Web U: Building My SEO Toolbox

Revealing the not-so-secret weapons of a search engine marketer

I'm often asked what cool secret tools I use in my daily search-engine optimization (SEO) work. It makes me chuckle that everyone assumes I have access to a wide variety of powerful secrets that give me an advantage and help me to be successful. That's simply not the case. Skillful interpretation of the data you uncover carries you much further toward success.

However, it's true you do need to start with some quality

tools. Far from secret, they're easy to find. I'm feeling budget-conscious, so I'll only discuss free tools. Put the credit card away, and don't fret over justifying a purchase to the finance department:

>Firefox Web browser

This lightweight, no-nonsense browser is a great foundational tool for the aspiring SEO guru. Right out of the box, Firefox has some excellent data-gathering functionality. Simply right-click on any page and select "View Page Info" from the context menu. In the pop-up window is an enormous amount of information: title, metadata, referring URL, page size, and full lists of outbound links, link text, and media elements. Firefox presents all this in a format that makes far more sense that trying to dig it all out of the html by hand.

>Web Developer toolbar

This is really the beauty of Firefox: Many cool, useful extensions plug right into the browser. The Web Developer toolbar offers access to an exhaustive list of functions and data. Some of my favorites:

>Linearize Page: This function lays out a page in the exact order the page appears in the html, so you can see true keyword placement and any illogical page layout.

>Disable: Disabling browser functions is always a hassle. I can never remember exactly where all the check boxes are hiding and in which menu. The Web Developer toolbar gives you an extremely useful menu that lets you disable JavaScript, Referrers, Meta Refreshes, and more.

>SearchStatus extension

The SearchStatus extension for Firefox is currently my favorite free tool. The programmers at Quirk put us two clicks away from information such as index count and backlink count (total, internal, external) in Google, Yahoo and MSN. You can also see Google PageRank and Alexa Rank in real time. Add the ability to view robots.txt, who is information, and keyword density, and it's easy to see why this tool tops my list.

>Sam Spade

This freebie tool must be mentioned in any decent list of SEO tools.  Sam Spade, a downloadable product, installs on Windows-based computers. Sam Spade offers a variety of some of the more technical tools I use daily, such as an HTTP header checker, traceroute, and IP block information. It's a great tool for investigating link networks and competitor sites to find out if they're using clever redirects or piling sites on the same server.

>Xenu's Link Sleuth

At the start of any SEO campaign, one of the first things to check is whether the site in question is fully indexed by the search engines. I always ask if the client knows how big their Web site is; of course, few can answer that question accurately. This is where a tool like Xenu is invaluable. Xenu will crawl a Web site and return a full list of URLs, title tags, and a summary of how many HTML pages, CSS files, images, and media files it found. Xenu is a quick and dirty way to get this information. Note that it does not handle Web sites that have session IDs in the URLs.

So there they are, five free tools that every Webmaster and SEO professional should have in his or her toolbox. Go forth and analyze. 

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