What's In Your SEO Toolbox?

The SEO tool space is a pretty crowded one (and growing one!). Tools are helpful, there is no doubt about that. However, tools are generally only as good as the person using them. We'd love to know what tools you use and why, so please let us know in the comments after the post :)

I am not "house" handy by any means, I can barely hang a picture frame straight. So if you gave me the best construction tools in the world I'd still make extra holes and screw something up.

Even if I managed to get the picture hung correctly, it certainly would not look professional.

You can buy as many guides, tools, and accessories as you like but in the end it is your skill that determines the success or failure of a project (building a deck or building a website). Skills can be harnessed, but tools do not overcome a lack of skill.

SEO Tool Fatigue

SEO tool fatigue is a real issue for some folks. Some people spend a good chunk of their productivity on testing or trying out new tools, or even using so many tools that their implementation and interpretation of data suffers a great deal. One tool says this, another says that, and yet another says 1 or the other or both or neither :) .

The first thing to realize is that most of the data from tools (excluding analytics and such) are basically estimates of estimated data, or are directly from Google's various estimation-type tools (Keyword Tool, Trends, Insights, and so on), or driven off what the tool builder thinks are important or reliable metrics to build your research off of (there tends to be some swings and misses with that type of approach).

You are not going to fail miserably if you decide not to do days and days and days of keyword research with multiple tools and then spending more days comparing different datasets. Research is important, but there is a limit.

Picking a Core Set of Tools

From a cost and time standpoint I've found it really helpful to pick a core set of tools and stick with them rather than bouncing around to get an extra feature or two.

It's good to peek around from time to time but using mostly similar tools can lead to a "needle in the haystack" approach; where you spend most of your time digging a time-suck hole rather than building websites and adjusting strategies based on analytics and/or AdWords data.

Again, research is important but there is a sweet spot and it's a good idea to get some kind of system down so you can focus on doing "enough" research without doing harm to the time it takes you to get sites up and running.

Evaluating Tools

I'm going to highlight some of the tools I've used below, most of which are considered to be market leaders. I'll point out why I use certain tools, why I don't use others (yet) and I encourage anyone who's dealing with tool overload to do the same for the tools you use.

The areas I'll be focusing on are:

  • Keyword Research
  • On Page Criteria
  • Rank Checkers
  • Competitive Link Research Tools
  • Link Monitoring

Keyword Research

There are many keyword research tools that pull data from the sources listed below (like our free keyword research tool, which pulls from Wordtracker).

These tools use their own databases (although in Wordtracker you can ping Google's tool as well).

I use all the Google tools as well as Ad Intelligence and Wordtracker as well as the SeoBook Keyword Tool. Sometimes I use Wordtracker just via our keyword research tool and sometimes I use Wordtracker's web interface (I like being able to store stuff in there).

Our keyword tool also links in to most of the sources listed above. A big reason why I like our keyword research tool is that it's super easy to hit the major data points I want to hit on a particular keyword from one location.

Ad Intelligence is solid as (Microsoft claims) they incorporate actual search data into their results, rather than estimating like Google does.

I should also note that I mainly use Trends and Insights for comparing similar keywords and looking at locality (in addition to the history of keywords). Sometimes you run across really similar keywords (car, auto) and it can help to know which one is most relevant to your campaign.

On-Page Optimization

For the on page stuff I'm mainly concerned with large scale, high level overviews.

I use our toolbar for specific on-page stuff but when I'm looking to diagnose internal linking problems (not maximizing internal link flow, broken links, http status codes, and so on) or issues with title tags and meta descriptions either missing, being too short, or too long, or duplication then I use a couple different tools.

Since I'm on a Mac and I don't care to run Windows for anything other than testing, I use the three listed which work on Mac (though I don't use them in every situation).

I use Screaming Frog's SEO Spider pretty frequently as well as Peacock's Integrity. Integrity is a broken link checker while SEO Spider incorporates other SEO related features (title tags, H1/H2's, anchor text, and a ton of other important elements).

WebSite Auditor offers most, if not all, of what SEO Spider does but also incorporates white-label reporting, Google Page Rank, Yahoo! & Google Link popularity, cache dates, and so on.

For some of those features in Website Auditor you might want to either outsource the Captcha inputting or use their Anti-Captcha service so you don't have to sit there for hours entering in captcha's.

In my regular workflow, SEO Spider and Integrity get used a lot and Website Auditor comes in to play for some of those other metrics and for white label reporting.

Rank Checking

Here's a crowded space! So I think the right choice here really depends on your needs. Are you a solo SEO who runs multiple sites, or maybe you run your own sites and client sites, or maybe you are a client-only shop.

Here are some of the main players in this space:

Even if you have reporting needs, you can still do a lot for free with our free rank checking tool (scheduled reports, stored reports, multiple search engines, and so on) and Excel or another spreadsheet program like OpenOffice.Org or Google Docs. Some good tips on creating ranking charts with Excel can be found here.

There are a couple differences with the software players, Advanced Web Ranking and Link Assistant's Rank Tracker (both have multiple levels so it's wise to check the features of both to see if you need the higher end version or if the lower priced versions will work for you). Some of the key differences are:

  • Rank Tracker integrates with Google Analytics
  • Advanced Web Ranking has a variety of ways to track local rankings, including maps and a local preview engine
  • Advanced Web Ranking has more, easier to customize reporting options
  • I find that the interface with Rank Tracker is much easier to work with
  • If all you are looking for is rank checking, then Link Assistant is a bit cheaper overall (comparing enterprise versions of both). While noting, AWR has more local options at their higher price point. You can see AWR's pricing here and Link Assistant's here. Note, it's worthwhile to check out maintenance pricing as well (Link Assistant and AWR)
  • AWR let's you assign a proxy per project, which can be really helpful if you have clients all over the map.
  • AWR automatically pulls in the top ten sites for a keyword, and their last position compared to current, and let's you add that site to your tracking (at any point) with all the historical data saved and updated within your account.

One tip with software tools is to run them on a different machine, perhaps even behind an IP off of a private VPN service like WiTopia, and think about utilizing multiple proxies from a service like Trusted Proxies and/or using an anti-captcha service with Link Assistant's tools.

The idea is to not get your IP banned and to let you continue to work as normal on your main machine while another machine is handling the automated queries. If you don't want to fuss with that, you might want to try a cloud app.

The Cloud and Scalability

The 3 main services, that I've used anyway, come from Raven, SeoMoz, and Authority Labs. Authority Labs now powers Raven's SERP tracker too. My biggest concern with cloud-based rank checkers is that the keyword volume can be (understandably) limited. Now, Authority Labs has unlimited checking at 450/month but the other two have limits.

Let's just look at the highest plans for a second, Moz allows 30 campaigns and a total of 3,500 keywords. Raven's highest plan allows for unlimited domains and 2,500 keywords total (and 200 competitors).

If scalability is a concern for you then you might be better off with software solutions. Once you start running multiple sites or are responsible for reporting on multiple sites (and you are working the long tail and your analytics) then you can see how restrictive this could become.

Of course, comparing just the rank checking options of a tool set like Raven and Moz (which both have other useful tools, Raven more so for full on campaign management) doesn't do the pricing justice. So what you could do is still use the many other tools available from each company and use a software solution once your rank checking scales beyond what they offer.

Both Moz and Raven integrate with Google Analytics, and Raven's campaign integration with GA is quite nice too (beyond just rankings).

Link Research

Free tools like Yahoo!'s Site Explorer, search query tools like Solo SEO's link search tool and Blekko's link data are nice but at some point in your SEO career you'll might have to get on board with a more advanced link research tool or tools to get the data you need to compete in competitive SERPS.

A good chunk of software-based solutions pull link data from search engines but if you want a more, way more, comprehensive view of a competing site's link profile (and link history) you do have a few options.

Majestic was originally known for having a much deeper database, with the caveat that they keep a lot of decayed links, and their UI wasn't overly impressive. Well, as noted in a recent blog post (which includes 20% off coupons) on Majestic's new tools, most of that isn't the case anymore. Though, I still feel Open Site Explorer has a better and smoother UI.

Advanced Link Manager's strength lies in their ongoing link management and reporting but they also have some decent link research tools built in and they can connect to SeoMoz's API to gather link data, so that kind of sets them apart from those other software-based solutions.

Again, Moz offers other tools as well so it's hard to really compare price points. What I like about OSE is that you can get a really solid, quick overview of the anchor text profile of a competing site. Also, you get unlimited look ups and up to 10k links per query on their pro plan (in addition to other Moz tools). You can get a 30 day free trial of all the Moz tools as of this writing.

Majestic's New Tools

Majestic, now with their new site explorer and fresh index, rival OSE's UI and freshness a bit but there still are limits on usage. You can check out Majestic's pricing here and don't forget about the 20% off coupon mentioned here.

Typically I like to use both Majestic and OSE. I like the new tools Majestic has come out with and their historical data is solid. OSE, for me, is great for getting some of a site's top metrics quickly (anchor text, top pages, etc).

If I had to pick one, I'd go with Majestic mostly because Moz gives a decent amount of data away for free (being a registered user) and because Majestic has really good historical + deeper data.

Link Management

Building links, especially if you have a team, can be a cumbersome process unless you have collaborative tools to work with. Even if you operate mostly on your own, you might want to track links you've earned or built directly.

Every once and awhile i like to download a report from Majestic SEO and add any links that are not yet in my tracking program into the program. Some people like to just track paid or exchanged links and let the natural ones sort of come and go naturally.

There are a couple of tools out there that I've used, and one I haven't but I've heard good things about it from reputable sources so I'll include it here.

Raven's Link Manager is probably their flagship tool. It has received really high praise from experienced SEO's and is easy to use. You can easily add links, assign them to employees, and let Raven worry about the automatic checking and reporting in case something changes with a link.

Advanced Link Manager has many features built in but you can use it just for tracking links you want to track by uploading the links into the program. It's software based and you can set it to run whenever you'd like, automatically.

I personally haven't used Buzzstream, but reputable people have told me it is a solid program, and they have a free 14 day trial here. It's a dedicated link building and management tool (and also has a PR and social media tool) so chances are if you are looking for a specific tool to fill that need, this one might be worth a shot.

If you don't have a ton of links to manage or a team to manage, you might be just fine with an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Doc. To me, it's just one more thing to think about and Raven and Buzzstream have low priced plans if you don't need enterprise-level storage.

What's in Your Toolbox?

So there's an overview of what I feel are the best SEO tools out there and one's that I use frequently (or infrequently).

I'd love to know what you are using and why (or why not?) :)

Free Competitive Research on Domains

We love free stuff, especially when it comes to SEO tools and SEO data. Recently, we published a post on how to do a good bit of competitive research with free tools and now we are going to do that for competitive research on domains.

There are a number of tools we can use here. We are going to focus on using these tools to help evaluate a domain from a competitive research point of view:

  • SeoBook Toolbar
  • SemRush
  • Compete
  • AdWords Keyword Tool
  • Open SIte Explorer
  • Alexa
  • Quantcast
  • Google Ad Planner

It is worth noting that we reviewed the paid elements of most of the prominent spy tools about a year ago.

Getting Started with a Domain

Researching a competitive domain can have many benefits. Beyond evaluating the strength of a domain with respect to age, links, and engagement statistics you can find things like:

  • High traffic keywords
  • Profitable keywords
  • Low hanging keyword fruit (keywords they are ranking for mostly off domain/brand authority)
  • Site structure
  • Competing domains and overlapping keywords
  • Keywords being purchased for PPC

So you can do a few different things with domains. You might want to evaluate the strength of the domain as a whole if you are beyond the keyword research phase or perhaps you want to do that in addition to checking out potential keywords you can add to your campaign.

There are a few different tools you can use for this and I like to start with the SeoBook Toolbar because it's quick, easy, and incorporates the tools I want to use in one spot.

Using the SeoBook Toolbar

The toolbar links through to a ton of external tools and most of the tools listed above. It also provides a way to quickly review a bunch of the most relevant data with a simple click. Turn the toolbar on, visit the domain you want to research, and click the blue "I" icon shown below, next to the SeoBook icon:

Once you click on the blue info ball you get all this nice data immediately:

So in what really amounts to a quick, 3 step process you are able to instantly see helpful information about:

  • High level site data about age, Pagerank, indexed pages, and recent cache date
  • Link data from Yahoo! Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer, and Majestic SEO
  • Rough traffic estimates from sources like Compete.Com, Alexa, and SEM Rush
  • Social stats
  • Important directory links

It will be somewhat clear just by looking at the chart how strong the domain is. In this case, the domain is one of the stronger ones on the web.

You can link through to each tool/statistic from this chart and also from the icons on the toolbar itself.

As you continue down the toolbar you can see the link-thru icons Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Blekko. The "Dir" dropdown will show you the appearance of the site in the more important directories on the web.

Then you also can link thru to the Archive, Compete.Com, SEM Rush, the free SeoBook Rank Checker (to quickly check rankings of a keyword on a particular domain you might be researching), and the X-Ray Tool.

The "Competition" drop down will show you the following:

So here you can link through to a variety of sites to check out all sorts of data points about a domain including, but no limited to, domain registration, demographic data, and keyword data.

If that weren't enough, the toolbar also offers more tools:

The first link gives you the following drop down, which links through to a bunch of keyword tools based on the keyword you enter in the form field to the left of the book:

The highlighter highlights the typed in keyword on the current page and then you've got a link to SeoBook archives, recommended RSS feeds, no-follow highlighting, and a button which allows you to compare up to 5 domains at once.

Typically, I use the SeoBook toolbar as my research assistant of sorts when researching different aspects of a domain. It links through to the relevant tools I need to properly evaluate and research a particular domain.

SemRush

An appropriate disclaimer would be that data can be limited on these free accounts but they can help establish a rough baseline to start off of. From the SeoBook toolbar you can easily link through to an SemRush report which gives you limited data on:

  • Organic keywords a site is ranking for
  • Keywords a site is buying in AdWords
  • Domain competition in organic SERPS
  • Domain competition in AdWords
  • Actual AdWords ad copy
  • Potential traffic/ad buyers/sellers based on the AdWords and Organic competitive data

A comprehensive review on SemRush can be found here.

Focusing on the organic keywords, you can get the top ten keywords driving traffic to a site (disclaimer: Spy tools should be taken as rough data points rather than data that is 100% accurate. In order to achieve 100% accuracy you'd need access to a site's analytics :D )

This can be helpful if you are trying to research whether traffic is heavily branded traffic or if it's more keyword centric traffic as well as the overall rankings of a site across a wide spectrum of keywords.

In the above example you can see that many of the top keywords are brands but they also rank highly for really competitive, core keywords. This conicides with our initial findings, via the SeoBook Toolbar, that this site is a very strong site.

If you wanted to dig deeper you can subscribe to one of SemRush's paid accounts. We also offer up to 1,000 results per query (organic data) with our Competitive Research Tool (which pulls data from SemRush) in both our membership options We also have our own custom data calculations inside the Competitive Research Tool which are pretty sweet :)

Compete

Compete is a more expensive competitive research tool but they do give you a fair amount of data for free on a domain.

So here is an example of the free data they give on a "Site Profile" report:

Some of the key points missing on a free account are (besides full access to the teaser data) are demographics and some deeper engagement metrics.

We can get some semblance of demographic data from Google Ad Planner and Quantcast for free.

This report can give you some, albeit small, keyword data outside of a Google tool in addition to traffic history (searching for victims of Panda as an example) and some high level signals about how many sites the domain is getting traffic from.
I would use a free Compete site profile to get a really high level overview of traffic size, top keywords outside of a Google tool, and traffic/visitor trends and history.

This report certainly lines up with the site being an extremely competitive one, a large brand with lots of traffic sources, and a site unaffected by the latest Google update.

AdWords Keyword Tool

So once you move away from looking at some keyword and traffic sampling numbers, as well as the solid high level overview provided by the SeoBook Toolbar, you might want to consider site structure and keyword structure.

A neat feature in the AdWords Keyword Tool is you can enter a domain and Google will list the keywords and the page assigned to that particular keyword (in their eyes):

*Other columns were removed to show this feature specifically:

This can be helpful in terms of breaking down the site structure of a competing site, finding profitable keywords they are ranking for but not necessarily targeting, and helping you plan your site structure.

Open Site Explorer

Since this post is on free tools, I would go with Open Site Explorer here (you could also use Yahoo! Site Explorer and Blekko for more data points but OSE offers a really quick, easy to use interface and has tons of link data).

Using this tool you can find things like the anchor text distribution of a site (see if they are targeting keywords that you might be considering or if lots of their anchor text is brand related)

Inside of OSE you can find other key data points like:

  • Top linked to pages on the site
  • List of linking domains
  • External linking pages
  • % of no-follow to followed links
  • % of internal versus external links
  • 301 redirected domains/links

I do like using Yahoo and Blekko as well but I find that when looking at the free data options, OSE provides the deepest data out of the three and it's very easy/quick to use. On the paid side it competes with Majestic SEO which is a solid paid option as well.

Alexa

I think Alexa can be somewhat useful when doing quick and free competitive research, but it's also a tool that gets a bad rap due to internet hype marketers promoting it as the BEST THING EVER!.

We did an in-depth review of Alexa here and a review of their paid tool here. Alexa gives out a few different data points:

  • Traffic Stats
  • Search Analytics
  • Audience Profile
  • Clickstream

Within those sections Alexa offers a lot of data points (based mainly on their toolbar data). Here we have data similar to Compete's:

You can also see things like global traffic ranks (where the site ranks in Alexa's Top Sites in each country)

Helpful information on where folks are navigating on the site (if you are in the same market are there site features you could be missing out on?)

Similar to SemRush stats but based on a smaller sample:

Trailing data on traffic being received from search engines:

Keywords that they are growing and keywords where they are slipping:

Potentially profitable keywords they are ranking for (factoring in advertising competition)

They also offer some demographic data compared to a relative baseline figure for each demo section:

Find out what sites people are coming to the site from (possible ad partners or related domains you can target in the same way you are targeting the current one from a competitive research perspective):

Where people are going when they leave:

Again, Alexa's data (like most spy tools) should be taken as rough figures rather than exact data. It's helpful to compare data from multiple sources as you can start to see patterns emerge or you can prove or disprove theories you may have about the site and your proposed method of attack.

Quantcast

Most sites I run across are not "quantified" so the data is a rough estimate (again).

So with Quantcast you can get more of that same traffic data along with some deeper demographic data:

This is on the overview page, there are separate sections for traffic and demographic data which break the information down a bit further:

You can also see data about what other sites are used/liked by visitors of the site you are doing research on:

This is on the demographics page and can give you an idea of what type of customer you'll be encountering which can help in determining how to present your offer and what to offer:

I like to use Quantcast mostly for demographc research on competiting or similar website (similar to products or services I am offering to help shape those offers and the presentation of my site).

Google Ad Planner

Ad Planner offers similar demographic data to Quantcast and similar traffic data to Alexa and Compete.

The big difference is the data is obtained from various Google products so it's probably somewhat safer to assume that the data might be a bit more relevant or accurate since Google has lots more data than any of the tools mentioned above (at least in terms of traffic data).

Ad Planner will show you "Google-ized" data for traffic patterns:

Unique visitor data in addition to Google Analytics data (for those who like to share)

You can also see top search queries:

As well as demographic data and audience interest data:

When to Go Paid

As you can see, free tools can give you lots of data but at some point you might have to scale up to use some paid tools. Paid tools certainly give you more data to work with but you can accomplish a lot of competitive research and background research on a domain with free tools.

12 Popular Keyword Organization Tips & Tools

Before Google's Panda update an effective SEO strategy was to "make a page for everything." If you are Wikipedia that strategy may still work, but for most websites that approach is a high risk & low return approach. Clustering like keywords together and using that to help set up your site's information architecture is a lower risk and higher return strategy.

Given Google's new approach to search (where dead weight can harm your good pages) organization is more important than ever.

Let's say you have a big list of keywords which is not well organized & you want a quick and dirty way to organize it. Here are a dozen different tips and tools to help you organize your keywords.

Ad Group Filter

We created an ad group organizer tool which aims to create a footprint for keywords by putting muti-word keywords in alphabetical order & stemming the keywords. The output is TSV, so you can copy it and paste it into a spreadsheet for further analysis. It also allows you to use stop words to filter the list. This can not only be used for organizing keywords for paid search, but also to help organize them for your SEO efforts down to a per-page level.

RKG Duck

RKG Duck is a Perl clipboard extension which was the inspiration for our above tool. This tool works well in spreadsheets, but it takes some level of programming sophistication to get working.

Wordstream Keyword Grouper

Wordstream's keyword grouper allows you to see niche keyword groups at a fairly granular level, with them emailing the results to you.

SpyFu Keyword Groupie

Spyfu's Keyword Groupie allows you to look up a competing site's keywords & see them organized by root word. In addition to listing keywords by root word, they also give you the option of viewing the top 100, 500, or 1000 keywords for a site.

The big benefit with SpyFu is that you can view data on a competing site & use their performance as a bit of a filter for you, but the downside is that at times it can be a bit slower than the above tools. That is to be expected though, because it is searching through a database of records related to sites, rather than just applying a filter or returning results.

They allow you to browse keywords to drill down in areas of interest. Another nice feature is that they show you keywords they feel you are missing out on by putting them in bold, so this tool is great both for looking up competing sites & for looking up your own site to see what you missed.

Google AdWords Desktop

There are a couple different ways to use the Google AdWords editor to group keywords. Here is a semi-automated way (where you still have a bit of human editorial in the process to manually filter to find themes & create groups)

You could do similar to the above with Microsoft Excel's table filters. And if you are combining multiple data sources / tables in Excel this AbleBits merge tool is handy.

Google also offers an automated option inside Google AdWords editor to help organize keywords into fairly tight groups.

First create a new ad campaign (and its settings can be a bit arbitrary off the start as you are mainly using this to help automate data sorting). You only need to create 1 ad group in that ad campaign and then bulk upload a group of keywords into it.

Next use the keyword grouper tool, as shown here.

In the keyword grouper you can use the "generate common terms" option to automatically create keyword groupings. Note that in the right box you can add stop words & other words that you don't want them to cluster keyword groupings around.

Google then spits out a result set you can use, with the keywords clustered into tight groups. Note that sometimes they footprint geo-local keywords similarly even if they are for multiple different areas, but outside of that it is a pretty nice tool considering the amount of work it does in what amounts to a 2-minute process.

Rank Checker

Put your site in rank checker and see how you rank for your target keyword list. If your site is nowhere to be found for a keyword then that may indicate a need to create more content pages around those new topics. If your pages already rank well then see how well they are optimized. A small amount of link building & on-page SEO can go a long way if you were already ranking for a keyword that you were not intentionally targeting.

If your site is brand new & has no authority (or you are researching a new market) you can search for the rankings of a popular website in your niche and see where they rank. Export the ranking data and you can sort the Excel spreadsheet by URL, which should help you cluster your keywords around a similar strategy that top ranked websites are using.

You can pull data on competing sites from competitive research tools like SEM Rush, Compete.com, Keyword Spy, SpyFu, and Alexa to help get an overview of some of the top keywords competing sites are ranking for.

Crawl Their Site

Do you have a well optimized competitor? You can crawl their site using tools like Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog & then export the data to a spreadsheet, using that as a baseline to start your information architecture strategy from. Xenu is free & Screaming Frog's SEO Spider is free for up to a 500 URL site.

Keyword List Cleaner

If you have a big and dirty keyword list where some of the words have multiple meanings you can try to filter the list down by using negative keywords on a keyword list cleaner.

Google Related Searches

Whenever you search on Google not only does their search box recommend tightly related keywords (which are good for late state optimization of on-page content), but in the left column they have a link to "related searches" which organizes related keywords. Within these lists of keywords you can click further into to drill down deeper.

Some folks scrape that data in bulk as well, but if you do that then you are back to having to organize it again. ;)

Google AdWords Keyword Tool

Many paid keyword tools like Wordtracker have advanced filtering & organization options, but I mainly wanted to show free options in the post. Google AdWords keyword tool has multiple helpful ways to organize data.

I tried to highlight key areas & options in the above image, but it sorta feels like I highlighted everything, as there are so many amazing options baked into it. You can get keyword data based on selecting a category, a site, or entering a root keyword. They allow further filtering by match type, tight or loose keyword groupings, location, and so on. Sometimes the data can be a bit inaccurate, but nonetheless it is a great starting point as it really is an amazing feature-rich tool.

Microsoft adCenter Plug-in for Excel

Earlier I mentioned how Excel tables have a bunch of handy filters in them. Taking that to the next level, try the adCenter Excel plug in (review here), offering you quick access to Microsoft's keyword data by root keyword, general topical category, ad campaign association, and so on.

Your Web Analytics

There are at least 4 amazing benefits to using your site's keyword data

  • This is the stuff that actually applies directly to your site. Rather than being some sort of academic exercise or a bunch of "what if" sort of stuff where there is a big margin for error, you have the data related to the actual business impact of these keywords.
  • Since your site is already ranking for these keywords you already have momentum behind them. Pushing a #5 to #2 is typically far easier than going from nowhere to #5. And it is not only easier, but it is also more profitable.
  • This data is organized by page already, and (since you know your site) you should be able to quickly tell if pages that are ranking should be further optimized for a keyword or if the user intent for that keyword is different and it deserves a different page.
  • If you have been tracking your site for an extended period of time you should know not only what pages are ranking, but also why. Sure Google aims to make this a bit more complex, but that is precisely why looking at data on your own site is so helpful: you already know so much about it.

The same types of benefits can be had by using a (phrase matched, broad matched, or modified broad match / with negative keywords) AdWords ad campaign to do keyword research. You are not only testing the search volume of the keywords, but also how your site performs for them.

Visualize It

WordTracker's Strategizer (review here) is a premium SEO-oriented extension of web analytics data, which helps make the data relationships easier to visualize. Concentrate is another paid application built on data wrangling & visualization front.

Free keyword cloud tools like Wordle & tools like Many Eyes can also be valuable for helping you see word relationships for a page and convey concepts to management. You can probably guess which page the following analytics-driven word cloud is for without even visiting it. ;)

You could also put a URL in a keyword density tool, a page comparison tool, or a word cloud tool to view a page's on-page content that way. If it isn't too self-referential, ...

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.

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