Search marketing is one of those industries where there are a million different ways to spend money. You might go into it thinking you have a fairly large budget, but by the time you’ve paid for a dozen different tools, some PPC ads, a few accounts with informative communities, and a handful of other accessories, you’re deep in the red.
The idea behind this post is that too many people are paying too much for tools. Yes, premium tools can be very useful. However, many of the features they offer are also available for free from other tools. You won’t necessarily replicate everything with one tool, and it might not be as robust or as useful, but the savings might make up for it.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you how much you want to adopt free tools. If you’re paying for a premium tool and only using 10% of what it offers, you might be able to find that 10% somewhere else for free. On the other hand, if you’re using everything a premium tool has to offer, it might be worth the expense to avoid having to replace it with three different tools that don’t play nice together. It’s your decision to make.
What I’ve done here is put together a list of the top SEO tools you might be paying a premium to use, and some free alternatives to those tools.
Long Tail Pro is a premium-tier tool that helps you identify keywords you can target for your website. They have a very nice system in place, and they provide you a surprising depth of information. They rank the competitiveness of each keyword they analyze, and they customize that ranking with information about your domain to see how much trouble you might have with it. They can also estimate how profitable targeting a given keyword might be, based on the value of a keyword in various ad programs. It’s a very advanced tool, that starts at $25 per year.
Free alternative: Ubersuggest. This tool takes a keyword you plug in and runs it through the autocomplete gamut with Google. It checks completions of the word and of the phrase, and expands it by adding each letter of the alphabet one at a time to see the top ten suggested extensions to the phrase. For example, SEO as a keyword might stretch to SEO b- and come up with SEO basics, SEO blog, SEO business, SEO by Yoast, and so forth. As you can see by that list, they aren’t all going to be winners – I don’t imagine you’ll compete with Yoast for their own brand name – but the key with it is volume more than quality. Another alternative that works in the same way is Keywordtool.io.
You don’t get the keyword analytics with either of those options, just a whole lot of keyword suggestions. So how do you analyze the keywords? You can use the free version of SEMrush, though it’s a premium tool that will ask you to register for more data so it’s not necessarily the best option. You can get some good information from the SEOQuake toolbar as well.
The search combination tool from Internet Marketing Ninjas is similar to the tools suggested above, except it combines two lists of keywords into comparative queries. It’s a great way to see a ton of different variations for each keyword you want to use. You can plug in the same list twice, or use a list of base keywords and a list of modifiers.
Kgen is a browser plugin for FireFox that analyzes the content on a page and plucks out what the kewords are on that page. On top of that, it also allows you to export the data as a CSV and can track the data over time if you use it consistently. One thing to note is that it might require an older version of the browser to operate properly.
Wordstream has a number of free keyword tools as well. Their primary keyword tool gives you keyword suggestions. The niche finder helps you find specific niches within keyword lists to target. A keyword grouper helps find keywords that might be similar enough to warrant only one piece of content, and the negative keyword tool helps you avoid spending too much money on expensive keywords in your ads.
SpyFu is a competitor analysis and keyword harvesting tool. You plug in the URL of your competitor and they scan it, looking for as much information as they can get from the site itself, from the sites that link to it, and from the ads they run around the web. This gives you a whole lot of data about their ads and their organic search, including their keywords and their projected ad budgets. It’s all interpreted data, of course. It’s also $50 per month.
SEMrush is another premium tool that offers a similar wealth of detailed competitive analysis information. It’s also expensive, weighing in at $70 per month. Both programs give you a ton of data, but can you get it for free elsewhere?
Majestic SEO is perhaps one of the biggest names in SEO and, in particular, link analysis.
While the tools are not exactly 100% comparable, Majestic is one of the best competitive analysis tools available for free. You can infer or extract much of the same data based on the keywords used in backlinks.
Ahrefs, Moz Pro, and a dozen other premium-tier tools give you a lot of functionality about analyzing links. They can show the sites that link to a page, the value of those links as analyzes by various proprietary rankings, and a lot more. There’s definitely value to link analysis, so let’s try to get as much of it as we can for free.
Check My Links is a free plugin available for the Chrome browser. It’s a simple button you can press while on a page that will scan it for links and will report whether or not the link works. If the link doesn’t, it reports that to you by highlighting it. This can be used to analyze links on your own site, and to analyze other sites to find chances for the moving man link building method. A similar tool, Domain Hunter Plus, also checks to see if the broken link’s domain is available to purchase.
The Moz Open Site Explorer is one part of the premium Moz Pro options, but it alone is free to use. It’s also one of the best link analysis tools in the business, with perhaps only Majestic competing for the top spot. It also ties in to the various high-end rankings Moz provides, like their Domain and Page authority rankings, which have become industry-standard replacements for PageRank.
BuzzStream has several tools that will be useful for link building. They have an email research tool, which you can use to find the contact information for a company or person. They have a domain extraction tool that takes lists of subpages on a website – like a list of sites linking to you – and pulls out just the unique domains. They have a meta data extraction tool as well; just point it at a URL and it pulls the meta data. They have a blogroll outreach tool that helps find blogs you can contact. They have premium tools as well, but they aren’t what we’re here for.
SEOBook has several free tools as well. The rank checker is a great browser plugin that helps monitor site rankings. The duplicate content checker checks for copies of any page you’re on to see if the content has been stolen. They also have a hub finder and a domain name finder, as well as a keyword analysis tool, all available for free.
Optimizing your site is incredibly important, and in order to do it, you need to know where your site stands in the first place. You need to be aware of your ranking, of the length and depth of your content, of the loading speed of your site, of coding errors, and more. Botify is one premium tool that offers a lot of this information. BrightLocal is another, with an excellent and detailed analysis of your local SEO results. DeepCrawl finds all the URLs you put on your site and their status, along with a dozen or two other metrics, including overly-long Twitter card descriptions, the number of H1 tags on a page, and the number of duplicate pages it finds.
Browseo is a simple tool that provides one potion of the features of the above, which is showing you what your site looks like to a web crawler. This allows you to troubleshoot visibility issues and accessibility issues, as well as some simple code errors. If it can’t be seen through this tool, Google can’t see it, so you know you need to make a change.
Google also has a number of free tools that can help you with various aspects of this process. Google Analytics is obviously one of the best free tools in existence for webmasters, but you already know all about it. Google also has the Mobile Friendliness tool that tests whether or not your site is prepared for mobile visitors. Their PageSpeed Insights tool helps show you how fast your site loads, and where any potential bottlenecks in speed are coming from. Their Search Console tool also shows you a lot of site meta data directly from Google’s perspective in their index.
GTMetrix is another tool that helps you with site speed analysis. Where PageSpeed Insights is great for an analysis, this tool actually loads your site and records what is loading, when, and how long it takes. It can then show you a nice waterfall of that loading process, and a ranking of how your speed stands up. On top of all of that, they give you advice on how to fix each issue along the way.
Microdata Generator is a tool that helps you in a very specific way, which isn’t useful for a lot of sites but is virtually required for those that need it. It’s microdata, all of the schema markup that Google likes to see for commerce cites. Adding all of those schema tags can be incredibly tedious and time consuming, which is why this tool is great. You just plug in the data and it adds the code and generates the snippet for you.
Panguin is a tool that checks the historic ranking for your site and cross-references it with the known dates for Google algorithm updates. The name comes from the combination of panda and penguin, so you know what the primary impetus for the tool’s creation was. You can use it to determine if one of your ranking drops might have had something to do with a Google penalty, and you can then work to improve the metrics that cause that penalty.
PluginSEO is a tool that is designed for WordPress sites primarily. It helps you identify any plugins on your site that are slowing down your loading, conflicting, causing SEO errors, or otherwise might be harming your site. In particular, it helps identify when plugins are out of date and need updates, which is a critical part of website security these days.
At the end of the day, there are very few direct equivalents between any premium tool and a corresponding free tool. Anyone who makes such an alternative tool is probably going to monetize it, after all. You simply need to find the right combination of paid and free tools to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.