Why Rank Checking is Still Useful

rank-tracking-matters

There's not a complex mathematical formula that is needed for one to understand the basic math associated with SEO. It boils down to something like:

Traffic + Conversions = $

That's a pretty easy way of looking at it, and it sort of ignores some of the variables that might go into it like:

  • targeted traffic
  • no so targeted traffic
  • conversion rate
  • volume

However, the basis of profiting via SEO mainly involves getting traffic to your website and converting (or monetizing) that traffic by whatever conversion (or monetization) methods you happen to be using on your website.

There are many means you can factor into the end game of an SEO campaign but at its most basic form it is about getting traffic and monetizing that traffic.

A Small-Minded Approach

The school of thought which postulates that ranking reports or ranking data is either essentially dead, useless, or pointless generally is a small-minded approach with respect to the various ways you can use ranking data and over-dramatizes the effect of changing search results from searcher to searcher. Small-minded simply because you can use ranking reports for more than just blindly monitoring keywords.

If the argument is that you should focus more on conversions than ranking in terms of straight revenue then I can buy that, to a degree, but the problem remains that you can't convert if you don't have traffic and you can't have traffic from search engines unless you rank highly for your keywords.

perplexed-businessman

If the argument is that you shouldn't care because of personalized search, or local search, or different data center results then I would say that you are overstating the adoption and the effect. Sure, there could be a map or products or images in your search results (or tweets or news results) but I believe the idea that search results are so radically different from person to person, so different as to render ranking reports irrelevant, is quite overstated and inaccurate (from reports I've been running over time). All search results start from some starting point!

Knowing where you generally rank matters, watching the trend of your rankings in conjunction with your SEO tactics matters, and watching the evolution (up and down) of competing websites matters. To simply watch analytics data leaves so many opportunities on the table if we stipulate that ranking reports are a waste of time or mostly unimportant. When major algorithm updates or penalties happen, one of the quickest ways to help analyze what happened is to track your rankings before and after for a variety of keywords. That will help you determine things like:

  • is the issue sitewide?
  • is the issue related to a singular keyword?
  • is the issue related to a group of closely related keywords?
  • is the issue primarily impacting your most competitive keywords?
  • is the issue related to a particular market?

Pattern matching is key to learning how algorithms work. Sure some of this type of data may be available in your web analytics, but rather than having to hunt and probe for it, rank checking allows you to quickly get a baseline idea of where the problem may be.

Trends & Measurable Effects

Suppose you are interested in finding out whether certain SEO tactics are working or not working for a particular site. By watching your ranking trends over a period of time, parallel to your tactic testing, you can gauge whether or not those particular tactics are working.

Perhaps you've targeted a keyword which doesn't really have as much volume as you thought it did or what the keyword tools told you it did. If you ignore ranking reports then you are removing a key step in figuring out whether the word is viable or not, rather than looking at your analytics and guessing that it is viable or not based on traffic. Maybe you are ranking #4 for that term but the order goes:

  • competitor.com
  • competitor.net
  • competitor.org
  • yoursite.com

Chikita reported (based on 8+ million impressions on their network) the following percentages of search traffic distribution by rank (roughly a year or so ago):

Traffic-by-Google-Result

Chikita's chart shows that position 2 roughly in the 15-20% traffic range with position 4 around 5% and position 1 around 35%

Here's the leaked AOL chart from a few years ago, discussing the same topic:

traffic-by-rank

AOL's data shows position 1 at 42%, position 2 at 11%, and position 4 at 6%.

So if you were running monthly ranking reports you could reasonably make the assumption that by increasing your rank +3 you might expect north of 25% in terms of increased traffic. If the sites were reversed and you were getting little traffic, it would be easy to see that this keyword is probably not worth continuing to spend resources on since you are ranking #1 and still getting little traffic.

In either the case of potential opportunity or no opportunity ranking reports would work nicely with your traffic reports to help you make reasonable adjustments to your SEO campaign. If you skipped the reports totally, you are kind of flying blind or more blindly than you need to be .

Sales & Marketing Tools

Everything in SEO comes down to balancing risk vs rewards. It is easy to show a short term boost while leveraging up on risk, but showing sustained performance is much harder. Snake oil salesmen *always* have a smooth sales pitch (along with ranking reports for search engines nobody uses, and some go so far as faking traffic to websites using click bots). The more lenses you can provide your clients of value delivered the more you differentiate from those who are playing games of deception.

A client may view an SEO as incompetent simply because Google changes the rules of the game mid-stream. From month to month search can change in ways that seem both uncontrollable and unpredictable. Nothing kills sales like the words "I don't know." The more answers you can deliver the more confidence clients will have in maintaining & growing their investment in search, even if things are a bit unstable in the short run.

Ranking reports are further evidence of proof-of-value delivered. They help take something fuzzy and make it feel more concrete, helping you show the client not only that you are pushing to build relevant traffic, and serving as a baseline to help clients see how they are doing. If the client knows they are at #3 with a $5,000 monthly budget they can easily see the value of increasing the budget to $10,000 to boost their ranking to #1.

Take it One Step Further With Analytics

Let's say you are starting to see all these keyword variations in your analytics for a core term you are targeting. Here's where you can (again) use analytics and ranking reports together:

  • export keywords you are seeing traffic from
  • run them through an on-demand rank checker like our free rank checker or paid solutions like Advanced Web Ranking or Rank Tracker
  • dump the keywords, current rank, and keyword volume data into an Excel spreadsheet (maybe even monkey around with entering a column for potential increase and traffc)
  • add new keywords to target in your SEO campaign

Sugarrae highlighted this tactic earlier this year during an interview with Raven SEO Tools.

The ranking tools mentioned also offer ongoing rank reporting as do the tools from Raven, SeoMoz, and Authority Labs (incidentally, Raven will be using Authority Labs's API for ranking data in the near future as mentioned in the Raven link above).

Now you've got a bunch of new keywords you are already getting some traffic from, along with some predictions on what the potential increase in traffic (and conversions if you have that data from your analytics) might be.

Factoring in Universal & Local Search

Advanced Web Ranking has some interesting features which let you change up the location so you can better track those kinds of results. Google continues to take up SERP real estate so sometimes you run in to situations where you might be ranking #2 for a core keyword but given maps, news, images, and products you could be "ranking" as low as 6 given the SERP layout.

This is another situation where you can use your ranking reports and analytics together to get the most out of an SEO campaign. Perhaps you are not getting traffic, or as much as you though given your research, but you are ranking #2 according to your reports. Using ranking reports and traffic numbers together can help you determine whether to continue pursuing that keyword or maybe use some different strategies (PPC, trying to get into the "universal" search results, etc) to win back the traffic you've lost to universal search.

It's the same premise with local. Can you reasonable expect to rank in whatever position(s) are above the map? Can you get into the map? Is PPC viable for your campaign? Rarely is it useful to go off of one data point. This is another example of how to you use multiple data points together, to more appropriately manage your or your client's SEO campaign.

It's Against Google's Guidelines!

google-scolding

This is absurd in my opinion, more so when it's stated by folks who sell SEO services. If you offer SEO services (which ironically promote the idea of increased rankings and visibility) and those services encompass "Link Building" then the "Google Guideline" stance is hypocritical.

In all fairness, I happen to think that the broad way Google encompasses link schemes is equally absurd (links intended to manipulate PageRank and such). Even Google recognizes the value in ranking data and they have incorporated it into Webmaster Tools.

Not a Singular Solution for Success

Ranking reports shouldn't be used as a single source of success, at all. Simply ranking for a term is not something one should be shooting for unless you are just doing some kind of testing run on tactics.

There is value in running ranking reports and using them in conjunction with your analytics, keyword research, and SEO planning. They are also useful to watch growth patterns of competitors and keyword trends over time for a particular market you might be interested in.

In today's SEO game you can never have enough useful data :)

Majestic SEO Fresh Index

Majestic SEO has long had great link data, but their biggest issue has been usability. They sorta built with the approach of "let's give them everything" as a default, and then allowed advanced filtering to be done over the top to generate custom reports.

For advanced users this type of set up is ideal, because you are able to slice and dice it in many ways on your own terms. It allows you to spot nepotistic networks, pinpoint strategies quickly, and generally just give you a good look at what is going on in ways that wouldn't be able to do if you couldn't get all the data in a table. There are so many valuable edge case uses that can't practically be put in a single interface while keeping usability high for the average use.

But for people newer to the SEO game & those looking for a quick source of data the level of options can be a bit overwhelming when compared against something like Open Site Explorer. A parallel analogy would be that when I want to spot check rankings real quick I rely on our rank checker, but if you want to have a variety of in-depth historical views then something like Advanced Web Ranking can be a quite helpful tool.

In an attempt to improve the "at a glance" style functionality Majestic SEO announced their new site explorer, which puts more data at your fingertips without requiring you to open up an Excel spreadsheet:

How much can you use the Majestic Site Explorer?
The system is designed for silver users and above. Silver subscribers can query upto 10 different domains an HOUR. Gold subscribers can query upto 30 different domains an hour and Platinum subscribers can query upto 100 different domains an hour. All levels are subject to fair use terms.

These allow you to view data on a sitewide basis, at the subdomain level, or drill down to individual pages.

Here is an example of a site level report

and if you wanted data down to the URL level, here is an overview of a top few links (note that the report goes on for numerous pages with data)

This update helped Majestic SEO close the gap a bit with Open Site Explorer, but a couple more things they may want to consider doing are

  • adding result crowding / limit results to x per domain
  • allowing you to filter out internal link data

Those features are available via their advanced reports, but making it easier to do some of that stuff in the "at a glance" interface would allow Majestic SEO to provide as a best in breed solution for both the "at a glance" function and the "in-depth deep research" options.

Majestic SEO also announced their new fresh index, which allows you to view fresh link data as recently as within the past day. It doesn't require waiting for a monthly update or such, but offers link data right away. To help spread the word & give everyone a chance to see some of the new features they gave us free discount voucher codes to give out to get a 20% discount on your first month at any level.

If you have any questions about how Majestic SEO works you can sign up & register your own site, which allows you to access many of their features free. As a comparison SEOmoz (which offers Open Site Explorer) is also running a free 1-month trial right now.

Quick & Dirty Competitive Research for Keywords

There are so many competitive research tools on the market. We reviewed some of the larger ones here but there are quite a few more on the market today.

The truth is that you can really get a lot of good, usable data to give you an idea of what the competition is likely to be by using free tools or the free version of paid tools.

Some of the competitive research tools out there (the paid ones) really are useful if you are going to scale way up with some of your SEO or PPC plans but many of the paid versions are overkill for a lot of webmasters.

Choosing Your Tools

Most tools come with the promises of “UNCOVERING YOUR COMPETITORS BEST _____".

That blank can be links, keywords, traffic sources, and so on. As we know, most competitive research tools are rough estimates at best and almost useless estimates at worst. Unless you get your hands on your competition’s analytics reports, you are still kind of best-guessing. In this example we are looking for the competitiveness of a core keyword.

Best-guessing really isn’t a bad thing so long as you realize that what you are doing is really triangulating data points and looking for patterns across different tools. Keep in mind many tools use Google’s data so you’ll want to try to reach beyond Google’s data points a bit and hit up places like:

The lure of competitive research is to get it done quickly and accurately. However, gauging the competition of a keyword or market can’t really be done with a push of the button as there are factors that come into play which a push-button tool cannot account for, such as:

  • how hard is the market to link build for?
  • is the vertical dominated by brands and thick EMD’s?
  • what is your available capital?
  • are the ranking sites knowledgeable about SEO or are they mostly ranking on brand authority/domain authority? (how tight is their site structure, how targeted is their content, etc)
  • is Google giving the competing sites a brand boost?
  • is Google integrating products, images, videos, local results, etc?

Other questions might be stuff like "how is Google Instant skewing this keyword marketplace" or "is Google firing a vertical search engine for these results (like local" or "is Google placing 3 AdWords ads at the top of the search results" or "is Google making inroads into the market" like they are with mortgage rates.

People don't search in an abstract mathematical world, but by using their fingers and eyes. Looking at the search results matters. Quite a bit of variables come into play which require some human intuition and common sense. A research tool is only as good as the person using it, you have to know what you are looking at & what to be aware of.

Getting the Job Done

In this example I decided to use the following tools:

Yep, just 2 free tools.... :)

So we are stipulating that you’ve already selected a keyword. In this case I picked a generic keyword for the purposes of going through how to use the tools. Plug your keyword into Google, flip on SEO for Firefox and off you go!

This is actually a good example of where a push button tool might bite the dust. You’ve got Related Search breadcrumbs at the top, Images in the #1 spot, Shopping in the #3 spot, and News (not pictured) in the #5 spot.

So wherever you thought you might rank, just move yourself down a 1-3 spots depending on where you would be in the SERPS. This can have a large effect on potential traffic and revenue so you’ll want to evaluate the SERP prior to jumping in.

You might decide that you need to shoot for 1 or 2 rather than top 3 or top 5 given all the other stuff Google is integrating into this results page. Or you might decide that the top spot is locked up and the #2 position is your only opportunity, making the risk to reward ratio much less appealing.

With SEO for Firefox you can quickly see important metrics like:

  • Yahoo! links to domain/page
  • domain age
  • Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO link data
  • presence in strong directories
  • potential, estimated traffic value from SEM Rush

Close up of SEO for Firefox data:

Basically by looking at the results page you can see what other pieces of universal search you’ll be competing with, whether the home page or a sub-page is ranking, and whether you are competing with brands and/or strong EMD’s.

With SEO for Firefox you’ll see all of the above plus the domain age, domain links, page links, listings in major directories, position in other search engines, and so on. This will give you a good idea of potential competitiveness of this keyword for free and in about 5 seconds.

It is typically better & easier to measure the few smaller sites that managed to rank rather than measuring the larger authoritative domains. Why? Well...

Checking Links

So now that you know how many links are pointing to that domain/page you’ll want to check how many unique domains are pointing in and what the anchor text looks like, in addition to what the quality of those links might be.

Due to its ease of use (in addition to the data being good) I like to use Open Site Explorer from SeoMoz in these cases of quick research. I will use their free service for this example, which requires no log in, and they are even more generous with data when you register for a free account.

The first thing I do is head over to the anchor text distribution of the site or page to see if the site/page is attracting links specific to the keyword I am researching:

What’s great here is you can see the top 5 instances of anchor text usage, how many total links are using that term, and how many unique domains are supplying those total links.

You can also see data relative to the potential quality of the entire link profile in addition to the ratio of total/unique domains linking in.

You probably won’t want or need to do this for every single keyword you decide to pursue. However, when looking at a new market, a potential core keyword, or if you are considering buying an exact match domain for a specific keyword you can accomplish a really good amount of competitive research on that keyword by using a couple free tools.

Types of Competitive Research

Competitive research is a broad term and can go in a bunch of different directions. As an example, when first entering a market you would likely start with some keyword research and move into analyzing the competition of those keywords before you decide to enter or fully enter the market.

As you move into bigger markets and start to do more enterprise-level competitive research specific to a domain, link profiles, or a broader market you might move into some paid tools.

Analysis paralysis is a major issue in SEO. Many times you might find that those enterprise-level tools really are overkill for what you might be trying to do initially. Gauging the competitiveness of a huge keyword or a lower volume keyword really doesn’t change based on the money you throw at a tool. The data is the data especially when you narrow down the research to a keyword, keywords, or domains.

Get the Data, Make a Decision

So with the tools we used here you are getting many of the key data points you need to decide whether pursuing the keyword or keywords you have chosen is right for you.

Some things the tools cannot tell you are questions we talked about before:

  • how much captial can you allocate to the project?
  • how hard are you willing to work?
  • do you have a network of contacts you can lean on for advice and assistance?
  • do you have enough patience to see the project through, especially if ranking will take a bit..can you wait on the revenue?
  • is creativity lacking in the market and can you fill that void or at least be better than what’s out there?

Only you can answer those questions :)

Increase Your Efficiency by Using Multiple Web Browsers

One of my favorite approaches to save time online is to use multiple web browsers for different purposes. It allows you to combine speed + reliability with also having quick access to tons of valuable tools & data.

Firefox

I set up Firefox fully loaded with bookmarks and extensions (all our free & premium ones, User Agent Switcher, Web Developer, Greasemonkey, Roboform, Colorzilla), but realize that as a result it will often be a bit slower & crash more frequently. That is ok because I don't use it as my primary web browser, but as my primary SEO research browser with all our SEO tools installed. Other extensions like Web Developer and Greasemonkey make it an obvious choice to use it as your fully loaded research browser.

Google Chrome

I run Google Chrome bare to the bone, with 0 extensions installed. One time I tried to install Roboform on it, but that slowed it down as well, so I got rid of that and keep it bare. The benefit of having a minimalistic browser is that it is quite stable & fast. In this way I can open up 20 tabs from our forums at any given time without worrying about it causing a crash. What is better is how good Google is at allowing you to restore tabs if things do crash. Chrome is my forums + email browser & my general purpose browser for anything I don't have to login to access & a few of the sites I am typically logged into (like this 1).

And while Firefox is my normal research & testing browser, Chrome also has a nice feature where you can highlight & right click to inspect an element. It tells you exactly what css file the property is in, and you can double click on it, adjust the size/color/etc within Chrome to see what it changes.

Internet Explorer

I also run IE9. It's purpose is to help give me a clean & pure localized view of search. It is set up to delete all cookies when it closes. I use it in conjunction with a VPN to compare how search results look in various parts of the world. It is another type of research, but it is not always-on the way that Firefox and Chrome are. Such a browser can also be handy for putting your computer in London for exclusive BBC content, or getting around other such geographic content-access limitations. I also have Roboform enabled on IE to allow me to log into client accounts easily if I want to ensure I keep those separate from my personal accounts.

Opera

I also have Opera installed & I use it for testing user permissions based issues. Some pages on our site here operate in a way that is far more sophisticated than they might look at a glance. Some pages may look different based on if you are not registered, logged in with a basic account, logged in with a premium account, or logged in as an administrator. When testing & tweaking that sort of stuff I can end up with 4 different browsers open. Over time after we get everything up and running I hope to improve further on this front, as we haven't done as much of the conditional permissions-based changes as I would like to do. But, first thing first, we need to get re-launched soon. ;)

And the final reason to have most modern browsers installed is to check out how your site looks in all of them. I would NEVER describe myself as a website design, but I am foolish enough to hack away at the CSS & HTML. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn't. :)

Safari

Having all browsers available (well all of them except Safari) makes it easy to see if something works or not. That said, tools like Adobe Browser Lab and Browser Shots are a nice compliment to this approach. And we have Safari on my laptop, so if the design looks good elsewhere then generally it is typically good to go in Safari, so I check it last. If you use Safari as your primary browser LastPass is good.

Link Exchange Request Emails

A lot of folks have been hammering away at sending out automated link exchange emails for Wordpress driven sites.

The hallmarks of many such efforts

  • URL with something cheesy like "partners" or "friends" or "roundtable"
  • automated emails without a name that mention a search engine ranking and (falsely) apologize for being sent multiple times
  • auto-generated content that is overly boastful & looks like it comes from one of those internet marketing review sites that has fake comment bots which say *everything* is the best thing since sliced bread / a genius in motion / a deity of your choice
  • Thumbshot previews
  • a bit of technical trickery

Nice bit of false empathy there. ;)

The technical trickery mentioned above is that if you visit the link they put in the email the linking post will appear *all over* the site that is "linking" to you. But if you open up a new browser from a different IP address and try to visit the parent category page before visiting the individual post page you will see that the post is only visible to a person who knows exactly where it is. So the people are not only mass automated email spammers, but they lie at hello as well (by deceiving folks into thinking there is an on-the-level exchange of some sort, while screwing them over with a page that is invisible to everyone but them).

The stuff is so out of hand that even new age doomer movies about 2012 are using it & are sending the emails to sites about SEO, offering sources of 'enlightenment.' :D

Clearly they are enlightened. ;)

Some tips & strategies:

  • The easiest way around such issues is to delete unsolicited commercial messages, especially if they are not personalized. But if you want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, then the best way to do so is check the source code of the page inside Google's cache. If the page isn't cached by Google then generally Google probably doesn't care much about it. (Yes there are exception to that, but the people who are sending unsolicited emails probably do not deserve too much benefit of the doubt.)
  • If you are out sending emails asking for links then it goes without saying that you don't want to look like the above folks (though I have received *far* worse emails from some SEO companies & PR folks). Automated tools can be dangerous things when in the hands of tools!

Google's Keyword Tools Keep Getting Better :)

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!

Linkdex Influence Finder Review

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.

Brand Report

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:

  • Anchor text
  • Page title
  • Folder name
  • Body copy
  • Page names

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
  • AWin Network
  • Affiliate Future Network
  • DGM 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 :) :

  • Checkmark
  • Black
  • White
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue

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:

  • Influence Index
  • Relevance Index
  • Achievability Index
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in internal link anchor text
  • Average Authority
  • Inlinks Count
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in H1 tag
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in Body
  • E-Commerce Site
  • 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:

  • Majestic SEO
  • 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).

Majestic SEO

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
  • Affordable pricing

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.

You can find out more at InfluenceFinder.Com.

Alexa Site Audit Review

Alexa Logo

Alexa, a free and well-known website information tool, recently released a paid service.

For $199 per site Alexa will audit your site (up to 10,000 pages) and return a variety of different on-page reports relating to your SEO efforts.

It has a few off-page data points but it focuses mostly on your on-page optimization.

Alexa Site Audit Review Homepage

You can access Alexa's Site Audit Report here:

http://www.alexa.com/siteaudit

Report Sections

Alexa's Site Audit Report breaks the information down into 6 different sections (some which have additional sub-sections as well)

  • Overview
  • Crawl Coverage
  • Reputation
  • Page Optimization
  • Keywords
  • Stats

The sections break down as follows:

Site Audit sections and subsections

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.

Overview

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.

Alexa Site Audit Overview

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.

Alexa Site Audit Overview

Crawl Coverage

This measures the "crawl-ability" of the site, internal links, your robots.txt file, as well as any redirects or server errors.

Reachability

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.

Alexa Site Audit Reachability Report

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.

Alexa Site Audit Reachability Report Download Links

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.

On-Site Links

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:

Onsite Links Alexa Site Audit

You can also click the link to the right to expand and see the top ten pages that link to that page:

Expanded Onsite Links Report

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.

Robots.txt

Here you'll see if you've restricted access to these search engine crawlers:

  • ia_archiver (Alexa)
  • googlebot (Google)
  • teoma (Ask)
  • msnbot (Bing
  • slurp (Yahoo)
  • baiduspider (Baidu)

Site Audit Robots.Txt

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.

Redirects

We all know what happens when redirects go bad on a mid-large sized site :)

Redirects Gone Bad

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.

Redirect Report Alexa Site Audit

Server Errors

This section of the report will show you any pages which have server errors.

Alexa Site Audit Server Errors

Making sure your server is handling errors correctly (such as a 404) is certainly worthy of your attention.

Reputation

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:

Alexa Reputation

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.

Alexa Site Audit Link Chart

The Related Sites area is located below the chart:

Related Sites Link Module Alexa Audit

Followed by the Top Ranked sites linking to your site:

Alexa Site Audit Top Ranked Sites

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.

Page Optimization

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.

Link Text

The Link Text report shows a break down of your internal anchor text:

Link Text Report Alexa

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):

Link Expansion Site Audit Report

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.

Broken Links

Checks broken links (internal and external) and groups them by page, which is an expandable option similar to the other reports:

Alexa Broken Links Report

Xenu is more comprehensive as a standalone tool for this kind of report (and for some of their other link reports as well).

Duplicate Content

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

Alexa Duplicate Content Overview

Here is how they group items together:

Alexa Duplicate Content Grouped Links

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!

Alexa Site Audit Duplicate Meta Descriptions

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:

Alexa Site Audit Duplicate Title Tags

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:

Alexa Site Audit Low Word Count

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:

  • Linkable
  • Textually relevant for your core and related keywords
  • Readable for humans

Image Descriptions

Continuing on with the "every little bit helps" mantra, you can see pages that have images with missing ALT attributes:

Alexa Site Audit ALT Attribute Overview

Alexa groups the images on per page, so just click the link to the right to expand the list:

Alexa Site Audit ALT Attribute Groupings

Like meta descriptions, this is not a mega-important item as a standalone metric but it helps a bit and helps with image search.

Session IDs

This report will show you any issues your site is having due to the use of session id's.

Alexa Site Audit Session ID

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)

Heading Recommendations

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:

Automated Headings Alexa

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.

Keywords

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:

Alexa Site Audit 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".

Link Recommendations

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:

Alexa Site Audit Link Recommendations

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:

Alexa Site Audit Link Recommendations Target

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.

Stats

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

Report Stats

An overview of crawl statistics:

Alexa Site Audit Report Stats

Crawler Errors

This is where Alexa would show what errors, if any, they encountered when crawling the site

Alexa Site Audit Crawl Errors

Unique Hosts Crawled

A report showing which sites you are linking to (as well as your own domain/subdomains)

Alexa Site Audit Unique Hosts

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.

Raven SEO Tools Review

Raven SEO Logo.

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

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":

Site Finder Start page

Here are the results returned for my query on auto insurance quotes:

Site Finder Results

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
  • Site Finder Settings

  • 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
  • Site Finder Domain Options

  • 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.

Backlink Explorer

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:

Backlink Explorer Start Page

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:

Backlink Explorer History

Continuing on with the auto insurance theme, I ran a quick report on GEICO:

Backlink Explorer Results

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.

Link Management

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:

Raven SEO Toolbar

When you are researching link partners, simply click that Add Link button and you are presented with this screen:

Raven SEO Toolbar Add a Link

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.

Raven Link Manager Import Links

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):

  1. Status
  2. Link Type
  3. Link Text
  4. Link URL
  5. Website Name
  6. Website URL
  7. Website Type
  8. PR
  9. Contact Name
  10. Contact Email
  11. Contact ID
  12. Cost Type
  13. Cost
  14. Payment Method
  15. Payment Reference
  16. Start Date
  17. End Date
  18. Creation Date
  19. Comment
  20. Owner Name

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:

  • PageRank changes
  • 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).

Facebook

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.

Raven Facebook Entry Page

In addition to the deep reporting Raven gives you from within Facebook you can now integrate with Google Analytics from within Raven.

Facebook and Google Analytics with 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.

Twitter

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.

Twitter Entry Page Raven

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.

Twitter Tweet Posting Raven

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:

  • Posts
  • Followers
  • Friends
  • Friend to Follower Ratio
  • Mentions
  • 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:

Twitter Insight Metrics Ravenf

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:

Raven Timeline Image Twitter

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.

You can also access this via Raven's slick iPhone/iPad app

Campaign Reporting

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:

Campaign Reporting Image

You can quickly create white-labeled, customized reports for the following modules within Raven:

  • Link Building
  • Twitter
  • Rankings
  • Facebook
  • Keyword Research
  • Competitor Research
  • 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)
  • Google Analytics

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.

Brand Templates

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:

Name Brand Template

Assign it to a website, a profile or an account:

Brand Template Assignment

Pick a custom logo or text header:

Customize Header

Customize the colors and the footer text

Color and Footer Customization

Customize the appearance of your ranking results (keyword and rank alignment, numbers/+/-/arrows)

Custom Ranking Result Display

Report Templates

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:

Order Report Template

To give you an idea of how deep your customization and reporting options are, here is that left bar fully extended:

Custom Ranking Result Display

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:

Expanded Reporting Options

Once you add more than one, you can collapse them and reorder them in a drag and drop fashion:

Report Order Customization

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.

Scheduling Options

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.

Additional Features

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 Analytics Integration - tie in your Google Analytics account for easy viewing and slick reporting.
  • Social Media - in addition to Facebook and Twitter Raven also offers brand/keyword monitoring services, integration with KnowEm and Omgili.
  • Website Directory - records of all the websites used in your campaign with filtering options to sort out different site and link types.
  • iPhone and iPad apps

Give Raven a Try

Raven's integration is slick and powerful:

  • 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.

Pricing and Free Trial Info

Keyword List Comparison Tool

This video is a review of one of our online SEO tools - the keyword list comparison tool, which makes it easy to compare up to 10 keyword lists against each other. This can be used to help determine the quality of keyword data sources, to pool data into a handy unified list, or to help understand the overlap in keyword strategy from competing sites when using competitive research tools.

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