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Michael Rolfe

Guide to Free SEO Tools

14th Sep 2011 SEO, SEO Resources | 1 Comment


ToolsDo you have an online business and want more sales?  Do you have some knowledge from DIY SEO and PPC campaigns learnt from forums, e-books and courses?  Do you instinctively know that there is money in the digital fields, but not sure where to begin digging?  With so much conflicting information out there on how to succeed online, where do you start?

This report will reveal how to take your online marketing to the next level using only free, available tools.

Online marketing is vastly broad, dizzyingly deep and forever evolving.  A recipe for confusion!  Being full-time in the industry I can distil the wheat from the chaff and here is my guide to the (free) tools that I use to get results online.

I’ve only provided a quick outline of each one – they have plenty of thick manuals you can read if you really want to get the most out of them – but this should get you started.  If you have the time and the tenacity, you can succeed with DIY, just remember that the field is always evolving and there are always new, better and more expensive tools out there…  If the thought of getting to grips with these tools doesn’t excite you, outsource your time to those with experience who can achieve in a day what may take you a week.  If you are ready to learn, welcome!

OK!  So, to give us an overview, here roughly are the stages one goes through when creating a traditional online presence, driven by SEO:

1. Keyword research

2. Competition research

3. Purchase Domain

4. Create Website

5. Create Content

6. Create Graphics / Calls to Action

7. Check On page SEO

8. Run Search Engine Ranking Report

9. Install Analytics

10. Optimise Site Load Times

11. Build Back-links

12. Don’t Stop!

I presume you understand the points above so I will talk about the tools themselves rather than the online strategy.

 

1. Keyword Research

The most reassuring thing I can tell you about free keyword research is that you are probably already using the best one: the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.  Having tried many other no-cost alternatives, this does a great job.  New additional features allow you to group suggestions by theme and search by categories if you are logged in to your AdWords account.  Make use of the Match Types and look at local results.

One caveat is that the search volumes are very approximate.  In my experience you do not end up with as many searches as you would hope for with the bigger terms, yet often get searches for queries that are reported as having no search volume.  https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

The essential tip to take away here is this: Before you create a whole site around the data the AdWords Keyword Tool is giving you, corroborate that data with a common sense analysis and an inexpensive AdWords test: Create one AdGroup targeting the term you are covering (in exact match) and bid enough to show at around position seven.  Very soon you will have a true, accurate portrayal of the number of searches you can expect.

Advanced: If you want to maximise this market research, link the campaign to a survey where you can ask prospective customers the three golden questions of market research: what they are searching for, how much they are prepared to pay for it, and how difficult they are currently finding it to locate what they are looking for.  Offer them something in return for an email address and you are building a hot customer list here also.  If you have a very advanced campaign, then there are other tools I could recommend, feel free to get in touch if your campaign is at an advanced level.

 

2. Competition Research

So now you have a number of keyword groups, each with a number of promising looking keywords and you want to build a website around these terms… but which ones to pick?  First of all you will rank for much more than just the ‘exact match’ phrases, so don’t get too het up about it.  Secondly, look at the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when you type in a term – this is the first approximation of the strength of your competition – the naked eye.  Are they big corporations, articles sites or amateur blogs?

Once you find some of your ‘groups’ of keywords that you think can compete on, it’s time to pick which keywords inside those groups you will choose to optimise for, as each page on an average site should aim to be optimised for a single term.  TrafficTravis (http://download.cnet.com/Traffic-Travis/3000-18485_4-10865956.html) is one tool amongst many that allows you to quickly assess the on-page and off-page strength of your competition for a particular key term.

There is a paid version, but the free version (version 3 or 4) is fine.  Take a look at the results below and tell me you are not excited about the idea of competing for the term ‘competition research’….The top result is from Slideshare.net.  They have zero backlinks to that page (although 55 million to the site itself), and the Title, Desc and H1 tags are not optimised for the key term in question.  Make a page focussing on this term, build links to it and over time, you could expect to rank well for this term.

 

3. Purchase Domain

Having the keyterm in the domain name is becoming less significant to search engines.  Although still a factor, it’s not the be all and end all by any means – go for something related to the theme of your website rather than one long-tail key phrase.  http://www.domainsamurai.com/ is a free tool for download that helps you search for suitable domain names.  There is an upsell to Market Samurai so beware of the enticing sales copy – you don’t need to part with cash.  There are lots of ‘paid’ tools out there that are very well marketed to budding amateur SEO’s  but you almost definitely don’t need all their features.  If you are not keen on downloading software, try the free tool instead.

 

4. Create Website

How much would you pay for a professional looking website that loads quickly, the search engines love, requires no programming to update and is easy to use?  How about nothing?  WordPress is my tool of choice for so many reasons, but especially because a beginner can get started using it and a professional can still be impressed with it years after they first visited http://wordpress.org/.  Get a hosting provider with the Fantastico script installed and it’s a one-click installation.  (As an example, here’s a free one, never used them myself but just wanted to demonstrate this can be free too : http://www.000webhost.com/features).

Choose from many free themes to dictate the look and feel of your site (here’s just one list of good ones: http://www.netchunks.com/fastest-loading-free-wordpress-themes/).  Then from WordPress you can select from a massive amount of free plugins to fashion your site in your image – Youtube videos, Facebook interaction, checkout facilities, email captures and more.  Beware however – many plugins are free, unsupported and can leave you exposed to hacks.  Be sure to update as regularly as possible and take all possible security precautions.

 

5. Content
We’re doing well!  Now don’t skimp on the content.  My advice for tools to create content is… DON’T!  There are many tools that scrape content for you, spin it around, translate it etc to make it ‘unique’ in the eyes of the search engines.  The problem with all these tools is that they are not working for the benefit of people, but for with the specific ambition of fooling the search engines.  These tools may well be getting reviews from happy customers reporting traffic but Google’s mission is to provide quality results to users and they have a lot of smart people on the case.

If you have a medium to long term business, don’t engage in this ‘cheating’.  You may be able to steal some sweets today but in the long run you know what you are doing is wrong and there’s a good chance your site will be downgraded when judgement day arrives.  If this site is your livelihood, your offline business or something more than a ruse, that could be a big mistake.

In any case, unique content will rank higher and human visitors will prefer to read it.  The shortcut here is not to look for shortcuts, no matter how appealing that copy-written sales letter is to your desire to do as little work as possible ;).  All the time you spend researching content tools, learning how to use them, correcting them when they don’t work and rectifying the damage they can cause could be better spent with just getting on with the job of providing quality content.  Concentrate on adding value.

 

6. Create Graphics / Calls to Action

Want to create graphics but can’t afford Photoshop?  Use the memorably named GIMP editor at www.gimp.org/ – it’s free for all and there are many tutorials available online.  Don’t get bogged down in features you’ll never need, just find a tutorial to do specifically what you need to do and get out!  Use GIMP to create headers and especially call-to-action buttons and banners.

 

7. Check On-page SEO

If you’re not using Google Webmaster Tools then you are missing out on a simple, free way to see some insightful data about your website, such as how the Googlebot sees your pages. http://www.woorank.com/ is one free web service that reports on your main on-page and off-page factors and highlights the errors that need improving.

 

8. Run a Search Engine Ranking Report

With your chosen keywords in hand from step one, you will want to monitor your performance for these words to see if you are getting higher rankings in the search engines.  One free, easy to use tool available online to monitor this is http://searchenginereports.net/.   If you use Firefox, there is a free plug-in from http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/rank-checker/ that you may prefer also.

 

9. Install Analytics

Now you have visitors you want to learn all about them!  Where do they come from?  How do they find your site?  What do they do when they get to your site?  So many questions!  In short, Google Analytics is my favourite, most powerful, intuitive (free) analytics software out there.  Simply sign up at http://www.google.com/analytics/ , add the tracking code to your pages and enjoy surfing the data.  You could be a full time employee only working with this tool and still you might not learn how to extract all the value this tool has to offer, but at least having it installed you will get the essential data from it.

 

10. Optimise Site Load Times

http://tools.pingdom.com/ will give you a full report on how your page loads and what elements are holding your site back.  Google ranks faster sites above slower sites, all other things being equal.  This tool allows you to see which files need compressing, serving from a different location or being loaded in a different order and helps keep humans happier as they breeze around your website unimpeded.

 

11. Build Back-links

http://www.majesticseo.com/ is now a leading provider of back-link analysis now that Yahoo! Site Explorer announced its closure, however it’s most powerful features are not available in the free version.   See where your (and your competitors) most powerful links are coming from with this free tool: http://www.linkdiagnosis.com/, as well as in Traffic Travis if you’ve already downloaded it.

You can visit these sites with the knowledge that your competitors have built links from these domains, so there is a good chance you can too.  Be careful not to duplicate the exact link profile of a competitor however as Matt Cutts at Google has confirmed that a carbon copy of another’s link profile is not going to get you the same results that the competitor enjoys.

One way to start finding relevant sites that may want to link to you is to search for sites using the method I outlined in my previous post http://www.koozai.com/blog/search-engine-optimisation-seo/seo-resources/how-to-find-the-hottest-niches/, or use the following  tool as a useful shortcut.  Type in a keyterm and then it searches for pages based on that keyterm that also have the phrases “add link”, “submit site”, “suggest link” etc.  Very handy.  http://www.webconfs.com/backlink-builder.php
12. Don’t Stop!

There are many resources to discover as you understand more in-depth SEO factors.  A good pool of free niche tools to get you started after you’ve been through the above steps would be the tools found at http://www.seochat.com/seo-tools/.   Remember tools evolve and develop over time – something you thought was cutting edge today might be obsolete next year.   Also beware of the many sales people looking to take advantage of the mix of hunger and bewilderment that is a trait of so many amateur SEO enthusiasts.

Make sure you enjoy all the aspects to online marketing we’ve covered and in the end keep yourself grounded and your eye on the ball – take a step back from the technical details sometimes and consider your work from the perspective of people who appreciate your common sense approach to adding value to the lives of searches and surfers.  This guide should be enough to get you started, and if you enjoy it, there is much more to learn, yay!

Image Source

Adjustable Wrench via BigStock

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Michael Rolfe About the author

Michael Rolfe

Michael has been earning a living online and winning awards for it since 2005. Projects include launching an affiliate network, database driven comparison websites, and Wordpress education seminars as well as devising and implementing the online marketing strategy for a listed blue-chip organisation.

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