SEO is a weird mix of art and snake oil. It’s most definitely not a science – no one knows all the rules of Google’s search algorithms, and none can make a guaranteed claim that one particular method is the most effective of all. But this uncertainty has led to the rise of many complicated tools, many of which have limited utility. For example, Ahrefs provides a wealth of data, but I haven’t found much of it to be very actionable. Similarly, I used to pay for a tool that tracked my ranked keywords, but then I gave up on that as well. But there are still some tools that find useful, and I’ll share them with you in this article.
Surprisingly, I’ve found the Google Search Console to be of limited utility when it comes to SEO information. I’ll explain why below.
Free Ahrefs Backlink Checker
I know I just mentioned Ahrefs above, but that was with regard to whether or not it’s worth paying $99/m for a metric ton of data. However, Ahrefs has a free backlink checker tool that I find rather useful. You can type in either a domain, or a specific URL and it gives you some site statistics – most importantly the domain authority, and the top five pages.
I use this backlink checker tool quite a lot to see whether or not I’m interested in reaching out to a particular site for backlinking opportunities. Ahrefs has a “Domain Rating” or DR metric that has a lot of weight in the industry – it more or less replaces the old “PageRank” used by Google. They have the most active crawler out of all the SEO tools, so it’s a good thing to look out for.
It’s also good for keeping an eye on my own site DR. Here’s what it looks like as of this writing:
It has a nice breakdown of important backlinks that I use to get an idea of how well a site is connected.
Alexa Site Information
The old-timers amongst us will remember Alexa’s browser extension – there was a time when it provided the definitive measurement of how well your site was doing outside of Google’s PageRank. These days I barely hear of Alexa anymore in the context of SEO, which is a shame since their tool still provides extremely useful information. When you visit their site information page you just enter your domain and it provides you with useful metrics as shown below:
Particularly useful are the sections on “Optimization Opportunities” and “Easy-to-Rank” keywords. They also have “Keyword Gap” reports that provide you with great ideas of stealing traffic from your competitors. Unlike Ahrefs, Alexa site information is extremely actionable. I would actually subscribe to their paid plans if it wasn’t for the fact that they charge $150/m!
Google “In-Search” Stats
Sometimes when your site traffic falls, you don’t know whether or not it’s because of a drop in rankings, or because of a drop in search traffic. But when you’re signed into Google and search for a popular keyword, it tells you by how much the impressions and clicks have changed. For example:
The above screenshot shows me that I might need to work on my title or meta descriptions for this particular query since my impressions have increased, but my clicks have gone down. This kind of information is unique to Google.
What About the Search Console?
The Google Search Console is plagued by too much data from which that’s very difficult to extract useful data. The “clicks” data that it shows is certainly inaccurate, and I can’t rely on it for anything meaningful. Even the rankings data is good only for large swings – I’m unable to use it to determine which country or keywords are driving a large change.
Hopefully this changes in the future as Google starts to apply its AI to data from Search Analytics is the same way that it provides insights in the Google Analytics tool. If that happens, the Search Console has the potential to become the most useful tool of the bunch instead of the most opaque!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!