Last Updated – January 11th, 2017

Originally Published – December 19th, 2014

Freelancers, do-it-yourselfers, in-house SEOs and small SEO agencies like ours are always on the hunt for the best SEO tools. The following is a list of the actual paid SEO tools we use every day here at Evolving SEO. We use and rely on them, or otherwise I wouldn’t be recommending them to you.

Good tool choices start with knowing the broad categories of tasks your work is going to require. Most SEO’s or small SEO firms should have tools from these categories (in my opinion):

  • Technical SEO (A Crawler Basically)
  • Rank Tracking
  • SERP Feature Tracking
  • Keyword Research
  • Competitive Research
  • Content & Strategy Research
  • Outreach Tools (I removed this because we do not do a ton of outreach here anymore)
  • Link Analysis & Audits For Penalty Removal
  • Reporting

This may vary depending on your different roles and responsibilities. But if you can cover those main areas with a solid suite of paid tools, you’ll be off to a great start! I think what we currently have here works pretty well for a single freelancer, in-house SEO, DIY SEO or small-ish SEO agency.

Definitely feel free to drop me a line about any of these tools on Twitter @dan_shure – I love to help with tools when I can!

So if you are just embarking on your SEO journey, or perhaps reviewing tools mid-flight – I’ve designed this list to go in order of bare-bones essentials, working down to the more “nice to have” tools. Starting with what I think is the most essential SEO tool of them all…

1. Screaming Frog SEO Spider – Technical SEO

At just about $150 USD a year (or free to crawl up to 500 pages), I don’t see why anyone doing any sort of SEO would not use this tool! It’s the ultimate pocket knife crawling tool that makes it easy to evaluate your site from a technical perspective. SEER Interactive wrote a great guide with endless things you can do with this tool.

2. Authority Labs – Rank Tracking & SERP Tracking

This is my #1 rank tracker of choice. You can’t rely on weekly rankings anymore, and Authority Labs tracks your rankings daily. Their “Now Provided” functionality alone has saved me so much time and provided invaluable strategies. I love it so much, I started with the $99 version but have been on the $450/mth version for well over a year now.

3. Moz’s Open Site Explorer – Link Building & Research

Moz has the best link metrics available in my opinion. And you can’t do SEO at all without a solid link tool in your arsenal. Not to mention, their MozBar makes it really easy to evaluate link metrics right in Google’s SERPs. They have a handy guide to their tool here. You can get some of Open Site Explorer for free, but the most data comes with a paid Moz account – ranging from $80 to $479 a month.

3. BuzzSumo – Content & Research

BuzzSumo is my newest favorite tool to come on the market in the last few years. This is truly an exceptional resource – allowing you to see the most shared content in any niche, the top sharers of that content – and LOTS more. Their free version gives you a lot of room to play around and you can of course upgrade if you need more.

4. SEMrush – Keyword & Competitive Research

SEMrush has been BY FAR my favorite tool in the last few years. That’s because of the huge competitive advantage I feel like it gives me. Once you get good at using it to discover content gaps, competitive opportunities and keywords – it will change your whole game. I’m intending on doing some SEMrush tutorials in the near future. Here’s one for discovering keyword opportunities:

A must have for anyone serious about keyword and competitive resource. I feel like SEM Rush has given me an unfair advantage. Just tons of keyword data, competitive data, traffic data – for both organic, PPC and display ads. Plus some rank tracking and site audit capabilities. I am very happily using the $99.95/mth plan.

Free 14 day trial! <– that link will give you a free 14 day PRO subscription

5. Cognitive SEO – Link Audits & Penalty Removal

I’ve been using Cognitive SEO for a good 2+ years now (as of December 2014) – and it’s a must have for deeper link audits and visualizations. I use this anytime I need to do a link review and cleanup (disavow / removal) or penalty removal. You can upload your links from Webmaster Tools and Open Site Explorer – Bill Sebald at Greenlane SEO has a great tutorial here. We’re on the $99/mth plan which gives you all the features.

6. Advanced Web Ranking Cloud – Keyword Management & Rank Checking

I find Advanced Ranking really helps round out our capabilities here, especially for keyword management and rank checking. It’s definitely a swiss army knife though, so I like to use it to fill in tasks wherever. The Cloud version ranges from $49-499 per month.

7. Moz – Campaigns & Reporting

I’d been using Moz’s tools more selectively in the past, but their campaign and reporting features have gotten better. If you’re looking for a super simple reporting solution, Moz is great. I’m lucky to be an Associate at Moz, and get to use their tools complimentary as a perk of that. But it could be well worth the $99 for a starter account.

Looking for a complete list of ranking tools? Check out our ultimate list of rank trackers, updated for 2017!

*Note that for a few of these tools we make a small commission through an affiliate link. I only recommend tools I actually USE and trust. If you have any questions at all please contact me dan at evolvingseo dot com

Last Updated: January 11th, 2017 by Dan Shure