Surfer SEO Review: Action, not just words. We tested Surfer SEO for 30 days, revamping unloved content.

25th November 2021

TL;DR

Surfer SEO whips your website’s content into better shape for search engines. A complete content optimization platform, Surfer’s easy-to-use tools sharpen your SEO copywriting efforts, from content research and planning to briefing contributors and NLP writing. I took Surfer SEO on a hope-filled, 30-day experiment to refresh all of the content on this website. Read on for the results (clue: they were outstanding!).



Loved

  • NLP writing assistant
  • Rapid cluster prep
  • Amazing UI
  • Internal linking
  • ROI

Loathed

  • Usage credits

The Story

What is Surfer SEO?

Surfer helps content creators to spot high-potential topic clusters, structure their writing, and optimize it for readers and search engines. It does so by reverse-engineering Google algorithms to create actionable tips to improve your content’s score and rank ahead of the competition. A SEO health check and workout in one!

Surfer SEO’s 4 main tools are:

  • Content Planner – instant topic clusters for any niche
  • Content Outlines – instant article outlines for any keyword
  • Content Editor – as-your-write optimization advice for new content
  • Content Audits – optimize existing article headers, NLP and internal links

Michał Suski & Sławek Czajkowski

Meet the Maker:
Michał Suski & Sławek Czajkowski

At the helm of Surfer SEO are co-founders, Michał Suski and Sławek Czajkowski. Like so many marketing SaaS success stories, Surfer started off as a manual internal tool, KSEO, which was later revamped and made available to other website owners. Based in Wrocław, Poland, and fully bootstrapped, Surfer has come a long, long way since its launch in 2018 growing organically to $3m ARR. Demystifying and reverse-engineering Google algorithms for more generalist marketers and writers, it now helps 10,000+ websites to reach their full ranking potential. Still bootstrapped and fiercely independent, Surfer is quickly iterating and adding new features to speed up the work of SEO copywriters and content teams.

The Product

How we tested Surfer SEO

This Surfer SEO review involved an intense 1-month experiment - of the $99 p/m Pro plan.

This granted me 60 individual page Audits, roughly the number of pages on Surges.co

I decided to apply every relevant suggestion made by the AI optimization tool. Then see the difference it made to ranking and traffic after 1 months and 3 months. I knew I had a lot of unloved content on the site that needed optimizing.

I would also use Surfer SEO to plan new topic clusters and draft a new piece of content. So, the whole feature set was put to the test.

Full transparency:

  • There were no freebies, the $99 was paid by me
  • This coincided with de-indexing lots of thin pages
  • No new content was added to Surges.co during the 30 days
  • Otherwise all other factors were the same

What difference did Surfer SEO make?

The results are in. After 30 days:

  • +117% clicks from Google Search
  • +280% impressions from Google Search
  • +30% organic keywords (still v early days!)

Read on for more information on each of these.


Getting started with Surfer SEO

Whatever your level of SEO expertise – SEO Consultant, Writer, Affiliate Marketer or Generalist – Surfer promises to boil SEO copywriting down to the basics.

You start by telling Surfer your number one goal:

  • Create Content Strategy
  • Write SEO-optimized Content
  • Technical audit of your domain
  • Audit a single page
  • Perform deep analysis of search results
  • Do Keyword Research

Most of this focuses on the one keyword you’re looking to rank for for each piece of content. If that’s yet to be decided, head to Keyword Research and Content Planner. To write good content, first you have to plan it. Surfer will slash the time you spend on this research, giving you hundreds of content ideas (search intent, related keywords, volume etc) as well as the key factors driving high-ranking pages (e.g. videos, keyword density, article length, backlinks). Surfer has 2-minute videos on each of the above topics which will quickly bring you up to speed and help you to make the most out of every tool.

If, like me, your main aim is to fresh up and optimize your existing content, you’ll need a firm grasp of NLP. Thankfully Surfer SEO can help with that too…

What is NLP? (Natural Language Processing)

First up, ‘Natural Language’ is how we humans communicate with one another.

NLP, or Natural Language Processing, is the automated manipulation of this, like speech and text, by software. NLP enables robots to read enormous bodies of text or speech, and quickly understand topic, sentiment and depth and breadth of knowledge.

How does Surfer use NLP?

Surfer helps your content to achieve the highest possible NLP scores in the eyes of search engines.

This includes keyword use in headers, keyword density, related phrases, and more. Get your content score into “Green” territory (70/100 or higher) and you’re likely to start ranking relatively highly, all other things against the competition being equal.

Surfer SEO NLP related keywords

Google NLP offer this service too, however Surfer NLP typically provides more suggested phrases than Google, plus the ability to see changes to the score as you type and create NLP-rich outline structures of new content in an instant. It means that everybody that writes for your site can write for Google, without an in-depth knowledge of SEO copywriting techniques. Perfect if you’re using freelance content creators.

Features you’ll love

There’s two main sides to Surfer SEO: optimizing existing content and planning cluster dominance.

Quick wins and ongoing content marketing dominance.

This experiment predominantly focussed on the former, revisiting pre-existing but stale content (reviews and guides) to get them to achieve their full ranking potential. For that I spent 80% of my time in Content Audits. Surfer’s on-page optimiser with a dash of technical SEO. So let’s start there…

  • 📝 Content Audit – optimize existing content

    Content Audit is your chance of redemption for unloved but promising content. It acts as a teacher, presenting you with a SEO scorecard for each piece of content and giving you homework to improve it, based on “must-haves” for a high scoring piece of content.

    How to use Surfer’s Content Audit

    Enter a URL and the keyword you’re trying to rank for.

    Surfer will score it out of 100 – a marker of how it compares versus the highest ranking content for that term. You can see their content score, backlink authority and word count. But, most importantly, Surfer tells you how to close the gap and overtake them.

    Surfer SEO Content Score

    The things that make the biggest difference e.g. title and meta descriptions; headers; keyword density and NLP; internal and external links. You know the score.

    Surfer SEO Heading Structure

    Plus, a number of secondary variables e.g. time to first btye; image elements; partial keywords; word count; bolded text, etc.

    As you implement each of Surfer’s suggestions, you score changes in front of you.

    Doubling your score (i.e. taking a poorly optimized article to 70+) can take up to one hour of tweaking and refreshing. The most time consuming part of this is adding in close synonyms and contextual keywords, without it reading like a thesaurus. A quick update for new terms can take only 10 minutes. If you’re auditing content across multiple sites or clients, you can add tags for easy reference.

    My experience using Surfer’s Content Audit

    Surges had 50 articles hungry for more attention. Over the course of the month I’d get around to updating and optimizing roughly 35 of them with Surfer’s help.

    I pride myself on the quality of writing and depth of Surges’ reviews, so SEO wasn’t my first concern when crafting new reviews. Maybe a rookie mistake. However, doing things this way round – writing freely and expressively first, optimizing second – would leave me with content that is as good as it can be for both audiences and search engines.

    A handful of reviews passed straight away. Surfer correctly identified the content that was optimized or happy accidents (in this instance 73/100 for an Exploding topics review, 81/100 for a LinkHunter review). Even then offer plenty of suggestions of how to nudge it closer to perfection

    However, most existing content needed work.

    Surfer’s scorecards are 100% action-orientated so you’re in no doubt what changes need to be made. The UI was love at first sight. So easy to follow. So much better than working off a downloaded CSV!

    I obeyed Surfer’s every command. Completely rewiring the internal links on my site. Injecting new terms where it made sense. Sorting my headers and image alt tags out. And just generally tidying things up. When you’ve ticked off all the big wins you can mark the task as ‘complete’. I won’t lie, it’s very satisfying seeing Surfer’s score rise, however the real test would be the impact in Google…

    Does Surfer SEO work?

    My growth challenge was to climb SERP rankings and boost traffic.

    Mission accomplished!

    After 30 days using Surfer, Surges.co has seen :

    • +117% clicks from Google Search
    • +280% impressions from Google Search
    • +30% organic keywords (still v early days!)

    Admittedly this has been from a small base, however I fully expect those numbers to rise even further once the changes have had more time to fully register.

    Other gains include:

    • 9% drop in bounce rate vs. the previous 30 days
    • 3x new 50DA+ backlinks (inc. 1x DA90) without any outreach
    • added motivation to dedicate more time to this side-project

    So, it looks like that $99 has repaid itself many times over, just on one feature!

  • 🧙‍♂️ AI Content Editor – optimize new articles for SEO

    Surfer’s Content Editor stops you having to craft a new piece of content from scratch.

    If you’re staring at a blank page or struggling with writer’s block, it can give you a great head start by preparing a keyword-rich outline in minutes.

    Surfer SEO   AI Content Editor

    Surfer will suggest most popular headings from your competitors pages and its AI copywriter will generate a unique paragraph of content for each section.

    It also speeds up your workflow by:

    • Copy and paste over to your draft
    • Highlighting key terms and phrases in sample paragraphs
    • Offering common Topic & Questions to answer
    • Nesting subheads to clearly specify H1, H2, H3s
    • Tells you the exact competitor pages it’s based it on
    • Showing if any teammates are editing at the same time

    For the article I was pulling together, Surfer’s AI auto-generated 3 Titles (H1), 14 Headings (H2) and 23 Subheadings (H3-H6). But was it readable? Convincing even?

    I found the copy made sense but it wasn’t the most compelling read. More filler. Good enough for search engines and would pass Surfer’s content score but it still has some way to go.

    But it structured a good article and made for a rapid first draft. One a human could quickly and easily refine and improve. Content Editor is definitely a feature I’ll be using anytime I’m embarking on a new piece of content or briefing a SEO copywriter.

    The tool is only available in English as the moment, but Surfer have dropped a number of hints about translating the article into different languages in the future.

  • 📚 Content Planner – a new way to find topic clusters

    A single piece of content just won’t cut it. You need topical authority.

    This brand new feature will streamline your content planning by instantly creating topic clusters related to your head keyword. That’s right, no more manual keyword planning!

    Surfer SEO Content Planner

    Surfer’s Content Planner presents you with a grid of new article ideas. Enough to keep you busy for a few months. Each comes with the main keywords to try and rank for, plus the type of content that’s owning that space currently e.g. Informational; Customer Investigation. All that in exchange for a single seed keyword!

    My dummy keyword generated 204 potential clusters to go after! 204! That’s enough to keep this solopreneur busy for a year.

    This research is all the more powerful for being hooked up to the Content Editor. A single click imports these suggestions into a new draft.

    Or, get content suggestions based on gaps

    An alternative take on the same feature. Enter a domain and Surfer will identify where you can add content to an existing page to rank for a low hanging keyword, and whether there’s a featured snippet in the SERP you can obtain. The sheer number of suggestions could be overwhelming if it went for the fact that Surfer shows the monthly search volume and ranking difficulty for each cluster and keyword to help you prioritize.

    Doing this for Surges.co highlighted 56 pages with room for improvement. Another job added to the to-do list!

    If SEO and content planning doesn’t come to your naturally, Surfer’s Content Planner is a goldmine of actionable ideas. It’s still in beta, with a few niggles, so the feature is included with every subscription, for now.

Things to consider

  • SERP Analyzer & Keyword Explorer

    I’ll briefly touch on these features as I didn’t use them a great deal.

    SERP Analyzer paints a picture of common themes from the highest ranked content for any query. The interactive graph helps you to wade through correlations between position in SERP and 500+ factors, including:

    • Content length
    • Number of headings
    • NLP performance
    • Page speed
    • Backlinks and so much more.
    Surfer SEO SERP Analyzer

    Truth be told, I found the graph a bit confusing at first. However, toggle the option to include screen shots, play around and you’ll uncover some new killer SERP insights to work with.

    Keyword Explorer needs no explanation. This is Surfer SEO’s weakest feature in my opinion. It’s useful to have it within the same tool as content optimization, however it falls short on data points. Not a huge problem for me as I use Serpstat for granular keyword research.

    Surfer SEO Keyword Research

Surfer SEO Pricing

from $49 per month

10 Edits, 20 Audits

Surfer SEO is so good it can charge a premium right off the bat.

I tested the Pro plan at $99, which gets you 30x Content Editors and 60x Audits, complete with Surfer’s essential NLP. Anything less probably won’t cut it. All plans include the Content Planner to find clusters and SERP Analyzer.

Surfer SEO doesn’t have free tier or trial.

Black Friday - 30% off all plans!

Save 30% on any new or upgraded plan. Plus, every Surfer gets a chance for free lifetime upgrades!


Surfer SEO Alternatives

There’s a few AI-powered content tools out there majoring on on-page optimization.

Clearscope, Topic and Marketmuse are three of the best known. All promise to eliminate any guesswork when it comes to what audiences are looking for and how to rank highest for it. You’ll get the similar research tools, content brief generators and actionable insights for existing content. However, all are more expensive compared to Surfer SEO, although you might be more audits. Surfer wins on the UI front too.

If you’re looking for more comprehensive SEO tools, both HubSpot and Semrush have in-built real time SEO content graders.

Surfer SEO Support   👍  or   👎

Need a hand with the Surfer toolkit? Help comes in the form of customer support and a knowledge base, as you’d expect. Beyond that, you can earn your SEO stripes at the Surfer content intelligence university. They run regular live training sessions (join one and extend your money back guarantee to 30 days!) and a SEO Writing course. This one goes well beyond just “writing”, ensuring you get the most out of Surfer’s tools and master how to build an online business with content marketing.

The Verdict

Surges score

90%

With its content planner, real time SEO editor, technical checks and SERP research, Surfer has everything you need to become a better SEO copywriter and grow your business through great content.

The results of this experiment speak for themselves.

After only 30 days and $99, Surfer has transformed my content and search performance. Old articles now have higher topical relevance, more visible on search engines and helping readers to navigate their way to other helpful reviews. Higher organic traffic and a superior reading experience.

But that’s only half the story.

It was love at first sight for me and Surfer’s UI. Surfer automates otherwise manual and time-consuming SEO processes in a way that speaks to me far more than most other marketing tools. Surfer makes the invisible visible, and actionable. Even enjoyable. The changes you make update scores in real time and it’s a real buzz seeing them grow, knowing ranking gains would follow.

Both an SEO health check and workout, the modules are far more powerful when used together. The Content Planner and Outlines feed the Editor seamlessly. I tried downloading some of Surfer’s reports and working offline, but it just wasn’t the same experience. I lost interest immediately.

A word of warning though: don’t lose sight of what makes you writing stand out for humans. I can see how optimization can be a slippery slope. However clever the AI, following every NLP instruction might get you more eyeballs but it certainly won’t keep readers on your site.

My advice is to use Surfer’s content planner to research and structure articles, but to write it yourself first then optimize. Memorable content is both useful and expressive. Don’t lose your flair by trying to stuff in too many related keywords unnaturally. Focus on well-rounded articles and I trust that, like me, Surfer will be a fast-track to a repeatable formula for creating high-ranking content and renew your love of writing for the web.

Still not convinced? Surfer SEO offers a 7-day money back guarantee, upped to 30-days if you join one of their live training sessions.

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