What is Surfer SEO, and why do you need it?
Surfer SEO is a tool that promises to take your content to the next level in terms of how they rank in the SERPs. How it does that though is a little different to your regular common-garden SEO tool. You’ll see what I meant as we dive a little further into this tool, but it’s really unique and you’ll quickly identify the reasons behind glowing surfer reviews and an almost immediate industry-wide acceptance of this SEO tool (and part of the reasons why I’ve been aching to do a full review).
No need to worry however, as all of your standard features are available here too. You’ll still have the means to research relevant keywords for your niche (in fact, Surfer SEO will go so far as to recommend what keyword-driven content you should write about), but Surfer’s ace up its sleeve is in analysing the competition rather than merely concentrating on just your own content.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. A seasoned SEO consultant will have long been able to pull up data about other sites ranking for keywords they’re interested in. What Surfer SEO does so well though, is having the ability to relay this information in the most convenient and time-saving manner possible.
In practical terms, this means that Surfer SEO uses a data-driven model that analyses what’s already ranking well, instead of industry standard guidelines that you ‘hope’ Google will appreciate. The analysis takes into account over 500 different factors when studying the competition. Pulling together reports on metrics such as word counts, number of images and keyword density for example.
Surfer SEO puts all this information into an easy-to-follow guide that points out exactly what actions you should take in order to rank as well as possible for each post. If you’re the type who prefers to drill down into the minutiae though, there’s also the option to see how your post measures up to the top-ranking posts for each individual metric.
If you find that your post has 10,000 words whilst the rest have around 1,500 for example, you might find that shortening your word count so that it’s more in line with the competition will boost your rankings.
Working with this data-driven model has the potential to save a serious amount of time when creating content with SEO in mind. By allowing you to implement an SEO template of what’s actually working right now, rather than using a trial and error technique that you need to hone down over several weeks, users are able to remove a lot of the guesswork from their SEO strategy.
Even for those that already look at the competition as a means for forming their own content, Surfer SEO provides all the information you need in an instant, rather than requiring you to trawl through several reports on individual sites.
Invaluable for content creators, Surfer SEO’s content editing tool gives real-time ratings for your writing. This is similar in many ways to the Yoast plugin for WordPress sites, that offers up green or red lights depending on how well it deems your content to be optimised for SEO.
Again though, Surfer SEO’s editor is geared towards their data-driven model instead of a perceived ‘best practice’. When creating your content with it, you’ll find that a side bar offers advice on how you need to structure your post in order for it to resemble (in structure at least) the highest-ranking pages for any given keyword. It really does make it easy for writers to adhere to what’s likely to be the most successful format of a particular post.
The number of words, paragraphs, headings and images are all monitored throughout the writing stage. The Content Editor updates as you go, while providing a target guideline of how many you should ideally have of each.
Surfer SEO likens their Content Editor to “a game”, with an overall score at the side of the screen racking up points while you try to turn all the related keywords it lists for you to green, showing that you’ve successfully included them.
While I’m not sure that the Content Editor is enough to make you or your writers suddenly think they’re playing a game rather than working, it’s certainly one of the cleanest and easiest editors I’ve seen.
Everything you need is right there at the side of the screen as you’re typing, while just as importantly, everything you don’t need is wonderfully absent. Too often, SEO tools are so eager to show you what they’re capable of, that users can become overwhelmed with a multitude of options that provide little real worth. Content Editor’s ease of use makes it a great option for businesses with several writers on the team to ensure that each is following the same formula.
A Chrome extension is available too which allows for the guidelines you’d find in Content Editor to be mirrored on Google Docs. If you outsource your content creation, a link can be sent to your writers to allow for this integration. What’s more, they don’t even have to have Surfer SEO themselves to use it.
This is another clean and easy to follow tool that splits keywords into boxes that group together similar keywords that complement the original. For SEO managers, the main boon here is that a lot of the work is done for you. Choosing a couple of keywords relevant to your niche will allow Content Planner to provide you with enough similar keywords to keep a team of writers busy for weeks.
One aspect that will be particularly useful to many is Content Planner’s ability to filter results by intent. This means that you won’t have to sift through dozens of ‘customer investigation’ keywords such as “best whisky gifts”, if you’re looking for informational-style keywords for something like “different types of whisky” instead.
Once your content has been published, the Content Planner tool also doubles up as a means of tracking the effectiveness of each post, allowing you to see what’s working and what isn’t.
The data you’ll find in SERP Analyzer is what the whole Surfer SEO tool revolves around: the characteristics of the best-ranking posts. While the rest of Surfer SEO holds your hand through the SEO process by telling you exactly what to do, SERP Analyzer provides an opportunity to do your own SEO detective work.
By delving deeper into the 500+ factors you can use to compare competitors’ pages, you can determine which seems the most crucial in Google providing a high ranking. You may find that the rest of the 10 best-ranking results all have very different amounts of paragraphs to one another. This would suggest that trying to ensure that your content falls within the same range might not be so important. If however, you notice that all of the top results use a total of 11 or 12 images, then this is obviously something that would warrant further investigation.
It can also be used as a tool for finding new link-building opportunities. If a number of your competitors are receiving a backlink from one particular site, you may well find that it’s worth reaching out to them in an effort to bolster your own perceived authority in that area.
Most good SEO tools will include an audit function that crawls your older posts, and Surfer SEO is no different. If you’re looking to subscribe to an SEO tool service and you already have a large library of published posts and pages on your site, an SEO audit tool is absolutely invaluable. Creating SERP-friendly fresh content is one thing, but neglecting your old content is a huge mistake. In many cases, a small tweak here and there can make a seismic difference to the ranking of older content.
Surfer SEO’s audit feature doesn’t reinvent the wheel in this regard, but as with the rest of their tools, it is intuitive and easy-to-follow. One element it uses that isn’t always present in competitors’ tools though, is the recommendations of related posts for internal linking. So not only will it tell you when your content needs some internal links, but it’ll also pick out the most natural pages to link to.
Surfer SEO’s dedicated keyword research tool allows users to see what their potential visitors are also asking when searching for particular terms. People searching for “types of tent”, may also be looking for “best camping stove”. This means that again, a lot of your work is done for you, as Surfer SEO provides keyword after keyword for you throughout.
Again, one of Surfer SEO’s main strengths is in its clean layout and UI: each keyword will take the user straight to the Content Editor when clicked on. Such intuitiveness makes Surfer SEO a brilliant tool for businesses with employees who might struggle to get to grips with unfamiliar software.
How does Surfer compare to other content analysis and keyword research tools?
There’s a multitude of options for anyone looking for SEO tools right now, and Surfer SEO seems to stack up quite favourably against them.
SEMrush is one of the big hitters in this field. They’ve been around for ages and offer an all-in-one toolkit of sorts that provides a complete digital marketing solution. In comparison to Surfer SEO, it perhaps gives you access to a broader range of tools. For example, SEMrush can help you to identify opportunities within social media, while Surfer SEO lacks any social media tool.
This breadth of functionality does come at a price though (both figuratively and literally), not only is it far more expensive than Surfer SEO, but it also requires the navigation of a much steeper learning curve in order to master.
Moz is another familiar name that provides users with page optimisation reports. Like Surfer SEO, it helpfully offers a list of related keywords that writers should look to include. Unlike Surfer SEO however, it’s a static list that doesn’t update as you go along, leaving the user to keep track of what they’ve written themselves.
Despite its competitive pricing, there is an option that’s cheaper than Surfer SEO. PageOptimizer PRO provides keyword research features and even has a Chrome extension for editing, just like Surfer SEO’s effort. In some aspects, you could make a case for PageOptimizer PRO’s extension being the better of the two. While Surfer SEO’s version can be used solely on Google Docs, PageOptimizer PRO’s browser extension supports several different online editors including Wix, Magento, Shopify and Oxygen.
Unfortunately, in most other departments Surfer SEO has it beat. It’s much more user friendly, and when it comes to competitor comparisons, performs a lot of the legwork for you. When comparing against other sites on PageOptimizer Pro, you’ll need to find and enter each competing site manually. Once that’s done, you’ll find that you can only compare ten at a time, instead of Surfer SEO’s 50. PageOptimizer PRO’s keyword research tool also lacks the depth and number of results that Surfer SEO offers.
Surfer SEO – Pros of the tool
Unlike most other tools, Surfer SEO allows you to emulate what’s actually working right now. No speculation or trial and error needed.
There are tools that go into more detail than Surfer SEO, but few that are as easy to use. Its intuitive UI makes it easy for employees, freelancers or even yourself to pick it up without having to wade through hours of tutorials.
Considering the amount of data it’s pulling through for each report, Surfer SEO is lightning quick. Gone are the days of having a coffee break while waiting for results to load (though that could be a bad thing if you’re partial to the odd cuppa!)
Tricked-out content editor
A built-in content editor is always a welcome addition, and Surfer SEO’s is among the best. It offers tonnes of functionality, but still manages to stay clean and easy to use. The fact that it updates in real time to tell you how you’re doing is a fantastic bonus too. The Chrome extension that allows some of this functionality on Google Docs also offers some appreciated flexibility.
Surfer SEO – Cons of the tool
No social media tools
As mentioned in the comparison with SEMrush above, Surfer SEO offers nothing in the way of help for social media campaigns. If it’s an all-round digital marketing tool you need, then you’ll be best to look elsewhere. Surfer SEO is really just for on-page SEO.
No free trial
True, it does offer seven days for $1, but in a market in which most of the competition offer free trials to allow potential users to look around their suite of tools, this seems needless and a bit of a misstep.
As far as innovative tools go, Surfer is certainly up there. I say this because it’s not an all-rounder tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs, and nor does it claim to be. It does what it says it will based on the outlined features and, more importantly, it does these features very well.
Increasingly, you’ll see more and more content services in particular starting to promote ‘Surfer-optimised content’, because it really is that good. So have a gander!