How to pick the best SEO tools for your agency

We got asked by other agencies we train how to pick the most useful SEO tools to add to their toolkit.

A tech stack, also known as a technology stack, refers to the combination of technologies used to build and run a website or application. You need to develop your SEO tool stack. I don’t recommend depending on a single tool to do your work. You will need to rely on a mix of free and paid tools. 

There are several criteria you should consider when picking the right SEO tools for your agency:

You should adopt a need first approach. Lizzi Sassman’s esteemed colleague explains it quite well “I wouldn't go to a tool and say "oh neat, I'll do that", like you wouldn't go to a hammer and say, "wow, I can put nails into all the walls now". I mean, I guess you could, but if you have specific goals, you kinda want to make progress on them. (And, no judging, if your goal is to have fun with hammers, go for it.)”

  • Cost: Choose tools that fit your budget and offer the features you need.
  • Ease of use: Look for tools that are user-friendly and have a simple learning curve.
  • Functionality: Make sure the tools you choose have the features you need to effectively perform SEO tasks, such as keyword research, site auditing, and link analysis.
  • Integration: Consider whether the tools you choose can integrate with other tools and platforms you use, such as your project management software.
  • Customer support: It's important to choose tools that offer excellent customer support in case you run into any issues or have questions.

"I was using SEMRush but didn't like how they didn't make it easy to quit. I had to email them. And I still got billed. They refunded my money in the end but geez." Seth Goldstein - Creator, Podcaster, Writer, Marketer, WordPresser, SEOer & Journalist

  • Data accuracy: Make sure the tools you choose provide accurate and up-to-date data.
  • Scalability: If you anticipate your agency growing in the future, choose tools that can scale with you.

Figure out what the most recommended tools are and if they suit your needs. Tools like SEMRush invest heavily in marketing and affiliation. This means that some of the hype may be artificially generated. You need to focus on your needs first and foremost. But, if asked, I will absolutely confirm that SEMRush is worth the hype. Because I work with it regularly, I can attest to how good it is and how much more work I’d have to do by hand without it. 

Here are some of the most recommended/talked about tools

    This list is by no means exhaustive. I may keep adding to it as time goes on:

    • Ahrefs
    • SEMRush
    • Screaming Frog
    • Sitebulb
    • Lumar
    • Oncrawl
    • Moz
    • Spyfu
    • SERPstat
    • KWfinder
    • Majestic
    • Google Analytics
    • Google Search Console
    • SEO Chrome Extension Tool - SEOquake

    Look for reviews of the tool written by people who have actually used it. This can give you a good idea of its effectiveness and ease of use. Do not hesitate to go on YouTube to see a live demo of the tool. 

    Consult with your peers in the industry who have experience with the tool and get their input on its effectiveness. Go on LinkedIn, find proper SEO groups or go to Slack channels and ask for other people’s opinions but make sure to provide your specific context (what type of agency, budget, clients, services, etc.)

    Make sure you will use an SEO tool before you buy it

    There is nothing worse than paying for an expensive tool that you barely use. You need to figure out what your use will be before you commit to a yearly subscription. Here’s my advice:

    • Determine your needs: write down what you would like to do. Make a list of the specific tasks you need the tool to perform to benchmark each tool.

    "I suggest looking at the workflow of each tool - how you build it into your workflow and what the tool outputs. Everyone will do this slightly differently but worth thinking about as you want to build a repeatable #seo workflow." - Simon Cox, potential Viking, confirmed SEO expert.

    • Try a free trial: many tools offer free trials to test out the tool and see if it meets your needs before committing to a purchase. Come up with a solid plan of what you can do within the demo period to test it out.

    "Most #seo tools do trials - pick several in the same category and trial them at the same time on the same project and see which you like best but importantly put time aside to learn each. And make notes." Simon Cox, SEO expert and owner of a very impressive beard.

    • Get a monthly subscription to see how you use it in real-life situations before committing to a full purchase.Figure out which clients and deliverables you would use the tool for. This will allow you to see how well it works and whether it is a good fit for your needs. 

    Here’s John’s advice: clear it with legal and security first and foremost.

    “Finally, this one is a bit corporate, but if I want to use a tool within a company, the company might have guidelines. For me, that means tools which break Google's Terms of Service are out of the question (this includes a ton of SEO tools, fwiw, and they tend not to mention it). Also, I might have restrictions on how I can share data (running locally in a controlled environment is easier than 3rd-party cloud-based systems).”

    Types of tools you need

    There are many SEO tools available, and the specific tools you need will depend on the services you offer and the needs of your clients. Here are the tools most SEO agencies will rely on:

    • Keyword research tools: These tools help you find the right keywords to target in your SEO campaigns. Examples include SERPstat, SEMrush, and Google Keyword Planner and Google Search Console.
    • Site audit tools: These tools help you identify technical SEO issues on a website and suggest ways to fix them. Examples include Screaming Frog, Oncrawl, Lumar, and Sitebulb.
    • Rank tracking tools: These tools help you track the ranking of your clients' websites for specific keywords on search engines. Examples include Mangools, SEMrush, and Pro Rank Tracker.
    • Link analysis tools: These tools help you analyze the links pointing to your clients' websites and evaluate the quality of those links. Examples include Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Majestic.
    • Content optimization tools: These tools help you optimize the content on your clients' websites for specific keywords. Examples include, SEMrush, and Surfer.
    • Local SEO tools: These tools help you optimize your clients' websites for local search. Examples include BrightLocal and Moz Local.
    • Reporting tools: These tools help you create SEO reports for your clients showing the progress of your campaigns. Examples include SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Google Looker Studio.

    Tools we use in our agency

    You need to figure out what tools do and what problem they solve for you efficiently. Here’s another amazing quote from John Mueller, cheese lover and the tip of the Google Search Liaison team iceberg. “I wouldn't want to use a tool that I have no idea about what it does. If I need to connect 2 pieces of wood, I heard that a blow-torch is good for connecting things, so let's just try it out, what could possibly go wrong? it's just a tool! Well, maybe I should read up on what it actually does first. (Again, no judging if you just like blowtorches or using random machinery and like seeing what happens.)”

    Here’s what we have in our toolkit (no blowtorches are ever used in our day-to-day work):

    • Content tuning: Google Search Console and
    • Our overall SEO tools to check backlinks, competition, ranking, etc.: SERPstat or SEMRush (some clients prefer one or the other). 
    • Technical SEO: last year it was Sitebulb, this year it’s Screaming Frog. All crawlers out there are pretty great, it comes down to a question of price for a two-person agency. Screaming Frog was cheaper and my partner tends to favor it out of habit. 
    • Content production: Frase is a great tool to manage SEO content production. You can create briefs, optimize existing content easily, research and plan your content, create outlines and more. It has amazing Google Search Console and Google Docs integrations. 
    • Mindmapping: ContextMinds is a tool that enables you to create visualization of semantic clusters with keywords and queries that include volume or other pertinent SEO information. 

    Time to get started! If you want to take a deep-dive into the topic, A Guide to Essential SEO Tools for Agencies. It’s an ebook you can download from Search Engine Journal. All of the quotes are from this Mastodon thread.

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