We Made Kits of SEO Tools for Every Budget


And we show you how to use every single one.
by Perrin Carrell, March 2018

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the internet marketing world, it’s that people love tools.

But here’s what people often forget: you don’t just need the best, newest tools; you need the right tools for both your purposes and your budget.

This guide tries to help you solve that problem: to provide detailed explanations of the features and functionalities of major SEO tools and then to help you pick the best tools for your budget.

More...

Because we’re working in the context of budget, this guide will also include plenty of free tools and free tool demos -- rather than just a list of expensive sh*t to buy.

The idea is for you to walk away from this big ol’ beefy guide with a really good idea of the best way for you to spend money on SEO tools to get the best return.

How to use this guide

The main goal, of course, is to help you find the best possible combination of tools for both your needs and your budget.

However, when looking at free ways to do stuff, we sometimes have to combine free tools (or free versions of tools) to get the best result.

So, some of the recommendations below will talk about specific tools, highlighting features, capabilities, and limitations.

Others, however, will be mini-tutorials on how to do stuff for free.

That said, I wanted to avoid detailed tutorials for each tool. Ain’t nobody got time for that. This guide is more about putting together a toolbox; it just so happens that sometimes the best tool is a simple process.

Impatient? Click to jump to a tool kit summary for your budget and focus...

Disclaimer

I'm mostly going to be talking about tools we know and/or have used. And that’s mostly the point: to give our personal recommendations based on experience.

Obviously, I'm just one guy,  and it would be impossible for me to test every tool of every type,  so it's very possible that there are great tools out there that do similar things to the tools listed in this guide that I just haven't found. If that's the case, feel free to share your favorite tools in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!

Part 1: Keyword Research Tools


For my money, keyword research is one of the most crucially important SEO skills to get right. In fact, I think it’s criminally underrated, and people often learn the basics and then stop.

I’ve never been the best link builder, but I’d rate my keyword research skills up there with the best of them, and one of the reasons I think I’ve gotten so good at it is just tinkering around with various tools to devise new ways of coming up with keywords that my competitors may not find.

Before we talk about tools here, it’s worth quickly revisiting our definitions for the two basic types of keyword research we use:

  • Traditional keyword research. Inputting "seed" keywords int tools to generate large lists of keywords and their data.
  • Competitor keyword research. Reverse-engineering competitor keywords to see which ones you can also pursue.

Some tools/methods here will use one or the other method, so if I mention them, that’s what I’m talking about.

Free keyword research option: Mozbar + Similar Web Chrome extension + the free version of SEM Rush

This method uses all free tools (we also have a review of SEM Rush here).

Because we’re using the free versions of everything, of course, we’ve got to combine a few different tools to get the result we want.

  • Mozbar is a Chrome extension that will let you quickly assess the authority of a site
  • The Similar Web chrome extension is a plugin that allows you to see traffic estimates on the fly; and
  • SEM Rush is primarily an SEO competitor analysis tool that has a limited free version

The basic idea is to:

  1. Use Mozbar and Similar Web to find low-authority sites that have decent traffic, and then
  2. Use the free version SEM Rush to collect their top 10 keywords

By finding low-authority sites that also have decent traffic, we can be reasonably sure we can compete with most of the keywords they’re ranking for.

There’s no magic bullet to find sites, and lots of times you just have to dig,  but here are a few methods you could try:

  • Google a few keywords and see who’s ranking
  • Look at blog directories
  • Look at blog lists

As you’re looking, we want to use the Mozbar and Similar Web Chrome extensions to check authority and traffic.

So, for example, suppose you had a dog blog. You might search a random, medium-difficulty keyword and see who’s ranking.

Google Search Results MozBar

With Mozbar on, we can see there’s a DA37 site ranking for this keyword. We don’t necessarily need to worry about this specific keyword; we’re just trying to find small- to medium-sized blogs in the niche.

We could then visit this blog and use the Similar Web Chrome extension to check traffic.

SimilarWeb Chrome Extension Traffic Overview

You wouldn’t just find one site.

You’d go out there and find several dozen -- especially because what we’re going to do next (which requires the free version of SEM Rush) will only let us look at a few of the keywords for each site we find; so we’ll want to want to find lots of sites if we’re going to be doing everything for.

Anyway, we’d take the site we found, head over to SEM Rush, and plug it in.

Scrolling down a bit, we can see a keywords section. We can see five keywords here, and if we click on the “View full report” button, we can see a few more.

SEM Rush SEO Tool Domain Overview

Here’s the full report.

With the free version of SEM Rush (you don’t need an account, by the way), you can see 10 results. This might not sound like a ton, but remember: these are sorted by traffic, which means they are the site’s 10 best keywords.  

Capabilities

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    Can quickly find any site’s 10 best keywords for free
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    Keyword research that doesn’t require any tools or accounts

Limitations

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    Can’t reverse-engineer whole pages
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    Can’t get the “big picture” view of a site
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    Requires lots of competitors to find lots of keywords

Value keyword research option: KW Finder

Price as reviewed: $29 - $39/mo (our review)

Our value keyword research option is KW Finder.

This is a great tool, and it’s the one we recommend to our students in The Authority Site System. In that course, we try to create highly profitable sites on a relatively limited budget (although not a low budget, necessarily, but we definitely try to limit the financial input).

KW Finder is a traditional keyword research tool exclusively, meaning it’s all about using “seed” keywords to generate keyword lists and analyzing them by looking at the SERPs and by using KW Finder’s keyword difficulty score.

Main Features & Functions

1. Suggested Keywords

The core function of KW Finder is the suggested keywords tool. After putting in a seed keyword, it will populate a list of suggested keywords.

In this list, you can see several different data points, like volume, search trend, CPC, and keyword difficult. This list is basically a bird's-eye view of that seed keyword’s micro niche.

KWFinder Suggested Keywords

2. Keyword Difficulty Score & SERP Analyzer

If you click on a keyword, you can see its keyword difficulty score (we've written a lot about KD scores in the past, and while our post is a bit dated and doesn't include KW Finder, it's a good read if you want to develop a basic understanding), which is based on KW Finder’s internal algorithm and tells you how easy or tough they think that keyword would be to rank for.

You can also see who’s ranking in the SERPs, along with data for each of those pages. This is where you can really drill down and manually review each keyword.

KWFinder Keyword Difficulty Score & SERP Analyzer

3. Autocomplete & Question Generators

The autocomplete function uses Google Instant Search to populate related searches from the seed keyword, typically yielding slightly different results than the suggested keyword tool, which is based more strongly around relevance.

Here are some sample results using the seed keyword “dog food”:

KWFinder Autocomplete Generator

The question generator tool generates question-based keywords from the seed keyword. I really love this tool, since so many of my best ranking articles were short, concise pieces that simply answered really specific questions.

Question based keywords tend to have lower volume but much lower difficulty (it’s worth mentioning that I’ve written articles targeting keywords with a KD of 10 that have brought in thousands of visitors per month).

KWFinder Questions Generator

Conclusion

KW Finder is a great all around tool, and in my own experience, they’ve improved it a lot since its release. For my money, it’s by far the best keyword research tool I’ve tried that’s not in the top pricing tier. If I were starting a site on a budget tomorrow, it’s what I’d buy.

Capabilities

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    ​Extensive traditional keyword research
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    ​Autocomplete keyword research
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    Question-based keyword research
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    Solid keyword difficulty and SERP analysis

Limitations

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    ​No competitor analysis
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    Seems to lack the shear data top-tier tools have

Best keyword research tool overall: Ahrefs

Price as reviewed: $82 - $332/mo (our review)

I was skeptical when Ahrefs first released its keyword research tool. Since then, I’ve fallen in love. In my view, it’s the best keyword research tool on the market by a country mile.

Main Features & Functions

Suggested Keyword Tool

Like some of the other tools here, Ahrefs has a suggested keyword tool. The major difference, though, is the absolutely insane number of results Ahrefs returns.

Ahrefs also allows you to filter keywords in really clever and interesting ways that give the tool lots of flexibility:

  • All: a huge list of all the suggested keywords
  • Phrase match: keywords that include the exact phrase (i.e. seed keyword)
  • Having same terms: keywords that include the words in the seed keyword but not neccessarily the exact phrase
  • Also rank for: keywords that pages who rank for the seed keyword also rank for

Ahrefs also provides a parent topic, which is the highest-traffic keyword the page ranks for.

Ahrefs Keyword Tool Features

1. Detailed SERP Analysis

Ahrefs’ SERP analysis is extremely detailed, mostly because aside from recording basic data like search volume and search trends, they also record other SERP features, like ads and knowledge graphs, which, along with clickstream data, help them estimate the available traffic for both a given keyword and its parent topic.

Ahrefs Detailed SERP Analysis

Here’s what the SERP analysis looks like.

Ahrefs Detailed SERP Overview

2. Competitor SERP Analysis

By searching any site, you can view a list of all the keywords (in Ahrefs’ database) that site ranks for, and you can sort them by all kinds of useful metrics.

Ahrefs Competitor SERP Analysis

Conclusion

Ahrefs is the best overall keyword research tool. No contest.

They just offer too much functionality, options, and data for anyone else to be even remotely close. That, and in our testing, they typically have the most accurate keyword difficulty score.

Capabilities

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    ​Huge amounts of data for traditional keyword research
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    Extremely advanced filtering options
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    Highly accurate KD score
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    ​Clickstream data and traffic estimates
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    Very detailed SERP analysis, including SERP features
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    Powerful competitor analysis

Limitations

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    Price

Part 2: Rank Trackers


I’m going to get mobbed for saying so, but in general, I think rank trackers are overrated.

I’ve always preferred to take a holistic view of my websites, monitoring overall traffic and revenue coming from the many thousands of keywords most sites end up ranking for in aggregate rather than looking at a couple dozen individual keywords.

That said, I understand why people like them: monitoring a few keywords you’ve put a lot of energy into targeting is a good, basic indication of progress. Plus, for a select few niches, sometimes single keywords really are the money makers, and it’s important to monitor them (or maybe you just have clients who want reports and numbers).

I mostly just want you to know I don’t use rank trackers much but feel like I wanted to include it in the list. If there are better options out there, definitely let me know in the comments.

Free rank tracker option #1: Google Webmaster Tools

What I usually recommend for most people starting a new website is not to even look at keyword rank. Instead, look at impressions, since it’s usually a much better and more exciting metric of growth at the very beginning, while you’re still clawing your way to the first page.

The only place you can really see that is in Google’s search console (Google Webmaster Tools)--it also serves as a pretty good rank tracker.

Main Features & Functionality

Impressions show how many times your website was served by Google--on any page of the SERPs-- for a user (not the rank and not how many times it was clicked).

Google Webmaster Tools Search Analytics

Clearly, this graph would look different for a brand new site, but it’s a good illustration of what the basic platform shows you: your top keywords according to impressions.

As your site grows, Google Webmaster Tools also serves as a decent rank tracker. Instead of impressions, you’d just look at the “position” metric, which is the average position of that keyword.

Google Webmaster Tools Keyword Average Position

This is what it looks like if you look at only position.

If you want to see the position for your best keywords, you can turn on (and sort by) “clicks” or “impressions” and compare those metrics to position.

By far the most useful feature of  the Google Webmaster Tools rank tracker -- and the one that no other tool will be able to replicate -- is access to CTR (click-through rate) data.

This lets you check the average position of a keyword against CTR to pick out any disparities that you might be able to fix for easy traffic gains.

You can also look at the historic position changes of individual keywords over time simply by clicking on them.

Google Webmasters Tool Keyword Historic Position Changes

The downside, of course, is that it’s tough to compare single keywords against each other, and it can be a pain in the ass to find specific keywords in your lists.

Conclusion

Google Webmaster Tools is a good way to track your rank (especially at this price point: free), and it gives you access to data no other tool will be able to give you: CTR data and impression data. If I had a limited budget, I’d be using this most of the time to track rank.

Capabilities

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    ​Tracks average rank of all keywords
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    ​Can compare to impressions, clicks, and CTR
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    ​Calculates average position of each keyword and whole site

Limitations

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    ​Pain in the ass to find single keywords
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    Can’t compare keywords against each other
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    Can’t compare rankings to competitors

Free rank tracker option #2: SERPLab

SERPLab offers a good free rank tracker that looks a lot more like what most of us would consider a “traditional” rank tracker.

Basically, you sign up, and then you can input a few different keywords you want to track for your site.

SERPLab Rank Tracker

After you do that, you’ll be able to track the ranks of your keywords in the dashboard.

One quick note, though, is that if you have a free account, you’ll only be able to check the ranks of your keywords once every 24 hours (but who needs to check keyword rankings more than that, anyway?).

SERPLab Free Account Limitation

After a check, the data is stored in the dashboard.

You can see the average position, how many positions improved since the last check, and also which of your keywords are in the top three, 10, 30 and 100 positions in the SERPs.

There’s also an historic rank tracker, where you can see the evolution of your rankings over time.

Conclusion

This is a very basic, very standard rank tracker.

No bells. No whistles. Literally all this tool does is track keyword ranks. I’m not sure of all the limitations of the free version, but in my testing, it seemed to be more than enough to track the most important keywords for the sites of the size most independent marketers operate.

Capabilities

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    ​Tracks ranks of specific keywords over time
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    Historical rankings graph

Limitations

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    No other functionality other than rank tracking (as far as I could tell)

Value rank tracker: Rank Tracker from SEO Power Suite

To be completely honest, I’d nearly forgotten about SEO Power Suite, but I rediscovered them researching for extra rank trackers.

I haven’t had a chance to play with everything they offer, but they seem to have made some pretty wild improvements, including with their rank tracker.

Now, I’m listing this as a value option, since you can buy the entire suite of tools for a $299 one-time fee (this is not a recommendation; I have no idea how good the other tools are)... but the free version of the rank tracker seems to have relatively few limitations, so you could consider this another solid free option if you wanted.

Main Features & Functionality

The first thing you should probably know is that the rank tracker (and all the other tools in this suite) are desktop software.

Power Suite Rank Tracker

There are pros and cons to desktop software -- which is not worth spending time on here -- but it’s something to know if you have a preference one way or the other.

The tools are also completely separate from each other. You download, open, and use them all separately, which means you could download only the rank tracker if you wanted.

That said, the rank tracker (for some reason) also includes a keyword research functionality, which I have not tested at all, and, if you already have keyword research software and/or just want a rank tracker, might be a bit redundant.

The rank tracker itself is pretty straight forward. Like other “traditional” trackers, it requires you to input keywords you want to track.

SEO Power Suite Keywords Adding

After inputting keywords, it will run the first check immediately (different than, say, SERPLab’s tool, which makes you wait 24 hours before running its first check).

The default dashboard shows the data you expect from a rank tracker: the positions of your keywords (this tracker includes the three major search engines) as well as historical data in graph form at the bottom.

SERPLab Keywords Historical Data

If you want to dive a bit deeper into how your rankings have changed, there’s a “Rankings Progress” tab, which is essentially just your historical ranking data with recent changes documented in the table, allowing you to track keyword movement a bit more easily.

SERPLab SEO Tool Keywords Position Changes

The “Rankings Details” tab is a bit clunk and (in my opinion) a bit redundant, but it does allow you to see SERP features, which is important to be able to compare to your historic keyword positions if you’ve gained or lost traffic.

The last worthwhile functionality is the ability to add competitors.

SERPLab Competitors Analysis

I didn’t dive too deep into this functionality, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect: add competitors to keep an eye on their keyword positions relative to your own.

Conclusion

This tool is robust, and it seems to be by far the most robust free version of the tools in the suite; I’m guessing this is meant to hook you into buying the full suite of other tools.

The standard features appear to be good, fast, and accurate, and there are lots of complementary functionalities, like being able to add competitors to compare keyword positions.

The one glaring drawback is that you have upgrade to save projects.

Capabilities

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    Fast and accurate rank tracking
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    ​Includes SERP features, which most free tools don’t
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    Can add competitors

Limitations

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    ​Only tracks keywords you input
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    Have to upgrade to save projects

Best overall rank tracker: Ahrefs

Spoiler alert: you’re going to be seeing a lot of Ahrefs in this blog post.

Ahrefs is what I’ve used to track my keyword rankings 100% passively for years now, and it’s the reason I really don’t use or care about other rank trackers.

It beats other tools in a couple of ways, but at the core of them all is the thing that has allowed Ahrefs to beat most other tools at their respective games: access to stupid amounts of data.

There’s an easy way to use them to track rankings, and there’s a more nuanced way that leverage their new rank tracking-specific function.

Let’s look at them both.

Main Features & Functionality

Here’s how I typically use Ahrefs to track my keyword rankings.

I plug a site into the site explorer & click the “Organic Keywords” link in the left sidebar.

Ahrefs Rank Tracker

That takes me to a screen where Ahrefs has already crawled both my site and Google and compiled rankings for every keyword it could find.

Ahrefs Organic Keywords Overview

I have here a list of thousands of keywords.

Some of those keywords you might have no idea you rank for, which is a massive benefit to using the Ahrefs organic keyword data as a rank tracker: you can see the surprising keywords that might be bringing you lots of traffic but you may not have been specifically targeting.

By default, Ahrefs sorts by estimated traffic, which essentially gives you a bird’s eye view of what are probably your best keywords as soon as you navigate to this section.

If you want to look at different stuff, though, Ahrefs provides a robust filtering functionality as well as a search function, which you can use to find specific keywords.

Lastly, this view also lets you see movement (you can see consolidated position changes in the “Movements” tab,” but I usually just use this one).

So that’s the easy way, and it’s how I’ve been using Ahrefs to track both my own keywords and my competitors keywords for years.

And for years, the primary drawback of this method was that you couldn’t see historical ranking data.

Just recently, however, Ahrefs added a new rank tracker that behaves in a more “traditional” way, letting you track keywords over time.

The default dashboard for this new rank tracker highlights their “visibility” metric, which shows “what percentage of all clicks for the tracked keywords land on your website.”

Ahrefs Visibility Metrics

You can also see other data, though (remember, this is aggregate data only for the keywords you are tracking):

  • Average position
  • Estimated traffic
  • SERP features (how many SERP features there are for all tracked keywords
  • Movements up or down for tracked keywords

Below, you can see your keywords along with the usual Ahrefs data. Crucially, though, if you click the little graph button, you can his historical ranking data as well.

Ahrefs Keyword Position History

If you click the “Add Keywords” button, you can type in keywords like you normally would for any other tool.

However, Ahrefs will also suggest keywords you are not tracking but you rank for, which is a super handy feature.

Ahrefs Suggested Keywords

Conclusion

It probably won’t surprise anyone that Ahrefs has by far the best rank tracker on the market (in my opinion). They just have access to too much data, and their tool already has tons of functionality that supports rank tracking anyway.

As is usually the case with Ahrefs, however, the price can be prohibitive for a lot of folks.

Capabilities

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    ​Automatically finds and stores data for all keywords for every site it can find
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    Robust dedicated tracker
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    ​Proprietary “visibility” metric
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    Able to suggest keywords to track based on stored data

Limitations

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    Price

Part 3: Competitor Analysis


“Competitor analysis tools” is kind of a vague category because it can mean so many things. But basically, I’m referring to tools that allow you to see keyword and backlink data for your competitors.

The unfortunate thing about competitor analysis tools is that it's more difficult to find budget options-- or, rather, it's more difficult to find budget options that can come even remotely close to the functionality of the higher-tier tools.

Still, depending on what you needed for, that can be perfectly serviceable.

Free competitor analysis tool option: SEM Rush + Majestic + Moz Open Site Explorer (free versions)

For the free version of competitor analysis, we are going to go back to SEM Rush, but we're also going to use the free version of Majestic and Moz’s Open Site Explorer.

Now, this is not going to be a very good substitute for the other competitor analysis tools we are going to talk about, but it can get the bare minimum done.

 Here's the basic process:

  • Use SEM Rush to find competitors
  • Use SEM Rush to look at their top few best pages and keywords
  • Use Majestic to get a feel for their total number of links
  • Use OSE to see some of their most impactful links

The first step is to head over to SEM Rush  and input either your site or one of your primary competitors.

SEM Rush Domain Overview

One of the reasons I love this tool in particular is that it's so easy to find competitors using their competitor map.

Just scroll down and you'll be able to see a chart In which the site's closest competitors in search are represented by bubbles of different sizes (the bigger the bubble, the more traffic that competitor has).

There's also a simple list of competitors just to the left.

SEM Rush Organic Competitors

We can click on any one of these and see all the information we’re used to seeing in this dashboard, but for the purposes of competitive analysis, we are typically most interested in checking out the keyboards and backlinks.

As we saw above, SEM Rush won't give us much keyboard data, but where the free version of the tool really shines is in the amount of backlink data you can see without purchasing anything.

On any competitor,  we can navigate to the backlink page and click the backlink tab to see a pretty solid list of links.

SEM Rush Backlinks Overview

In my experience, this data doesn't come even remotely close to the accuracy of the data over at Ahrefs, but it's more data than you would get from, say, Moz’s Open Site Explorer,  and definitely more data than you would give from a tool like Majestic, which, as far as I can tell, when using the free version, only gives you the number of backlinks and doesn't show you any actual linking websites.

There are also lots of great filtering options, allowing you to check for different types of links, referring domains, or referring IPs.

The obvious drawback of using the free version of SEM Rush,  of course, is that you only get to use so much data per day before they cut you off and ask you to upgrade (and  it's not a lot).

Conclusion

The free version of SEM Rush Is probably the most robust free version of any of the competitor analysis tools out there (especially now that Ahrefs  no longer has a free trial).

While the keyword data is pretty Limited (only 10 results per site),  the back link data is surprisingly robust, Can you can get a really good feel for the competitors back link profile,  and it's even possible to  use the data to start looking for link opportunities of your own.

Quickly, the other thing that we haven't talked about yet is that SEM Rush includes one of the better graphs of historic traffic of all the tools out there (mostly because it has been around the longest), and it's included in the free version.

Capabilities

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    Does a great job finding competitors
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    Surprisingly robust backlink data
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    Can see historic traffic over time

Limitations

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    Limited keyword data
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    Backlink index isn’t as full or as accurate as some other tools
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    Can only perform so many searches per day

Value competitor analysis option: SERPStat

Price as reviewed: $19  - $69/mo (for our purposes)

This is a tool I've been playing around with quite a bit. I'd say it's probably the closest and most direct competitor to Ahrefs  on the market, but the price tag is considerably more comfortable.

The other good thing about SERPstat is that the occasionally show up on Appsumo, so if you catch it (I did), you can get a lifetime subscription for $39, which is a pretty damn good value if you ask me.

Main Features & Functionality

I'm not going to go through every feature here because that would take a little bit too much time;  I'm just going to run through the most crucial stuff for our purposes as independent site builders.

1. Organic visibility and keywords

The default dashboard shows you your organic visibilit,  including organic keywords, positions and position changes, position distributions, and what appears to be a proprietary visibility metric (which,  as far as I can tell, Is based on the ratio of keywords in the top 20 positions).

SERPstat Organic Visibility and Keywords

What  I really like about Serpstat, though (and where I think it may even outshine Ahrefs), is its data visualization.

Nearly everything in the dashboard is presented and a nifty graph.

A simple bar graph for keyword distribution.

SERPstat Keyword Position Distribution

An interactive area graph to show the historic “visibility” data.

SERPstat Visibility Trend

A similar graph showing the total number of organic keywords a site ranks for.

SERPstat Keywords Trend

And a nice, simple bar graph to show which pages have the most visibility.

SERPstat Pages with The Highest Visibility

Probably the organic feature that they do best, though, is the organic competitor widget. To be honest, I think this beats even Ahrefs.

Aside from just listing a few competitors, the widget in Serpstat lists 20 competitors Along with the keyword you have in common with them (which is also shown in a sort of inline bar graph), their visibility, and a calculated relevance score. 

SERPstat Competitors in Organic Search

In my view, this is highly useful.

I think it just makes sense that a competitor analysis tool should (perhaps  above all)  be good at helping you find competitors (and competitors of your competitors). Serpstat  might do that better than anybody right now.

2. Backlink Analysis

Serpstat also has a pretty sick backlink analysis tool. They show you raw stats (number of referring pages, domains, etc.) as well as graphs that indicate your overall link curve and velocity.

serpstat backlink analysis

It's been my experience so far that Serpstat doesn't pick up nearly as much data as Ahrefs, especially for new sites; however, it does appear to grow more and more comparable as sites get bigger.

3. Rank Tracker

A rank tracking tool isn't something you would typically include in a competitive analysis except, of course, if you are tracking competitors positions against your own.

That’s something you can do with this tool.

Similar to Ahrefs, Serpstat’s tool will suggest keywords for you to add, and The tool will automatically track those keywords against the competitors that appear in the SERPs.

Conclusion

For the price, this might be one of the better competitor analysis tools in the market. I love Ahrefs,  but the major downside has always been that it is cost-prohibitive to many independent site builders, especially those just starting.

Serpstat  exploits this gap in the market, and so far it does it pretty well.  it's not quite as robust, but for $19/mo, you get a lot.

I've only recently started playing with this tool, but I wish I'd found it a lot sooner, and I'm certainly going to be recommending it to our students in The Authority Site System.

Capabilities

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    ​Good keyword data
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    ​Good visibility metric
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    ​Best-in-class competitor finding tool
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    Good rank tracker

Limitations

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    Not as much data
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    Frequent maintenance

Best overall competitor analysis tool: Ahrefs

I almost wish I had written this article 3 years ago, back when Ahrefs  hadn't crept into all corners of the SEO world,  slowly becoming a nearly viable one-tool option. If I had,  I might have not been listing it in so many “best overall tool” sections of this post.

Main Features & Functionality

To be frank, there's not a lot Ahrefs can’t do,  especially from a competitor analysis standpoint,  so we're not going to spend a whole lot of time going over things here (especially because so many of us are already familiar with the tool).  

So, rather than run through every feature Ahrefs has to offer, I’m going to instead talk about a few of the features that differentiate Ahrefs from everyone else and make it my go-to competitive analysis tool.

1. Detailed SERP data

In my view, this is actually one of the biggest benefits of Ahrefs.  pretty much anywhere you are in any dashboard of the tool, you can check the SERP features, backlinks, referring domains, estimated traffic, and shares for any keywords.

Ahrefs Organic Keywords SERP

Being able to check what the SERPs actually look like-- and in the context of all those data points -- is immensely valuable.

You can do this from basically everywhere: keyword explorer, organic keyword dashboard, and so on. Anywhere you might be looking at keyword, you can check the SERP data.

2. Backlink Data

There's not an entirely scientific way to measure which tool has the best or most robust backlink database, but in my personal opinion and in the opinion of nearly all of my colleagues, the Ahrefs backlink database is by far the most accurate and most complete backlink database of any tool in the market.

Here’s just a quick comparison to SEM Rush (as one example).

SEMRush Backlinks Data

And here’s Ahrefs:

Ahrefs Backlinks Data

There could be lots of reasons for this, and representatives from other companies have tried to explain this away, but for my money, Ahrefs simply crawls more, has more muscle, and gathers more data than almost anyone else.

3. Accurate Keyword Difficulty Score

When doing research at scale, keyword difficulty can be one of the single most helpful metrics to anyone trying to put together a content plan for a website with SEO in mind.

The problem is: lots of people suck at it, and some companies can't even explain their own keywrod  difficulty metric.

We tested this pretty extensively, and we found that Ahrefs had the most accurate keyword difficulty in metric of any of the major companies who offer one.

Ahrefs Keyword Overview Difficulty Score

4. Estimated Click Data

This is another data point that I feel like is sometimes overlooked, especially by other tools, but to me  it's a highly useful metric because it gives me more insight into the potential viability of a keyword Beyond just its search volume.

In other words, I can skip keywords that might have a nice looking search volume but for which there just aren't many clicks floating around (due to ads or SERP features or whatever).

Likewise, it makes it easy to find “golden nugget” keywords for which the estimated clicks are actually higher  than the search volume,  giving a keyword even greater potential than it might have seemed at first glance.

Ahrefs Estimated Click Data

5. Content Explorer Searchable by Referring Domains

These days, this is probably one of my primary uses for Ahrefs: dinking around in the content explorer trying to find topics for which there are lots of links floating around, so I can put together great link about assets for outreach campaigns.

There are tools on the market with similar functionality (e.g. Buzzsumo),  but there are none that have access to Ahrefs backlink data,  and that is a massive competitive Advantage with this kind of tool, especially if your target demographic is independent site builders focus on SEO.

Being able to search for Content ideas according to how many links pages on those topics attract  makes your job as a marketer way easier, and, honestly,  this might be one of the first tools ever that has allowed marketers to  take a data-driven approach to content marketing ideation.  

Ahrefs Content Explorer Search by Referring Domains

Conclusion

Honestly, I could spend all day talking about this tool,  and you should take what I say with a grain of salt because I am admittedly a huge Ahrefs fanboy.

But, From a competitive analysis standpoint, there is simply no other tool that can do what Ahrefs does. Ahrefs  has access to too much raw computing power, and its databases are growing everyday.

That, and Tim Soulo  is obsessively dedicated to making his tool the best tool on the market (the lunatic even joined our Slack to let us pepper him with questions and feature suggestions).

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Can check detailed SERP info from pretty much anywhere
  • check
    ​Tons of backlink data
  • check
    Most accurate KD score
  • check
    ​Content explorer searchable by referring domains
  • check
    Way more data than everyone else overall

Limitations

  • ban
    Price
  • ban
    ​Not the best competitor finder

Part 4: Site Crawlers


Note: Since the writing of this article Ahrefs has added a site audit/crawl tool. I haven't tested it completely, yet, but if you're using Ahrefs for everything else, there's a good argument to be made for just using their site crawler as well. That said, the options below do offer (from what I can tell) some different and more robust features.

Site crawlers are technical SEO tools that will crawl your site and analyze pretty much everything, paying special attention to SEO elements.

They can be extremely useful for getting an overall picture of how your site is working and to identify both major errors and places in which you can optimize or tweak things for easy technical and onpage SEO wins.

You guys Are in luck here, too, because the free options for these tools are really impressive. In fact, you may not need a paid tool at all.

Important Note: The Main limitation of the free versions of the following tools is usually the number of URLs they will crawl; however, most of the time that number is pretty high and well cover the kinds of websites we are building (the  lowest threshold, for example, is 250 URLs, which, if your site is clean and you don’t have a bunch of technically weird stuff going on, is typically plenty for a small-medium authority site.

Free (and/or ultra-cheap) site crawler option #1: Site Liner

Crawl limit: 250 URLs

Upgrade price: $0.01 per 1,000 credits (I believe 1 credit = 1 URL).

Site Liner isn't quite as robust as some of the other tools we are going to be talking about, but it's surprisingly nuanced for a free online tool.

It is, however, probably the simplest site crawler overall, and it's particularly good for finding duplicate content and broken links, which is what many independent site builders would be using a tool like this for anyway.

Features & Functionality

Site Liner Is a web-based app, and all you need to do to get started his type in your domain and let it run and initial scan.

1. Broken Link Checker

This is one of Site Liner’s primary functionalities, and it's right at the top of the dashboard. Clicking on it will take you to a straightforward list of all the pages on your site that contain broken links. 

Site Liner Broken Links

Here's what I really love about this tool though...

If you click on one of the URLs in that list, Site Liner will  take you to a kind of embedded window of its tool and will highlight all of the broken links for you.

Site Liner Broken Link Checker Detailed Overview

This makes finding broken links extremely easy, since you can see exactly where they are.

2. Duplicate Content Finder

The duplicate content finder behaves in a really similar way.

Plop in  your website, and the tool will provide you with a list of all the URLs that contain duplicate content. The main difference between this functionality and the broken link checker is that  the tool spits out a word count, showing you exactly how much of a page’s content could be considered duplicate.

Site Liner Duplicated Content

If you click on any of the URLs in the list, you can go to the same embedded window, and the tool will highlight any duplicate content on a page. Because there are various types of duplicate content, each type will be color coded on the page.

Site Liner Duplicated Content Checker

3. Bird’s Eye Style Dashboard

Site Liner also gives you a dashboard that compares the metrics of your site to median metrics of all  other sites on the internet (I believe it's comparing to all other sites it has scanned unless it's getting data from somewhere else).

But, for example you can see how your average article word count or your text to HTML ratio compares to other sites on the web.

Site Liner Comparison With Other Sites

​​​The data included in this dashboard includes:

  • Average page size
  • Page load time
  • Word count
  • Text to HTML ratio
  • % of duplicate content
  • % of common content
  • Internal links to pages
  • External links to pages
  • Total links per page
  • Inbound links per page

While this feature isn't nearly as actionable as some of the other features, it can definitely help you pick out any egregious anomalies.

Conclusion

Site Liner can't, in my view, replace any of the more robust, fully featured site crawlers, but it does an exceptionally good job helping you see how your site compared to the rest of the web technically, find broken links, and find duplicate content. In fact, it may do those things better than any of the site crawlers and this list.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Great duplicate content finder
  • check
    ​Great broken link finder
  • check
    ​Great comparison tool

Limitations

  • ban
    ​Lacks major features of other site crawlers, like title tag analyzers, H1 analyzers, crawl depth analyzers, and so on

Free site crawler option #2: Screaming Frog

Free crawl limit: 500 URLs

Upgrade price: $149/yr

Screaming Frog has been a mainstay of the SEO industry for years now, and it's pretty ridiculous what you get for the free version of the tool.

Features & Functionality

Screaming Frog is a little bit different than some of the other tools on this list. It's not so much about data visualization and action items as it is providing you a list of URLs and all of the data associated with that URL so that you can see everything in one place.

It will be impossible to cover every functionality that screaming frog has to offer, so we won't. Instead, we will touch on some of the most important ones for people who are doing the sort of work our community does.

1. Big List of URLs w/ All Associated Info

This is probably what I would say is screaming frogs most distinctive feature:  a big list of all the URLs on your site +  all the data that goes along with it. It in a tab called “Internal.”

You can either scroll to the right to see data for URLs, sorting them and comparing them. Or you can click on a URL and see all its data in a window below.

Screaming Frog List of URLs with Info

The data you can find here includes:

  • Status codes and status
  • Extracted titles
  • Title lengths
  • Meta descriptions
  • Meta description lengths
  • Meta keywords
  • H1 and H2 headings and their lengths
  • Canonical links
  • Page sizes
  • Word counts
  • Text to HTML ratio
  • Crawl depth
  • Inbound and outbound links (within the same website; not backlinks)
  • Response times

There are other bits of info, of course, but this is all in the main “internal” dashboard -- the place where you see the list of URLs on your site.

It this is the primary function of the tool, and it allows you to quickly sort the list for unoptimized SEO elements.

For example, you could sort the list of URLs by title length and see titles that are either too long or too short, and then you could fix them. Or, you could sort the list by meta description and see which pages don't have one, and then you could right one.

It's basically a way to identify easy Technical and on-page SEO wins.

2. Site Structure Data

While it's not my favorite tool to help understand or visualize site structure, it does a pretty decent job.

On the right hand side of the tool, you'll see a site structure tab, which you can click on to see the top pages according to the number of internal links they have as well as stats on crawl death (the number of clicks a page is from the homepage; generally good not to have anything over 5).

Screaming Frog Site Structure Data

3. Site Structure Data

Screaming Frog Also allows you to look at any of the data points for URL in aggregate by clicking that data points respective tab up top to see that data all in one place.

For example, if we wanted to review response codes to find broken pages or pages that were loading slowly, we could click on the Response Codes tab.

Screaming Frog Data Sorting

Conclusion

This is an old, robust tool that gives you perhaps the best overall view of all of the technical hand on-page elements on your site,  allowing you to compare them against each other to not only identify errors, but also to identify places where you can optimize for some easy wins.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Extremely good way to view all data with every URL on your site
  • check
    ​Sortable lists make it easy to identify opportunities
  • check
    ​Decent site structure tool

Limitations

  • ban
    ​Data could be visualized better
  • ban
    Antiquated UI

Value site crawler: Serpstat

Price as reviewed: $19/mo

Quick note: I was originally going to recommend Ryte in this spot,  but their crawler seems to be broken for me lately, and Serpstat’s offers very similar functionality. If Ryte’s is ever up and running, it’s worth checking out.

Features & Functionality

Serpstat offers a aside crawler that does what I think site crawlers or should do by default: take all of the technical SEO data about your website and put it into a visualized, actionable list for you, which Is why I think it's one of the better tools you can use right now -- it takes a lot of the guesswork out of fixing technical issues, which is really good for both new and experienced marketers who are a bit lazy (like me).

1. List of Actionable Technical SEO Tasks

After scanning your site, Serpstat  will give you a list of all of the technical areas of analysis and show you which ones were good and which ones need to be fixed --  all according to priority (low-priority, urgent issues, etc.).

It breaks these out by category.

Serpstat Actionable Technical SEO Tasks

Clicking any of these, of course, will let you see a more detailed analysis so you can find out where these errors are.

Serpstat HTTP Status Code

One other cool (and increasingly essential thing), is that Serpstat returns crawl data for both mobile and desktop, allowing you to switch within the dashboard.

Serpstat Site Audit

2. “SDO” Score

After scanning your site, Serpstat Gives you what they call an SDO score, which is  a score calculated by them that is supposed to indicate overall technical site health.

Under the score there is a button allowing you to restart the audit after you fix issues so that you can compare one audit against another (to see if issues were corrected).

Serpstat SDO Score

This makes it super easy to make incremental improvements on your site.

3. Visualized depth, redirect, and status code charts

Serpstat Also includes characteristically good data visualization for crowd Epps, redirect, and status code data.

I wish there were a little more nuance here, since you can't click on any of these and see any detailed data, but for all intents and purposes it's nice to be able to visualize this data all in one place and right next to each other.

Serpstat Visualized Page Depth, Redirect Types, Status Code

Conclusion

This is one of the few areas in which Serpstat is beating Ahrefs,  and if you are looking for an all-in-one  tool that includes  a site crawler,  I can see how it could put Serpstat over the top.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Actionable list of technical issues
  • check
    SDO score
  • check
    ​Good data visualization for some elements

Limitations

  • ban
    Lacks the raw data comparison capabilities of Screaming Frog
  • ban
    ​Could have more nuanced data for page depth, redirects, and status codes

TF*IDF Analyzers

TF*IDF analysis tools help you create greater semantic relevance by analyzing top-ranking articles and evaluating the frequency of keywords and key phrases, so you can try to get as close as possible to the distribution of important and related words as the articles that are performing best.

I've tried several of these, and so have my colleagues, and at the end of the day, there's really only one tool that I find is good enough to recommend (you’ll see it in just a sec).

Other tools tend to either include lots of irrelevant results, don't include enough results, or are so ridiculously overpriced they wouldn't be worth it even for the most ludicrous budgets (**cough*marketmuse**cough**).

The only TF*IDF analysis tool I really like: Ryte

Free keywords analyzed: 5/mo

Upgrade price: $119/mo for unlimited TF*IDF analysis.

Ryte, formerly Onpage.org,  is a tool that includes a lots of features, but by far one of the best is their TF*IDF analyzer.

Features & Functionality

After creating an account, you can go to the “Content Success”  section of the Ryte  dashboard. This is the TF*IDF analyzer.

And from here it's pretty easy:  just enter a keyword and hit “Start Content Analysis.”

TF*IDF Content Success Analyzer

From there, you'll be taken to a graph where you can see the distribution of both single words and 2-word phrases  that occur in the top ranking articles for that keyword.

One of the things Ryte  does really well is that it omits irrelevant phrases.  it is, however, an important to look at both single words and 2-word phrases.

You can add your own URL  using the comparison URL function to see which words  and phrases your article might already have in it.

Then, you can edit articles and try to include  words and phrases that your article does  not  include so that your graph looks similar to the one in the tool.

Conclusion

Of all the TF*IDF analyzers I’ve tried, Ryte seems to be the best and most relevant (and really,  lots of the other tools are just plain bad).

It's worth noting that this sort of analysis hasn't been very well proven, and even in our own small tests using  tools like this, we've had both good and bad results. I do still use it for important articles on my sites, and I plan to test more, but I'd say treat this tool is more of a luxury, and don't feel like you're missing anything essential if you are still putting lots of energy and to producing great content that serves the end user.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Great visualization of the TF*IDF analysis
  • check
    ​Good at omitting irrelevant words and phrases

Limitations

  • ban
    ​IF*IDF analysis in general may not be well-proven enough to justify the price
  • ban
    ​Free version provides limited analyses

Part 5: Email Finders


If you're going to be sending emails you are going to want a way to find them without having to search through every website by hand.

Nowadays, email finding tools are among the most ubiquitous tools in the SEO world, and there are pretty good ways to do it at all price points.

Free email finding tool combo: Rapportive + Hunter Chrome Extension

Rapportive is a Chrome extension  that will automatically look up and display the LinkedIn profile of people you are emailing  as you write the email.

The idea with Rapportive is that if you already know the name of somebody at a specific website who you want to reach out to, you can use common combinations of their first and last name to try to guess their email, and if you get it right the plugin will display a LinkedIn profile.

So, for example, if you were trying to get ahold of Gael, you might fire up a message in Gmail and guess the following:

And on the third one, you'd see a profile populate inside Gmail.

I typically only use this if there is a very important person who I really want to reach out to, and I don't mind spending a little bit of extra energy.

Most of the time, though, I'm going to be going to websites where I don't know anyone, and I want to see which email addresses are available.  if I want to do that for free, I usually use the Hunter Chrome extension.

This extension is super easy to use. navigate to any website you want to reach out to, and click the little Hunter icon in your extensions toolbar, and the plug-in will find all of the email addresses available for at the site.

Email Hunter AuthorityHacker Website

If you click the “sources” button to the right of the email,  you can see where this email appears (on any site, including the one you are on), which will give you a better idea of who this person is and what their role is, which obviously helps with Outreach.

Quick note: As far as I can tell from my research, Hunter only lists professional emails, and it will not give you personal emails, which means it may not always healed as many emails as possible, but they do that (I think) to facilitate professional relationships rather than spreading people's personal emails all over the internet.

Conclusion

Rapportive  is a good way to sniff out the email address of highly important people who could potentially yield a really good opportunity. Hunter, on the other hand, is a good, free way to see all of the available email addresses for a given website with a single button click.

A combination of the two is a really good solution if you are doing manual Outreach, but it's typically not the best if you are outreach at scale.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Great for  finding the email of key prospects
  • check
    ​Good for sending all of the available email addresses for a website

Limitations

  • ban
    Doesn't scale well

Value email finding option: Hunter.io’s paid tool

Hunter.io Is probably the email finding service that we use the most around here. It doesn't necessarily produce the most possible emails, but we like the idea of only reaching out to professional emails, and it offers lots of good efficiency benefits.

Features & Functionality

The primary benefit of Hunter is that it is more scalable than other tools,  and there honestly aren't many bells and whistles.

they have added features in the recent past, but, in my view, they aren't all that great, and the email finder remains the core of the product for most people.

Bulk Email Finder

The way we usually use Hunter, we upload lists of domains and have a hunter help us find email addresses publicly-listed for those domains.

You do this by navigating to Bulk > Domain Search.

Email Hunter Paid Tool

Here, you can upload a simple CSV that includes all of the domains you are trying to get in contact with. 

Email Hunter Paid Tool Bulk Domain Searches

You can then name your project and upload your file I just copy and paste the domains in the text field. 

Email Hunter Paid Tool New Bulk Domain Search

Hunter will then return a spreadsheet that lists all of the emails I can find for all of the domains provided  up to the maximum filter you set for the project.

Then, you can go through that spreadsheet and pick out which emails seem to be the best for each domain.

Conclusion

Hunter is probably the most efficient email finder on the market,  but there are some holes. It doesn't, for example, find every possible email address.  it only returns email addresses that specifically associated with a given domain, which usually means Hunter will return around 20% fewer emails then if you where to go through each website and find them manually (based purely on anecdotal evidence).

Still, if you are more worried about efficiency than anything else, Hunter is by far the best option.

Capabilities

  • check
    Can find emails at scale
  • check
    ​Returns all available (professional) email addresses associated with a given domain

Limitations

  • ban
    Doesn’t return 100% of email addresses

Super premium email finding option: Mturk

I love Mturk and the whole idea behind it.

If you are unfamiliar with it, it's a marketplace that allows people to hire United States-based workers to complete micro tasks that can be pretty much anything (and an hour case is finding an email on a given website).

By far the biggest benefit of this platform is that there is a human being manually searching for and verifying every email address on the list, which often means finding the  optimal email address (rather than doing something like Hunter does and finding every possible email and then forcing you to pick one).

So I do like it. But it is a lot more expensive.

Features & Functionality

To use Mturk, you have to live in the United States.

When you sign up, you’ll be able to create “batches” of jobs.

Mturk Features

You’ll have to add a title and a description, and you’ll have to  select a variety of different properties for the project.

This is also where you set the price. I usually go with $0.10 per URL processed.  if you're doing the math along with me at home, you'll probably realize that that's pretty expensive. If you’re processing a list of 1,000 emails, it’ll cost you $100. But, hey, that’s the idea: paying a premium price for a hands-on service.

Mturk Funtcionality

Below that, you can also set the requirements for workers, which basically helps you weed out crappy people or people who don’t have a record.

Mturk Worker Requirements

The next thing you have to do is create the design and layout of your job (called HITs in the Mturk dashboard).

This is honestly kind of annoying to learn, and it would take too long to explain here, but I have faith in you, and I'm sure there are plenty of great YouTube tutorials out there that can teach you how to do this in more detail than I can here.

But this is basically what it looks like when you’re done:

Mturk Project Dashboard

After you verify that everything is working, the job will go live, and you'll typically start seeing it being completed in as little as 10 minutes, and I don't think I've ever waited more than a day for project to finish.

Conclusion

Mturk Is an extremely good option for finding emails at scale while still having a human touch every part of the process.

That said, it’s definitely expensive,  and you never really know what kind of workers you're going to get; most people are great, but I've had a few duds screw up small chunks of my campaigns (not a big deal, but it happens).

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Human-touch email finding at scale
  • check
    ​Finds optimal email rather than every email

Limitations

  • ban
    ​Expensive
  • ban
    Some workers are duds

Part 6: Outreach Tools


Outreach tools basically just make sending a whole bunch of similar emails a lot easier  by integrating with spreadsheets. They do not de-personalize emails, since you can have loads of different information and a spreadsheet, including full sentences or personal anecdotes or whatever (hell, you could write entire emails in your CSV if you wanted).

Most of these tools are relatively cheap these days.

Cheap outreach tool option: Yet Another Mail Merge

Yet Another Mail Merge (YAMM) has both a free and paid version; the free version lets you send up to 50 emails per day, and the paid version (a very reasonable $24/yr) will let you send 400/day.

it's a very simple mail merge extension for Google Chrome, and it works inside of Google Sheets.

Features & Functionality

After installing YAMM, open whatever sheet you have your prospects in, including all the custom fields.

YAMM Open Spreadsheet

Click Add-ons > Yet Another Mail Merge.

YAMM Email Merge Add-ons

Before you actually start the merge, you’ll have to create a draft in the Gmail account connected to YAMM. You can use {{field}} tags that are the same as your column headers to input personalized information.

YAMM Email Template

Back in YAMM, you’ll have a screen Where you can input your name, choose the email and draft you want to use to send these emails, and whether or not you want to  track opens and clicks (not recommended). 

YAMM Start Mail Merge

Then, you can send, and you’ll get a confirmation.

YAMM Email Merge Confirmation

You’ll also be able to see them in your Sent folder.

YAMM Email Delivery Test

Conclusion

Overall, YAMM is a solid way to drastically boost your outreach efforts for basically no money.

Its Simplicity, however, is also its main weakness, since it lacks many of the bells and whistles of other tools, which can hurt if you’re a serious marketer (especially not being able to set up custom tracking domains).

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Can send up to 400 emails/day for $24/yr
  • check
    ​Integrates directly with Google Sheets
  • check
    Can use custom fields

Limitations

  • ban
    ALmost no technical nuance or features other than email sending
  • ban
    ​No delayed sends (as far as I can tell)

Outreach tool value option: Gmass

Price: $12.95/mo (our review and tutorial)

Have a special place in my heart for Gmass. It's what I cut my content marketing teeth on.

It essentially does what YAMM does, but it’s a lot more technically sophisticated, and it has a lot of features most serious marketers deem essential.

Features & Functionality

I could explain all of the features and functionality, but, luckily, I don’t have to, since Lewis already made a great tutorial.

One feature that Lewis does not mention ( because it hadn't been announced when he made the video)  is that Gmass  will soon integrate with services like Send Grid,  allowing you to send much more emails -- even more than the Gmail daily send limits -- while still operating within Gmail.  This may actually be the feature that wins utlra-serious content marketers over.

Conclusion

Gmass is an extremely capable tool,  especially considering the price caps at $12.95/mo. Its main selling point is that it integrates directly with  Google Sheets, although there are other features on the horizon that will make this a very strong  contender in the outreach tool a market overall.

Capabilities

  • check
    Integrates directly with Google Sheets
  • check
    Delayed sends and scheduled sends
  • check
    Will soon integrate with services like Send Grid for drastically increased sending power

Limitations

  • ban
    No real UI to speak of
  • ban
    Need to go through support to set up a custom tracking domain (I think)

Best overall outreach tool: Mailshake

Price: $19/mo billed annually (our review and tutorial)

This is one of the first competitors to Gmass, and it very quickly won me over, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since it’s run by the very capable Sujan Patel.

At $19/mo, it’s a bit more expensive, but it hardly breaks the bank compared to what some of the other tools on this list cost.

Features & Functionality

Lewis recorded a great tutorial for Mailshake, too :)

Conclusion

Mailshake Is by far the best all-around Outreach tool, and, in my view, it's almost completely because of the extremely good UX and UI.

Being able to login somewhere and see all of the campaigns I’ve ever run is highly useful to me as a marketer.

It also helps greatly to be able to use the interface to manage team members, set up custom tracking domains and the like.

It’s just super, super polished, and I don’t see myself using anything else anytime soon.

Capabilities

  • check
    Can store campaigns and contacts historically
  • check
    Provides campaign metrics
  • check
    Automatically keeps unsubscribe list
  • check
    Extremely good UI

Limitations

  • ban
    Does not integrate with Google Sheets

Part 7: Prospecting Tools


The section maybe a tad disappointing to some of you, since there honestly aren't that many good link prospecting tools on the market.

And believe me, I've tried plenty of them.  in the end, I always come back to two tools that get the job done: one free and one paid.

Free link prospecting tool option: Linkclump

Linkclump  is a shockingly simple tool that serves as probably the best link prospecting tool overall if you don't want to spend money on Ahrefs.

The idea of a tool is that it allows you to select a bunch of links at once, and it will perform some action. By default, it will open all links in new tabs, but you can change the settings so that it copies the links instead of opening them.

Combined with advanced Google queries, this can be a very seriously powerful way to gather lots of prospects quickly.

Quick Demo

After installing the plugin, you want to head over to the settings and make sure it is set to copy links to the clipboard instead of opening them. 

Linkclump Demo

Then, you want to head over to Google and type in an advanced query that you might use to find prospects.

Suppose, for example, we were trying to find guest posts for a fitness site, we could try  an advance to Google query like “fitness inurl:guest-post”

Pro Tip : Linkclump usually works best with what I like to call “high % queries” -- advanced queries that yield highly specific results.

Google Search with Linkclump

With Linkclump installed and the settings correctly configured, all you have to do is right click and drag your cursor over all of the hyperlinks.

Then, you can plop them into a Google Sheet.

Linkclump will grab both the title and URL, making it easy to quickly scan the results for relevance and prioritize the sites you want to reach out to.

Linkclump Google Search Copied to Google Spreadsheet

Conclusion

For a free plug-in, Linkclump  does a better job Gathering prospects than any dedicated link prospecting to live tried.  unless you are doing something like Skyscraper, almost all link prospecting will depend on going to Google and using advanced Google queries anyway; Linkclump simply provides an extremely easy way to collect the data. And because it's free, it's certainly worth giving a shot.

However… Linkclump will work on any set of hyperlinks, including lists of blogs on websites or hyperlinks you might find and the dashboard of other tools (as long as they live on the web and you can open them in Chrome).

Capabilities

  • check
    ​Super easy data collection straight from Google
  • check
    ​Works on other stuff as long as it in Chrome
  • check
    Pairs extremely well with advanced Google queries

Limitations

  • ban
    ​Basically just has this one functionality and not much else

Best link prospecting tool overall: Ahrefs

Might as well end on a fanboy note, eh?

If I'm not using Linkclump and advanced Google queries, I'm using Ahrefs to check out my competitors or to sift through the content Explorer.

And this shouldn't be a  surprise, really -- that the best competitive analysis tool is also the best link prospecting tool, because those things overlap substantially.

Features & Functionality

Most of the time, if we are going to use this tool for link prospecting, we are going to be digging into our competitors,  Although the content Explorer also makes it easy to find pages that are already have lots of link so we might be able to reverse engineer for a skyscraper campaign.

1. Competitor Link Profiles

To my knowledge, this is Ahrefs’ first and oldest functionality: the ability to look at link profiles for virtually any site on the web.

From a link prospecting standpoint, it provides a great way to see who’s linking to our competitors and which opportunities we might be able to purpsue as well.

At its simplest, we can just look at every backlink they’ve gotten by putting them into the site explorer and navigating to the Backlinks tab.

Ahrefs Competitor Link Profiles

Here, you can see every link Ahrefs has recorded, and you can filter by follow type, platform, language, etc.

Ahrefs Backlinks

You can also look at a site’s top pages by the number of links it’s attracted.

Ahrefs Pages by Links

This can give you a really good idea of which pages are doing most of the heavy lifting.

Pro Tip : You can set alerts in Ahrefs to get emails when your competitors get new links if you really want to stay on top of their opportunities (and if you enjoy being a bit of a d*ck, which isn’t necessarily my style, but it works for some folks).

2. Content Explorer

We talked about this a little bit earlier, but it's a big part of how I like to do link prospecting, so it's worth mentioning again.

And really, it's more of a content marketing strategy than a straight up link building strategy, but you can certainly use this to bolster your skyscraper campaigns or just find great, linkable topics.

To see more of what I’m talking about, refer to the section above where we discussed filtering content explorer results by referring domains.

Capabilities

  • check
    ​The best way available to reverse-engineer competitor link profiles

Limitations

  • ban
    ​Basically just has this one functionality and not much else

Part 8: Tools by Budget


Now that we've had a look at loads of great tools and talked about their functionalities & Detail, let's talk about how you might pick these tools according to your budget.

When thinking about which tools to buy, there are  generally two considerations:  your budget and the primary purpose of what you need to do as an SEO or an independent site builder.

So that’s how we’re going to break this out.

$0-$50/mo Budget | Content & Keyword Research Focus

This going to be a suite of tools for new or site builders for mostly focusing on simply getting the research correct, setting up a site that can be profitable, and just dipping their toes into the world of link building.

The most annoying part of The Suite of tools are probably going to be having to use the free version of Ryte,  since you can only analyze five keywords, but it’s probably sufficient, especially just for the first month, to use it only on your five most important articles.


Total monthly spend: $48/mo

$0-$50/mo Budget | Link Building Focus

The set of tools is going to work best for marketers who have a good idea of which keywords they want to target and are looking to do a bit more serious outreach but still don't quite have a budget to go balls-to-the-wall on tools.

We're using that free methods of keyword research here and we are skipping and the semantic analysis in favor of a beefed-up Hunter plan and a subscription to a mid-range outreach tool (Gmass).


Total monthly spend: $52/mo

$100-$200/mo Budget | Content & Keyword Research Focus

This is where we make our first investment in a major tool, and it should come as no surprise that that tool is Ahrefs. However, we’re going to opt for the $99/mo version rather than the $179/mo version, since the biggest sacrifice between the versions is going to be the extremely limited content explorer reports for the $99 version, which isn’t nearly as important to us as being able to simply check our competitors best keywords.

We’re also going to splurge on the premium version of Ryte, which might be a bit controversial, since it’s expensive for what you get, but it will allow us to do a detailed semantic analysis of every single article, and if our focus is content, it’s worth the investment.

This actually puts us $20 over budget, so we’ll have to use YAMM as our outreach tool, but I’m also assuming that we’ll mostly use Ryte until we get our primary content up, at which point we can cancel the service and earn some of our overspend back.

  • Keyword research: ​​Ahrefs ($99 tier)
  • Rank tracker: Ahrefs (included)
  • Competitor research:  Ahrefs (included)
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    Site crawler: Site Liner (free)
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    Email finder: ​​Hunter plugin (free)
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    Outreach software: YAMM (upgrade to $19 Mailshake after canceling Ryte)
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    TF*IDF: Ryte ($119 tier, 1-2 months only)
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    Link prospector:Ahrefs (included) + Linkclump (free)

Total monthly spend: $218

$100-$250/mo Budget | Link Building Focus

Here, we’re going to be leaning a lot more heavily on Ahrefs, opting for a higher-teir that will give us access to many more content explorer reports, which are crucial for skyscraper campaigns. We’re also going to skip TF*IDF completely and spend more money on outreach tools.

With a $250 cap, by far the biggest limitation of this suite of tools is not being able to opt for a bigger Hunter plan, which is why we have to supplement with the free Hunter plugin.

  • Keyword research: ​​​Ahrefs ($179 tier)
  • Rank tracker: Ahrefs (included)
  • Competitor research:  Ahrefs (included)
  • hashtag
    Site crawler: Site Liner (free)
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    Email finder: ​​​Hunter.io ($39/mo) + Hunter plugin (free)
  • hashtag
    Outreach software: Mailshake ($19)
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    TF*IDF: Skip it
  • hashtag
    Link prospector: ​​Ahrefs (included) + Linkclump (free)

Total monthly spend: $218

$300+/mo Budget | Overall Focus

This is about the budget range at which you don't need to necessarily worry about focusing on one thing or the other, and you can spend enough on tools to really get the best of both worlds. 

  • Keyword research: ​​​Ahrefs ($179 tier)
  • Rank tracker: Ahrefs (included)
  • Competitor research:  Ahrefs (included)
  • hashtag
    Site crawler: Site Liner (free) + Serpstat ($19)
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    Email finder: ​​​​Hunter.io ($79/mo)
  • hashtag
    Outreach software: Mailshake ($19)
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    TF*IDF: Ryte $119 (one month)
  • hashtag
    Link prospector: ​​​Ahrefs (included) + Linkclump (free)

Total monthly spend: $396 (first month), $277 (after first month)

Our Reviews & Tutorials of Some of These Tools

We've written reviews and tutorials of several of these tools. If you'd like to read about them, check out our in-depth reviews and tutorials for:

What did I miss?

Do you have favorite tools that aren't listed here? What are the hidden gems? I love a good tool as much as anyone, so if I'm missing anything, drop me a note in the comments!

Perrin Carrell
 

Hey there :) I'm Perrin, part of the Authority Hacker team. When I'm not blogging about Internet Marketing here, I help businesses improve their online presence, and, of course, I run a couple profitable blogs of my own.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 22 comments
Freddy G. Cabrera - March 6, 2018

Hey Perrin!

What an amazing guide with such helpful SEO tools!

I don’t really have a favorite tool from this bunch. I don’t do a lot of SEO to be dead honest. The only thing I do is a bit of keyword research and that’s it. I don’t worry about backlinks or anything like that. I put all of my focus on creating high-quality content for my readers and in answering questions in my niche as well as possible.

With Google RankBrain now, we don’t really have to worry much about backlinks and doing a lot of search engine optimization. But, it is nice to have a list of SEO tools if you decide to become an SEO wiz! l;)

Thank you for sharing this!

Best regards! :D

Reply
Eric ang - March 7, 2018

Awesome list of recommended tools. I have been using few of them:
1. Ahrefs
2. Kwfinder
3. Mailshake
4. Hunter
5. Serpstat

Its worth mentioning that Kwfinder now including rank tracking tool – serpwatcher which is pretty neat. (Can track 700 keywords in $39/m plan)

It can be included as rank tracker in the $0-$50 content/keyword focus list.

Reply
Nick - March 7, 2018

Great overview, Perrin! Timely as I’ve been planning to finally get started on my first authority site…soon. Sadly I bought the same lifetime Serpstat deal you mention last February, but never formally signed up, so after digging in old emails for the AppSumo confirmation — it looks like my access code expired. Ugh! :( Funny enough, I don’t think I’ve logged into the TASS system since I purchased it long ago, either, so I clearly have a history of not taking action.

You kind of gloss over it a bit in your summaries, but realistically how far would the $0-50/mth budget take you in starting out? Is that sufficient to get through your whole first year for a site or two, for example? Or with plenty of budget, should one just jump in for Ahrefs?

I’m less concerned with overall budget and more in “maximizing” my output AND spend – i.e., I want to get as much accomplished as possible, but I wouldn’t want to spring for the subscriptions and better tools if I’m just going to underutilize or not know enough to fully take advantage of them.

Reply
    Perrin Carrell - March 13, 2018

    Thanks man :)

    You can build a site with anyone of these tool sets 100%. It’s just going to take a great time investment as you spend less money.

    If you’re interested in optimizing, definitely jump in for a month or two of Ahrefs.

    Reply
Eric - March 9, 2018

The TF-IDF feature in Seo Powersuite’s Website Auditor tool works just fine including in their free version. I’ve used both, and see no reason to use Ryte when the free version of website auditor works just as well. With website auditor, you can remove some of results for analysis if they are not relevant. For example I sometimes get YouTube results in SERP which I remove and choose another site instead for the TF-IDF analysis.

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Steve cook - March 13, 2018

hey perrin

First of all great article as always.

I would love to adopt your writing style for my site as well.

For me ahrefs is more than enough. That tool alone has helped me increase my website traffic from 500-7000 visitors/month. And i am lovingit

Also one more thing, i was checking your site, and there was a issue, kindly fix it

On the homepage the button “Get started” is getting rediected to a 404 page

Just thought to let you know :)

Reply
    Perrin Carrell - March 13, 2018

    Thanks for the kind words; feel free to steal my style!

    I can’t replicate the bug you mentioned, but I’ll pass it along :)

    Reply
Dan - March 13, 2018

Good stuff (as always)!

Surprised you didn’t mention VoilaNorbert.com for finding emails. They’ll give you 50 leads for free and then after that the pricing isn’t too crazy if you’re doing some serious email outreach. 1000 leads a month for $39 ($.04 an email) or 5000 leads a month for $79 ($.015 an email).

Reply
Michiel - March 13, 2018

What an awesome guide, Perrin. Very useful! I’ve been using a few of the tools mentioned here, but there are also a couple ones that I’m not familiar with, so I’m gonna check them out :). Tools are important, but there are so many of them and also in different price ranges that it’s very easy to get lost. This guide helps a ton, thanks!

Reply
Tyson - March 13, 2018

Yo! Great analysis.

Do any of the free tools show how many results there are in Google for a given term?

Reply
Peter - March 13, 2018

Great article! I appreciate the breakdown by cost. What do you do for content creation? Anything automated or semi-automated?

Reply
    Perrin Carrell - March 14, 2018

    Google docs :) When I’m REALLY scaling and publishing a ton, I’ll sometimes use Wordable.io, which can help important articles (google drive > wordpress) with images.

    Reply
Cobus - March 13, 2018

Hi Perrin

Great post and well explained. You should also check out

Keywords Everywhere, Keyword Keg, Ninja Outreach, SEOProfiler.

Would like to know what you think of these.

Reply
    Perrin Carrell - March 14, 2018

    Thanks! I detest Ninja Outreach lol (no offense to those guys; they’re great people), but I’ll check out the others :)

    Reply
Amanda - March 19, 2018

It is really a good resource to execute successful SEO campaign. MOZ bar is my favorite and I use it for backlinks analysis. It is also a great tool to determine domain authority of any site. The list is really awesome but the problem is how many of them have good service in the free version? I will definitely try those for my work.

Reply

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