We all rely on specific tools to do our jobs as SEO professionals.
Often we gravitate toward the tools that save us the most time while also providing us with the best insights.
This mix of tools in our stack includes those we’ve relied on for a long time as well as those that we’re testing out or that have emerged recently.
With the number of tools available and the increasing costs of many of the leading platforms, we have to demand more than ever out of the technology we use.
The challenge in this is that our reliance on tools can keep us too deep in our silos and in our SEO ways of thinking.
There are seven distinct things that SEO tools can’t tell us that we need to remain aware of and push to close the gaps on.
1. What Your Goals Should Be
Many tools help us perform research on the front-end of SEO engagements.
Whether it is keyword research, competitor research, or auditing tools to understand the current standing of technical issues on a website, we’re relying on technology early on.
The sometimes wide variation in data provided in different keyword research tools alone should give us an indication that we should tread lightly here.
The Google Keyword Planner is a paid search tool and all other keyword research tools are relying on third-party data or also on the Keyword Planner’s paid search data.
Our interpretation of this data and use of the various tools is often what we use for setting goals with stakeholders or clients.
Unfortunately, they don’t all know that these are not literal numbers and are based on sampling, estimation, rounding, and historical data.
None of them can tell us what our real goals should be for positioning, impressions, traffic, and conversions. We have to do our best to determine these based on tools and industry data available and live with that.
2. How Many Leads or Sales You Will Get
When I’m doing research and providing projection data in the proposal and discovery process, I often tell and remind clients that the more levels deep I go, the more off that the estimate can be.
If I’m using one tool to do keyword research, then using benchmark data to project impressions, traffic, and conversions, I’m layering estimates on top of estimates.
We all understand the need to justify our efforts, but the more that we take data from different sources to try to predict how our efforts will pay off, the more variables and risk we’re putting into the equation.
This might sound like a classic dodging of the question by an SEO.
I’m not advocating for saying “just trust me”, but at the same time, we have to emphasize that the tools at our disposal are not smart enough (yet) to accurately tell us how our SEO campaign will perform.
3. Guaranteed or Promised Performance
AI and machine learning are improving quickly. At this time though, in the SEO realm, the tools we have available that utilize it still can’t make a guarantee or promise.
Projections and simulations are based on past or predicted future trends.
Additionally, site auditing tools are doing a programmatic view of a site and rely on technical factors. They don’t take a holistic view of content or the wider range of things that influence search engine rankings.
Relying on and assuming that by fixing all of the issues in a site audit and focusing on specific keywords and rankings to be the holy grail in terms of driving performance when we achieve them is dangerous.
We have the ability to make predictions based on the tools and data we have available, but not promises in terms of performance.
4. What the Future Holds
The tools we have now are based on the search algorithms we have now. Data often is tied to the past 90 days or year.
All of this is looking at the present or recent past to draw trends and conclusions.
Ranking factors change.
Machine learning is already in the Google algorithm.
Competitors in most industries are consistently doing their own SEO, content updates, website launches, and are moving targets.
The biggest constant in SEO is change and the technology we use either reacts and adapts or gets left behind.
5. The Business Case for SEO
Thankfully, SEO has a more consistent seat at the marketing table for organizations. Attribution, however, remains a common struggle for marketers.
SEO-specific tools often stop short of being able to provide predicted and even actual reported ROI numbers.
There’s nothing worse than being in an SEO campaign and only being able to report on SEO-specific stats like rankings, impressions, traffic, and conversions.
Conversions are where we want to be able to start. Then, going deeper and knowing sales and lead progress beyond the SEO and marketer’s hand-off.
The reporting and analytics tools that we rely on for SEO can sometimes fill the gap, but often we have to find ways to integrate and tag leads and sales as they come through to close the loop or get manual feedback from sales and stakeholders to connect all the dots.
6. What Your Content Strategy Should Be
Content is fuel for SEO and there’s no dispute in the value and need of it.
The challenge is that we have a lot of tools at our disposal to evaluate content that is ranking well on our sites and our competitors.
We can mine for mentions and links, and find ways to reverse engineer what Google likes about a page or topic.
The challenge is that we can’t get the exact answers or fit for what works best for our company or client through SEO tools.
We can’t (and shouldn’t) copy off of competitors or others in the industry. Duplication won’t get us anywhere.
We have to take the insights we gain on the types of content, format, engagement triggers, calls to action, and how to make it meaningful to the user in our own way and turn that into a plan and strategy.
We can use the tools to gain these insights, but ultimately, the setup and strategy is ultimately on us and finding the resources and brand position to run with it.
7. How to Focus & Pace Your Work
There’s a lot of content about how to prioritize SEO work. Some tools will even evaluate a site and prioritize recommended updates.
However, the priority and process for an SEO project or campaign can’t be automated or properly handed to us by technology.
We should use tools to manage work, gain insights, and organize it.
We have to trust our experience and expertise to review the recommendations and insights and prioritize them and scale them.
While the largest number of on-page errors might be reported as missing image alt attribute text, focusing on thousands of updates in that category versus a handful of updates in a more influential category might be a waste of time.
Over time, this is an area where I’m looking forward to seeing the emergence of AI in catching up with the human brains and decision making.
I never want to go back to the early days of SEO where a lot of the work was done by hand.
There are so many great tools for research, crawling, measurement, benchmarking, and analysis that save time, provide insights, and really help with the strategy and execution of SEO.
While we have a lot of great technology at our disposal, there are still some things that SEO tools can’t do and we have to provide our unique value as SEO professionals to fill that gap by interpreting and tying together with bigger marketing and business objectives to make SEO successful.