on the page along with the average session time. Those two pieces of information are crucial. Google is looking for highly-engaging content, and by checking the how long the average user is spending digesting your content, you can judge just how useful your content is to them.
#4 — SEMRush
SEMRush is one of the most vital tools that an online marketer can use in their optimization efforts. One of the best things that I love about SEMRush are the keyword position changes. You can identify what keywords changed in position, which ones were lost and which ones were gained, information that you can’t entirely glean from Google’s Search Console itself.
When used in combination with Search Console and SEO Quake, this is a powerful combination to help you rank for nearly any keyword. The best part? You can do competitive keyword analysis and discover what your competition is ranking for and you can see, specifically, what pages are linking to their pages.
This is definitely useful when researching keywords to rank for and I wouldn’t attempt to optimize for a particular keyword before I did my due diligence with SEMRush. This tool is also free, but you get limited usage. When you upgrade to a paid account, you can generate more reports and utilize more of the features of the software. Definitely one of the best investments if you’re going to pay for any tool at all.
#5 — PageSpeed
Today, Google is acutely concerned with a couple of major things. The first is the mobile responsiveness. The second is the speed of your page. You should definitely utilize a responsive design and a CDN like Amazon’s AWS or any other out there, which will assist you with your overall page speed.
You can use Google’s PageSpeed tool or GTMetrix and Pingdom to grab insights into both mobile responsiveness and how long your page takes to load. Server speed isn’t the only issue here. There are also other important factors at play here such as:
- Browser caching
- HTML minifcation
- and more…
If you’re not a technical person, find someone who can help you. Keep in mind that a PageSpeed score of 100 isn’t necessary. In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible. Google takes a variety of factors into mind when determining just how much it can trust you so don’t fixate yourself on a particular score. Rather, do your best and whatever is within your power to make the score as high as possible and then move on from there.
#6 — Google Adwords
Google’s Adwords Tool is by far one of the best ways you can judge search volume, but offers little in the way of telling you how competitive a particular search is. Although you’ll find a column for competition when conducting research through this tool, it only relates the competitiveness of the bidding for that keyword, not in the ability to rank for it.
To that end, SEO Quake’s keyword difficulty metric is definitely a good tool to use, but no tool that isn’t provided by Google itself will be able to give you a precision number towards this end. That’s why you need to use SEO Quake during your searches to judge for yourself just how competitive it might be.
To conduct your keyword research, once you login to Adwords and create an account, simply goto the settings section then navigate to the Keyword Planner section. Here, you can enter in your keyword and get ideas to determine the search volume of any particular keyword out there. You won’t get a precise number, but rather an estimated figure, used to further obfuscate results from people attempting to game the system too much.