At State of Search we get many requests to test and review all kinds of SEO tools. Whether it’s for link building, rank checking or analysing websites. The growth in available SEO tools is enormous and some of them are truly helpful. But tools also create a distance from the stuff that matters. Because they take over a part of the things you normally do manually. Tools can interpret things for you and thus by using tools you could lose the grip on your SEO. I think, if you really want to be a good SEO, you should be as independent from tools as possible.
There are three kinds of tools:
- tools that get you data you can’t/won’t collect yourself;
- tools that help you get a load of labour-intensive things done more easily; and
- tools that interpret data for you and help you make decisions.
Tools that get you data you can’t/won’t collect yourself
There are all kinds of tools that can help you get data you aren’t able to collect yourself or data that would take way too many manual actions to collect it yourself. Think about the Google Insights, AdWords Keyword Tool, übersuggest, Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer. Some data you could collect yourself, like search suggestions, some data just aren’t accessible in another way, like Google Insights.
These tools can be really helpful, but always try to ask a few question about the data these tools provide. How do they collect this data? Do they have direct access to this data or are they using estimated guesses? How accurate is this data? For Google’s tools you always have to wonder whether they thrive better on giving you accurate data or ‘the half-truth’, with which they can steer you in a certain direction. For tools like Open site Explorer you have to wonder how complete and up-to-date their database is.
All in all, these tools can be really helpful, but be careful basing your decisions solely on the data provided from these tools. 0 searches on a keyword in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool does not mean there’s no traffic to be gained on this keyword.
Tools that help you get a load of labour-intensive things done more easily
Automating processes within SEO can be really helpful. Some things are just too labour-intensive to do by hand. Tools like Screaming Frog and Xenu give you the possibility to crawl complete websites and analyse all kinds of factors in a spread sheet style. Rank checking tools can help you monitor your positions automatically so you don’t have to check and save them manually every day/week.
These tools can really take a lot of work of your hands. But they also tend to make you lazy. They collect all the data you need for you in just a few clicks. But do you still know where this data comes from? How is it gathered? And what does it represent?
Make sure you know what these tools do. Okay, so a page gives you a 302 redirect, which is said to be bad for SEO. But How does a user experience a 302 HTTP-header? Or: How do you appear on that second places in search results? Are ads shown above the results? Are universal results shown in the SERPs? Does locality play a role in compiling the SERPs and how does the rank checker work with locality? All questions you want to ask when using these kinds of tools.
These tools are often necessary to do your job as an SEO effectively. But you have to make sure you understand what these tools do and how they work. What happens if a rank checker doesn’t correct for the Venice update? Do you stubbornly keep reporting the wrong data because you don’t know how the tool works? Or do you understand that the Venice update could impact the data from your rank checker?
Tools that interpret data for you and help you make decisions
Lastly there are the tools that interpret and qualify data to help you make decisions. Examples are Woorank, the Page Analysis from Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin and some of tools by SEOmoz. Although these are some very useful tools to help you understand how to improve your SEO they can also take over the role of judge. As soon you let them take over this role you’re losing grip on your SEO.
First of all you need to understand why these tools grade the way they do. When is something qualified as good according to these tools? How do they check it and what do check? And most of all: why is it good or not good? If you don’t understand this, you shouldn’t use these tools as an SEO.
Use these tools for what they were meant to do: give quick insights into the quality of the SEO. But make sure you always can explain why something the tool analysed is good or not good. Realize that some factors are way more important than others and understand that the advices are meant to direct you, don’t use them as exact guidelines.
Tools can be really helpful for SEOs, but you have to be really careful to let tools take over your ability to analyse, interpret and judge. All the knowledge and experience a good SEO has can never be put together in a tool as effectively as when they do it themselves. Make sure you only use tools to ease your work, not to replace your work. And once in a while try to replicate what a tool exactly does, to understand that what, how and why.
A lazy SEO depending on tools cannot survive in a fast changing world like this.