SEO tools: the best free, best paid and best avoided

Posted by Dave CollinsSEO

There are more SEO tools out there than stars in the sky.

Or at least it feels that way.

The reason for this is a simple but seductive dream:

The right SEO tool can save you time, save you money, increase your web traffic, bring you more sales and cut down your working day to a few hours.

It’s even good for health and can help you lose weight (terms and conditions apply).

The only painful aspect of using it is that you’ll wish you’d discovered it years ago.

What’s not to like?

The view from reality:

The most common effect of using most SEO tools is that you’ll be $X a month worse off.

They could save you time, but they tend not to.

They might (in theory) help at bringing in more targeted traffic, but that’s unlikely. See below.

And as for sales and shorter work days – dream on.

The two main reasons why most SEO tools do nothing for you.

The first is that most of them aren’t very good. They provide little by the way of actionable value, and may even have a negative impact on your website with highly inaccurate data.

Ouch.

The second reason is that even the better SEO tools tend to be neglected, misused or too heavily relied on.

So all SEO tools are worthless?

No – far from it.

In my 20 years of doing SEO, I’ve worked with more SEO tools than you probably realise existed. Lucky, lucky me.

Most have been dreadful, some have been interesting, a few have been useful and a very small number have been invaluable.

But in defining the best SEO tool, you first need to decide two things.

How much money you’re prepared to spend, and what precisely you want the tool to do.

Two other important points to consider.

If you don’t want to spend any money at all, your options are limited. But there are still a small number of gems out there.

The second is that no SEO tool will actually do your SEO for you. In the same way that the tools you have in your home won’t fix anything for you on their own. I wish I’d have known that earlier.

And taking the analogy one step further – the wrong tool in the wrong hands can do an awful lot of damage. Again speaking from personal experience.

So here are my recommendations for the best SEO tools that are out there.

The best free SEO tools.

The best free SEO diagnostic tool comes directly from Google themselves. A company who do get the whole SEO thing.

Google Search Console contains more useful and actionable information than most normal people can possibly use.

It’s quick to setup and (almost) delightfully simple to work with.

I won’t go into too much detail about this, but for now here are the most important parts of the account to pay attention to:

Screenshot of the Google Search Console side navigation

If you’re interested in seeing some concrete examples of what you can do with the Google Search Console, I recommend our SEO Triage in Three Minutes video, and perhaps the SEO Easy Pickings tutorial too if you’re feeling particularly productive.

If you’re looking for a free keyword tool, then you have to be realistic: you do generally get what you pay for. But Neil Patel’s ubersuggest isn’t bad, and the Reddit Keyword Research Tool can be very interesting too. If you like that sort of thing.

The best paid SEO tools.

The best paid all-round SEO tool is ahrefs. Nothing else comes close. And I believe that few normal people have used as many SEO tools as I have. Normal is of course subjective.

Their current tagline is “Tools to grow your search traffic, research your competitors and monitor your niche” – and unlike most marketing claims, they actually deliver.

A few years ago ahrefs was mainly all about links. Today they also include tools for keyword research (the best I’ve seen), content ideas generation, site auditing, competitive analysis and more.

It really is excellent.

ahrefs - URL overview

The only catch is that it starts from $99 a month. But if you’re even remotely serious about your SEO then $99 a month will be be money well spent.

If, however, it’s going to be one of those tools that you sign up for and keep meaning to use but never get round to it (we’ve all been there), then it’s a lot of money to just irritate you.

The good news is that they offer a 7 day trial for only $7. And if you set aside some time, you can do a lot of serious work in 7 days.

I’d recommend giving it a try.

Oh, and we’re not in any way affiliated with ahrefs – we just really like their product.

The best paid keyword tool, by the way, is also part of ahrefs. You can probably see a theme developing here.

The best paid SEO diagnostic tool is Sitebulb. It’s good old-fashioned desktop software (works on PC and Mac), and it works by crawling any website to show all the opportunities and issues it can find.

A few things set it apart.

The first is that unlike many SEO site crawlers, they give you useful, actionable and accurate advice. Most don’t.

The second thing is that while the free version offers some impressive functionality, the paid version is only $35 or £25 a month.

It’s also fast at crawling even large websites, and integrates really well with your Google Search Console and Analytics accounts.

In my opinion this is a tool that can give you some extremely important pointers for things that will make a big difference to your website’s SEO traffic.

Even if your SEO efforts are going to be sporadic and brief, this tool will make sure you’re doing the right things.

The icing on the cake is that they also offer a free 14 day trial.

Oh and again, our only connection with the company is that we use and love their tool.

All tools share the same problem.

I’ve tried to keep my recommendations as brief as possible, and I’ve honed in on the smallest number of tools that I think would be of the most interest to as many people as possible.

I really do recommend that you try at least one of these tools. They work.

They don’t produce abstract or academic results.

Used correctly, they’ll bring more qualified visitors to your website.

But here’s the catch. These tools only work if you actually use them.

Give them a go.