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In this GrowthBar review, I take an in-depth look at a tool that aims to provide key SEO functionality at a much lower price point than its competitors. Can you run a successful SEO project with this budget-conscious app, or are you better off using a more established solution? Read on to find out…
Keyword research and backlink building are absolutely vital aspects of search engine optimization — but they can be very expensive activities.
Many of the leading SEO tools cost a minimum of $99 per month; and hiring an agency to work on an SEO campaign can involve a much larger investment than that.
Spotting a desire amongst startups and businesses on a budget to avoid these sorts of costs, growth marketers Hailey Friedman and Mark Spera have come up with a new product, ‘GrowthBar,’ that aims to provide key SEO functionality from a much lower price point — $29 per month.
And in this review, I’m going to look at how well it meets that goal.
Let’s start with a key question…
What is GrowthBar?
GrowthBar is an SEO tool that can be used in two ways.
First, it can be used as a standalone web app — where you log in, enter keywords, access stats and so on.
However, it can also be used as a Chrome extension, which differentiates it from most of the well-known SEO tools out there — Moz, Semrush, Ahrefs etc. — these tend to work exclusively as standalone web applications, rather than plugins or extensions.
If you’d like to use the GrowthBar Chrome extension, you’ll obviously need to ensure that you have the Chrome browser installed on your computer; you’ll also need a Google account.
The ‘standalone’ version of Growthbar
The philosophy behind GrowthBar is to strip out the more advanced SEO features that are typically provided by the established SEO tools, so that users can focus on the absolutely vital metrics.
Accordingly, when you log into the ‘standalone’ version of GrowthBar, you encounter just a few SEO features.
These are divided into main sections: ‘Content tools’ and ‘SEO tools.’
In the Content tools section, you’ll find:
- a content generator — based on a phrase you give it, this ‘AI’ feature generates content outlines for your blog posts or site pages, along with suggestions regarding the best titles, introductions, keywords, word counts, headers and images to use in it.
- a paragraph generator – as the name of this feature suggests, this provides you with paragraph copy based on a topic you enter.
- blog ideas – this outputs a list of blog post titles based on a keyword you supply.
- content service — this allows you to hire a writer to create a blog post on topics of your choosing.
In the SEO tools section, you’ll find:
- A site inspector — this gives you basic information on a website (authority, estimated traffic per month, backlinks and Google CPC data)
- A keyword research tool — this allows you to find out how many searches there are for a given keyword
- A rank tracker — this lets you enter a domain along with a list of keywords and check / track how it ranks for them.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Content tools in GrowthBar
The content generator
GrowthBar’s ‘content generator’ tool uses AI (artificial intelligence) to help you create new blog posts and web pages, and is is positioned as its star feature.
There are a few different ways to use it, but all start with you entering a phrase that you’d like ideas for into the content generator.
Once you’ve done that, the content generator tool will suggest a post title and introduction:
If you don’t like these, you can use ‘shuffle’ buttons to get suggestions for other ones. This is often required, as the initial content — particularly the introduction text — can be a bit hit and miss.
For example, when testing this feature by requesting a post about Dublin, the first introduction provided was highly inaccurate, stating that Dublin was the third-largest city in Ireland (it’s the biggest by some margin) and the fifth-largest city in the EU (Wikipedia reports that it’s the 49th largest!).
Using the shuffle button made it easy to get more accurate content — but the key takeaway here is to make sure that you factcheck all the copy provided by the content generator.
I was happier with the title suggestions however: these were relevant and snappy.
Once you’re happy with your post’s title and introductory copy, you can use the other tools to expand on both.
These tools are divided into two sections: ‘Information’ and ‘Drag and Drop.’
In the ‘information’ section, you’ll find three things:
- a keyword difficulty score — this tells you how hard it will be to rank highly for the topic you’re writing about
- some content targets for your post — the number of words it should contain, the URL you should use for it, how many headings it should have and so on
- keywords your posts should contain.
The screenshot below shows what was surfaced during my test of the tool for my ‘Dublin’ post.
Now, as you can see, this is all pretty useful stuff.
However, there are a couple of improvements that I feel could be made here.
First, it’s not clear whether the ‘difficulty’ score refers to the suggested post title or the phrase I used as the basis of my content generation. It would be good if GrowthBar made this clearer.
Second, some of the keywords that GrowthBar suggests you include here can sometimes be a bit weird — if you look at the screengrab above, you’ll see a few really long, mashed-up phrases in the keywords list that don’t really make sense, or have much to do with the topic I wanted to write about.
What I did really like however was the ‘optimal content’ panel. This gives you really clear objectives to aim for when creating a new piece of content, including:
- word count
- URL structure
- headline count
- number of external links to include
- number of internal links to include
- image count.
According to GrowthBar, this is surfaced via a propriety ‘topic modelling’ technology that analyzes 100+ high-performing pages on your topic.
Once you’re happy with your post title and introductory paragraph, you can use GrowthBar’s additional content generation tools to complete it.
You’ll find most of these in the ‘Drag and Drop’ section on the right-hand side of the GrowthBar interface:
As you can see from the screengrab above, there are three sub-sections here: competitor headlines, suggested images and suggestion links.
The competitor headlines feature is really useful. This lets you see what headings your competitors are using in top-ranking articles about the same topic (along with the relevant level — H1, H2, H3 etc.), and helps you ensure that your post is covering the same ground.
The suggested images section surfaces images used in similar posts into yours (and gives you the URLS where they can be found).
This is a nice idea in theory, but doesn’t work so well in practice, because most of the images that are surfaced are not royalty free (so you could get charged a fee by their owners if you use them).
Ultimately the suggested images feature is great for getting an idea of the type of images used in high-ranking posts — but not for sourcing images. I’d prefer to see a direct integration with a royalty-free image site like Unsplash: this would give you images that you could actually use without problems in your posts.
Finally, there’s the suggested links tool — as the name suggests, this gives you a list of external links that GrowthBar thinks you should include in your post.
Now, during my testing I found that the links provided here were definitely relevant to the topic. However, they were also links to websites I was directly competing with. So, while I found these links useful for sourcing more background information about the topic I was writing about, I’m not sure I’d want to point any link juice their way.
There’s one more aspect of the content generator tool to consider: its ‘AI Content‘ button.
Located at the bottom of the copywriting window, when clicked this inserts copy that GrowthBar’s algorithm reckons is relevant to your topic into your post.
As with the AI-generated introductions, the results here can be rather hit and miss. Some of the content generated by the AI content button was pretty helpful — but some of it was wildly inaccurate and/or irrelevant.
So what to make of GrowthBar’s content generator tool? Well, overall, I quite liked it. It gives you some really useful ‘target’ data — particularly around word counts, headings, URLs and image counts. And you’ll get good content ideas from it — the AI content generator and list of competitor headings will help ensure that you are covering any topic in depth.
However, when it comes to the actual content that is created by this AI tool, there is a lot of room for improvement — it’s just not reliable enough to be used without a significant amount of factchecking or editing being involved.
The paragraph generator tool
In addition to its ‘content generator’ tool, GrowthBar also gives you a ‘paragraph generator’ tool. This outputs an AI-generated paragraph based on a keyword you enter.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this feature to be honest, as it’s rare that I’d ever need a paragraph in isolation.
It would be more helpful if this feature was part of the ‘content generator’ tool — for example, it would be good if, when you added a H2 to a blog post you’re working on, you could hit a ‘generate paragraph’ button which would then use that H2 as the basis of your paragraph.
As for the content this tool generates, it suffers from the same accuracy and relevancy issues as those provided in the main ‘content generator’ tool. But it can provide food for thought and some reasonably usable copy.
The blog ideas tool
The ‘blog ideas’ tool does what it says on the tin: gives you ideas for blog post titles, based on a phrase you enter.
On the plus side, a lot of ideas are surfaced (and unlike the content generator and paragraph generator features, there are no monthly limits on the number of times this tool can be used).
However, as you can see from the screenshot above, some of the titles are a bit unwieldy (or weird!) and contain grammatical errors.
And significantly, the titles that are surfaced don’t come with any information about keyword difficulty — so if you like the sound of a particular title, you’ll be in the dark regarding how easy or hard it will be to rank for it.
GrowthBar’s SEO tools
So far, we’ve looked at GrowthBar’s content-generation tools. In addition to these, GrowthBar gives you access to 3 more ‘conventional’ SEO tools: a site inspector, a keyword research tool and a rank tracker.
Let’s see how they stack up.
The site inspector is a simple domain analysis tool. It lets you enter a domain and then shows you:
- its authority
- an estimate of the monthly traffic to it
- a ‘plus’ icon which lets you view key backlinks to the domain
- a Google icon which lets you view information about the Google ads that the owner of that domain is running, plus associated ‘cost-per-click’ data
- the keywords for which the site currently ranks highly.
Although the data provided is very simplistic by comparison to the sort of domain analysis you’d see in more expensive apps like Ahrefs or Semrush, it nonetheless provides a clear overview of the essential information you might want to find out about a domain.
One thing to be rather wary of however is the ‘organic traffic’ estimate; on some occasions (and based on having access to traffic data for quite a few sites) I found the GrowthBar estimates were way out.
To be fair to GrowthBar however, this is often the case with SEO tools — the traffic estimates you get from Ahrefs and Semrush can be wildly inaccurate at times too. So, regardless of the SEO tool being used, it’s generally best to use traffic estimates as indicators of trends rather than absolute gospel.
Overall, you’ll find that GrowthBar’s Site Inspector gives you the key information you’ll need to sense check a website’s SEO condition — either yours or a competitor’s — but I would like to see one metric added: a ‘total backlinks’ figure that lets you see exactly how many backlinks point to the website you enter.
Although you can access a list of key backlinks to a site via the GrowthBar site inspector, this is limited to 500 links — there doesn’t seem to be a way to gauge precisely how many links point to a specific domain.
What about broken link building?
A link building tactic that you won’t really be able to engage in using GrowthBar is broken link building.
Broken link building involves identifying content in your niche that is no longer live, recreating a version of it and then approaching webmasters who had previously linked to that content (asking them to replace the broken link with a link to your new resource).
Unfortunately there isn’t really a way in GrowthBar to identify these broken links — so if this particular SEO tactic is important to you, you’ll need to look elsewhere (other SEO tools like Semrush and Ahrefs do have this as a core feature).
The ‘keyword research’ tool
As the name indicates, GrowthBar’s keywords research tool lets you get keyword data / suggestions based on a phrase you enter.
The keywords section (pictured above) shows you:
- the number of searches per month for a phrase entered
- how hard it will be (on a scale of 1 to 100) to rank for that phrase
- a list of keyword suggestions — ‘related queries’ based on the phrase.
All very useful stuff — but there is an important omission: the keyword suggestions are not accompanied by their keyword difficulty scores.
This means it’s hard to know which keyword opportunities suggested are actually worth pursuing. Granted, you could enter individual keywords back into GrowthBar to get this data — but that would be a rather time-consuming affair.
Trying GrowthBar out for free
Like many competing SEO tools, you can try GrowthBar out for free before committing to it. The company has made a 5-day free trial available, which you can access via this link.
The rank tracker
GrowthBar’s rank tracker lets you enter a domain and a keyword and see:
- a monthly traffic estimate for that domain
- how high that domain ranks for the keyword you entered
- how hard it will be to get onto page one of Google search results for the keyword you entered
- suggested keywords that will help you rank on page one of Google search results
- the average word count of the content ranking for your keyword on the first page of Google’s search results.
You can use this section to keep tabs on how your ranking is progressing over time, thanks to a ‘best rank’ and ‘change’ column in the data table, and a graph on the right hand side of the screen.
This effectively gives you ‘sense-checking’ data rather than a detailed analysis of how your ranking for a particular keyword has progressed over time — but again, that’s the whole point of GrowthBar: to give you stats which are easy to access and to understand.
A way to save money on GrowthBar
For a limited time, GrowthBar are offering a 20% discount on their plans (for the first three months of your subscription. Just sign up for a free trial and then use the code ‘stylefactory’ when purchasing a plan.
The Chrome extension
As discussed above, GrowthBar comes in two flavors: the ‘standalone’ version, which I’ve just covered, and a Chrome extension.
The Chrome extension basically changes all your Google search results so that in addition to providing descriptions of and links to relevant web pages, they also display SEO metrics. This is an interesting idea, and the thing I like most about GrowthBar.
Once you’ve added the GrowthBar extension and entered a keyword into Google, the first thing you’ll see is a ‘keyword difficulty’ score for that phrase. This give you a sense of how hard it will be to rank highly in search results for it (the higher the value returned, the higher the difficulty).
You’ll also see a little strip (the ‘growth bar’ itself) underneath each search result.
This gives you the following data about each website in the results:
its domain authority
an estimate of organic traffic to it
the top keywords that it ranks for
the top backlinks pointing to it
any paid keywords being used by that site
any Facebook ads being run by it.
In some cases — for example, where domain authority and organic traffic stats are concerned — the data is immediately visible.
In others, you need to click on a plus symbol on the strip to see the data. Doing so brings up a box containing the relevant metrics.
You also see a little ‘Words’ link beside each search result; clicking on this shows you its word count.
This is useful data, as there is often a correlation between page length and performance in search results. Knowing how many words are in a top-ranking article can help you craft a piece of content that is of a similarly SEO-friendly length.
That said, I didn’t always find that the word count provided was particularly accurate; there is room for improvement here.
There’s no doubt about it: GrowthBar is ridiculously easy to use.
This is possibly because it’s considerably less feature-packed than most SEO tools — but it’s also down to the fact that a lot of thought has gone into prioritising key SEO features, ensuring that they work in a simple way, and presenting the data provided in an easy-to-understand format.
So long as you are familiar with the basic principles of SEO, the ‘standalone’ version of GrowthBar involves virtually no learning curve at all.
The Chrome extension version is also sublimely easy to work with — it’s simply a case of entering phrases into Google and having all the key metrics put right in front of you.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to imagine new users having too much difficulty learning how to use GrowthBar.
So long as you’ve got a basic understanding of key SEO principles, you’ll find GrowthBar very easy to get to grips with — and this is one of its key selling points.
Pricing and value for money
The best thing about GrowthBar is the price of its entry-level plan, ‘Standard’ — this is available for just $29 per month if you pay upfront for a year, or $39 per month if you pay on a monthly basis.
This means that on this plan, you can get a lot of SEO data at a much lower price point than competing tools like Ahrefs or Semrush, which cost at least $99 per month to use (and often considerably more, if you add on additional features).
Fairly tight limits do apply to the GrowthBar ‘Standard’ plan, however. AI content outlines are limited to 15 per month; rank tracking is limited to 25 phrases across 1 website; and you can only generate 50 AI paragraphs with it.
And on this plan, the number of competitor keywords and backlinks is limited to 300 per query.
To increase these limits, you’ll need to upgrade to either a $79 per month ‘Pro’ or $199 per month ‘Agency’ plan. These increase your ranking tracking limits to 1,000 keywords across 3 sites, and 5,000 keywords across 10 sites respectively. They also facilitate more AI-created content outlines each month (20 and 50 respectively) and are more generous when it comes to the numbers of competitor backlinks and keywords they output.
(Note: these monthly costs are based on paying upfront for a year — the ‘Pro’ and ‘Agency’ plans cost $129 and $299 per month if used on a rolling basis).
For me, the best value plan is definitely the ‘Standard’ one — the ‘Pro’ and ‘Agency’ costs start to become comparable with those of Ahrefs, Moz and Semrush (products which all offer much more SEO data at these sorts of price points).
Although email support is provided by GrowthBar, it’s not immediately obvious where to find it — the email address is not displayed anywhere in the interface (and there aren’t any links to help resources or FAQs provided within the tool’s interface either).
The support address is listed on the home page of the GrowthBar website though — albeit in the footer!
You do get emailed a video walkthrough of the product when you subscribe to it however, which is helpful, along with contact details for Hailey, who is one of the founders. So you will be able to get support — it would just be better if the process for accessing it was more obvious.
On the plus side, I can’t imagine too many people actually needing much support with this tool — it’s very easy to use.
GrowthBar review: summary
The main thing that GrowthBar has going for is that with its ‘Standard’ plan, you are getting a lot of useful SEO metrics for a fraction of the price of competing products like Ahrefs, Semrush and Moz.
You could argue of course that with GrowthBar, you are also getting a fraction of the functionality of products like these — if you’re looking for features like broken link reporting, link intersect data, technical SEO audits, local SEO data, toxic link reports etc…you won’t find them in GrowthBar.
Because of this, the pricing of its ‘Pro’ and ‘Agency’ plans — which is comparable to that of products which do offer these features — is questionable.
But as far as the ‘Standard’ plan goes, the proposition is great. The pricing of this plan is particularly affordable for startups and solopreneurs, and the features that are provided are definitely strong enough to let you create or promote content that ranks.
GrowthBar won’t be for absolutely everyone, but there’s lots to like about it. It’s well worth trying out, especially if your needs are simple and you’re on a budget — you can access a five day trial for free here.
The main areas for improvement lie in its content generation features which, whilst good for generating ideas for content, aren’t yet a substitute for actually researching and writing it yourself.
I’ll leave you with a summary of the key pros and cons of GrowthBar.
Pros and cons of GrowthBar
Pros of using GrowthBar
It’s extremely easy to use.
Its entry level plan is very cheap.
It gives you all the key data you need to execute a simple but effective SEO campaign.
The Chrome extensionprovides a unique, fast and really easy way to access SEO data ‘on the go.’
No limits apply to keyword research or domain queries.
It can be used for free for 5 days.
Cons of using GrowthBar
Because of its ‘slimmed down’ nature, it’s suitable for more basic SEO projects only.
The keyword suggestion list doesn’t display keyword difficulty scores.
- The content generation tools need improvement.
Backlink research features are basic.
- You can’t really do broken link building with GrowthBar.
- It could be easier to access customer support details.
Pricingfor the ‘Pro’ and ‘Agency’ plans is too high given the functionality offered.
Alternatives to GrowthBar
There are lots of SEO tools on the market — the best known ones are probably Ahrefs, Semrush and Moz. You can check out our resources on these below:
These tools all give you much more functionality than GrowthBar — read the above posts for more details on the sort of features you can expect — but with much higher entry-level pricing.
If you are on a budget, a product called SurferSEO is worth investigating — its $59 per month plan offers a lot of the functionality provided by GrowthBar, plus some very sophisticated content analysis tools.
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