What is the best SEO Tool?

TL;DR It's in your head

I've been working in SEO longer than I'd like. I've spent so many hours on the phone with clients talking about SEO strategy, what's working, what isn't, defending my work against outside agencies - who scratch and claw in a pathetic attempt to get a piece of the business, presentations, more presentations, flying out to on-property meetings that probably could have been handled with an email. It gets old. And if you've worked at an ad agency for any period of time, you know...

Businesses always want to be "the best", to have access to the best tools, and ultimately win out against their competitors. And so of course, working in SEO, clients always want to make sure they're using the best SEO platforms.

Don't get me wrong, when you're managing large volumes of clients - and their reporting - SEO tools such as BrightEdge, Conductor, seoClairty, etc... can definitely help streamline the process. They can also be extremely useful if you're a large eCommerce platform managing thousands and hundreds of thousands of URLs. You bet amazon.com is using some sort of SEO platform to manage that beast.

But for for non-enterprise/non-ecommerce businesses - and that's most people - the value just isn't there.

And that's the problem.

Smaller (in a relative sense) businesses think they can subscribe to this tool, and it will somehow just bring their site to the top off Google. I've actually been asked by a client in the past "what is BrightEdge doing on my site?". I'm sorry to break it to you, but it's not actually doing anything.

I actually think they dumb down the industry as a whole. I get all sorts of people from non-technical backgrounds tell me they want to do SEO.

No you don't.

I've had friends ask "I have a Marketing/SEO interview this afternoon, if I come over in the morning can you teach me about SEO?".

I mean...

I can show how to write a couple selectors or a little regex. Maybe how to pull a little content off a site into a spreadsheet using the importXML function. I can teach you the value of vLookups in excel, and how you can use them to merge data sources. Or how you can merge data sources even quicker in BI tools.

But face it, CSS is a foriegn language and if you don't already have some small measurable competance in it, none of it will stick. And are you really going to remember that REGEX is short for Regular Expressions. Or that that first P in PHP actually stands for PHP?

All I really need is a crawler, a rank tracker, and something to help analyze backlinks.

And sure, the tools mentioned above all do those things.

The major problem with these tools is that they don't help with strategy. Not. At. All...

At my current agency I work with a lot of DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) and one area that's really difficult for me to increase ranking around are hotel keywords. Think "hotels in denver". The DMOs actually rank relatively well in the scheme of things, but its hard to get them to rank any higher than the bottom of page 1. If I were to rely soely on one of these tools, it might go something like this...

I run a "forecasting model" that shows me that focusing on hotel keywords will yield big returns. I then go into the recommendations and I see something like "add 'hotels in denver' to your Title Tag, H1, & Meta Description".

Cool, thanks for the most basic SEO advice ever given.

My dog knows that how to write keyword focused title tags. I shouldn't be paying $x,xxx a month for that type of advice.

Here's what the tool doesn't know.

When I search for "hotels in denver", the majority of the the top results are either hotels, or OTAs. These two types of websites satisfy two things that a DMO website cannot. First off, one is an actual hotel, which a DMO isn't. And secondly, OTAs contain 1,000s of reviews from real people talking about what they love and don't love about each property. The reviews are summarized with 1-5 star ratings, and sometimes even have a little sentiment analyzes to help the users further. Then, after you've made your decision, you have the ability to book, often at a reduced rate.

That's exactly the types of results that I want.

Enter the DMO site.

Sure, they may have all the same listings at the OTA, but due to political reasons, they cannot have reviews. They are not allowed to provide info on local business aside from what is submitted by the business directly and they can't play favorites in any way.

This automatically makes their listings less valuable than the OTAs.

It's really that simple. There is almost no reason to search for hotels on a DMO site, when there are OTAs and Trip Advisor right there offering a richer experience.

One thing DMOs can do to help, is target the long tail. You've probably heard that one before - and here I am giving basic advice while criticizing basic advice at the same time.

But you can take mine for free.

If I were Colorado.com I'd have a hotel listing page that prefills listings around "Best hotels for families in summit county", or "best wedding hotels in Estes park". Use your local edge to come up with ideas that the OTAs can't.

But the tools don't see that.

The tools don't understand the intent behind different keywords, and they don't offer much of a competitive analysis outside of website1.com uses "hotels in denver" in their Title Tag and H1. website2.com has x number of backlinks.

So I'll just leave you with this... If you're working for a large eCommerce platform it may make sense to use an enterprise platform due to the volume of products that you sell. But if you're a small local business, online publication, hotel,... Just hire someone who knows what they're doing and don't worry about the tools. The best tool is your brain. The 2nd best SEO tool is a spreadsheet. The rest can take their VC funding and do whatever it is that one does with VC funding. Go buy a yacht or something.