Small Business Guide to Tools that Help Your SEM

All of us in SEM use certain tools and Web sites to track, analyze, and collect data — it’s not a secret. The fact that we use sites to help us is another reason why anyone can learn SEM — but it takes time, commitment, and a certain aptitude.

There are plenty of tools that a small business can and should use to make their limited time most productive in online marketing. We use these tools while optimizing our clients’ sites at Blizzard, and recommend them to our clients to track our progress and compare baseline data to gains we’ve made for them throughout the year.

Keyword Research

The paid version of Keyword Discovery is very robust, has many options that allow you to tailor to your specific needs, and saves each client as its own project so you can refer back to the numbers and run updated daily search reports every once in awhile. If you’re looking for a free tool, the new WordStream tool is really good.

Using MSN Labs Demographic Tool, Google Trends or Google Insights teaches you more about the people using these keywords as queries. Knowing where to target your PPCs or what demographic to target with your ad copy and on-page text could be that next step that means the difference between someone who is looking, and someone who is enticed to buy.

Ranking Reports

Although I never condone obsessing over search engine rankings, watching what is happening is a good way to judge what is and isn’t working with your SEO strategies. We like for this. For $4 to $5 a month, you can track rankings on up to 50 keywords and receive a weekly or monthly e-mail report.

This tool also has a ton of other features we haven’t really explored yet. If you have added insight, please share in the comments below.


Although I’ve criticized them, Google Analytics is the best free Web site tracking program around. We use it quite a bit and have customized what we can do. It takes time and dedication to do this, but it really pays off if you can get it configured the way you like it.

We also use a variety of heat mapping options to help us determine where people are clicking. Our two favorite tools are CrazyEgg and ClickTale.

Link Building

Finding really great links is tough. It involves long hours mining the backlinks of other sites and competitors.

The best tool for finding backlinks that come into other people’s Web sites is Yahoo Site Explorer. Plug in a domain and you can sort by a few different parameters. You can enter the top rankers for a term and then sort by:

  • Inlinks
  • “Except from this Domain”
  • To “Entire Site”

This produces a clean list of links that are coming into that competitor or client’s site. Download this as a TSV and open it in Excel. Add in all the links for the top 10 or 20 competitors and then remove the duplicates. Then start working down the list looking for attainable links.

This is probably the best and most inexpensive way to find links. We do this research for multiple destinations about once every quarter to find new links and remove links that no longer are passing value.

Remember: not ALL of these sites will be given “credit” from Google, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Google never gives us the whole story when it comes to what links they like and don’t like.

Competitive Intelligence

We use quite a few different tools, so I’ll just list a few. Make sure to find those that work best for you.

  • SEMRush: This tool provides some interesting info on terms a site is ranking for and who the online competition really is.
  • LinkVoodoo: This is a neat tool — we like the “grading” it gives on your link profile — great info for comparing a client to their top competitors. They also offer progress reports that you can have e-mailed to you to show drops or gains in your score. Although some of the factors are silly (like Alexa Ranking), it’s a free tool we like to use as another “piece” of the puzzle.
  • Google Maps: In a maps listing, look at the tabs that run across the listing that show how many mentions are on the Web for the client. Mentions, reviews, user-generated content, etc., are all factors that support ranking in local listings. Add those up and see who has the most? I bet the highest numbers rank better than the lowest in most cases. Where does your site rank?

Social Media

I love social media — it’s a great way to have your brand seen and reviewed online. One way to maximize your time is to update multiple sites with one post.

HootSuite with is good for this. It’s handy, Web-based, and pretty robust. Check it out if you want to do a lot of things but not fall into the time trap than can grab you when getting involved with social media.

Hopefully you find this list useful and get some new ideas for helping your small business SEM along. If you have other tools you like or ideas for using the ones listed above, share with everyone in the comments below!

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