When evaluating search engine optimization (SEO) management tools, it’s vital to understand what such tools can—and can’t—actually do. Just as a nail gun can turn a skilled carpenter into a more efficient skilled carpenter, so SEO management tools can help experienced, knowledgeable SEO professionals perform certain tasks more efficiently.
But just as a nail gun won’t guarantee the soundness of a house built on a shifting foundation, so SEO tools themselves can’t produce miraculous organic traffic results in a rapidly changing search environment. What SEO tools can do, used properly, is help SEO practitioners to help companies minimize the damage done to search rankings and traffic from Google’s menagerie of monochromatic algorithmic predators.
In SEO Management Buyer’s Guide: How Top-Performing Firms Search for Solutions, Aberdeen Group analyst Trip Kucera quantifies the differences in average results achieved by “leaders” in the use of SEO management tools (the “top 35% of aggregate performers” in Aberdeen’s study) from the followers (the bottom 65%). The study thereby provides some helpful benchmarks for evaluating high-level search performance.
Among the report’s findings:
- • ”SEO management solution users are significantly more likely to adopt a number of search-oriented best practices. For example they’re more than twice as likely as non-users to measure how specific keywords generate site traffic (80% vs. 35%) or to track the search page rank for specific keywords (84% vs. 33%).”
- • ”Leaders are 41% more likely than followers to rank as important (as a factor in choosing an SEO tool) the ability to deliver information about the SEO strategies of competitors (72% vs. 51%). This might include information about search terms specific competitors use, competition for specific keyword phrases, as well as data about referral sources, such as partners, social channels, or online media mentions.”(No doubt true, but most “SEO management” tools do a superficial job of this at best; thorough competitive strategic analysis requires more robust multi-channel marketing metrics.)
- • ”Surprisingly, followers…were more likely than leaders to indicate mobile and local SEO management factors as important…This may reflect the fact the large majority of survey respondents (77%) sell in a business-to-business environment, so local and even mobile SEO is likely to have a rather small impact.” In other words, “SoLoMo” optimization isn’t a big deal in b2b.
And among specific benchmarks cited, Aberdeen reports that “leading” users of SEO management tools achieve, on average:
- • 50% more website traffic from search (24% vs. 16%)
- • 10% year-over-year growth in unique website traffic, vs. 6.7%
- • 80% higher website conversion rate (3.6% vs. 2.0%)
Although those numbers seem a tad low from our client experience, they’re not out of the ballpark. The last metric is interesting; website conversion rate isn’t specifically a function of SEO, but rather of conversion rate optimization. SEO practices have an effect, but it shouldn’t be overstated.
And among the report’s recommendations for improving SEO results:
- • “There are still plenty of completely legitimate, ‘white-hat’ SEO tactics, from using frequently-searched terms and ensuring the proper placement of metadata page tags, to building credible, legitimate, and useful external links with partners, influencers, and the media.”
- • “Our primary objective and my recommendation to other companies is to think beyond rankings and focus your SEO efforts on delivering the best customer experience possible.” (quote from Vicqui Chan, senior manager of global SEO/SEM at HP)
- • “Leaders are 65% more likely than followers to share target keywords with content creators across the organization.”
The only false note hit in the report regards predictability; it states “SEO can now be predictably managed” and that majorities of both leaders and followers rate “the ability to accurately forecast site traffic and conversions from keywords as an important evaluation criteria” in selecting SEO tools. Wonderful as that capability would be, it’s not a realistic expectation; constant changes in keyword rankings, keyword search volumes, competitor moves and search engine algorithms render such functionality impossible.
Still, the report provides valuable reading for organizations wishing to benchmark their results or evaluate new or existing SEO management tools. What’s most important to remember in the final analysis however is that the single most valuable SEO tool remains the human mind.