The SEM Toolbox: 79 Tools and Tips Every Search Marketer Must Have

October 11, 2009  |  by Ari  |  SEO

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If there’s one thing I’ve found in life, it’s that having the right tools for the job make life a lot easier. Try crimping a blasting cap with a monkey wrench – it just won’t work, and you’ll get hurt in the process (probably minor fragments to your forearms and possibly your chest and eyes if you’re not wearing protective equipment – not pleasant at all). The same goes for Search – if you’re doing any kind of professional Search Marketing, you need the right tools for the job. Below are tools I’ve either used, tested or heard really good things about with added commentary where applicable. If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, post in the comments or drop me a line.

Backup Tools

Seriously – this is first because too many of us don’t do this. Read Rae’s Backup PSA if you don’t believe me.

  1. SugarSync - I personally use Sugar Sync because I like the fire and forget method of syncing online as well as with my laptop – double backup from one app.
  2. Backblaze – Haven”t used them but they definitely have clue. If you’re a geek, read how they build Petabytes on a budget
  3. RSync.net – the windows interface is clunky, but if you’re running a UNIX box anywhere and have databases, it’s really cheap for the piece of mind, and the support is clueful and friendly.
  4. WP-DB-Backup - must have if you’re running any wordpress blog.

Ok, that’s out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff.

Backlink Discovery Tools

  1. Yahoo Site Explorer - The Grand Daddy of them All. Limited to 2000 domains per result, doesn’t allow you to differentiate between different types of links (redirects, no follows, deleted etc) but can’t beat the price. Aaron Wall’s old Backlink Analyzer is a great way to dissect Site Explorer results.
  2. Majestic SEO - I love Majestic. It’s the best thing to happen to SEO in a long long time. Short of building your own web graph, it’s an amazing tool. The Interface definitely needs some work, but the high quality and quantity of data (much better then Yahoo) and the filtering and targeting options make it one hell of link building tool.
  3. SEOMoz’s Linkscape – I haven’t personally tried Linkscape yet, as Majestic suits my needs, but I have heard good things. There is a detailed post over at GoodROI on Majestic Vs Linkscape, for those who are interested.
  4. Google Blog Search - I’m sticking this in because depending on the day and how the algorithm is feeling you can get a good subset of blogs linking back via the link command. It’s definitely not 100% accurate and probably a subset of data, but it works a lot better then the comparable link: command on Google Search.
  5. Link Diagnosis – Wiep suggested this one, quick method of looking up link stats.

Link Management Tools

  1. HighRise - While it’s an overall Contact Manager, a little bit of manipulation makes HighRise a great link management tool. I’ll probably go into more detail in a different post. If you hate 37 Signals, there’s also BatchBook, which is also nice.
  2. BuzzStream – I tried BuzzStream for a while and I actually liked it  a lot – that being said HighRise had a lot of our data so it wasn’t worth our time to switch, but if you’re just starting out it’s a good idea.
  3. Raven SEO – More of a global SEO tool then just a link acquisition manager, I encountered it first as a link manager, so that’s why it’s here. I like the ability to brand it for clients, and I think it’s worth taking a look. They have a 30 day trial so not much to lose.
  4. Excel – The oldie but goodie – if you’re not in to Web 2.0 or don’t trust anyone with your data then Excel is perfect for you – just make sure you have a good way of tracking changes.
  5. Advanced Link Manager – I’ve used this sparingly and I’m not a huge fan of the interface but it’s a good, solid tool for somebody who wants a piece of desktop software.

Competitive Research Tools

  1. SEMRush – this great tool allows you too see where your competitors are ranking, as well as if they’re buying AdWords traffic. They recently upgrade their UI which has made it a lot easier to use, and the data is excellent – I only wish it was updated a bit more often (similar to the force update available on MajesticSEO).
  2. KeywordSpy – If you’re doing any kind of PPC/Affiliate marketing, KeywordSpy basically scrapes AdWords and shows you ads and keywords. I really like the option to search by different affiliate networks and specific affiliates.
  3. DomainTools – Great way to see what other sites someone owns, see what’s on a IP, and keep track of acquisitions and competitors. Also great way to keep track of your own domains. The only things that suck is Customer Support is non-existent (both via email and phone) and their pricing structure is really bizarre.
  4. Compete – I have issues with Compete – I don’t like their pricing structure and I find from  talking to a lot of people that their data is wildly inaccurate, but it’s a lot cheaper then Hitwise, and much more worth it if you’re operating in multiple verticals.
  5. LinkedIn – People are so neurotic about keeping everything on different servers, but then they reveal everything  on LinkedIn. I don’t get it either.
  6. Facebook – Same thing as LinkedIn.
  7. The related: command on Google can often reveal some very interesting things about neighborhoods, multiple sites owned by the same entity, and even help you find link networks.  It was like this before they made the recent changes and now it’s even better.

Keyword Tools

I don’t use Keyword Tools as much as I used to – but I think that they’re useful when you’re researching a new niche or doing some work for clients. They need to be treated with a grain of salt and the best way of checking accuracy is to run some PPC ads just to get an idea of impressions and accurate search volume.

  1. Adwords Keyword Tool – I only go by what’s exact match.
  2. WordTracker - definitely very different results then Google, so nice to get a good idea of what’s going on.
  3. Once Again, Aaron has everything in one place – why does it seem like he’s the only one building these tools anymore?
  4. The AdCenter Excel plugin is nifty, but you need Excel 2007 and to be online to use it.
  5. I guess Yahoo still exists for now, so you can get an idea of volume from within your Search Marketing account. (As an aside, has anyone successfully got someone on the phone at 1866-YAHOOSM in the last, say, 6 months?)
  6. The WordTracker Question tool is great if you’re hanging out on the long tail. I don’t know how accurate it is, though.

Dropped Domains

I will leave it up the imagination for now as to why you need to buy keyword domains or perhaps expiring domains with backlinks. All these sites have their pluses and minuses but this where you need to go to buy expiring domains. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything good on Pool and I’m amazed they still exist. NameJet gets Network Solution and eNom domains, and SnapNames gets Register.com, Moniker and all these bizarre third world Registrars you’ve never heard of. TDNAM is GoDaddy, and they price gouge as only GoDaddy can.

  1. SnapNames
  2. NameJet
  3. TDNAM

Domain Aftermarkets

Some useful newsletters and Aftermarket domain sales sites. Rick, Sedo and BuyDomains with also broker for you if you have something worth selling. Most Domainers don’t really get non .coms, though (more on that in another post) but they’ll still do their best to sell for you, minus commission of course.

  1. RickLatona
  2. SEDO
  3. BuyDomains
  4. AfterNic
  5. LuxuryNames
  6. MostWantedDomains

Misc Domain Tools

  1. DNForum – The DNForum membership scheme is not worth it.
  2. NamePros - sometimes you can find good buys that aren’t listed anywhere else on these forums.
  3. Domain Research Tool – I’ve used it in the past and it’s a great little tool if you have an exceptionally large list of domains to run through. I’d advise leaving it to run overnight and through a proxy.
  4. FreshDrop - well worth the $39 a month to make life a lot easier when looking for dropped domains worth buying.
  5. DropDay is a free, slightly less bells and whistle version of FreshDrop, but it does the job.
  6. Get a Sales Rep – not a tool but a tip – if you’re doing anything serious online, make sure you have the number of someone who you can call direct and knows you at your registrar. I know Moniker and GoDaddy have this, I can’t speak for others.

Rank Checkers

  1. Advanced Web Ranking is excellent, provides great reports and scheduled monitoring and backups.
  2. Rank Checker for FireFox is  good in a pinch, but certainly not as powerful as AWR. I’m getting sick of listing Aaron, btw, but he makes good tools and they’re free.

Analytics

  1. Google Analytics - I try and use it with a tin foil hat.
  2. Clicky – good, takes a little bit of getting used to. Currently running  it on this site.
  3. IndexTools (or whatever Yahoo! calls it now) – I loved this at one point, but like everything else Yahoo screwed it up too.
  4. In House – You can use PiWik as a good base. If you’re doing affiliate marketing combine this with Prosper 202 to keep everyone’s hands off your data.
  5. Prosper 202 – If you’re doing any kind of PPC to lead generation/affiliate, you’re an idiot if you’re not using this or a comparable tracking tool. Also leaves great footprints and Compete.com statistics to see what the competition is up to.

PPC Management and Creation

  1. Google Adwords Editor – I think this (and the open API) really helped Get Google traction – if you’re doing any serious AdWords, at the very least you need to be using this tool.
  2. For extremely large campaigns and spends, I think the API is a better way to create tools that do exactly what you need to do.
  3. AdCenter Desktop – not as sleek as AdWords Editor but it does the job.
  4. Yahoo Marketing Desktop – oh wait they’re not releasing this until 2010. Idiots – Short  Yahoo stock  folks. (I hold no positions long or short in Yahoo as of this writing).
  5. Exclusive – Derek Beau’s keyword tool – This kid created an open source PHP version of SpeedPPC a few years ago, and took it down under either legal pressure or a bribe. Luckily it was released under a GPL License so you can now download it here. Great tool for creating all sorts of campaigns, for example geographic modifiers, or if you’re working on anything with models (say, laptop batteries).
  6. If you do any work in Excel, especially PPC, go and buy DigDB. It’s the best Excel add-on ever and really makes life so much easier.

Automation

  1. I like Eclipse for anything related to (ugh!) looking at Code.
  2. RentACoder, oDesk, eLance, in that order for quality programmers. And once you find one, treat them well.
  3. UBot was just released. I have not tried it but it basically looks like a great way to create automation software for all kinds of tasks with no real programming knowledge, which I think is great.
  4. John mentioned 80Legs, which looks like a convenient way to automate all sorts of crawling tools without having to build and scale an initial crawler. If you try it, let me know how it goes.
  5. If you have lots of repetitive tasks that require a human I have heard excellent things about TimeSvr.

Connectivity

  1. WiTopia – Provides cheap VPN access with POPs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Newark (they call it NY but it’s Newark), Virginia, Manchester and London. Great for checking SERPs all over the place, and occasionally watching Hulu if you’re overseas (although they’re on to it). I’m sure there are other things you can use a VPN for..

Forums

Most of the forums online talking about marketing and making money are shitte. Please keep that in mind when following advice online from a stranger you’e never met:

  1. SEOBook Community – worth every single penny.
  2. WickedFire - more the PPC/CPA/Scammy Rebill crowd, if you ignore the NSFW and drama there’s some good stuff.
  3. WebmasterWorld – If they would get rid of the charter not allowing real domain names I think it would be a lot better. Pubcon is a conference par excellence, though.
  4. Digital Point - Is Shawn Hogan still around? Anyway this forum is pretty useless EXCEPT for the Buy/Sell/Trade, which is best described as the Mos Eisley of the SEO World.

Misc

  1. Evernote – great tool for keeping notes, filing, etc. Good for client meetings, brainstorming, tracking expenses, whatever.
  2. Quickbooks – I don’t get why some well known and very successful web marketers (you know who you are) are still using Excel.
  3. Smart Draw – greating for making all kinds of charts to prove whatever it is you want or to make linkbait.
  4. RoboForm – If you have more then 5 passwords, and since you work online you do, download this tool and use it right now. It will save you hours and days worth of frustration and give you really tough passwords to boot. For the coup de grace, back it up with sugarsync.
  5. TrueCrypt – trust no one. Especially when crossing US Customs, where you have no rights against illegal search and seizure.
  6. Foxit Reader - much easier and lighter then Adobe Acrobat. Make it your default PDF reader.

33 Comments


  1. Very useful post, thank you. I agree with most of your choices especially the Foxit reader – it’s much easier on the CPU and has everything needed.

  2. with tools we can solve our problem quickly and easily. Good information for seo guys.

  3. Good, solid list. There were actually several links that I’ve never really checked out, so I’m off to tinker…

  4. Great post, thanks for all these useful tools, I thought I knew them all but got a couple more from this article

  5. Left out AffBuzz.com, PPC.biz.

    Wickedfire is mostly hollowed out. CPAHustle.com is a better bet.

    Why’s DP in the list? If so, then shouldn’t sitepoint be in there too?
    I’d personally remove both of them as forums, though the sitepoint tools can be useful.

    Microsoft AdLab is useful too.

    -
    The list would be useful as a starting point, though by no means comprehensive.

  6. PPC.biz is useful? DP is on the list because of the BST, the rest of the forums suck. Anyway, this is stuff I use all the time, if you want you can go and make your own list :-)

  7. I have to say that there are some great people over on SEOchat.com. Yes – you get the spammers and the frequent SEO “newbs” from india… however if you stick around and actively participate, you can get some great suggestions.

  8. Great list, thanks for taking the time to put it together. Definitely plenty of new tools for me to check out.

  9. Yer great list, if I were to add to the list I would go for some more visual analytics tools – Crazyegg & Clicktale.

  10. Strange you didn’t mention SEO SpyGlass http://www.link-assistant.com/seo-spyglass/ That’s a very powerful backlink analyzer that let’s you find links to a site in almost every search engine out there. It gathers up to 25k backlinks per domain and packs it with loads of data to analyze.

    They also have this Rank Tracker that does a much better job at ranking checks than advanced web rankings.

  11. and the wordtracker question link is broken

  12. Nice to see SmartDraw in there – easily saves me hours a week.

  13. Very solid list!

    I agree that DP is crappy. too many scams. I am still looking for a good marketplace to find good websites to buy. Open to any suggestion!

  14. Ari,

    Aaron Wall recommended checking out your website via Twitter and I am glad he shared the information. This is an excellent list that all search marketers should be aware of. Thanks for the great information!

    Best,

    @RBeale

  15. Hey Ryan,
    Thanks for the compliments. Subscribe, I have more good stuff coming :-)
    Ari

  16. Hi,

    Nice post. One remark though, the link to snapnames seems to link to namejet, small mistake I guess.

  17. Hey Ari,
    Thanks for taking the time to put together this valuable list of tools and sharing it with us. In the super competitive Internet space, you need to find that edge. Depending on what side of the equation you are on, I guess the unfortunate part is using these tools wisely:)

  18. hey dude
    Great stuff! i got a lot of inspiration from this post
    i went through this page four times
    it is very interesting ….
    am learning for social work

    Thanks

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