The focus on this series is to outline a selection of tools I feel are most useful for enterprise-level SEOs working on large, complex websites. However, my aim is not to create an exhaustive list of tools—that has been done many times before. Instead, I’ve tried to cull a selection of the most useful SEO tools for enterprise-level work.
The first article focused on SEO browser tools, so take a look at that if you haven’t already. Next step in our series on SEO tools are the web-based (or cloud hosted) tool sets, such as Majestic, Linkscape, SEO Book, SEO Browser, and others. There are a multitude of these tools and it makes most sense to organize them by type. We’ll stick to link research tools, SEO diagnostic tools, and competitive research tools.
Link research tools
Where would we be without tools to research backlinks, whether the backlinks of competitors or our own sites? It’s essential to know, not only the count and quality, but also the specific types of links a site has, obviously. On that note, there are a few standout tools like Yahoo Site Explorer, Linkscape, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer that every SEO should be using.
But this article wouldn’t be useful if it went through each one of those tools, again, for the umpteenth time. There are some great articles out there on each of them. Let’s instead focus on what’s especially relevant right now.
Majestic SEO: To be honest, this tool can be a tad overwhelming, due to a myriad of functionality within Majestic that will confound and bewilder even the most patient SEO. To keep things simple, I like to focus on one or two reports from Majestic. Especially useful is seeing trending data for the number of unique domains linking. While Majestic’s total backlink count for a domain will be (sometimes wildly) over-enthusiastic and “hella big,” the unique referring domain report is another story. This one is much more realistic. To be fair, I have noticed Majestic’s total backlink numbers getting a bit more accurate of late.
This is a quick and easy way to benchmark competitors and get a feel for your own level of diversity within a link profile.
You can also use this quick competition snapshot to see how other sites are doing in your space. Useful!
Linkscape: Linkscape is probably my favorite backlink research tool, but it can be pretty slow. It’s especially frustrating when you need to toggle different parameters in the options at the top, because that reloads the page each time. I would love (and have asked for) an option to execute several options at once, rather than rely on Linkscape to execute them each time you select a drop-down.
Linkscape is powerful. Using this data, it’s pretty effortless to find actionable insights into a domain, or to find out which links are pushing the most juice to a competitor’s page. A couple of notes when using this tool: first, I like to order a page or domain’s links by Domain mozRank rather than Domain mozTrust. Second, I prefer to select the hide links on the same root domain option.
mozTrust uses the Hilltop methodology (used by Yahoo! and other engines, including Google) to use a trusted set of “seed” sites to establish a trust score. mozRank, on the other hand, calculates the potential PageRank flow between links based solely on the links themselves; each link has a calculated mozTrust score.
After selecting mozRank as your criteria in the domain or page backlink report, it’s easy to segment the data by looking at every link with an image (ask yourself: can these be changed to text links, or can the alt attribute be improved?); looking at every link not on the same TLD; looking at all the links that include rel=nofollow, etc. There are lots of ways to slice the data.
One niggle I have with Linkscape is that it’s almost too thorough—it will report every page of a site that is linking, even from the same domain. To get around this simply export the data and crunch it in Excel.
That’s one argument for using Yahoo Site Explorer (which I still really like, actually), because it does a fair job of ordering links without showing this duplication. Showing so much data for a domain can be problematic for big sites with hundreds of thousands or millions of links.
One technique that we’ve found useful is to use Site Explorer for an initial list of URLs linking into a competitor page. Then, pull a few of those (the strongest looking, or most unique in the profile) out and put them into Linkscape. This allows you to look a little more deeply at some specific URLs you want to analyze to see what sort of link citations they have. This can help answer the question of why these links are helping your competitor’s URL to rank.
Another nice way to quickly segment Linkscape backlink profiles is to sort by domain mozRank ascending rather than descending. This should quickly surface links from the lowest-quality domains (and probably some dirty links you didn’t even know existed).
A special note should be given to Google Webmaster Tools data. Recently, Google started showing more backlink information for authenticated domains. This is due to some changes internally related to the Caffeine index. Google’s webmaster console is beginning to be a more useful tool for link research, especially for slicing and dicing Google’s view of your backlink profile alongside the internal link profile (these are two data sets you can pivot against in creative ways). However, this data obviously is not available for your competitors.
Unfortunately, this section is going to be very short, because there are far too few really useful online diagnostic tools for SEO. However, there are some amazing (and enterprise-ready) SEO dashboard tools that I’ll cover in a future column, including Covario’s offerings, Brightedge, Conductor’s Searchlight, and a few others.
SEO Browser: If you don’t have access to Lynx (or Lynxlet on a Mac), use this tool. It will give you a fairly accurate snapshot of what the engines see on a web page. There are other tools you can use, but this one is easy and quick.
W3C Semantic Data Extractor: This is a good tool to quickly pull out the semantic structure of a web page. It will also highlight any RDFa data embedded in the page. Treat this tool as a quick check alongside deeper SEO work you’re performing.
Hub Finder: An oldie but a goodie, Hub Finder uses Yahoo’s Site Explorer API to pull in co-citation links for the domains you specify. This is a great way to locate very high-value links that your competitors have secured but you have not.
If you know of some great online SEO tools please share in the comments. We use many tools that are private (SEO crawlers and client-side diagnostic tools, for example), so don’t make much use of online diagnostic tools.
A special callout should be directed to SEOmoz for their impressive suite of tools, however I don’t use any of these so won’t speak to their usefulness here.
Competitive insight tools
There are a number of excellent competitive analysis tools available today. Many of these are well known, such as Compete and SpyFu, but some are not. I’ll go through just one of these tools. For others, come see me at the next SMX conference and I may share some details.
SEMRush: This is still one of my favorite tools for a quick view of a website’s organic visibility. Yes, the data is aged a bit, it has to be. But it still gives you a pretty accurate picture of what terms a site is ranking for, and can be quite useful in multiple ways.
One quick way we’ve used this tool is to place a URL into SEMRush and sort by position, or even better, export it to CSV. You can quickly see where your “tipping point” prospects are; that is, what pages are ranking just off page #1 for important keywords. You can then take appropriate steps to push these over the edge and start gaining visibility on page #1 with just a few tweaks.
There’s no way to give a comprehensive view of the tools and techniques used in SEO. But hopefully this will give you a few tips and possibly some new directions to go in as you lead the charge in your company’s race to gain marketshare in organic search. If you have some tips or comments please share, I’d love to hear them.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.