If you’ve been following this blog for a bit you’ve probably seen that I have some hot takes or controversial opinions about SEO. One of my stronger ones has maintained the same over the years, that “SEO tools don’t matter.” I’m sick of having to repeat my argument over and over, so I figured I’d write a blog post explaining my thoughts and reasons for feeling this way.
I know a lot of SEOs who have ranked websites in some of the most competitive niches without using a single SEO tool. In fact, a lot of the big guys don’t use these, instead they sell them. That should tell you everything you need to know.
So here’s why they don’t matter, or are in fact a negative thing for your SEO.
People Are Obsessed With Them
I’ve noticed a common pattern of newer SEOs falling into rabbit holes and wasting countless hours on the “shiny cool things” instead of actually spending their time doing things that matter to rank their websites or their clients. I think it’s easier to imagine that there’s a secret tool that is going to get you results and rank your website, but that’s just not how the real world works.
They’re A Distraction
Going off of what I just said, it’s too easy to end up not only paying for these tools, but spending hours inside dashboards while you make zero progress with ranking your website. I get it: parts of SEO can seem boring or unfun to newcomers in this space…but that’s how it is with any job or project. There are going to be things that you enjoy more than others, but those things are necessary in order to succeed.
A Waste Of Time & Money
The average SEO tool costs $87 per month. I came up with this number by looking up the current pricing of tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, KW Finder, Moz Pro, etc. I then calculated the true average with an online calculator.
Multiply that by a year, and that’s $1,000 a year. Now to some people, that may not seem like a ton of money. But the reality is you can actually get better results by not using SEO tools. (And I’m going to get to that later.)
The money you’d spend on an SEO tool can be better invested in many ways to further propel your SEO. From outsourcing content writing, to guest posting for backlinks…these things will actually move the needle for you. Just buying a tool doesn’t get you results. A lot of new SEOs fall into the trap of believing these tools have special data that you won’t get elsewhere. But this simply isn’t true.
Your Competitors Use Them Too
Here’s why using SEO tools actually puts you at a serious disadvantage: your competitors also use the same tools. That means that they are tapping into the exact same data set that you would be. They’re getting the same exact keyword ideas spit out by these tools.
In other words, ironically by using these tools and believing that you are getting keywords that no one else is getting – you’re actually being fed the exact same keywords that your competitors are inevitably going to target. It’s irony at its finest. And you’re paying for it to happen.
The reality is this: you’re making things harder for yourself by using these tools. If everyone is writing content on the exact same topics, you’re going to have to make your content longer, do more research, have more media, and invest way more time into it. I don’t know about you, but I feel like everyone working to make things more difficult for each other is dumb.
I Can Understand Wanting To Work Smart
Look, I don’t blame anyone for trying to get topic ideas and keywords that other people haven’t thought of. But keyword research tools aren’t how you go about this. As I mentioned earlier, you’re only making things harder for yourself. So…what do you do instead?
Here’s What To Do Instead
So this brings us to the question of “if I shouldn’t use SEO tools, what should I do instead?” Well, luckily there’s still many ways to achieve the same data without spending a dime.
AI Has Replaced SEO Tools
AI is the best thing that has happened to SEOs. Yes, I’m serious. I’ve seen this wild panic about how “AI is going to destroy SEO”. I firmly disagree and I’ve written a blog post about the future of SEO with AI. I’ll sum up a TLDR of what I talk about in that post here.
Essentially, AI isn’t going to get rid of SEO. Instead of trying to please the Google overlords, however, we’ll now be optimizing for AI chatbots and algorithms instead. The SEOs who will remain and be prominent in the future will be those who have adapted and learned how to use AI effectively.
Anyways, that brings me to answering the question: how do you use current AI to help you do keyword research…? Well, it’s simple. Pretend it’s an expert who knows everything about what people are typing into Google.
You can ask it “What are common questions people have about [TOPIC]” and it will spit out a list for you. That’s one way to do it.
To make your life easier, I’ve compiled a list of prompts for you to try. These are created by me and are quite effective for keyword research.
My ChatGPT Prompts
- What would a buyer doing research type in about [TOPIC]?
- Give me 5 content ideas that are very specific/niche about [TOPIC]
- Give me 5 questions people have asked on Reddit about [TOPIC]
- What are 5 questions people have asked on forums about [TOPIC]
- Imagine you are a prospect looking for a business that does [TOPIC]. What are some questions you have?
Better Keyword Research Alternative (Besides AI)
If you don’t want to use AI, no sweat! I have another alternative for you. Instead of trying to find search phrases with chatbots, look at questions people are asking on Reddit and forums related to your niche instead. There’s a good chance that people are posting on these platforms, they couldn’t find the answer elsewhere.
Join subreddits and sign up for accounts for forums in your niche. Then monitor for new posts. Not only is this a great way to find unique content topics, but you can answer people’s questions as well and feature your answer in the blog post. You can even mention “this user asked this question on Reddit, so I decided to write a blog post answering it.”
Make Your Own Tools (Now Possible Without Coding)
Back to AI for a moment. Remember earlier how I mentioned AI is the new best thing for SEOs…? Well, this is what I was getting to. Within less than a few hours I was able to get ChatGPT to make me a rank check tool, and the tool that was capable of reverse engineering word counts to find the perfect word count content should be when writing it for a topic.
Folks, the world we live in is quickly changing.
But instead of this scaring you, this should excite you. Because most AI tools are free right now. ChatGPT is a huge advantage if you know how to use it!
Yes, this takes persistence and a time investment. But so does ranking in search engines with SEO, regardless of what your strategy is. Whether you are using AI tools or doing things the old fashion way, you are still putting in time.
By having your own tools, you have complete control. You have the benefits of keyword research tools without having to pay a dime per month. And on top of that, you can also customize the features of your tool to do exactly what you need it to.
I’d strongly advocate for at least trying this. Even if you make a basic tool that tracks your ranking in search, wouldn’t that still be useful…? The world of marketing is changing because of AI, and now is the time to learn how to use the technology.
Keyword research tools cost on average over $1,000 a year. If you use them, you are actively paying to make SEO more difficult for yourself. Because your competitors use these tools, they are getting the same keyword ideas spit out to them. Everyone is then creating content focused on the same keywords and topics.
Instead of using keyword tools, simply be engaged in the conversation online in your niche. Join forums and subreddits for your industry, and see what people are saying. You’ll quickly be able to find real questions people are asking. Then all you have to do is create content around these topics.
Another option is to use AI to brainstorm, or if you want to take things to the next level you can have tools like ChatGPT program your own SEO tools for you. If you do this, you’ll have complete control over the tools and won’t have to pay a dime for them.
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