When Google switched to their new keyword tool a lot of advertisers were ticked off by how it went from being quite granular & focused to being more broad and presumptuous. It defaulted from allowing you to drill down in a specific area to assuming that you wanted to buy a broader basket of keywords than you asked for, which particularly doesn't make sense when you think about how Quality Score punishes irrelevant ads.
Based on user feedback / complaints they updated the tool to offer 3 different filters: more like this, include or exclude keywords, and a setting which makes the search optionally tighter if turned on.
Given the keyword categorization, localization, trending data, match type options, these new filters, handy CSV export options & all the data they offer it is becoming quite a great tool with a variety of unique use cases for market research. It's so efficient that you can do a lot of work in a couple minutes, but it's so addictive you can spend hours playing with it. :)
Unfortunately Google was recently one upped on this front - by Google! ;)
Google recently announced a new keyword tool built around estimating the size of various global markets. The regular keyword tool let you do this as well, but this new keyword tool allows you to compare market sizes (by search demand) side by side at a glance, and it also lists relevant related local keywords in other language which have roughly the same meaning. Awesome stuff Google!
Influence Finder is a new link analysis tool that aims to make link research more targeted and less time-consuming while producing better results.
Despite how SEO has evolved over the years one aspect remains crucial to the success of any SEO campaign, links. So just about any tool that claims to make the process faster, smarter, and better quality is worth taking a look at.
Starting a Project
Influence Finder is a web-based tool which has a clean interface and is pretty easy to use. When you log in the first thing you'll see is the project dashboard, where all your current projects are located.
The projects you see there are some templates they provide, however you are free to choose a custom project and name it whatever you'd like. The project options are:
Understanding Your Brand - here they recommend you get an index of your own link profile
Competitor Profiling - this is where they suggest you get the profiles of your competition
Narrow Keyword Targets - this is the recommended report to identify sites that are ranking for a broader keyword associated with your targeted keyword (think "credit cards" if you are targeting "low interest credit cards". So you can get some potential competitor data here as well as additional linking opportunities from sites that link to these sites or these sites themselves.
Vertical Media - here they suggest to target influential media sites related to your keyword. This is where you would search for blog and news sites related to your keyword. These sites can turn out to be potential link sources and you can also look at their backlinks to see which sites are linking at them for those core keywords, which can be potential targets for your as well.
Interested Media - interested media would be sites or blogs which cover topics related to your topic but are not direct competitors. If you are targeting hybrid cars you can look up sites related to things like renewable energy or sites and blogs which cover environmental topics.
Custom - a report you can name anything you want.
It's important to note that the report creation interface is exactly the same whether you choose Competitor Profiling, Vertical Media, or Custom. These initial report types are just there to give the user an idea of what they might want to cover in their research.
We ran through a report as if we were running a "Brand" report so you can see how the system works.
Let's say we work for Waste Management, a leading provider of trash removal and recycling services here in the US. So we selected the first project type in the image above and clicked "go to step 2".
The interface is simple to work with. You can do the following in this screen:
Name your project (we named it Brand Report - Wm.Com). Again, you are free to name it whatever you'd like
A box to the right gives you the ability to leave notes about the project
The next field is where you'd add a URL for Influence Finder to index
Once that is added it will appear in the gray highlighted area where you can select the domain links, links to the page (if you have a sub-page), or links to the sub-domain if you are dealing with a sub-domain. You can add as many URL's as you want but since this is our "Brand" report we are just adding ours
The last options are whether you want to include or exclude expired links and no-follow links
Once you are ready and the URL has been indexed just click "step 3".
Once you move on to step 3 you are presented with some more options. Here you can add keywords manually or via the anchor text they found when crawling the targeted URL's. They will look for occurrences of these keywords in the following places:
You can choose whether they are brand or non-brand keywords. As of this writing actual anchor text is not available, however I have been told that this will be an enhancement in version 2.
So basically if you choose "trash removal" as a non-brand keyword and "recycling" as a non-brand keyword, then they will be grouped under the "non-brand" keyword data point in the results section.
The second place you can add them is via the keywords found during the initial crawl by Influence Finder's bots (over Majestic SEO's data). They are sorted by frequency.
When they are looking for these keywords they are looking based on phrase match and not exact match. The idea here is that you are looking for link opportunities around a keyword or phrase rather than for specific data about an exact match keyword. So if you have a site about auto insurance you'll get results that will show linking opportunities based on auto insurance, online auto insurance, dirt cheap auto insurance, and so on.
It is based on phrase match and I think the addition of the actual anchor text will be helpful in making this tool both a link opportunity research tool as well as a competitive research tool with respect to competitor backlink profiles.
When you are ready to begin the full index simply click "create index". Above the "create index" tab you can show more keywords from the initial crawl if you want. This can take anywhere from a hour to a few hours depending on the size of the backlink profile.
So here is the results pane for this report. There are 2 panes, the left pane which is for Link Sources and the right pane which are Page Level details related to the domain you highlight in Link Sources (we'll get to the numerous data points in just a moment):
Here is the right pane. When you highlight a source in the left column (Link Sources), the right pane (Page Level) contains the pages within that site that reference either the brand or non-brand keyword (note, these are sites that do and do not have links to the current domain which can be filtered as discussed later on in this review):
When you highlight a page you can see a screenshot and open it in a new tab, as shown above.
For the left-side pane, Link Sources, you have the following data points available:
Max Authority - a scale of 1-15, being the highest, that measures the site's authority via PageRank, Alexa data, and link data from Majestic
Blog - based on site data gathered by Influence Finder, this shows whether the site might be a blog or not
Heartbeat - checks to see if the site or blog is publishing content on a regular basis, bigger publishers show up with no heartbeat and will be given their own category in the next update
Traffic Rank - based on global Alexa Ranking
Traffic Country - the country that drives the most traffic to the site per Alexa
Non-Brand Keyword in Title - percentage of pages where the non-brand keyword appeared in the page title (on pages relating to the non-brand keyword)
Brand Keyword in Title - percentage of pages where the brand keyword appeared in the page title (on pages relating to the brand keyword)
Non-Brand Keyword in External Anchor Text - percentage of pages where the non-brand keyword appeared in an external link (on pages relating to the non-brand keyword)
Brand Keyword in External Anchor Text - percentage of pages where the brand keyword appeared in an external link (on pages relating to the brand keyword)
Commission Junction Network - checks to see if the site or page is an affiliate of Commission Junction (or any of the following networks)
Trade Doubler Network
Affiliate Future Network
Web Gains Network
Linkshare Affiliate Network
You have the same options within the Page Level area in the right pane. Both sets of options are available from the Change Filters -> Link Source or Page Level Filters options within the tool.
Customizing Your Results
The left pane (Link Sources) of the application is where your results are populated, where the right pane is domain or page specific information (Page Level) based upon what is highlighted on the left (more on that in a moment). The left side has the following options, as shown below:
A dropdown for easy switching between projects
The next drop down is where you can show domains which link to the chosen domain, or domains that do not currently link to the domain but are good linking prospects based on the brand and non-brand keywords
A .CSV export option
Change Filter options are where you can deeply customize the output of your data, this populates in the right. Covered in more detail below
Custom Sorting options with lots more data points to choose from
They also have a flagging system, which is purely optional:
Flags are color coded, with the following colors available. Use them for whatever system you devise :) :
Custom Sort Options
In addition to the data points mentioned earlier (Max Authority, Heartbeat, Affiliate relationships, etc) The custom sorting feature gives you these additional options which you can include in the dropdown referenced above, but in case you missed it here it is again :)
(click the more button to add additional sorting options)
The additional options include:
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in internal link anchor text
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in H1 tag
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in Body
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in body, first 100 words
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in heading
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in folder name
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in page name
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword as first word in H1
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword as first word in title
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in root domain
Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in subdomain
Majestic ACRank of homepage
Links to homepage
Domains linking to homepage
Unique IP's linking to homepage
Percentage of direct links to page
Percentage of redirected links to page
Frequency of feed update
Clearly lots and lots of options here. Just one usage example could be that you wanted to see sites that are currently not linking to you, but talk about your brand on their site (in key areas like title tags). These could be good link prospects. First thing to do is change the link display option to "no target links found".
The next thing is to change the sorting options to have the Brand keyword in the H1 and the Body, these should be good link targets. They do not link to us, they have our brand keyword in the H1 and/or Body copy.
To show those columns you have to go to "Change Filters" as shown below, so they will show those columns in the Link Sources (Left Pane) if you click the checkboxes on the right as we did with Brand keyword in H1 and Brand keyword in Body:
And here you can see the new columns, noted with red dots:
We can see that Earthtimes.org appears to be a worth link prospect with a Max Authority of 12, possibly being a blog (guest post), has a strong heartbeat, and not only has pages with our brand name in an H1 tag but also has it within the body copy.
When we highlight a domain in the Link Sources area, the right pane populates the Page Level data like so:
What's great here is that now you have pages that are targeted to your content which (most) use your brand keyword in the H1 tag and Body copy. Remember too that there are many, many other filters available as mentioned above. This is just one example of what you can do. It certainly is a pretty targeted way of building links. Now, you know the following:
You do not have a link from the domain
They have pages specifically targeted to your brand
The relative strength of the site
How they are using brand and non-brand keywords
You have a whole host of other filters available as well, but this makes for a fairly targeted link prospect.
In order to get custom columns, like we did with Link Sources, you have to go into Advanced Page Filters on the right to select those custom columns (Brand keyword in H1 and Body in this example):
Change Filter Options
We have discussed some of these already as it is used in the normal flow of how you would use Influence Finder. There are an enormous amount of data points available to you within this tool and it's likely that you will not use all of them on every report you run.
The interface for this part of the tool looks like this:
You have 4 options here:
Link Source Filters - for the default data points located in the left pane of the interface
Page Level Filters - for the default data points that come with the information on the pages of the selected site, these results are in the right pane (Page Level)
Advanced Link Source Filters - all the additional data points for your Link Sources
Advanced Page Filters - the additional data points available for page level data
These are essential tools for slicing and dicing the data to suit your report needs (link research, competitive research, link prospecting, and so on).
How Does Influence Finder Compare?
Influence Finder has a lot of features. Chances are you have a link tool or two already. As more and more tools enter the online marketing space it's important to consider the overlap and unique features of the tool you are considering and the tool(s) you might already have.
Influence Finder, as we have outlined for you, has a seemingly endless array of filters you can use to target link prospects. The 3 bigger players in the link research and/or management space are typically thought to be:
Open Site Explorer
Raven SEO Tools
When comparing tools in the same space it's important to make sure they are designed to do the same things, in this case Influence Finder is unique in its stated purpose. Influence Finder is much more about finding worthwhile link prospects in a very targeted manner.
These other tools are much more about pure backlink research (like Open Site Explorer and Majestic) or backlink management, tracking, and workflow (like Raven, which also has Majestic functionality baked into their research features).
Influence Finder runs off of Majestic's data. When you run a report in Influence Finder, their bots re-crawl the Majestic data to make it a bit more fresh and to customize it to your chosen parameters. The key points of differentiation on Majestic's side are
Majestic provides strong historical data which can be very useful when doing competitive research
Majestic's minimum analyzable backlinks are up to 1,000,000 (on their lowest plan). This illustrates Majestic's position as more of a pure link data tool whereas Influence Finder tends to be more of a link acquisition tool.
Majestic does have some strong filtering capabilities which are great for analyzing a domain's backlinks. However, it not as strong in terms of finding link partners across the web which is, of course, due to the fact that these tools mostly serve 2 different purposes (remember, Influence Finder uses Majestic's data).
Open Site Explorer
Open Site Explorer is a solid link research tool from SeoMoz. It doesn't quite have the size that Majestic does but it's certainly big enough to be a worthy link research tool. The UI is top notch and it is very easy to use. Some of the cool things you can do with Open Site Explorer:
See linking domains with a variety of filtering options (followed, no-followed, 301's, etc)
See top linked to pages on a domain, with domain link counts and http status codes
Quickly see a targeted display of the external anchor text distribution for the domain
A whole host of other link metrics like mozRank, mozTrust, percentage of internal/external and follow/no-follow links
You can compare 2 URL's as well
So much like Majestic, Open Site Explorer is more of a link research tool/competitive analysis tool. Though, with either, you can certainly find worthwhile linking partners off of a competing site and you can look up sites of "influence" and check backlinks that way too.
Influence Finder's core benefits are finding linking partners which are relevant to your brand and non-brand keywords so they are naturally much stronger in this area than Open Site Explorer and Majestic. Conversely, Open Site Explorer and Majestic are much stronger in the area of competitive link research.
Raven SEO Tools
We recently reviewed Raven and Raven certainly sets the standard for link workflow, management, and reporting at the moment. Raven uses Majestic's data in their link research feature set.
Raven is kind of in the middle here. They have Majestic built in so they are part competitive research plus part link management plus part link building workflow.
While Influence Finder is planning on introducing reporting and workflow into an upcoming version, their current tool combined with Raven's link building and monitoring tools make for a powerful link building toolset. So with Raven:
You get access to Majestic's data as a competitive link research tool
Top notch reporting options
Deep, time-saving link workflow management options
With just about anything you buy, generally you'll get features you either don't need or are just a bit beyond what you need them for in terms of depth. The nice thing with Raven is you get access to a bunch of tools in one spot for a fair price.
Do they have all the features? Nope but do you really need every single option on every single tool? There's something to be said for managing most aspects of a campaign in one spot.
So if you take Influence Finder's unique core features and combine it with Raven for reporting, workflow, and research and/or with another link research tool like Open Site Explorer then you'll have a really strong set of tools.
The point is, none of these tools do everything the other does so it's a good idea to take a look at each of them and weight the features, benefits, and costs against what you "need" for your campaigns.
Workflow and Final Thoughts
Lots of data here, so we'll outline how it all ties together.
You can use this tool for many different purposes and they even give you some guides as to what you might want to use the reports for. I just want to stress that those reports are only exclusive of each other in naming only, the functionality of the tool after you select the report "type" is the same irrespective of which report you choose or if you just go with custom.
We talked about left pane and right pane a lot, here's a condensed screenshot of the interface:
(Left pane) Link Sources are located in the left pane, these are domains (even if a subpage is listed, they will show the main domain) matching your initial search parameters
(Right pane) Page Level Detail shows the pages associated with the selected domain and the data points you've chosen to show
The left pane also houses the Custom Sort data when selected while the right pane houses the Change Filters options as mentioned eariler.
So this was an example of a report on your domain for one core keyword and some brand related keywords. This is a pretty powerful tool and if they add the actual anchor text where a link exists as well as some stronger work flow (assignments, notes, etc) and reporting features then I think this will be a tool well worth a look for you or your company.
They did tell me the features I mentioned above will be a part of version 2 which they are working on as we speak. When that comes out, we will certainly take a look and post that new information as well as our thoughts. As it stands now this is a really comprehensive tool for link prospecting and link building.
Alexa's Site Audit Report breaks the information down into 6 different sections (some which have additional sub-sections as well)
The sections break down as follows:
So we ran Seobook.com through the tool to test it out :)
Generally these reports take about a day or two, ours had some type of processing error so it took about a week.
The first section you'll see is the number of pages crawled, followed by 3 "critical" aspects of the site (Crawl Coverage, Reputation, and Page Optimization). All three have their own report sections as well. Looks like we got an 88. Excuse me, but shouldn't that be a B+? :)
So it looks like we did just fine on Crawl Coverage and Reputation, but have some work to do with Page Optimization.
The next section on the overview page is 5 recommendations on how to improve your site, with links to those specific report sections as well. At the bottom you can scroll to the next page or use the side navigation. We'll investigate these report sections individually but I think the overview page is helpful in getting a high-level overview of what's going on with the site.
This measures the "crawl-ability" of the site, internal links, your robots.txt file, as well as any redirects or server errors.
The Reachability report shows you a break down of what HTML pages were easy to reach versus which ones were not so easy to each. Essentially for our site, the break down is:
Easy to find - 4 or less links a crawler must follow to get to a page
Hard to find - more than 4 links a crawler must follow to get to a page
The calculation is based on the following method used by Alexa in determining the path length specific to your site:
Our calculation of the optimal path length is based on the total number of pages on your site and a consideration of the number of clicks required to reach each page. Because optimally available sites tend to have a fan-out factor of at least ten unique links per page, our calculation is based on that model. When your site falls short of that minimum fan-out factor, crawlers will be less likely to index all of the pages on your site.
A neat feature in this report is the ability to download your URL's + the number of links the crawler had to follow to find the page in a .CSV format.
This is a useful feature for mid-large scale sites. You can get a decent handle on some internal linking issues you may have which could be affecting how relevant a search engine feels a particular page might be. Also, this report can spot some weaknesses in your site's linking architecture from a usability standpoint.
While getting external links from unique domains is typically a stronger component to ranking a site it is important to have a strong internal linking plan as well. Internal links are important in a few ways:
The only links where you can 100% control the anchor text (outside of your own sites of course, or sites owned by your friends)
They can help you flow link equity to pages on your site that need an extra bit of juice to rank
Users will appreciate a logical, clear internal navigation structure and you can use internal linking to get them to where you want them to go
Alexa will show you your top linked to (from internal links) pages:
You can also click the link to the right to expand and see the top ten pages that link to that page:
So if you are having problems trying to rank some sub-pages for core keywords or long-tail keywords, you can check the internal link counts (and see the top 10 linked from pages) and see if something is amiss with respect to your internal linking structure for a particular page.
Here you'll see if you've restricted access to these search engine crawlers:
If you block out registration areas or other areas that are normally restricted, then the report will say that you are not blocking major crawlers but will show you the URL's you are blocking under that part of the report.
There is not much that is groundbreaking with Robots.Txt checks but it's another part of a site that you should check when doing an SEO review so it is a helpful piece of information.
We all know what happens when redirects go bad on a mid-large sized site :)
This report will show you what percentage of your crawled pages are being redirected to other pages with temporary redirects.
The thing with temporary redirects, like 302's, is that unlike 301's they do not pass any link juice so you should pay attention to this part of the report and see if any key pages are being redirected improperly.
This section of the report will show you any pages which have server errors.
Making sure your server is handling errors correctly (such as a 404) is certainly worthy of your attention.
The only part of this module is external links from authoritative sites and where your site ranks in conjunction with "similar sites" with respect to the number of sites linking to your sites and similar sites.
Links from Top Sites
The analysis is given based on the aforementioned forumla:
Then you are shown a chart which correlates to your site and related sites (according to Alexa) plus the total links pointing at each site which places the sites in a specific percentile based on links and Alexa Rank.
Since Alexa is heavily biased towards webmaster type sites based on their user base, these Alexa Rank's are probably higher than they should be but it's all relative since all sites are being judged on this measure.
The Related Sites area is located below the chart:
Followed by the Top Ranked sites linking to your site:
I do not find this incredibly useful as a standalone measure of reputation. As mentioned, Alexa Rank can be off and I'd rather know where competing sites (and my site or sites) are ranking in terms of co-occurring keywords, unique domains linking, strength of the overall link profile, and so on as a measure of true relevance.
It is, however, another data point you can use in conjunction with other tools and methods to get a broader idea of your site and related sites compare.
Checking the on-page aspects of a mid-large sized site can be pretty time consuming. Our Website Health Check Tool covers some of the major components (like duplicate/missing title tags, duplicate/missing meta descriptions, canonical issues, error handling responses, and multiple index page issues) but this module does some other things too.
The Link Text report shows a break down of your internal anchor text:
Click on the pages link and see the top pages using that anchor text to link to a page (shows the page the text is on as well as the page it links too):
The report is based on the pages it crawled so if you have a very large site or lots and lots of blog posts you might find this report lacking a bit in terms of breadth of coverage on your internal anchor text counts.
Checks broken links (internal and external) and groups them by page, which is an expandable option similar to the other reports:
Xenu is more comprehensive as a standalone tool for this kind of report (and for some of their other link reports as well).
The Duplicate Content report groups all the pages that have the same content together and gives you some recommendations on things you can do to help with duplicate content like:
Working with robots.txt
How to use canonical tags
Using HTTP headers to thwart duplicate content issues
Here is how they group items together:
Anything that can give you some decent insight into potential duplicate content issues (especially if you use a CMS) is a useful tool.
Duplicate Meta Descriptions
No duplicate meta descriptions here!
Fairly self-explanatory and while a meta description isn't incredibly powerful as standalone metric it does pay to make sure you have unique ones for your pages as every little bit helps!
Duplicate Title Tags
You'll want to make sure you are using your title tags properly and not attacking the same keyword or keywords in multiple title tags on separate pages. Much like the other reports here, Alexa will group the duplicates together:
Low Word Count
Having a good amount of text on a page is good way to work in your core keywords as well as to help in ranking for longer tail keywords (which tend to drive lots of traffic to most sites). This report kicks out pages which have (in looking at the stats) less than 150 words or so on the page:
There's no real magic bullet for the amount of words you "should" have on a page. You want to have the right balance of word counts, images, and overall presentation components to make your site:
Textually relevant for your core and related keywords
Readable for humans
Continuing on with the "every little bit helps" mantra, you can see pages that have images with missing ALT attributes:
Alexa groups the images on per page, so just click the link to the right to expand the list:
Like meta descriptions, this is not a mega-important item as a standalone metric but it helps a bit and helps with image search.
This report will show you any issues your site is having due to the use of session id's.
If you have issues with session id's and/or other URL parameters here you should take a look at using canonical tags or Google's parameter handling (mostly to increase the efficiency of your site's crawl by Googlebot, as Google will typically skip the crawling of pages based on your parameter list)
Usually I cringe when I see automated SEO solutions. The headings section contains "recommended" headings for your pages. You can download the entire list in CSV format:
The second one listed, "interface seo", is on a page which talks about Google adding breadcrumbs to the search results. I do not think that is a good heading tag for this blog post. I suspect most of the automated tags are going to be average to less than average.
Alexa's Keyword module offers recommended keywords to pursue as well as on site recommendations in the following sub-categories:
Search Engine Marketing (keywords)
Link Recommendations (on-site link recommendations
Search Engine Marketing
Based on your site's content Alexa offers up some keyword recommendations:
The metrics are defined as:
Query - the proposed keyword
Opportunity - (scales up to 1.0) based on expected search traffic to your site from keywords which have a low CPC. A higher value here typically means a higher query popularity and a low QCI. Essentially, the higher the number the better the relationship is between search volume, low CPC, and low ad competition.
Query Popularity (scales up to 100) based on the frequency of searches for that keyword
QCI - (scales up to 100) based on how many ads are showing across major search engines for the keyword
For me, it's another keyword source. The custom metrics are ok to look at but what disappoints me about this report is that they do not align the keywords to relevant pages. It would be nice to see "XYZ keywords might be good plays for page ABC based on ABC's content".
This is kind of an interesting report. You've got 3 sets of data here. The first is the "source page" and this is a listing of pages that, according to Alexa's crawl, are pages that appear to be important to search engines as well as pages that are easily crawled by crawlers:
These are pages Alexa feels should be pages you link from. The next 2 data sets are in the same table. They are "target pages" and keywords:
Some of the pages are similar but the attempt is to match up pages and predict the anchor text that should be used from the source page to the target page. It's a good idea but there's a bit of page overlap which detracts from the overall usefulness of the report IMO.
The Stats section offers 3 different reports:
Report Stats - an overview of crawled pages
Crawler Errors - errors Alexa encountered in crawling your site
Unique Hosts Crawled - number of unique hosts (your domain and internal/external domains and sub-domains) Alexa encountered in crawling your site
An overview of crawl statistics:
This is where Alexa would show what errors, if any, they encountered when crawling the site
Unique Hosts Crawled
A report showing which sites you are linking to (as well as your own domain/subdomains)
Is it Worth $199?
Some of the report functionality is handled by free (in some cases) tools that are available to you. Xenu does a lot of what Alexa's link modules do and if you are a member here the Website Health Check Tool does some of the on-page stuff as well.
I would also like to see more export functionality especially in lieu of white label reporting. The crawling features are kind of interesting and the price point is fairly affordable as one time fee.
The Alexa Site Audit Report does offer some benefit IMO and the price point isn't overly cost-prohibitive but I wasn't really wowed by the report. If you are ok with spending $199 to get a broad overview of things then I think it's an ok investment. For larger sites sometimes finding (and fixing) only 1 or 2 major issues can be worth thousands in additional traffic.
It left me wanting a bit more though, so I might prefer to spend that $199 on links since most of the tool's functionality is available to me without dropping down the fee. Further, the new SEOmoz app also covers a lot of these features & is available at a monthly $99 price-point, while allowing you to run reports on up to 5 sites at a time. The other big thing for improving the value of the Alexa application would be if they allowed you to run a before and after report as part of their package. That way in-house SEOs can not only show their boss what was wrong, but can also use that same 3rd party tool as verification that it has been fixed.
Everyday it seems like a new SEO tool or toolset is launching.
I've been quite impressed with the improvements and enhancements to Raven's SEO Tools since they launched. There are so many features in Raven but I want to focus on some of the really unique ones which make Raven a must have for me.
Link Research Tools
Raven has 2 powerful, time-saving tools in their Link Research toolset. Site Finder and Backlink Explorer are 2 tools that really help me quickly assess and work through link profiles and the link landscape of a particular keyword.
Site Finder is keyword driven and the reports are saved under the website profile you are working on in Raven. While the tool is fast (my auto insurance quotes example took about 6 seconds!) one of the workflow features that I really like is that I can run a bunch of these and go off to do other things within Raven rather than waiting for the reports to come back.
On to Site Finder! :
To use Site Finder, just navigate to it under the Links tab, enter your keyword, and hit "Run":
Here are the results returned for my query on auto insurance quotes:
Site Finder gives you quite a bit of data and options in an easy to use interface, here's how it breaks down:
Search Box - search for a specific domain or reset the results post-search
Display Settings - show anywhere from 25 - 1k results on the page, show links that are "hidden" (links you "hid" via the options column), or show all links with no filters
Display Settings Option Box - click "Display Settings' and you'll get a box where you can toggle ACRank, MozRank, Page Authority, and/or Connections off and on
Domain- the name of a domain which is linking to at least 1 site in the top ten Google Results. Click on the domain link to get a slick drop down of the sites that domain is linking too
Link Icon - click the icon to display the domain in a new
Connections - number of sites in the top 10 for your keyword that have a link from that domain
ACRank - a quick, simple data point which aims to show how important a specific page is (0-15, 15 is the highest) based on referring domains. A more in-depth definition can be found here
MozRank - SeoMoz's global link popularity score. It mirrors PageRank but SeoMoz says it updates it more frequently and is more precise (scaled 0-10, 10 being the highest). A more in-depth overview can be found here
Page Authority - a predictor of how likely a page is to rank based on a 100 point, logarithmic scale independent of the page's content. The higher the better :)
Backlinks - total number of links the domain has going into the top 10 Google results
Options Tab - if you want to hide a domain from the report (maybe not a link you want to go after, you or your team members can click "hide" and the link will be hidden from the report. If "add" is clicked then the link is added to the link queue in the Link Manager (more on this shortly)
Export Options - export your report to PDF or CSV (really helpful, especially when running reports on hidden links to gauge how well a link builder might be doing in terms of assessing the appropriate links to hide
So that's Site Finder. The flexibility, power, speed, and collaborative features of Site Finder make it one of my favorite tools to use.
Researching competitor's link profiles is usually a time-consuming piece of the SEO puzzle. While it still involves time, especially on larger link profiles, Backlink Explorer delivers some pretty impressive results quickly and efficiently via a 3rd party tie-in to Majestic SEO.
Another nice thing with Raven is a consistent, clean user interface across the toolset. Here's the spot where you enter the domain you want to research:
Just like Site Finder it will save the report in the history of whatever website profile you are saving the report in. You can explore it at anytime or delete it at anytime:
Continuing on with the auto insurance theme, I ran a quick report on GEICO:
Backlink Explorer gives you the following data points and options:
Search Box - search for a particular domain or words within a domain
Display Settings - group domains (this is really helpful for cutting down duplicate results from domains with more than one link to the site), show/hide hidden or already linked from domains, filter by ACRank, and display up to 1,000 results on the page
Display Settings Box - display or hide no-follow, image, or date data fields
Source URL - the site the link is from
Link Icon - open page in a new window
ACRank - as discussed in Site Finder's review, more info here
Anchor Text - the anchor text of the link
No-follow - whether it's no-follow or not
Image - whether it's an image link or not
Options Box - hide the domain or add it to your link queue
Export - export results, filtered or non-filtered to CSV
What's really great about this tool is that you can do some pretty heavy filtering to get rid of the noisy links and quickly add the good ones to your link queue. On its face it may seem like it's not that big of a time-saver, but it really is if you are combing through a large profile or multiple link profiles.
You could really buzz through some fairly thick link profiles with the filtering options and put them right into your link queue for you to work on later or for a team member to work on. Once you start working with it you'll quickly see how efficient it is for you or for you and your staff.
This is probably my favorite tool in the toolset. Prior to utilizing this tool, I was using lots and lots of spreadsheets to track link building campaigns which got to be pretty time consuming and tough to collaborate on.
It's built in to the Raven SEO Toolbar which allows you to quickly add a link to your link queue, right from your browser, rather than hand copying the website's data to a spreadsheet for further processing. This is a slick feature for a one person show and really sings when used in a collaborative link building environment. The last 2 spots are where your site would be listed and your account profile name:
When you are researching link partners, simply click that Add Link button and you are presented with this screen:
The link manager in an of itself is worth the price of admission in my opinion. So here you can:
Set the status to queued, requested, active, inactive, ignore, or declined. Most of the time it will be "queued" if you are saving it for further handling
Input the date the record was created
Select the type of link (organic, paid, blog, exchange, and so on). You can even define custom types in Raven and it will show as an option in this application
Note the desired anchor text of the link (great for collaboration with link building staff members)
Include the URL of where you'd like the link to point to
Add more links if you might be getting more than one link from the page
Tag the link for sorting within the link manager application
Set it to be monitored automatically from within Raven
Add it as a task for you or a staff member
Raven pulls in the URL, domain name of the site, and PageRank of the page
If available you can list the contact name and email as well as the type of site it is and even leave a note attached to the record
Try doing all that in a spreadsheet and a bunch of word or text documents for notes :)
Once again, another solid way to save loads of time doing what is probably the most time consuming part of an SEO campaign, link building.
So that was just the toolbar portion of the Link Manager. Within your Raven account you have access to the same "add link" application that you do from the toolbar. Perhaps you have link opportunities that you or a staff member cultivated outside of Raven. You can use this form to plug them right in.
You can also import links into your Raven account.
You can upload a CSV file with custom data that Raven will recognize up to 20 columns of data points. These data points relate to Raven's Link Manager application. So you're able to define all of these (Raven gives you a handy sample CSV to do this from):
Currently the currencies supported are USD, GBP, EUR, AUD.
When you upload you can automatically add link monitoring by clicking the link monitoring box.
You can also import up to 1,000 backlinks from Yahoo! via your domain or your competitor's domains (ones you've defined in Raven).
Raven's link monitoring service will alert you if any changes occur to a link or a page the link is on. For example, you would be notified if:
Anchor text changes
Another link gets added to the page
They add no-follow to your link
The location of your link changes
I believe Raven now has about 21 different tools within their toolset now. This one tool, for me, is well worth the subscription cost. It really does save quite a bit of time and there's really nothing else like it on the market that I've seen (in terms of functionality, collaboration, and ease of use).
There are a growing number of applications out there where you can manage your social media accounts (mainly Twitter and Facebook, but Facebook in this example). If you want the most bang for your buck, Raven offers a state of the art Facebook application within its toolset.
In addition to the deep reporting Raven gives you from within Facebook you can now integrate with Google Analytics from within Raven.
Here are some of the features offered within Raven's Facebook Tool:
Deep Google Analytics integration
White label reporting of Facebook metrics
Automatic wall post scheduling
Fan tracking, customizable by date range
Monitor posts, comments, and likes
What I really like about the Facebook tool in Raven is that you can really synch up your analytics information and truly get a handle on what's working and not working over defined periods of time.
The reason why I'm a big fan of the integration here is due to the fact that you are likely going to be using either Twitter or Facebook (or both) in your internet marketing campaign(s). So to have this data in one place and integrated, as well as using the deep metrics that the tools provide, amount to a set of game changing features with respect to Facebook campaign management.
Sometimes with all in one toolsets you see features like this get added and they are kind of watered down. This is not the case here, it's one of the stronger Facebook management tools out there. If you are going to allocate resources to search and social then you need a way to accurately track the ROI of your campaigns and that's exactly what you get with this tool.
Occasionally Social Media campaigns can be tough to quantify in terms of ROI and overall effectiveness. Much like the Facebook Monitor, Raven offers a tool for Twitter users which is a real gem.
Raven's Twitter Tool
One feature within the Twitter tool is the ability to post a new tweet right away or schedule it for later, integrate with 3 URL shortener services (bit.ly, is.gd, j.mp, and tinyurl), and set custom Google Analytics campaign variables. Raven also gives you the ability to work with bit.ly and j.mp's APIs.
Monitor Twitter Activity and Engagement
If you are allocating resources to Twitter, or being paid by a company to run their Twitter account, then you'll want the ability to see some pretty juicy stats related to your Twitter campaign. With Raven's new Twitter tool you'll be able to see the following:
Friend to Follower Ratio
Google Analytics referral data
Reply and Retweet reach (a great way to see how many readers are seeing the message
Here's a screenshot of the statistical overlay:
What's really nice about this is the date range comparisons. It's a huge time-saver to manage this data mostly in one place, you can truly get a handle on what's working and what's not working, as well as why it's not working or working. The level of detail and integration is really unique to Raven's suite of tools.
Monitor Tweets Related to Your Account
In addition to viewing tweets from your public timeline you can also see all mentions associated with your account, as well as tweets posted from your account:
A great feature here is that if there is a thread associated with a tweet you can click on the "view thread" link and see the entire thread from within the Twitter tool.
Much like the link tools are worth the full subscription for me, if you have a need for custom reporting then Raven's Campaign Reporting features are probably worth the price of admission for you.
In lockstep with their other tools, the Campaign Reporting feature set is super easy to use:
You can quickly create white-labeled, customized reports for the following modules within Raven:
Social Media Monitoring (track mentions of your brand and/or keywords related to your service. It also allows you to manage overall sentiment and track daily buzz)
The reporting options include the ability for you to use customized descriptions to explain different parts of the report, summary pages for different sections, and Raven will even generate a table of contents for you.
Here you can quickly create a completely customized brand template for use with your reports, just click New Brand Template in the campaign home screen.
Give the template a name:
Assign it to a website, a profile or an account:
Pick a custom logo or text header:
Customize the colors and the footer text
Customize the appearance of your ranking results (keyword and rank alignment, numbers/+/-/arrows)
Report Templates allow you to configure specific aspects of each report, saving you from having to create them over and over again for each client or each report:
Similar to a Brand Template you start by clicking "New Report Template" in the Campaign Report screen. What I like about these reports is that they are fully customizable. Maybe you have clients that just hire you for keyword research, or just links, or both of those and social media (and so on). Well with the customization flexibility of these reports you can set up a custom template for just about any reporting need you may come across.
So name your report (I did Test 1) and you'll see the creation options on the left side:
To give you an idea of how deep your customization and reporting options are, here is that left bar fully extended:
Every singe one of those tabs is a customizable report :) So you just click on the ones you want to add and they are added to the report template.
Customizing Reporting Fields
When you add the fields to a template, or when you are creating the report, you can expand the section and customize each one (the summary page and title are report-wide options, but they each have other options depending on the piece you are reporting on). Here's the customization options you get with the link detail module:
Once you add more than one, you can collapse them and reorder them in a drag and drop fashion:
Scheduling and Auto Delivery
Maybe you want to auto-deliver reports to employees for further customization or presentation work, or maybe you want to set and forget the delivery of reports to your clients. You can send reports as attached PDF's or as trackable download links.
You can do monthly, daily, weekly, or quarterly reports and select a day between 1-28 as well as define a custom date range.
Create the Report
It's really easy to create a detailed, customized report within Raven. Name your report, select your brand and report templates, set you scheduling and delivery options, and create! It is really that simple. As mentioned in the Report Template section you can add, customize, and arrange all those reporting areas to suit your reporting needs.
While I focused on key areas that sold me on Raven, I also utilize their other tools. In addition to the tools mentioned above Raven's tools also include
Blog Manager - manage unlimited WordPress blogs (or any blog that supports XML-RPC
Competitor Manager - track competitors and see key metrics like PageRank, pages in Google's index, and links.
Contact Manager - this is where Raven stores (via this feature and via the Link Manager) contact information (mailing address, email, phone number, username, company, etc) which you can assign to different links, websites, and tasks
Content Manager - a place where you can manager articles, website content, and posts. You can add keyword analyzer features to check frequency, density, and relevance. You can also list where the article or post was used (quite handy for link building campaigns)
Design Analyzer - what I really like about this tool is the ability to look at your website in a Lynx browser
Event Manager - similar to GA annotations, the event manager can help you track any type of event related to your site. You can even include these in your reports, which is great for in-house record-keeping and/or client reports.
Firefox Toolbar - a killer link building assistant as discussed in the link section of this review. You can easily switch between your site profiles in the toolbar, use the analyzer features, and use logins for different social media personas.
Keyword Manager - a place to store potential and active keywords. A handy tagging system can be used to group keywords and you can add them to your rank tracker in one click.
Persona Manager - store multiple social network profiles and logins. In addition, you can also share these with staff members. This functionality is also available in the Toolbar.
Quality Analyzer - you can use this in your Raven account and from the Toolbar (which is a nice feature when scouring the web for links). It measures the site's indexed page count in Google and Yahoo, links from Yahoo, .edu links, .gov links, domain age, domain expiration, Google PageRank, Alexa Traffic Rank, and whether or not the site is in DMOZ. It assigns a numerical score based on this data.
Research Assistant - enter a domain to see data regarding the site's paid keywords, organic keywords, and competitors in both. You can one-click add a keyword or a competing URL to either the keyword/competition manager or to your SERP tracker (rank checker). Enter a keyword to see matching keywords and related keyword with data from SEM Rush, Google, and Wordtracker. View a page to see semantic data powered by OpenCalais.Com and keywords (related to the page's content) from AlchemyAPI.Com.
SERP Tracker - Raven's rank checker, runs once per week automatically, has historical chart and data viewing capabilities, and supports a bunch of international versions of Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Google, SEM Rush, and Wordtracker for keyword research
Majestic SEO & SeoMoz for link building and research
Google Analytics integration
Twitter & Facebook integration with lots of engagement goodies
Raven currently offers a free 30 trial, no credit card required, on all their plans. The combination of SEO tools, link building tools, social media integration, and custom reporting options were strong selling points for me especially at the price points Raven offers. I think you can also see the significant time saving benefits Raven provides, especially in the reporting module.
There isn't much to lose, a free 30 day trial that doesn't require you to enter any payment information. So give Raven's SEO Tools a try.
Advanced Web Ranking (further referenced as AWR) is a fairly robust website rank checking product which is recommended by lots and lots of people in our forums. There are many rank checking tools on the market, some worthy of mention and many not (although some of that is just do to feature overlap). AWR is one of the more full featured ones out there.
Overview of Advanced Web Ranking
AWR is a software based tool which can be purchased on its own or as a package with Advanced Link Manager (a powerful link tool worthy of it's own review in the near future). AWR has 4 product levels which you can choose from (the bundle prices are nice with Advanced Link Manager but we will focus on just the AWR prices here):
Quite a few folks find the Standard version to be just fine. However, if you are into local search or if you want AWR to create printable reports for you, then you may want to drop the extra $100 to get the Pro Version which includes printable reports, reports by email, the ability to custom brand your reports, and a nice local search feature which we'll cover in a minute.
They also offer a built in keyword suggestion tool with the standard and pro versions which hits up Google Suggest and Word Tracker:
The one up in the Enterprise version is the built in Keyword Research Tool which gives you the Google AdWords KW Tool, Wordtracker if you have an API for them but I normally do keyword research outside of this tool so I don't pay much attention to this feature.
The enterprise version also offers a Google Preview tool where you can preview results in other Google search engines across the globe and in select regions/cities, which is helpful if you have clients all over the map.
Setting Up a Project in AWR
When you first start using AWR it can be pretty daunting, lots and lots of features. I find that focusing on what I bought the product for, a kick ass rank checking tool, helps me avoid some of the feature bloat I think it has (keyword tools and such). Although the way the segment the products removes most of the bloat in my opinion.
You start a project by selecting your search engines like so:
They have over 1,000 search engine options including Google Data Centers (and corresponding IP addresses) that you can plug into the tool as well as many country specific ones
Then you select your keywords, and you can color code them for easier charting and tracking.
The next step is to add the websites you want to track, for this example I'll just throw one in but you can add more here or you can add some from the competing websites you find right in the Top Sites report provided by AWR:
The next two tabs we'll skip but they are pretty self-explanatory.
So now you've got your keywords, the search engines you want to track, and the website you want to track so you're ready to rock.
The first screen you'll see is as follows, I ran an update when I set up the project so it's already been run through but that is usually the first step.
There are a slew of reports within AWR:
Search Engine Rank
It's important to note that when you add keywords to AWR it will automatically check sub-pages of your site for any keyword you enter and they associate www and non-www as default.
I originally started the example project with Coca-Cola products (mainly Vanilla Coke of course) but there wasn't much data there so I went with a different example.
I went with Geico.Com and the keywords car insurance, auto insurance, car insurance quotes, and motorcycle insurance quotes.
Current Rank Report
The Current Rank report will show you current rankings of your keywords within the search engines that you chose within the project set up screen. You can select the keyword, the search engine, and the site to get your current position, previous position, change since last update, the page you are on, and the best ranking you've achieved with those parameters.
You can choose "Expanded View" to see the rankings for all keywords within that specific engine if you want a broader view of things:
The chart feature shown here is from their example as I don't have historical data on this project but you can see where there are added competing sites in the lower left corner and they correspond with the chart's colored lines showing the ranking trends of those sites, and your's, for the highlighted keyword. This is extremely useful when looking at trends as well as trying to keep an eye on competitor strategies, what's working and what's not working, etc.
Some other options in the Current Rank report, in terms of viewing keyword reports, are the ability to only show keywords which are in the top 10/20/30/40/or 50, only show keywords that are ranking at all, check by multiple dates in addition to variables like keywords in the top "xyz" spots or ones that moved up or ones that moved down, and a few other tweaks as well all over multiple update dates.
Keyword Rank Report
The Keyword Rank report is kind of similar to the Extended Data view in the Current rank report where it groups keywords by search engine and website by selecting the website and engine from the left column (Google in this case, omitted in the interest of redundancy). Also note how you see the sub-page listed for one keyword and the main domain for the same keyword as Geico has two listings for that keyword in Google.
Shows similar data like position, previous position, change, page found on, and best rank.
If you have lots of keywords you can categorize them with the Category Data option (helpful for larger sites and grouping keywords which are aligned to specific pages or sections of your site) which is something not available in the Current Rank report.
It has a charting feature as well. It groups it by keyword and uses little icons to denote the different sites (if you are tracking multiple sites) so each colored line represents a keyword and you can click on a specific keyword to highlight the line (as the others are lighter to avoid a messy interface).
Search Engine Rank
The Search Engine Rank report groups the selected keyword with the search engines to quickly show you how you rank across the search engines for that particular keyword.
Again, another nice visual graph option which is kind of a staple of AWR (lots and lots of visual data points). The site is tied to a search engine via a line graph with the icons used in the Keyword Rank Report to denote different sites. These charts really become powerful if you are able to track things like your link building efforts or other marketing efforts and tie them into how each engine responds to those types of practices.
Similar to other reports, the multiple dates feature can help you compare trends across a variety of timelines defined by you within the program.
The top sites report shows the top (10 in this case) sites that are ranking for the highlighted keyword in the highlighted search engine. The cool thing here is you can add sites from the top sites report right to the websites you are tracking. Adding those competing sites will help you keep an eye on the competition and hopefully spot some trends that you can capitalize on sooner rather than later.
This is also a cool report to find sites that are consistently ranking for core and longer-tail keywords across your SERP's. Most of the core keywords might be similar but identifying competitors that are winning the core keyword AND long tail keyword battle could give you a nice headstart into figuring out what they are doing, how they are doing, and so on so you can go ahead and improve on those strategies and start to move past them in key areas.
The Overview tab kind of puts a lot of stuff into one spot for you, which is nice for reporting and such. Below is a screenshot of the basic overview with the options panel open.
So here you have three options in the upper left corner, Search Engines/Keywords/Websites. Whichever one you choose the remaining two are used as data points for that selection. Examples are as follows:
Websites - Keywords grouped by Search Engine
Websites - Search Engines grouped by Keywords
Search Engines - Keywords grouped by Website
Search Engines - Websites grouped by keywords
Keywords - Search engines grouped by websites
Keywords - Websites grouped by search engines
A good example of this in practice can be found here. If you are looking for a higher level of how things are going, quickly, then this is probably the report you want to be looking at. It will show you movement in each area for each data point (what's going up, what's going down, etc) which you can then investigate further in the specific reports we discussed before.
The visibility offers the same input/output relationship as the Overview report (choose websites, keywords, or search engines as input and the other 2 will be the data points you can play with). A screenshot is probably helpful here.
Here you can see all sorts of juicy information about the sites you are following, the keywords you and they are targeting, and the coverage for all the sites in the search engines you care to follow. We've charted you to death here, suffice to say there is a chart for this as well (another great reporting feature). They have some custom stuff at the bottom like Visibility Score, Visibility Percent, Site Rank, Average Site Rank. These formulas are explained by them here. I personally find that quickly browsing the results gives me the same idea of coverage and site strength as these custom metrics do but we all know some people love custom, special metrics.
Keyword Analysis Report
This is a report that I personally don't use as I do not feel keyword density is something worth looking at as a ranking metric, other than to plug in a competitor's site to see what keywords appear most often on the page. This report shows a ton of words and phrases for each site/page, the density of the word or phrase, and total occurrences of that word or phrase. It shows some other basic info like total words on the page, whether the page employes global no-follow links, size of the page, meta information, and page rank. Also, it shows the page title, link text, and image alt tags.
It can be kind of useful when comparing two sites and their on-page text occurrences and you can view changes over time as well. It has a basic original content filter as well but I much prefer SeoBook's Duplicate Content Checker for that type of stuff.
The Competition Report
This report shows total competing pages in the various engines for your keywords. Not incredibly useful for me, I just want to know how strong the top ranking sites are, the amount of competition is irrelevant if most of it is suboptimal. Conversely, I don't care if the total number of pages are really low if the ranking sites are really strong :-) .
Additional Reporting Options
As we mentioned earlier, AWR has fantastic reporting options in their Professional plan and most of the reports mentioned above (Current Rank, Keyword Rank, Overview Report, Top Sites, and Search Engine Rank) can be printed out for your own use and more importantly for your use with client work. All reports are can be customized and can be branded as well.
They have a great user guide and the section on printable reports can be found here.
Local Search Engines
In addition to the Google Preview Tool (Enterprise Edition) which lets you define engines by location AWR allows you to check Google Maps and Yahoo Local for Rankings, which is a terrific feature if you are involved with local stuff. It comes preset with many of the larger cities in the US and capitals of foreign countries.
Here is where you add it (you can customize by long/lat but I just chose Pittsburgh here).
Then you go back to project settings and add it to your engines
Update the project, then check out the top sites report where you can right click on a listing and view it in the search results and view the local 10 pack right there, cool stuff!....
AWR comes with a downloadable and HTML version of their detailed user guide here.
AWR is a top notch rank checking product used by many of the members here at SeoBook and is even better when combined with Advanced Link Manager (which we'll cover in another post). It is one of the most feature-rich products on the market and does not attempt to upsell you at every corner either. For a full-featured product, it's at the top of my list.
The support is solid as well. They actively monitor their forums, have 2 phone numbers to call, and have a live chat feature for your convenience.
At the end of 12 months you'll have to purchase a maintenance plan which is really inexpensive when you consider what you get with the software.
It can be slow at times (due to human emulation settings and the overall feature set) if you are running large query sets and find your updates taking awhile some tips are to get a second machine to run the checks or rent a dedicated box somewhere for cheap dollars, remote in and run it like a remote desktop (a great tip shared by a member here).
Hope this will give you some insight into how useful AWR can be. They have many, many sorting settings as well (which are common to most reports) so you really can get a lot out of this tool if you understand most of the capabilities from the start. Their user guide can be a bit overwhelming so hopefully this will give you kind of a basic look on what it's core strengths are.
We updated rank checker this morning - sortable columns, faster code, works with the new Google SERPs, etc. If you are one of the dozens of people who filled out a support ticket and didn't get a reply...always check to see if updates are available before filling out a support ticket. And even then we probably don't need support tickets, because it rarely takes us more than a day to update our plug-ins as Google changes.
When I got to look at DIY SEO my first thought was: good structure & layout, lets see what is under the hood. But then after opening up the hood I found a car with no engine.
On a score of usability I would give the site a 9 or a 10, but in terms of utility it would be lucky to score as high as a 2 or a 3.
Google AdWords: The Cheapest SEM Strategy for Small & Local Businesses
Maybe there are some small businesses out there who are content being obscure, or who only want to rank for their own business name plus maybe 1 or 2 longtail keywords. But for those businesses I suggest bypassing SEO and buying a few Google AdWords ads.
Low traffic keywords are typically cheap to buy search ads on - because you only pay by the click. If few people are searching for something then there will be few clicks to buy.
Not only are such markets small, but due to their small size they are also heavily fragmented, making the AdWords traffic even cheaper.
If few people are searching for your brand then you can likely spend $25 a month on AdWords and ignore learning SEO.
A Legitimate SEO Strategy Requires Investment
With a paid search campaign, you can use Google AdWords to instantly buy search traffic and gain new customers. SEO is a drawn out strategy & typically requires a much deeper initial investment.
There is little value in investing in SEO unless your goal is to dominate your market, and there is sufficient market scale to justify investing thousands of Dollars (and far more when you consider the value of your time). After all, a single link from Business.com or the Yahoo! Directory will run you $299, and 2 links hardly makes for an effective SEO strategy - but they will set you back $600 a year.
And you don't get those links any cheaper just because your business is small. ;)
Why Does DIY SEO Offer Such a Weak SEO Solution?
When looking at DIY SEO it took me a while to think it through, because I kept thinking "something is missing." Why did they raise funding to build THAT? But then I thought it through. DIY SEO was designed by marketers looking to sell something that would be easy to sell at scale - it was not created out of passion to solve a real problem with the desire to help make a difference in people's lives.
The difference is not subtle.
After all, Andy is the guy who had time to build out hundreds of thin affiliate sites, while being too lazy (and lacking the concern needed) to fix his SEO blog for months while it installed malware on anyone who visited his site. That blog had the tagline Livin' the dream, but that is for him though...you can live with malware. He doesn't care.
Could you imagine a reputable SEO site like Search Engine Land, SEO Book, SEOmoz, or Search Engine Journal delivering malware for months without any care or concern? I can't.
SEO Consulting is Expensive
SEO is both time consuming and expensive. Neither Andy or Patrick offer consulting services because they value their time too much to actually dig into client websites and provide useful, relevant, honest, and effective feedback. Patrick states this on his blog
And as Andy's site states: he no longer sells consulting, and he does not want you to email him
DIY SEO was designed as a high margin automated solution which is so automated that it wouldn't require much feedback or interaction with customers.
But there is one big problem with that strategy...
SEO is *NOT* a Mechanical Process
For anyone looking to seriously compete on the web the DIY SEO tool/system is inadequate, and potentially even harmful. Why?
In SEO, a lot of the potential profit comes from knowing your market well, leveraging new technologies & distribution channels to gain market share, and putting a new spin on old marketing ideas. But they tried to make SEO too black and white...far too mechanical. Anywhere where critical thought & analysis can add value to your SEO strategy, you can count on none of it being done with DIY SEO, just some predetermined path which doesn't really account for everything that makes your business and your market unique.
In an age where the algorithms keep advancing faster and subjective things like branding start playing a role in the search results, mechanical doesn't cut it.
DIY SEO is too prescriptive and limited in nature, and it is a backward looking product. What the phrase "for the rest of us" actually means is "good enough to rank on page 5 of the search results, where you will get virtually no search traffic and make no money."
Paint by Number SEO: An SEO Failure Case Study
Google doesn't always respond to marketing efforts in a predictable way. Consider what happened when Patrick purchased SearchEngineOptimization.net for over $60,000.
At the end of last year he tried to do a 301 redirect to get it to rank, but when it didn't work he asked Matt Cutts about it:
Google's spam czar Matt Cutts never responded (of course), but Patrick ended up having to remove that redirect. Months later that $60,000+ domain name was a "coming soon" page.
And now that the redirect has been removed the original redirected site does not rank as well as it did in the past. So that was certainly a lose / lose scenario.
He would have been better off donating that money to charity!
Advanced SEO? Or Simpleton SEO?
I don't want to share too many examples of how/why/where their program falls short, but to pick a rather glaring one...
Links are the backbone of an effective SEO strategy. Patrick Gavin built from scratch the #1 link broker on the web - Text Link Ads. A few years back he sold that company for over $30 million. Since then links have only increased in importance while becoming harder to get, but if you check out the advice on links in DIY SEO (or at least when I recently checked it out), one of the "advanced" SEO tips was to ensure that you are not engaging in any link buying or selling.
The advanced tips were not sharing safe & effective link buying techniques. Nope.
The advice was to ensure you were not engaging in link buying or selling.
And, of course, on their own websites they don't follow their own advice.
What Do Effective SEO Campaigns Consist of?
I have no desire to out any of their specific websites (hey I have some crappy ones too), but when you look at the EFFECTIVE strategies that you see Andy and Patrick use in their own publishing efforts, at a minimum they contain strategies like:
buying old websites
buying strong domain names
selectively buying links
providing a bit of grease to certain About.com guides for coverage of new 1 page sites
nepotistically cross linking sites
launching top 100 linkbait lists about trending popular topics
building social media accounts to promote those lists
buying out some blogs to further seed giving legitimate looking coverage to those lists
launching egobait lists of topics like the top 100 ambidextrous hermaphrodite bloggers (complete with running an automated email script to alert people of the "award" they have won, with some people winning multiple awards in the same day - congrats again Nancy P. from Texas on your multiple meaningless awards + thanks for the links...your email address is now in the database, and you will win many more awards as they build out their portfolio of websites!!!!)
... all the clever bits of marketing that go into REAL SEO campaigns that compete on the competitive commercial web ... well that stuff is NOT part of the DIY SEO program.
And it likely won't EVER be, because it isn't paint by number.
We recently reviewed a bunch of competitive research tools, and in that spirit I thought it would be a good idea to review Alexa. It is not that Alexa is the #1 service available, but they do provide one of the better services while being free. Every few years it seems they fall behind and become a bit of a relic, and then every few years they catch up.
Recently when using Alexa I saw they added a good number of features, so I thought it would be worth doing a run down.
What Alexa is most popular for - their traffic rank, is popular because it has been around for a long time and is well referenced. I don't consider it to be a high value tool in terms of accuracy though. I think all these traffic estimation tools have a big margin for error, and its easy to read too much into the base/core number. Having mentioned that, you can try to use traffic data from Alexa, Google Website Trends / DoubleClick Ad Planner, Compete.com, and Quantcast to try to see how well they agree in terms of the traffic volume of a site or the relative volume between multiple sites in the same vertical.
In spite of my lack of faith in the Alexa rank numbers some people do put weight on it. Some investors use it. And when Markus Friend was launching PlentyOfFish he redirected Alexa users away from his site to stay below radar until his site was strong.
Pageviews Per Visit
This is a good hint at how compelling people find a particular website. Sites which are driven by arbitrage efforts typically are not very engaging, hoping to either sell something right away or get people off the site. They also offer a time on site feature which you can use to compare how sticky sites are.
This is basically a flip of the above...people who see 1 page and then are gone. You can see in the yellow area where we tested using a pop up. While the pop up did get more people to register on our site, we dropped the pop up because it was somewhat inconsistent with the rest of our marketing (our core audience of customers tends to tilt torward the expert end) and the types of people who were receptive to pop ups were not as good of a longterm fit for our site as customers.
Downstream Traffic Sources
Who are they sending traffic to? Where do their visitors go after leaving the site?
Upstream Traffic Sources
Who is sending them traffic? In many ways this can be unsurprising, but certain sites end up being more or less dependent on social media due to certain things like if they appeal to younger or older customers, what they are doing offline, if they are producing linkbait relevant to a specific audience which is heavily integrated into social media.
This can also help you locate some advertising locations, figure out how reliant they are on search, and help you see which sites in the vertical they are closely aligned with. DoubleClick Ad Planner also has a pretty awesome traffic affinity feature.
Search Traffic Percent
This shows the percentage of their traffic which comes from search engines. If it is abnormally high, that might mean the site has a search-heavy focus and needs some thickening out in terms of community participation and developing other traffic streams. If it is abnormally low, and you have similar link profiles to other sites that are higher, then it might mean that you are missing some important keywords that you should target. This is where digging in for more data with a tool like SEM Rush or Compete.com shines.
Do they have a membership area to their site? If they host it on a subdomain you can see how active they are. Having anywhere near 5% or 10% of your traffic in the private member's area is quite good if you have a well connected high traffic website. You can also see that our tools subdomain is a quite popular section of our site.
Top Search Queries
You can use this to find some of the most important keywords for a competing site. If some of your best keywords are being revealed it might make sense to publish some filler content on a popular topic that is hard to monetize so that it better shields some of your best keywords from free public viewing.
If you install the Alexa toolbar they will also show you a bit more query data and list some opportunities for that site on the paid search front.
You can see what countries a particular site is popular in.
And you can get more detailed demographic data on a per site basis.
Many sites within the same field will have fairly similar demographic targets, but even things like at work vs at home can indicate if the site is primarily targeting independent types or corporate types. When compared against the above, notice how (generally) SeoMoz has a fairly similar audience composition:
They skew a bit younger (I think sometimes my cynical nature turns off some young pople), a bit more college educated (they go to like 10x as many SEO conferences as I do), and we are perhaps a bit more popular with self employed people. And then for Search Engine Land you can see that they have a similar profile to SEO Moz, but with even more people at work and more college educated people.
And then you have sites which are extreme demographic outliers. Ever wonder who the customers are for those websites primarily marketed through hyped up email launch sequences by affiliates?
Well throw some of those sites into Alexa, and you will find that for many of those sites it appears the target market is: old desperate and gullible men from the US who failed at life, still don't have a good b/s meter, and want to believe there is a silver bullet they can use now to automatically generate wealth. They can't, of course, but there is a crew that will sell them that story and get rich by working over the remaining crumbs in their retirement accounts.
I am betting that part of why our age distribution is a bit more flat than most other SEO sites is because we offer free tools which are recommended to some of the audiences that buy the launch product stuff (or, that is my theory, based on some of them left their member's areas not password protected and sent a bunch of traffic at our site).
How do your demographic profiles compare to other sites in your space? Have you checked out all the features Alexa has added? What do you think of them?
My buddies from Conversion Rate Experts have put together a review site for multivariate software called Which Multivariate. Surprisingly old school in the modern affiliate link filled web, they have made the site vendor neutral and are not planning on ever taking affiliate commissions in an attempt to gather honest reviews. Check it out. Its worth a look!