What SEO tools Should You Use?

SEO Tools and Tool Sets

SEO Tools and Tool Sets

If you decide to do SEO in-house, what tools should you use? Companies create SEO tools for link bait, leads, and cash flow if the tool is for sale. Those incentives have spawned literally thousands of SEO tools and scores of tool suits, both free and paid. How can you know which to use?

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and expertise to (1) quickly assess whether a tool is worth further assessment, and (2) evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of each candidate. For example, spend a few hours looking at free SEO browser ad-ons, and you may find the impressive WOOrank.com tool. I use it regularly for quick snapshots of a site’s SEO health. However, it can wrongly report SEO deficits. You would discover such errors only by doing careful confirmation tests or by running an SEO technical audit by cherry-picking the best of many tools and by manual testing where possible. (I know, we’re in chicken-egg land, for I’ve posited a-priori knowledge of where to cherry pick SEO tools). For another example, WordTracker for SEO keyword research is very useful, but what are its biases and weaknesses, and which of its options should you choose and why, and when do you need to use other tools to supplement data coming from its weaker points?

The fact is that there is no single, simple choice of tool for any part of the SEO process. The best SEO firms constantly evaluate tools, in part by running different ones in parallel, and in part by doing more manual tests to spot check tools that, in the past, seemed to work fine. This takes time and expertise, which is one reason that SEO firms can add value despite higher hourly rates than employees. Of course you can train an employee to get sufficient expertise to evaluate tools, and then pay the employee (or yourself) to take the time to constantly test the tools, but the ongoing need for such tools on the one or two websites you own probably won’t justify the investment in R&D and training.

This case of the micro-economics of selecting and using SEO tools connects to a broader economic trend in search marketing: as the need rises to do SEO completely and correctly to get results, and as the complexity of SEO increases, ever larger small businesses are excluded from effective SEO – and ever more unscrupulous SEO firms swoop in to offer services for prices that will not and do not support adequacy. True, new local search marketing channels are delaying this trend for small businesses serving local markets, but this only slows the trend. There are huge economies of scale in SEO, and I wonder whether this trend reflects a root cause of the world’s growing income inequality.

Bottom line: spend at least 15 hours each for evaluating SEO tools for each of SEO technical auditing, keyword research, and SEO results reporting.

What Kind of Payment Plans are Available in the SEO Industry?

SEO payment plans and contracts

You’ve climbed a mountain of information by which to decide how much to invest in SEO. Now you’ve got to pay for it. What are typical payment plans? When is it worth hiring in-house, and what are the pros and cons of doing so?

One SEO payment plan that I’ve covered elsewhere in depth is pay-for-performance (PFP): see http://www.2disc.com/about-us/press-and-media/visibility-magazine/pros-and-cons-of-pay-for-performance-in-search-marketing/ and www.2disc.com/blog/the-social-pay-off-in-profit-sharing-deals. PFP deals are complex and span at least a year. One type of pay-for-performance plan I don’t discuss in those articles is pay-per-position because that model has been broken by the large and constantly changing range of search engine positions based on such variables as personalization, geography, time, previous searches, continual experiments by search engines, and other factors that render proof of position, and calculation of payments, impossible. If you encounter such payment plans, either the firm offering them is way behind the curve, or their fine print accounts for variations in position in ways that could make future payments a point of ongoing contention. Here I focus on typical pay for services contracts.

At DISC, our proposals offer three options that cover the range you’ll find on the market:

  1. Businesses with sufficient budget prefer to get the benefit of all the work as quickly as possible, and have DISC do all the high priority services within a few weeks. (This cost a minimum of $5000, averages about $12,000, and can go upwards of $100,000 in the first year).
  2. To spread out costs over time, some business opt for an initial payment to cover the first round of highest priority work, and then pay monthly for 5 or 11 more months to cover the next most cost-effective tasks.
  3. A third alternative is simply to pay for one of the services, and contract for other services later. However, the more services you do together, the more synergies happen.

Most SEO work is done one-time and endures for years. Monthly retainers should be use for SEO work on additional pages or for other SEO or web marketing, not for tweaking recently completed SEO. The reasons for this are difficult to summarize, but in short, the search engines don’t change their on-page algorithms nearly as often as off-page algorithms, and even when on-page algorithms do change, the rules of good SEO keyword research and SEO copywriting rarely change in synch. So unless the language of your industry changes rapidly, don’t sign on for SEO plans that nebulously tweak SEO that should have been done right – with diversification to deal with minor algorithm changes – in the first place.

Of course you could also hire an SEO employee. In theory, if any one facet of search marketing will cost more than, say, $80,000 in labor per year, you are better off hiring in-house. However, the various parts of search marketing these days work best when synced together, which means that an SEO firm with several synchronized people each commanding distinct disciplines within search marketing can deliver far more synergies than can a single employee. SEO technical, CMS & Database SEO, SEO keyword research and copywriting, and SEO ROI reporting each demand expertise rarely possessed by a single person. Also, some search marketing tasks require a majority of the labor in the first year, at least on a single web site that doesn’t undergo major yearly changes, and most SEO is one-time and endures for years, which means that an in-house expert would eventually run out of cost-effective jobs. (Link marketing and SEO’d social media are ongoing tasks, but I don’t categorize that work as strictly SEO, and even in link marketing, there are diminishing marginal returns on each new inbound link added).

If you do decide to hire in-house, my 2003, SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) article on the topic remains well worth reading: www.sempo.org/?page=article_20030702&hh.

Posted in SEO

How Much Should You Invest in SEO within the 80-20 Rule?

Prices for SEO

How Many of These Do You Need for Effective SEO?

Uh-Oh!: This post has lots of numbers and is not chatty, fun, or easy to read. It is intended for marketing managers who really want to figure out what to invest in SEO. You can read just the bold text for a quick overview.

My post two weeks ago broached the 80-20 rule in SEO, and it suggested that because so many managers don’t go further than 20% — if they invest at all – pay-for-performance deals can unlock profits for both agency and client. But how are you to know what is the realistic 100% you could invest in SEO, and thus what the 20% would entail? This post will help you to ascertain that 20% by roughly calculating the 100% first.

Of course Sony.com and a 25 page brochure-ware website will each have very different 100%s. So let’s take two different kinds of websites to illustrate the range. One is a consumer ecommerce site selling 50,000 artist supplies (over 50,000 pages) and the other is a 25 page website promoting a civil litigation firm. Vastly different though these websites are, the prioritized list of SEO tasks is very much the same. Some of these SEO tasks require the same amount of time for both websites, and some of the tasks depend on the number of pages.

At the bottom of this post, I give rough time estimates based on DISC’s long history of tracking hours. Assign a monetary value to your team’s time (assuming your team knows what to do, which is a big assumption), or multiply hours by the hourly rate of a prospective SEO firm. DISC hourly rates for SEO are $175, with quantity discounts. Expect an average of $150 per hour on the market now. Rates go as high as $450 per hour. If rates are much less than $125 per hour, someone is getting hurt, probably you. On the other hand, a client may have or get a qualified person on staff, so for the sake of a rule of thumb, let’s put the hourly rate at $75 per hour. Also, remember that the great majority of this work is one-time and lasts for years.

A small site’s maximum is roughly 5500 hours (minimum is 127 hours). 5500 hours x $75 = $412,500 x 20% = $82,500. That may seem huge, but many professional service firm could make that back in one year easily. Below I mention the big effect of cutting video marketing and international marketing.

A large site’s maximum is roughly 56,000 hours (minimum is 254 hours). 56,000 x $75 = $4,200,000 x 20% = $840,000. Again this may seem huge, but consider that this can create tens of millions in sales in the US and much more internationally. If those new, additional sales came to a mere 8.4 million in the first two years, that puts the SEO cost at about 10%, and subsequent years are gravy.

In both cases, cutting international marketing and video marketing (which is as much or more about conversions rather than SEO), brings the 20% in the 80-20 rule to $5900 for the small site and $760,000 for the large site. Cutting the 50,000 product page SEO, and relying mostly on CMS & Database SEO, which can do a substantial amount of SEO automatically, reduces that 20% to about $100,000 for the large site.

In the old days of SEO, say from 1997 through 2005, SEO earned such huge returns when done right (though few knew how to do it right) that one did not need to spend much time calculating the optimum investment. Now it does take some time to make this calculation, but it is doable. Create a spreadsheet with various realistic increases in organic traffic x conversion rates x average gross profit. Consult with an experienced SEO person to learn how much work is needed to reach those increases. Of course DISC offers such services, and while this service here and at other good firms can take a few thousand dollars of time, you end up with a clear vision of the risks and rewards of investments – from 20% to 100% of the maximum – in SEO.


The numbers below are a very rough, but a good starting point for the manager considering SEO investments.

Practically speaking, some SEO tasks have no upper limit except what is determined by reaching the point of negative marginal return (that is, each dollar invested in a given SEO task returns less than a dollar in gross profit). This is a case where a good spreadsheet meets a good SEO person. Given gross profit per conversion (or lead tantamount to a conversion), an experienced SEO person can make a safe conservative guess at when negative ROI begins. That then marks the 100%.

I exclude social media marketing and link marketing, even though they are related to SEO (I consider link marketing distinct from SEO, though many lump the two together under SEO).

SEO jobs that take about the same amount of time regardless of the website’s size, content, and target markets:

  • SEO Technical Audit & Repairs – 8 to 16 hours, depending on amount of fixes needed.
  • Google and Bing Webmaster Services & XML SiteMaps – about 6 hours
  • Local SEO and Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) – minimum 4 hours, maximum 20 hours (per physical location)
  • Sub-Total – 20 to 48 hours

SEO jobs that take more time depending on the size of the site:

  • CMS & Database SEO – small site, 20 hours to 40 hours (The 25 page Brochure-ware site may need only 20 hours for manual application of the rules for all pages); Large ecommerce site, 40 to 80 hours.
  • Keyword Research and SEO Copywriting – small site, 20 hours to 80 hours; large site, 20 to 50,000 hours (an hour per page, plus complete keyword research)
  • SEO Results Reporting – small site, 12 to 24 hours; large site, 24 to 100 hours in a year (about 4 hours per month)
  • SEO’d Video Marketing – small site, 5 hours for SEOing one video to 100 hours for professionally producing and SEO placing over 20; large site, 50 to 500 hours.
  • SEO’d Blog Marketing – Small site 50 to 200 hours per year; large site 100 to 400 hours per year.
  • International SEO – Minimum of 20 hours for both sites; a huge maximum determined by point of negative marginal returns, but let’s cap at 5000 hours.
  • Sub-Totals – small site, 127 to 5,444 hours; large site, 254 to 56,400 hours
  • Grand Total hour – small site, 147 to 5,492 hours; large site, 274 to 56,448 hours

The 80-20 Rule in SEO

The 80/20 RuleSo you’ve decided that you want the free, relevant traffic delivered by SEO, but how much should you invest? That’s one of the toughest questions you’ll ever have to answer, for it asks you to predict the ROI of SEO vs. all other web marketing. By mining in-house and industry data and by using predictive tools, you can arrive at a good allocation. But before you do that, I would like you to step back and consider the 80-20 rule in SEO investments.

This blog post is derived from DISC’s Rob Laporte’s more extensive article, The 80-20 Rule in SEO, CRO, and Social Media, published in the Winter 2009 edition of Visibility Magazine.

The 80-20 rule is another name for “The Pareto Principle,” which was coined by the business management thinker Joseph Juran in the early 1940s. It is based on mathematics, and has been applied in economics, in such business management programs as Six Sigma, in The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, and even in wardrobes, where often 20% of one’s clothes get 80% of the wear. (Thanks to Wikipedia.com for the facts in that summary). Business people often hear the 80-20 rule in connection with sales, where 20% of the prospects or clients bring 80% of the business.

What many marketing managers don’t understand, especially in small and medium-sized businesses that are less rigorous in managerial accounting, is how to apply this rule when allocating web marketing dollars and time and when choosing the services of web marketing firms.

The 80-20 rule is merely a rule of thumb, and it is difficult to know (1) how much more or less than the 20% of maximum you should invest and (2) what activities should be part of that 20%. Is it worth paying for and taking time to use the more expensive SEO keyword research tools offered by the likes of Hitwise, comScore, and Enquisite? Will you earn positive ROI by going beyond giving a good copywriter a day or two of training, and instead hiring a dedicated professional or spending several thousand dollars in training? The answers differ in each web marketing activity and require long experience with the marketing ROI for diverse web sites. This requirement adds value to the wise and honest council of well-established search agencies.

The 80-20 Rule in SEO

My Visibility Magazine article, “Is KEI Useful?” (Fall 2009), explains: “Keyword research follows a variation of the 80-20 rule: the last 20 percent of perfection can take 80% more time. If your potential ROI and your order fulfillment capabilities are sufficiently high, then it’s worth finding the funds to factor KEI, or even to spend the tens of thousands of dollars on the more expensive keyword research tools.” The mirror image of that statement is, the first 20% of the enormous, maximum amount of time one could spend in keyword research generates 80% of the value in the final keyword lists. The 80-20 rule applies to SEO copywriting as well: the final 20% of perfection in lacing in both key phrases and conceptually related phrases according to optimum frequency, density, and distribution can take 80% more time, and the first 20% of labor can deliver 80% of the results.

Implications and Applications: SEO, as opposed to PPC, has much less predictive data by which to ascertain the reasonable maximum investment and thus the amount of labor cost comprised by the first 20% in the 80-20 rule. As in PPC, the tide of competition is rising, although several studies reveal a dramatic lag in SEO investments relative to PPC and relative to the clicks and conversions delivered by organic vs. PPC listings. Given the saturation in the PPC market, and given the “New Normal” economy, firms have been flooding into SEO during the last two years or so. While I still see plenty of low-hanging fruit in this field, I’ve also observed SEO proliferating. Like conversion rate optimization but unlike PPC, the first 20% of SEO will almost always produce positive ROI because there are no click costs and probably most of your competition has under-invested in SEO. For more about the content and costs of this first 20% of SEO, please see “One-Time vs. Ongoing SEO” in the December ’08 Visibility Magazine. If you have already done the first 20%, then, in order to ascertain how much more SEO is worth doing, you’ll probably need consulting by a pro with long experience doing SEO for many different businesses.

Does the 80-20 Rule Suggest Pay-for-Performance (PFP) Deals?

In a longer blog post I would include examples of spreadsheets by which my firm evaluates PFP and revenue share deals. Such deep analysis often shows that, while a modest 20% investment is certainly worthwhile, one would make much more profit, even if less marginal returns, by investing more like 60%. Yet many marketing managers are reluctant to spend even the 20%, especially in this economy. This situation creates enticing opportunities for agencies to do what great capitalists have always done during depressions or “great” recessions: take more ownership of businesses, in this case by deals that claim a few years of results in exchange for non-paid work up-front. This helps the clients too, by reducing their risk and up-front cost and by aligning incentives, though at the cost of probably paying more in the end.

Search agencies, enriched by experience and data from all kinds of client histories, are well qualified to ascertain the first 20% in the 80-20 rule and how much more than that 20% is worth doing, while prospects and clients are likely to under-invest. This situation, together with sophisticated software and analytic spreadsheets, creates enormous opportunities for both agencies and clients to reap rewards from an optimum investment point between the 20% and the 100% within the 80-20 rule.

Can I Rank #1 in Google?

That depends on what you’re trying to rank for.  Usually you can easily rank #1 for your company name (if it’s original). After that there’s a boatload of variables, some of which you can control, some of which you can’t. But since businesses always want to know if they can secure a top position in Google, we thought we’d give it to you straight from the horse’s mouth. Google that is.


Posted in SEO