I have had a very well known SEO company dust one of best link building strategies (outing it directly to a Google engineer) because I was trusting enough to mention how effective it was inside our training program, thinking that a competitor would not out it, but I was wrong! At least I know what to expect, and can use that knowledge to mitigate future risks.
One of the common concerns about the SEO Toolbar is something along the lines of "does it phone home" or "are you spying on us" or "what data is it sending you". Some SEO companies offer a huge EULA and do spy on the people who use their toolbars, but we do not do that for a number of reasons
I felt rather angry when that well known SEO company outed my site (and haven't really trusted them since then)
I never really liked the idea of spying on customers, and going down that path could harm our perceived brand value
knowing that information is kept private adds value and builds trust
we are already under-staffed (running quite lean) and have more projects to work on than time, so we are not in need of new projects
It is pretty obvious that the trend in software (since the day I got on the web) is that open source software is commoditizing the value of most software products and tools. Providing tools that require limited maintenance costs and provide access to a best of breed collection of SEO tools makes it easy for us to evolve with the space and help our customers do so, without building up a huge cost sink that requires raising capital and having to listen to some icky investors. :)
The reason we can (and do) provide so many free SEO tools is because I feel doing so...
extends opportunity to more people around the globe (anyone who is just fresh starting out like I was ~6 years ago could use the help)
commoditizes the value of some bloated all-in-one SEO software (many of those products generally lack value and misguide people)
makes it hard for con-artists to sell hyped up junk (by commoditizing the value of their offerings to all but the most desperate of get rich quick folks)
helps to educate potential future customers (when we did a survey recently about 80% of our customers have been practicing SEO for over a year)
is an affordable distribution strategy for brand awareness
builds trust by delivering value for free (rather than trying to squeeze every penny out of potential customers)
is a big differentiator between us and most SEO websites
In addition to all the above points, most of the tools we create are tools I want to use. So the cost of building them would still be there even if we did not share them. Sharing them gets us lots of great user feedback to improve them, and does not cost us much relative to the potential upside.
Small Industry, Lightweight Strategy
Rather than centralizing things, we like to rely on a distributed software strategy which has a much lower cost structure.
That strategy allows this site (with a popular blog, an array of tools, some videos, training modules, and an active community) to run on 1 server. We find the Plenty of Fish story inspiring, though doubt we will need his distributed computing skills anytime soon given how small our industry is. After 5 years we are still millions of visitors and over a billion monthly pageviews behind Plenty of Fish :)
Though we are doing ok in our little corner of the web :)
We have analytics on our website to help us see where we are getting coverage, and to measure and improve conversions (an area ripe for opportunity given our brand exposure and site traffic). We may add relevant affiliate links and offers to some of our SEO tools to help pay for the 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars we spent developing our various tools (for example, see how we integrated a link to our Wordtracker keyword guide and the Wordtracker keyword research service in our keyword tool). But we have no need or desire to spy on users who download our tools. Spying and outing are poor strategies for professional SEOs to employ....they erode trust and value.
I thought it would be worth highlighting a few of the advanced features in the SEO Toolbar. Some of the highest value ideas do not consist of looking at one data point, or boiling things down to 1 arbitrary and meaningless number (like many "professional" SEO tools do), but consist of looking at many data points across multiple sites, and hunting for inconsistencies that help you build new profitable traffic streams. Along those lines, I thought I would run through a few ideas to get your juices flowing...there are dozens more like these :)
Earlier today I called an older version of the SEO Toolbar that does not have the update option built in it. If you downloaded it earlier today, please download again from http://tools.seobook.com/seo-toolbar/
The current version should be 1.0.1 (rather than 0.1). Sorry about the error on the updating part...but you won't have to download it again after this time...the update feature will work, and it is safe to just download it now as it will write over the earlier version of the extension.
What would happen if you smooshed together many of the best parts of Rank Checker, SEO for Firefox, the best keyword research tools across the web, a feed reader (pre-populated with many SEO feeds), a ton of competitive research tools, the ability to compare up to 5 competing sites against each other, easy data export, and boatloads of other features into 1 handy Firefox extension? Well, you would have the SEO Toolbar.
In Mike Grehan's New Signals to Search Engines he highlights how personalization, social media, and universal search may help move search beyond text and links.
Mike also contended that ranking reports are dead. While clients should see the end effect of optimization in their analytics and sales data, ranking reports still have good value to professional SEOs. Below are a couple examples of why and how ranking reports are still important, even as Google crowds the organic search results with universal search stuff.
Track Your Growth
When you build a new site from scratch you get to see how effective your link building strategies are as the site's rankings improve. You have to get in the game before you compete...ranking improvements give you an idea of how your site's trust is growing even before you rank well enough to receive much stable traffic.
This early feedback data can be used to guide further investment in link building efforts, and prioritize which websites get the most effort and investment.
Show Clients Baseline Rankings & Growth
If you sell services to clients and they have a brand new site with limited traction then a ranking report shows baseline rankings and proof of growth, even before top rankings yield lots of traffic. This helps customers have confidence in their SEO provider, even if their SEO investment loses money before making it back.
Page 2/3 Rankings
If you rank on page 2 or 3 for some high value keywords you might not see much traffic from them. But if your keyword rankings let you know that you are close to the top you can consider working on link building and altering your site structure to improve the rankings of those pages.
Services like SEMRush also help give insights into such ranking improvement opportunities.
Algorithm Changes & Penalties
How Are Search Algorithms Shifting?
Is Google putting more weight on authority sites? How much does the domain name count (if at all)? Is anchor text becoming more important or less important? How aggressive should you be with anchor text?
When major algorithm updates happen, tracking a wide array of sites and keywords can help you hypothesize what might be gaining importance and what might be losing importance.
What Happened to My Google Traffic?
Sometimes sites get filtered out of the search results due to manual penalties, automated penalties, automated filters, algorithm changes, or getting hacked. Sometimes the issues are related to particular pages, particular folders, whole sites, or keywords closely related to (or containing) another word.
Seeing a traffic drop gives you some clues that something may be wrong, but one of the easiest ways to isolate the issue and further investigate is to look at ranking reports to see what keywords and what pages were affected...then you can start thinking about if it was a glitch, something you can fix, or something you can't.
Such lists should be taken with a grain of salt, but at free one can't complain about the price. As time passes free and good enough is going to force those selling tools and information to offer something that has a sustainable advantage over free.
At the same time...
the sea of information will become increasingly hard to navigate, increasing the value of filters (particularly those built around a shared perspective or bias)
hyped up salesmen will be able to build many business models out of selling such recycled information to the uninitiated, forcing others who sell information to add even more differentiators between themselves and the competition
this shows bid prices and search volume estimates next to keywords (like the Google Traffic Estimator)
this shows your current page titles and keywords
this shows the % of organic and paid traffic going to a URL
For any keyword, the Google Search-based Keyword Tool will show up to 800 related keywords with cost and search volume estimates. This tool also works to show you 100 keywords related to a site, and if you own a website they will show you thousands of keywords that they think you could bid on which are not already in your account. In addition they show your search share of voice (via ads and organic search results) for keywords. This data is easy to export using a handy export button.
There are a variety of cool extra filters that can be applied on this tool, including...
minimum or maximum search volumes
bid price range
low, medium, or high competition
keyword in URL
combining URL and keywords as filters
keyword + general category
Using a variety of different combinations for these filters you can see many different sets of 800 keywords even within the same subset. Export these different lists a variety of times and you can quickly build a list of thousands of high value keywords.
A sweet new competitive research tool by the name SEMRush has hit the market. It can be seen as a deeper extension of the SEO Digger project (adding PPC data and tracking AdWords keywords), and a competitor to services like Compete.com and SpyFu (which recently launched SpyFu Kombat).
SEM Rush vs Compete.com
The big value add that SEM Rush has over a tool like Compete.com is that SEM Rush adds cost per click estimates (scraped from Google's Traffic Estimator tool) and estimated traffic volumes (from the Google AdWords keyword tool) near each keyword. Thus, rather than showing the traffic distribution to each site, this tool can list keyword value distribution for the sites (keyword value * estimated traffic).
Using these estimates does not provide results that are as accurate as Compete.com's data licensing strategy, but if you own a site and know what it earns, you can set up a ratio to normalize the differences (at least to some extent, within the same vertical, for sites of similar size, using a similar business model).
One of our sites that earns about $5,000 a month shows a Google traffic value of close to $20,000 a month.
5,000/20,000 = 1/4 = 0.25
A similar site in the same vertical shows $10,000
$10,000 * 0.25 = $2,500
Disclaimers With Normalizing Data
It is hard to monetize traffic as well as Google does, so in virtually every competitive market your profit per visitor (after expenses) will generally be less than Google. Some reason why..
In some markets people are losing money to buy marketshare, while in other markets people may overbid just to block out competition.
Some merchants simply have fatter profit margins and can afford to outbid affiliates.
It is hard to integrate advertising in your site anywhere near as aggressively as Google does while still creating a site that will be able to gather enough links (and other signals of quality) to take a #1 organic ranking in competitive markets...so by default there will typically be some amount of slippage.
A site that offers editorial content wrapped in light ads will not convert eyeballs into cash anywhere near as well as a lead generation oriented affiliate site would.
SEM Rush Features
Keyword Values & Volumes
As mentioned above, this data is scraped from the Google Traffic Estimator and the Google Keyword Tool.
Top Search Traffic Domains
A list of the top 100 domain names that are estimated to be the highest value downstream traffic sources from Google.
You could get a similar list from Compete.com's Referral Analytics by running a downstream report on Google.com, although I think that might also include traffic from some of Google's non-search properties like Reader.
Here is a list of sites that rank for many of the same keywords that SEO Book ranks for
Here is a list of a few words where Seo Book and SEOmoz compete in the rankings
Compare AdWords to Organic Search
These are sites that rank for keywords that SEO Book is buying through AdWords
And these are sites that buy AdWords ads for keywords that this site ranks for
Once Upon a Time...
I was going to create a tool similar to this one about a year ago, until I hired a programmer that was EPIC FAIL. The guy who managed that program is no longer selling programming services - and that makes the world a better place.
I actually had 3 attempts at such a tool. I bought a GREAT domain name, spec'd out the project, then planned on doing it...
investor backed, who decided to back out
self funded, but I hired... 1.) a programmer who mid-project decided he needed to make double what I make working part-time, then 2.) the worst programmers ever.
combination of heavily self funded with the guidance of a bad ass VC, but I backed out due to a need to focus on this site
I spent most of this year focusing on trying to build our community and raise our editorial quality (both goals are going well, but require significant maintenance). We have had 4 strong hires in a row, so it seems like our luck has changed on that front. Recently I started working with a programmer who really clicks with me, often taking my ideas and making them way better than I intended.
If these guys had not made this tool I was going to try to take another run at something like this early next year...which brings up a good point that a friend (and wicked intelligent open source programmer) named François Planque told me. He said all he had to do was think up a good idea but not do it, and within 6 to 12 months if he had not done it, someone else would have already launched it.
Entry cost is so low that a lot of great tools are going to get made in short order, but it is hard to win by sitting on a good idea. ;)
Wordtracker released a new keyword tool based around keyword questions. The information is quick and easy to export. Ken McGaffin said, “This is a fun tool that is a great source of inspiration for web content writers. You need never be short of creative ideas again." And it is a cool idea - good job Wordtracker!
They also did a comparison between their link counts and those found by Yahoo! Site Explorer and LinkScape. They claim to have more links in their database than Yahoo! is showing, but I have to wonder how they could do that economically, if they are counting more duplicates, and why they haven't bought a site design that reflects how much they must be spending on data.
A few years back search engines were in an ego based contest about who has the biggest index, and I find it a bit ironic that a couple SEO companies will likely be engaged in such a data war...but the marketplace competition should be good for all SEOs.