Nothing creates more value in the professional search marketing world than useful search engine optimization tools. From the simple "link:" command in Google, which shows how many sites link back to you, to the more advanced search tools at Yahoo! and browser plug-ins, the industry and engines themselves have a variety of tools available to get you started with SEO.

Remember that tools and technology, while powerful, must be used with caution. If you aren't able to translate the resulting data and convert it into meaningful, actionable steps, you might become more frustrated than you were before. SEO tools, as well as visits to search engine forums, blogs, websites and competitive reviews for your marketplace should be standard practice. (If you aren't clear on this topic, begin by reading "What Exactly is SEO?")

Here's a list of personal and feature-rich SEO tools to get you started:

1. Research links, get more and validate them.
Do you want to find out how many links are coming to you and where can you can request and add more? Type link:http://yourdomain.com into Google or Yahoo! (Yahoo! will redirect to Site Explorer). To find out where to add your site, enter allintitle: "add url" <your keyword here>. Another useful command is allinanchor: <your keyword here>, which will show all sites containing the anchor text (keyword). Optimizing anchor text is critical to a successful SEO practice.

To find out if your site is being indexed by the search engines, type in your domain name directly or enter site: www.yourdomain.com. More advanced tools can be found at www.linkhounds.com/link-harvester/backlinks.php.

It's important to check for broken links. You can do so using a desktop version at home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html or a web service at www.dead-links.com.

2. Find out your site's popularity and page rank.
Page rank is part of what Google is famous for and monitoring it can provide one measure of how well your site is performing. Don't lose sleep over it, though; continue to build a content-rich, useable site and ranking will naturally happen. To view page rank, install the Google Toolbar and select the "advanced" option. It will display a ranking number from 0 to 10 for any website you browse to. For popularity checks, install the Alexa toolbar.

3. Get more keywords and search term suggestions.
Keyword research is one of the most important SEO exercises. You should start with the free tools and move to paid services, such as www.wordtracker.com and www.keyworddiscovery.com, for more advanced research. The Keyword Selector Tool at inventory.overture.com should be your first stop. Then move to Google's Keyword Tool. For more free suggestions, also try the tools from Wordtracker, www.keyworddiscovery.com/search.htm and Digital Point. A useful tool for finding related words is available at www.lexfn.com. Also visit www.google.com/trends to find trends for your keywords.

4. Use link popularity tools that show how sites are linking to you.
Link profiles and link project management should be cornerstones of your SEO strategy. You won't be able to sustain a high listing on search engines over time if you don't implement a link program. First you have to do some digging and research before applying your own strategy. Check out the link tools from Elixir Systems and Marketleap, as well as the tools from We Build Pages, which include anchor text information.

5. Check keyword density and build keyword clouds.
Build your own keyword clouds using tools from www.webconfs.com/keyword-density-checker.php, a great site for SEO tools. It's not only fun, but also very useful when reviewing your page for keyword density. A recommended number is 3 percent to 5 percent for a page of 600 to 800 words.

More Tools for Search Marketing Success

6. Find out if sites are search engine friendly and keep the index updated.
To see how a search engine would view your site, use the Search Engine Spider Simulator and Poodle Predictor.

To build your own XML sitemaps for submission, look at Resources of a Resource feeds at www.rorweb.com and, my favorite, www.xml-sitemaps.com. Be sure to get an account with Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo! Site Explorer to track the engine's progress. Google recently updated its webmaster tools and is working on more features.

7. Check domain age, as well as data on owners and events.
You can perform quick domain age checks at www.whois.sc. Some of the information may be proxied but can show important contact information for the company and possibly someone you can exchange links with. To see updated events in your industry and receive automatic notices, get a free account at www.google.com/alerts.

8. Spy on the competition to track changes to their sites over time.
Good sites for this include www.archive.org, www.compete.com and www.spyfoo.com.

9. Take advantage of Firefox and its all-in-one SEO tools suite.
Download and install the Firefox browser from www.mozilla.com. The browser is an open source, advanced platform for browsing on PCs, Macs and Linux. Most SEO professionals, including me, use it in their day-to-day work.

Start with these plug-ins:

  • SearchStatus is a must-have tool for all SEO pros that shows how every website is performing.
  • CustomizeGoogle is an extension that enhances Google search result pages with links to other search engines.
  • LiveHTTPHeaders is an advanced tool that shows all HTTP header data for both requests and responses.
  • Solvent is an extension that interactively highlights parts of the page using capture.
  • Seoquake can be used to obtain and investigate key SEO parameters.
  • ShowIP displays IP from page search datacenters.
  • The whois extension displays Whois information in a new tab.
  • LinkChecker color codes links as broken or good, as well as other categories.
  • Web Developer allows you to manage cookies, JavaScript, CSS, images, source, resizing, live editing of HTML and forms manipulation. Trust me when I say I saved the best for last.

10. Find out what people are searching for and what they're doing online.
If you're looking for marketplaces to expand into, these sites are especially useful for business research. Smart marketers look for a marketplace that's hungry and then build a product to fill it--not the other way around, which is what most people do.

11. View content.
The original Lynx Viewer will let you see revealing details about how your site is viewed by Lynx and search engines. You can also see what Google sees by clicking the cached link that appears next to a website in search results and then clicking the "cached text" link on the page.

12. See where visitors are clicking on your page.
Go to www.crazyegg.com to find out which links your visitors are clicking on. Just copy a script to your page and later that day or the next--assuming you have traffic and clicks--you can see a useful heat-map of your visitors' activity. Based on those results, you can change your page for better traffic and focus. You need an account for this, but you can play for free.

This completes your crash course in functional SEO tools that the industry keeps hidden. If you can use these tools properly and create action items from the information they yield, you can gain insight not only into your own pages, but also into the competition's. Use this data to apply better techniques for your own search marketing success.

Jon Rognerud is a recognized authority on the subject of search engine optimization and has spent more than 15 years developing websites and marketing solutions at companies like Overture and Yahoo!. His website, www.microsaw.com, provides a wealth of informative articles, resources and complimentary e-mail courses on everything you'll ever need to know about SEO and search marketing.