A little while ago, I wrote a piece here on Ditch Your Desk about the sleekest, sexiest, and most sensually seductive new SEO competitor analysis tool on the market—Page Optimizer Pro. I talked all about how awesome it was; how it was the newest tool in your arsenal to fine-tune your content's SEO, outclass the competitors, and soar in the rankings!
...Is what I would be saying if I was some defeatist marshmallow with the courage of a cupcake!
But that's the thing about the infinite blue that is the ocean of SEO-best practices: things are always changing. Tides of traffic ebb and flow, swells of trends build and die, and if you're not ready to ride that current of change, you'll sink right to bottom of the SERPs.
Enter Surfer SEO.
The truth of the matter is that PoP has let itself go. Where once there was chiseled pectorals and a luscious mane of thrown-back sandy-blonde hair, now there is only cellulitis and crushing disappointment. Page Optimizer Pro simply isn't pulling its weight anymore, and there's a sleeker, sexier, and more sensual on-page SEO competitor analysis and tool that's caught my eye.
The truth of the matter, simply, is that Surfer SEO is CRUSHING IT! I'm stoked to share these insights with you and how exactly I've been nailing my ongoing content optimisation projects using Surfer! I'm going to break this new beast down—a full guide on what Surfer SEO is and how you can easily apply it to both your existing and new content to start sliding back up the rankings.
In this post, you will learn:
Time's a'wasting, folks—wax on! The waves are going off, and we got some rides to catch.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Surfer.
Surfer SEO is a lot of things; it’s a content optimisation tool and an SEO competitor analysis tool. It’s a SERP analyser, and it’s got some keyword generating whizz-bangery thrown in too. Ultimately though, I’ve found where Surfer excels.
Maximising the application potential Surfer SEO is a two-piece-deal:
Sounds an awful lot like Page Optimizer Pro, except it's way better!
Page Optimizer Pro is clumsy. It's janky and slow to use. The process of running and re-running reports (with added excruciating load times) to watch a seemingly arbitrary 'Optimisation Score' slowly tick up just doesn't cut.
The goal of content optimisation is to make big wins with the most efficient usage of time. What we’re doing with Surfer SEO is optimising the process of optimising, and that’s big. Sure, we could sit around all day sticking our fingers in our nostrils, running 6 million re-reports with PoP, and eating our boogers (in that order), but that’s bloody stupid!
Instead, we jump right in with Surfer's SERP analyser (a helluva lot quicker, I may add) and get an absolute wealth of invaluable information and metrics right from the outset. The UI is infinitely more intuitive...
Is it easy to find meaningful optimisation changes? You fucking bet it is!
Is it easy to implement those changes? Tremendously.
Surfer kicks POP’s ass in the Blood Dome, the Arena, the Coliseum, and then in a drunken pub brawl during kick-ons in Valhalla at the end of times! It’s no contest.
Alright, listen, first I’m going to talk about how Surfer actually pulls its magic off (and why you need that magic in your life). Maybe, though, I’ve already convinced you of its magnitudinous awesomeness? Or, maybe, you already signed up for Surfer SEO and just need to know what the caramel fudge pops you’re doing with that graph?
In that case, SKIP AHEAD TO THE GUIDE...
...Still with me? Good.
If you want to get technical, the way Surfer works is actually pretty groovy. Surfer reverse engineers SERPs. It takes a SERP, breaks down competitors’ pages, and then deduces what correlational elements (or shared data points) are likely to be contributing most to their respective rankings.
This is called correlational SEO, and it looks at EVERYTHING. It looks at what you’d expect—wordcount, structured data, images, etc— but it goes a lot deeper too.
Full and partial keyword density, text and heading elements (number of characters, paragraphs, etc.), linking metrics: it’s all there. You can dive right down into the mechanics of your content with Surfer SEO, however, there’s something very important to remember with this, any, and all SEO best practices:
SEO is a complicated affair; the truth is no one has any definite answers. While it may be fun to think of ourselves as SEO scientists, cracking algorithms and unlocking the secrets of the SERPs, the truth is that we’re really more like alchemists. We play and tinker with recipes, perfecting them as we chase elusive but defined goals.
Except, our recipes are always changing. That’s why SERPs are always shifting and why pages often slip in their rankings over time: Google is a fickle mistress.
Sometimes she wants chocolates and at other times, she wants copious amounts of structured data. On a whim, she can send out new algorithmic updates and smack down previously well-performing content.
The rules of the SERP are always changing and so too does our content to reflect that.
However, the causal arrow runs both ways. The rules of the SERP also change to reflect the content that frequently appears there and, particularly, the content audiences are responding too...
Competitor analysis and SEO optimisation tools are a cheatsheet. They look at SERP for a specific keyword and see exactly what’s going on with the top-rankers. Every keyword is a unique question, and every unique question needs a unique answer.
What you get fed back is not an impenetrable formula for pole position in the SERPs every time. Rather, you’re getting handed a guideline—an overview of the materials you’ll need and an incomplete recipe to build off.
If you want to play in the big leagues, there really is no other option. You need to bring your best: a fiery attitude, a winning smile, and a utility belt lined with the finest SEO tools and gadgetry.
In the ocean of the SERP, you're swimming with the sharks.
Every trick counts.
Think about the impact Surfer SEO can have on your contents' rankings in the SERP: the most effective way to drive traffic to your site! From the outset, you’re already at an advantage—you’ve done the pre-requisite reconnaissance.
You start out with a direct competitor analysis to create content that’s purpose-built to clobber your competitors! Next, you let the content mature and when the time is right, you return for another look below the hood of the SERP. A few more quick adjustments, a few more sneaky slides up the rank, a bit more waiting...
Lather, rinse, repeat... Always repeat.
Old content never has to become irrelevant content: it’s about the long-game. You can keep your content fresh, updated, and in-line with your competitors for a fraction of the resources of creating something new. Effective content optimisation strategies are a sure-fire method to keep both your content and site fresh and relevant in Google's forever-wandering eyes.
And Surfer SEO is simply the best at it.
Surfer SEO is an extremely comprehensive tool for on-page SEO optimisation; you can go as deep as you’re willing to venture. BUT... I’m all about big wins! Time is money, and if you can make some quick and inexpensive changes to send your content straight to the summit of the SERP, then that’s bigger than big.
In that way, it’s kinda like surfing—think about it. How do you surf?
You do the hard work upfront: you paddle your ass out the back to the optimal take-off point, and as the swell builds, you paddle your ass onto the wave. Then, it’s just a matter of enjoying the ride.
The only difference is that in surfing there are unwritten laws of courtesy between those competing for the wave. In the deepwater of Google’s ocean, however, fuck the competitors (with a respectful professional etiquette). There’s no sharing—we want to catch every peeler right to the shore.
There are three components to Surfer that make it such a killer competitor analysis and SEO optimisation tool:
By simmering it down to these three functions, I’ve applied Surfer across my ventures and scaled it to my team of gnarly SEO shredders. The focus, as always, has been on efficiency, and the impact has been massive!
And now, as always, you get to sample the delicious pearls of my oceanic levels of wisdom. I present thee not one, but three guides to carve through!
Forget the graph for a second; let’s focus on where Surfer SEO really shines: the content audit. This right here is your ultimate on-page SEO checker, and it’s where Surfer really brings the fire.
While Surfer initially functions as a SERP analyser, the content audit is going to go the extra mile and truly scrape your competitors’ content for whatever data is likely to boost your ratings. The best part is that this is a quick job. You jump in, make the most critical changes suggested for your content, and then you get out.
You’re a fucking ninja.
Before we do anything, this right here is your starting gate. This part is pretty simple.
After that, you show that ‘Create a query’ button a little love and away we go.
Cool, you made it! Let’s get technical.
Watch ‘til the 6.20 mark. That’s an overview of what you’ll be tinkering with. From this dashboard, you can easily and elegantly access information on what meaningful optimisation changes you can make for your onsite SEO.
Before that, however, we need to talk about selecting competitors. If you don’t select the right competitors, all the SEO sorcery in the blogosphere can’t save your booty.
By default, Surfer SEO compares your content with other top 50 or so ranking pages. We’re going to have to get a whole more nuanced than that to have the kind of impact we’re seeking.
When choosing competitors, we’re looking for both similar content and killer content.Similar content means content with a similar...
...as to your piece of content.
Killer content is simply content that kicks ass with reckless booty-booting abandon! If it’s at the top of the SERP, chances are that it’s already killer content. All the same, however, keep an eye out for:
Generally speaking, if it looks, feels, and reads similarly to your content—and attacks the same topic/question—it’s probably a competitor. Let’s use my chosen SERP as an example.
There are a couple of things to note here:
When you’ve selected your marks, it’s time to move in for the kill.
See that audit button?
Let's get surgical.
Tl;dw? Get busy making those suggested changes. As you can see…
I got a bit to do.
So here’s the deal: it’s a case study!
It’s best to make updates incrementally (ideally, keeping a record of those scrumptious stats and changes), so I’m going to give myself a 30-minute chunk for SIM-themed content refresh. Let’s see what kind of dent I can make...
Yeah, alright, so it’s not two big fat zeros, but it’s not bad for half-an-hour of work! Regardless, it’s better not to sweep through everything at once, and it’s even more important not to force unnatural changes into your content by following Surfer’s suggestions as dogma.
Besides, if it’s looking less like a quick facelift will suffice, and more like a near-total reconstruction is necessary, then that’s where to content editor comes in.
Hold on to your mind cause I’m about to blow it out the fucking bathroom window. See this link:
And you'll be in another funbucks menu:
Once you’re in, you’ll be greeted with an opportunity to customize your analysis. By default, Surfer is going to audit the top 5 pages in the SERP, but it’s up to you to get critical with your competitor choices.
You’ll find a bunch more customisation options in this menu too, particularly with keywords and phrases to track. You can play around with these, but the default settings are usually good—just add some secondary keywords and roll out (however, don't use Surfer as a substitute for proper keyword research). After that, creating finely honed content is almost brainless.
Check this out:
If you’ve ever so much as dabbled in content creation, you’re golden. It’s a word processor—do your thang!
Whether you want to create your content inside Surfer or simply take its recommendations and run with it is up to you. However, look at what you’re getting!
This sucker is tracking your:
I’m not sure if you’ve ever kept a manual keyword count while writing, but that shit is a snoozefest. It’s also finicky and time-consuming. So is checking and cross-referencing through multiple reports and pieces of data you uncovered to optimise your article's structure. SEO is so important to get right but doing it right takes time.
In the words of Surfer itself:
It’s pretty simple from here. Let your artistry flow while keeping the logistics in check. When all is said and done, copy it out to your site, and you’ve got some mighty fine SEO-ready work waiting!
I can’t stress this enough: don’t just jump in spraying your secret SEO sauce all over the place. It may look tempting to have this cheatsheet to the interior of Google’s panties, but have a closer look.
The suggestion is to have 18,259 words but only 74 paragraphs. That’s already an insane word count, but let’s math that out further.
Round it off to 18000 words—we’ll say 259 words are in the headings—and split that amongst 74 paragraphs…
That’s… absolutely preposterous! SEO writing 101: keep it short and sweet.
Furthermore, look at the image count. Only eight images in an 18k travel itinerary is… doable… but dry as hell for readers and also, to be totally honest, pretty fucking stupid.
When reading Surfer’s on-page SEO optimisation readouts, keep these things in mind:
Surfer doesn’t tell prophecies, it makes educated guesses. Treat them as such.
Alright, so how 'bout that graph?
Baby steps—watch this first (until 8:12):
Now, let's try this again:
As you can see, I’ve turned averages down to chunks of five, and I’m specifically looking at metrics for...
...in the top 5-rankers of the SERP. Now let’s look at ranks 6 through 10.
That’s a downward trend. In fact, if you observe the graph, you’ll notice that the downward trends for the stats on these elements continue pretty steadily until some weird shit starts happening around ranks 26-30. (But who cares?)
That’s already a pretty damn sexy overview, but we can break it down a hell of a lot more. The number of different elements that you’re able to dissect in this graph is simply staggering! And already, we can see a clear correlation (not direct causation) between the prevalence of some major elements and the content's position in the SERP.
It’s also worth noting that this is the data for the entire SERP. You can also change the graph to reflect just your chosen competitors (the same way you would for the audit function).
While the audit tool is for direct competitor analysis, the graph and SERP analyzer dashboard is a more indirect outline. You can use it as a quick peek before going in-depth with the audit, but its uses extend further than that.
Let’s say I wasn’t just trying to write a post about SIM cards in Israel but was actually trying to create a scaled series of monetized affiliate content:
Although not nearly as defined, there still seems to be a correlation between word count and total heading elements at least for the top 10 of the SERP for this new query (although exact keyword instances are a whole lot less relevant). The total numbers between this data and the data for ‘Israel SIM card’ aren’t too far removed from each other either.
This is a fantastic example of the uniqueness of every SERP and the level to which Surfer SEO deciphers that changeability. If I wanted to create a series of SIM card-themed posts, I would first collect data on various queries (X, Y, Z, etc. “SIM card”).
I’d also start examining the SERP for variations and longtails (eg. “SIM cards in X” or “best SIM card for X travel”). Pretty soon, I’d have a format banged out for a series—an entire range of relatively easy-to-produce content—sitting in the SERPs and ready for the Surfer treatment a few months down the line.
This is where Surfer SEO really shines! It’s a front door, back door, and periscope up the skirt of the SERP—all SERPs. Extensive invaluable information is only ever a few clicks away and interpreting and applying that data is an equally elegant job.
Like a valiant steed.
It's time for the final word—does Surfer SEO kick ass?
Truth be told, much could be said of the similarities between PoP, Surfer SEO, and other on-page SEO optimisation tools: they strive to complete the same job with varying levels of success. Direct comparative experiments between different on-page SEO optimisation tools are difficult to control given the insane number of variables affecting SERP rankings.
What is not up for debate, however, is the effectiveness of having a winning content optimisation strategy. It's a damn fine SEO tactic, and, given that insane number of variables your experimenting with, having some damn fine tools is a must!
That's where Surfer comes in. While its changes are reasonable and easy to smash out, the real win comes with the speed and intuitiveness. It feels sharp, smart, and like Page Optimizer Pro wearing a silk tuxedo with matching cummerbund and a monocle to complete the picture.
Surfer SEO is an optimisation of the optimisation tools that came before. It's just a damn better product.
It also helps that the pricing model is so damn digestible, even for the small-scale venturists and lone wolfs.
Surfer splits up different types of reports across different daily or monthly quotas of credits (hence, 'funbucks'). One credit = one query/report.
I've summarized the main takeaways of Surfer's pricing model below. For most of my ongoing implementations, I've been trialing Surfer SEO on the "Hobby" plan:
Price (monthly / annual)
All factors analyzed?
SERP Analyzer Queries (per day)
NLP Analysis Reports (per month)
Content Editor Queries (per month)
Backlinks and Visibility Report (per day)
$29 / $290
$59 / $590
$99 / $990
$650 / $6500
The Hobby plan is the perfect sampler for those wanting to test out Surfer's impact on their own content. While you are missing out on some analyzation features—most notably page speed metrics and backlink reports—the upshot is a lot of content optimisation potential for a very digestible price. Once you're sold on Surfer's sheer radittude, you can upgrade for the rest of the package.
At a pure 1:1 price comparison, Page Optimizer Pro comes out with a cheaper price tag than Surfer SEO, however, on a comparison of value, Surfer wipes the floor with PoP in every regard. Even with PoP's premium plan (at $30/month), Surfer SEO's Hobby plan gives you 125 more SERP analyzer reports per month!
Throw in the extremely nifty Content Editor tool, a much, much more comprehensive analysis of SERP content, and just an all-round faster and more pleasant tool to us, and it's just a no brainer!
And the swell of traffic is just waiting to be caught. Your contents' ranking in the SERP matters: it's the key driving method of traffic to your site. And (say it with me now)...
…if you haven’t got traffic, you haven’t got anything.
All your content matters—even your old content. Nay, ESPECIALLY your old content. Think of all those killer old posts, soaked in the blood, sweat, and tears of humble content writers, now left to wither and drift away in the tides.
Stop missing out on easy wins: be a damn SEO surfer.
Founder of The Broke Backpacker and Co-Founder of Ditch Your Desk, Will has been on the road for over ten years. He is a Crossfit fanatic, crypto enthusiast, marijuana connoisseur and the master of the handstand pushup. Addicted to building businesses and climbing mountains, Will plans to settle in South America.