Small business owners have a million things to do. They may understand the value of SEO, but often assume it is too expensive or too time-consuming to learn and implement.
The fact is, SEO can be done fairly simply through the use of online tools and reading online discussion boards, articles, and YouTube videos. While you may find the practice of SEO very difficult to begin with, eventually the concepts will begin to make sense and you will be that much closer to ranking your website on Google’s first page.
It’s true that keeping up with Google’s hundreds of algorithm updates throughout the year requires resources, but you don’t have to bend over backward—or break the bank—to understand SEO.
I know what you’re thinking: SEO tools are way too expensive! Well, many certainly are, but here are some that are not only affordable to a small business’s budget, but they are free!
In no particular order, here is a list of great free tools and resources that will help you understand SEO and create an SEO strategy for your business.
Hands down the best web analytics tool out there, Google Analytics has more functionalities than you’ll ever know what to do with. Analytics gives you a unique insight into who is visiting your page, which pages are most often being viewed, and how your visitors are getting to your page. It will tell you if you are getting mostly referral traffic from social media channels or if your visitors are coming in organically from Google searches.
You can also track ROI based on customized goals, track keywords that are or are not driving traffic to your website, conduct tests to optimize your site’s usability or navigation, and implement ecommerce functions for enhanced conversion data.
While learning how to use Analytics like a pro takes some time, there are many informative videos and tutorials on the internet that will help you use Analytics to optimize your website and the way the way people view it. The bottom line? No SEO campaign is complete without configuring Analytics.
Selecting keywords is central to any small business SEO process. Keyword Planner helps you find related keywords and ad groups relevant to your industry. The ultimate source for search volume data, you can see which terms people are searching and how often.
The tool breaks up keywords by two main categories: search volume and keyword competitiveness. The search volume part refers to a number of times searched in a month and the keyword competitiveness refers to how many other sites are targeting that same keyword.
Keyword Planner also has a function which shows you other similar keywords people are searching in your area. While scrolling through the list, you will often come across a very high volume and low competition keyword that you never assumed even existed, but that could make a huge difference if optimized on your site. You can also adjust the location in which you are searching—and this is very helpful for those looking to optimize for local SEO.
Although it’s accessed through AdWords, you don’t need to have a pay-per-click campaign to use Keyword Planner. It is very important that you do not start a campaign either—once you get into the Adwords home screen, go ahead and log into your Gmail account and bypass the AdWords campaign portion by clicking “Tools” located on the top bar. Take advantage of insights like average bid cost and keyword competitiveness—it still won’t cost you a thing.
This tool used to be called Google Webmaster Tools, and it’s still often referred to as such. Search Console is best used to monitor what Google search engines think of your site from the backend. Originally, GWT was used by, well, webmasters, in order to take care of any pages that were not being properly indexed or web pages that were down (404s). Now, this tool is used for SEO as it helps show many very important pieces of data that can’t be found anywhere else.
It can help you find backlinks associated with your site, show how many impressions and clicks your site gets each day, week, month, and year, and can help you stay alerted to crawl errors, 404s, and indexing issues. It also shows you where you rank for certain keywords and how people are finding your web page. Altogether, Google provides webmasters with these capabilities for one reason—to improve your website for users!
Back in September, Google made it very easy for iOS users to browse the mobile web privately. With Google’s core search app, searching incognito can be performed from the main screen. It’s great for seeing how certain terms truly rank on results’ pages, because it leaves out the customized search data stored by Google when you’re logged in, so the results aren’t skewed by your personal history or preferences.
Also, from the search bar of an incognito window, the autofill feature is triggered, which is useful for keyword ideas. By the way, private browsing isn’t just for iPhone users. Those searching on Chrome, FireFox, and even Internet Explorer have this option as well. Don’t forget, though: incognito search does not hide your search history from your computer or internet provider, just from the browsers themselves.
Another goodie from Google, this one allows you to compare topics and gain awareness of industry trends beyond the scope of your direct competitors and in other countries. Use it to understand what people are Googling in real time.
Since Google Trends has been linked with Google News, it fetches data that can be especially insightful for business owners wanting to keep up with current events and stories.
As an owner of a newly-started small business, you probably also have a fairly new website; so, you’re going to want to build authorships for yourself on industry standard websites. Using this tool can help you get ideas for blog posts and articles that you can pitch to websites, and also give you ideas for blog posts that you can write for your own website as well.
If you like what you get from this tool, be sure to try Google Correlate as well.
Moz Open Site Explorer
While a Pro account is ideal, you can get a lot done with Moz’s free tools and trial versions. Open Site Explorer is exceptional for finding link building opportunities and tracking your website’s backlink profile as it compares to those of your competitors.
Moz does a great job of collecting the links that have been placed on other websites that direct back to your site, and giving you a Domain Authority (DA) rating of that website that is linking to you. These ratings are basically Moz’s belief of how much Google will like a certain website and the possibility of it ranking well in Google SERPs.
While not perfect, Moz has done a tremendous job of organizing information such that a new small business owner can truly get a grip on what their site looks like in Google’s eyes.
An additional tool from Moz is their MozBar extension on Chrome. Simply link this extension to your Chrome browser and start retrieving key metrics like Domain Authority and Spam Score as well as an On-Page Analyzer. This tool sits comfortably at the top or bottom of your browser and can be switched on and off with a click of a button.
Moz also has a slew of other free SEO tools that can be effective and helpful in your ranking efforts.
Xenu Link Sleuth
Don’t be intimidated by the technical stuff. Tools such as Xenu’s Link Sleuth are known as “spiders” in the SEO industry. Now, I know that the term does not sound very appealing, but I assure you that what you can learn from using this tool is irreplaceable.
Not only does this tool generate data about your website’s broken links, but it also will bring to light any content issues your website currently has and can help you make the changes necessary to move your ranking up in Google’s SERPs.
There’s no better software than Xenu’s Link Sleuth for performing validation of text links, frames, images, backgrounds, and more. Unlike all the other tools on this list, Link Sleuth is a PC program and must be downloaded to your computer, so make sure to download the version compatible with your operating system.
You might have every free (and paid) tool in the toolshed, but there’ll be times when you can’t fix the problem at hand. When using a tool or watching a YouTube video isn’t enough, it might be time to look for some more human means of information.
Rounding out this list is this indispensable (and decidedly more human) set of “tools”:
- Find friends that can support you in your SEO efforts.
- Join industry discussion groups. These groups are aplenty on sites like SEMrush, Inbound.org, and Search Engine Journal. Facebook and LinkedIn also have several groups that will share information about this industry through articles and blog posts, and even private discussions.
- Page One Power is a great source for webinars that air almost every week about different SEO topics, and they invite Q&A discussions on Twitter. Other SEO powerhouses like Moz and SEMrush hold Twitter discussions weekly as well. These can be a great way to ask your questions and have them answered by industry professionals.
- Quora, LinkedIn, and Reddit, and social media in general can also put you in touch with people in the know. Finding similar questions and answers regarding your own problem can be a very helpful way to solve a problem you may have. Social media offers the free advice we all need sometimes.
- For some, stepping away from the screen is the best approach. Find out when a local SEO meetup group meets near you.
Using industry tools to examine key metrics, real-time data, and trends over time gives small business owners an edge at remaining competitive and relevant. Whether your website needs more links, better content, or needs an SEO facelift all together, using the tools above and doing a mass amount of research on this topic can make all the difference in the world for your small business.
Algorithms change and best practices evolve; it’s important to understand that all the tracking tools in the world won’t deliver success overnight.
A solid SEO campaign doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it will require patience and practice. Best of luck!