The BEST Free Tools to Optimize & Monitor Website Performance

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You’ve got an amazing offering to give the world, and you’ve put time, money, and energy into crafting a killer website. If all the hooks are there, why are you still getting no bites?

There’s no easy answer. When it comes to digital marketing, you’ve got a lot to juggle. Whether it’s your link-building strategy, your website experience, the keywords you’re using, or the content you’re creating, there is a multitude of things that can affect your website performance metrics. 

You could spend a fortune optimizing your strategy using the most advanced website performance monitoring tools around. You could also spend nothing, use any number of free tools, and save your money for when you scale your business. Read on to learn which free tools we recommend and what they can do for you.

Monitor Website Performance

There’s nothing worse than clicking onto a site for a brand you’re really curious about only to be assaulted by pop-up ads, find it difficult to navigate, or find bland, stock content.

In such a crowded marketplace, all it takes is one bad experience for people to click away from your site and search for one of your competitors whose website IS user-friendly. We can’t stress it enough — you need to give your viewers a good experience on your site. This means it’s fast, secure, informative, and easy to navigate.

Website Grader is an amazing website monitoring tool that lays out how all elements in your site rank, what it means, and what you can do about it. It breaks down your grade based on performance, SEO optimization, mobile-friendliness, and security.

Their performance assessment helps you see what could be slowing down your site and turning off customers. Slow load times can make a visitor click away in a matter of seconds, so this is critical. You’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what’s creating a lag, whether it’s page size, image size, cacheing, or page redirects.

The tool will also tell you whether you pass the test for SEO optimization, which is the primary way to increase organic traffic. Website Grader calculates your level of SEO optimization based on how easy it is for people and web crawlers to identify your content. 

Track User Behavior

In today’s competitive marketplace, you need to take as much guesswork as possible out of your digital marketing strategy.

It’s important that you take gut feelings and personal biases out of the equation, but in order to do that, you need robust and consistent data on your prospect’s behaviors. There’s nothing like data to give you a direct line of communication into their minds. Thankfully, you have a few free options that do just that.

Google Analytics will show you how people make their way to your site, how they behave on it, and how they convert into customers. You can check metrics like bounce rate (the percentage of people who land on your page and leave), average pages per visit, unique users vs. returning users, and user behavior flow. 

Tracking behavior will give you an invaluable awareness of what works and what doesn’t on  your site and the quality of your visitor’s experience on it. For example, a high bounce rate can indicate that something’s wrong such as slow load times, misleading title tags or meta descriptions, or a barrage of pop-ups and email subscribe buttons.

You’ll also gain insights into everything from which channels to prioritize marketing on to who your customers are and where they live. 

The free version of Hotjar is another great tool to optimize your website. Through Hotjar, you’ll see visual representations of data demonstrating how people engage on your site. These “heatmaps” show warmer colors where there’s high engagement and cooler colors where there’s less engagement. You can get an overall picture of user behavior, including which behaviors lead to conversions and which lead to abandonment. 

Having data displayed this way is great for visual learners, is more engaging, and can provide insights that numerical data cannot. For example, if you had a very high bounce rate but you were only relying on numerical data, you could only guess why someone left your site on a certain page. Heatmaps will help you pinpoint exactly what’s happening and where the visitor got stuck.

You can also record up to 35 daily sessions—which are visitor’s entire journeys through the site—capture data automatically, and create surveys.

Make Friends with Google

To be successful, you need to build authority with both your customers AND search engines. 

You especially need to do so with Google. You want to make friends with Google — it’s the most popular search engine on earth, and befriending it will open doors to many new opportunities. However, to leverage Google’s influence, you need to learn and play by its rules.

You can learn these rules by using Google Search Console. It’s one of our favorite tools, and helps you see how Google views and interacts with your site, how you can optimize it, and how you can drive more traffic to your site. It’s a suite of reports that fall into three categories: performance, coverage, and enhancements.

Performance metrics show you how often your site appears in Google search results, which queries are most likely to show your site, which pages earn the most attention, and where you typically rank in results. You can then adjust accordingly.

Google Search Console will also help you identify problems that block you from appearing in search results. Their coverage reports show which pages on your site have been indexed and which ones presented problems for Google crawlers. Indexing—the process by which search engines find, evaluate, and store pages—is how you show up in search results, so this is important.

Finally, enhancements reports can give you more detailed information about what’s affecting your rankings. Ideally, you’ll want your site to appear as “rich results.” Rich results are highlighted snippets of information that answer people’s questions more quickly. These include reviews for products, showtimes for movies, and prices for flights. Using enhancements, you can determine if a page is eligible for rich results.

See What Customers Want

No matter how amazing your offerings are, they must answer to a need that customers have. 

You build a thriving business by solving problems for people, so you need to know what those problems are. Not only can this help drive your business decisions, it can help you craft a content strategy that speaks directly to what your customers want.

Answer the Public will give you a direct connection to the minds of your customers. You’ll be able to see exactly what people are looking for across search engines, and it will be presented in a clever, easily digestible format called a “search cloud.”  Let’s say you have a yoga studio and you want to see exactly what people are looking for when it comes to yoga. The search cloud might show you results like “Where did yoga originate?” “What is the best type of yoga?” or “Yoga for kids.” 

Use Answer the Public to search for long-tail keywords (which help generate high-quality traffic), craft targeted content, and track trends. For example, using the yoga example, you could create content about the history of yoga, types of yoga, and which poses are best for kids. Since subject matter is only the beginning of the battle in content strategy, you may need to enlist the help of an expert. 

Keyword Explorer is another great tool you can use to look for specific keywords. The folks at Moz designed it so you can search either by word or by site. Use this tool to identify which keywords to prioritize and to see how keyword-rich your site or that of your competitors is.

When you search by keyword, you’ll see a ranking based on four categories: volume, difficulty, organic CTR (click through rate), and priority. Volume will indicate how often people search for the word, while difficulty will gauge how much of a challenge it will be to rank highly. Organic CTR indicates how likely it will be to stand out from non-organic search results. The priority score is based on the first three metrics and is designed to help you know which keywords are worth using.

Amp Up Your Link Building Strategy

The more backlinks you have from high-quality, authoritative websites, the more link juice you have driving traffic to your site.

Link building is an SEO essential. Not only does having backlinks from high-quality sites draw in those who find you through the original link, it also helps you rank higher with search engines. 

Ahref’s Backlink Checker is a great way to see who is linking to your site and how often people are talking about you. The SEO experts at Ahref created a rating system to reflect these two qualities. Domain Rating (DR) is a measure of the “link popularity” of your site. Plug in your site’s URL into their free tool, and you’ll see how many backlinks you have, from whom, and how you rank according to their DR system. You can then compare your rating with your competitors.

Just remember, domain authority is a measure of how many high-quality pages link to you. It’s not a measure of your search engine rankings or overall authority. However, Ahref’s team has found a correlation between high DR ratings and high rates of organic search traffic.

If you find that your link juice is a little watered down, it’s time to amp up your efforts to earn quality links. You can do this through outreach, guest blogging, or content repurposing. You also want to make sure your website is worthy of backlinks by leveraging the tools we’ve covered to optimize performance and crafting great content.

Ensure Crawlers Can Find You

To get noticed online, you need to make sure your site is being properly crawled and indexed. Crawlers are bits of code that carry out the will of search engines. Like spiders, they crawl across the web, looking for new pages to index and determining if the pages are up to par. They look for things like keywords, high-quality content, site structure, and links. If it weren’t for spiders, SEO wouldn’t exist. 

You’ll want to use an SEO crawler like the free version of Screaming FrogIt helps you identify and fix things that affect your rankings like missing title tags, duplicate content, and broken links.

Eliminate Harmful Redirects

Link Redirect Trace is another great option to help you refine your SEO strategy. Link redirects are the way URLs forward to other URLs. The types of redirects you have to affect your SEO performance. Link Redirect Trace will help you identify if your redirects are helping or harming you.

For example, the less direct links are, the lower your page rankings. Google’s main algorithm depends on how websites link to each other. The more direct your links are, the more importance Google will give you, and the more your customers can find you.

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