Business owners and marketers don’t necessarily need to become SEO experts, but they do need to equip themselves with enough knowledge, data and access to simple SEO tools to allow them to understand how and why one site ranks higher over another, what’s holding a site back and the most important ways to quickly analyze any page they land on.
Below is a list of the tools many SEO pros turn to when they want to initially size a site up. By familiarizing yourself with and using these tools you can turn yourself into a much more informed consumer of paid SEO services as well as enable yourself to quickly spot competitive opportunities for your business.
In addition, you may find these tools helpful when sizing up the online presence of a prospect, vendor or potential strategic partner. None of these tools are 100% accurate or foolproof, but the next time a company pitches you on their awesome SEO services you’ll have the skills to snap a picture of how good they are at their own SEO.
Search Status Firefox Plugin – If you use the Firefox browser, and for the purpose this topic I think you should, you can install a number of handy plugins that give your additional information about the pages you visit. The Search Status Plugin will give you the Alexa and Compete Rankings, so you may choose to use this instead of installing either of the toolbars listed below. It will make it easy for you to learn about the number pages a site has indexed by the various search engines, the number of sites linking back to the site you are viewing and handful of other useful things like who the site is registered to, meta data, sitemaps, keywords and keyword density (gives you a sketch of what the site is optimized for.) This is the tool I use most often to get lots of info. http://www.quirk.biz/searchstatus/
Alexa Toolbar – Alexa is a service that collects data on people surfing the Internet using the Alexa Toolbar. The key number they produce is called an Alexa Ranking. This is in theory an estimate at the amount of traffic a site receives. If you download and install the Alexa Toolbar in your browser you will automatically receive the Site ranking and other data on any domain you visit. The lower the Alexa ranking, the more traffic a site is said to receive. There is little true traffic accuracy to this number, but the fact remains it is one of the more widely used tools and if you use a range you can quickly assess the popularity of a site. I site that receives even a few hundred visitors a day will have an Alexa ranking under 1 million, for example. http://www.alexa.com/toolbar
SEOBook Toolbar – The SEOBook toolbar is a very robust tool that offers a full suite of stats right in your browser. http://tools.seobook.com/seo-toolbar/
Google Search Shortcuts – Google has a list of operators that you can use to do customer searches that will turn up lots of information on sites you are analyzing. You simply adds these search shortcuts in Google and you can slice and dice a web site up in hundreds of useful ways. I wrote an article that gives more detail on my top 10 Google shortcuts
Google Webmaster Tools – This suite of tools are mainly for spying on your own site in a way, but you need to get familiar with them. This is where you can get reports on the pages Google is crawling, where you might have broken links, the status of your site maps and any issues Google might be encountering with your site. http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
SpyFu – As the name implies this tool aims at helping you understand what a site is doing related to PPC advertising and specifically AdWords. I shows the keywords they are bidding and shows a list of competitors for the same words. This tools helps you find competitors you didn’t even know you had in some cases because they are buying all their traffic and may not be showing up in organic searh. http://www.spyfu.com/
SEMRush – Tool that offers some overlap with SpyFu, but I really like the amount of keyword data that you can dig up for keywords and phrases and quickly find out who ranks well for those phrases. http://www.semrush.com/
Wayback Machine – This tool, run as part of Alexa’s offerings is both fun and informative. The Wayback Machine allows you to look at what any site in their archive looked like going back as far as ten years in some cases. I don’t know how much practical intelligence you pick up here, but you might see a pattern in how a particular business has grown and evolved in design, offerings, and message. http://archive.org
Username Check – As social profiles become an important online asset it’s become important to check the availability of branded usernames across the growing universe of directories and networks. Username checks make it easy to do so in an organized and efficient manner and may be a way for you to claim important industry usernames before a competitor does so first. http://www.usernamecheck.com/
There you have it, put these tools to work and you’ll soon know more about every site your visit almost instantly.