Retooling the SEO Tool Belt | Changing search engine methods require updated SEO tools
About The Author:
Bruce Clay is a professional search engine optimization consultant. Clay is the CEO of the search engine marketing firm Bruce Clay, Inc. which he founded in 1996. He is active with industry organizations such as: SEMPO, the Search Engine Strategies conference, IMC USA, Web Analytics Association, American Marketing Association, IIMA - International Internet Marketing Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. He is the Author of the SEO Code of Ethics which was translated into 18 other languages.
As search engine methods change, search engine optimization professionals need to examine their tool belts and see whether their tools can still get the job done. The technical job itself hasn’t changed although it has certainly expanded to include marketing. Job number one of search engine optimization (SEO) is to make a Web site visible in organic search results so that the Web site’s real objectives can be met — attracting people to the site who will want to convert. Visibility, traffic and conversion are still the real goals of SEO.
Although the same goals remain, SEO tools do need to keep up with the times. As algorithms change, so must your tools. Now Google and the other search engines customize each user’s results to a large extent, such that five people running the same search query may each get different top 10 results. The days of “how high do I rank” being an objective measure of SEO success are over. To make search results as relevant as possible for users, Google and the other engines personalize results. They achieve this in basically four ways:
• Personalized search - By monitoring the user’s previous searches, bookmarks and Web sites visited, the search engines try to interpret what the user is really interested in. This is an adaptive technology, changing to suit a particular user.
• Behavioral search – By monitoring the behavior of all users for a particular keyword or interest, the search engines can develop community level understanding and make predictive adjustments to the search results.
• Intent-based search – The search engines seek to understand what the user’s intention is based on his/her query, either to do research, make a purchase, or some other goal.
• Localization – The search engines tailor the results based on the user’s location (detected through the computer’s IP address), and return map results and business links within the user’s local community.
A searcher who queries the keyword “java” could be interested in programming, travel or coffee. Wanting to return the most relevant results to that user, the search engine tries to personalize the results and takes note of which result satisfied the user's query. If the search engine sees that the user has frequented programmer forums and how-to sites recently, the results would be skewed towards the programming language Java. Based on the behavioral aspects of other Java programming searchers, they might include related interests like programming forums, online tutorials or other programming languages because people who search for Java related to programming also look for other technological resources. Furthermore, by detecting the user’s location, the search engine may present additional localized results such as Java programming courses, instructors or freelance programmers in the user’s community.
All of this sophistication has made SEO more complex — and SEOs now need more sophisticated tools to address it. Some of the newest requirements are listed below.
1. Geotargeting - SEOs today need tools for geotargeting a Web site that help them overcome localization. Geotargeting refers to optimizing a site for local search so that it’s included in search results when users in a specific geographic location query its keywords. Localization is the norm now; you don’t even have to be signed in to Google to observe local search in action. If you query [drug rehab], for example, Google delivers local drug rehabilitation services within your geographic area. So if you’re trying to optimize a drug rehab Web site for a particular market area, how would you know whether the site is ranking in local searches without buying a plane ticket and going there yourself? You’d need a tool that lets you run a proxy search, so that no matter where you’re physically located, you can search as if you are in some other specified place. With a proxy search tool, you could be in California and run a search from Philadelphia, or even from another country like New Zealand or Peru.
2. Search engine choice - Google dominates the search market in the U.S., so SEOs typically focus their efforts on optimizing domestic Web sites for Google. But Google isn’t the only game in town. Especially when serving international clients, optimizing for the appropriate search engine, the one that’s most popular with the target audience, is critical. And there are literally hundreds of reputable search engines around the globe. Busy SEOs could use a way to switch from one engine to another efficiently, without having to navigate to separate URLs and open new tabs each time.
3. Browser/platform independence - Most of the plug-ins and other applications designed for search engine optimization are built for the Mozilla Firefox browser. But that creates an obstacle when you’re working with clients who only use Microsoft Internet Explorer. It’s difficult to show them your findings if they can’t see what you see. SEOs today need the flexibility of working in either Firefox or IE. For that matter, they need platform independence, too: the ideal tool should work just as well on a Macintosh computer as on a PC.
4. Multi-language capability - Can your SEO tools produce reports in any language other than English? Probably not. But as Internet marketing becomes increasingly globalized, the need for multi-language support grows. Imagine using a tool that could present its interface in the language the user’s computer was set to by default. The language barrier would be gone, and anyone could use it. The ideal SEO tool would also output reports in multiple languages. You could run a report and view it in English while your client in Argentina viewed the same report in Spanish, and their business partner in Japan could be on the same phone call viewing it in Japanese.
5. On-page convenience - SEOs today are constantly juggling tasks. When they’re not tweaking Web pages directly, they’re running reports, viewing reports, building spreadsheets, reading RSS feeds, researching the latest developments, keeping up with social media buzz, posting tweets and comments, and more. One thing that helps their productivity is having their SEO tools and statistics at their fingertips while they work. As they run searches, it is helpful to see keyword statistics such as daily activity, demographics and cost per click right there, without leaving the search engine results page. Viewed results should present PageRank values, backlink counts, and other actionable data at a glance. As they move from Web page to Web page, site data should display in the browser, so they don’t have to go someplace else to find it.
Updated tools are needed to meet these and other challenges. SEOs must be equipped to deal with today’s complex search marketing environment.
I know about tools, because I’ve been authoring them since 1996. Back then, there were no tools for SEO. I built tools because I needed them, and as our company grew, my staff used them, too. The tools worked so well that we decided to share them with others. That was the beginning of the SEOToolSet®. Many thousands of subscribers later, I know it was a good decision.
In response to the current industry needs, we’re releasing a complete redesign of our SEOToolSet. The upgraded SEOToolSet (www.seotoolset.com) is a subscription-based, feature-rich set of SEO reports, monitoring and other tools. We’ve always offered many of our tools for free, as well, to help promote good practices within the SEO community. In that tradition, the free SEMToolbar™ component is available for anyone to download into their IE or Firefox browser.
The SEMToolbar is also a gateway to the full SEOToolSet that has been newly rewritten with updated reports and a brand new interface, as well as many powerful new features. Subscribers can be on any Web site and run a Page Analyzer, check their server, view their traffic or other type of report without leaving the page, because the SEOToolSet reports are within easy reach through the toolbar. Both the SEMToolbar and the full SEOToolSet answer all of the wish-list items I outlined above. You can overcome localization hurdles with a proxy search, and run it in your choice of more than 200 different search engines in 24 languages. You can install your SEMToolbar in either Firefox or IE. Demographics such as age and gender are all key data points.
Tools are essential, but they’re no substitute for knowing what you’re doing. A Page Analyzer can tell you in a moment which three- and four-word phrases are repeated or the prominence of “java coffee” on a Web page. But the SEO professional still needs to know how to use that information to improve the page. Data is just data; the real work is analyzing that data and making decisions. Still, you need tools to dig up the data in the first place. And today, SEO requires shiny new tools to deal with the complexities of personalization and localization.