Surfer SEO Review
Most SEO industry people have heard about Surfer SEO. While we admit that many may have yet to use it, others are more on the fence about if it works. While Surfer SEO does not make any wild claims like some other similar tools out there, the claims it makes are still pretty exciting, especially if you're doing SEO for affiliate sites, run an SEO company, or your own company's blog.
In this review, we'll dive deep down into the inner workings of Surfer SEO, treat you to some of our own experience of using this tool for over a year, and give you the lowdown of it is worth it! After all, you don't want to add another charge to your credit card for nothing. So, make sure you read through the whole Surfer SEO review till the very end!
What Is Surfer SEO?
Surfer SEO is a swiss army knife of a few important tools. The Surfer SEO Content Editor for instance is a tool that's designed to help optimize written content like articles, blog posts, web content, etc. The SERP analyzer (another feature) analyzes the content of pages ranking for the keyword you are targeting. According to the company, the pages are analyzed against 500+ on-page signals and ranking factors. Based on that, the tool recommends things like keywords, content length, backlink sources, etc.
Surfer SEO also has a built-in keyword research tool, which in our opinion, is still a bit rough around the edges, something we'll get into later on in this review. However, it is good that they baked this feature into the service.
In a nutshell, the way Surfer SEO works and honestly the way we've been using it for a while now is that we'll use it to write blog posts. We will have Surfer SEO analyze all the pages for the keywords we want to target, to create a content outline. Our writer then uses that information to write optimized content or optimize the existing page. Interestingly Surfer SEO has separate tools to accomplish both tasks.
The idea behind Surfer SEO is pretty simple, at least in theory. The engine analyzes all the first pages that are ranking for the keyword. It makes a list of all the reasons they are ranking and suggests you roll out those changes on your own page. In other words, it helps you copy the on-age approaches used by the competition and maybe even improve upon them.
How Surfer SEO Works?
Before we dig into all the features that Surfer SEO offers, it would be worth starting with the system's SEO mythology. Understanding the methodology will help you figure out if this is the approach you want to take.
In the past, SEOs like ourselves used what was referred to as "cookie-cutter" on-page SEO optimization. It has worked fine for us, at last for the better half of the 2000s. However, Google upped their game and grew out of what was a one size fits all algorithm. To simplify, we'd say that Google was in the past measuring every keyword, every search, and from every region the same way. So, it didn't matter if you searched for "Buy Shoes" from the UK, India, or Manhattan; the results would pretty much be the same. That's why the optimization techniques we used remained the same too.
As time passed, Google started to grow out of this one size fits all approach, to eventually where we are now, i.e., the search algorithm prefers to show content mainly depending on what the user typed, but the results will differ for each user. So, the top-ranking pages for someone in Toronto will be different for the same keywords, in Manhattan.
For instance, if you Googled "benefits of running," you will see that Google lists blog posts that make up around 4 out of the 10 top search results. Google has been able to tell which content tends to do better for each query thanks to its user metrics collection system. So, the rules change for each query so unlike in the past keyword research isn't enough without the understanding of search intent.
That's why correlation SEO is now more critical than it ever was before. The way correlational SEO works is by scraping all the top results for a query, then analyzing all the pages to find what they have in common, from the statical point of view, to emulate what they are doing right. Doing this hopes to give the Google algorithm what it wants to rank.
Does this mean that you can rank for the most competitive queries just by analyzing the competition, i.e., correlation on-page SEO? Not really, but then why is it important? It is important, but you still need to build a decent amount of backlinks.
Modeling what the top competitors are doing in terms of content will significantly take you there, but you also need to mimic their link building strategy. So, the trick we use and advocate is to create content that is structurally similar to the pages that are ranking while taking things one step further:
- Create new and original content that offers insights, or case studies, or data collection
- Improve the value of your content with engaging content and video
- Offer practical advice that works and not what everyone else seems to be giving
When applying on-page SEO using this technique, we would often have to try and identify factors like:
- Relevant, thematic keywords
- Content length
- The site's structure, i.e., Hx tags, etc
- Importance and density of content elements like images
In the past, we'd sit down and spend hours analyzing these factors manually. The way Surfer SEO works is that it handles the analysis for you. That's why by using Surfer SEO as a tool, there is a much higher probability of ranking high with optimized content, without performing too many laborious tasks.
If you think that's speculation, well, think again. We've used this technique for a few years now, out of which we've used Surfer SEO for over a year, and we can vouch for the fact that it works.
Data-Driven Content Optimization
Surfer SEO uses what's called Data-Driven Content Optimization; sure, that's a mouthful but, it isn't something new. In fact, data-driven content optimization has been used in one form or the other since the dawn of SEO. However, over the years, it has grown increasingly complex, along with Google's search engine algorithm's complexity.
While Surfer SEO uses data-driven content optimization, you don't need it. You can just as easily perform it manually as we used to in the old days. It might take you a few hours to do your analysis, but it is going to be free.
So, generally, data-driven content optimization works by:
- Identifying your niche's or keyword's target audience – Usually, this means who you want to reach, what their problem is, and how your product or service will help them.
- Benchmark current performance metrics – If you already have a website, how well is it doing? How many visitors are you getting, what's the Click Through Ratio, etc.
- Developing a content strategy to help boost the above metrics – If you see a low CTR, then your page's headline may need to be changed; you might want to optimize the content if there is a high bounce rate, etc.
- Conduct relevant keyword research – what are the best keywords to get where you want to be? Interestingly, many people get this wrong, and that dilutes all their effort.
- Draft content briefs for all pages – Usually, these briefs will be centered around how you want the keywords to be ranked.
- Create and then promote your content – Generally, that will mean drafting an article, adding pictures or screenshots, and publishing it. You can then promote it on social media and other platforms.
- Review your metrics – Keeping an eye on the metrics will tell you how well things are going. It will also highlight a path towards the improvement of those metrics.
The Surfer content editor and SERP analyzer do most of the work required to provide you with the information needed to draft good content by going through all the data. We'll go into how Surfer SEO can accomplish this when we talk about its features in detail later on.
Powerful on Page SEO Audits Tool
Surfer SEO has one of the best on-page SEO audit tools in the business. The tool will analyze your page and compare it with that of the competition. It will then highlight where your website falls behind in terms of content length, backlinks, etc. The comprehensive report provided is actionable, and it's something we'll dive a little deeper into when discussing this feature a bit later.
Why You Should Optimize Your Content For SEO?
Search Engines, like Google, regardless of how smart they might be, don't read through your entire website. The crawler, or the indexer as it's called, will go through a couple of areas on your web page. It will, for all intents and purposes, scan all the important areas to determine what the website is all about. Doing this gives the search engine's algorithm enough information to start ranking your website. That's why it is so important that the content on your website is optimized for search engines.
Most search engines will scan through the headlines, some of the footer text, and a few other places. It will pick up on keywords and try to determine the search intent that best matches the content it has scanned. So, by inserting keywords and clusters of related keywords into these parts of your page (parts it scans), it will help tell search engines what the page is all about and who it is geared towards.
While there are a couple of best practices derived over the years of drafting SEO content, these tend to change ever so often with each algorithmic update to the engine. However, where Surfer SEO helps is to identify which are the best places to insert those keywords and provide you with all the needed LSI keywords that can then be clustered around the primary one(s) you're targeting. The approach ensures that your content is optimized for the target keywords.
Surfer SEO Features (That We Absolutely Love!)
Surfer SEO offers a couple of features, most of which center around optimizing your content for search engines. However, the company has also introduced a couple of new features, which are still in Beta as of this writing. That said, we'll start by going over the most established features, which honestly we think offer the most value and make a case for having a Surfer SEO subscription.
Surfer SEO's Content Editor is one of the most prominent features of the tool. You start by clicking on the 'Content Editor' link on the top, and that takes you to a page where you enter in your primary keyword, for which you want to write content. The tool then takes a few minutes to run a complete analysis and presents you with a content editor window.
What Surfer SEO does is to scan the content from pages listed in the top 10 results for that keyword. It extracts LSI keywords from them and then helps you weave those keywords into the content you are about the draft.
The feature also works to analyze the overall content structure across all the top-ranking pages, including their word count, the average number of paragraphs, and the number of images. However, these results can be tweaked; if you're a little more SEO savvy, you can click on the small gear icon on the top right above the optimization gauge and choose which websites Surfer SEO draws its information from.
For instance, if you are writing a blog post about "The Best Shoes of 2020", and the results it is drawing from are mainly just e-commerce stores that are selling a product but not a blog post, you can just as easy deselect those and instead select all the blog posts that are ranking. You can choose up to five of these websites that best match the intent of the content you want to write, and the system will recalibrate the content editor's keyword density and placement recommendations accordingly.
So, here is why we think that the content editor is a big deal, not only for us but for every SEO out there. The first being that you can copy a sharable link and send it over to your writer. The link is read-only, so the writer won't be able to change much beyond just the text they are writing.
We like this feature because it scans the top 10 results, but you can choose which websites to draw keyword density and content structure from that best meets your intent. However, most SEOs, by default, will focus on the top 3-5 results. But again, it pays to go back and tweak where the source sites so that everything is aligned correctly.
Once all of this is sorted out, the content editor is pretty straight forward. You get to see the exact LSI keywords and important terms to use on the right and how many you need to add. You also get a list of possible topics and questions that can be answered. The Q&As are pulled from People Also Ask, which makes planning out your content easier.
The little gauge on the top gives you a visual view of how much your content is optimized, in addition to a score that starts from 0 to 100. Anything upwards of 70 is considered good.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Many people swear by NLP or Natural Language Processing, and that's why Surfer SEO has this feature baked into their higher-end plans. The feature uses IBM's Watson to find what's called sentiment for the search results for a particular keyword or phrase.
While the feature in our experience was a little hit or miss when it was first introduced some time back, it now works relatively well with a few hiccups along the way. For instance, in the past, the chart would note that the sentiment was .756, but even as SEOs, we had no clue what it meant or how to use the data.
Fortunately, we figured it out. We, i.e., the users, will need to click on the results to see the page's true density and any related phrases. While we acknowledge that for some niches, NLP is helpful, our tests have yet to show any substantial difference between keywords with 100 sentiments negative or positive. If you ask us, there is probably has no bearing on rankings. But it is a feature that we glad is there to be used whenever needed.
'True Density' is an extremely powerful metric that is used by SEOs to find content gaps. For instance, it is one of the best ways to see if you are using a specific keyword either too rarely or often.
Surfer SEO says that relying on True Density is one of the best and easiest ways to optimize all your existing content. The feature can very easily be used to find how many more keywords to add, or even remove, for that matter, to rank higher.
- Generally, anything that is green means you don't need to take any action.
- The red color text indicates that there is a major deviation in the rage.
- Yellow color text is more of a warning that there might be slight deviation but may need to be addressed.
If you already have content on your website, we'd strongly advise that you start with checking its True Density.
The SERP Analyzer has to be amongst the best features, which in our opinion, is constantly being tweaked on the backend by the developers. The SERP Analyzer gives you a very detailed breakdown of the SERPs for a keyword.
The data offered include:
- The average word count, i.e., length of the content
- Keyword frequency and density
- Hidden content also called cloaked content
- The use of partial match keywords
- Characters in title tags
- Alt text
- Character count in the title tags, i.e., H2, H2, H3, etc.
- Page speed, i.e., the time it takes for the page to load.
As professional SEOs, we've tested numerous SEO tools, too many to count! In our opinion, Surfer SEO's SERP Analyzer provides a great deal of data. It also goes into more detail than most other tools, and some of the depth it goes into is unprecedented. An example of this is that the tool will show you how many words you have appearing above the fold for a page, the average H2 headings on each page, and the number of links the first-page results have.
While the data is certainly good, the next question you'll probably ask is it useful? While the large list of data points may confuse the average user for SEO nerds like us, it is better to see more information than not. The good news is that a lot of this can be turned off, and you can focus on just the bare essentials like keyword density, headers, word count, and backlinks. However, in more competitive niches, every little bit counts, and this is where we like to see these data points.
SEO Audit Report
Once you choose to analyze a keyword in the 'SERP Analyzer tool,' you are presented with a list of top-ranking websites for that keyword. You can click on the small 'audit report' icon on the right to see exactly how that website compares to all the others in terms of:
- Missing Common Backlinks
- True Density
- Exact Keywords
- Partial Keywords
- Number of Elements
- Time to First Byte (TTFB)
- Load Time
Users can then go through the list and follow through with the suggestions. Alternatively, they can copy the shareable link and send it to the person who might be building their backlinks or carrying out on-page optimization.
Structured Data (Schema)
Now, this is yet another very important feature of the analysis tool. If you click on it to the left of your screen once the analysis is complete, it will show your competitor's structured data. After all, if they are ranking well, there has to be something that they are doing right. Even if you don't want to compete in terms of ranking structured data content, copying your competition will make your website easier to understand by search engines.
You can also see how many structured data types are being used as a whole by all websites ranking for the keyword. Surfer SEO's structured data schema feature will also show you how the data is structured so that you can do something similar for your website.
In-Depth Competitors Analysis
Surfer SEO's competitor analysis is pretty comprehensive. In addition to showing, what we've mentioned so far, it also shows you other details like:
- Hidden content
- Meta description
- Query words
- Number of bold characters
- Image Alt information
- Internal linking structure
- Score view
Surfer SEO has a pretty good keyword research tool, which had improved quite a bit from when we first started using it over a year ago. While there are many other paid keyword research tools, we like this one because it comes bundled with the standard subscription. So, you don't need to pay anything to research keywords. Just type in a seed keyword, and Surfer SEO will spit out a list of related keywords and their estimated volume.
While we won't put much stock into the volume figures, we primarily like the "SERP Similarity" sub-feature. This basically shows you any overlap there might be with the keyword you typed in the tool. The SERP similarity is shown as a percentage value, i.e., 50%, 40%, etc.
So, how do you make sense of this information/score? Well, let's say you type in "Cat" as your seed keyword. If you have a lot of pages that also rank for "Cat Food," in addition to "Cat," then it will have a high similarity score.
Why do we think this is helpful? Knowing if you want to create different optimized pages around various long-tail keywords can be tricky. If the search results are different, then you will want to have a page for every keyword. However, if the SERPs are the same across these keywords, i.e., they are very similar, then there is a good chance that Google considers them as being synonymous. That means you create just one page.
Doing this manually would be a major pain in the butt, and that's why we are thankful for the feature! However, we'd love if they added a keyword difficulty score similar to the content score they have for the Content Editor, which would make the tool a lot more useful.
The "Questions" feature has to be one of the most important sub-features of the keyword research feature. Surfer SEO suggests keywords based on the seed keywords you provide and questions relating to the keyword.
For instance, if you use a seed keyword like "on-page SEO," Surfer SEO will scan for related questions and present you with a list that includes questions like "what is on-page SEO." The list of questions is sourced from other websites that rank for this keyword and answer these questions. So, theoretically speaking, putting these questions in your content, and answering them will help your content rank.
Content Planner (Keywords Clustering)
Surfer SEO bills this feature as the "new approach to content strategy." While, as of this writing, the feature is still in Beta, it tends to work pretty well, apart from the occasional hiccups we've experienced.
So, what is it? In a nutshell, Content Planner is meant to help you build topical relevance within your niche, which Google can easily recognize and consider the website as being authoritative. One of the proven ways to achieve this is with topic clusters.
However, topic clusters need to be well planned for them to work. You will want to combine the right keywords, have the right structure, and come up with the right topics/subtopics for the articles before you actually start writing them. Content Planner will show you a couple of boxes, with each box signifying a cluster. It will also label those boxes with the search's intent. Currently, the Content Planner defines four search intents:
• Informational Intent – Generally, it means that there are clusters dominated by lots of long-form blog content.
• Local Intent – A cluster that is dominated by local service providers. It can be the page of a local service or their subpage.
• Shopping Intent – Clusters that are dominated by a single product page or an e-commerce category page.
• Commercial Investigation – It means a cluster that is dominated by primarily comparisons of different products, catalogs, listings, directories that are relevant to the search phrase.
The Audit feature may appear to be a lot like the "SERP Analyzer" we discussed earlier, but there are a couple of key differences. The way the Audit feature works is that you start by entering a URL and a list of keywords you want to optimize for that URL. Surfer SEO takes a while to compare your page to the competition to offer a couple of suggestions like:
Missing common backlinks - Backlinks you might want to add because your competitors have them.
Terms to Use - Terms you might want to add to your content and the number of times they should be added.
Word Count - The number of words you might want to add or take off the page. Generally, speaking having more words is better than fewer words. However, Surfer SEO may at times recommend reducing the word count of a bloated page.
Exact keywords – Surfer SEO will suggest adding the exact keywords you want to rank for in places like the H1, title of the page, and other key areas if that's where your competition is using them.
Partial keywords – It will suggest adding partial keywords like in the title or number of times per 100 words to match that of the competition.
Page structure – To us, this is an essential part of the audit because many people get this wrong. Surfer SEO will suggest structuring your page based on what the competition is doing. It suggests either adding more images or fewer images, adding more h2 – h6 elements, bold characters, etc.
Title and meta description length – Surfer SEO will suggest the optimal length for the page's title and meta description. If the meta description is too long, it will suggest taking out a few words.
Time to first byte – Will tell you if the page is as fast as that of the competition, and if not, then you'll want to speed it up.
Load time (ms) – Will tell you how long it takes for your page to load. If it's too bloated, you'll want to reduce its overall size.
Key Differences Audit and SERP Analyzer
The key difference between the SERP Analyzer feature and the Audit feature is that the SERP Analyzer will make suggestions to help you rank higher. It will only work if you rank in the top 20 for the keyword you're targeting.
However, if you're not currently ranking or have just published a page, the Audit feature will help you get a head start. You can optimize your page correctly from the get-go and then work on off-page optimization to boot rankings.
The Audit feature also allows you to select what websites to compare your site against. For instance, if you want to rank a blog post, you will want to compare the page to other blog posts that are ranking instead of landing pages so that the audit reflects what you want to accomplish more accurately. However, you're only limited to the top 10 pages that rank for that keyword.
Surfer SEO Pricing
Now, if you choose to go the route of monthly pricing, it will cost you $29 a month for the "Hobby" plan but it isn't meant to offer much so you'll probably want to upgrade to one of the plans below.
- The Basic Plan is $59 a month
- Pro Plan is $99 a month
- The Business Plan is $199 a month
The features are pretty much the same across all plans, with the exception being the Hobby plan, which does not come with a bunch of features like page speed analysis and NLP. Higher-end plans allow you to run more reports, many more than the 5 queries a day that you are limited to with the Hobby plan.
If you want to use NLP, then it starts with the Pro Plan, with the Business Plan being the only one with Report White Labeling.
Is Surfer SEO Really Worth It?
Surfer SEO has been instrumental in our content production efforts. It has allowed us to structure layouts and work with our writers to ensure that they produce content that ranks. It is a lot better than sending a .docx file or a Google Docs file with two pages of instructions.
When you consider all the features that Surfer SEO has to offer, we'll say it is well worth it. Sure, some features are a little rough around the edges, but that's to be expected. Whether you are working for an agency or are the owner of an agency, marketing company owner, or maybe trying to rank your own website, Surfer SEO will make your life a lot easier.
What Are The Surfer SEO Alternatives?
Interestingly Surfer SEO has a couple of different alternatives. Some of those alternatives are still under development, and so we've not been able to test them. However, three of Surfer SEO's biggest competitors are POP, MarketMuse, and Cora.
Page Optimizer Pro (POP)
Page Optimizer Pro (POP) starts at just $10 a month, making it way cheaper than Surfer SEO. It also has an excellent keyword research tool, website audit tool and does a pretty good job of presenting its recommendations. Plus, it is owned by Kyle Roof, who is one of the most well-known names in the SEO industry.
However, where POP falls short is not having a content editor and an often-complex UI. Much of the recommendations are meant for SEOs. That's why most laypeople end up banging their heads against the wall. In our opinion, while POP is a great tool, it isn't for anyone, especially if you want to write keyword-optimized content or just compare your page to that of the competition.
MarketMuse is by no means an SEO optimization tool, but it is very similar to Surfer SEO's content editor tool. However, in our experience, MarketMuse's single comparable feature does not measure up to Surfer SEO's content editor. It isn't as easy to use, and the user interface will run rings around most newbie users.
You also need to consider that MarketMuse, isn't for everyone especially because it costs $79 a month for the basic plan with just 25 queries. Plus, you'd need to use a separate tool like Moz or Ahrefs to get all the SERP analysis features that Surfer SEO has to offer.
Surfer SEO vs Cora
CORA is the most expensive SEO tools out there, especially when compared to Surfer SEO, MarketMuse, and POP. However, it tends to be a lot more detailed, offers much more information, and is more complex. A Cora audit report isn't exactly cheap to generate, and you need to have some SEO experience to understand it. That's why some SEOs offer to generate a CORA report as a service!
That said, CORA does not have an easy to use, yet powerful content editor like Surfer SEO. However, it beats Surfer SEO in just about every other department, but at $250 a month, it isn't something everyone can afford.
Surfer SEO Review – Conclusion
Surfer SEO is the ideal tool for anyone who wants to optimize their web pages for a target keyword and draft SEO optimized content. It is user-friendly, works without much training, and starting at $29 a month, just about anyone should be able to afford it.
Like we mentioned earlier, we've used Surfer SEO for a while now, and it has helped many of our pages rank. Sure, we've run into some bugs and would like to see a couple of rough areas smoothed out, but overall, we think that Surfer SEO does a pretty good job of making on-page SEO easier than it otherwise would be without it.
Plus, the $1 7-day free trial gives you access to all the features, so you can try it out before deciding if it's something you want to invest in.