What is Surfer SEO?
Surfer SEO is a cloud-based on-page optimization tool that allows you to analyze and compare your own pages against what currently ranks in the SERPs.
Instead of trying to guess what Google likes to rank, this tool offers you a data-driven analysis of exactly what’s missing from your page.
This includes factors like LSI/NLP/TF-IDF keywords, Meta tags, images, and structural elements like Hx tags.
We’ve Got Your Back
If you’ve followed Authority Hacker for any length of time you’ll know that we’re pretty choosy about the SEO tools we use for our own projects.
We’re always looking for the best tool for a specific task, which is not always the most expensive one.
We’re even more selective about the tools we recommend to our readers.
And now so does Surfer SEO.
Yup, it’s that good.
You’ll understand exactly why by the time you’ve finished reading this review.
The Rise of Correlational On-page SEO
Before we dig into the in’s and out’s of this SEO methodology, it’s probably best to explain what it is.
Historically, SEO’s have been following “one size fits all” Onpage SEO rules.
And for the most part, it has worked fine for years while Google was still displaying 10 blue links on each search query.
But as time has passed, Google has started to branch out of its one size fits all algorithm and now tends to prefer different types of content depending on the query the user typed.
Additionally, with the raise of user metrics collection, they have been able to tell which content does better for each query.
As a result, depending on the query, the rules change.
And this is where correlational SEO comes into play.
Correlational SEO involves scraping the top results for a given query and analyzing what all the top pages have in common from a statistical point of view so you can emulate it on your pages and serve Google exactly what they think works best for the query.
Now, does this mean you will rank for the most competitive queries just with Correlational onpage SEO?
According to our own data research, Backlinks are still THE most correlated factor to high rankings.
But guess what?
If they rank on top of Google, the top results are very likely to have managed to build a decent amount of links as well.
So really, modelling after the top ranking content probably also helps your link building effort.
Especially if you are using our shotgun skyscraper method.
So really the trick to do really well in search these days is to be able to create content that structurally resembles what is ranking already while also doing things like:
- Creating new original insights through case studies or data collection
- Improving production value (media, engaging copy etc)
- Giving more practical, real life advice
When applying correlational onpage SEO to your pages, you will try to identify things such as:
- Statistically relevant thematic keywords
- Site structure- Hx tags, etc.
- Content length
- Content elements – images, etc.
You could choose to analyze these factors manually, or you could let Surfer SEO do that for you.
The really cool part is you can achieve some pretty stellar jumps in ranking by just optimizing your on-page SEO.
That’s not speculation either – we’ve tested this on Authority Hacker content and it flat out works.
Double-Digit Traffic Increases
Most SEOs are happy to stand around the virtual water cooler and spin yarns about their latest and greatest theory for boosting traffic to a page.
At Authority Hacker we prefer to test theories and present you with the results.
Something either works or it doesn’t – speculation doesn’t cut it around here.
This is an example of the results we achieved by upgrading a handful of our pages using nothing more than the correlational data provided by Surfer SEO and Website Auditor (more on these on our tf-idf post).
No vanity metrics on display here – just tons more traffic to our pages.
Tutorial: Optimizing content with Surfer SEO
This quick tutorial assumes you already have a page of content published, focused on a given keyword.
If you have neither, then now is a good time to check out our new blog post on long-tail keyword research.
What We Like About Surfer SEO
Well the answer to this is “An awful lot”, but that’s not very precise, is it?
When we review any piece of software or service we always try to put ourselves in your shoes.
We basically ask ourselves, “What would the average person want to know about this?”
Ease of Use
A well thought out user interface can be the difference between a tool being intuitive and a hot mess.
Complicated interfaces happen when developers focus more on providing lots of data, and not so much on providing data in a usable format.
And that’s where Surfer SEO departs from the crowd, like Jon Snow sailing away from Hard Home.
Actually analyzing a keyword, domain or URL is completely intuitive.
Just type it in and hit ‘Enter’.
Next up is the analysis screen itself.
Where other on-page tools just give you a data dump, Surfer provides you with a visual representation of the weak spots on your page.
The metrics with the highest number of green bars are the on-page factors that correlate the most with high rankings (and thus, those you should pay the most attention to).
In the above example, we definitely need to look at our exact and partial keyword densities for that page.
So there’s no more guessing what your on-page deficiencies might be – Surfer SEO tells you what is the most important.
Content Structure Assistance
Some SEOs make the mistake of thinking that correlational SEO is only about keyword frequency for any page.
You have to consider the entire structure of a page, including elements like the Title and Meta Description tags, Hx tags and media.
Surfer SEO makes this type of analysis absolute child’s play.
A whole lot easier than having to manually scrape all of this data and run it through several tools to get the same result.
Firstly you have the correlation “meters” in the left-hand menu telling you where your page is weakest:
The metrics with the strongest correlation “signal strength” are the ones you need to take care of straight away.
The metrics with weakest “signal strength” can be ignored, for now at least.
You can also quickly get an overview of any competing page’s exact page structure, like their Hx and Meta tags.
You’re only ever a single click away from a snapshot of their key on-page structural data:
This feature is extremely handy when briefing new content or planning content updates.
We usually use it together with Dynalist.io to put our content briefs together and make sure no sub topic that is important for relevancy is left untreated.
And last, but by no means least, you can see exactly how many words each of your competing pages has.
This is really useful, especially when there’s so much hype in the SEO community about what content length is best.
The correct answer is: Whatever length your competitors are using for their content.
There are lots of alleged LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keyword extraction tools out there.
And we say “alleged” because what most SEOs think LSI keywords are, and what they actually are, are two different things.
Basically, all you get from the majority of LSI tools is a list of “related searches” scraped from Google.
LSI keywords are not related searches.
But they are the contextual keywords found in content ranking on page one for a given search term.
Surfer SEO provides you with a list of actual LSI keywords – true contextual words and phrases related to your primary or head keyword.
When we first started using it, we thought they were using TF*IDF initially, but due to processing issue, they came out in a recent blog post and said they favored prominent keywords instead.
I’ve asked them to do a comparison between TF*IDF (what search engines use) and prominent keywords to get an idea of the overlap. Let’s see if they follow through.
They split prominent keywords into five separate categories:
- Popular words
- Popular phrases
- Common words
- Common phrases
- Prominent words and phrases
All you need to do is make a list of the contextual keywords founds on your competitor’s page, but not on yours, and include them in your content.
Hey presto, real on-page LSI optimization.
Customized Content Audits on the fly
Optimizing your content can be a real case of trial and error because you have no way to measure your results until Google crawls your page again.
But you don’t need to do that with Surfer SEO.
Instead, just fire up the auditing tool and compare your page with your top 47 competitors:
Then run an audit on your page to get stats on the strengths and weaknesses for that page:
The audit itself covers dozens of different areas you can investigate at your leisure.
But you definitely need to pay attention to the top two items – ‘Errors’ and ‘Warnings’
These are content deficiencies that are almost definitely impacting your ability to rank for your keyword of choice:
In this case, our biggest area of concern is the partial (LSI) keywords missing from our page.
Again, no guesswork involved – just plain old, in-your-face facts to work with.
The audit gives you feedback on every single area of your page including keyword usage, number of sub headings, alt tags, images, meta tags and even page speed.
And for each element, you can expand to see exactly where your page stands against the top 5:
Once you’ve edited your content to match the criterias the audit gave you, you just audit your page again to see how your changes impacted this measurement.
You can audit a page as often as you want – it doesn’t use any additional credits
Where we wish Surfer SEO did better
Of course, we have suggestions for how Surfer SEO could do things better.
Hey, it wouldn’t be an Authority Hacker review if we left this bit out!
Our main gripe is how they handle things like recommended keywords.
Surfer SEO very kindly analyses the first 48 pages in the SERPs for keywords you might be missing.
But the screenshot here is only of the first 5 pages.
You have to scroll down and then scroll right to see the next page.
The audit kinda sorta makes it easier but it’s still not great.
These tools do a much better job at providing you a text editor that tells you exactly what keywords to add to your content in real time.
To be fair, after talking to the team behind SurferSEO, they have something similar in the tubes and we even got a bit of a preview.
While it still needs ironing out, it does look promising.
We secretly wish it also connects with Gdrive and Wordpress for a seamless content optimization process.
Surfer SEO Alternatives
You’re not limited to only using Surfer SEO though.
There are other products on the market which offer the same basic functionality.
And to show we have no bias here, let’s take a look at how Surfer rates against its main competitors in the same price range:
- Page Optimizer Pro
- Website Auditor
Surfer SEO vs. Page Optimizer Pro
If you’re like most SEOs you’ve probably found yourself torn between POP and Surfer SEO.
They’re both great tools, but if you can only afford to pay for one of them each month…which one should it be?
Read on Authority Hackers.
Where Surfer SEO Wins
There’s no real comparison here – Surfer SEO’s interface is modern, slick and intuitive:
Page Optimizer Pro suffers from the same problem as most data analysis tools – the focus is on crunching numbers and not on UX.
And it shows:
Tons of Metrics
Page Optimizer Pro does an excellent job analyzing page structure, keyword “density”, LSI, and Schema.
But that’s kind of where the metrics end.
Surfer SEO does all of the above (with the exception of Schema, for now) and much more besides.
It covers all of your keyword analysis, site structure, page speed, and even basic backlink analysis needs.
The depth and quality of keywords provided by Surfer SEO is miles ahead of PoP at the time of review, and they add new keyword analysis features all the time.
Where PageOptimizer Pro Wins
Yes, despite all that Page Optimizer Pro actually comes out ahead in some areas.
The first is in terms of pricing plans.
You can get a ‘Starter’ POP account for $10 per month, and you also get a 7-day free trial.
Granted, that only gives you 5 reports (analyses) each month, but you can buy additional report “credits” for $2 each.
Surfer SEO asks you to pony up at least $29 per month.
To be fair, you can get a “free” account with Surfer SEO but it limits you to 3 queries per day and also massively limits the amount of data you can see for each query.
So that doesn’t really count.
Something else we like about Page Optimizer Pro is that you have to create a project for every keyword or domain you analyze.
You can then create nested projects within the main project folder.
So, in terms of organization this is a whole lot better than Surfer SEO’s “flat list” approach:
In fact, finding a project you worked on several weeks ago can be a bit of a pain because you have to scroll down the list to find it or remember the exact keyword to filter it on top.
They have an active Facebook page, Kyle Roof answers user questions in a great“mailbag” video segment, and they share a lot of valuable insights on their blog.
Surfer has a “social” community too, but almost all of the content is in Polish and they are just not as involved in helping their users as POP is.
Page Optimizer Pro includes Schema as a metric, but Surfer SEO doesn’t.
It’s a minor oversight, but still something the Surfer SEO team needs to address.
Surfer SEO vs. Cora
If you’re not familiar with Cora it’s an on-page analysis tool from the nice folks at SEO Tool Lab. It’s also a force to be reckoned with.
Basically, Cora is the Deontay Wilder of on-page SEO tools.
But just because you’re the current champ doesn’t mean you’re going to keep your belt.
So, how does Surfer SEO matchup against the mighty Cora?
Where Surfer wins
Cora is amazing, but is it $250 per month of amazing?
For a long time, it was the only real player in town for in-depth, serious on-page analysis.
The question is are you willing to pay $3,000 per year for that?
For some people (those who both have lots of time and lots of money) it will make sense.
But for the average authority site builder, SurferSEO will make much more sense budget wise.
Cora is a statistician and data analyst’s wet dream.
But it’s the equivalent of an alcohol-induced bout of sleep paralysis for your average SEO or affiliate marketer.
Yes, that’s an actual data sheet from Cora.
There’s no dashboard – it’s all in table/Excel format (don’t show this to Mark).
I’m not going to lie, I actually have a touch of anxiety from looking at that screenshot.
Sorry Cora, we do love what you do…just not the interface.
Speed of implementation
If Cora is the M1 Abrams of on-page and keyword analysis, then Surfer SEO is a Tesla Roadster.
That’s not just about good looks, either.
Slawomir and his team move very quickly to update their product and get new features into Beta as soon as they can:
Right now their tool has 4 additional features in beta, including the tasty ‘Common backlinks’ function.
The Cora team just seem to take that bit longer to implement user feedback and/or introduce new features.
For right now Surfer SEO is running rings around them.
Where Cora Wins
Does that mean Cora simply can’t compete with Surfer SEO in any way?
Nope – Cora might actually be a better choice for you, depending on what you need to achieve.
Number of ranking factors
Cora measures up to 880 different potential ranking factors for each term or domain you analyze.
That’s a lot more than you get with a standard Surfer SEO plan, and Cora’s data is hard to argue with.
As we’ve already said numerous times, Cora is a beast of an on-page analysis tool, but do you really need it to compete for most terms at this point? Not really.
Cora Outreach Tool
Cora takes the needs of digital marketing agencies into account with its ‘Outreach Tool’.
What’s cool about it is that it allows you to generate a Cora on-page roadmap for a potential client.
You can then hit them up with an HTML email with the report embedded in it.
Or you can host the report separately, and just mail out a link to it.
I find it cool and Ted Kubaitis is a super smart guy that builds a lot of these handy additional functions into Cora.
Their outreach tool doesn’t actually handle email outreach though, so don’t go canceling your Mailshake account just yet.
Surfer SEO vs. Website Auditor
Website Auditor is a little different to the other tools in that it’s not cloud based – you have to download and install it.
Yes, it’s available for the Mac…relax Apple fans.
Although it’s part of a suite of software (SEOPowersuite), we’re focusing on the Website Auditor component because it deals with on-page analysis.
So…how does it compare?
Where Surfer Wins
Specialist vs. Generalist
Website Auditor is basically a general purpose on-page and site optimization tool.
It does a little bit of everything, which is fine.
But if you need to take things to proper correlational on-page SEO then Surfer SEO is a better choice.
It provides a level of analysis that isn’t possible with Website Auditor.
Basically, if search engine optimization was surgery (and it can feel like that at times), then Surfer SEO is a world-class brain surgeon, whereas Website Auditor is a plucky young intern with lots to learn.
I want to watch “Scrubs” now for some odd reason.
Surfer SEO pulls together data from the top 47 pages in Google for your search query.
Website Auditor bases its metrics on the first page of the SERPs, and that’s it.
Does more data automatically equal better results?
Nope, but you will get more and better keyword variations by analyzing a larger sampling of pages.
But it’s what you do with the data that really counts.
Surfer SEO does a way, way better job at collecting and analyzing lots of juicy LSI keywords for you.
It shows you what pages use those keywords, how many instances (Count) per page, and the overall keyword density for each page.
Website Auditor does generate keyword lists, but they’re not as detailed.
Where Website Auditor Wins
You can get a professional license for under $130, and it’s once-off cost. This is a massive saving when you compare it to a $29 – $59 fee per month, forever.
Note: You do have to pay a separate monthly fee for algorithm updates after your first six months of usage.
There seems to be an algo update applied every time you launch the software.
That might seem annoying to some people, but it is reassuring that you’re optimizing based on the latest signals from Google.
Surfer SEO Review Conclusion
Surfer SEO is ideal for SEOs looking for a data-driven analysis tool with a great interface and is entirely affordable at just $29 per month.
We like it because it gives us the ability to tweak our content in a way that no other tool in that price range does.
The fact that Surfer SEO has made such a big impact on the global SEO community in such a short amount of time is also an indication that the best is yet to come.
When should you choose one of the alternatives?
Cora can make a lot of sense if you have both the time and budget to dive deep into the murky waters of on-page analysis.
Page Optimizer Pro will suit people who like Cora but can’t afford it – POP does much the same job for a fraction of the cost. Their community is also excellent.
Website Auditor is ideal for new SEOs who need low-cost or no-cost tools – the free version offers a ton of functionality.