Best Free Online SEO Tools and Guides for Beginners – SEO Theory

You know people are struggling with basic search engine optimization when their request for help begins with several SEO metrics (DA, PA, DR, TR, TF, etc.). It’s encouraging to see more people dismissing these 3rd-party SEO metrics right away, although they still have their defenders. SEO tools generate automated opinions about content and link quality. Opinions are good to have, but they don’t teach you the fundamental principles of search engine optimization.

In fact, no one should be paying for that kind of information. It’s all available for free and every experienced SEO professional who helps people in online discussion groups should be pushing the free information before recommending anyone’s paid course, book, newsletter, or seminar.

There is no excuse, rationalization, justification, or winning argument for recommending anything other than these FREE SEO guides and resources to people who are obviously in over their heads and confused by all the blogs, videos, and promotional landing pages they have found.

1. Google’s SEO Starter Guide

It’s not perfect but it’s an unbiased explanation of how basic search engine optimization works. You won’t find any ads for people’s books, newsletters, tools, browsers, or whatever in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

This should be the first resource listed in every conference presentation. If your blog links to free resources, it should be right there at the top of the list before your favorite uncle Jim-Bob’s free eBook.

I know many people in the industry hate Google, accuse John Mueller of being a liar, etc. They’re welcome to their opinions, but they are toxic distributors of misinformation and false conspiracry theories.

I’ve critciized Alphabet, Inc. (Google’s parent company) for many business decisions through the year, but the outreach to the SEO world has been superb for many years, starting with Matt Cutts and extending to the current large group of Googlers who record videos, answer Tweets, speak at conferences, and help Webmasters in many other ways.

It’s free, well-informed, professional technical support that everyone with any experience in the industry uses – so there’s no excuse for NOT teaching newcomers to turn to these people and resources for help.

2. Google’s How Search Works Guide

It’s the Kindergarten equivalent of search engine technology guides, but it provides a great overview of how Google’s search system works. And, frankly, the way many people who have been selling SEO services for years misrepresent how Google works is embarrassing.

Google’s How Search Works tutorial may dumb things down, but sometimes all you need is a simple, straight-forward explanation. This guide is a sales pitch for Google, and there’s no need for us to sugar-coat that.

I would recommend a similar guide from Microsoft’s Bing in a heartbeat. Seriously, Bingers, your product pages for Bing Search are way too salesy and promotional. You need to be more informative – like Google, but for Bing.

3. Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines

I understand why search marketers outside of North America don’t know much about Bing. Bing doesn’t have a great market share in Europe or Asia. But if you’re going to work with American businesses, or do any kind of online marketing to North American searchers, you need to know how Bing helps Website publishers.

As for those of us who live and work in North America, we can’t overlook the fact that Bing handles about 1/3 of desktop search, about 1/2 of voice search, and runs a heck of a PPC marketplace. Yes, Google dominates the mobile search market – but desktop search is still as important as it always was. Mobile search grew up beside desktop search – it didn’t displace it.

So Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines are a vital reference for marketers who need to grow their North American search traffic.

Bing has the largest network of search partners. Nearly every new (and privacy focused) search engine you’ve read about for the past few years is a Bing search partner. When you start calculating “search market share”, you need to understand that Bing has a much bigger slice of the pie than a majority of SEO specialists will tell you.

4. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

You should read Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines before reading Google’s. These are two different search engines, and I often see people making the mistake of saying “what works for Google works for Bing.”

That’s simply not true. Bing and Google do handle many things about the same, but there are significant differences between the two search engine’s indexes, algorithms, and results. Marketers should begin learning about those differences from the start. So read Bing’s guidelines first.

Then start reading Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Both search engines tell you what not to do. Aggressive marketers ignore the guidelines and take risks. That’s a business decision, but everyone should learn what the risks are before deciding to take them.

So the Webmaster Guidelines should always be at the top of the list of recommended SEO reseources. They are free to read, easy to find (just Bing or Google them), and they’ll be the first resources that search engine employees recommend a beginner start reading.

5. Bing Toolbox<//h2>

Bing’s Webmaster console is very different from Google’s, but did you know that if you’re using Google Search Console that Bing’s Toolbox will import your site verification data for you?

Bing tells you only what Bing knows – that is, what your Bing search visibility and referral traffic look like.

Start using Bing Toolbox.

Most people who complain about getting no traffic from Bing also admit to doing nothing to optimize for it. Some people try to optimize for Bing and find it doesn’t work for them, and that’s fine. They made the effort. But Bing is a major player and you shouldn’t ignore it.

What works for Bing sometimes is very different from what works for Google. For example, if your site isn’t earning links from sites that are indexed in Bing, your site isn’t likely to do well in Bing. Bing uses Bing’s index, not Google’s.

6. Google Search Console

The most frequent mistake I see people make when asking why their sites aren’t ranking in Google is that they don’t check their Google rankings. Before you pay anyone for “Google rankings”, you should check your Google Search Console data. That’s the only accurate source of information.

All those SEO tools you’re using for ranking reports ARE GUESSING AT YOUR GOOGLE TRAFFIC (and guessing badly). You have no reason NOT to verify your sites with Google Search Console.

If you really think you should be tracking rankings, then you should get real ranking data. And read the help guides, which explain where the data comes from and how it’s reported.

The no. 1 reason why I see people ignore Google Search Console’s rankings reports is that “it’s only reporting Average Position“. You know, if you’ve been doing SEO for at least a year and you’re paying for SEO tool ranking reports for your site because you don’t like Average Position – go find another job. You don’t know what you’re doing.

The 3rd-party SEO tools’ ranking reports are marginally useful for ESTIMATING what a rival site’s traffic may be like. They’re not reliable sources of information for your own sites’ traffic.

The fact you like how they organize their reports doesn’t excuse or justify ignoring what the search engines tell you.

Get real, accurate traffic data from Google Search Console.

7. Google Trends

Trend analysis is vital to search engine optimization. If you’re looking at declining traffic for a site, you need to know 3 things:

  1. Whether the site has lost actual AVERAGE position
  2. Whether the site has deleted, redirected, or deindexed content
  3. If the site’s business model is affected by recent events (disasters, news, etc.)
  4. What the site’s historical traffic patterns look like
  5. What the site’s query traffic trends look like

I wish Bing had a tool like Google Trends. You can learn a lot about why a Website isn’t doing well by examining the history of the queries it targets. Queries have lifespans, and they ebb and flow in cyclic patterns by season and by generation.

And did you know that most people are unaware of the secondary reports that Google Trends provides below the first chart? Spend some time scrolling through the data and clicking on options.

8. Statcounter’s Global Stats Report

Statcounter collects data from around the world. Its reports are not 100% accurate but the Statcounter Global Statistics report is a great resource for anyone who wants to study market share estimates for browser, device platform, search engine, social media, and more.

You can drill down into the data by region and other factors.

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They provide an extensive Frequently Asked Questions page that explains where the data comes from, how it’s used to compile the reports, and more.

You should supplement your Statcounter analysis with data from Internet World Stats. It’s a bit more “old school” in terms of layout but it’s free demographic data.

9. Internet Archive (Wayback Machine)

More people turn to the Wayback Machine now than used to, but many Web marketers still never bother to look at the source code of Websites when trying to help each other in online discussions.

The first thing I do when someone in an online discussion says they’ve suddenly lost traffic is load their Website into a browser and then compare it to recently archived versions of their site in the Wayback Machine.

I look for changes in site structure and design. For more about that, read my 10 Minute SEO article.

You can use the Internet Archive to capture images of Web documents. so you build a history of changes over time.

10. An Alternative Web Browser

I use five different browsers on my desktop computer. My preferred browser is Microsoft Edge although Vivaldi runs a close second in my opinion.

If you’re still stuck in Chrome or Firefox, you should experiment with more modern browsers. They offer many cool features that complement your work as an SEO specialist.

Most browsers are still built on the open-source Chromium platform, and I’ve found that many Chrome extensions work just fine in these browsers if you can’t find appropriate versions of your favorite extensions in those browsers’ own extension stores.

While cross-browser compatibility isn’t guaranteed for all extensions, you shouldn’t feel like you have to stay with Chrome. Other browsers won’t track your activity the way Chrome does – and as I said, they have other features you appreciate.

If you’re just learning about search engine optimization, don’t assume that Chrome is where you need to be. It’s not.


It shouldn’t cost you anything but your time and energy to learn basic search engine optimization. The SEO industry lacks proper standards, and that means the most reliable information you’ll find is provided directly by the search engines themselves.

Once you’re confident in your skills and experience, you can begin experimenting with premium tools and paid courses. You should not have to pay anyone to teach you search engine optimization.

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