Updated: 28 June 2021
One thing the SEO industry isn’t lacking is tools. For every SEO task there appears to be at least one tool that claims to be able to do it all for you. From site analysis to on-page optimisation, from outreach to content planning, you’ll never be short on tools to aid in your work.
But tools can be a crutch, an inadequate replacement for real skill and experience. SEO tools are only as good as the SEO practitioner using them.
There are hundreds of tools to choose from. Brian Dean at Backlinko has compiled a whole list of them – you’ll find dozens of tools there for every conceivable task.
But here at Polemic Digital, I only use a handful of tools; a few tried and trusted platforms that, for me, deliver all the value and automation that I require.
Google Search Console is such an obvious source of data that I won’t mention it here. Instead I’ll focus on my favourite 3rd party SEO tools that I use (almost) every day:
I used to rely exclusively on Screaming Frog as my desktop SEO crawler, but recently I made the switch to Sitebulb and haven’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Screaming Frog and use it often, but when it comes to running a first-look crawl on a website to find (almost) every potential technical SEO issue that might affect it, nothing beats Sitebulb.
In addition to extensive built-in reports, which include everything from performance checks, structured data, site architecture, HTML optimisations, and much more, the tool also allows you to extract the raw crawl data so you can dig deeper into the site and create your own sheets and reports. It’s simply the best SEO crawler out there, bar none.
2. Screaming Frog
Where I use Sitebulb for full site analyses, I use Screaming Frog for focused crawls – usually a specific list of URLs or an XML sitemap.
The ability to connect Screaming Frog to 3rd party data sources like PageSpeed Insights, Google Search Console & Google Analytics, Majestic & Ahrefs, means that with Screaming Frog you can collect all the relevant data for a URL in one place and get this data for hundreds of URLs in one go.
Screaming Frog is like the Swiss army knife of SEO. Its uses are almost endless! A true must-have tool in every SEO’s arsenal.
I started using DeepCrawl at some stage in 2014, and it’s been one of my favourite tools ever since. It’s basically Screaming Frog on steroids, a SaaS crawler that allows you to analyse sites on a grand scale.
The major advantages DeepCrawl has over desktop crawlers like Sitebulb and Screaming Frog are that it’s easier to crawl larger sites with it (and you don’t need to leave your computer running for it), and that a lot of SEO analysis is done for you through the tool’s in-depth crawl reports.
DeepCrawl allows you to quickly find SEO issues on a site, with very little manual analysis required. That is the tool’s greatest strength, but also its weakness. Manual analysis is sometimes crucial to finding the root cause of an issue – which is why I love using DeepCrawl in combination with Sitebulb and Screaming Frog. It’s a match made in heaven.
For evaluating competitors, there’s one tool that stands apart from everyone else: Sistrix. With this tool you can get a very good snapshot of a site’s performance in search results, and compare that to those of its rivals.
The data is excellent and will give you a reliable impression of a site’s footprint in search results, and any shifts associated with algorithm updates. You can also compare multiple websites, allowing you to see exactly where one is gaining at the expense of another.
Sistrix also has a host of other features which can help with all kinds of other aspects of SEO, including site audits, keyword research, and rank tracking. I’ll be honest and admit I don’t use those, as I prefer specialised tools for those aspects of SEO.
5. Rank Ranger
Over the years I’ve tried many different rank trackers. They all do more or less the same, so none really stood out. Until I tried Rank Ranger. Now this is to rank trackers what a space shuttle is to a kite. It’s much more than just a rank tracker – it’s a Google data gathering platform.
Rank Ranger not only tracks a site’s rankings on Google for your keywords, it gathers pretty much every conceivable bit of information about those search results pages and allows you to generate reports for them. Plus it has a host of other features that make it an extremely powerful SEO suite.
For my work with news publishers, Rank Ranger created a special Top Stories report that tracks a domain’s visibility in the top stories carousels on up to 50 keywords on a daily basis. I can honestly say that Rank Ranger has become my go-to rank tracker for every client project.
6. Little Warden
When Dom Hodgson launched this tool in the middle of 2017 I was keen to give it a try, and I was instantly turned in to a lifelong fan. Little Warden is a monitoring tool that checks a domain and homepage for a huge range of technical aspects, such as:
- Domain name & SSL expiration
- Title tag & meta description changes
- Robots.txt changes
- Canonical tags
- 404 errors
- and many, many more.
Little Warden sends you a notification every time something changes, so that you’ll never let a domain name expire or have a robots.txt disallow rule change pass unnoticed.
You can configure the checks as well and choose which checks you want to enable or disable. So far Little Warden has been a huge lifesaver several times already, notifying me of potential problems such as expired SSL certificates, title tag changes, wrong redirects, and meta robots tag problems. A hugely useful tool if you manage a varied client roster.
This is a new tool that I’ve started using almost daily. I have a lot of clients across the world, and before SEOBrowse I had to use VPNs to try and get a good overview of what Google SERPs look like in different countries and regions.
With SEOBrowse, this becomes ridiculously easy. The tool allows you to do any Google search in any country in the world, both for desktop and mobile. SEOBrowse funnels your query through the right proxy for the country or region you’ve selected and shows you the Google results page exactly how a local searcher would see it.
The tool also enables you to save the SERPs and make screenshots of the results, so you can compare SERPs over time. If you do any international SEO at all, SEOBrowse will save you a lot of time and hassle.
Because I work with several large news publishers, I need specialised tools to analyse a website’s visibility in Google News. This is where NewsDashboard comes in.
Where Sistrix keeps track of regular search results, NewsDashboard monitors Google News. There are many different ways in which Google shows news results, both in the dedicated Google News vertical and as part of news boxes in regular results on desktop and mobile. NewsDashboard monitors all of these, and provides visibility graphs showing how different news sites perform over time.
Additionally, NewsDashboard can also be used to see what trending news topics a website is covering, and what topics it isn’t showing up for. The latter is very useful data to give to a newsroom.
I stopped using Chrome and switched to Firefox a few years ago (and you should too), which caused me a bit of a challenge in terms of browser plugins. Many SEO plugins are made for Chrome only, with no Firefox version. Then SEOInfo came around and saved my bacon.
SEOInfo is pretty much the only Firefox extension you need for SEO. It gives you all the relevant info such as on-page SEO elements, meta tags, load speed, mobile usability, HTTP headers, and so much more.
It also has a built-in structured data validator, and a SERP snippet simulator that shows how the page’s listing would look in Google results. All in all it’s a plugin I’ve come to heavily rely on in my day to day SEO work.
The five tools listed above are the ones I use most often, but don’t represent the full extent of the arsenal of tools at my disposal. There’s plenty of other tools I rely on for bits and pieces, such as NewzDash, Majestic, and of course Google Search Console.
There’s one tool I haven’t yet mentioned that prize above all others: critical thinking. When you become overly reliant on tools, you lose the ability to analyse SEO issues properly, and you’ll start missing things that tools might not necessarily be able to spot.
In SEO there are no more shortcuts. No tool in the world is going to turn you in to an SEO expert. Tools can certainly make some aspects of SEO much easier, but in the end you’ll still have to do the hard work yourself.