May 28, 2008
How To

7 No-Cost SEO Tools to Help You Increase Your Website Traffic

SUMMARY: Want to improve your search marketing but don't have the money or the time? We talked to an expert who reveals 7 no-cost tools (plus one paid one) you can use to keep tabs on your competition, shorten research time and save money.

Includes plenty of SEO tips, descriptions and hotlinks. Plus, how to avoid the ones that aren’t worth your time.
The right SEO tools can work wonders for your search strategy. You can save time, effort and investment, not to mention improve your rankings. Several search tools are out there. Wil Reynolds, Founder, SEER Interactive, guides us on how to distinguish the helpful and free ones from the useless and costly ones. He discusses eight tools he uses daily. The best part? Most of them don’t cost a dime to use!

There is a caveat, though. Don’t rely solely on any of these methods; they are more dependable when used as a team. Relying on “any of those tools needs to be tempered with a certain amount of intuition,” Reynolds says. “I would use tools to augment each other where I can, just to make sure that I’m not making decisions or changes in my marketing strategy that ultimately will come back to bite me because I’m using a free tool.”

Reynolds ignores as much as 15%-20% of the data he gets back when doing keyword research. “I just say, ‘There’s no way that’s true,’ even though the numbers say it is. If you know your business well enough, or your client’s business well enough, you’ll know when these things are coming back with flawed data.”

1. Google Advanced Search
Cost: Free
Description: This tool can be found by going to Google, clicking “Advanced Search” and then clicking the “+” symbol next to “Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more.” Now you should see a field titled “Where your keywords show up.”

This lets you limit a search to:
o Anywhere in the page
o Title of the page
o Text of the page
o URL of the page
o Links to the page

The big one is “links to the page.” By selecting this option and searching for your competitors, you can find which sites are linking to them. You can also limit the search by date to uncover the links that have been created most recently.

Use the tool to:
A. Target link campaigns
“This is how you could possibly find a review or maybe an editor or someone who did a review of a few different people in your space, and they didn’t include you,” Reynolds says. You can reach out to those people for coverage and links.

“I tend to use it for certain clients where we want to check every 24 hours if their competitors are being mentioned to see if there is a place where it makes sense for our client to be inserted into that conversation,” Reynolds says.

B. Keep track of the competition
“It also lets us know how aggressive competitors are being at getting links,” Reynolds says. “So if somebody is starting to really fire up a link campaign or a social media campaign, this is one of the quickest ways for us to find out because we can go back and say, ‘I only want to see the results for the last 24 hours.’ For most people, you’ve got to kind of take this with a grain of salt. If your industry or your competition is not very aggressive, then I’d say checking it maybe every week, or every month, would be fine.”

2. Google Trends
Cost: Free
Description: Google Trends reveals keywords’ historic search volume on Google (but not the exact figures). Say you’re torn between two keywords. Type them into the text box, separate them with commas and click to see which has received the most search traffic over time. The data dates back years and is illustrated with graphs.

Use the tool to:
Decide on a keyword, i.e., should you go with singular or plural?
Search engines return different results for singular and plural forms of a noun. So, a tractor manufacturer might rank well for the term “tractor” but not for “tractors.”

“If you’ve got to pick one or the other, you should use a tool like Google Trends to see which one you should go after. That way, you’re getting at least in front of the largest audience,” Reynolds says.

3. Microsoft adCenter Add-in for Excel 2007
Cost: Free for adCenter account holders (must have Excel 2007). Still in beta.
Description: “We probably use seven or eight different keyword tools just to do keyword research, but the one that has really kind of revolutionized the way we do it is the MSN adCenter plug-in for Excel,” Reynolds says.

Use the tool to:
A. Right-click words in Excel to view:
o Words related to the keyword
o Words often searched in conjunction with the keyword in MSN
o Monthly search traffic for the keyword in MSN
o Daily search traffic for the keyword in MSN
o Demographic information, such as percentage of the keyword’s MSN search traffic from people of a certain gender, age or region.

This tool helps marketers doing keyword research to avoid “using the wrong term that could seem applicable to a business but could attract the totally wrong demographic or age group,” Reynolds says.

B. Scale the numbers
This tool provides exact figures only for MSN search traffic. Reynolds uses them to estimate keyword search traffic for other engines. For example, Google’s free tools provide only relative measurements.

“You could look at market share data and extrapolate those numbers out. When I’ve had the opportunity to speak to people about the tool, I just say, ‘You know what? I’m just multiplying the numbers by 10 to try to include searches on Yahoo! or Google.’ And it could be 12 times, 15, but I think 10 is a safe enough number to start with.” Reynolds says.

4. Rank Checker
Cost: Free
Description: Rank Checker is a Firefox plug-in that takes keywords and reports your rankings on:
o Google
o Yahoo!
o Google in other countries

If you check your rankings by typing in search engines and sift through results, stop now. This tool automates that process. “There are people that are paying hundreds of dollars for tools like this,” Reynolds says.

Use the tool to:
A. Export results
“You can save your results over time and then export them to a comma-separated file, so then you can use them in Excel to manipulate them, graph them out, see your progress, etc.,” he says.

B. Exclude Google’s Personalized Results
Google will sometimes shift a person’s search results based on their behavior -- giving them a unique set of rankings. This can skew your research if you’re not careful. “I might see my site ranking as position 12. You might type it in, and because you have a different search profile, might see it at position 2. Well, that causes a problem when you’re checking rankings,” Reynolds says.

This tool gives you the option to run your rankings without Google Personalized Results so you can analyze the results a typical searcher would see.

5. SeoQuake
Cost: Free
Description: SeoQuake is a Firefox plug-in that’s great for researching your search competition. It can resort search results based on a range of factors, including:
o Number of Web pages
o Number of links from Yahoo!
o Number of links from MSN
o Alexa rank
o Domain age
o Links from

Use the tool to:
A. Reveal reorders
By reordering the search results by these often SEO-beneficial parameters, you can discover why the competition is outranking you.

“You might say, ‘Wow, what I’m realizing is that everyone that’s above me is actually outranking me because they’ve got more links,’ or maybe their domains are older, or maybe, if I sort by mentions, they’re actually getting a lot more social media mentions,” Reynolds says.

B. Adjust your strategy
Reynolds uses this tool the most after he has done “a few optimization rounds for terms where we’re not ranking where I want us to be ranking. It gives me an idea on where we might need to bolster certain parts of the SEO strategy.”

“When we first start doing the competitive analysis, we’re looking at where the people that outrank [clients] for their major terms have an advantage and then that would then affect the strategies we implement and the order of those strategies as they’re being implemented. So do we first go out after a link campaign? Do we first go out after social media? Do we maybe buy an older domain? All of those things could play into your strategy, but by doing this, it makes it a lot easier and a lot quicker to take that data into Excel, manipulate it and round out your SEO strategy.”

C. Export data
After you reorder a list, the tool will let you easily export the information to Excel, Reynolds says. There, you can filter the data to get a deeper analysis.

6. Today’s Hot Trends
Cost: Free
Description: Another Google Trends feature is Today’s Hot Trends. You can access it by clicking “More Hot Trends” on the Google Trends homepage. “It’s been talked about for a while, but I don’t think a lot of people are using it,” Reynolds says.

Today’s Hot Trends is updated every hour and shows the top 100 fastest-rising search terms on Google.

Use the tool to:
A. Seize opportunity
By regularly checking this data, you can discover keywords related to your business that are spiking in traffic. Bidding on those keywords could help you draw some of that traffic.

For example, “on April 9, the 99th most searched term on all of Google was ‘American Airlines Cancellations,’ ” Reynolds says. “If you’re American Airlines and you want to help people figure out how to work through this cancellation issue … [and] you find that opportunity, then that could easily play into a SEM strategy where you could jump in and buy that [keyword]. That’s a big deal.”

B. Create a blogging strategy
Bloggers can also check Today’s Hot Trends to see if any keywords relate to their topic. If you find a match, write a blog post using the keyword. People are looking for information on that topic, so give it to them.

“If I was a news agency, especially a publisher that did breaking news, I would look at this very closely. If you’re a B-to-B reseller of SAP software, nothing you cover is ever going to show up there, but if anything you do revolves around pop culture, then you should really be on top of this,” Reynolds says.

7. Yahoo! Search Assist
Cost: Free
Description: When you’re using the search box in Yahoo!, you might notice a gray textbox of terms that appears when you start typing a phrase. The words in the box are Yahoo!’s suggestions for related keywords, loosely based on word content and search volume.

The difference between this tool and many others is the fact that Yahoo!’s suggestions are not based on character order alone. For example, typing “bug” into some tools will only return keywords that begin with “b-u-g” like “buggy” or “bugs.” Yahoo!, on the other hand, returns “fashion bug,” “bugs bunny” and “bed bugs.”

Use the tool to:
Cover all keywords
“I’m using this [during my keyword research] to make sure that I’m not thinking of something in the wrong way or that there’re not opportunities that I’m potentially missing out on because it will show you other terms that might not be in that same character order that you’re entering. It’s really quick and easy to use,” Reynolds says.

8. VoiceStar
Cost: Reynolds estimates a minimum commitment of about $500 a month
Description: VoiceStar helps connect telephone conversions with online searches, so you know which keywords are driving your telesales. It works by delivering traceable phone numbers in search ads.

You can show different phone numbers for:
o Paid search
o Natural search
o Branded search words
o More

“You put the Java script on your site once and then you can go into the back end and change the rules that show the different phone numbers,” Reynolds says.

Use the tool to:
A. Extract reporting
There are companies that offer similar services. But, Reynolds says, “the other thing I like about their system is they have an API for their reporting interface, which means companies like ours who build custom dashboards to track ROI, we can now use their system but extract their reporting suite. That helps me get a more comprehensive view of phone volume down to leads in sales without us having to log into three or four different systems to get it.”

B. Track your B-to-B efforts
Reynolds uses VoiceStar primarily for his B-to-B clients. “I mean, certain types of B-to-B transactions are still going to occur online. But, sometimes, if you’re making a software purchase that might be $10,000, $15,000, $50,000 or more, there’s a good chance you might just pick up the phone and call somebody. And what you don’t want to do is miscount your search efforts or your other marketing efforts by not properly accounting for them with a phone tracking system.”

VoiceStar can track many keywords, but Reynolds suggests that you start small instead of paying for an expensive package upfront. “Some people get sold these huge [Web analytics] packages and then they never use more than 5% of it. Start with just a phone number or two to be able to track natural search and paid search. And then, as you start to find holes in that data,” you can add more numbers.

Useful links related to this article

Past Sherpa Case Studies -
SEO Tactics to Quadruple Lead Gen - Link-Building, Keyword Targeting & Landing Page Tests

How to Get Better SEO Traffic: 4 Strategies to Increase Leads 58%

Seer Interactive

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions