Can an SEO be a Good SEO Without Using Tools?

Can an SEO be a Good SEO Without Using Tools?

6th March 2013

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Can a good SEO live without tools? If you look at how the industry behaves you would say the answer is ‘no’. Sessions at conferences where tools are discussed are always packed full.

And if you look at the sheer number of tools available for SEO’s there is no other conclusion then yes, because otherwise there wouldn’t be so many out there!

But do good tools make a good SEO? And could a good SEO do without the tools? Well that is a whole different question which is interesting to explore. So for Tools Week I decided to go and ask some industry experts to share their opinions on this topic. With the help of Marcus Tandler, Alex Moss, Disa Johnson, Debra Mastaler, Dennis Goedegebuure and Julie Joyce, let’s try to look at every side of the story.

Yes, they can do without a good tool!

Maybe a good SEO doesn’t need tools. After all, tools are something which replace what an SEO otherwise should do himself right? So a really good SEO could just do all the work himself. And isn’t SEO actually about optimizing content? And who needs tools for content?

Disa Johnson, Owner at Search Return LLC, believes knowledge is what makes a good SEO, not tools:

“Just learn to write well. The only tools required are a browser and access to the Web with knowledge of what to do. Even if locked away in a closet with no SEO tools, even without access to Google, I can wing it on experience assuming I know the keywords from the dialog of the target market. I have confidence knowing what effect my changes will have on SERPs and search users regardless of tools or competition.”

Marcus Tandler, owner of Tandler.Doerje.Partner, actually remembers doing SEO without tools:

“When I started out doing SEO there weren’t really any (good) tools. I think the first time I used a tool was back in 1999. It was called “PromoWare 99″, which was basically just a directory submission software.”

Still he doesn’t believe he could do without them:

“I don´t think you can survive these days without using any tools. It would be a big mistake not using tools like Google Webmaster Central! Without tools it would be hard doing essential SEO stuff like competitive link analysis or keyword research.”

Maybe the SEO is just used to using tools and has become ‘lazy’? So is that the right answer, a good SEO can do without tools, because they just know what to do, and the tools ‘just support’ the work?

No way, a good SEO can’t do without tools

It’s the most obvious answer if you think about the question: there is no way a good SEO can do without tools. After all tools is what provides the SEO with the right data to support the work she or he is doing.

Dennis Goedegebuure, Head of Global SEO at Airbnb, gets right to the point when asked the question:

“Straight up my opinion: No!”

He explains his vision, it is about backing up your claim:

“SEO has become complex and you need a lot of different insights to get the clear picture what would needs to be done, and prioritized on the roadmap. Especially as you engage with the product teams and engineers, you will need to back up your claims with code snippets and other examples. Even if you only focus on the content of the site, you would need to do keyword research, which is easier done with tools. “

Marcus Tandler, believes tools are what makes the SEO work, like a carpenter, or Batman:

“SEO is a craft, and just like every carpenter needs at least a hammer and some nails, good SEOs just need a couple of good tools in their hands to get stuff done.


There aren´t really any Superman type SEO Superheroes with inherent superpowers out there, we are all more Batman type Superheroes, who is just so great because of his superior tools!”

Debra Mastaler, Link Building Training & Promotions Consultant at Alliance-Link, thinks an good SEO can probably not do without tools:

“The Web/Net is too big to be able to adequately find what you need without using a tool. Can’t write a link marketing plan without doing the research.”

It makes sense what the experts are saying here, you might be a good SEO, but you need data to support what you are doing. So that would make the answer “yes, tools are necessary, you can’t live without”. They provide the data!

Actually, it depends…

Yes or no, that is the answer everyone is usually looking for. But the best answer usually is “It depends…”. And probably in this case that again is the right answer.

Whether or not you ‘need’ tools is depended of what type of work the SEO has to do.

Alex Moss, Co-Founder and Technical Director at 3 Door Digital says:

“It depends on the task or project. When it comes to offsite elements, tools are very important. Onsite less so, but tools certainly make an SEO more efficient.”

So he makes the division between on site and off site.

Julie Joyce, Owner and Director of Operations at Link Fish Media and Str0ud takes it one step further:

“I think it depends on what you’re analysing. I don’t know of any SEO who can gauge site load time without using a tool. I don’t know of one who can identify crawl issues in the time it takes to run a site through a tool. I can’t imagine anyone realizing that a site has 56% money keywords as anchors without using a tool. However, I think that if the only way you can function as an SEO is by using a tool to do absolutely everything, you’re probably not a very good SEO. If you can’t judge good content or a good link by hand, that’s not a good sign to me.”

The correct answer

All the SEO Experts I asked this question are right: an SEO needs tools. But tools don’t make a good SEO. A good SEO is a good SEO because of how he or she looks at things, what they know and how they can implement that. Tools then support that and help speed things up.

So yes, a good SEO needs tools, but not to be a good SEO, but to do good SEO.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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