Building an SEO program for yourself, or your brand, can appear to be a daunting task. There’s a seemingly endless amount of tools available to get your page ranked in search. Keywords, page analytics, search trends and mobile support all have their own tools.
The privilege of pulling the data can sometimes cost thousands of dollars. With top-flight offerings requiring a significant buy-in, it’s easy to believe that SEO requires deep pockets.
“I think a lot of companies don’t necessarily have the budget for a massive team or are willing to throw cash at it,” said Clint Borrill, senior SEO manager with ecommerce company Balsam Brands. “A lot of smaller companies get into it through a lot of the free tools, then see the benefit and start spending money.”
With a little effort, what’s freely available online can give you the same results as the heavy hitters in the industry. The expensive tools will do all the analysis for you, taking all the disparate data points presenting them in one place. But if you’re willing to do the work, you can avoid the big spend.
“If you don’t have the budget, go and do it yourself,” said Borrill.
Tools on the cheap
There are powerful services like Answer the Public available to anyone with an internet connection. Input a keyword and it will spit out a visualization of questions people are asking search engines using the keyword and a wealth of other information.
When it comes to free options, Google is king. The company’s offerings encompass everything from keyword research to webpage analysis. Here are a few of their offerings that will help build a solid SEO foundation:
- PageSpeed Insights -- Get reports on webpage performance on both mobile and desktop. It will tell you which files or scripts slow the page down and give recommendations on how to fix it.
- Keyword Planner -- Research and find keywords relevant to your brand and test their performance.
- Lighthouse -- Looks at the performance of a page and breaks down performance into five categories: Progressive Web App, Performance, Accessibility, best Practices and SEO.
Let's get technical
Many of Google’s offerings will help with the more technical side of SEO by identifying any problems there may be with the site. Borrill says this is now a primary focus of the industry, whereas a few years ago content and link building were the bulk of people’s efforts.
“It has become a lot more technical,” he said. “It’s more about having a really good website from a tech standpoint, so making sure that it’s mobile-friendly, that the speed is right and it’s secure.”
The value in free, trial versions
On the other hand, just because a tool comes with a hefty price tag, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to at least use some of its features.
“A lot of good tools out there do have a free version and it will typically give you either a bit of insight or they’ll let you pull a limited number of pages or there is some limitation to the tool, but they can still be really, really useful,” said Borrill.
Keyword Hero, for example, will analyze 10 URLs and 2,000 sessions free of charge. While not as powerful as its other, slightly more expensive options, it can still provide insight into what keywords are driving traffic to your site.
Free versions and trials sometimes come with a time limit, so they can be of less long-term use on a shoestring budget, but free trials from tools like Advanced Web Ranking can still help your keywords to their page rankings, which Borrill says is foundational to any SEO effort.
“Tying your keyword to page performance is huge,” he said. “If you’re able to do that and understand how those two things relate to one another it really helps.”
Free tools and their costly counterparts exist to help make these connections, but there’s no magic solution. But with these free tools and others like them, anyone can build a solid foundation in SEO.