If you’re interested in search engine optimization—that is, helping your site rank higher on Google—there are endless tools available, but many will cost you thousands of dollars a year. On the other hand, if the data is not good, the price is irrelevant. Fortunately there are many terrrific resources available for SEO research on a budget, listed below. I created this list of free/cheap SEO Tools for an SEO class I’m teaching in San Francisco. Much of it was gleaned of many years of research in running my own digital marketing business. I primarily work with authors, nonprofits, musicians and other creatives, so maximizing their SEO budget is always a priority. Below the best free tools I’ve found for SEO research.
Free Keyword Research Tools
These companies offer an alternative to Google’s Keyword Tool. Since this data is valuable, most offer a limited number of searches for free. No matter your SEO budget, keyword research is essential, so give these a try.
Free keyword research in exchange for giving Neil data from your Google Search Console (e.g., list sites, view crawl errors). If you’re willing to do that, this is a good place to start as it also includes free reports for many of the other sections of this page:
- site audit
- top-ranking pages for your competitors
- competitor (or self) domain overview
- backlink reports
Reports can be downloaded as CSV files.
3 free searches daily, with free account
Three searches daily, or 13 for registered users. If you’re doing SEO with no budget but want a career in SEO, this is a good tool since the premium version is used by professionals.
Key features of SEMRush:
- Keyword research
- Domain overview
- Advertising Research
- Backlinks data
20 free queries monthly. If you’re doing SEO on a budget you could make a habit of running a search every week and using that data throughout the week. Moz is a well-respected brand in the SEO community as well.
- Allows export of free searches
- Variety of filters
- Relevancy and search volume
Based on data from SEMRush, free search volume data, can be exported. Must be willing to give them your email address to get results. WEbConfs has quite a few free SEO tools to check out.
Free trial allows you to analyze 200 keywords
They will suggest actions based on the the keyword results.
Search competitor domains for posts on the keyword topic of your choosing. Returns a list of links mentioning your keyword on those sites. Free.
A Cheap Keyword Tool for Even the Smallest SEO Budget
No longer free but still a bargain. Keywords Everywhere is a browser add-on that will give you keyword research data right there in your Google search results. They had some trouble with bots, so they had to charge a nominal fee: $10 for 10,000 searches. The only downside is it runs for every search, regardless of whether you’re using the tool for SEO or to look up the latest Marvel movie, but they’ve added an on/off switch so you don’t have to waste those searches. Still a great deal, but it would be wise to disable to the app when you’re not using it, or set up a different default search engine.
Keyword Research: Google Related Search Expanders
Free tools that parse out the data Google suggests with autocomplete or Related Searches. Generally these tools don’t provide search volume, so you’ll need to put the results into a keyword tool to discern which is best.
I am not totally sure this tool is based on autosuggest, they don’t reveal that except for the name of the tool itself. But it is completely free, including search volume, even for exports.
Generates keywords based on Google’s Autocomplete feature. Will let you search for free, but not view the search volume.
All of Google’s autosuggest completions related to your keyword, broken down alphabetically. Free. Export available. No search volume.
A search engine that returns other search queries people might be looking for, in the form of a question. A good way to find new topics on a particular keyword. Includes the results you’d get from the Yoast tool as well. However, the results are not exportable and you only get a handful of daily searches for free.
This tool is so simple but I love it! What it does is take a list of keywords and combine them all together. For example, if you wanted to research dog grooming keywords, you might need to look up dog shampoo, dog grooming, dog groomers, etc. and you might also want to see if people search for particular dog breeds for each of those keywords (dog shampoo maltese, dog shampoo dalmation, dog shampoo shit zu… etc.). Writing all of these out manually is cumbersome and it’s easy to make a mistake. With Kombinator you would plug in the list of keywords, the list of dog breeds, and it would combine every iteration into a new column which you can copy-paste into your keyword research tool.
Free Competitive Research Tools
Most competitive research companies also offer traditional keyword research too. So if you max out the options above give some of these a try. You may also try the Domain Analysis tools below, but using your competitor’s domains. If you’re SEO budget is tight, competitive research is a fast way to get results that work.
Top keywords your competitors use, both paid and natural search, as well as suggestions of other competitors you should research.
Compare your keyword density to your competitor; see a word map of the keyword density of any website.
See your competitors organic and paid keywords and see what their ads look like. They also offer keyword research, but I haven’t gotten useful results from it yet.
Free Backlink Checkers
You can use these tools to figure out who is linking to you. But more importantly, you can use these tools to figure out who is linking to your competition.
AHrefs is arguably the leading premium SEO tool on the market. To sample their product, they share their backlink checker for free.
Free Broken Link Checkers (Find 404s on Your Site)
These budget SEO tools willl help you find and fix broken links on your site. I don’t use them often because most of the sites I run use WordPress, so I opt for free broken link checker plugins like Broken Link Checker and Redirection.
Free Site Audits (Domain Analysis)
The big keyword search/competitive research sites above can also be used to analyze your own domain, and many of the bigger companies also provide site audits. The tools SEMRush and UberSuggest in particular provide enough free data to be considered site audit tools. Keep in mind that any site audit tool can also be used for competitive research, by searching your competitor rather than your own domain. The report offered by CanIRank (linked above) is detailed enough to be called a site audit. All these budget SEO tools provide enough data to get started improving your domain.
Another Moz tool with limited free uses, this one tells you domain authority and inbound link data.
A number of free tools to analyze and improve your site. Their SEO site test will review your headings, keyword density and consistency, alt tags, broken links, and more. They have sections for how your site performs on various devices, site speed load time, security, social media integration and a list of recommended actions.
Similar to SEOptimer, SEO Site Checkup’s audit tool has a general SEO report followed by sections for site speed, server & security, and mobile usibility. You can download the results as a PDF. Without an account you can only review one website per day.
Another site audit tool, this one has the added feature that you can tell it what keyword you’d like to associate with the site. While Optimer and Site Checkup provide similar results, SEOrch had some additional features. They will tell you a more detailed breadown of how keywords are used throughout your site and which keywords your site is currently most likely to be able to rank for. There’s also a backlinks report.
NOTE: the audit refers to results as “the website” but I believe it’s testing only the web page you send it. Results are only for the home page, or whatever specific page you give it to review. (Something to consider with other sites testing tools.)
Nibbler will give you a free report scoring the SEO of your site out of 10 for key areas, including accessibility, SEO, social media and technology. Limited to three reports.
I like that Nibbler tells you exactly which pages it reviews. For example, when I tested this site, it left out the SEO Budget Resources page, so I kept that in mind when reviewing the results (and probably need to update my sitemap!).
Social Media Marketing Tools You Can Use for Free
These are not SMM tools for scheduling or automation, rather they are tools to use social media for your SEO research or analysis.
Search engine results are the most shared stories on social media related to your keyword. Shows how many shares the linked article has on various social networks.
Free tool will let you find the most common keywords in any subreddit, and you can export your research data to CSV.
Website Speed Tests
Page speed load time is a factor in your SEO. Using these tools you can figure out how fast your pages load, and what can be done to make them load faster so you can increase your page rank. These tools are all free with no limitations on use. The results are quite detailed!
I prefer GTMetrix because they offer a free export of the data.
Free SEO Tools Provided by Search Engines
You’ll need an account to access these, if you have a Gmail account you can use that for any of the Google properties. Also see Google’s PageSpeed Insights above.
This was once the holy grail of SEO data, but in 2017 they decided to restrict access to the best data for those who aren’t spending money on Adwords. The amount you have to spend to get the full data is unclear, because it is based on auctions rather than a fixed price. Now the free software provides only orders of magnitude. If you are spending over a hundred dollars a month on Google ads, you should be making use of this tool.
This is to give Google info about how your website is organized. For example, you can use it to handle redirects, tell Google which variation of url structure to prefer, and at the very list to give Google your sitemap.xml.
Google isn’t the only game in town. Haven’t tired this, but since they don’t own the market share I presume they will be generous with their data. I’d love to hear from someone who has made use of it for SEO. If that’s you, say hello.
This is the tool you use to get metrics on your own site’s traffic. If you have a website, you should absolutely have Google Analytics. It will tell you how people are coming to your site, what pages they are viewing, what search terms they’re using, what devices they are on, how long they stay, and more. If you are wondering which topics are working for you, or which social networks are actually gaining you site traffic, Analytics will provide the answers.
Not exactly an SEO tool, but if you are struggling to get traffic remember you can always buy it, and for cheap. Sometimes we need to test what is working on a site and for that we need traffic. So it can be wise to buy traffic with Google Ads, use that traffic to run some A/B Tests, and use that data to improve our site, so we can get more organic traffic and raise our SE ranking.
A neat tool that shows you Google trends in relation to time or state data.
Another free tool from Google, this site will give you a grade on whether or not the site performs well on a variety of mobile devices. The report is not exhaustive, but if you don’t score well the first thing I’d suggest is looking at the site on your cell phone or tablet and see how it does. Of course, different phones will perform differently so this is also not all the data you need, but sometimes it’s good to go back to the source rather than relying strictly on testing data.
Free Guest Posting Tools
SEOs call it “gaining backlings” but it’s also a great way to grow your online community.
A clever Google Sheets macro that helps you find guest posting opportunities with Twitter searches.
Unfortunately the old blog listing Techonorati is no longer around, and this is the best blog directory I’ve found to replace it. If you know of a more comprehenisve (but still updated) blog directory, please drop me an email or send me a twee to let me know.
Learn to Add/Use Structured Data
If you’ve ever wondered how websites get subheaders for the different sections of their site on Google search results, here is your answer. Meta tags are attributes you add to your site content (in the HTML) to speak not to humans, but to other computers. For example, you can mark some part of your content as an address and another part as a phone number, and then computer scripts that are designed to work with addresses and phone numbers could interact with that content. That way Google knows what to look for when someone searches for a phone number, for example, and could even write code that allows searchers to call you by clicking on that number in the search results.
There are hundreds of meta tags, but the ones that are most talked about now—and the tags that get your site’s subsections into Google search results—are the structured data tags oulined in Schema.org. Since this is such a big category to explore, it is best to start with that site.
“I’m Overwhelmed by All These Free SEO Tools! Where do I start?”
Isn’t it terrific that so many companies share this data for free? The Internet is amazing.
I tend to lean towards UberSuggest, because there is no limit on the number of searches you can run, let’s you export the data, and provides info on backlinks and competitors. I also like Nei’s site and podcast so I’m happy to send traffic his way. I pay for the Keywords Everywhere app, but keep it turned off unless I’m intending to do research. I also regularly make use of Yoast Autosuggest and AnswerThePublic to expand my keyword ideas list. CanIRank is another tool I like to use when exploring the possibilities for improving a site’s rank.
If you are using these tools in the hopes of landing a professional SEO or marketing job, I recommend making an effort to use the AHrefs backlink checker and the limited reports from SEMRush, MOZ open site explorer, as well as the Google Keyword Planner, as the premium versions of these tools are often used by professional SEOs.
“How the Heck do I Use These Free SEO Tools?”
Most of the sites above offer tons of free advice on how to improve search engine ranking. The concepts aren’t difficult but there are about 200 factors that Google considers and what works best is a constantly moving target. When I want to share marketing advice with my clients, I do so very occasionally on my Facebook page. If you have an SEO question, that’s a great place to ask it.
If you want to invest in a head start on SEO fundamentals, I do offer paid consultations. I also teach SEO at several tech schools in San Francisco, and that may be more affordable than private consultations. These classes are very small (3-6 students) so it is very much a personalized experience. I use the students’ own websites for class examples and tailor the lessons to the areas they need the most help understanding. Some of these classes offer substantial discounts to nonprofits, youth, and the unemployed. Get in touch with me for more info on any of these options.