SEO Monitoring and my thoughts on tools

On August 29th I gave a webinar about SEO monitoring in partnership with DeepCrawl, which is a site auditing/crawling tool that I’ve used for years and gotten to know the team at over the last year or so.

You can see the landing page here and their recap and voice recording here. Here’s the presentation I gave:

At the end of the webinar we had a question/answer period where there were a bunch of great questions around monitoring, what to measure, and reporting. We answered a few live and I’m working on answering the rest in written format to post somewhere (likely over on the DeepCrawl site).

I also received a bunch of questions (and emails and DMs and tweets) asking about specific tools and why I didn’t mention tool A or tool B.

These are SUPER valid questions and underscore a larger point that I have been trying to make for a few years now.

Strategy eats tools for breakfast.

Tools are great, tools are fun. I like talking about tools and how much I love certain ones and how I haven’t tried X Tool yet.

Talking strategy

When I talk with veterans of the SEO industry, people who have been in the industry for 15-20 years and are the ones from whom I have learned almost all of what I know, I love hearing their stories about how they had to do a ton of coding and manual labor to get the insight they needed to drive organic growth.

They had to learn the basics and build the strategies from the data that they were able to glean, but they also had to know what questions to ask of the data and then measure changes that had been made to continually learn what was worth the time and effort and also what was not.

They learned strategy, and not just SEO strategy. They learned business strategy and how to build a case to get changes done so that they could grow.

Strategy drives everything we do in business, whether that’s revenue strategy or SEO strategy.

We should be using the tools that we have to get the data and insight that we need in order to build the strategies that will get us to our business goals.

But I am afraid that too many SEOs focus on the myopic details of things like title tags and rankings while they miss why we do it – to grow a business.

too many SEOs focus on the myopic details of things like title tags and rankings while they miss why we do it – to grow a business.

We have to set strategy before we talk tools.

SEOs lean too much on tools

Every time I do a presentation and mention the specific tools that I use for doing specific things, I inevitably get these questions:

  • “What tool should I use for (task)?”
  • “Why didn’t you mention (tool)?”

Instead, we should be asking questions of our clients/sites like:

  • I need to grow my (leads/orders) by XX%, so what are the highest leverage things I can do to get there?
  • From the list of issues I have here, what are the things we can do that show the biggest return for the smallest amount of effort?

If you genuinely need recommendations for a site auditor or a rank tracker, then that is one thing.

And honestly, there are a ton of tools that do a great job tracking rankings and auditing your site so that you can keep on top of changes and issues. The industry leaders are leaders for a reason, because they provide outsized value for their price ($99/mo for a suite of tools like SEMrush is a steal IMO).

There are so many tools out there in the SEO industry that you could spend all day using new ones and trying new ones, without actually getting any work done or being able to glean the insights you need from them to make the needle move on rankings, traffic, and ultimately revenue.

What I love about SEO tools and the community

The reason why there are so many SEO tools on the market is that SEOs have incredible ingenuity. For a long time, the SEO world operated in the shadows of the internet so we didn’t have tools that could do everything we do today.

I’ve not been in the SEO world nearly as long as many others, but I do remember the days before SEMrush, Moz, and the others even existed. I remember when I first got a Screaming Frog account, in 2011. I remember having to manually parse server log files to get Googlebot crawl stats.

We’d hack together tools in Google Docs to get us data we needed. Now you can usually go to a tool and get that same data because they’re displaying it.

In some ways I miss those old days, because it was exciting and new. But I also love the current days because we have so much data and insight at our fingertips that we can use to drive businesses forward. Less time building tools to get data = more time actually getting things done.

The best tool is the one you know

I’ve said time and time again in presentations and online – the best SEO tool is the one you know and use. 

The best SEO tool is the one you know and use. 

This is because individual tools become more useful over time as you have historical data in them to compare against your current data to see how well you are doing optimizing your site.

It’s the same rationale as working with a client or having a job – the longer you are there, the more expertise you have and the more efficient you can be in your work.

So here’s my plea to the SEO industry – stop focusing on tools. If you need a recommendation, that’s fine and you should ask. But don’t let “what’s the best tool” get in the way of defining real strategy and executing towards that.