Evaluating SEO Technology: It’s Complicated
The most important part of any technology decision is usually you.
Say this about the SEO industry — there’s no lack of options for tools and technology. It often feels like there’s a literally endless variety of applications, systems, platforms, and solutions available, all offering their own take on how to get the most from organic search.
Unfortunately for analysts and review sites, evaluating SEO technology is a lot less like picking a restaurant or good note-taking app for your phone, and a lot like finding a CRM. The capabilities of the technology matter, but those capabilities are most relevant when they align with how you work and what you’re trying to achieve. So while the term has its usefulness, “SEO technology” probably covers a little too much ground for a lot of apples to apples comparisons. That’s like comparing spreadsheets and presentation software to each other under the category of “business software.”
Still, looking for “SEO technology” at least gives you a place to start. From there, though, you’re more likely to ask the right questions and ultimately make the right choice if you apply a consistent framework (one based on your needs, not the provider’s) to the process. Here’s what I suggest.
Step One: Define Your Objectives
You’re a professional. It’s unlikely that “doing SEO” is a sufficiently detailed breakdown of what you’re trying to accomplish with your technology. So go one step further (or several) and really break down your goals. Are you evaluated by one or more key performance indicators (KPIs)? If so, find out how this new solution can (A) help you move those numbers, and (B) easily demonstrate their progress, and where it’s coming from. Are you obsessed with raw traffic? Conversions? Do you focus more on your rankings for specific terms, or overall visibility? Are you an established brand with a lot to lose, or a scrappy growth company looking for the fastest, riskiest leg up on the competition?
Remember, “SEO” can look very different from one company to the next. Make sure you define what it means to yours, and ensure the technology can support it.
Step Two: Assess Your Capabilities & Corresponding Needs
Unless it comes with additional employees, raw SEO technology rarely does a whole lot by itself (although we’re working on that). That means the composition of your team and resources is extremely relevant. It can often define whether the “best” solution actually delivers the most value to you. Who’s available to work with this technology on a regular basis? Do they have technical skills? Content skills? Analytical skills? Do they need things summed up and analyzed for them, or are they resourced and responsible for doing much deeper dives on their own? How big is the site (or collection of sites) they’re working on?
The goal here is primarily to ensure that you don’t buy an overpowered solution you can’t truly take advantage of, or one with capabilities that simply don’t matter to you. But don’t be overly conservative, either. Make sure you’re getting enough power to make a difference by following…
Step Three: Where You Are and Where You Want to Go
In some scenarios, you may be looking into a new solution simply because you’re frustrated with the current one. Nothing wrong with that! Still, most of the time, you’re probably feeling a bit more ambitious and want to actually think a little bigger. In that case, take a look at how you’re doing in the grand scheme of things before you assume you want to keep the same goals and workflows you’ve been relying on. For instance, before you think about content or ranking goals, ask yourself…
- How much of your current site is currently indexed? For larger sites, that number is often as low as 50%. In that case, it may make more sense to invest in technical SEO and some crawl budget management over the same old competitive approach. After all, you can’t optimize what isn’t even indexed.
- When your content is found, how are visitors finding it? You can learn a lot by looking at rankings, but you can often learn even more by looking at the intent of your visitors. In other words, don’t just fight for someone else’s traffic. Consider investing in a better understanding of the traffic you do have, and the ability to leverage that interest for both growth and better conversion rates.
Some of these issues should sound obvious, but they’re ignored by SEO strategies more than you’d think, and frequently lead to a mismatch between technology investments and actual business needs.
Step Four: Determine Your Partner Criteria
This is partly an extension of “assessing your capabilities and needs,” but it’s more about identifying your desired working relationship with a technology provider than purely assessing your business. For example:
- If you work inside a large enterprise, are there IT and support requirements do you need to meet?
- If you’re going to work with data exports, integrations, or API connections, what’s really available from different systems? Don’t settle for checkmarks (“YES, WE HAVE AN API”), because the details matter.
- Are you expecting to rely on your provider for strategic assistance, raw tech support, some kind of managed service, or a combination of all three?
Note that these questions are usually more complicated with integrated platforms (especially those designed for the enterprise) than they are with point solutions. That’s simply because most point solutions are designed to maximize simplicity and cost-effectiveness over a deeper customer relationship. All-in-one platforms are usually larger, more strategic investments, and should come with higher expectations for things like IT systems integrations, customer service, and onboarding assistance.
One Size Definitely Does NOT Fit All
Here’s the bad news for anyone in a hurry. Buying guides, analysts reports, and even word-of-mouth is a great way to learn about what’s out there, but nobody knows your business quite like you. That means no third-party analysis is going to be able to give you enough information on its own to make a good decision. No matter how smart they are, a third party is simply not going to be able to weigh the relevance of features, focus, and functionality without taking your goals and operating requirements into account. The needs of what we collectively label “SEO” are just too different from organization to organization.
That being said, if you successfully take into account who you are, how you work, and what you want to accomplish, your SEO technology evaluation will be able to quickly rule out the vast majority of options. You’ll realize that they just aren’t a fit for you, no matter how impressive they look, how much they cost, or how many awards they win.