Just as a there are tools which make the process of building a house easier, there are tools which make the process of ranking a website at the top of a search engine easier.
Every seasoned SEO professional has their own arsenal of SEO tools which they use every day to help them rank websites. It saves time, effort and provides a strong advantage against those competitors who do not use the same tools.
Here are 11 of the SEO tools which I use on a regular basis to rank websites at the top of the search engines. You'll note that there is a strong focus on Google - this is because ranking a website at the top of Google will, in my experience, drive anywhere between 10x and 100x the traffic of a top ranking in Yahoo or MSN combined.
1. Google Adwords Keyword Tool - this is a free tool provided by Google, which provides keyword suggestions based on 'descriptive words' or 'website content'. Although this tool is made to assist Google Adwords advertisers, you can use it to research SEO keywords as well, by selecting 'Exact' from the 'Match Type' drop down menu. The best thing about this tool is that you can see estimated traffic volumes for exact match phrases within any country where Google has a search engine. And what better place to get keyword suggestions than from the search engine which controls the lion share of search engine traffic online?
2. Google Adwords Traffic Estimator - this is a free tool provided by Google, which provides Adwords advertisers with an estimated cost of running a PPC campaign using specific keyword phrases. Use it like this: export the exact match keywords from the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, paste them into the Google Traffic Estimator, select the country you are optimising in, run the search and then sort the keywords in descending order by 'estimated cost per day'. This is a great way of identifying the keywords which may have high traffic volumes but don't convert very well, because those phrases which do not produce revenue for advertisers will have a low cost-per-click and an overall lower estimated cost per day as a result.
3. Google Webmaster Tools - this is a free service provided by Google to provide information to website owners about how Google views their website. You can see the top search queries which produce traffic for your site, as well as the top keyword rankings which you have. You can also see how many back links each page on your site has, as well as which sites are linking to each page. Other features include uploading an XML sitemap, generating robots.txt files, removing URLs and finding broken URLs on your website. Use every tool available in the Google Webmaster Tools service.
4. XML Sitemap Generator - use this tool to generate an XML sitemap of your entire site, and then upload the sitemap inside of Google Webmaster Tools. If your site is less than 500 pages then the free version is fine. But if it is larger than 500 pages you will need to purchase the full version, which then needs to be installed on your server.
5. Search Status - this is a Firefox plugin which provides a range of competitor SEO analysis information through a toolbar, including Page Rank, Alexa Rank, Yahoo Back links, Highlighting No follow Links, Indexed Pages and Who's Information.
6. SEO Quake - this is another Firefox plugin which provides information similar to Search Status. The main difference with SEO Quake is that it displays the competitor analysis information within the search results, rather than the toolbar, which means that you can see information such as Page Rank, Backlinks, and Domain Age etc. without having to actually visit a website.
7. Google Analytics - this is a free analytics service provided by Google. Simply open an account and paste the tracking code on every page of your website and you'll be able to see a wide range of information about your website visitors. For SEO purposes, you want to look at the 'traffic by non-paid keywords' report to see which keywords are producing traffic for your site. Setup conversion tracking and sort the list in descending order by keywords which are producing the highest number of conversions. Keep an eye on this report to find new keywords which are driving traffic and conversions which you weren't aware of and then focus SEO efforts on them as well.
8. Wordpress - this is the leading blogging platform for SEO professionals because of the internal linking structure of the blog software as well as the customisations and plugins available. Maintaining a regularly updated Wordpress blog will have significant impact on your SEO rankings.
9. Pingoat - once you have setup your blog and have posted some articles on it, use Pingoat to notify the RSS directories of your blog. This will build exposure to your blog as well as incoming links from those directories.
10. RSS Submit - similar to Pingoat, this is a piece of software which will notify additional RSS directories of your blog. To notify all of the RSS directories available in the software you will need to purchase the full version.
11. Google Trends - this is yet another free service by Google which shows the trends of particular keywords over time. You can compare the trends of multiple keywords against one another, with a specified country. As the process of ranking a website at the top of a search engine can take 12 months or more, you want to make sure that the trend of your target keyword is moving in an upwards direction.
12. SEO Elite - although this software is not free, it is great piece of software which you will need to use to monitor your ranking improvements over time, as well as analysing competitor backlinks for new linking opportunities. Although there are many free pieces of software available online, this SEO software is definitely worth the investment (note: I no longer use this software to monitor rankings as my needs have grown over time, as will yours, but this is a great piece of software to use when starting out).
As with any toolset, you will gain the maximum advantage by using all of the tools in conjunction with one another. For example, you will conduct keyword research using the Google Keyword Suggestion Tool. You then export the results into the Google Traffic Estimator. Take your top 3 phrases and put them into Google Trends. Type each of those phrases into Google. Use SearchStatus and SEO Quake to research your competitors, and so on…
The process of ranking a website at the top of Google takes a long, focused, consistent effort and is difficult even at the best of times. Using every tool you have at your disposal will give you an unfair advantage and will make the process that much easier.