5 Essential SEO Tools and How to Use Them to Maximize Results

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Reading time: 9 minutes

We SEO nerds like our tools. We like them a lot. We spend most of our day scrolling through them, so we develop a fierce loyalty to them.

If we meet another SEO consultant and they tell us they’re using something else, we may roll our eyes and say something like, “If that’s what you want to do, fine. You’ll grow up, someday.” That being said, we will migrate to something better, if it comes along. But you really need to make a strong case that it’s better, and then the tool itself needs to be legitimately better/faster/deeper than what we were using.

If you’re not an SEO nerd but want to know the best tools on the market, you’re in luck! We’re going to print off a guest pass and give you a tour of our world. We’re going to show you our secret weapons, like keyword research tools and other indispensable SEO tools that you can find online.

And we will do our best to do it without getting too nerdy. We’ll keep it to nerdy-ish.

Google Search Console: The Basics

We know what you’re going to say. “But everyone in the world has access to this. Isn’t it a bit… basic?” Yes, and that’s ok. We’re ok with being basic. We like our Starbucks coffee and our Google Search Console. It’s often one of the first tools we use when providing SEO audit service.

This is truly the foundation of search, as an art and science. The Google Search Console (GSC) platform allows you to control how the crawlers and bots interact with your site. Using GSC you can see what Google ‘sees.’

A lot of companies have tried to build a better tool than good old-fashioned Google Search Console. Some solutions will give you a more visual story of what’s happening. Others are so slick that you just hit CTRL+P and print off a report that’s presentation-ready for the C-suite, with no need to stay up all night making it pretty in PowerPoint. Click, click, boom.

But let’s be clear about one thing: If Google Search Console was one of the only SEO tools you had access to, you would be pretty much fine. You might have to work harder to find the data’s story, but the story is still there.

Google Analytics: The Baseline

Now take everything we just said above and apply it to Google Analytics (GA).

At the end of the day, you’re getting your insights straight from The Big G. When it comes to analyzing SEO page speed and site performance in the biggest search engine on the planet, you want to see how people interact with your site on Google.

I once took an audio production program in school. To teach us to edit a digital audio file, they rolled out an old-school reel-to-reel machine and taught us how to edit an analog recording. You heard me! We edited radio broadcasts with grease pencils, razor blades, tape, and a lot of profanity. The idea was to give us a boiled-down understanding of editing principles. Once we understood that, we were ready to apply what we knew to GarageBand or Adobe.

That’s sort of the argument we use when telling people who book a free SEO consultation to start on Google Search Console. Using it ain’t always easy, which is why a lot of people shy away from it. But, once you’ve mastered the basics of SEO using it, you know enough about the art and science of SEO that you can use anything. You’re ready to get into some more robust shit.

A smiling young woman sitting on the floor with a laptop next to the Google logo

Universal Analytics vs G4 vs Analytics 360: What is the Difference?

For most small to medium-sized businesses, the free versions of GA give you everything you need to manage your SEO.

If you’re an enterprise-sized business, there is Analytics 360. That version costs $150,000 per year (don’t worry. It’s invoiced monthly) and increases after you start seeing web traffic in the billions.

Otherwise, you’re looking at Universal Analytics or GA4. What’s the difference there? If you created your Google account after October 2020, you probably have GA4. If you set up your account before October 2020, you probably have Universal Analytics.

Which one is better? Well, GA4 is the newest version of Google Analytics, so it has a little bit more to offer, like updated:

  • Tools
  • Reports
  • Features

However, either tool is fine and more than enough to help you run informed and effective SEO campaigns. But if you currently have UA and want to migrate to GA4, Google recommends you do so, and they’ve provided this helpful step-by-step guide. They have even colour-coded each step to let you know what level of pain-in-the-ass it’s going to be.

Semrush: The Best Keyword Tool

When it comes to SEO, it all starts with keywords. Period. You simply cannot optimize your way out of a bad keyword plan. And for our money, Semrush is the industry’s best tool to discover new keywords and keyword insights to guide your SEO content writing.

We use it every day. We use it ALL day. And we’re not the only ones who feel that way. I know some people in the industry who would take Semrush to a deserted island instead of water. We use this tool a lot for content planning; the Topic Research Tool is a really powerful and easy way to find keywords, entities, and related topics to add to your content.

What you will really love about this tool is its ability to sort keywords into different buckets:

  • Informational keywords: People are searching for answers to specific questions. For example, how do I change my own bike chain?
  • Navigational keywords: People are trying to find a specific site or page. For example, looking up the Globe and Mail story you read last week.
  • Commercial keywords: People are doing online research to investigate brands or services before they purchase. For example, Xbox vs PlayStation.
  • Transactional keywords: This searcher is buy-ready right now and looking to complete an action or purchase. For example, buy The Weeknd tickets or Nikey cold weather running gear.

The Intent column of your Semrush dashboard report is going to show you which bucket each search term falls into. They may fall into more than one category, obviously.

Knowing and seeing the difference is absolutely critical. All of these categories have merit, and it’s good to rank for all of them. But, clearly, the Commercial and Transactional keywords are the ones that lead DIRECTLY to a sale.

Using the above examples, ranking for the Informational keyword term “how do I change my own bike chain” is good. If you’re a bike store, it helps establish you as a reliable source of information. But that searcher is actively looking to not spend money right now. They may come back to you some other time, but right now they just want free information.

In the same vein, it’s great to have people possibly looking for your blog, but a Navigational keyword isn’t going to drive sales.

If you’re really trying to send people to your storefront or online store, you need to rank for Commercial and Transactional keywords. Commercial keyword, the searcher is nearly buy-ready. They’re comparing Product A vs Product B. Which one has the better battery life? Which one has better reviews? You want to rank for these so you can nurture the sales lead.

On the other hand, Transactional keywords are for people who are buy-ready right now. They have the credit card next to the laptop. If they DON’T buy something today, it will be because of a bad experience. You want to rank for as many of these keywords as possible.

Semrush definitely gives you the deep and current keyword data you need to succeed. You can basically use it to plot a whole year’s worth of content, which is something a lot of people use it to do.

Screenshot of Semrush’s mind mapping function, with various topics

As you can see from the photo above, you can start with a broad search, and it will show you a few dozen related search terms related to this topic, any of which can help you craft strong SEO content that locks into what people are searching for. Even cooler, it will show you the questions that people are searching for, then sort them into What, How, Which and IS categories:

  • WHAT is the best 4k game system?
  • HOW much is the PlayStation 5?
  • WHICH Xbox console do I want?
  • IS the Xbox better than the PlayStation?

It’s insanely cool and has everything you need to build a content strategy.

Ahrefs: The Best Link Builder

This is another simply amazing all-in-one SEO toolset. The Ahrefs platform provides you with all the tools you need to rank higher and increase organic traffic.

You can use it to:

  • Audit and optimize your website
  • Analyze your competition
  • Find the keywords your customers are searching for
  • Learn from your industry’s top-performing content
  • Track your ranking progress

You could use it to do your keyword research and be well-armed to succeed. We use Semrush for that, but that’s a personal preference thing.

Screenshot of Aref’s dashboard, with various metrics displayed

The main reason we love this tool is the best-in-class SEO link building tools. We use Arefs for most of our link-building services, which include:

  • Analyzing sites
  • Finding link-building opportunities
  • Looking at competing sites.

Too many companies don’t really worry about their off-page SEO. They will take blogging opportunities and media coverage when they happen while not giving much thought to their industry/ranking site listings. You COULD do that. You could also hop into a kayak with no paddle and hope the wind takes you where you need to go.

Off-page SEO is far too important. Don’t be passive. In 2012, Moz estimated that your links made up about 30% of your overall SEO clout. Then it was 50%. I know some people that would say it’s considerably higher.

In the hands of a well-trained SEO nerd, Arefs is a nimble and powerful weapon. It’s the Lightsaber of the link-building world. It can help you generate new content ideas and find high-quality sites to get it posted.

Screaming Frog: The Best Site Crawler

illustration of a woman with a laptop and a frog on her desk. The frog is screaming ‘404’

Screaming Frog is an amazing suite of website crawler tools.

We use it for various audits and it provides a vast array of features. For example, it can help you:

  • Find broken links
  • Audit redirects
  • Analyze page titles & meta data
  • Discover duplicate content
  • Extract data with xpath
  • Review robots & directives
  • Generate XML sitemaps
  • Crawl JavaScript websites
  • Visualize site architecture
  • Compare crawls & staging

It also integrates with the Google Analytics, Search Console, and PageSpeed Insights APIs to give you all the user and performance data for all URLs in a crawl.

We primarily use it to crawl websites so we can make a list of all existing pages. That list helps us to do meta title and description optimization using the SERP summary export. We also use the list to optimize the website’s URL structure if needed. At the same time, it also helps us fix crawling errors and identify any issues with redirects or robots and canonical tags.

Another cool feature is the list mode. This mode lets us quickly import a list of URLs that we need information for instead of doing a full website crawl.

The Best Page Builder: Oxygen

People always ask us, “Should we build our site/pages in WordPress?” In most cases, yes. WordPress is the biggest name in the industry for a reason. BUT, you need to make sure you’re using the best site builder, or using custom coded themes to get the best results.

Simply put, speed is massively important to SEO right now. It’s actually never been more important. You need every page on your site to load as quickly and run as leanly as possible. And a lot of that comes from using a page builder that isn’t going to weigh your pages down with a lot of bloated coding.

Most site builders focus on design and aesthetics. But Oxygen was made with SEO in mind, by an SEO guy who wanted to make it easy to build lean pages and give you tools and SEO plugins to optimize your website without compromising design.

Google has prioritized speed, which means our agency has prioritized speed. Right around the time when the Core Web Vitals were announced, we were using Elementor to build pages. But, the data we read, and the testing we performed made us switch to Oxygen. It’s all we’re going to use until something faster comes along.

Whether you’re building a site from scratch, or just adding a few new landing pages, this is what you should use to build.

Let’s Talk About Your SEO Needs

When hiring an SEO agency, you want to ensure that they have the best SEO tools and that those tools are being used by proven SEO professionals.

Paul is a 15-year veteran of the industry and a thought leader who is frequently sought by major media outlets like the Globe and Mail, and respected blogs like GoDaddy. He began his career working for the biggest SEO agency in Canada. But he started his own agency to solve some of the problems that come with a Big Agency. He made it his mission to make transparent and affordable SEO services available to the business owners who need the most help.

If you’re ready to unlock more organic traffic and more sales or discuss the specific cost of SEO for your needs, click the Connect With Paul button at the top of the page, or call 647-448-4449.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.