SEO

Ultimate On-Page SEO Tool Showdown: POP vs. Surfer SEO vs. Cognitive SEO

Marvin Sta. Ana

Data-driven SEO Expert

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There is no doubt that Search Engine Optimization has become more complicated than ever. Perhaps one of the most challenging decisions that an SEO specialist has to make is which On-Page SEO tool should be used for their on-page content optimization. At the heart of every content optimization strategy is an on-page optimization tool that provides SEO specialists with data-driven recommendations.

We’ve all had to make that decision. With dozens of on-page optimization tools available, an SEO specialist must be careful about which tool he or she chooses. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as picking names out of a hat when making a decision. These tools will determine the success of your SEO strategy and carry the name of your SEO agency.

In my personal experience, you still need to be careful as some tools still subscribe to the age-old Google algorithms. Following outdated recommendations that you derive from them may have your site flagged for violations like keyword overstuffing. And let’s face it. Search Engine Optimization has become more complex than ever. Gone are the days when forcing as many keywords as possible onto a page would land your website on top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

As Google, and other search engines, continually strive to improve the quality of their search engine functions, the algorithms used to provide results on SERPs become more complicated. For example, the algorithm that Google currently uses has over 200 ranking factors determining each website's ranking, given a specific keyword. All of these ranking factors are intricately calculated and calibrated so that Google can match the best and most relevant sites to the right user.

Why Is On-Page SEO Important?

On-page optimization tools aim to help your web pages rank high for a specific keyword. For instance, if you have a website that offers plumbing services, ideally you’d want to rank keywords related to the plumbing industry, i.e., plumbing tips and plumbers in *location* how to look for plumbers, etc.

In essence, it helps Google “read” your content so that it can match you with the proper audience. The goal is to optimize each page to a relevant keyword that users search for in Google. Content Optimization also goes hand-in-hand with high-quality writing. Together, these two are some of the most critical steps in the SEO process.

Studies done by Moz found that almost 92% of Google traffic clicks are concentrated on the first page of SERPs. What this means for your website is that if you want to make a considerable number of sales and receive heavy online traffic, you must appear on the first page and the top five results. 

The Experiment

Going back to the topic at hand, these tools go through billions of existing web pages to find the most relevant websites for your article. From there, they cross-reference each related website and come up with a list of recommendations and suggestions on how you, as a writer, can improve your writing quality, ranking content higher in the Search Engine Results Pages.

By analysing the top-ranking websites, these tools should be able to come up with a list of recommendations on how your web page can rank higher. As an international SEO Agency that uses a data-driven approach to SEO, we wanted to do an experiment to find out precisely what is the best on-page SEO tool to use.

For our experiment, we have identified three of the leading names in the industry: Page Optimizer Pro (POP), Surfer SEO, and Cognitive SEO. The goal of the experiment is to determine which tool could help us gain more online traffic by ranking higher in SERPs.
For this, we will optimize existing blog posts for one of our clients. All in all, the experiment uses fifteen blog posts from their website, five for every on-page optimization tool. To ensure results as accurate as possible, all fifteen blog posts are location guides with keywords very similar to each other.


We also made sure that the rankings were pretty stable so that we can attribute any sudden spikes to the changes we made, example below:

Onpage Optimisation Movement

We divided them as such:

Page Optimizer Pro

Surfer SEO

Cognitive SEO

Blog Post A

Blog Post F

Blog Post K

Blog Post B

Blog Post G

Blog Post L

Blog Post C

Blog Post H

Blog Post M

Blog Post D

Blog Post I

Blog Post N

Blog Post E

Blog Post J

Blog Post O

All of these articles were already published on the website of our client. As such, they were already ranking on SERPs. Before beginning the experiment, we noted down each of the blog posts’ current ranking by using SERProBot, a Google SERP Checker that determines, in real-time, a website’s Google search ranking position. This is so we can accurately quantify and track all of the results, whether positive or negative, after we optimize them.

SERPs Ranking

Below are the rankings of the blog posts’ before we optimize it using any on-page optimization tools.

Page Optimizer Pro

Blog Post

Ranking

A

2

B

6

C

33

D

56

E

73

Surfer SEO

Blog Post

Ranking

F

Not in top 100

G

Not in top 100

H

52

I

2

J

52

Cognitive SEO

Blog Post

Ranking

K

11

L

2

M

3

N

14

O

3

Setting the parameters of the experiment is essential in determining its scope and limitations. We started the research on March 3, 2020. Our team of writers, myself included, would use one on-page optimization tool to optimize five moving guide blog posts from the client’s website. The changes are then published on the site.

To give every article a fair shot, we waited two weeks before checking the ranking once again. We used SERProBot to track the results starting from March 17 to April 22, 2020 and the experiment ran for six weeks.

Aside from just inserting keywords into the content, we also followed the additional recommendations from the on-page optimization tools such as meeting the required word count, meeting the suggested number of headings, addressing specific topics relevant to the topic, etc. Of course, we also tried to improve the content’s quality by eradicating any grammatical errors and updating the information.

One essential parameter ensured minimal movement in the keywords from past months, thus any significant change could then be attributed to the on-page work. To further decrease the affecting variables, no link building to the target pages or the website was done while the experiment was ongoing.

While other factors may affect the rankings, it is highly unlikely as the only work we’ll be doing is on-page optimization.

On-Page Optimization Tools: A Closer Look

Before moving on to the results of the experiment, let’s first discuss each of the on-page optimization tools, how to use them, their benefits, and their features. Furthermore, I will also include our thoughts about each optimization tool.

To begin, our team of writers gathered and scored each tool from a list of factors: Ease of Use, User-friendly Interface, Recommendations Given, Features, Loading Speed, and, of course, Pricing. Each would be scored from 1 - 5, 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.

Header

Page Optimizer Pro

Surfer SEO

Cognitive SEO

Ease of Use

3

4

3

User-friendly Interface

3

4.5

4

Recommendations Given

4

3.5

4

Features

3

4

5

Loading Speed

2.5

4

3

Average Score

3.1 out of 5

4 out of 5

3.8 out of 5

Pricing

Unlimited Plan

$ 39 / month

Business Plan

$ 165.8 / month

Business Plan

$ 165.8 / month

Of course, these scores are all based on our own opinions and experience of use. They are not, in any way, influenced by our experiment. This means that, while Page Optimizer Pro scored a measly rating of 3.1 out of 5, it could still be the ultimate SEO Tool

Page Optimizer Pro (POP)

Page Optimizer Pro (POP) Banner

The website of Page Optimizer Pro prides itself as the “on-page tool that gives you an unfair SEO advantage.” Founded by Kyle Roof, an internationally-acclaimed SEO expert, Page Optimizer Pro has become one of the common names when it comes to SEO. Kyle used to be the Lead Tester for the SEO Intelligence Agency, where he oversaw over 300 single variable tests done on Google’s algorithm.

Many reviews of Page Optimizer Pro mention that it is an excellent tool if your main goal is to do competitor research. POP allows users to compare their website against the competition. Additionally, you can create a focus group if you want to target specific competitors.

SEO experts consider POP as one of the best in terms of providing feedback on content structure. Page Optimizer Pro gives a list of keywords and the number of times each keyword should appear for a page to be optimised. Furthermore, they also provide specific instructions as to exactly which part of the content (h1, h2, h3, paragraph, title, URL, alt tag, etc.) the keyword must appear.

Through multiple SEO experiments, Kyle Roof found out that an optimised H1 tag holds a higher importance than multiple H2 tags with keywords inside. This is why Page Optimizer Pro emphasizes the significance of keyword placement when it comes to on-page SEO.

Page Optimizer Pro takes a look at the top competitors relevant to your site and analyses their content structure. If, on average, there are 3 H2 tags, POP would recommend you have three or more H2 tags on your page. Similarly, it also recommended that you use the same keywords as your competitors website for your H2 tags.

Page Optimizer Pro (POP) Banner

As you can see, Page Optimizer provides specific recommendations for each part of the content page, allowing SEO specialists and content writers to design the perfect page structure for their site.

POP proceeds to give the following: Word count, number of headings, number of paragraphs, images, and image alt text, how many should be in bold or italicised, ordered and unordered lists, forms, and whether or not the page needs a graphic or a video.

Now as a content writer myself, from this information I can plan out how the web page should look just from these recommendations alone, making my life easier. For Blog Post A-E, we strictly followed POP’s advice, especially the keyword placement.

Thanks to POP’s newest feature Content Brief, we were also able to get a clear visual of our Optimization Score and what exactly we need to do all on one page. 

Page Optimizer Pro Score

For $10 for ten reports or a monthly $39 for unlimited reports, it is definitely a steal!

Results on Page Optimizer Pro:

Here, we compiled the results for Blog Posts A to E and have included rankings before we optimised them so you can see the difference.

Blog Post

Ranking before Edits

Ranking as of

Cell
Cell

Mar 17

Mar 24

Mar 31

April 7

April 15

April 22

A

2

2

1

2

1

1

1

B

6

6

4

4

4

4

4

C

33

34

36

36

47

47

49

D

56

53

44

36

38

39

39

E

73

79

16

16

15

15

15

From this table alone, you can already see that the results were mostly positive. Blog Post A, B, D, and E all experienced a massive increase in their rankings. Blog Post A and B, which were already ranking high in SERPs, took the top spots at 1 and 4, respectively.

On the other hand, Blog Posts D and E, previously ranked 56 and 73, jumped 17 and 58 spots, for a better standing at 39th and 15th. Meanwhile, Blog Post C’s standing went down from 33 to a final ranking of 49, which can be visualised better with this graph. The x-axis represents time, while the y-axis represents the rankings.

As you can see, the general movement of the rankings for each blog post went up.

Ranking for Page Optimizer Pro (POP)

Final Verdict on POP?

So what is our final verdict?

It’s solid.

Page Optimizer Pro provides its users with all the essentials: competitor research, keyword research, keyword placement, etc. While it doesn’t go into detail as much as Surfer or Cognitive, it's still sufficient at what it does. From the experiment, there was a massive leap in rankings, even allowing us to take the number one spot for Blog Post A. Aside from that, these broad jumps were indicative of how optimised our content has become thanks to POP.

One of the main takeaways about POP is this - for unlimited reports, it’s only $39 a month, making it a cost-effective way of doing Content Optimization.

Surfer SEO

Surfer SEO is the “Data-Driven SEO Tool for On-Page and Beyond.” Developed by SEO experts who’ve been in the industry for over 13 years, Surfer SEO is currently one of the leading On-Page optimization tools in the market. According to their website, Surfer “analyzes 500+ on-page signals in one sweep giving you an easy-to-follow recipe for higher rankings.”

During our time spent on the experiment, our team found that Surfer SEO was the most user-friendly compared to POP and Cognitive. The site was easy to follow with each button being clearly marked, and gave clear instructions. You could also get location-specific recommendations for a better-targeted strategy.
Surfer has a handful of features that provides comprehensive and detailed reports on different aspects of SEO.

Surfer SEO

SERP Analyzer - Surfer’s SERP Analyzer does a comprehensive analysis of the keyword with regards to the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Essentially, it allows its users to discover optimal keywords density, compares your page against your local competition, and finds link building opportunities based on common backlinks from the top pages.

SERP Analyzer - Surfer SEO

Content Editor – Surfer’s Content Editor provides detailed instructions on how you can create keyword-rich content. With Content Editor, you can optimize the existing content on your website, create high-ranking landing pages, and even create e-commerce copy that’s geared towards conversion.

I personally am in awe of how comprehensive the reports from Surfer SEO are. It provides:

The top 10 most relevant competitors to your site

Competitors  Analysis - Surfer SEO

Content Structure

Content Structure - Surfer SEO
  • How frequently keywords appear
  • LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords
  • Topics and Questions to Answer
  • Export guidelines feature so SEO specialist can send easy-to-follow instructions to the copywriter

Keyword Research – Surfer SEO’s Keyword Research provides new keywords relevant to your site that you can target, gaining an edge against your competition. You also get to find related topics and analyze new keywords.

With so many features, it’s simply not necessary to swap between SEO tools to formulate your SEO strategy.

Results on Surfer SEO

So how did Surfer SEO do? See for yourself. Below are the results of the experiment for Blog Posts F to J. Again, we used SERProBot to check for the rankings of each blog post concerning their specific keywords.

Blog Post

Ranking before Edits

Ranking as of

Cell
Cell

Mar 17

Mar 24

Mar 31

April 7

April 15

April 22

F

51

not in top 100

64

90

not in top 100

not in top 100

79

G

not in top 100

not in top 100

75

75

72

68

71

H

50

52

49

46

27

24

20

I

4

2

4

2

63

21

1

J

47

54

59

57

40

68

40

Just like with Page Optimizer Pro, the blog posts, after being optimised with Surfer SEO, experienced improvements in their rankings. Results were mostly positive, save for Blog Post F, which slipped from the list. There was even a three week period where it dropped from the Top 100 search results. As the rest of the blog posts had a positive outcome, it can be inferred that a different factor could be the reason why Blog Post F tanked.

Blog Post G broke through the top 100 search results list and had a final standing of 71st. Blog Post H went up 30 slots, from the 50th to the 20th. Blog Post I, on the other hand, became the top search result for its keyword. Lastly, after five weeks of deteriorating ranking, Blog Post J landed the 40th spot on the last week of the experiment.

Rankings can be easier visualised from the graphic below:

Ranking for Surfer SEO

As you can see from this line chart, the majority of the blog posts' had an upward general trajectory. It experienced some drops, probably due to a new Google algorithm update, but quickly recovered afterwards.

Final verdict on Surfer SEO?

It’s an excellent tool! Surfer SEO does many things that are golden to an SEO expert. Couple that with an easy-to-use interface, and you've certainly got a reliable SEO tool. If you're looking for a do-it-all tool that provides not only on-page optimization but also keyword research and competitor research, you've got yourself a good bargain with Surfer SEO.

It is also perfect if you outsource your content creation process as you can send your writer the exported guidelines instead of giving them access to your Surfer SEO account.

CognitiveSEO

CognitiveSEO

Out of the three SEO tools, CognitiveSEO certainly does the most. With countless features, Cognitive SEO is perfect for digital marketing agencies who want to increase online traffic, monitor their site’s evolution, and perform a comprehensive site audit.

According to their site, CognitiveSEO is "a complete SEO software suite that will uncover all your traffic issues." And it does follow through with its promise. It not only provides detailed reports but also proposes a solution on how to rank better, especially if your sites are tanking.

CognitiveSEO pretty much does the entire SEO process. Here are the major reports that you can get from CognitiveSEO:

On-Page Website Crawler & SEO Audit

The algorithm that Google uses to rank its pages is quite volatile. It changes rapidly and often without warning. CognitiveSEO provides its users with a site audit tool that offers comprehensive reports on your website's weak points. Aside from this, it crawls through all of the site's pages to create an easy-to-understand visual on how you can fix the errors on your site. So you can outrank your competitors while improving your overall website performance.

Backlink Analysis, Content Audit, and Rank Tracking

CognitiveSEO does a unique analysis process that compares your data with your competitors, providing you with valuable insights like why your competitors are ranking higher than you and why your site isn’t.

Keyword and Content Optimization Tool

Content Optimization is one of the most significant aspects of the Search Engine Optimization process. Cognitive SEO uses a thorough keyword research and ranking analysis process, ensuring that your on-page content is optimized, not only for Search Engines but also for conversion. Cognitive also has a Content Performance score and a Keyword Tool to boost your rankings and increase organic traffic.

Unnatural Link Detection for Both Algorithmic and Manual Penalties

When Google rolls out changes in the algorithm, some of your links may get penalised. Without help from a tool like CognitiveSEO, your site may have links which hurt your rankings, instead of improving it. Once you've detected which links are getting penalised, you can quickly contact the site owners.

Desktop, Mobile & Local Rank Tracking for all Locations & Languages

CognitiveSEO allows its users to track their website rankings from a closer angle. When searching for keyword rankings, you can choose to specify the country, language, and city to create a more localized report. Similarly, desktop and mobile have different SERP positions. If your users are mostly mobile users, then targeting mobile factors would be the optimal choice.

Competitor Research

CognitiveSEO reverse engineers, uncovering the SEO strategies of your online competitors. This way, you can simply do what they’re doing, but better.
CognitiveSEO's comprehensive reports have not gone unnoticed. In 2019, over 11, 000 SEO professionals and agencies reported using Cognitive SEO to improve the rankings of over 36, 000 websites.

Results on CognitiveSEO

Below are the results of our experiment using the on-page SEO recommendations provided by CognitiveSEO.

Blog Post

Ranking before Edits

Ranking as of

Cell
Cell

Mar 17

Mar 24

Mar 31

April 7

April 15

April 22

K

11

11

11

11

10

10

8

L

2

2

2

2

2

2

2

M

3

1

4

1

2

1

1

N

14

17

12

12

12

11

12

O

3

2

1

2

3

3

3

After optimizing the blog posts with CognitiveSEO, the results were mostly positive. One can even argue that even Blog Post O, which went back to the 3rd spot after a few weeks in the 2nd and 1st spot, still experienced a boost.

Blog Post K, previously ranking 11th, went up three spots, breaking through the top 10 search results, ending in 8th spot. Blog Post L, on the other hand, remained steady at the 2nd spot throughout the experiment, which could be indicative that the site on the 1st spot was ranking higher.

Blog Post M, from being third on the search engines results page, ended up in the 1st spot. Meanwhile, Blog Post N took the 12th spot while Blog Post O, after a few weeks on the 1st and 2nd spot, went down to the 3rd spot.

Results can be easily visualised shown through this graph:

Ranking for CognitiveSEO

Final Verdict on CognitiveSEO?

CognitiveSEO is one of the most comprehensive SEO tools that we've ever tried out. It has so many features, was easy to use, and provided highly detailed reports for every step of the SEO process. Cognitive SEO also had the most promising results.

Final Thoughts on the SEO Tools

So who won the experiment? What SEO Tool are we going to recommend? Which of the three gets the title as the Ultimate On-Page SEO Tool?

*Commence Drum Roll*

It depends..

All three tools Page Optimizer Pro, SurferSEO, and CognitiveSEO, all have their own merits and demerits, and determining which SEO tool is better requires context and a lot more background information. Each tool has its own use and benefits to the user, additionally, one must also take into account the pricing of each tool and how frequently it will be used.

For example, it would be a waste of money to get a Business Plan subscription from SurferSEO, which costs $165.8 per month, only for it to be used for five or ten queries a month. Instead, it's best to shell out $39 for Page Optimizer Pro as it also gave positive results.

I guess, if we are to designate each tool, it could be classified as the following:

Startup businesses and SEO enthusiasts are best partnered with POP to start with. Think of Page Optimizer Pro as the best entry point to the SEO industry. It provides simple to understand reports at a minimal price, and effectively does it’s job without breaking the bank.

On the other hand, SurferSEO and CognitiveSEO are best for SEO experts and SEO agencies who can maximise all of their credit while using all of its features, as you will be paying a yearly subscription that costs hundreds of dollars. It will be a misuse of your assets if your company invests in an SEO tool that won’t be used.

Moving forward, we will continue to review new On-Page SEO tools which will be added onto the experiment, helping you gain new insights for your SEO strategies. Remember to check in!


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