Signing up for another trial of a "robust and data backed" SEO tool? Did it also promise to be easy to use?
I've been there. I've spun my wheels with SEO tools and here's a little secret: they don't work. Don't fret, over the years I've developed systems and frameworks for building highly effective SEO strategies to generate real results (like money) for our customers over the years and I'm going to break down how we do it.
So you’re just about to sign up for a free trial or demo of another SEO tool.
Or maybe you've been burned by one before.
Let me guess, it’s “robust”, “comprehensive" and leverages “big data.” Does it also promise to be easy to use and help you leap ahead of your competitors?
They all promise that.
Those are some pretty big promises to deliver on. So before you spend any more time or money on an SEO tool, there are a few things you should know.
SEO tools won’t magically make you rank, in fact they’re all essentially the same and over-relying on them can hurt you more than it helps you.
I’m the founder and head SEO coach here at Centori.
I started blogging over a decade ago, and began my professional career in SEO 4 years ago. Since then I’ve built an SEO coaching company, Centori, where we help startups and SMBs build effective SEO strategies.
I've been in your shoes before.
I remember my first SEO gig. I was tasked to optimize a website so it could load faster and build an SEO strategy.
Looking back, it's a miracle they stuck with me.
Why? I tried the same SEO tactics and tools that have been spouted off since 2005 and the not-so-secret fact about them is they don't work.
It wasn't until I thought outside the box, and thought creatively and strategically about SEO that we really started to get some results (and by results I mean more than doubling organic revenue in a year).
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We're here to talk about SEO tools right? I get questions all the time about which tools are better, and whether SEO tools can actually help you rank so I will answer those questions and more in this guide.
Let's face it, there are repetitive tasks you need to do in SEO.
From auditing a website to brainstorming keywords, there are a fair amount of things that suck up time and can be automated by software.
As a result, SEO tools have become extremely popular since Moz launched way back in 2004. Now the landscape is dominated by Ahrefs and SEMRush at the high end, and plenty of cheaper tools at the low end.
I’m not going to knock SEO tools completely. SEO tools are all very good at helping you automate boring tasks and I'm not one to dispute that.
In minutes you could have your entire website scanned for errors, or load up thousands of keyword ideas. Suddenly what took hours of painstaking work only takes minutes.
It’s a recipe for page-one rankings right?
Not even close.
Here's the short answer: no.
With so many tools on the market, it's hard not to ask whether one SEO tool better than another, and will they help you rank?
The answer to both questions is no.
At the end of the day, pretty much every SEO tool is the same.
Sure Ahrefs and SEMRush have their crawlers collecting data, but they’re a fraction of the power that Google has and at best can provide estimates.
At the lower end, SEO tools are using a combination of APIs to provide essentially the same features backed by estimates.
These tools aren’t providing any secret sauce.
In fact, the recent trend of over-relying on SEO tools has proven to be more harmful for your rank than helpful.
Every SEO tool makes the same promise: they are easy to use and they can give you the secrets to overtaking your competitors.
There’s a big problem they all leave out: what happens when all your competitors are using the same tool and getting the same data?
I'm willing to bet you've already dabbled in SEO a bit.
Let me guess, you followed traditional SEO “best practices” and signed up for a popular SEO tool and entered a broad keyword like "pet food" or "onboarding software" to load up a list of 1000+ keywords.
You continue to follow the best practices and remove the keywords with little-no search volume, and then filter out the ones with a high “keyword difficulty” score which will probably whittle your list down to 100–200 or so.
Great! 100 keywords is much more targeted than 1000+ right?
You then hire a freelancer with the task of writing a blog post for every keyword, using that keyword as a “focus keyword” for the post. It’s a match made in heaven!
After a few months, and a few thousand dollars, you have 100 blog posts added to your site and it is going to do absolutely nothing for your business.
Because every single competitor of yours is doing the exact same thing. They are all signing up for the same tools , following the same “best practices”, hiring writers of the same caliber, and churning out the same content.
To make matters worse, with "ai writers" hitting the market it's getting easier to pump low-effort content into Google putting you and your competitors in a race to the bottom.
This is a great way to spend a lot of money and win a race to the bottom.
It’s not a great way to rank.
I'm reminded of a conversation with a startup founder who pulled a list of 800 keywords and hired writers off Upwork to write short blog posts for each one. To his surprise, and dismay, he did not rank for anything and was out quite a bit of money.
To actually rank, and drive substantial targeted traffic to your website you need a strategy.
Over the years I've developed a framework for building effective and creative SEO strategies that will get you results a lot faster than your competitors following outdated advice will.
While all your competitors are blindly following what their SEO tools tell them, you can outsmart them with a bit of creativity and a strategy.
Strategy is the key word here. Unlike a generic SEO tool, it’s the real secret to beating your competition on Google.
Strategy as a coordinated set of decisions designed to win.
While your competition plays to participate, you can play to win.
Over my years of doing SEO I’ve developed a 4-step framework for building an SEO strategy, and I want to share it with you here.
These are the same principles we take our customers through in our onboarding program, and they are the same principles we teach in our 4-week group SEO coaching program.
Every good strategy needs a goal.
“More traffic” is not a goal. What you need is to understand what it means for your business to win in search, and the direction you want SEO to take you.
Take us for example: we want to be the leader in SEO education for SMBs and Startups. There are plenty of smart goals we could create based off of that overarching goal.
I don't mean smart as intelligent (though good goals do require a bit of brainpower), I mean that they follow the SMART goal framework:
We've written a guide on how to set SMART SEO goals for your business that get your SEO strategy off on the right foot.
Next comes the most important decision you will have to make in your strategy: define your playing field.
You have your goal, now it’s time to pick a playing field that sets you up for success. The playing field is where you will compete, there are two decisions that make this up:
It’s easy to abstract things all the way into a massive list of keywords, but doing that removes the customer for the equation and leads to a content strategy that is falls flat.
People think in questions, not keywords. If you want to get in front of more people, and get more customers, you need to think like them. First, define your buyer personas, really think hard about who you are trying to get out in front of.
Then, research the questions they are asking online. Rather than relying on a generic keyword research tool to do this, I like to start with websites like Quora and Reddit or the forums for my competitors to get a better sense of the challenges my target customers are facing and the questions they are asking.
Map these questions against the journey your customer takes from being aware of the problem all the way to finding a solution. Now you've identified the different content pieces your persona needs to solve their problem and make a buying decision.
Taking a persona and question-first approach creates the foundation for a rich three-dimensional content strategy that goes much deeper than a keywords-first strategy generated by an SEO tool.
Guess what - none of the SEO tools your competitors are using are helping them with this.
Now that you’ve got your playing field lined up, it’s time to create content that wins and can rank towards the top of search results.
How do you do that?
Traditional SEO advice will tell you to take a big list of keywords ada turn that into a big list of blog posts. That’s a great way to create a lot of generic content that your competitors are probably also creating.
Google is on a mission to return the very best answer for every question. The best way to do that is to create content that comprehensively answers each question your customers are asking with authority.
It could be a series of blog posts, or it could be a content library, a set of deep dive guides, or a useful tool. We work with our customers to understand the unique needs their target personas have based on the questions that come out of step #2. We've done everything from guide them to create directories to interactive content - whatever it takes to serve their customers better than their competitors.
Want to give your next piece of content a head start at ranking? Here's our handy blueprint to study the top ranking content from any keyword and outrank them.
Now comes the sore spot for nearly every marketer I talk to: reporting.
Before you get lost in the strange land of Google Analytics, let me provide some firm ground for you to stand on.
There are 4 reports you need to regularly track, anything else is a bonus.
I get more into reporting with our customers based on their unique needs but if there are 4 numbers you track, let them come from these reports.
At the end of the day organic reporting is as simple as picking a metric and finding a way to attribute SEO to it. It could be that you want more traffic to key pages on your site, more likely it's that you want more leads or more money. Find a way to attribute your SEO efforts to it and you're golden.
I work with marketers and founders to walk through this exact system outlined here.
In just 4 onboarding sessions we'll build a strategy with you designed for real results and sustainable growth for your business. Then we'll work together as often as you'd like ensure you reach your goals.
I've battle-hardened this system over the years across industries like SaaS, E-commerce, consulting and more. We'll set you up with the software we designed to make building and managing your SEO strategy simple, and chat as often as you'd like one private coaching calls.
If you're a founder or marketer tired of spinning your wheels with SEO and looking for real, sustainable growth to take your business to the next level then let's talk.
Book a free SEO consultation with me and we'll see how we can accelerate your path to SEO success.
I’ve written my complete framework for building an effective SEO strategy in a 40+ page eBook complete with worksheets and extra resources and I want you to have it for free.
Download my free SEO strategy guide and template and build a unique strategy that sets you apart from your competition on Google and gets you in front of your customers.