In December 2009, Google announced it would be using the web search history of all its users in order to populate search results.[33] On June 8, 2010 a new web indexing system called Google Caffeine was announced. Designed to allow users to find news results, forum posts and other content much sooner after publishing than before, Google caffeine was a change to the way Google updated its index in order to make things show up quicker on Google than before. According to Carrie Grimes, the software engineer who announced Caffeine for Google, "Caffeine provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index..."[34] Google Instant, real-time-search, was introduced in late 2010 in an attempt to make search results more timely and relevant. Historically site administrators have spent months or even years optimizing a website to increase search rankings. With the growth in popularity of social media sites and blogs the leading engines made changes to their algorithms to allow fresh content to rank quickly within the search results.[35]
When your business has an idea about a new search topic for which you think your content has the potential to rank highly, the ability to spin up a query and investigate it right away is key. Even more importantly, the tool should give you enough data points, guidance, and recommendations to confirm whether or not that particular keyword, or a related keyword or search phrase, is an SEO battle worth fighting (and, if so, how to win). We'll get into the factors and metrics to help you make those decisions a little later.
By 2004, search engines had incorporated a wide range of undisclosed factors in their ranking algorithms to reduce the impact of link manipulation. In June 2007, The New York Times' Saul Hansell stated Google ranks sites using more than 200 different signals.[26] The leading search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, do not disclose the algorithms they use to rank pages. Some SEO practitioners have studied different approaches to search engine optimization, and have shared their personal opinions.[27] Patents related to search engines can provide information to better understand search engines.[28] In 2005, Google began personalizing search results for each user. Depending on their history of previous searches, Google crafted results for logged in users.[29]
* Please note our tool currently assumes Google having 90% of the search market, with Bing + Yahoo! splitting the remaining 10% of the market. Actual market conditions may vary significantly from that due to a variety of factors including: search location, search market demographics, how much marketshare mobile search has relative to desktop in that particular vertical, etc.

That's why PA and DA metrics often vary from tool to tool. Each ad hoc keyword tool we tested came up with slightly different numbers based on what they're pulling from Google and other sources, and how they're doing the calculating. The shortcoming of PA and DA is that, even though they give you a sense of how authoritative a page might be in the eyes of Google, they don't tell you how easy or difficult it will be to position it for a particular keyword. This difficulty is why a third, newer metric is beginning to emerge among the self-service SEO players: difficulty scores.
Users will occasionally come to a page that doesn't exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page30 that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user's experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. You can use Google Search Console to find the sources of URLs causing "not found" errors31.
Search engines may penalize sites they discover using black or grey hat methods, either by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from their databases altogether. Such penalties can be applied either automatically by the search engines' algorithms, or by a manual site review. One example was the February 2006 Google removal of both BMW Germany and Ricoh Germany for use of deceptive practices.[54] Both companies, however, quickly apologized, fixed the offending pages, and were restored to Google's search engine results page.[55]
Users will occasionally come to a page that doesn't exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page30 that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user's experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. You can use Google Search Console to find the sources of URLs causing "not found" errors31.
Inclusion in Google's search results is free and easy; you don't even need to submit your site to Google. Google is a fully automated search engine that uses web crawlers to explore the web constantly, looking for sites to add to our index. In fact, the vast majority of sites listed in our results aren't manually submitted for inclusion, but found and added automatically when we crawl the web. Learn how Google discovers, crawls, and serves web pages.3

The terms SEO experts often start with are page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA). DA, a concept in fact coined by Moz, is a 100-point scale that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. PA is the modern umbrella term for what started as Google's original PageRank algorithm, developed by co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Google still uses PageRank internally but has gradually stopped supporting the increasingly irrelevant metric, which it now rarely updates. PA is the custom metric each SEO vendor now calculates independently to gauge and rate (again, on a scale of 100) the link structure and authoritative strength of an individual page on any given domain. There is an SEO industry debate as to the validity of PA and DA, and how much influence the PageRank algorithm still holds in Google results (more on that in a bit), but outside of Google's own analytics, they're the most widely accepted metrics out there.


Evaluating which self-service SEO tools are best suited to your business incorporates a number of factors, features, and SEO metrics. Ultimately, though, when we talk about "optimizing," it all comes down to how easy the tool makes it to get, understand, and take action on the SEO data you need. Particularly when it comes to ad hoc keyword investigation, it's about the ease with which you can zero in on the ground where you can make the most progress. In business terms, that means making sure you're targeting the most opportune and effective keywords available in your industry or space—the words for which your customers are searching.

Website-specific crawlers, or software that crawls one particular website at a time, are great for analyzing your own website's SEO strengths and weaknesses; they're arguably even more useful for scoping out the competition's. Website crawlers analyze a website's URL, link structure, images, CSS scripting, associated apps, and third-party services to evaluate SEO. Not unlike how a website monitoring tool scans for a webpage's overall "health," website crawlers can identify factors such as broken links and errors, website lag, and content or metadata with low keyword density and SEO value, while mapping a website's architecture. Website crawlers can help your business improve website user experience (UX) while identifying key areas of improvement to help pages rank better. DeepCrawl is, by far, the most granular and detailed website crawler in this roundup, although Ahrefs and Majestic also provide comprehensive domain crawling and website optimization recommendations. Another major crawler we didn't test is Screaming Frog, which we'll soon discuss in the section called "The Enterprise Tier."
Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic. For example, a long-time football fan might search for [fifa], an acronym for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, while a new fan might use a more general query like [football playoffs]. Anticipating these differences in search behavior and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results. Google Ads provides a handy Keyword Planner34 that helps you discover new keyword variations and see the approximate search volume for each keyword. Also, Google Search Console provides you with the top search queries your site appears for and the ones that led the most users to your site in the Performance Report35.
Crawlers are largely a separate product category. There is some overlap with the self-service keyword tools (Ahrefs, for instance, does both), but crawling is another important piece of the puzzle. We tested several tools with these capabilities either as their express purpose or as features within a larger platform. Ahrefs, DeepCrawl, Majestic, and LinkResearchTools are all primarily focused on crawling and backlink tracking, the inbound links coming to your site from another website. Moz Pro, SpyFu, SEMrush, and AWR Cloud all include domain crawling or backlink tracking features as part of their SEO arsenals.

Difficulty scores are the SEO market's answer to the patchwork state of all the data out there. All five tools we tested stood out because they do offer some version of a difficulty metric, or one holistic 1-100 score of how difficult it would be for your page to rank organically (without paying Google) on a particular keyword. Difficulty scores are inherently subjective, and each tool calculates it uniquely. In general, it incorporates PA, DA, and other factors, including search volume on the keyword, how heavily paid search ads are influencing the results, and how the strong the competition is in each spot on the current search results page.

By relying so much on factors such as keyword density which were exclusively within a webmaster's control, early search engines suffered from abuse and ranking manipulation. To provide better results to their users, search engines had to adapt to ensure their results pages showed the most relevant search results, rather than unrelated pages stuffed with numerous keywords by unscrupulous webmasters. This meant moving away from heavy reliance on term density to a more holistic process for scoring semantic signals.[13] Since the success and popularity of a search engine is determined by its ability to produce the most relevant results to any given search, poor quality or irrelevant search results could lead users to find other search sources. Search engines responded by developing more complex ranking algorithms, taking into account additional factors that were more difficult for webmasters to manipulate. In 2005, an annual conference, AIRWeb (Adversarial Information Retrieval on the Web), was created to bring together practitioners and researchers concerned with search engine optimization and related topics.[14]

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