My interest in SEO comes from both the fact that I'm a blogger and the fact that we use search engines daily. Of course, we want search engines like Google to return us the best results for our queries. Last year was quite a crazy year, full of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. While covid19 vaccines are on a roll, it is hard to predict when the world will go back to normal, if ever. The world has taken a digital direction in many areas, from education to entertainment. So, 2021 is a good year to enhance your digital presence.
Start a blog or a YouTube channel, for instance. This article focuses on bloggers, online businesses, and website owners who want to improve their organic traffic from Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine out there. So let's talk about the best SEO tools in 2021 that can greatly boost your efforts to gain that much-desired organic traffic.
But before we do, let me clarify what I believe matters when assessing SEO tools. SEO is about data. What SEO experts, bloggers, or online entrepreneurs need is data that is relevant, recent, and as accurate as possible.
Read also: Semrush review
- If the backlink audit you perform on one of your competitors returned an accurate profile 8 months ago, you indeed acquire some insights into your competitors' strategy. But would you be happy with it? I wouldn't.
- When you perform keyword research, you want access to the latest search volumes, the latest SERP results, and features, along with a keyword difficulty that is as close to reality as possible. There is no short-term gain if you target high volume and high difficulty keywords in 2021, and you eventually rank for them in 2022 or 2023.
- Similarly, performing a domain overview as part of your competitor research needs to provide relevant data. Your goal is to dissect a competitor's traffic sources, website structure, internal and external link-building.
Your SEO work takes months to come to fruition and it's not just a matter of having one or two good posts. Nobody wants to waste months working on their SEO and get zero actionable results.
Why Most SEO Tools Suck
Essentially, I already answered this question in the opening section. Most SEO tools suck because the companies behind them cannot afford to get the latest data from Google or use web crawlers at the scale Google and other search engines do.
Essentially, what everyone tries to do is package the search engine data in the best way possible for us SEO experts to review them act upon them. You will see tools that specialize in position tracking, keyword research, etc. These tools are not high-quality tools, and they try to mask deficiencies with good marketing.
The first tool that falls in this category and comes to every expert's mind is Ubersuggest. Ubersuggest is good at providing keyword ideas, but its accuracy is terrible as I will show you.
SEO Tool Deficiency #1: Backlink Audits
I'm going to show you Borderpolar's backlink audits from four different SEO tools and you can come to your own conclusions about this. Also, keep in mind that a lot of the 2nd and 3rd tier tools just rent data from Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz. Same product different package.
Borderolar's Backlink Profile – Ahrefs
I'm not going to show you all the data as it is impossible, but based on manual inspection Ahrefs has the most accurate backlink audit among SEO tools.
Borderpolar's Backlink Profile – SEMrush
It seems to me that SEMrush has found a ton of backlinks, which of course implies spam, but it is quite slow at backlink discovery. It has probably found some backlinks Ahrefs hasn't but overall Ahrefs has found more referring domains. It's hard to tell how recent the data is, but I can assure you that new backlinks I expect show up much faster on Ahrefs.
Borderpolar's Backlink Profile – Moz
I love Moz as a company as they have offered a lot to SEO experts. But Moz is trailing behind SEMrush and Ahrefs and it shows. It has discovered half the domains SEMrush has and a quarter of what Ahrefs finds.
Borderpolar's Backlink Profile – Ubersuggest
As you can see, Ubersuggest has just rented Moz's data. Told you so.
Borderpolar's Backlink Profile – Majestic
Majestic specializes in backlink audits, but I really don't see any high-quality backlink discovery here. It's better than Moz but far behind SEMrush and Ahrefs.
Borderpolar's Backlink Profile – Diib
Diib is trailing even further behind but I have to admit that my interest in the service goes beyond its SaaS SEO tool which I consider just basic.
List of the Top SEO Tools in 2021
I will start the list with free or cheap SEO tools you can use to grow your organic traffic and then proceed to more expensive choices, which are considered the best SEO tools all around. However, I don't recommend the more advanced tools to new bloggers and or people that lack advanced SEO expertise.
Note: My experience shows me that you can get the latest data for keywords from Google Keyword Planner and Google trends, although they are not very polished, followed by, Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz Pro, followed by cheaper tools like Ubersuggest.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is a tool that aims primarily at those who want to advertise their website or blog and look for the best keywords for paid search traffic. So what does it have to do with organic search traffic? In these cases, we will not use Google Keyword Planner for its actual purpose, Google Ads campaign building. Instead, we will use it to get keyword ideas for organic Google traffic.
The main thing that Google Keyword Provides is avg. monthly searches for a keyword, competition, and the top of the page bid for a keyword. Now, of course, you care, to an extent, about the search volume, but more importantly, the competition level and the highest bid are even more important. When you see high bids for a keyword, it means that it converts, so you should try to rank for it and go to the first page, if you can.
How to use Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner provides much more up-to-date data about monthly search volume that can get as recent as the previous month, along with keyword competition estimates. So when you find keywords in Ubersuggest, you can head to Google Keyword Planner and see if they are still working out well and whether the competition has remained low, especially for those much-needed long-tail-keywords. And now the final piece to the puzzle. As you can see in the above image Google Keyword Planner provides keyword ideas. Moreover, you can get data as recent as November 2020, as of January 3rd of 2021.
Google Trends will show you the trend for a particular keyword going as recent as one hour ago. It will also provide you with rising keyword ideas. This way you can find out whether a keyword you want to target is gaining or losing popularity. It will also provide related queries which you can test in other tools like Google Keyword Planner.
How to use Google Trends
Initially, you start with Ubersuggest to find keywords ideas. Then you head to Google Keyword Planner to make sure that these keywords still have low competition. Finally, you will head to Google Trends to ensure that these keyword ideas are still popular and find even more keyword ideas. The great thing about combining these three tools is that you can do all this for free and still be competitive.
I consider Keywords Everywhere an alternative to Ubersuggest. Keywords everywhere is an extension that shows you related keywords whenever you type in a Google or YouTube search. The great thing about this is that you can add these keywords to the first three tools and start building your keyword strategy.
How to use Keywords Everywhere
Keywords Everywhere is a Chrome/Firefox extension. Just type in the keyword of interest in Google Search and Keywords Everywhere will show you what users also search for and allow you to create a keyword list based on the seed keyword. As you can see in the above image Keywords Everywhere provides you with related keywords for the term you search for and what people also search for. What it doesn't provide for free is the search volume and competition score and that's why you need to resort to the other free tools on this list to discover them.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another free tool by Google that provides many useful key features such as:
- Performance on search results for keywords. You can see your actual ranking for each keyword your pages rank for and improve those that are close to the first page. Keyword position is vital and having access to it with a free tool is priceless.
- Google News performance, a very useful feature showing the performance of every article you post on Google News.
- Mobile Usability: It checks your pages for inconveniences for mobile users such as content wider than the screen, text too small to read, and clickable elements that are too close together. This is extremely useful as it ensures that you won't get penalized on mobile SERP due to providing suboptimal content.
- Core Web Vitals: Eventually, this will matter significantly, from May and on.
- Crawler Coverage: Ensures that all the submitted pages are still available for Google's spiders and robots.
There is a lot Google Search Console can do, and that makes it amazing, especially for a free tool.
As described in the Ahrefs website, this tool is an “all-in-one SEO toolset” where you can optimize your website, analyze your competitors, study your customers' searches, analyze your industry's top-performing content, and track your ranking progress. Ahref is my tool of choice of On-Page SEO as it provides that for free.
Ahrefs Key Features
Ahrefs is a great SEO tools suite, arguably the best in the market. Some of its main strengths are:
- Keyword Research: Ahrefs is great at calculating keyword difficulty, search volume, the number of clicks, and CPC for target keywords.
- Competitor Analysis: You can find the top ranking keywords and pages for competitors. Ahrefs is probably the best tool in the market for the combination of Keyword Research & Competitor Analysis.
- Content Topic Research: Ahrefs does an amazing job at finding the top-performing content in your niche to give you a clear idea of what topics and keywords you need to target.
- Backlink Audits: While this is not necessarily the most important feature it is mindblowing how much faster Ahrefs reports new backlinks compared to every other tool I have tested. Mindblowing, honestly.
- Rank Tracking: This is also one of Ahrefs' best tools as it will show you your ranking history for a keyword. Once again, this is a great way to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your content and what you can do better.
How to use Ahrefs
The best way to use Ahrefs is for competitor research. You can use Ahref's content explorer to discover the best content in your industry or niche by pulling competitive content research. Ahref's content analysis will help you determine which content your blog should be about to outperform your competitors' content.
As shown in the image from Ahref's website, all you need to do is type your general idea on the tool's search bar, and it will show you a list of pages that have content around your general idea. In addition to finding low competition topics and link building prospects.
You can optimize your keyword research with Ahrefs as you can view the SERP Position History to inspect how the top five sites ranked for a target keyword over the last six months.
Going further, you can also view the entire top 100+ rankings for a target keyword to view competitive metrics on each and every individual domain ranking for that specific keyword: Backlinks to the post, Domain Rating (DR), Ahrefs Rank, and more. This way, you can get a clear-as-a-day of your chances to rank and how high you can get in the rankings, or what you need to do to compete for that keyword.
SEMrush is an all-inclusive SEO suite that delivers optimal search engine marketing workflow. It covers SEO, advertising (PPC Campaigns), social media, content, competitive research, and report generation for your clients if you are an agency.
SEMrush key features:
- Competitor Analysis: This feature allows the users to see the top keywords used by their competitors and compare the changes and keyword gaps between domains. This is just scratching the surface, though, as you can figure out competitors' internal and external link-building strategies.
- Advertising Research: You can analyze your competitors' advertising practices and identify opportunities for PPC traffic.
- Product Listing Ads: SEMrush enables the users to see competitors' Product Listing Ads and product feeds. This, along with Advertising Research, makes SEMrush arguably the best Search Engine Marketing (SEM) toolset available in the market.
- Traffic Analytics: SEMrush accurately tells about the online performance and Google SERP traffic of a website. SEMrush provides valuable data about the bounce rates of competitors
- Link Building: If there is one thing I really like the most about SEMrush regarding SEO, it's the link-building opportunities it provides. They are not necessarily all on-point, but it allows you to inspect them and add any potential prospects to your list. You can even use SEMrush itself for email-based backlink outreach.
- Content Topic Research: SEMrush analyzes your content, compares it to competitors for the same keywords, and provides automated recommendations to improve your rankings. This is done using the on-page SEO audit, which provides optimization ideas for your content. The content analyzer available on the Guru plan can analyze your content further and provide SEO templates along with SEMrush's writing assistant to optimize your content for search engines.
How to use SEMrush
I consider SEMrush an amazing tool overall, but the areas it really shines in are competition analysis, keyword research, on-page, and site audits. It is a great tool for content optimization, but it is also amazing for external link building since it provides a built-in platform to perform backlink outreach.
Moz is one of the leading SEO tools that covers end-to-end SEO solutions, including keyword management, crawling, and web page optimization. It helps you increase traffic, rankings, and visibility in search engines.
While not as strong in key areas as Ahrefs and SEMrush, Moz is an excellent tool, especially for those with small businesses who target local SEO.
How to use MOZ Pro
When assigned to fix your client's common technical SEO issues, give MOZ Pro a chance. Using MOZ Pro to create a site crawl and audit will help you find those technical SEO issues and show you how to fix them. For example, MOZ Pro will monitor broken redirects and missing title tags. Lastly, it will also help you prioritize the issues to tackle those who need your immediate assistance.
I'm starting this list with Ubersuggest. There are two great things about Ubersuggest. First of all, you can use it for free while the paid version with extra features costs only as low as $29.99/month. Yes, that's cheap for an SEO tool, but it also provides a lifetime license, an offer you will not find anywhere else. Ubersuggest is not the best tool on this list. Its On-Page SEO audit features are pretty basic and easily outdone by many means out there, including Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz. But Ubersuggest is arguably the best keyword research tool out there, especially when combined with Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner.
- Keyword research and keyword ideas
- Top competitors pages by traffic, check your competitors' pages that draw the most traffic and imitate them.
Ubersuggest uses 6-month old search data, so if you want the latest trends you won't get them. For a lot of industries, that is mission-critical and they should look at other tools.
How to use Ubersuggest
In essence, what you do with Ubersuggest is type a keyword or keyphrase. It will return you the keyword trend, the search volume for that keyword per month, the average cost-per-click if you want to run paid ads for that keyword along with the paid SEO difficulty and the organic SEO difficulty for that keyword; it will also provide keyword ideas based on the keyword you typed. It will also provide you with related keyword ideas, question keyword ideas, prepositions, and comparisons. All this is really great for your keyword strategy and finding the right long-tail-keywords with low SEO difficulty. So why is it not enough? Ubersuggest and almost every other SEO tool out there process search engine data a few months old. So while you can discover emerging trends, those trends were emerging a few months ago. And this leads us to the next two recommended SEO tools for 2021.
Something to keep in mind about SEO tools in 2021
It's quite clear that the more expensive tools will get you better results. At the same time, you need to keep in mind the tradeoff between ROI and your capital. Don't start investing resources on the most pricey tools unless you can afford them in the long term. As I explained, you can go a long way with free and cheap tools before you head to the SEO giants for better results. SEO is not dead in 2021, and business is booming. Stay on track and follow the leaders.