Surfer SEO Review: Correlational SEO Just Got Easier

One of the more important factors to ranking high in Google is to make sure all your published content is well optimized for on-page SEO factors.

While many SEOs consider backlinks to be the most important ranking factor, in my experience a well on-page SEO optimized post can rank high with little to no backlink building.

Personally I’ve always just used my feel when trying to figure out the keywords density for the different parts of my posts, like page titles, headings, and content.

Surfer SEO Review

Last updated: Nov 20, 2019
Initially published on: Nov 20, 2019
Product rating: 4.6 / 5.0

tl;dr Summary
Surfer SEO is a tool that brings correlational SEO to the everyday marketer. It’s easy to use and is a great way to gain an edge over your competitors.

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And I feel I do a good job with this.

But my “feel” is not something I can easily transfer to other people who also write on this site.

So what if there was a tool that could make on-page SEO recommendations for you automatically as you write? And was based on what’s ranking already for your chosen keyword.

Well, it turns out there is.

It’s called Surfer SEO and it uses what’s called Correlational SEO to make smart suggestions that you can apply to your own content.

In this SurferSEO review, I’m going to show you how it works and how you can start using it to better optimize the on-page SEO of all your content.

Surfer SEO Logo

Here’s what I’m going to cover:

What Is SurferSEO?

Surfer SEO is an on-page SEO optimization tool, designed to help you increase your organic rankings. But it goes beyond the basic on-page principles you’ll get from tools like Yoast.

Instead, Surfer uses correlational SEO factors to build a picture of the perfectly optimized page for any given search term.

In simple terms, it looks at what pages are already ranking for a keyword, figures out what those pages have in common, and then gives you actionable suggestions on how to create a similar page to compete with.

Why would you want to do this?

The recent content trend of “bigger and better” has seen less of an impact on Google and the algorithm is increasingly less likely to reward content on the basis of content length alone.

Nowadays, it’s all about finding that sweet spot. Not just for content length, but also for other on-page factors like true keyword density, partial match density, page speed, page formatting and more.

So, by analyzing the search results for pages that Google has shown us it likes, you can reverse engineer the individual factors it wants to see by looking for strong correlations. Surfer allows you to do this in a very efficient way and then presents the data it analyzes to you in an easy to read actionable way.

Who Is It For?

Surfer SEO has a low barrier to entry compared to other software tools in this category.

Whether you’re just starting out in SEO or you’ve been battling Google’s algorithm since the old Panda/Penguin updates, this tool can be used by just about anyone with a degree of SEO experience.

Even more so, there are still some advanced aspects to SurferSEO that many veteran SEO’s will find valuable, so it really caters for a wide range of expertise without feeling too laser-focused to anyone in particular.

But there’s more to this question than experience alone. If you happen to run a hobby blog or a site with only a handful of pages, you probably won’t get much value out of optimizing them for on-page SEO.

Similarly, if you have a site that is barely ranking or isn’t ranking at all for any keywords whatsoever, then you may have technical or off-page SEO issues to deal with first.

Surfer SEO works best on sites with dozens, hundreds and even thousands of pages that aren’t ranking as well as they should be, and it can also be used during the content creation process for pages that don’t yet exist.

What Are The Best Parts About Surfer SEO?

Best Part #1: It’s easier to use than competing tools

Typically, SEO tools like this would be reserved for experienced SEO professionals, and that’s still pretty much the case for more data-heavy solutions like Cora and even Page Optimizer Pro to some extent.

Surfer SEO works fundamentally the same way as those tools, but it makes a few critical changes to the front-end that make data-driven SEO accessible and easy to follow for all experience levels – including beginners.

For example, where a tool like Cora will spit out a dizzying 880 on-page SEO factors for you to sift through, Surfer boils it down to just 80 key factors.

And where a tool like Cora presents all its data in a spreadsheet, SurferSEO condenses the data into charts and graphs to give you a more visual understanding of what’s going on.  Here’s an example:


Perhaps most importantly, Surfer SEO gives you a very clear indication of which handful of factors correlate the most, and allows you to strip away everything else using temporary filters.

Best Part #2: The Audit tool removes all guesswork

This is hands down my favorite thing about Surfer SEO.

As I just explained, this tool is already very good at cutting through the noise and helping you pinpoint where changes should be made, but there’s still room for interpretation when it comes to many of the suggestions.

The audit feature fixes that for those who prefer a quick “get in, get out” approach to SEO, because it provides easy, actionable to-do items to follow based on what the data says.

Not sure how to adjust for true density? The tool tells you not only what phrases to add, but exactly how many times:

true density

Not sure if you have the exact keyword mentioned enough times? The audit gives you a specific range to adhere to, and shows exactly where your page falls into that range:

exact keywords

In fact, just about every factor is represented in this audit, but with no-fluff suggestions that are easy to implement.

I personally use the audit feature all the time, though there are other ways to get deeper insights and I’ll talk more about those later in this Surfer SEO review.

Best Part #3: The Google Docs integration

Who doesn’t love Google Docs?

If you’re anything like me, everything gets written into Google Docs before being published. If not for auto-saving to the cloud, then for the collaboration tools. It just… works.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered the Surfer SEO integration for Google Docs.  For it to work, you’ll need to install the Chrome extension.

This will allow you to pull Surfer’s suggestions right into your Google Docs file, giving you all the same benefits as the built-in Content Editor.

Here’s what it looks like:

google docs integration

Even better, is you can give your writers access to the content editor as well.  Just share your Google Doc as normal and have your writer install the chrome extension on their own computer.

Pretty cool, right?

What I Don’t Like About Surfer SEO

Bad Part #1: Suggestions can compromise readability

When you write content, I always suggest writing for humans first.

But when you analyze content with SEO tools like this, you have to adjust things for the search engines.

Usually, making a few small adjustments here and there is enough to satisfy the requirements, but sometimes it’s very difficult to implement changes to the extent you’re being asked.

terms to use

In particular, tools like Surfer SEO often encourage some level of keyword stuffing which can sometimes compromise the readability of your content.

Recently, for one of my own sites, I ran into a problem where Surfer told me to implement a keyword 7 more times throughout the content, and I was only able to add 3 more instances without hurting the reader experience.

It’s up to you how far you want to take this, but at some level, you have to make a decision about where your line is, and how far you’re willing to go to please the Google Gods.

Bad Part #2: SERP movement can vary (a lot)

There’s a lot of hype around correlational SEO at the moment, but it’s still not a guaranteed magic bullet to first page rankings.

Yes, there are plenty of documented cases where on-page tweaks have resulted in huge shifts in the SERPs, and tools like Surfer SEO give you precise directions on what changes are needed…

…but it doesn’t always work.

In some cases, I’ve even seen rankings decline for pages after carefully implementing suggestions by SurferSEO (and tools like it). Sometimes these pages bounce back beyond their initial position, sometimes they don’t.

To be clear, this isn’t a problem with Surfer specifically, but a problem with all on-page tools that rely on correlational factors.

Instead, when using correlational tools, you need to accept that individual pages will respond differently to these changes, so careful monitoring of SERP fluctuations is essential.

Ultimately, the goal is to see a net positive across your site, and SurferSEO delivers exactly that when used correctly.

Bad Part #3: The Keyword tool is pretty crappy

I’ll just come right out and say it…

SurferSEO is not a keyword research tool and this aspect of the platform feels completely tacked on and underdeveloped.

For starters, it only allows for traditional “seed keyword” type research, so you can forget about reverse-engineering your competitor’s keywords.

keyword research tool

Secondly, many of the keywords I plug into this tool offer ZERO suggestions despite having reasonable search volume.

(And yes, I tried these same keywords in another tool, Ahrefs, and got vastly different results.)

no results

Even when you do get suggestions, there’s very little indication of difficulty outside of ‘SERP Similarity’, a metric that isn’t even explained inside the tool. (It turns out, this is how many of the same pages show for all of your seed keywords.)

Unless you’re searching for broader terms, and for some reason you don’t care about difficulty metrics, you really won’t be doing yourself or your business any favors by using this tool.

keyword results

I hate it, I don’t recommend using it, and I don’t think SurferSEO should even include keyword research as part of it’s offering.

A Look Inside Surfer SEO

The SERP Analyzer

This is the meat of the functionality when it comes to SurferSEO, and where you’re likely to spend all of your time when optimizing existing content.

The SERP Analyzer is an analysis tool that looks at the top-ranking pages for a given search term and identifies which factors correlate with higher rankings, and it starts by asking you to input your keyword.

We’ll go with they keyword design pickle review since our review of Design Pickle is way back in position #19 at the time of writing.

SERP analyzer

SurferSEO will then take a few minutes to scour Google’s results page for that search term and generate a report.

What you’ll see next is a chart that represents the top-ranking pages for that term, and it will be measuring the total word count across each page by default:

word count

Right away, you can see by looking at this chart that longer content performs best for this particular keyword phrase. But this is still just the surface of what you can do here.

On the left, you’ll see all the factors SurferSEO looks at in order to calculate correlations, and you can freely toggle these to see how they look in the chart. The bars next to each factor indicates how strongly it correlates, meaning they’re particularly important.

For example, you can enable ‘Partial Keywords’ to see how this correlates across the SERPs, and you can even have multiple factors enabled at once if you prefer and they all show up in the chart at the same time.

multiple factors

There’s a lot you can do to configure the chart as well, such as narrowing the number of results, filtering by URL, changing the averages, or excluding page links from the calculations.

You can tailor this to your own needs, but I like to narrow the results to 10 or 20, then turn off averages to get a more granular picture of what’s going on. (Averages just group results to give a smoother curve.)

Here’s what that looks like:

narrow results

Next, you’ll want to make sure you exclude any competitors that aren’t really competitors as they can often skew the data. This might be an Amazon product page, forum post, or anything that isn’t in the same vein as your content.

You can do this by scrolling below the chart and deselecting the individual result using the eyeball icon. (Remember, you only need to deselect pages up to the amount that will actually show in the chart.)

In this example, TrustPilot, Reddit and Facebook can all be deselected:

deselect competitors

Finally, it helps to plot your own page on the chart for comparison.

You can do this by clicking the zig-zag icon next to your page, assuming you’ve already created your page and it’s already ranking somewhere in the top 50 Google results.

show on chart

If you haven’t already created your page or it isn’t showing up here, you can paste your URL at the very top. This will add it to the list so you can toggle the chart button as you would otherwise.

Once you’ve done this, the chart will give you a very clear visual indicator to compare your page against other results:

exact keyword density

As you can see, our page appears to be slightly over-optimized for “exact keyword density” compared to the top ranking pages. Reducing this slightly could give us a boost.

And, of course, you can enable or disable the various on-page ranking factors from the sidebar to see how your page stacks up, including overlaying multiple factors as before.

Seriously, I can get lost for hours in this tool. It’s awesome.

The Content Editor

The Content Editor is ideal for those creating content and looking to write on-page SEO optimized content as they are writing.

While there are many on-page content editor tools that allow you to do this, Surfer SEO has a couple of distinct advantages.

  1. It uses the same data from the SERP Analyzer, which means you get real-time average from the top ranking pages.
  2. It allows you to optimize as you write, as opposed to generating a static checklist or running periodic checks.

So how does the Content Editor actually work?

As before, you plug in your keyword and SurferSEO will start running some calculations. Except this time, you’ll be taken to the content editor:

content editor

Note: If you use the Google Docs integration to write your content as I mentioned at the start of this review, Surfer will pull also that content into its own content editor automatically.

On the left, you write your content as you normally would. And, of course, you get all the usual formatting capabilities as well as headings, bullets, links, images and basic text formatting.

text formatting

The right side is where all those calculations come into play.

Surfer SEO will suggest the optimal content length, heading count, paragraph count, image count, and keyword phrases to use when it comes to creating a perfectly optimized piece of content for your search term.

Again, these will be marked off as you write your content, so there’s never any guesswork involved:


Now, if you trust Surfer SEO to make these calculations without any human input, you can simply jump straight into the content creation process.

Like the SERP Analyzer, however, you can also make some changes to the data set in order to better reflect the search terms and types of content you’re looking to create.

This can be done by clicking the  ‘Customize’ button in the sidebar:

configure competitors

By default, Surfer will include the top 5 rankings pages, but you may want to reduce or expand this based on what those results are.

You can also make manual adjustments to the word count goal and terms to use within the content, as well as add further topics or questions for your writer to cover.

Overall, this can be a great way to outsource content to your writers without them having prior SEO knowledge or experience.

Surfer SEO Pricing

Surfer SEO has 5 different pricing plans. At the low end is the Hobby Plan which is $29 a month.

With this plan, you only get 5 queries a day (for both SERP analyzer and Content Editor) and it only takes into account 250 factors. (All other plans take into account 500)

The Basic Plan (which I am using) bumps this up to 15 queries a day and 25 for the Content Editor for $59 a month.

You can see the rest of the plans in the screenshot below.

Surfer SEO Pricing

If you are willing to purchase annually, you can get 2 months free off any plan which is a nice discount to the normal pricing.

And if you just want to give Surfer SEO a try you can take the 7-day Basic plan trial for $1. This will give you more than enough time to decide whether you want to include Surfer into your workflow or not.

Final Thoughts

I’ve found that on-page SEO is one of the most important factors for ranking well in the search engines.

If you’re not doing it right, your rankings are going to suffer because of it.

But the great thing about on-page SEO is that you’re in full control of it yourself.

And this is what makes Surfer SEO so valuable.

It gives you actionable advice that you can use to make changes today to improve your underperforming content, using correlational SEO.

And by taking the time to implement this advice, you should see some noticeable improvement in your rankings across your site.

Start your 7-day, $1 Surfer SEO trial today

Surfer SEO FAQ

Does Surfer SEO have an affiliate program?

Yes, they do. It's hosted on FirstPromoter and they pay out 30% recurring commissions. You can join at

What support platform does Surfer SEO use?

Surfer SEO uses Intercom to handle support requests.

What's the Surfer SEO Keyword chrome extension about?

The Surfer guys recently launched a Keyword research chrome extension. It adds additional info like search volume, number of backlinks and estimated domain traffic for every search you make in Google.

Surfer SEO Pros

  • Charts and graphs make the data easy to digest
  • Audit tool provides actionable steps based on data averages
  • SERP Analyzer offers deep competitor on-page insights
  • Filtering for individual competitors and SEO factors
  • Content Editor to help with optimized content creation on the fly
  • Google Docs integration for those who’s habits die hard
  • Account access is not limited (unlimited seats)
  • Pricing is very reasonable

Surfer SEO Cons

  • Suggestions won’t always have a positive effect
  • Suggestions can sometimes feel too aggressive (compromises readability)
  • The keyword research tool feels tacked on
Affiliate Disclaimer: I hope you liked our Surfer SEO review. Please note that some of the links inside this article may be affiliate links to Surfer SEO. That means that if you click on one of the links and sign up, I may be compensated for it. If you do happen to click, we really appreciate it! Any money we make keeps this site running smoothly and allows us to keep writing these high-quality reviews.
About Lewis Parrott

Lewis is a writer and SEO nerd based out of Southeast Asia. He spends most of his day churning out internet marketing related content from his laptop. Believe it or not, he also has a girlfriend.