StepForth has compiled a list of the tools of our trade. Some are well known and some are not but in all cases they are excellent programs worthy of your consideration.
- Keyword Research Tools
- Recommended WordPress Hosting Providers
- Web Site Analytics Tools
- Competitor Analysis Research Tools
- Web Ranking Reporting Tools
- Search Engine Friendly URL Solutions
- XML Sitemap Creation Tools
- Other Miscellaneous Must Have Tools
DISCLAIMER: we send a lot of business to these providers and we have (in some cases) become resellers as a result. This means we may receive a commission for sending you to them. In all cases, however, we have researched them thoroughly and/or have direct experience with them. These are thoroughly vetted services otherwise we would not recommend them.
Keyword Research Tools
Before conducting any search engine promotion it is extremely important to know the ‘terrain’ of your online marketplace. The following tools will aid you by providing a glimpse into the search habits of your prospective customers.
- KeywordDiscovery ($)
This is an impressive tool that will provide you with a glimpse into the annual search frequencies for particular search terms. Also of relevance is a graph provided in the paid version which outlines the seasonal use of keywords (i.e. when is your phrase searched for less during the year). This type of seasonal data can help you plan the keyword targets for varying seasons, ultimately saving you money.
- WordTracker ($) – This tool has been around a while so the services it provides are time tested and informative. WordTracker is used and recommended by the best in SEO.
- Google AdWords: Keyword Planner (FREE) – Where better to get your keyword intelligence than from the source itself? Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner is a powerful alternative to the paid options. It doesn’t offer any of the project saving capabilities or advanced query search options but the data is undeniably useful. All you need to access it is a Google AdWords account; you need not spend a penny on AdWords, just create the account.
Recommended WordPress Hosting Providers
At StepForth we do a lot of WordPress SEO and have tried our fair share of hosting companies in the process; some horrid, some okay, and some great. The following are our recommended service providers for WordPress hosting:
- WP Engine WordPress Managed Hosting ($)
Not the least expensive at approximately $30/mo. but definitely the most robust managed WordPress hosting providers we have seen. In particular, I like the fact that although they protect your website they will fix any hacks (in the unlikely event they occur) at no additional charge; whereas that can cost hundreds of dollars in other circumstances.
As a reseller of WP Engine we can offer you this discount: Get 2 months free hosting with WP Engine on any shared annual plan.
- Host Gator WordPress Managed Hosting ($)
HostGator has never steered us wrong for standard and WordPress hosting. Their services are not the cheapest, but they are very highly regarded and we have been very happy with their treatment of our clients. In general, I never recommend going less than a Business package (under $15/mo.) but if your site is low traffic and requires minimal resources the starter package ($6) may be plenty.
Website Analytics Tools
- Google Analytics (Free)
Opened to the public as a free service in August 2006 this program is very powerful and flexible. It features integration with Google Adwords promotion and a whole host of very cool reports. Google Analytics does not, however, provide fraud reporting and analysis for pay-per-click marketing.
- Omniture ($$$$)
Probably the most complex and full featured web analytics program available today. Our experience with Omniture has been very positive but the system is too intense for small business. If you have a large company or a site with loads of traffic (think millions of unique visitors per month) then this is the program for you.
- WebTrends ($$)
We had extensive experience with this program in the early years of StepForth and it was a great tool then and I hear it is holding its own with interesting new functionality being added all of the time.
Competitor Analysis Research Tools
Need to research a competitor? Are you planning to do this yourself? If so here are three of the top programs you need. Think of them as your personal SEO detective kit.
- The Above Keyword Research Tools: The keyword research tools noted near the top of this page offer the ability to find out what keywords competitors are using.
- SEMRush ($): This tool is one of the must-have tools of the StepForth tool chest. SEMRush allows you to download a list of ALL of the organic and paid search engine rankings your competitors have. These reports provide valuable insight into the marketing strategies of your competitors.
- SEO for Firefox (Free) : A great plugin from SEO Book for analyzing websites while you surf the web in the excellent (and free) FireFox web browser.
- Raven Internet Marketing Tools ($): We cannot recommend this program enough! Research and track competitors via keywords and social networks. You can also monitor a great deal of competitive data for your own website through this very popular and useful service package.
- XENU Link Sleuth (Free) : A popular tool for many SEOs, XENU can quickly analyze your own or a competitor’s site.
- Majestic SEO ($): This is a great tool for conducting extensive and complex link analysis for those very large competitors out there.
- Check Server Headers Tool (Free) : This somewhat technical tool that StepForth offers free of charge provides valuable insight into the setup of yours or your competitor’s servers. For example, StepForth uses this tool to verify that our clients have properly set up their server redirects (301’s) so that duplicate content issues are avoided. It is also used extensively within our competitor analysis reports; it is useful to see how your competitors might have an edge over you.
- DomainTools.com ($) : Domain Tools is one of my favorite sites for competitor analysis. The most useful component, the Reverse IP Tool, allows me to plunk in a single competitor’s domain and then see every other website that is hosted on its server. The Reverse Whois Tools will also show me all of the other domains owned by a competitor now and in the past. In rare instances where the co-hosted domains are owned by the competitor I can get a hint at any future marketing plans my clients should be made aware of.
- Robots.txt Syntax Checker (Free) : There is nothing worse than making an error in a Robots.txt file and accidentally dropping a site out of the search engines. The free Robots.txt checker will review your Robots.txt file; ensuring it is properly created and it will provide you with the rules within the file in plain language to ensure everything meets your approval. This is a valuable tool for avoiding serious indexing issues.
Not so sure you want to tackle your own competitor research? StepForth offers basic to advanced competitor analysis services.
Ranking Reporting Tools
Keep an eye on your search engine rankings across the major and minor search engines; should you see a drop or increase in your rankings you will be better informed and know how to respond.
- Raven Internet Marketing Tools ($$) Free Trial:
StepForth exclusively utilizes Raven Tools for the tracking of all organic search rankings (non paid rankings) across our client websites. There is not a single ranking tracking solution we would recommend more.
- SEOmoz ($$) Free Trial: StepForth uses SEOmoz for it’s industry leading analysis tools but it also offers an SEO platform to manage & monitor specific SEO campaigns. You can use Open Site Explorer to conduct link analysis within a proprietary web index of over 9.2 trillion links. Use the free trial and give it a go!
SEO Friendly URL Solutions
In many cases website URL’s are the reason that web sites are not fully indexed by visiting search engine spiders. Here are a few rewrite solutions that you can employ to correct your unfriendly URL’s and open the door to search engine spiders:
- Apache Servers: Mod Rewrite (Free, capability comes with Apache)
In Apache servers the URL rewriting feature is named Mod Rewrite. Here is a link to a HostGator support page on how to set it up.
- Windows (IIS) Servers: ISAPI Rewrites ($)
This is a 3rd party software program designed to enable custom URL rewriting features for Windows IIS servers. More information on ISAPI Rewrite.
- Windows: .Net Rewrite
Ok, I am no programmer or system administrator so I am getting out of my depth here but I believe this is another tool that would work for rewriting URL’s for web sites using .Net (this link is definitely for techies only!)
Are you unsure if your site uses unfriendly URL’s? The answer to an SEO question titled “What are Good and Bad URL’s and How to Fix the Bad Ones” may answer your question. In addition, I highly recommend reading “Is Your Website Search Engine Friendly? ” to ensure you have not missed anything else that may be impeding your online success.
XML Sitemap Creation Tools
The following XML sitemap creation tools are extremely handy for creating and maintaining website XML sitemaps for submission to search engines:
- Vigos Google Sitemap Generator (Free) : this great free tool will make your life easier by spidering and automatically generating a slick XML sitemap for your website. Plenty of useful controlled page update options are also provided.
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider ($$$ Annually for Pro): Nothing can touch the awesomeness that is the Screaming Frog! StepForth uses this tool religiously. The very very least it can do is create a sitemap – it is the ultimate diagnostics tool for SEO as well.
Other Miscellaneous Must Have Tools
The following are tools that we use on a daily basis at StepForth and wouldn’t know what to do without. They do not, however, fit under the other categories on this page; thus the birth of the infamous “Miscellaneous” category!
- LastPass (Free or $): The ultimate password manager! We cannot recommend this program enough. Forget about remembering passwords – well, except just one – the one to access Lastpass! Other than that, the system will handle the rest and keep your data safe. A wonderful program StepForth uses without fail.
- Notepad++ (Free): If you are an SEO or you do any webmastering work then it is 100% certain you will be using some sort of code visualization and editing tool. Well, many of us use NotePad in Windows to work on code in a quick and dirty manner but it has many issues that make this difficult. NotePad++ is a separate program (it does not overwrite your standard Notepad application) that provides all of the bells and whistles you could need to do code writing and editing. Best of all, it is 100% free.
- XMind (Free or Pro for $79/yr) If you are anything like our CEO, Ross Dunn, then you are probably a visual thinker and troubleshooter. In that case, these two tools are your answer because they provide easy to use mindmapping tools that allow you to put your ideas in a graphical format so easily you will be addicted in minutes (our CEO is!). Now, Ross Dunn uses a past version of MindJet MindManager which is now worth way too much in his opinion. If he were going to start with a new mind mapper he would go with XMind. The basic (very basic) version is 100% free and offers many of the same basic capabilities as MindManager. Enjoy!