Friday, February 20, 2009

Search Insider: It's All About The Data

It's All About The Data

LAST WEEK I WAS SPEAKING on a panel called "Ask The SEOs" at SMX West. It's a fun panel that I'm lucky enough to participate on at a lot of shows. The concept is very straightforward. Put a handful of SEO experts on stage and give them two fewer microphones than there are panelists and let the audience pepper them with questions.


Between the jokes and the fighting over microphones, a lot of very good questions get asked and answered. We cover Web site architecture, duplicate content, link building, what is spam and how a lot of black-hat SEO works (not that we'd ever engage in those kinds of practices).

Inevitably the question of tools and data gathering comes up. Oddly enough, there is still a perception that there are tools that will make SEO easy for you, where you can enter a URL and click a button and get a list of recommendations.

Well, yeah. There are those tools. There's a bunch of them. Several of them are well-funded start-ups with booths at conferences and matching golf shirts. Enter your URL, click that button, get a score and sticker for your laptop.

I'm not opposed to tools. What I am opposed to is blindly following the recommendations that a lot of these tools spit out.

I use a lot of tools. None of them, not a single one of them, make any recommendations to me. I use tools that gather data that I can use to make my own decisions. Data plus wisdom equals success in SEO.

I can't tell you how many times a client or potential client has told me they scored really high on some online SEO tool that said they had successfully executed 90% of SEO. Can you see the client's question coming? That's right. "Why do we only rank for our brand?"

So what tools do I like? I love the data gatherers. I drool over anything that will give me raw data in a csv file that I can slice and dice and sort and filter. Even better, I like tools that give me comparative data so I can eyeball the trends in a particular vertical like the Titles, Hx tags, page size, etc. of the top 20 results for a given keyword. That is useful data.

Of course all this talk of tools leads to the next question. Yep, you got it: "What tools do you use?" This is the part when we old crusty SEOs get to disappoint the audience and say, "We have our own proprietary tools that we developed ourselves." That's hardly a fair answer, is it?

I'll share with you a few public tools that I use, just so you don't all blast me in the comments. You'll probably blast me anyhow, because these aren't the super-secret, decoder-ring kinds of tools.

I love Google Webmaster Tools. There is a wealth of information in there about how Google is interacting with your site. You get to see crawl rates, crawl errors, top search queries and even where you rank for those queries. You can quickly see if your site if fully indexed. And of course we can't forget about all the linking data Google will show you once you've verified your site. This is good stuff. If you're not enrolled, stop reading right now and go do it.

My other favorite tool of all time is Xenu Link Sleuth. It's been around for years and it's never, ever changed. It is a small desktop application that will crawl almost any Web site you feed it. It's absolutely fantastic for broken links. In fact, that's what it was primarily designed for -- but it's also great for finding duplicate content within your site. It's also a great way to generate a quick and dirty sitemap and analyze internal linking.

Notice that both of my favorite tools are simply gathering data. What you do with that data is what will make or break your SEO.

Today is Friday. Spend your weekend in Google Webmaster Tools. When you come up for air on Monday, you'll thank me.

Todd Friesen is the vice president of search at Position Technologies, a search marketing technology company based in Illinois. You can reach Todd at todd@positiontechnologies or @oilman on Twitter.

Search Insider for Friday, February 20, 2009:

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