The Modern SEO’s Toolkit – Will Critchlow at #searchlove

The Modern SEO’s Toolkit – Will Critchlow at #searchlove

24th October 2011

Hi guys, we’re back with live coverage. Apologies for missing the last session – I’m the only one here today so I will try to get coverage of a number of sessions but may miss a few here and there.

Next up we’ve got Will Critchlow presenting on the Modern SEO’s toolkit – having worked with Will and the fact that he always seemed to be trying out the new fun things in the office I’m really looking forward to this one!

Image Via:[email protected]/5468334737/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Will starts out by suggesting that “if you are not learning the technical things” then your job is in great danger from those that are learning these things. Will describes what we do as “Marketing. With computers” and is comparing traditional marketers versus developers. Will is not going to be speaking about tools today [gutted], but will actually be talking about the skills that you need and how you can combine them and use them to be better at your job.

This is all about the toolkit, not the tools inside it. Sounds a bit meta to me, let’s see where this all takes us.

‘I’m not going to make you all developers or software engineers, it is about using that toolkit effectively” [phew!]

What would you use?

Will is going to describe a number of real problems from his work at Distilled and the tools that they used to solve the problem and get it done.

“You need to find all the googlebot visits in a certain time period in a 22gb log file”

What would you do… what would YOU do </Speed>. They turned directly to the command line using bash, grep and sed and cut through all the data very quickly down to what they needed. If this all sounds too hard to the audience Will is going to call bullshit and show us all how to do it. Will has taken a 45 minute screencast of installing Ubuntu and has made it 15 minutes long for all the bits (non downloaded) that you need to see to and has posted it on YouTube.

“You need to explain to a client or a dev team the changes that you want to make to a site”

Get comfortable with a prototyping tool and wireframing – now this is something that I 100% agree with. Will mentioned Balsamiq amongst others.

Will’s next tip was to look into something like screenr or other screencast services like QuickTime, Camtasia, etc. Video makes it so much easier for people to understand and communicate the problems and solutions where possible. Another great tip in my view!

Will also suggests that everyone will probably need a project management tool and Will said his personal favourite at the moment is Trello.

“You need to get persuasive information for your boss on how people perceive your site”

First tip- ask your audience what they think of your website (!) – Will suggests SmartSheet (can be blended with Mechanical Turk, etc.) This is another great one.

“You need to check for Google Analytics and pages where it has been installed”

Will references using Screaming Frog to find it (I’ve done the same with 80 legs) so in this case it seems as though there are a number of third party tools that Will suggests even if generally it seems the suggestion is to shy away from reliance on tools this is one case in which he does suggest there are other tools for the trade.

Other tools for this: Google Analytics Debugger in the Chrome store.

You need to gather data about the proportions of people tweeting different phrases?

The solution was to use the Twitter Streaming API (Garden Hose rather than the fire hose) is free! You could write a simple programme to do this. Will suggests using Python, Tom would use Google Docs, etc.

This, for me, is the best point of the whole presentation and one that may not have been clear – what you need to do in this space and to really compete is to get good and comfortable with the tools that help YOU as an individual solve the problem. Others might have used Ruby to solve this problem, the fact is the hacks are the most important element and making the most of your time.

You need to make a bunch of circles in sizes relative to their input

In this case Will suggests Manyeyes.

You want to make a page scroll sideways when someone scrolls their mousewheel

Will wanted to make a sideways infographic (makes sense for a timeline or something like that). For people on OSx Lion this would really have messed them up! But to do it all that was needed was a tiny bit of jQuery – pretty cool example of why to use jQuery and how easy it would be.

Check out all of the frameworks seems to be the main message here.

What actually IS HTML5? How not to look silly in front of a developer.

Will showed an example of Richard’s HTML and how basically every last thing other than the header and nav tags on his sites are just plain old HTML.Most of the magic that you think is HTML5 is actually CSS3 or Javascript.

Suppose you want to grab a screenshot of your site everyday as an archive (or your competitors’)

In this case Will suggests using PhantomJS (a headless browser that runs on the command line) allows you to interact just with a programming language and go in and grab screenshots without a browser required.

Rapid fire top tools

1. Github.

2. Stuff by Zach Holman (@holman)

3. Speaker Deck

4. The Distilled git(hub) process – will be available from the presentations later.

5. Data sources – GetStat ( – ranking data that is available. Will gave a hat-tip to Michael King for this one.

6. Blekko’s tool/voting options for Grep the Web – show me all the pages on the web that… (very cool! Read more about that here)

7. Data Couch – collaborative Data


Will’s deck is now available here.

Personal notes and opinion

It’s worth stating that I disagree with what I perceived Will’s outlook  from the initial presentation to a certain degree.

I agree with Will to the extent that if you want to be the best technical SEO in the industry or even one of the best technical SEOs in the industry then you probably need to be operating at this technical level. However, my biggest contention is that whilst the technical expertise is essential to a large degree, from the sounds of things a few of the solutions discussed in the presentation were accomplished more quickly than if they had been done completely manually there were still perhaps not accomplished as quickly or as simply as they could have beenusing some of the tools readily available (Linkdex, Screaming Frog, etc.). Time is a scarce resource and I do think you need to know your limits, work to improve on them, but ultimately make the most of what you have and try to avoid rebuilding the wheel where it’s not necessary.

In general I love the ideas he put forth but I think his advice is perfect for being THE BEST in SEO. Another viewpoint that Will  touched upon in the Q&A is that you can try to be in the top 10% at a handful of things to really succeed – which is, I think, the main point here and one to bear in mind when deciding how much you really still have to learn and where to focus that energy. I would argue to this end that depending on an individuals personal goals being in the top 10% in a number of other important areas (linkbuilding, management, education, hacking about in a single tool, etc.) could mean you could avoid becoming the command line wiz that Will described.

I think Will answered some really good Q & A on this that made his case and opinions much more clear to me and make me realise that we probably are not so far apart in our view on this but just thought it was worth putting forward a slightly different opinion on the subject.

See more coverage of Searchlove 2011



Written By
Sam Crocker is SEO Associate Director at OMD UK. Sam focuses on increasing traffic and conversions for websites whilst always keeping his eye on a company’s bottom line.
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