Last Updated: 9th January 2021
In this article, we’re going to be reviewing Surfer SEO, it features, the benefits of using it when doing on-page SEO in 2021, and our opinions on the tool, since we’ve been using it daily for months.
What is Surfer SEO?
Surfer SEO is a cloud-based, data-driven, on-page optimization and analysis tool, used by SEOs, content writers, businesses’ and agencies around the world to help increase organic search rankings, through logical, step-by-step on-page recommendations.
Originally developed by Michal Suski and Tomasz Niezgoda to be used in-house, within their own SEO agency, SurferSEO is now being used by over 10,000+ users and is getting more and more popular as time goes on.
We have personally been using Surfer SEO within our agency for around 6 months.
We decided to sign up for the Pro package after being impressed with the 7-day free trial (which costs $1), and we’ve been extremely impressed with the results that we’ve seen from using the tool on a consistent basis, not only when drafting new content, but when editing existing content and auditing current pages.
On-Page SEO Analysis & How it Works?
On page SEO analysis is simply the process of analyzing the top-ranking competitors for each target keyword that you’re looking to rank your own website for.
The information gained from doing thorough on-page SEO analysis can provide a detailed insight into what Google is expecting from a high ranking (page 1) URL. Which in turn means that replicating this for your own website would be a useful strategy.
Surfer analyzes over 500+ SEO ranking factors which means that the instructions that it provides can be highly effective in helping determine exactly what changes to make with your current page, to make it worthy of ranking within the SERPs for the particular target keyword phrase.
The most important part of on-page SEO analysis is, well and truly, choosing the right competitor websites to analyze. The reason for this is simply, a website like Amazon, Walmart, Forbes, USAToday, etc will not be necessarily ranking due to their on-page SEO factors, because after all, SEO is a combination of on-page and off-page elements.
Therefore, you want to choose to analyze websites that are similar to your website in the type and structure of the content that they’re providing, I.E. if you’ve written a blog post article, don’t analyze a competitor who has an e-commerce product page ranking for the target keyword.
Additionally, Surfer provides more information for you to be able to define and choose the most suitable competitors for your analysis, all of which we’ll be talking about in the ‘SERP Analyzer’ and ‘Content Editor’ sections below.
Taking the Guesswork out of SEO
Surfer not only analyzes over 500+ ranking factors, but it provides detailed, data driven instructions on how to optimize your page so it has the best opportunity to rank.
It does this in a few ways:
- Content Editor
- SERP Analyzer (Audit)
- Keyword Research
However, before we dive into what each of these tools does, it’s important to quickly restate, that the most crucial step to effective on-page analysis, when using Surfer, is choosing the right competitors.
The SERP analyzer tool is one of the main ways in which you can do on-page optimizations. For our agency, it’s the first point of call for analyzing a target keyword, providing a great overview of the competitive landscape, allowing us to narrow down and figure out what competitors and factors are clearly important, so we can focus on making page changes.
Let’s use the keyword ‘Surfer SEO Review’ as an example, and begin analyzing the competitors:
As you can see from the image below, once a particular keyword is entered, Surfer shows lots of different SEO aspects/factors which are listed in the column on the left, and all of the top ranking pages belonging to competitors listed at the bottom of the interface.
The interesting part of this interface is the graph section, which overlays the results of any one, or more of the factors, associated to the selected competitors, in a visual format.
This is a great way to do instant correlational analysis.
However, we’ve not fully harnessed the true potential of Surfer just yet.
Surfer SEO Audit
Surfer really becomes effective when you use the data driven ‘Audit’ feature, which can be found within the SERP analyzer. You can see it in the above image, as it allows for you to input your website’s URL within the section ‘Compare your website to competitors’.
Once you’ve inputted your website here and Surfer has finished analyzing your page, you can then click the ‘Audit’ button to see the results.
One of the great aspects of the Surfer Audit is that they can be shared to users who don’t have access to your Surfer account, AKA your clients
Additionally, you may want to Whitelabel these reports, and have them served on another domain, instead of Surferseo.com, and you can now do this!
Here is a link to an actual Surfer SEO Audit
The audit goes into depth about the following SEO aspects:
- Missing common backlinks
- True Density
- Exact Keywords
- Partial Keywords
- Number of Elements
- Time to First Byte (ms)
- Load Time (ms)
Resolving all of these particular SEO issues can provide almost immediate ranking boosts, or from what we’ve experienced normally the results are apparent within 1-2 weeks.
Missing common backlinks
This section shows a list of all of the common backlinks that your competitors (At least 4 competitors from the Top 20) have, which your page doesn’t have.
This is arguably off-page SEO analysis, but let’s not dwell on that!
Either way, it’s exceptionally useful information, giving you insight into the backlinks that you need to acquire for your website.
Surfer not only provides the domain that it recommends getting a backlink from, but within the ‘competitors with link?’ column drop-down, it shows examples of where your competitors have gained links from within the domain, showing the exact URL.
All of this information is exportable, in an excel format report.
True density essentially provides a snapshot of keywords that Surfer has found to be highly relevant to the target keyword.
Not only does Surfer SEO look at competitors for these keywords, but if NLP functionality is selected when the SERP Analyzer tool begins doing analysis on the keyword, Surfer will use provided LSI keywords directly from Google’s API, which in essence provide a first-hand look at what other keywords Google is expecting to see throughout your content
“We hooked Surfer with Google (for True Density entities and entities sentiment) and IBM Watson (for the general sentiment) NLP APIs. The connection is fully automated and will give your content the edge of AI and Machine Learning
Google NLP API provides analysis for the following languages:
- Simplified Chinese
- Traditional Chinese
The Surfer team outline some of their results from using NLP within the release notes (found above), and as you can see, they are quite impressive
Surfer not only provides a list of these NLP & LSI keywords, but also provides a suggested keyword mention range and the overall relevance of the keyword (higher the better).
You can easily export this list into an excel format for reporting.
The words section of the audit provides specific information relating to the body content. Not only does Surfer provide information, but it also gives specific instructions to either add or remove words to specific structured data elements within the page content.
As you can see from the image below, Surfer provides recommendations to add 2351-4131 words to the body, and further specific measurements to the paragraph, bold/strong and H2-H6 tags.
Additionally, if you click the ‘Show details’ button, located to the right of each instruction, Surfer provides a more visual rationale, making it clear why it’s providing the given recommendations.
It provides a list of all the competitors, and a green shaded area, which is essentially the suggested range.
It should be noted, this is true for every section within the audit which has the option ‘Show details’.
The exact keywords section relates to the number of exact-match mentions of the target keyword, within several key on-page SEO elements, within a page.
As you can see, Surfer SEO not only provides information relating to the entire page, but also information relating to the number of exact-match keywords per 100 words, in comparison to the key competitors.
You can also see an example of when no further action is necessary, Surfer provides a green tick next to where the recommendation is, also stating ‘No action required’.
This section is almost identical to the Exact keywords section, but refers to the number of partial-match keyword mentions within your content.
Number of Elements
The number of elements report refers to the count of specific HTML elements within a page, these elements are paragraph <p>, bold <b> <strong>, H1 – H6 and image tags.
Surfer observes the competition, comparing their pages to yours, and provides recommendations accordingly.
The characters report simply refers to the number of characters used within the meta title and meta description, with Surfer also providing recommendations on optimal character range.
Time to First Byte (Ms)
The time to first byte report provides an indication of the responsiveness of the hosting web server and is measured in Milliseconds. The lower the number, the less time until your server provides the first byte of information to the visitor’s web browser, hence it begins the loading sequence quicker.
This is really valuable information, especially given that Google is constantly trying to provide its search engine users with a great mobile experience. We can see this through their mobile-first-indexing update and their AMP project.
Load Time (Ms)
Being slightly different to ‘time to first byte’, load time refers to the number of seconds it takes for the page to completely load within the browser. This is measured in milliseconds.
Since people are generally browsing on their mobile phones more than desktops or laptops, load time has become a much more important metric for website owners and SEOs to consider.
Hence, Surfer provides this metric in a great format which is understandable, as you can see below:
Surfer’s content editor is designed for creating new optimized content, and optimizing existing content, using a data driven approach.
As you can see from the image below, you can enter one or more keywords, and specify whether you’re looking to analyze the content of your competitors on Mobile or Desktop.
Similar to the SERP Analyzer, the editor has the ability to use Google’s API to gain NLP & LSI keywords.
Once you have entered your keywords, and Surfer has finished processing, you can simply click on the chosen keyword to begin the process of creating optimized SEO content.
Similarly to the SERP Editor, the trick to utilizing the content editor in the most effective way is to choose your competitors wisely.
As you can see below, we’ve chosen our SEO competitors based on the low levels of domain traffic, alongside their word-count, why? Because it’s likely that these domains are newer and not as powerful (similar to our domain), and a domain getting a lot of traffic is not necessarily being judged only on their on-page SEO.
As you can see Surfer SEO shows all of the primary keywords, secondary keywords (ability for the user to add), prominent terms, and other terms.
Additionally, Surfer SEO provides a recommended, default word count based on the chosen competitors that are being considered, and you can manually override this word count, which in turn also overrides the number of keyword mentions (using a similar function to keyword density).
However, when overriding the word count, the headings, paragraphs, bold words, and images recommendations will change accordingly.
Finally, Surfer also gives the option for users to add a keyword blacklist, which would include keywords that are generically used on every website, that should be ignored. A few examples would be: email, address, affiliate, contact, payment, gateway, etc.
Once you have saved the customization settings that are outlined above, you’ll be presented with the following screen, which essentially is where you or your team of content writers can begin creating optimized content, or editing existing content, which can be pasted into the text box.
As you can see, Surfer displays the recommended amount of times that each keyword should be mentioned within the content:
- Green indicates that the keyword has been mentioned optimally
- Yellow indicates that the keyword should be mentioned on more occasions
- Red indicates that the keyword has been mentioned too much
The editor interface can be shared with your content writing team via a sharable link, supplied at the top of the interface.
Additionally, you can integrate the side panel into a Google document and use Surfer’s Google Docs extension, however, we prefer to give our writers the sharable link instead, and have them go to the surferseo page.
The keyword research tool is a fantastic tool integrated within your SEO plan. Although we use another tool called KeySearch for keyword research, SurferSEO’s tool is definitely great for those who want to be able to do research, all from one interface.
In the example below, we’ve used the keyword ‘keyword research’ and you can see that there is a large list of ‘similar keywords’, all of which are exportable in an excel format.
The list also has a column for SERP similarity, which shows how similar and relatable the keyword is to the main keyword. Additionally, the monthly search volume is also displayed.
This tool not only provides ‘Similar keywords’, but also ‘Questions’ which can be included within your piece of content, and marked up using FAQ schema, so it looks eye-catching within the search engine results… Helping set your website apart from your competitors.
Surfer SEO Video Demo’s
We’ve included a variety of demonstration videos below, showing the true potential of this keyword analysis, content creation, and content optimization tool.
3-Ways to use Surfer for keyword research
How to writer content using Surfer SEO
How to optimize content using Surfer SEO
5-Ways to improve your SEO rankings with Surfer
How to use NLP for on-page optimization
Our Client’s Results using Surfer SEO
We’ve been using SurferSEO for over 6 months now, and it’s helped immeasurably with a number of our clients.
We’re going to provide some real results that we’ve gained from using the audit tool to fix more technical on-page issues and the editor to help include NLP and LSI keywords.
The following keyword rankings began declining around December 2019, and we couldn’t really understand what the issue was, until we began using SurferSEO. We began doing some SEO audits and making content changes around mid-April, and as you can see, they really did make the world of difference.
The following keyword rankings were lost during a recent Google update (March 2020), and after doing some significant de-optimization of specific main keywords, and including more LSI and long-tail keyword variations, the client managed to gain their rankings back. This is a very valuable keyword for this particular client, so we’re now working on off-page SEO to lift this to page 1.
We started making content changes around mid-April.
Surfer SEO Pricing
Talking of Surfer’s Pricing, they are currently providing six packages, which consists of: hobby, basic, pro, business, business+, and an enterprise plan.
SurferSEO does provide a 20% discount for those who select an annual plan, instead of a monthly plan.
We’ve provided all of the costs below:
Surfer SEO Monthly Pricing Plans
- Hobby: $29/month
- Basic: $59/month
- Pro: $99/month
- Business: $199/month
- Business+: $650/month
- Enterprise: Custom/month
Surfer SEO Annual Pricing Plans
- Hobby: $24.2/month
- Basic: $49.2/month
- Pro: $82.5/month
- Business: $165.6/month
- Business+: $541.7/month
- Enterprise: Custom/month
7-Day Free Trial
As we mentioned above and in our article here, Surfer SEO also provides a 7-day free trial of their service, so that you can test the software for yourself, without the commitment of having to use it, if you didn’t like it.
With that being said, we personally signed up for the free trial before using it, and that was one of the reasons why we signed up for the paid package, because we saw the value of the tool, and the results it was helping us achieve, almost instantaneously, from on-page SEO changes.
To sign up for your 7-day free trial of Surfer, visit their website here.
If you have any questions or comments about Surfer, please leave them in the comments section below, and we’ll do our very best to answer them.