12 powerful SEO tools you've probably never heard of

Search and marketing pros know all about the usual suspects of SEO tools, but the web is packed with under-the-radar services that can take your search game to the next level. Here are a dozen lesser-known SEO utilities you need to test drive.

01 seo tools
Credit: Thinkstock
12 SEO tools you should be using

If you're in the search engine optimization (SEO) field or are a digital marketer, you're probably familiar with Moz, Raven and SEMrush. However, at least 150 free and paid SEO tools are available today, according to Backlinko— many of which you've probably never heard of, especially if you're a search newbie.

So we put together a guide to some of the best, lesser-known, and in some cases niche, SEO and content marketing tools — with an emphasis on utilities that offer free plans or paid subscriptions for $100 or less per month. The SEO tools are listed in alphabetical order.

02 ahrefs
Ahrefs

Ahrefs is a helpful suite of SEO tools designed to track backlinks, keyword performance and brand mentions, among other things. You can use Ahrefs to find out how many domains refer to your site; how many .gov or .edu sites link to yours (such sites tend to have high search engine authority); and which sites that link to yours are most authoritative. The "Content Explorer" tool (see slide) is helpful for content marketers, because it helps quickly identify the content that is most popular for given keywords. Plans start at $99 a month, and the price drops to $82.50 a month if you pay for a full year up front.

03 authoritylabs
AuthorityLabs

AuthorityLabs provides automated, daily tracking of keyword-search rankings across multiple websites. Users can track local search results, too — a great feature for small businesses that depend on local traffic — as well as global results across Google, Yahoo and Bing. When you connect a Google Analytics (GA) account, AuthorityLabs offers a helpful "Now Provided" report, which delivers additional keyword performance information. It's a useful alternative to GA's frustrating "Not Provided" lack of data. AuthorityLabs is available as a free trial for 30 days, and it doesn't require a credit card. After that, plans start at $99 per month.

04 broken link check
Broken Link Check

Its interface isn't pretty, but the free Broken Link Check tool gets the job done. And it's easy to use. Just type in a URL and the tool crawls the site, checking for broken internal and external links. Broken Link Check delivers lists of broken links (if they exist on the site, and they probably do), the pages the bum links are located on, and the server responses visitors see when they click broken links.

05 buzzstream
BuzzStream

SEO is essentially a PR and networking game, because external links from random websites can be highly important Google ranking factors. BuzzStream bills itself as "the most advanced influencer outreach platform," and it offers a host of tools to help determine which influencers you should contact, which you should prioritize and track engagements with, and the links you should monitor. BuzzStream offers some useful features for free, including a quick tool for extracting page titles, meta-descriptions, and meta-keywords from URLs (see slide). The starter plan costs $24 per month.

06 buzzstream discovery
BuzzStream Discovery

The BuzzStream Discovery tool, which helps quickly spot the top influencers for any given keyword, is free, but you need to set up an account to use it. After entering a keyword, such as corporate wellness, you see a list of influencers. From there, you can easily see influencers' most relevant articles on the topic, along with the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter shares for those articles; their Twitter handles; and brief bios or descriptions. A tap on an influencer's name delivers more details, including their average shares per post and number of Twitter followers. BuzzStream provides a lot of quality information at no cost.

07 cognitiveseo
CognitiveSEO

CognitiveSEO combines a number of helpful tools for content marketers and SEO professionals, including a backlink analysis tool for visual, easy-to-understand link audits, and an "Unnatural Link Detection" tool that identifies suspicious links Google may not approve of. A "Penalties" tools helps adjust to Google Penguin algorithm updates. A "Content" tools help identify competitors' content marketing strategies and see how your own content fares on social media (see slide). The basic plan costs $99 per month and supports up to five users.

08 connector
Content Marketer Connector

Content Marketer's Connector is an easy-to-use tool for email outreach, and it provides templates designed to help promote content among influencers. It's also affordable at $9 per month. You get email templates for asking recipients to share blog posts, making new connections, offers to write guest posts, requests to spread the word out about your startup, and follow-up messages. You can schedule when emails are sent, automate follow-up replies, and track message success rates.

09 notifier
Content Marketer Notifier

Another service from Content Marketer, Notifier ($9 per month), makes it easy to tweet influencers and tell them when they're featured in online articles. The tool scans articles and blog posts for names, matches their Twitter accounts, and prepares tweets that include the influencers' @Twitter handles and links to the content. That makes it easy for influencers to share links with their followers. You may, however, want to double check some of the Twitter accounts Notifier finds, to make sure they're the appropriate users.

10 cyfe
Cyfe

Talk about one-stop shopping. Cyfe is a customizable browser dashboard that provides a bird's-eye view of multiple data streams. Using widgets, the Cyfe browser page can shows thumbnail overviews of how keywords currently rank in Google SERPs, Google Webmaster Tools accounts, Moz.com backlinks and page authority, Twitter streams, and more. It's a valuable way to track how content performs. The free account is fairly robust, and the premium unlimited account costs $19 per month.

11 deepcrawl
DeepCrawl

DeepCrawl calls itself "the world's most comprehensive website crawler," and it certainly does a thorough examination of websites. The tool then produces equally in-depth reports on all the technical errors that might adversely affect a site's search engine rankings. Some similar data is available for free in Google's Webmasters tools and other utilities, but DeepCrawl really is thorough. Plans start at $49 per month.  

12 serpstat
Serpstat

Serpstat's SEO tools are particularly well suited for competitive research. Users enter websites into its search box and receive a list of keyword competitors. For each competitor, the tool shows a relevancy score, visibility score, and a list of common and missing keywords. With the "Content Marketing" tool, you enter a keyword, and Serpstat displays a list of commonly searched, relevant questions, which you can use to build content. Serpstat's "Lite" plan costs $49 per month, but discounts are available if you pay for two or three years at a time. (A Ukrainian company developed Serpstat, so you may receive automated error messages or email from the company that include some Russian phrases.)

13 tiny ranker
Tiny Ranker

Tiny Ranker is a set of user-friendly SEO tools developed in Norway and Denmark. As the name implies, the tools are designed to help gather intelligence on how websites rank for specific keywords. For example, you can easily compare how your site ranks for specific keywords compared to a particular competitor. You can link a GA account, as well, to see your biggest keyword "winners and losers" over time. The starter account, which provides plenty of capabilities for small websites, costs $19 per month, and premium plans cost as much as $79 a month.