I’ve been doing SEO since the mid 90’s, you know the good old days when outranking your competitor meant repeating a word a few more times than they did. Well the rules have changed and SEO has gone from gaming the system, to really doing the right thing and building brands that are an authority in your niche. SEO has become a much more data-driven process and is a bit like being a detective and marketing manager all at the same time. I’ve used a zillion different tools over the years but have found myself converging on three core tools that make my life much easier.
First, it’s important to understand that there are no magic ranking tools. You can’t pay a subscription fee to a service that just allows you to outrank everyone. In the Web 3.0 world that we are living in you have to start with a great brand, and then build a solid strategy for ranking well within your niche. Trying to follow this process in reverse not only doesn’t work most of the time but you can also hurt your brand by providing a low-quality user experience.
Here’s the example I like to give. Suppose you’re walking down a street full of shops, one is in a great location and looks good from the front but when you walk inside the walls are cracked, the floor is dirty, there isn’t much product, and instead you just keep bumping-into annoying ads. Now let’s imagine that the guy down the street has a similar looking store except when you walk inside it’s actually nice, people greet you when you walk in, and they have a wide array of products and services. Which store would you shop in?
I know this might sound dramatic but this is analogous to the experience we all have while browsing the web. The Internet has become almost entirely search-based. When you want to find something you Google it. Of course you used to search for it but Google has become such a dominant player that now you don’t search, you Google. When you find a small website with no logo, a few articles, and ads everywhere does that really seem like the kind of brand you’d like to do business with? This issues lies at the core of branding, business, and SEO, build something for your users not just for the search engines because it is your users that you’ll want to turn-into customers, not the Google-bot!
At this point you’re probably saying, “okay but I thought this post was supposed to be about SEO tools and now your ranting on and on about branding!” The reason I’m ranting here, is because the point I’m making is critical to understand before you use any tools to better understand how you rank. If you want to see long-term, growing, organic traffic you have to be proud of the brand you have built. The way that I test brands is with the friends and family test. I ask myself, would I be proud to show this to friends and family? This is not about user testing at all, it’s just about being proud of what you built, if you’re not proud chances are users aren’t going to fall in love with it either!
Once you have a brand you’re proud of you can begin analyzing how well your site is built for search engines and optimize to improve your rank. The tools below will help you keep track of how you rank, give suggestions on how to improve your rank, and provide valuable resources for learning more about SEO as a whole. These are all tools I use myself so if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below!
- Scribe SEO – this is the newest edition to my SEO toolkit and it is really paying-off. Scribe does a lot of things but the core feature I use is the analysis tool that will run through an article you’ve written and give you feedback on how to best optimize it for search. What this is really useful for is when you’re not writing the articles yourself but instead using content writers. Before I would have to manually check every article, now my writers can use scribe to determine if the content they’ve written is going to be as optimized as it can be for search.
- SEOMoz – I’m a huge SEOMoz fan, honestly absolutely everything they do is top-notch. SEOMoz has the ultimate research tools for tracking how well you rank for your target keywords, what your competitors are doing to rank well, and how you can get a better backlink profile. One of the most amazing tools they have is called the “Juicy Link Finder” which scours your niche to find great backlinks that you could get. Remember, getting good backlinks is all about building a brand people will want to link to! While the cost is $99/month it’s worth every penny and then some, plus you can sign-up for a 30-day free trial which I can promise will get you hooked along with completely plugged into what you need to do to take your SEO efforts to the next level.
- OpenSiteExplorer.org – this is a service from SEOMoz and comes along with the pro membership, however even if you don’t spring for pro, you can still use this tool. This is a great tool and a must-use for just about anyone that wants to rank well in a given niche. You can plug-in the sites that show-up at the top of Google for your target search strings, and then easily see which links are allowing them to rank so well. If you’re not using this tool, drop everything and check it out, there is no cost and it will show you where you should really be focusing your time.
I use more tools than this but these are the top three. I’ll leave you with one final thought about SEO and I find a lot of people struggle with. SEO is a journey, it’s not an overnight solution and you won’t suddenly find yourself with “insane traffic.” SEO is a process and it’s for those of us who are in this for the marathon, not the sprint.