It's All About The Data

Last week I was speaking on a panel called "Ask The SEOs" at SMX West. It's a fun panel that I'm lucky enough to participate on at a lot of shows. The concept is very straightforward. Put a handful of SEO experts on stage and give them two fewer microphones than there are panelists and let the audience pepper them with questions.


Between the jokes and the fighting over microphones, a lot of very good questions get asked and answered. We cover Web site architecture, duplicate content, link building, what is spam and how a lot of black-hat SEO works (not that we'd ever engage in those kinds of practices).

Inevitably the question of tools and data gathering comes up. Oddly enough, there is still a perception that there are tools that will make SEO easy for you, where you can enter a URL and click a button and get a list of recommendations.

Well, yeah. There are those tools. There's a bunch of them. Several of them are well-funded start-ups with booths at conferences and matching golf shirts. Enter your URL, click that button, get a score and sticker for your laptop.



I'm not opposed to tools. What I am opposed to is blindly following the recommendations that a lot of these tools spit out.

I use a lot of tools. None of them, not a single one of them, make any recommendations to me. I use tools that gather data that I can use to make my own decisions. Data plus wisdom equals success in SEO.

I can't tell you how many times a client or potential client has told me they scored really high on some online SEO tool that said they had successfully executed 90% of SEO. Can you see the client's question coming? That's right. "Why do we only rank for our brand?"

So what tools do I like? I love the data gatherers. I drool over anything that will give me raw data in a csv file that I can slice and dice and sort and filter. Even better, I like tools that give me comparative data so I can eyeball the trends in a particular vertical like the Titles, Hx tags, page size, etc. of the top 20 results for a given keyword. That is useful data.

Of course all this talk of tools leads to the next question. Yep, you got it: "What tools do you use?" This is the part when we old crusty SEOs get to disappoint the audience and say, "We have our own proprietary tools that we developed ourselves." That's hardly a fair answer, is it?

I'll share with you a few public tools that I use, just so you don't all blast me in the comments. You'll probably blast me anyhow, because these aren't the super-secret, decoder-ring kinds of tools.

I love Google Webmaster Tools. There is a wealth of information in there about how Google is interacting with your site. You get to see crawl rates, crawl errors, top search queries and even where you rank for those queries. You can quickly see if your site if fully indexed. And of course we can't forget about all the linking data Google will show you once you've verified your site. This is good stuff. If you're not enrolled, stop reading right now and go do it.

My other favorite tool of all time is Xenu Link Sleuth. It's been around for years and it's never, ever changed. It is a small desktop application that will crawl almost any Web site you feed it. It's absolutely fantastic for broken links. In fact, that's what it was primarily designed for -- but it's also great for finding duplicate content within your site. It's also a great way to generate a quick and dirty sitemap and analyze internal linking.

Notice that both of my favorite tools are simply gathering data. What you do with that data is what will make or break your SEO.

Today is Friday. Spend your weekend in Google Webmaster Tools. When you come up for air on Monday, you'll thank me.

3 comments about "It's All About The Data".
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  1. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, February 20, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    Great Article Todd.
    (yeah i just figured out what SIS meant)

    I agree Google webmaster tools are the first place to start. I do however think that too many people spend too much time with "tools". It all about the data..

    this is the quote of the year..
    "Data plus wisdom equals success in SEO."

    the tool i use the most is my analytics program.. i don't know if there are tools that show bounce rate + keyword + page url + referring linkage, but i can find all this in my analytics.

    Crusty SEOs... what tools do we use?
    our brains, our analytics and our old crusty seo peers

    Congrats on SIS..

  2. John Rasco from RefreshWeb, February 20, 2009 at 12:10 p.m.

    Thanks for posting this, Todd. I'm always stunned that people accept the results of an automated tool which "measures" their site's optimization, and which doesn't know what keyword phrases are important to you! Even Webmaster Tools doesn't know. Likewise, a tool which only looks at your home page...where maybe 3-4 phrases can be identified, or guessed at, in the case of these tools. It's really a case of programmers figuring out no-cost (and no value) ways of looking like there's authoritative analysis.

  3. William Alvarez from Conversion Action LLC, February 20, 2009 at 1:03 p.m.

    Coincidentally I solely rely on Google Webmaster Tools, Xenu and GA to make new decisions about my campaigns. However, I cannot discount the fact that some other free tools like the ones offered by SEOBookand SEOmoz help in understanding more about some unusual behavior on sites.

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