If SEO is part of your content strategy, and we guess it is because you are reading this post, then you’ll need to run regular health checks to make sure your site is optimised.
Every content marketer ought to know that an optimised website is crucial attracting high quality organic traffic and providing a great UX.
But before you think about whether you need the services of a specialist SEO agency to audit your site, it is worth trying free SEO tools that will help you improve your strategy.
There are lots of SEO superheroes out there. This includes Moz that has built brilliant top-end SEO tools. But, by Moz’s own admission, free tools ‘do the trick’ for 75% of SEO tasks. Sure, there is a need for premium tools, which are valuable for higher limits, advanced functionality, data storage and on-call support. But, the best free tools will analyse your search performance, keyword usage and placement, search engine results pages (SERPs) and your competitors’ performance too. What’s not to like?
Before we get onto your options in choosing a free tool, let’s check in on the reasons why you need an SEO audit.
Why do you need an SEO audit in the first place?
- Offer a better user experience
You will want to pinpoint elements on your website that need improving to boost its performance and keep content fresh, relevant and valuable.
- Ensure your content is optimised for SEO and stay on top of Google updates
These words can send shivers down the backs of content marketers trying to understand the impact of changes to Google’s algorithms on their SEO strategy. Google does not explicitly explain the methodology that it uses to rank websites. It’s never easy to figure out what Google’s up to. But you do need to be on top of any changes to make sure your website is optimised as the search giant’s ranking strategy evolves.
What should you be auditing?
Here’s a quick list of the types of on-page and off-page components of an SEO audit. There are more advanced, technical components that you will probably need to pay for as part of a full, professional package. But for now, we’re sticking with the core basics.
- The quality of your on-page content
Content – Google’s Panda algorithm will reward sites with high quality content and penalise sites with low quality content that is of little value to searchers. In essence, Panda is on the lookout for ‘thin content‘. If the algorithm determines that page is poor quality, Google could take two steps.
- It could simply decide that the content on a page does not answer the search intent of a user so it does not rank highly.
- It could issue a penalty and exclude your website from its results pages altogether (these are usually issued to websites that try to intentionally game Google).
‘Thin content’ includes pages with shallow articles that do not add any depth to the readers to a topic, or pages that are full of images with no introductory text or contextual information. Duplicate content is also seen as ‘thin content’. Duplicate content in itself is not grounds for a penalty. But you could be penalised if the duplication was intentional. Not duplicating any content in the first place is always the safest bet.
Keywords – you also need to pay attention to where you place keywords to make sure you are optimising a page or post for SEO You will want to use keywords that match and answer search intent in your titles, in the content, in meta titles and descriptions, page URL and images.
An SEO audit will analyse your keyword placement and usage and give suggestions on how to better optimise your landing pages with the right focus keyword. You can also improve SEO performance by mapping keywords to specific pages to keep the content on each page unique.
- Titles / content – stuffing keywords into your titles and body text = poor quality content = ‘thin content’. Google became way too sophisticated years ago to be duped by this type of SEO tactic.
- Meta titles and descriptions – while it is tempting to saturate titles and descriptions with keywords (and it’s not against Google’s guidelines) it doesn’t make it any clearer to the searcher why the result is relevant to them. The example that Google’s John Mueller gives is a florist in Brighton that uses “wedding flowers Brighton, funeral flowers Brighton, anniversary flowers Brighton” etc. in the title . This only tells a searcher that you sell flowers for specific events. Rewriting titles like these will improve click through rates when the title better matches more nuanced search intent. For example, if someone is looking for flower delivery in Brighton. An SEO tool will help you fix things like this.
- Images – you will want to make sure that you have included ‘alt text’ (including your focus keyword) for the feature image on a page at a minimum. ‘Alt text’ is simply a description that you add when you upload an image. It is used by screen reading tools to tell users what the image is about. It also gives Google contextual information on what the page is about for visual search.
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- Drive more traffic
- Increase sales
- Entice customers
- Revolutionise your brand identity
You will want to analyse all the backlinks pointing at your website, see what types of content is being linked to by specific referring domains, identify any gaps in your link building strategy and disavow or remove harmful links. You will also want to remedy any broken links.
- Website performance
Page speed – an SEO tool will analyse any page and then provide suggestions on how to improve loading speeds. You will want your pages to load fast on any device.
Website structure – use an SEO tool to check that the architecture on your site is sound to make for a great UX. You may also want to check that any schema markups are also working to make it easy for search engines to analyse your content.
- Competitor analysis
If your competitors run regular SEO health checks and you are not, chances are they are outperforming you in the SERPs. You will want to rinse and repeat elements of your SEO audit to research your competitors too.
What are the best free SEO tools?
Let’s take a look at some of the best free SEO tools out there for you to try for yourself to audit your website. You don’t need to be a specialist or spend hours looking at rows and rows of meaningless data to improve your SEO.
We want to give you an unbiased overview so you can choose the right free tool for your business.. The best tools are put through the wringer by SEO experts and used day in, day out by brands and agencies – big and small. Free definitely does not mean cheap. You’ll probably have heard about businesses using tools that generate reports that are full of complex SEO-speak and useless information that is heavy on errors but light on solutions. Reports that call out the issues are not helpful if there is no strategy to fix them. So, bear in mind that tools should always come with actionable data to improve your SEO.
As Moz points out, the stand-out free tools are:
- Widely used and recommended by the SEO community
- Offer above-board value and actionable data
- Actually, truly free
With all of this is mind, here are four tools to try for yourself.
- Screaming Frog
Why we like it: The free version of the Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a comprehensive tool that lets you crawl 500 urls. You can: find broken links, errors and redirects, analyse page titles and meta data, find exact matches of duplicate content and generate XML sitemaps – plus a whole heap more.
Try it: Screaming Frog
Why we like it: Ubersuggest is a free tool that offers extended SEO capabilities. It is strong on competitor analysis. You can look at how your competitors’ SEO is wired (and their content strategy) to see if there’s anything you can rewire for your business. For example, the SEO Top Pages report tells you which of competitors’ pages are ranking well for specific organic keywords, and the sites where the content performs well.
Try it: Ubersuggest
Why we like it: Ahrefs’ SEO toolbar is an extension for Chrome and Firefox. You don’t need an Ahrefs account to use its awesome free features and you can analyse any web page or Google SERP. Features include a quick on-page SEO report for any page in your browser – so again it’s really useful for competitor analysis. You can check page titles, meta descriptions, word counts and much, much more. You get instant access to page and domain metrics and SERP overlay data (see below). The toolbar has had a big facelift and is worth checking out.
Why we like it: MozBar is also a free Chrome and Firefox extension to do your SEO on the move. Get instant metrics while viewing any page or SERP and it’s super useful for competitor analysis too. It’s a really simple way to view on-page SEO elements and link data Moz will automatically display the Page Authority and Domain Authority of every page that you view. SERP overlay also means you get instant metrics to compare the results.
Try it: MozBar
We hope you find these tips helpful in finding the right free tool to run an SEO audit. These tools have been tried and tested by SEO ninjas that live and breathe this stuff. We picked four tools that have comprehensive free features. But there are tools out there that are great for one element of your SEO strategy. Answer The Public, for example, is great for keyword research. It pulls the questions on a topic that people are actually asking (from Google’s auto-complete results) so you can fine-tune your keyword strategy to match and answer real questions, and find new topics to write about. You can do two free searches per day. This is what the results for “content marketing” look like.
You could also try Google Search Console, which helps you understand and improve how Google sees your website. Whether you are a business owner, a SEO specialist or marketer, site administrator or web developer, the advice from Google is anyone with a website should be using the tool to monitor, maintain and troubleshoot your site’s presence in its SERPs. Don’t forget to also use Google Analytics, which isn’t strictly an SEO tool, to give you powerful insights into how users experience your site, traffic flow and how it reaches your site, and the content that works the hardest for you. You’ll want to monitor any improvements.
Finally … paid SEO audits are worth considering if you are seeking a full, professional technical audit. But as Moz tells us, 75% of what you need is covered by free SEO audit tools. Go on, give it all a try. Meanwhile, let us know in the Comments section below about any tools that you have already tried and how it helped you improve your SEO.