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.