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By Kristen Holden

Goodbye SEO Software, Hello SEO Web Applications

By Kristen Holden
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sheerseo_postI’m a little perplexed at the speed in which the SEO industry is adopting new technologies, especially for a constantly evolving industry that’s based on being as nimble as Google.

Having worked in SEO for many years, I’ve used almost every tool under the sun for various elements of research, including site analysis, link analysis, and keyword tracking. The problem with most of these solutions is that they’re still developed with an old-school mentality, where you’re effectively anchoring the software to a single computer. Today I’ll highlight some of the problems this can cause and present some alternative web applications. I’ll be taking up the challenge to make the lives of fellow SEO professionals a little easier, as well as providing clients with greater transparency. I’ll also review several SEO web applications, looking at the positive effect they can have on your campaigns and workflow management.

Here’s how the old process, based on desktop apps, used to work:

  • purchase the software outright and download it
  • install the software on the computers where it will be used
  • perform the SEO-related task
  • export reports and share via email

Any time you wanted to run a ranking report, the software has to complete this task locally.

To be fair, most of these desktop applications automate the process of running and emailing reports; however, they still rely on the computer being switched on to connect to the Internet.

The Best Desktop Applications and Why They Still Fail to Stack Up

There are some well-designed desktop applications that make the life of an SEO professional easier. Before these came about, I can’t begin to describe the pain or guesswork that was involved in starting and managing an SEO campaign; so, kudos to the likes of SEO Elite, LinkAssistant, and other heavy-hitting pieces of software—you really have changed the industry.

A couple of the desktop applications I currently use on a daily basis are:

  • Keyword Elite 2.0—A reliable keyword research and competitive data collection program. Version 1 was great but this went to the next level. Yet, here are some reasons why I think it’s falling short of its potential:
    • It’s locked to a predefined computer after being downloaded and installed.
    • Sharing reports or any data is quite cumbersome, and generally requires third-party manipulation in Excel for proper presentation.
    • There’s no direct client access to the data via a web interface, so they’re unable to log in at their leisure.
  • LinkAssistant PowerSuite—A powerful set of tools that allow you to manage and track SEO campaigns. It comprises four separate applications, with each focusing on a specific element of your SEO campaign and having a robust reporting tool that produces client-friendly data. Here are some of the reasons why it doesn’t quite satisfy my needs:
    • Single computer installation, which means I always have to carry my laptop around or pay to install the program on separate machines.
    • Large and complex reports can take weeks to produce when running locally, due to processor speed and internet connection restrictions.
    • There’s no ability to give clients direct access to run their own reports, so transparency is a real issue.

Is there a better way?

What most of these solutions lack is a proper web application, so that wherever you are or whichever computer you’re using, you always have access to the latest statistical information to make educated decisions involving optimization. For example, if I want to show a client a report, I want to avoid having to export it to an Excel file, editing the data, and then sending it through as an excel graph; I simply want the ability to log in (and give clients access to log in) and show the latest results in an easy-to-understand manner.

It’s Time the SEO Community Boarded the Web Apps Bandwagon

Think about how frustrating email was before services like Gmail and Hotmail appeared on the scene. How about the time before Google docs existed or before online services such as box.net were around? Did you share files via email, or upload by FTP? Annoying! The world is increasingly moving towards web apps and for good reason: it makes accessing and sharing your data much easier. It also takes the reliance on a single internet connection or point of failure away from the desktop application.

What SEO web applications are worth trying?

  • SheerSEOOne of the best examples I’ve come across of a service that fills a specific niche well is SheerSEO. It does a great job performing on a relatively simple yet niggling set of tasks. Such tasks are essential to your initial SEO analysis and ongoing optimization, including:
    • keeping customers and stakeholders up to date with site rankings automatically and storing this data online
    • suggesting keywords and URLs to track during the setup process
    • defining the regularity of polling and the frequency of emailed reports
    • giving access to stakeholders and clients so that they can always check the latest data or compare it to historical trends
    • tracking inbound and social links that point to every part of your website and establishing their effect on rankings
    • the ability to pull data captured through SheerSEO’s web application into your own dashboards and reports via their XML output stream

Because SheerSEO automates basic but essential tasks for you, it’s much easier to just set and forget, unlike other SEO software that runs as a desktop application; you can then use that time to focus on improving rankings, rather than the hassle of tracking them! SheerSEO accounts have a 90-day free trial; however, if you wish to upgrade it starts from as little as $9.95 per month.

  • BasecampThis is one of the original and most reliable web applications. It’s always stuck to its principles and kept it simple. Built with a highly flexible API system, it can be integrated in numerous ways into your own applications, which I personally find very handy. Although this is not an SEO-specific web application, it lends itself extremely well to the SEO workflow. Some benefits of using Basecamp to manage SEO projects are:
    • it’s an extremely reliable provider that has a very long history of uptime, so no clients will be hassling you about a server going down
    • it’s flexible enough to allow you to define specific sets of actions, load them for each new client, and then assign tasks to the right departments—all with a few clicks, allowing you to track the entire lifecycle of each SEO client
    • it offers complete transparency for clients, allowing them to log in to the system and see milestones, to-do lists, reports, and messages relating to their project, centralizing communication and delivery
    • the ability to integrate directly with services such as SheerSEO or your own web applications via API calls and automated reporting, giving your clients a single dashboard

Basecamp is a great base from which to build your SEO business, allowing you the freedom to integrate your own applications while delivering a stable platform and intuitive interface. This comes with a free 30-day trial on all levels of accounts.

Conclusion: Where SEO Software is Heading

There is still no single killer application around to simplify the life of an SEO professional; however, pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together and there are promising signs that the bigger issues are being tackled. In the short term, it appears users will be stuck utilizing various, individually powerful desktop applications which when used together, give amazing insights and a competitive advantage. The downside is the data-sharing and portability nightmare it produces. Let’s hope that one day soon some of these players move to web-based applications, like those featured in this post, and make all of our lives that little bit easier. Until then, happy multi-tasking, and make sure that your Excel skills are up to date!

Full disclosure:

Eyal from SheerSEO.com has been good enough to provide the SitePoint team with a free SheerSEO account. However, I’ve been a paid customer of this tool for many years, and have no hesitation recommending it based on my experience over this time.

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