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SEO Tools — Desktop vs Cloud-Based Software

Last updated Jan 22, 2023

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Desktop and Web-Based SEO Tools

Users of SEO tools and applications are blessed with an abundance of great options. Maybe too many!

While web-based (cloud or SaaS) tools are the dominant theme today, there are several strong desktop/laptop PC-based SEO tools available as well.

This post takes a look at desktop vs web-based SEO tools and points out important pros and cons for users of each approach.

Table of Contents (+/-)
    seo software tasks and activities
    SEO software tools come in many forms and cover various areas of SEO project work. Users can mix and match both web-based and desktop SEO tools to get maximum value for their budgets.

    This post contains a few referral links to vendor partners. We may receive compensation for purchases made via these links, at no additional cost to buyers.

    SEO Software Tools — A Very Wide Range of Options

    From SEO Browser Extensions to Complete SEO Software Suites

    Once I started getting into SEO more seriously, I soon realized that the universe of available SEO software tools is very large indeed!

    As website owners and SEO practitioners, we have a really wide variety of tools at our disposal.

    Some are free and others are paid. Many of the paid SEO tools have free feature-limited versions or free trial periods prior to paid subscriptions or licenses.

    Categories of SEO tools include:

    • Simple free SEO browser extensions, e.g., from the Chrome browser directory of extensions and apps.
    • Desktop SEO tools and suites, including Screaming Frog and SEO PowerSuite.

    Most SEO practitioners and professionals wind up using a collection of tools for their SEO work.

    They use major free tools, such as Google Search Console (and Google Analytics), but then augment these with other free and paid tools.

    Related: See this post for much more on affordable, less expensive SEO tools. The post highlights a variety of SEO software options that aren’t free but aren’t overly expensive either.

    The rest of this post focuses on the distinctions between cloud-based (SaaS or web-based) and desktop SEO tools, including the pros and cons of each.

    Desktop SEO Software vs Cloud-Based SEO Tools

    Strengths and Weaknesses of Desktop and Web-Based SEO Apps

    Most SEO tools today are delivered as cloud-based apps or platforms. That much is undeniably true.

    The web-based SEO software vendors try to attract users with free trials or perhaps free browser SEO extensions, then convince them to move into a paid subscription with monthly access/usage fees.

    In some cases, the software is delivered in traditional desktop/laptop versions for PCs running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Like other desktop applications, these tools run primarily on your PC, not in the cloud.

    Here are several of the important pros and cons associated with web-based and desktop SEO tools.

    Cloud-Based SEO Tools — Pros and Cons

    Cloud or web-based SEO tools share many of the common pros and cons associated with most SaaS-based applications.

    Cloud-Based SEO Pros

    • SEO software and project data accessible via all major internet browsers
    • Flexible access from multiple devices (PC, tablet, smartphone)
    • Easy to get started with one or multiple SEO tools (simple user interfaces)
    • All SEO project data is centralized in the cloud (keywords, ranking data, etc.)
    • Ability to upgrade/downgrade subscription levels and monthly fees
    • Software upgrades and bug fixes can be completely transparent to users

    Cloud-Based SEO Cons

    • Can be more expensive (e.g., to help cover cloud infrastructure costs)
    • Premium web-based SEO platforms can be expensive on a monthly basis
    • Incremental add-ons can significantly boost subscriber costs
    • High user demand can degrade performance for all
    • Can be vulnerable to shared login access schemes (e.g., ‘group buy’ SEO tools)
    • Limited or no local ownership/backup of project data
    • Potential (even if low) of SEO project data loss in the cloud
    • Data restrictions on number of keywords allowed, reporting rows, etc.
    • Restrictions on rank checking frequency, history duration, etc.
    • Can get much more expensive when adding several SEO projects or clients

    Web-Based SEO Tools — Example Features and Pricing

    The screenshots below help to illustrate the points about certain feature/data limitations designed into typical web-based SEO tools.

    Note how web-based Semrush, Ahrefs, and Mangools all have various data limitations for things like number of projects allowed and keywords tracked, number of backlinks, site audit pages, etc.

    They often also limit the number of operations or queries allowed per day/week/month.

    Some, such as Ahrefs, have built-in extra charges that apply for usage above plan limits.

    For the very latest pricing and feature details, see the links directly below or click on the vendor pricing screenshots. Pricing is based on annualized plans and payment, which usually provides a decent discount vs paying month-to-month.

    Mangools is often considered to be a good budget-friendly alternative to tools like Semrush and Ahrefs.

    Semrush pricing plans

    Ahrefs pricing plans

    Mangools pricing plans

    Semrush — Cloud-Based SEO & Digital Marketing Tools

    semrush features pricing
    Semrush pricing plans and features breakdown

    Ahrefs — Popular and Respected SaaS SEO Platform

    ahrefs seo features pricing
    Ahrefs pricing plan and feature limits. Note the automatic charges that apply for exceeding plan limits.

    Mangools — Affordable Cloud-Based SEO Tools

    mangools seo tools pricing and features
    Mangools pricing plans and features breakdown.

    Desktop SEO Software — Pros and Cons

    Conversely, desktop or PC-based SEO tools carry most of the benefits and limitations of traditional PC-based software.

    In actual day-to-day use, desktop or laptop-based SEO tools may still be perfectly acceptible for many SEO users. The limitations just don’t turn out to be serious deal-breakers.

    As noted further below, using a hybrid ‘desktop plus cloud’ approach can help overcome some of the usual desktop-only software constraints.

    Desktop SEO Pros

    • Often more affordable since you’re providing most of the hardware used
    • You own your SEO project data and can back it up as you like
    • No (or very low) incremental cost to add new SEO projects or clients
    • Local data storage means no real data restrictions (number of keywords, etc.)
    • Minimal real limitations on historical data retention
    • Ability to run licensed software on more than one machine if needed
    • Ability to customize the user interface / application workspace
    • Some functionality remains available even when offline
    • Good user location portability when run on laptops (very typical)
    • May include cloud-assisted features (see more on this below)

    Desktop SEO Cons

    • Limited access via one (or a few) PCs running licensed SEO software
    • No access to SEO project data from mobile devices, generic Chromebooks, etc.
    • May require faster/better PCs for very large SEO projects (performance issue)
    • Harder to scale to larger SEO teams needing multi-user access
    • Periodic license renewal costs (an expected part of the overall cost profile)

    Desktop SEO Tools — Example Features and Pricing

    The screenshot below shows the feature editions and pricing for SEO PowerSuite, one of the main desktop-focused SEO toolkits.

    Compared to web-based SEO tools, SEO PowerSuite has far fewer data limitations or frequency limits on rank checking. (The free version does have more built-in limitations, but the paid editions remove these limits.)

    SEO PowerSuite Features and Pricing

    seo powersuite pricing
    SEO PowerSuite software features and pricing. Note how the most important features are ‘unlimited’ in the paid versions.

    Desktop SEO Crawlers/Spiders

    PC-based website crawlers or spiders for on-site SEO work are also very popular. These run from your own machine, not in the cloud.

    Screaming Frog — The widely known and popular SEO crawler offers both free and paid options. Covers basic through advanced website SEO analysis and audits.

    Netpeak Software — An alternative to Screaming Frog, Netpeak’s desktop SEO crawler (Netpeak Spider) also covers basic and advanced site crawling. They also offer Netpeak Checker for SERP scraping and analysis. Free and paid versions available.

    Also, see their Netpeak Spider vs Screaming Frog competitor analysis.

    SEO PowerSuite’s WebSite Auditor application has a built-in site crawler as well, so there are several good desktop SEO options in the area of website crawlers/spiders and site auditing tools.

    Desktop SEO Tools With Cloud Features

    The Hybrid Desktop Plus Cloud SEO Option

    Competing with a sea of cloud-based SEO vendors, some of the desktop SEO tool vendors have added cloud-based features to augment and bolster the desktop value proposition as highlighted above in the ‘Desktop Pros’ discussion.

    For example, SEO PowerSuite has introduced a number of cloud-enhanced features, including:

    • The SEO PowerSuite Cloud, good for syncing user settings between the SEO PowerSuite applications, storing project data for shared user access, client report access, etc.
    • Cloud-based rank checking, which performs server-side rank checks instead of relying on the user’s PC and IP address. (This is a really helpful feature, btw!)
    • Connection to Dropbox as an option for project data storage

    seo spyglass backlinks report
    Example analysis report from SEO PowerSuite’s SpyGlass application. The primary application is desktop-based, but there’s a free online backlink checker as well.

    Desktop vs Web-Based SEO Tools — Key Differences

    A Few Important Comparison Points

    Summarizing a few of the most important points from above, the main differences between desktop SEO software and the various web-based SEO tools revolve around the following:

    • Web-based SEO tools offer more flexibility in terms of access devices and locations (PCs, tablets, mobile — and anywhere you have internet access). Desktop SEO software is tied to a specific PC (or a few machines).
    • However, if your ‘desktop PC’ SEO setup also happens to be a laptop, you still have good location portability as long as your SEO project data is also local to that machine or accessible in the cloud (e.g., the SEO PowerSuite Cloud).
    • Desktop SEO tools take great advantage of your local PC hardware. This can help reduce your overall software costs and even boost performance vs cloud-based tools that can get bogged down from too many simultaneous users or other infrastructure problems.
    • Desktop SEO software also has few, if any, restrictions on the number of SEO projects you can manage, keywords, rank-tracking frequency, backlinks, website pages audited, etc. Web-based SEO tools impose various data restrictions and/or usage limitations that get more generous at higher pricing tiers.
    • Web-based SEO tools can also have easier learning curves and general ‘ease of use’ advantages. They are designed for in-browser use and simple on-boarding for new subscribers.

    For a more vendor-specific discussion on desktop vs web-based SEO tools, see this SEO PowerSuite vs Ahrefs and Semrush comparison.

    seo powersuite applications
    SEO PowerSuite includes four main applications to cover all major areas of SEO work. There is a free version as well for detailed product evaluation.

    Picking the Best SEO Tools Stack

    Use as Much (or as Little) SEO Software As You Truly Need

    Many SEO practitioners stick to a ‘free-only’ appproach to SEO tools.

    They manage to build a totally free SEO toolkit from the available options, cobbling together enough functionality in the SEO areas that are most important to them.

    Others go with a ‘free+paid’ approach. They’re willing to spend some marketing budget on key SEO tools that fill important gaps left by free SEO tools and apps.

    Other businesses, agencies, and SEO pros find it easy to justify a ‘premium first’ approach to SEO tools investment. They have the need and budget for premium tools like Moz, Ahrefs, or Semrush, then augment as needed with other paid or free tools.

    As a rough generalization, I’d suggest the following guidelines:

    • Smaller firms with an SEO emphasis — Go with the ‘free+paid’ approach. Add one or more of the less expensive SEO tools to strengthen the most critical focus areas.
    • Larger SEO agencies — Consider a premium ‘full-spectrum’ SEO platform with great client reporting tools and a reasonable cost profile for adding new users and clients (e.g., more generous data limits).
    • Medium-to-large enterprises — You’ve got the best software budget flexibility, so take the ‘premium-first’ approach and commit to a major SEO platform that can handle your enterprise-level SEO needs and multi-user team.

    Desktop SEO Software vs Cloud-Based — Final Thoughts

    Web-Based SEO, Desktop, or Both — You Have Many Good Options

    With so many SEO tools available today, including both free and paid web-based and desktop options, it’s easy to get stuck in analysis and comparison mode.

    In the end, the ‘perfect’ SEO software toolkit will vary widely among different users.

    Just make sure you understand your budget limits, the features and limitations of the available cloud-based and desktop SEO tools, and your own SEO needs and priorities.

    Then pick a few tools to use on real-world SEO projects, get to know them well, and make changes and additions to your SEO software stack and workflow over time and as budget allows.

    Questions or Comments?

    I hope these points about desktop vs cloud SEO tools are helpful for you.

    What types of SEO tools do you prefer today?

    Do you use all-in-one SEO software suites, or a combination of free and paid SEO tools?

    How simple or complex is your ‘SEO tools stack’?

    Feel free to add more in the comments below with any thoughts, feedback, or related questions. Thanks also for any social shares on this post via the buttons below!

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