What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of growing traffic from organic search results. Free results on search engines like Google or Bing make up the core of SEO. The approach improves a website’s ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
SEO activities to improve ranking include:
- Optimizing website structure to make it accessible and clearly understandable to search engine crawlers like Googlebot
- Providing original and relevant content for end-users
- Showing value with inbound links from other authoritative websites
Google’s ever-changing search algorithms are designed to improve the relevance of search results for end-users. This can make the SEO process complex. SEO is an area of marketing often outsourced to marketing agencies, consulting groups, and freelancers.
What are SEO Tools?
SEO software helps companies improve and track their SEO progress. A common feature is keyword and content analysis. This ensures that a site uses relevant language and content. The more relevant the content is to a target audience, the better the SEO ranking.
In other words, SEO helps a website speak the ‘language of the web’. This helps sites remain discoverable by search engine crawlers and accessible to visitors. Most SEO solutions will provide an overview of keywords the website is currently ranking for, competitive keyword analysis, and keyword tracking for target keywords. Some tools may also offer a historical view of keyword rankings and related search volume.
SEO Software Features
There are a wide range of SEO platforms available in the market. Below are features that are typically common across different tools:
Keywords are the phrases that represent the content of your website. They are the search terms a user might use to find your website. SEO tools track, recommend, and optimize keywords for your website. The tools find the most relevant keywords given your niche and target audience.
Backlinks are URL listings on other websites linking to your site. These show search engines that your website is valuable and a trusted source of information. Backlinks are crucial in site rankings and reputation. Backlink acquisition, tracking, and analysis is an essential element of SEO software. Many tools will help users identify new backlink opportunities and keep track of existing backlinks.
Crawl Diagnostics/Site Audits
Some SEO software tools can also perform site auditing. Audits assess website structure to suggest improvements. Some solutions will automate the improvement process for you. SEO tools vary in the quantity and quality of SEO audits. Certain tools provide generic best practices, while others have more innovative suggestions.
Reporting & Analytics
Most SEO tools create reports and offer analytics for overall website and keyword rankings. These can include:
- Competitive analysis
- SERPs ranking tracking
- Trend charts
- Traffic analytics
- Role-specific dashboards (CMO, CEO, etc.)
- Share of voice analysis
Many SEO platforms are intended for use by agencies. Larger SEO platforms offer rich and detailed white-label reports for these agencies. They’ll also offer multi-domain management features.
Mobile optimization has become a key part of SEO. Websites that don’t function on mobile devices will not rank as well on SERPs. They are also less likely to engage mobile visitors. This has become more important as mobile traffic continues to increase. Many companies have now adopted a ‘mobile-first’ approach to web design, ensuring content renders correctly on mobile before making any changes to the website.
Social signals act as an indication of content quality. They have become a key element in search engine algorithms. Likes and shares are social endorsements of your content’s relevance and overall brand. Many SEO products offer social signal tracking and measurement. Some products will also offer integrations with social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for better social engagement and impressions tracking.
Local SEO optimizes a business website for a specific geographic location. Search engines are collecting more information about their users’ locations. The goal is to provide more specific and relevant results. Focusing on local SEO can mean less competition.
SEO vs. SEM Approaches
SEO is closely related to Search Engine Marketing (SEM). SEM is sometimes called PPC (pay-per-click) or paid search marketing. An SEM strategy is focused on gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines, while an SEO strategy focuses on maximizing organic (i.e. non-paid) search results by optimizing website structure and content.
Many companies use both SEO and SEM in their overall marketing strategy – using the same tools in the process. Combining SEO and SEM approaches together is called search marketing. The end goal is to grow website traffic, both organic and paid, from search engines.
SEO Software Comparison
There are many SEO software products available today. Consider these two key factors as you evaluate different SEO tools to help find the best product for your business:
- Do you need a comprehensive SEO platform that includes a range of keyword, backlink, and website auditing analysis capabilities? Or would your business be better served trying out a free tool (or two) first? SEO products like Google Trends, Google Search Console, Ahrefs’ Keyword Generator, and Hunter are all free to use. Though they may only focus on one of the feature areas defined above, or have limited functionality. Paid SEO tools are a better choice if your business is looking to adopt an SEO or search marketing strategy.
- Would it be more efficient for your business to handle SEO and search marketing in-house, or outsource this work to a marketing agency? If you plan on keeping SEO activities in-house, along with a team of SEO experts, your business will also likely need to invest in at least one paid SEO tool (if not more). However, this makes it easier and faster to communicate with your SEO team and ensure that they are 100% focused on your business’s SEO growth potential. Conversely, working with a marketing agency can help free up time and resources so that your marketing team can focus on other initiatives.
Some Search Engine Optimization tools are completely free, while others may offer a free version or free trial. Top free examples include Google Trends and Moz Link Explorer. Both offer specific functions, like keyword and backlink research.
Paid SEO platforms usually start at $99/mo. for the ‘pro’ level. Enterprise-level tools can run up to hundreds of dollars per month.