Now this is a scenario I’m sure most SEO and SEM Managers have seen: their organization buys a great, powerful SEO tool but finds they end up barely using it. Often the application itself gets the blame, but this is a sign the utility was bought prior to the company actually being ready to use it. So, the key is to use the options you have and get yourself into a position to extend the utilities in your toolbox, not simply to have lots of them that are barely used.
Of course, the most common SEO utilities everyone should have actually cost nothing at all: your Google and Bing webmaster tool accounts. These are great resources that every site has available, although frequently they overlooked and not truly put to use. Until you have really made use of the very rich data Google and Bing provide, you will not be able to make efficient and full use of other, costlier applications.
Other free tools to consider are FireBug for Firefox, PageSpeed and other similar applications. These allow you to dig into the technical side in addition to the signals coming from your webmaster accounts. Combined, these software solutions provide a lot of guidance on where to concentrate your foundational SEO-building efforts.
There are still more SEO tools available to your SEM team. How about your paid search data? What keywords are you bidding on that convert best, and what pages do they link to? Are those keywords even making the list for that certain page? If not, here is yet another unused component of your corporate SEO toolbox, and this one you actually pay for.
Ok, so let’s say you are already maximizing all 3 of these types of tools. Your webmaster accounts literally show you gold stars when you log into them, and FireBug, PageSpeed, etc., tell you that you have the fastest site on the web and the cleanest code imaginable. Are you ready to buy a really fancy tool now? Maybe, but wait, there’s more to evaluate first.
Now it is time to truly use your own investigation skills and really dig in before determining you want that fancy SEO Ferrari. For instance, have you been using advanced searches on Google and really taken a look at what Google has on your website? I’ll be honest, one of my favorite things is to pull up a company’s robots.txt file, choose a blocked value and then do a Google query of “site:<URL> inurl:<blocked value>” in order to see what is in the index and/or supplemental index that should not be. There are a ton of these advanced search options that can identify — and often define — new SEO improvement projects, and the best part is Google is showing you your leak areas right on Google itself. These are just some of the Google advanced search options all SEO people should have used at some point. Not only can these give you great information about your site, but they can also be used to identify weaknesses in your competitors’ SEO foundation and, like GI Joe said “knowing is half the battle.”
Obviously SEO is an ongoing task in every smart organization; that is why I call it “The Tortoise” of search. We all want the best SEO and the prestige and traffic and sales that come from it. However, when it comes to buying a fancy tool, ask yourself and your SEM team, “Are we maximizing those we already have?” If the answer is no or – worse yet — the answer is a shrug of the shoulders, don’t buy that fancy tool yet and save those dollars for making more dollars. Shoot, add what the utility would cost per month to an employee reward fund or to your paid search budget as a keyword testing fund. At the end of the day, your dollar will go further that way than spending it on a application your organization is not quite ready for.
Now go dig into those tools you may have forgotten that you have. Once they all give you gold stars, then go buy that Ferrari that will take you to the next level…that is, if you still actually need it.