As a marketer, you need access to accurate, easily understood data in order to measure the impact of their efforts. This allows you to isolate which tactics are working, and which are wasting resources. There’s no question that, during a paid search campaign, you should always test your ad copy using the best tools available. Nor is there any question that you need tools in order to monitor the success of your email campaigns. So why is it that many startups ignore the potential of SEO tools?
Undoubtedly, search engine behavior is complex and unpredictable, but this makes tools even more useful, not less so. When you get by with easy metrics like total search traffic or link data from Google’s Webmaster Tools, it is virtually impossible to identify which tactics are working and which are not.
Here are a few things you can do with SEO tools:
1. Complete Site Analysis & SEO Auditing
Complete site analysis will help you identify crawl/indexing issues, malware, broken links, unreachable links, and so on, from your website. They also give recommendations to resolve these issues. As your site grows too large and complex to manage alone, SEO tools improve efficiency so you can identify issues quickly and get them fixed. SEO tools like SEOmoz, SearchEnabler, and Conductor come in handy with identifying and fixing technical SEO issues.
2. Track Link Building Campaigns
Link tracking resources like the Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO can help you identify how well your campaigns are doing by offering information about who links to you, how many people link to you, and some insight into the quality of the sites that link to you. As a startup, it’s especially important to identify which tactics are working best, and fast.
Of course, isolating cause and effect and which tactics are doing best can be very difficult when it comes to link building. It’s important not to take things at face value, and to avoid telling yourself a story about what worked and why.
Even so, these tools typically give you much more useful data than Webmaster Tools alone. Webmaster Tools has gotten better about reporting who links to you sooner, but no data about the quality of these links is provided.
To make the most of these tools:
- Realize that the link profile of the web available to these tools is not updated as frequently or as vastly as Google’s. Pay attention to when the link profiles are updated and recognize that you can only see changes that happen during these updates.
- Pay attention to the page and domain authority of the sites that link to you, not just the number of links.
- Evaluate your highest performing content and identify which tactics were the most likely cause of success. Emulate these tactics in your future posts. If you want to be especially rigorous, ignore one of the tactics with each of your posts and see if it has any impact on success. If not, odds are the tactic didn’t really have any effect, and you can focus your efforts on the ones that do work.
- When comparing content, bear in mind that time will have an impact. Don’t compare the number of links alone. Compare the number of links the posts have accumulated over a specific period of time.
3. Link Inspiration
The very same link tracking tools can also be used to gain information about your competitors, which is especially helpful as a source of inspiration. In some cases, you will find sites that accept guest posts and so forth by analyzing your competitor’s link profile. When you are still relatively new to the online marketing game, this can be a crucial source of insight, making it especially helpful for startups (although still very useful for online marketers of any kind).
This can also be a very powerful way to identify what kind of content is most likely to find success. By analyzing the most successful content on your competitor’s sites the same way that you would your own, you can more rapidly identify which kinds of tactics seem to be working best.
4. Track Rankings
Of course, links aren’t all that matters. SEO tools like SearchEnabler, SEOMoz’s Rank Tracker and Conductor Searchlight can help you track how well your pages are ranking and for which keywords. Here are a few important things to keep in mind when you use these tools:
- Most fluctuations in rankings are the result of “the world moving around you” rather than your own actions. About 80% of pages change rank every single day, so short term changes should usually be ignored, unless they are very dramatic.
- If you drop in rank over an extended period of time, do not assume that it is because of a mistake that you made or that it was a penalty (unless your rankings drop very dramatically). It is more likely that your competitors pulled ahead of you because of a successful campaign, or that an algorithm update gave them a boost.
- The same goes for improvements in ranking. It could be the result of a successful campaign, but it may also be the result of an algorithm update or the counterproductive efforts of your competitors. (For example, a site-wide blogroll link or poor content quality can sometimes cause a drop in rankings).
Use some of the same tactics to measure your success as discussed above for link tracking tools.
5. SEO Toolbars
These are the most useful during outreach. An SEO Toolbar or SEO extension can give you instantaneous information about sites as you visit them, so that you can get some idea of whether it is worth your time to collaborate with somebody in order to get a link. Tools such as the SEOBook, SEOMoz, and SEOquake toolbars install directly into your browser.
Toolbars can tell you right from the search results or from the page you are visiting thinks like how many links are pointing toward the page, the domain authority, and so on.
Using this information in combination with a bit of common sense (such as the quality of the site and the amount of engagement it seems to have), you can weigh your options and decide how much time, if any, it is worth spending on a collaborative project with somebody on the site.
Ultimately, startups can learn and accomplish a great deal from the SEO tools available to them. Such tools also have use that extends beyond pure SEO, since they can be used as a source of inspiration, as a way of identifying your most effective content, and as a tool for reaching out and building alliances.