A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Should You be Using an Enterprise SEO Platform?
Erin O’Brien, President at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Hi, welcome to this week’s episode of FOUND Friday. This is the last in a series we’ve been doing for the last few weeks on enterprise SEO platforms and what the choices are out there right now. This week, we’re talking about should you still be using an enterprise SEO platform.
Obviously, there are some people out there who still want a mid-size solution. But it really seems a few of those options exist or stay around for very long, or they do exist but more as like niche solutions as opposed to a real search and content fully integrated marketing tool. It may serve one specific purpose, but not all-encompassing feature-rich situation.
During the first conversation in the series, we reviewed some things that I’d heard people talk about in terms of what makes platform enterprise. That ended up breaking down into as volume of data, basically talking about the number of tracked keywords, pages, competitors, volume of exports, things like that. Data availability and sophistication, which referred to more of the type of data you can collect, which is local, mobile, insights available, can you look at and analyze competitor content, that sort of thing. Does that tool integrate with other platforms, have an API, bring additional sources in if you need to. And then, organization and management – what that entails as stuff like account management, an onboarding support, automated reporting, white labeling of the dashboard and other reports inside of it, workflow, task management, all of those other items that would make a platform more enterprise.
I also discussed some of the issues around platform choice on Edge of the Web Radio podcasts with Erin Sparks, Douglas Karr, and Tom Brodbeck a few weeks ago. One of the things that came from that conversation was that they brought up this growing list of issues that SEOs and marketers have in sharing information, how do you really get these teams to work together effectively, and what does the platform that even supports that really look like, and what are the key elements in getting everybody on the same page. So, even if you have this enterprise SEO platform, how can you actually get data to people in a way that they consume it?
That conversation was really great and kind of in-depth, so I will put the link to that show in the blog post on the show notes. But definitely we’re going to take a look at that because that’s coming from industry experts and journalists who really are saying a lot of the same conversations and problems that everybody else is.
As I’m browsing my newsfeed the other day, I see this article on Search Engine Land titled “Should you still be using an enterprise SEO platform?” by a columnist Ian Bowden. Of course, I immediately clicked on it while saying to myself, “Yes, you should,” but then I think back on everything we’ve been discussing and I reflect, “Well, maybe not.” Maybe, if you’re not actually going to use the functionality or don’t need all these things, maybe you don’t need an enterprise SEO platform, maybe you just need some volume data exports and if you can get that from a one-off solution, maybe that’s your answer.
I’m reading through this article and I thought this might be a good thing to discuss today because he starts off by mentioning he has noticed a similar trend: users challenging whether or not they actually need this enterprise SEO platform and whether or not if they think that they don’t, if budget could actually be utilized elsewhere for greater gains in the organization. I want to talk through how Ian breaks down the components of an enterprise tech platform because his observations are similar somewhat in terms of breakdown and maybe a little varied but also a good perspective on whether or not this is still a relevant conversation.
The way that Ian breaks them down into core capabilities of an enterprise SEO platform are performance and insights, technical optimization, forecasting, content marketing, and campaign management. I agree that these are all really great capabilities. Obviously, a little different in how I was approaching it, which was what actually makes a platform termed enterprise, or when talking about volume and things like onboarding and scaling things. I was maybe looking at it a little bit differently, so it’s interesting to get somebody else’s input because he actually works in an agency, not as a tool creator but more of as a tool user.
He also mentioned something that I totally agree with, which is the biggest factor that determines a platform’s usefulness is its usage. I say all the time the best solution for you is the one that you’ll actually use. It’s the same thing I see about diet and exercise, savings, plans, anything. The thing that you’ll actually do regularly is by far the best option because even if it’s not perfect, using something even it’s not amazing is better than having an amazing tool that you never touch.
When he’s talking about performance and insights, this was actually the thing that he says is really the core function of SEO platforms and is the most useful feature. What he’s talking about with this is calculating visibility and understanding search visibility of websites, looking at search volume and applying it to different things, and also looking at large data sets and being able to really ask your team different visibilities across a lot of different places. Because we as search platform providers have been collecting data for a really long time across huge amount of stuff, we are actually pretty good at it. And so a lot of times the best possible way to get access to this data is going to be to use an enterprise search platform.
The thing is, this goes back to my constant rant which is this is really only as useful typically as your ability to set things up and be able to do something with this information once you get it. This means grouping keywords and content, creating campaigns. Actually, being able to segment stuff out so that as you’re looking at hundreds, thousands, millions of keywords across a bunch of different content, potentially across a bunch of different sites, the only thing that this really cool insights and performance level data is going to help you do is work on things if you’ve actually set it up so that you can work on it. Again, this goes back to the usefulness part. It’s useful based on usage, which means you actually have to spend the time to set it up.
He mentions forecasting talking about being a critical component, not just a secure budget but to push through recommendations to build a business case for content. What’s interesting about forecasting for me is that a lot of times what I feel happens with tools is they want so badly to provide you a forecasting tool is that they will grab some numbers and information, and put them together and make that prediction, or tell you that this is what something should do. One of the problems with this is if you just take generalized numbers about CPC or certain types of information about search volume and click-through rate and all these different ideas, sometimes you’re not looking at them industry versus industry, so it may not even be really that relevant to the specific people and audiences that you’re looking at, and so your benchmarks may be completely different.
Another thing with forecasting is there’s not all the data available. So, obviously Google doing keywords not provided and some other things going on, meaning that nobody really has access to everything and so we’re all making inferences. At best case, what we can tell you or what somebody should be able to tell you is the amount of certainty that they have in their methodology and their algorithm, and nobody can tell you that they’re completely certain. And, if they do they’re wrong.
Additionally, what we’re talking about, too, is forecasting and a lot of this methodology needs to be the combination of a lot of different data points from a lot of different areas. If you have hooked up Google Analytics or something to your search platform or your search platform is looking at stuff – when we’re talking about traffic, content, click-through rates, conversions, and a bunch of other different things, there are so many things happening. This should be part of such a larger conversation that hanging your hat completely on that one forecast or expecting it to be dead-on accurate all the time or being told that it will be is not a great idea.
I think that there’s a lot of information and I think that what we can look to for forecasting is general trends and directions and a starting point for conversations and a place to say, “This is the projection.” But obviously a lot of what forecasting is supposed to be helping you do is not have to take a part all these pieces of data and make the forecast yourself in your own spreadsheet format rate.
For me, the real value in forecasting is saving you the time of trying to make your own statistical inferences about where things should be headed. The great part about platforms is we’re doing it for you and we can a lot of times actually look at enough sites and enough content to get a little bit more specific because we have access to it. So, we may be able to give more statistically relevant than you are with just your site or with just like a subset of sites. I would say that forecasting is great in terms of saving you the time, but I just warn against anybody who tells you that they have the best forecasting situation ever, that it’s completely accurate, no.
Obviously, one of the things that everybody provides for the most part is some technical recommendations. Ian mentions that this is an area where he feels like SEO platforms are weaker and could improve. I actually agree. I think that he mentions that this is an area that generally attracts a more entry to mid-level SEO person with score cards and suggestions and priorities and things. I agree to some degree that this is an area where everyone can improve.
If you really look at what it takes to generate something beyond, more basic recommendations, I go back to this thing that I was just talking about with forecasting, which is to make really good recommendations, you have to have access to a lot of information and you have to be industry-specific, site-specific. You have to get really specific. There’s some human element to some of that where you need to have people checking into this or managing this process more.
When we’re talking about looking into SEO recommendations, I know that we at GinzaMetrics are heavily focused on improving the recommendations that we serve to our users, but what we don’t want to do is just include recommendations or update recommendations to tell you that we updated them. We want to actually give you recommendations that if you spend the time and resources implementing them, we’ll actually move the needle for you because I don’t just want to give you a list so that you have a list, so that you can say you’re doing something. I want the thing that you do to actually help you improve your life.
I would say that if you’re going to look at a tool based on the recommendations that they provide, do a little bit of research and understand what exactly it is that doing these things will do for you, for your site, for your traffic. If you want to, you should ask the tool provider what kinds of things should you expect. They’re not going to be able to give you exact numbers; if they do, that’s dangerous territory. But they should be able to tell you, “Yeah. If you correct a lot of these things, typically this helps X.”
Content marketing is next on his list. He says that platforms are missing the real trick here, that there’s a lot of debate about how to evaluate a website to understand its algorithmic value and influence, and that page authority and domain authority are only third party metrics, that these metrics are ultimately trying to qualify how trustworthy or authoritative given pages as perceived by search engines. Ian’s talking about understanding SEO and link data and link influence, and a lot of these other things.
Ian leaves off saying it’s fair. He says he thinks it’s fair to say that it’s not worth investing in an SEO platform with the intention of attaining more link data. However, some content marketing tools are nice to have. I think what we’re talking about content marketing tools and link information and a lot of this stuff, everyone, to my knowledge, is trying. I don’t know a single SEO tool provider out there who’s not trying to figure out a way to crack this idea of how to help people create the most relevant content that will get found and that will do better in terms of influence, that will do better in terms of visibility. We’re all working toward it, and I think that we’re all working toward it in a lot of times a similar and adjacent way. Sometimes people take a new unique spin on it. All of the time that we’re working on this, search engines are working on doing things differently so that users have a better experience and so that we don’t create content that just games the system.
When it comes to content marketing tools and that integration, I think that content marketing and tools that help with content marketing in general, I feel like search has one of the best possible chances at providing really relevant content information because what we’re looking at is what people are natively looking for anyway and how they’re talking about it, where they’re searching for it, how they’re phrasing things, what they’re doing once they’ve actually found it and interacted with it organically. So I think that when we’re talking about the proliferation or change of content marketing tools, I truly believe that folks in the search and organic business really have a great shot at creating something good, I just think that we have to be a little bit patient.
The last thing he mentions is campaign management. He’s actually talking some about workflow here too. He’s talking about, can it integrate with something like Basecamp or Project Management? Does it allow you to get in there and manage multiple things? I do feel like, when you’re talking about an enterprise platform, if you have a lot of people working in the SEO environment or if you have a lot of various teams that can benefit from this data, one of the things that’s great about a bigger platform is, like at Ginza one of the things we do have task management so you can create tasks from anywhere within the platform, you can access and share task lists, you can break them up, all that great stuff. The other things that are included in our workflow area is reports, we do unlimited reporting. Reports are also able to be custom dashboards, which you can white label but are still modularized versions of the platform. So, you can get in there, dig around, create your own versions and use that custom dashboard link to share with people who maybe only want to just see that information.
For example, you could have a custom dashboard that’s just for one particular client. You could also have custom dashboards that are for specifically maybe somebody who just cares about one type of campaign, or content group, or keyword group. Maybe somebody only compares about one segment of competitors and just wants competitor information. Maybe somebody really cares a lot about the search and social stuff combined. Maybe you actually have some contractors working for you and you just want to export task lists and have them just be able to see recommendations and you just want to see their progress of recommendations. Each of those people can have a dashboard, but this means that this one big platform can actually be broken out into smaller segments that other people can use. That tends to be really helpful.
Automated reporting is also a really big deal for larger organizations and for agencies. I know that a lot of times people feel the worth of the platform itself is often justified by the idea that they don’t have to pay an account manager to sit around and create reports for one week of the month, that that person’s entire job was just sitting around doing reporting for all their clients. So if you have an enterprise SEO tool that automates all this reporting stuff for you, even better. Because then, people could actually spend time doing analysis instead of just number dumping.
Ian concludes that yes, you should still be using a platform because of the great visibility and insight capabilities and that a lot of the other features are nice to have depending on whether or not you’ll use them. I wanted to tackle a little bit about maybe who shouldn’t use an enterprise platform, and obviously I’m not here to turn away business. One of the things I always say is that when I meet somebody who I don’t think is going to be a very good fit for the platform and we’re in discussions, whether that in the middle of a demo or we’re doing follow up conversations, is I’m really honest to say, “I don’t think this is going to work out.” That’s not because I don’t want to work with someone. That’s because I don’t want to work on something where I don’t think everybody’s going to benefit because I don’t want you to not achieve your goals and blame the product for it, or I don’t want you to be frustrated with you experience with the tool, with the platform itself. I think that having positive interactions with the users is more important than having more users.
A couple things that I would say would probably mean you’re not a great candidate right now for an enterprise platform – and maybe it’s not that you’re not a great candidate or your company is not a great candidate for enterprise platform in general, maybe it’s just not right now. Maybe there’s just needs to be a little bit of work to do.
The first thing is you’re not going to use it regularly. You are already tapped out, you’re using 20 different things, you have 50 different responsibilities and this is going to be something that you just log in to once in a blue moon, it just may be too much in terms of budget. It just may be too much tool for what you’re actually going to utilize it for. Maybe you need some time or maybe you need a team member who actually will be able to utilize it and all of its insights more regularly.
Your department and your entire marketing organization are aligned on goals. Now, this is a weird one because people will say, “Why would that stop me from having an enterprise SEO platform?” It actually doesn’t stop you from getting it, you can buy whatever you want. If you don’t know how it is that you’re going to be measured and people don’t seem aligned on what’s most important through the department, this is going down as a budget line item that people aren’t really sure how to understand the impact of. If everybody’s goals aren’t synced up, this may not be the best time to be jumping in on a large platform.
Next is you don’t have any way to actually make changes based on the insights and recommendations from the platforms. This actually did happen a year ago and it was heartbreaking. Somebody came in, signed up really wanted to use platforms, really gung-ho about it, gets in there, gets all these great things going on, has all these insights, but then lacks the internal structure to be able to do anything to effect changes on their site. It was one of those things where they were like, “Great. I’m going to give these recommendations to somebody,” and that person was like, “I’m not making these changes.” If you don’t have the ability to effect change or there’s not a process in place for somebody to take these insights, or recommendations, or different things that are coming out of the platform and actually do something useful with them, get that part solved before you actually get the platform.
Next would be, it doesn’t integrate with any of the other things that you’re using that are integral to your business. It doesn’t have to integrate one-to-one. It doesn’t have to be a direct API connection, it doesn’t have to necessarily hook up with data. What I mean when I say it doesn’t integrate with other things that you’re doing is, “Does this in any way, shape or form actually fit logically in a process of things that are truly integral to your business?” or “Is this an integral piece of the business?” and “How does it fit with all the other things that you’re doing?” If it’s just like its own standalone thing over here and everything else is like this well-working system, you need to figure out how or what is going to fit into this system to make sure that you picked the right thing, because that will go back to usefulness. You won’t use it if it doesn’t integrate with all the integral things to your business.
The last thing that I always talk about is you don’t know what you need. When I say you don’t know what you need, saying, “I know I need an SEO platform,” is not what I mean. What I mean is, you don’t know what you need in terms of volume, or in terms of features, or in terms of functionality, or how it’s actually going to do any of the things I just mentioned. You don’t know what your marketing and team goals are, or people don’t agree about them. You don’t have any way to actually utilize or make the changes that it’s suggesting or to take the data and do something more with it, it doesn’t integrate with the other stuff that you’re up to.
You have to actually sit down and really think about it because here’s the thing: you may decide you want an enterprise SEO platform but they’re all different. While all of the tools out there can help you accomplish various search-related things, everything has a different place for different people’s businesses. Do the research up front to figure out what it is that you really need and why and then have real conversations with folks based on that decision because that’s how you’re going to get the thing that you’re actually going to use on a daily basis. It’s because it’s going to fit eventually seamlessly into a workflow that optimizes your marketing decisions. The wrong tool is going to either be something that sits around and never gets touched and collects dust, or it’s going to be the thorn in your side that you’re constantly fighting with and you’ll feel like you’re working for the tool and not the tool working for you.
That concludes our series on what makes an enterprise SEO platform for now. We’re actually going to probably talk to some other folks about that, get a little bit more industry opinion. You can always look up the show notes for this. Usually it takes us couple of days to get it out on the GinzaMetrics blog. Or you can check out our Twitter hash tag where we usually share show notes and links on our Twitter handle @GinzaMetrics. You can also e-mail me anytime on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have suggestions, want to disagree with me, or suggest other topics for the show, I’m happy to hear them.
Until next week, we will see you soon.