Agencies looking for the best SEO software to manage SEO efforts for clients should explore options based on budget, size of the client business, and business objectives. Software should complement pre-defined key performance indicators (KPIs) and be a data source for comprehensive reporting segmented by campaigns built within the SEO toolset.
Which SEO Software Should Be in Our Agency Marketing Toolset?
What are the KPIs I Should Be Tracking?
Setting Up & Working With Campaigns
13 Years of Agency Software Experience
Before we explore the topics, choices, and attributes of SEO tools, I'd like to share a brief history of my experience with SEO software from the last 13 years. In the early days of SEO, pre-algorithm updates that reshaped search engine ranking systems into what they are today, thousands of SEO tools were available for marketers.
From WebPosition Gold in the 2000s, a client-based keyword tracking system that violated Google's guidelines on scraping results, to programs such as Internet Business Promoter, an SEO tool designed to spam email addresses with link exchange requests, choices seemed limitless. It wasn't until the 2010s that Google began cracking down on automated tools that attempt to manipulate search engine results.
As our industry "grew up", I found myself using a hybrid of Google-provided tools and mid-market SEO suites, testing nearly every popular SaaS product in the industry. I watched previous clients, such as Skechers, boost keyword rankings through strong page optimization supported by thought-through internal (keyword-rich) linking strategies. Below is a screenshot of an earlier version of Conductor SearchLight ("Conductor"), showing what that progress looked like as we moved from positions 4-10 to positions 1-3:
The culmination of tests, experiments, and "kicking the tires" on SEO software is a refined list of the top (and most important) SEO tools in the marketplace. You'll find each of these tools below, curated from my own list of top SEO software and over 13 years of experience in the field.
Which SEO Software Should Be in Our Agency Marketing Toolset?
Providing search engine optimization services requires at least a few SEO software solutions for your work to be data-driven and measurable. Let's review the essential free tools, enterprise-grade solutions, small-business options, and affordable solutions for bootstrapping an SEO effort.
The Basics: Free Google & Bing Tools
All agencies should leverage the tools the search engine provides in their SEO process, as no other data source can be more quantifiable than the search engines themselves.
Some skeptics and conspiracy theorists in our industry believe that Google, in particular, hides data or tries to mislead SEO professionals who they feel are attempting to "game" the system and hack their algorithms. If this is you, this guide is not for you. Please continue reading for the rest of us willing to work with whatever search engines are trying to offer us.
Both suites from Google and Bing only offer data and insights. How you wish to present that data to your clients will be up to you. A favorite choice for simple reporting, which we'll review shortly, is Looker Studio.
Google Analytics (GA4) is the industry standard platform for collecting and analyzing website traffic data, including organic sessions, events, conversions, and, when applicable, revenue.
While not as intuitive as the depreciated Google Universal Analytics, which offered a simple way to drill into Organic traffic statistics. With GA4, it often makes sense to use Looker Studio to build reports with data from GA4 versus attempting to build a view that provides the desired insights. Looker Studio templates (such as this one) are designed to emulate Univeral Analytics (yes, GA4 may have created that awful user experience).
Google Search Console offers various tools to help with technical, contextual, off-page, and search appearance SEO. In your initial analysis of a client's SEO status, consider the following features:
Crawling and indexing issues - if your client's website can't be crawled or indexed, it cannot receive traffic from search engines. Use the URL Inspector tool to test your client's content for indexing and other technical issues that may prevent them from receiving the maximum traffic available.
According to John Mueller of Google, Core Vitals and PageSpeed are no longer a 'tie-breaker' but critical to the overall user experience.
Search appearance may impact keyword rankings long-term, especially if searchers consistently choose and stay on competing listings more than ours. Use these insights to boost click rates within search results and expect more traffic, even without higher keyword rankings.
Links reports help identify the type of websites that currently link to us. These insights can inspire new relationship opportunities with similar websites, which not only boost referral traffic but also pass PageRank and boost rankings over time.
Performance insights provide helpful search terms to test within Google Ads and can help measure the effectiveness of content optimization efforts centered around specific keyword ranking objectives.
Sitemaps offers an easy way to request that Google crawl and index pages within your website. While this does not correlate to higher keyword rankings, it may accelerate how quickly a page gets indexed.
Bing Webmaster Tools is Microsoft's answer to Google Search Console but with a twist. With Bing's IndexNow feature, you can instantly submit your client's new content to Bing, which can be a huge time-saver. Other key features include:
Search Performance, URL Inspection, Sitemaps, and Links can all be found in Bing Webmaster Tools and are very similar to Google's version.
IndexNow, as mentioned above, is a feature unique to Bing that enables faster indexing of new content added to your client's website.
Site Explorer is a brilliant way to understand better how your client's website is organized, where indexing issues exist, and is unique in how your agency can drill down into issues versus a static list Google provides.
Site Scan and SEO Reports are explicit within Bing Webmaster Tools under their SEO navigation menu. Both are fantastic tools to help your agency discover new optimization opportunities.
Crawl Control is available in Bing, but it is not in Google.
Both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools should be considered an essential part of a digital marketer's SEO toolkit and monitored regularly.
Many agencies work with enterprise clients who expect more from them than essential tools already leveraged by in-house team members. An enterprise suite offers expensive-looking reports, campaigns for specific business objectives, platform integrations with other tools, and highly advanced research tools unavailable in most SEO platforms. Below are two of the most popular enterprise suites and what makes them unique.
Conductor - This all-in-one platform includes many tools for your agency to research, plan, and gauge performance from SEO efforts. Conductor purchased Searchmetrics in 2023, a key competitor, which we won't cover here, but should be included in your platform analysis. Three popular features include:
Keyword gap analysis to help uncover keywords that have not been included in your client's SEO campaign but are included in their competitors'.
Forecasting tools enable you to predict the lead or revenue value of achieving specific goals. Simply select a group of keywords (category in Conductor), set an estimated click-through rate (or choose from industry averages), and decide on a goal such as "all keywords in position 1" or "striking distance (11-20) to average position 4." Within seconds, Conductor spits out a forecast with diagrams that you can share with your client. This can be a fantastic sales tool for agencies looking to close an enterprise-level account.
Conductor offers a Goals feature with gauges to help you help your clients stay on top of how specific campaigns or overall performance is going. These gauges make an excellent addition to the first page of automated reporting your agency sends out to key stakeholders.
BrightEdge is another all-in-one solution designed to help your agency manage large accounts. Two areas where it differentiates from Conductor are:
The Data Cube is an advanced keyword research tool designed to help find, organize, categorize, and track keywords for your clients.
Campaigns are a feature unique to BrightEdge that enables your agency to go beyond categories of keywords tracked by creating custom campaigns with specific goals.
For example, suppose your client aims to increase revenue from organic search specifically for a product they offer. In that case, your agency can create a campaign for that project, and BrightEdge will provide the optimization tasks on-page and off-page that help achieve that goal.
We encourage you to read G2 Crowd and Capterra reviews before scheduling a demo. The salespeople with both platforms can be aggressive and highly persuasive.
Small-to-Mid-Sized Business Options
The trade-off in using small-to-mid-sized SEO software versus enterprise-grade is the ability to mitigate costs, where the loss is the ability to create much more impressive reporting. Your agency might find that using multiple SMB tools may add up to the exact cost of using a single enterprise tool.
For example, most enterprise suites include best-in-class website crawling tools, keyword research tools, content segmentation features, robust inbound and internal link research, etc. Where SMB suites are typically exceptional in one or more of these areas, keep that in mind as your agency starts budgeting for SEO software.
Below is the list of popular tools most agencies use:
Agency Analytics - ideal for agencies working with local chiropractors, attorneys (outside of personal injury), dentists, and similar businesses. They provide white-label reporting and essential tools to help get the job done. Advanced SEO focal points are not part of this suite, such as researching the most appropriate structured markup (schema) for a page or set of pages. They provide limited taxonomy-building or silo optimization features as well, which can make the job of content planning difficult.
SEMRush is a very popular platform among agencies, freelancers, and brands, with agency features that enable clients to access projects, along with a CRM to track leads and clients. The crawl tool provides as much as 70% of what enterprise tools cover in terms of crawl analysis and action items.
The platform has created a marketplace of add-ons, from local SEO tools to AI features enabling agencies to go beyond what is default in the suite.
Keywords are organized by "tags" (similar to categories in Conductor) and can be tracked and reported separately from the whole of the keywords targeted. Phenomenal keyword research tools are available within SEMRush, but the database of inbound links and the feature set to improve internal links is limited. A favorite attribute of many agencies is this setup wizard when creating a new project for a client, conveniently walking the account manager through the setup process.
AHREFS is an agency software similar in many ways to SEMRush, but with a larger incoming link database. Agency tools aren't quite as robust in AHREFS, and building agency tools do not appear to be a priority in their product development roadmap. However, keyword research tools, campaign management, and other tools are on par with the competition.
Ryte is a fast-growing solution built to address SEO from the inside out. The website crawl capabilities are bar none to typical SEO suites. Ryte analyzes every URL on your client's website and then provides advanced reporting and recommendations to improve technical SEO attributes and internal linking that can influence search engine rankings and boost organic traffic. While not as affordable as the competing SEO suites, the level of granularity is unparalleled to typical SEO suites and worth a demo.
SimilarWeb offers enterprise-grade industry insights at SMB pricing. Enter as many as 300 competitors into a market analysis to discover the top keywords, top-linking websites, top referring traffic websites, and site stats such as average time on page. Uncover domain analytics not available in SEMRush, AHREFS, or even Conductor or BrightEdge for an annual fee.
Buzzstream is a CRM-like platform for managing link-earning campaigns. The tool enables link-builders to research, build, and manage outreach campaigns with the goal of increasing the number of backlinks to their client's websites. This SEO software is unique in that it's elasticity rivals competing software with unlimited custom fields. SEO experts typically establish projects by link opportunity type.
For example, projects might include web directories, industry websites, competitor-earned links, listicles, unlinked mentions, and traffic-referring websites. Relationship Stage field attributes might include: researching, first contact, second contact, third contact, agreed but not linking, and verified linking.
Kalicube Pro is a unique software solution SEO agencies are starting to use for managing brand identity on search (brand entity/Knowledge Graph) and for finding and addressing Google's E-E-A-T ranking signals.
There are other SEO tools in the market that aren't covered above. A few are listed below for you to compare against our recommendations above.
Other SEO Tools for SMBs:
Surfer - AI-powered SEO research tool
Moz - similar to SEMRush and AHREFS
Botify - similar to Ryte and Lumar.io
SERPSTAT - keyword tracking
SpyFu - keyword research
Affordable Solutions for Bootstrapping SEO
Newer agencies assisting startups and small businesses may have to bootstrap search engine optimization efforts, with tools that fit a shoestring budget but deliver when it comes to action items and reporting. Below are a few SEO software options for those agencies just getting started to help hit the ground running.
SiteBulb and ScreamingFrog offer an affordable way to run a complete crawl of a website, analyze results, and create an action plan for addressing SEO issues related to crawling, indexing, canonical tags, and more. Both applications offer similar features, with an end goal of providing exportable data to study and create actions from.
SEO PowerSuite is popular among smaller agencies looking for quick insights and SEO ideas that inspire content optimization activities to help boost keyword rankings.
SEOptimer offers a suite of tools to help analyze and identify SEO opportunities in technical SEO and keyword ranking performance.
SiteChecker allows SEO specialists to run scans and monitor SEO focal points such as crawling and indexing issues.
WebpageTest, GTMetrix, and Pingdom all offer a variety of technical SEO tools meant to address Core Web Vitals, PageSpeed, and other technical search engine optimization criteria search engines look for when crawling the Web.
Thousands of SEO tools are available to explore beyond the popular options listed above. Read reviews and use the trial versions before investing in SEO software. Consider also checking with industry peers in forums and social media groups for a second opinion.
What are the KPIs I Should Be Tracking?
It's surprising how many agencies offer search engine optimization services without first establishing key performance indicators with their clients. Consider drawing inspiration from this template from Wiideman Consulting Group, built for a multi-location business but can be easily adapted into a template for e-commerce or lead generation.
KPIs for Discussion:
Lower-funnel segment for attracting customers
Upper-funnel segment for building brand awareness and boosting EEAT signals
What is our predicted traffic currently? What would 10% to 50% growth be in 12 months?
Conversions or leads from organic traffic
What is the number of predicted conversions or leads? What would 10% to 50% growth look like in 12 months?
Revenue from organic traffic
What is the predicted revenue from organic search? What would 10% to 50% growth look like in 12 months?
Authoritative links earned
What is the predicted number of organic links expected this year? What would a 10% to 50% growth look like in 12 months?
Share of Voice
What is our current SOV in SEMRush, Conductor, BrightEdge, or Searchmetrics? What would a 10% to 50% growth look like in 12 months?
What is our current average position in SEMRush, Conductor, BrightEdge SERPSTAT, or Searchmetrics? What would a 10% to 50% growth look like in 12 months?
For E-Commerce, revenue growth is an obvious KPI, but stakeholders may also want to track transactions, average order value, and cart abandonment rate. From a keyword ranking standpoint, KPIs might funnel into categories and product detail pages (PDPs), where categories often target broader, more competitive, keywords.
Local and Multi-Location SEO (MLSEO)
Location and Multi-Location Search Engine Optimization (MLSEO) may include KPIs such as local landing page (or LLP plus local landing page subpage) traffic. However, it's important to also measure the effectiveness of subpages under those LLPs. These metrics include (first and foremost) Revenue, Conversions, and lastly, loyalty program sign-ups.
For Lead-Generation, the KPIs start with the number of (and quality of) leads that can be sourced from organic traffic. Many lead generation companies also include the quantity, quality, and velocity of incoming links earned since links lead to higher trust and relevancy signals from search engines such as Google.
C-Suite Vs. Marketing Team
It is essential to differentiate the type of metrics required by each team. For example, the C-Suite Team often focuses on the bottom line, whereas the Marketing Team focuses closely on the SEO focal points that lead to a better bottom line. When building reports, start vague with the C-Suite Team with presentation slides limited to revenue growth, lead growth, and average keyword position. When they ask for more details, then add additional slides.
Setting Up & Working With Campaigns
An effective SEO campaign starts with selecting the technical SEO software that best aligns with your client's business objectives (and budget) while offering the ideal C-Suite and Marketing Teams reporting. The campaign will also include extensive keyword research and tracking share of voice for selected keywords. Content optimization and workflow with your team can make or break your strategy, as will link-earning efforts. Lastly, reporting itself and leveraging Looker Studio could be the final step in creating a campaign that everyone on the client's and your team feel good about.
Technical SEO Tools & Reports
Regardless of which SEO suite or SEO software your agency selects, a routine cadence of auditing report output should be assigned and monitored regularly. Too often, agencies neglect regular (weekly, twice-monthly) reporting on technical SEO, resulting in client content being deindexed, security being compromised (affecting CTR with "warning this site might hurt your computer" messaging), or any number of issues that often arise with websites.
Make it Priority #1 to review these reports closely so that your team and your client will have peace of mind that there will be no surprises when it comes to organic traffic changes.
Keyword Research & Share of Voice Tracking
Rebuilding a client's website architecture post-taxonomy research is just the first step in creating a content roadmap for SEO. Consider splitting your content team into two groups:
Production - initial keyword research, site architecture, and content roadmaps
Operations - ongoing optimization, review of search console keywords, page refreshing
Share of Voice (SOV) tracking is critical. Be sure that your SEO software offers this feature so that you can know the moment a competitor is beginning to steal your rankings and know exactly which competitor is doing so.
A common trend in the SEO industry is accidental "set it and forget it" processes when it comes to content optimization. Your SEO software should alert you when new opportunities arise to reoptimize or further optimize your most important web pages.
Consider building a report that emails the content operations team which pages need the additional attention. Include rows for each SEO focal point, such as:
Titles, meta descriptions, and respectively CTR
Headings and subheadings
Keywords in the URL, image names, and video thumbnail names
ALT tags and image captions (when applicable)
Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust signals (E-E-A-T)
Link-Earning and Competitor Insights
With the multitude of CRMs and SEO software for link-earning, creating monthly reports to show digital PR teams their performance should be simple. Two of the top link-building tools that include custom projects and reporting are Buzzstream and Pitchbox. Reports include fields such as:
# of emails sent
# of sites qualified as prospects
# of sites in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th follow-up status
# of sites agreeing to link, but have not yet
# of sites that have confirmed links
C-Suite Teams often enjoy seeing what the competition is up to. If you are putting slides together each month, consider showing a side-by-side of pages competitors publish that compete with pages your client publishes as well. Annotate the differences, and take note when changes become permanent, as they may provide clues into what's working well, and what may not.
Reporting & Looker Studio
When you think of Looker Studio, you're probably thinking of an online experience with squares that contain charts and graphs.
As it turns out, Looker Studio works seamlessly to emulate Google Slides; giving your agency the ability to send beautiful reporting to clients sourced from Looker Studio, but customized with Google Sheets integrations for comments, wins, challenges, and other context that is difficult to present in the default Looker Studio online format.
Creating intuitive and simple reporting is foundational to establishing confidence with your clients. If managed correctly, you'll rarely hear from your clients unless KPIs are at risk or not met, per the dashboards within your reports.
Several SEO software options were presented for your agency to explore based on your agency size and your client size. By now, you should have a strong understanding of the selection process and attributes to pay attention to, from affordable solutions for small businesses to robust enterprise suites for larger accounts.
You have a template and foundation for establishing KPIs using data from your suite of SEO tools, along with ideas to consider as it relates to KPIs to track for e-commerce, local SEO, lead generation, and differentiating attributes for C-Suite vs Marketing Teams.
Your reporting (Looker Studio-recommended) can draw inspiration from the attributes suggested, such as technical SEO reporting, keyword share of voice, content optimization progress, link-earning, and competitive analysis.
Your arsenal of SEO tool knowledge should now include everything you need to cultivate and nurture reporting unlike any of your competitors. But more importantly, the peace of mind your team and your client's key stakeholders will have should culminate into years of business together.