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Are SEO tools any use?

I have to admit to being a bit of an SEO tool junkie. I must have tried hundreds including the treasure trove at Aaron Wall’s SEO tools. My bookmarks are groaning. Not to mention my Firefox browser SEO plugins.. Consequently I am awash with information which measures every conceivable metric. I have also added to my own plethora by building a few SEO tools myself in BASH.

In a dedicated search marketing agency like ours I would hazard the notion that our choice of tools is a critical starting point for most of us. Which SEO tools we use – and why – is an important part of our internal dialogue. I guess in part though my search for the *perfect tool* is not driven by any expectation that I will find any such thing. I have come to realise that I like tools because they let me see what everybody else is up to! I do not really use very many myself!

It is certainly important to keep abreast of the latest software developments particularly those which enjoy wide useage and currency. Some of our clients share our own love for search engines and are very well researched – as we would expect. So how do we add value? My own feeling is that if a would be carpenter goes and buys a huge bag of expensive tools then that is what he has. A bag of tools. Using them skilfully is a different matter. And – not that I know anything about carpenters – but I bet they use surprisingly few simple tools exceeedingly well. This is a challenge which faces us all in many areas of our lives. We may be information rich. But do we have time or the skills necessary to crunch the numbers in a meaningful way – one which provides insight and a road map to future actions? I am not sure. I have read a proposal which says that the spend on analysis needs to be higher than the spend on reporting by a factor of 10. Those figures seem about right to me. But what use is a tool which gives us – for example – a keyword density – unless we have a meaningful base line of empirical research which indicates what use such a metric might be?

Over many years of commercial search engine experience I have come to believe that the most important skill for an SEO consultant is to simply be able to read the html and content of a page and to notice what is important. I like to jockey between lynx and wget – two text browsers both of which are generally pre installed in linux. Using grep – another linux command – I can quickly filter multiple files. The tools only present the data. Acute powers of observation and memory together with the ability to discern patterns where none seem to exist seem to be our most vital skills. Once those skills are wedded to a systematic programme of empirical A/B testing in controlled circumstances it is possible – quite quickly – to build a model for the *perfect page* or at least one which deserves to rank well for its primary keywords on all the major  search engines. The model may vary over time. It may vary by vertical. It may vary between search engines. But the basics always remain the same.

To say good content is King is a cliche but it is true. There is simply no substitute for it. And no amount of SEO will cause poor content to rank highly. Why should it ?

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