Synopsis — On-page SEO is the cornerstone of search engine optimization, being one-half of the rankings equation (link building being the second half). It encompasses the items that a website owner can influence when trying to improving ranking on search engines, and covers things such as text changes, code changes, server settings, and other items. To help accomplish needed changes, a variety of tools have been developed, falling into three broad categories — stand-alone site crawlers, browser toolbars (and Firefox add-ons), and tool suites.
In his article, “Ranking Higher With On-Page SEO Tools,” Marios Alexandrou discusses the leading tools in each of these three categories and how they can help you improve your ranking. He then poses a series of questions to help you decide on and select the right tool for your particular situation.
The complete article follows …
Ranking Higher With On-Page SEO Tools
Only one tool will tell you what is required for a number-one ranking in Google. Unfortunately, that tool is Google, and none of us have access to its inner workings. Instead, SEOs are left to build our own solution or use someone else’s to nudge our listings as high as possible.
Over the past few years, some excellent tools have appeared, covering the spectrum of needs that small, medium, and large businesses have for on-page optimization*. Most fall into one of three categories — standalone site crawlers, browser toolbars, and web-based tool suites.
As I discuss each category, keep in mind that while tools may tell you what you can do, none can really tell you what you should do. Tools can only estimate what is important to your business, and they certainly can’t know the costs of addressing any given issue.
(*I’m using a fairly broad definition of on-page optimization to mean things that you, as a site owner, can directly impact, such as changing code, text, or even web server settings. Elsewhere in this issue of Search Marketing Standard, Garrett French discusses tools that focus on the link building — or off-page — side of things.)
1. Stand-Alone Site Crawlers
No article on site crawlers would be complete without mentioning Xenu’s Link Sleuth™. And with good reason — beyond the fact that it is free – because it will help you find many of the common site issues, such as improper redirects, unexpected errors, and duplicate/missing titles. It’s also a good place to get a URL count to compare against what Google is telling you they’ve indexed.
A strong alternative is AnalogX’s LinkExaminer, which offers more comprehensive URL pattern matching, but fails to allow you to save your project. Also worth looking at is Screaming Frog SEO Spider which adds meta robots and custom code block checking to the expected feature set, organized in an intuitive, multi-tab interface. Strangely, it also does not allow projects to be saved, which is a big oversight for a paid tool. This tool costs £99 per year, but there is a free “lite” version for evaluation.
2. Browser Toolbars And Firefox Add-Ons
Many browser toolbars focus on providing link data, but there are a couple that are useful for on-page SEO. First up is mozBar, the SEOmoz toolbar. The Analyze Page button opens an overlay window that aggregates page data such as page title, description, heading tags, canonical tag, etc. You can glance at these as you’re browsing a site or export the data into Excel for batch work (such as adjusting the use of keywords in text) and to keep track of a pre- versus post-implementation.
If you like to dig into code, I recommend the Firebug add-on (http://bit.ly/firebug). Once installed, you can open a window to reveal the source code of the page being viewed. The code layout is automatically tidied and code blocks can be collapsed/expanded as needed. To my mind, its best feature is enabled with the Inspection button, which then shows the related code when you hover over a page element. You can inspect a page’s code very quickly this way. Admittedly, viewing code in a small window can become cumbersome, so use the ViewSourceWith add-on to connect to your favorite text editor, and view a page’s source code complete with color coding.
3. Tool Suites
Tool suites ratchet up the level of automation by regularly checking a site on your behalf, ensuring you will always be working with current information (likely not older than a week), without having to spend the time to actually gather data.
Tool suites have some overlap in features, but you can probably safely assume they offer rank checking (some are rudimentary and others comprehensive) and integrate with at least one web analytics package.
SEOmoz Pro is a collection of tools that includes a crawler that you can point to domains of your choosing. Plans start at $99 per month. Reports are not available immediately, but once compiled, they provide page level scores from A to F, allowing you to zero in on the biggest optimization opportunities.
Start first with the pages that have the lowest grade. The tool further breaks down suggested activities by those considered most critical to help refine and prioritize your efforts. This lets you focus on only critical factors if resources are tight.
Most other tool suites worth considering are much more expensive, with prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars each month. The relatively high cost makes them suited for medium-to-large companies looking to track large combinations of domains, URLs, and keywords.
SyCara is a relatively new entrant in the paid SEO tool suite market that combines analysis (including on-page) with workflow features. Workflow management is particularly useful, as it allows a team leader to identify and assign tasks to others, tracking them to ensure that all tasks are covered while preventing unnecessary duplication of work.
Two veteran tool suites in the industry are Conductor Searchlight™ and BrightEdge Choosing between the two will depend on where your particular focus lies. For example, while BrightEdge integrates with more web analytics tools (extremely important for an agency needing to support multiple clients), Searchlight has bi-directional integration with Omniture’s products (arguably more useful to those who are already Omniture customers).
Searchmetrics Suite™ has been available for a few years, but isn’t well known in the US and seems to be more popular in Europe. As part of its feature set, Searchmetrics will score a page based on five categories, two of which can be thought of as on-page — the Technical Score and Common Score sections.
Searchmetrics also gives users access to a wealth of keyword data drawn from a competitor’s site, allowing you to refine and/or expand your own keyword list and optimization efforts.
Selecting The Right Tool
Whether I’m shopping for my employer, a client, or myself I begin by identifying a set of constraints that I can use to narrow my research. This might seem obvious, but many people don’t appear to approach tasks this way. As an example, consider the decision to purchase a new camera. Even if I begin by deciding I want a non-DSLR camera, this still leaves hundreds of models to consider. However, adding two more constraints — compact and in the super zoom class — bring the choices down to just a dozen models.
When it comes to SEO tools, you can follow the same procedure of identifying constraints by asking yourself these questions:
1. Do you have more time than money?
Budgets may be tight or you may simply need to prove the value of SEO as a first step. Regardless of the reason, budget can be an unavoidable constraint. In this scenario, you are probably better off cobbling together a set of tools centered on Firefox add-ons, along with a process to use them consistently. Ultimately, Excel will likely be the glue that holds everything together. For beginners, this approach is useful to force you to think about how best to do SEO for the day when you move on to more comprehensive and costly tools.
2. Do you already believe in the value of SEO and can commit a small budget to it?
A tool suite like SEOmoz Pro is probably best for you. Their pricing model includes many tiers, with the lowest inexpensive enough that it should fit most budgets. Many other good tools fit for smaller budgets exist, and are worthy of consideration, although not necessarily focused on on-page SEO. One such suite is Raven SEO Tools, which focuses on bringing data from multiple external sources into a single interface.
3. Can you say that SEO is a significant part of your business model, and you have a reasonable budget to work with? Alternatively, are you an agency that must support multiple web analytics platforms?
In such scenarios, reporting is likely a big component of your program, as you need to justify the expense of an SEO program. Saving time with reporting means spending more time “doing,” and tool suites like SyCara, Searchlight, BrightEdge, and Searchmetrics will serve you well.
4. I have a team of developers, should I build my own tool?
The SEO tool market may be young compared to other software types, but current tools have the basic needs covered in a cost-effective manner. If you have an idea that you think is unique and will fill a need, consider going with a tool that allows you to export data or has an API you can integrate with, such as that which BrightEdge provides. This will give you a solid base of features to start with while allowing you to augment with your own ideas.
Regardless of your budget, you have several options for increasing the efficiency of on-page SEO efforts. And while you might be inclined to wait for the latest features and new updates to come out, you are better off taking the plunge now. After all, the impact of making the wrong decision isn’t all that great — just a bit of your money and your time. Since these tools don’t require you to make any changes to your site to be functional, there is nothing to undo if it proves not to be a match. I’d even go so far to say that there’s less risk rolling out a tool set than there is changing your site’s title tags! So go forth and tool up, and ratchet up your on-page SEO efforts.