Top 10 Free Small Business SEO Tools

Thursday Apr 1st 2010 by James A. Martin
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If you want to drive traffic -- and customers -- to your Web site, then you need search engine optimization. These 10 tools will make your small business SEO campaign easier and more profitable.

Is your small business Web site regularly attracting tons of new visitors who convert into customers? Excellent; take the day off, go to a movie, buy yourself a new gadget. You deserve to celebrate. But if your site isn’t getting the results you’d like, it’s time for search engine optimization.

At a high level, SEO involves finding the keywords your potential customers use to find the types of products and services you sell; adding those keywords judiciously to your site’s pages; and building a network of links pointing to the pages on your site, among other things.

Google AdWords; small business SEO; small business computing
Google Adwords
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The following 10 free SEO tools can help draw targeted traffic to your Web site content. You’ll notice that many of the tools in this roundup come from Google. Because Google searches account for about 65 percent of all Internet searches, it makes sense to use Google tools for your SEO efforts.  

If you need a little more background on SEO, be sure to read Search Engine Optimization: SEO Tips for Small Business, SEO Tips: How to Increase Traffic With Keywords and SEO Tips for Small Business: How to Get Good Links.

And now, here's our pick for the 10 best SEO tools for small business.

1. Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Google’s free tool is designed for marketers who want to find the best keywords for their Google AdWords campaigns. But it’s extremely useful for organic (unpaid) SEO efforts, too. It can give you a sense of how often people use a particular keyword, or variations of it, in Google searches, and how competitive a keyword might be to rank highly for it in Google search queries.

The tool is simple to use. Type a keyword or phrase you want to research, and Google will show you several stats by default:

Advertiser competition. The shaded bars are designed to help you quickly determine how competitive a keyword is. A keyword with a fully shaded bar is highly competitive. This can indicate that the keyword will be more difficult to rank highly for in organic search results, compared to keywords with only partially shaded bars. 

Local search volume for the prior month. This column represents the number of queries performed using the keyword you typed and variations of it. The data comes from searches performed on Google and its search network. The numbers are specific to your targeted country and language, which you can easily change.

Global monthly search volume. This indicates the approximate average monthly search volume for a keyword over a recent 12-month period in all countries and languages.

Generally speaking, use Google AdWords Keyword Tool to find keywords that aren’t highly competitive, yet have a decent search volume (at least 300 if you’re a one-person business or 1,000 or more if you’ve got, say, a dozen employees).

Google AdWords Keyword Tool can also suggest keywords based on existing Web pages, among other capabilities. It should be the first tool you use when you start to brainstorm keywords or new content for your site.

2. WordPress. Search engines love blogs, so if you aren’t currently blogging, give it a try. WordPress is widely seen as the best blogging platform.

Google Analytics; search engine optimization
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“It’s 100 percent free, very well supported, and has loads of add-ons that cost little or nothing to use,” said Thomas W. Petty, CEO of the Bay Area Search Engine Academy, which offers SEO workshops in Sacramento and San Francisco. Read Petty's helpful guide to setting up a WordPress blog

FYI, TypePad also gets kudos, as some people believe its interface is easier to use than WordPress’s.

3. Google Analytics. If you haven’t set up a Google account and added Google Analytics tracking code to your site or blog, you should. Simply put, it’s a fantastic tool for learning about what attracts visitors to your site -- including the keywords used to find it -- as well as where visitors come from, how many pages they typically visit on your site, how long they stay on your site and tons more.

With Google Analytics, you can set goals to measure how your site is meeting business objectives; view multiple Google Analytics accounts in one dashboard; export information in PDF, XML, CSV, CSV for Excel, and TSV formats; share your analytics info with others -- the list of things you can do goes on and on.

4. Google Insights for Search. While Google AdWords Keyword Tool shows you the volume of searches conducted using specific keywords, Google Insights for Search gives you a sense of the trends in keyword usage.

Specifically, you can compare search volume across chosen time periods (from 2004 to the present), geographic areas, categories and a lot more. Google Insights for Search will show you the keywords that are rising in popularity. This information can help you target the best keywords for new site content, such as blog posts.

It can even help you spot potential new business opportunities. For example, let’s say your targeted keyword is rising in popularity overall, and Maryland is the U.S. state showing the most interest in that keyword. Perfect -- you may have discovered an opportunity to expand your business to Maryland.

5 and 6. Google Trends and Trendistic. Creating blog or other content that’s tied to a breaking news story or to a hot topic can help you get a boost in search engine results. That’s because among the many algorithms Google uses to rank content for relevancy is something called the Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) factor. QDF determines whether a topic is "hot" and then may temporarily boost the search result rankings of relevant news articles, blog posts or other content.

Google Insights for Search; marketing for small business
Google insights for Search
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Google Trends shows you what the hot topics and search terms are on Google right now. It’s not quite as useful as Google Insights for Search for getting the big picture on trends. But it’s ideal for a quick snapshot on the Internet zeitgeist. Plus, you can also go back in time to see what the top hot searches were on a given day, which is cool.

Twitter is another excellent resource for putting your finger on the pulse. You can use Twitter search to see what the buzz is. Trendistic, however, provides charts to reveal how a given topic has trended in the past 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, 90 days, or 180 days. The SEOmoz blog offers a helpful video on using Twitter as an SEO research tool.

7. Facebook. Haven’t set up a Facebook fan page for your business yet? A number of recent developments might be just the prod you need.

Google has added Facebook fan pages to the content it indexes. Facebook has surpassed Google as the top source for traffic to major Web portals, prompting some analysts to say that social media networks, such as Facebook, could become the Internet’s next search engine.

More than 400 million people use Facebook now, and 50 percent of active users log onto the social network on any given day, according to Facebook. All told, setting up a Facebook fan page and regularly using your hot or otherwise important keywords can help your overall SEO efforts.

“Facebook fan pages have turned into a very useful tool to market to people who have become your fans,” said Petty. Plus, you can now add Google Analytics to a Facebook fan page, though it requires several steps.

8. Wordtracker Labs Keyword Questions. Increasingly, people are typing natural-language questions into search engines. But what questions are people typing? Wordtracker’s free tool will tell you, based on the search query data it compiles.

So how is this information helpful? You could discover the top questions people have that are relative to your product or service. Then you could write a blog post or add an entirely new page to your site to answer one of those questions.

Tip: Use the specific question in the title of your content. Keep going until you’ve created new content that individually addresses all the most searched-for questions.

Google Local Business Center; small business marketing
Google Local Business Center
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9. Google Local Business Center. Have you noticed that when you search for a particular type of local business, Google displays a Google Map at or near the top of search results? Adjacent to the map are links to local businesses matching the description you searched for.

By listing your business with Google’s Local Business Center, you’ll greatly increase your chances of rising to the top of local search results. You can create a separate listing for each of your business’s physical locations. Use important keywords in your listings, and make sure you get happy customers to review your business, too.

10. Google Webmaster Tools. Despite the techie-sounding name, Google’s set of Webmaster tools are relatively easy to use. Once you’ve verified your site, you can get diagnostics to ensure there are no errors preventing search engines from indexing the content -- which is essential to being found in searches. The Webmaster tools also show top search queries used to find your site, the links to your site, and more.

James A. Martin is an SEO copywriter and consultant based in San Francisco and the coauthor of Getting Organized in the Google Era.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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