A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Common SEO and Search Tool Questions
Answers to a few common questions about search, content, and the social industry and some advice about choosing SEO and marketing intelligence tools.
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Erin: Hey, everyone. Welcome to today’s edition of FOUND Friday. I’m Erin O’Brien, GinzaMetrics COO, and today I’m hosting the show alone. So I figured since I have the day to myself, I’d use this opportunity to address some common questions that we get throughout the course of the year since it is December and we’re closing out 2015.
I’ve got out four or five questions that we tend to get a lot here at Ginza as an SEO tool and also just throughout the search, content, and social industry. I want to kick it off and the first one is “How long should I spend looking for an SEO tool and what are some important things to look for?”
We get questions about people who are looking for different tools in the market whether they end up using us or not. When folks ask me how long you should spend looking for tools, I’d like to say that there’s no perfect time amount but there are a few things that I usually like to tell people to keep in mind to make sure that the process moves at a reasonable pace.
The first is that, obviously, if you have a need for a tool and you started looking for one, every day that you’re not using one, you’re not really probably doing SEO the best way you can or improving unless you’ve already got an incumbent tool that’s there and you’re looking to switch. If you do have a tool that’s an incumbent and you’re looking to switch, I would say that one of the things you need to make sure you’re doing is you have a list of the things that aren’t working out well with your current tool and create a list of things, our very, very basic needs that you absolutely must have, things that you don’t like about your current tool or organization that you’re working with, and then wish list features.
It’s important to make sure that you obviously tick off all the things on the must-have list first. Really focus on addressing the things that are frustrating you about your current tool because obviously that’s the pain point that you’re having that’s making you decide to switch. Then wish list things – that can sometimes be stuff that you can work with in organization on throughout the course of time. That may not necessarily be things that you have to have day one when you get there but if you talk to them about what their product roadmap looks like, that may be something that either is coming up in the next few months anyway or that they’ll work with you.
I know that that’s something that we do here. We talk with customers and potential new users all the time about what features they’re looking for in an SEO tool, what they want that product roadmap to look like, and then we try to make sure that we incorporate user’s feedback in there. So it may not be something that we can say, “Yes, day one, that’ll be available but we can make it available for you over time.” A lot of the times that partnership works out really well.
Other things that when I tell people when you’re talking about the length of time that it takes, trying to do trials for tools can be really complicated. It depends on whether you’re looking at getting a sandbox environment and using someone else’s data or using your own data and connecting and looking through stuff. This is actually a really common question and issue that we face here.
For folks who use a sandbox environment, keep in mind that because this isn’t your data and you don’t know exactly how the sandbox environment was set up or configured, that your data may not look the exact same. Be sure to ask things like what type of analytics was this connected to you? How long has this been running? How many keywords were added? What’s the like daily maintenance of this look like? Make sure that you’re really trying to compare apples to apples because it’s great to test drive essentially a perfect version of a platform that somebody set up, but then when you actually have to go in and set that up yourself and use your own analytics and do all of your own connections, you may end up with something that looks a little bit different and that may disappoint you or become a point of frustration and you just don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
The other thing I want to say in terms of trial accounts where you use your own data. Oftentimes these need to be longer trials. I know specifically with our tool we do daily rankings and we run everything really quickly, but even then it takes time to actually get enough data in the system to really understand how something would work. As with any large platform, there’s going to be a lot of stuff to learn and things to figure out. There’s always a learning curve.
A lot of times what I tell people to do is don’t sign up for five or six different trials of tools. What you need to do is do demos, do calls, do your due diligence on that end of things, and then only really trial one or two things. What I typically say is use the first week or two to make sure that everything is set up, try to learn a little bit about what’s going on. Use the next week or two to really try to start to problem solve and see how the workflow works for you, and if you have other team members, see how the workflow is working for them and make a real concerted effort to make that work. What we’re looking at is probably at least a one month timeline of a trial using your own data.
The great thing that you can also use a trial for especially if you only are looking at two different things is a lot of times that’s your ramp into your actual time with the tool. So it’s running data, it’s already populating stuff you’re looking at even if you’re not doing full-scale all of your sites or every page or anything. But it’s already starting to populate and you’re already adding some stuff in there. So technically, you’re hitting the ground running when you get cranking with whatever you choose.
I think that it’s always confusing for folks when you try to do multiple trials, like five different trials at one time. I really like to caution against doing that because at some point features start to blur together, something will have some really great features here, something else with great features there and there’s all these kind of noise and it’s really hard to live in one platform when you’ve got four other ones that you’re trying to manage. I think that do your due diligence on the front end and then only try out a couple of things.
Some other important things that I tell people to look for that I’ve seen to be constant pain points over the years. Outside of just making sure that core features work, there are some intangibles and some other things. First of all, you want to know how the company is structured. Where do they spend their money? Where do they invest? Do they have this huge sales team and massive tons of offices? Because that’s a lot of overhead that’s going towards that that’s not necessarily going towards feature development or product development. It doesn’t mean that there’s no other money going towards that, but when somebody is spending a lot of money on sales, advertising, and marketing, that’s spend that’s not necessarily going towards product improvement.
You always want to ask about what kind of their support system looks like. How are they going to be able to help you at your price point? A lot of folks will say that they have dedicated account management or things like that. But that only comes at certain prices. So just be really careful depending on how much help you want, let them know.
Another aspect of that is if you are really comfortable running things by yourself and you don’t think you’re going to need anything besides basic technical support or to report bugs or issues. You may actually be able to get a price break based on, “I actually don’t need an account manager. I really won’t bug you. If you agree to things like that, sometimes people give you a discount. I know we do.
Other things that’ll sometimes get you discounts or may change things is daily crawls versus weekly crawls. We, by default, do everything daily. But if somebody is looking for a lower price point we’ll say, “Hey, we’re happy to give you a lower price point if you’re willing to do weekly keyword ranking and weekly crawls.” That’s an option, as well.
Talking a little bit more about some of the intangibles of stuff, I would say that one of the things you need to make sure of is who on the team you really get to connect with on a regular basis. Sometimes you’ll talk to a higher level person in the beginning and then after that that person disappears and you just get relegated into this queue with the masses. I think that that can be really frustrating when you have reports due, clients need things, some sort of technical difficulty happen specifically at the end of the month when you’re trying to run a bunch of reports and things.
You want to make sure that whoever you’re working with on a day-to-day basis is obviously responsive and knowledgeable and actually takes the time to learn a little bit about your account and your business. But you also want to make sure that you have some sort of connection or line up the chain to make sure that you can actually get a hold of people that you need to get a hold of if you do need to escalate something.
Both Ray, the CEO and founder, and I try to get involved in every single account that comes on board. We actually do the majority of our demos for the global team still, which while that means something like 4:00 and 5:00 AM calls or 11:00 PM calls, it gives us a chance to really get to know people and be really up front about whether or not we think we’re a good fit.
Another good intangible thing is when you’re doing your due diligence. Somebody should tell you whether or not they think that they’re a good fit. We point people in different directions all the time, not because we don’t love and want people’s business, but that’s because we would rather have a happy non-customer who knows that we’re trying to be honest than an unhappy customer who wants out of their contract later because we try to force them into a tool that wasn’t actually going to work for their needs. That’s something else that I think is really important, as well.
The last intangible thing I think is important to look for when you’re looking for a product is who’s going to help you get onboarded and are they going to get you connected, work with you for 48 hours and then turn you lose? You want to be able to ask questions and you want to be able to get that starting help that you really need because you want to make sure that things are set up so much of what I perceived to go wrong with people’s accounts happens on the front end. It’s not setting, not getting onboarded correctly and learning how to actually create workflows within the tool. It’s not setting up reports. It’s not creating keyword groups and content groups to get the maximum impact.
Things like that would be detrimental to your success with your search and content marketing tools later because it’s that front end time. So when you’re picking something on the front end, you need to know that somebody’s actually going to be there to walk you through that and help you out. Whether or not that means some sort of paid training or account manager or that somebody has just said, “Yes, we will absolutely do that,” Just make sure if you need it, it’s going to happen.
The next question we get a lot is “What happens if I can’t find the perfect fit? You guys don’t necessarily have 100% of the features we want or I can’t find something that has 100% of the features. What then?”
I think that this is interesting because it dovetails into that first question about how long should you look for a platform? When you’re talking about finding the perfect fit, the answer to that is there’s probably not a 100% perfect fit for everything because that would just mean that something had been custom built for your company, and that’s not saying you can’t do that if you’ve got the resources. But with anything there’s probably going to be a little bit of give and take. There’s going to be maybe a workflow aspect or maybe a feature that you eventually want or something like that.
I think that what you’re looking for is you need to cover those core things. At the beginning when I talked about segmenting things out into those three separate groups, things that you really, really absolutely have to have like basic needs. Then a list of stuff that’s like what’s not working right now if you’re using some other version of tools and then make sure that you try to address as many of those, if not all, if you can because if that stuff that’s not working is annoying you right now about another tool, it’s going to annoy you again.
Then your wish list. If you can’t find the perfect fit, the first thing I would say is you have to get rid of anything that doesn’t cover basic needs. If it’s not covering basic needs, you’re not going to end up using it. It’s going to be a pain point and you’re probably going to end up spending more time than you should have dealing with fixes and workarounds.
This is a really important part when people talk about pricing. Do not go cheap. Don’t sacrifice basic needs and things that have really frustrating you about another platform just to get cheaper on pricing. That usually ends up to not working out very well budget-wise in the end.
We were talking with somebody who was a potential user a couple of years ago and they had done demos and they were really excited about using the platform and then they ended up saying, “Well, you know what, actually what we think we can do is we think we can just use Excel spreadsheets and do SEO in Excel.”
I had said, “I would love to caution you against doing that. You don’t have to use us, but I just suggest that you use something that does some kind of automation.”
They were like, “No, no. We’re just going to use spreadsheets. We’re going to use spreadsheets.”
What ended up happening was they ended up calling us about nine months later and said that they’d had to hire somebody to actually full-time manage this spreadsheet and that the cost and time that that person was spending managing all of these spreadsheets, graphs, and stuff that they were having to hand create cost way more than actually just using a tool and having it just give you the data and the information, the reports, graphs, and insights that you needed anyway.
So I would always say to make sure that you’re considering opportunity and time cost when you’re looking at cheapening out or going with something that doesn’t meet all of your needs to save on cost or doesn’t meet all of your needs because you’re just frustrated with the process. I think that happens a lot, too. People get frustrated with the process, they just want to make a decision, so they’re like, “Blah. I’ll just go with whatever this thing is because I’m already checking it out.”
Other things with the perfect fit is – I’ll go back to saying that one of the really important things in picking the right tool is because I don’t think that there’s always going to be a perfect fit that one of the things that you can do is be sure to look at the roadmap and talk to them about whether or not they’re going to work with you on features because that may get you closer to that perfect fit, that may be the perfect fit. Maybe not today but three months, six months from now as you grow together and work together with your team, that tool may actually end up becoming more of what you want.
Another thing that I will say about things being a perfect fit is sometimes when you start working with the platform, you’ll think you want things and then once you get in there and really start messing with it, you’ll find other stuff or you’ll be like, “Actually, I like it this way. I would rather do this.”
Sometimes I think that coming in with this list of 20 different things that you want created from the tool is actually detrimental because you’ve already said, “This is the stuff that I need,” and you’re only two weeks in to using it. You need to give it a little bit of time. You need to work with it for a while. I usually say around the 60 to 90-day mark is the best possible time to sit down and re-evaluate with somebody at the organization and say, “We’ve been using this for 60 to 90 days. Here are some things that I’d like to be able to do that I haven’t figured out how to accomplish using the tool yet or I don’t know if possible using the tool. Is there a way to do that in the current version or can we get some feature updates?” Make some requests, ask for some help, but give it a little bit of time. It’s kind of a little bit about perfect fit.
Another question I get really frequently is “How does Competitor Discovery works?”
I know we’re switching gears here but I’m covering a plethora of things today. Competitor Discovery is a feature that we released early this year alongside Keyword Discovery. What those tools are trying to do for you – we know you know who some of your core competitors are and that’s great. But based on the keyword you’re tracking and content you’re creating, what you need to know is who else is creating content that’s taking traffic away from you, that’s taking rank position away from you?
Competitor Discovery and Keyword Discovery work together to help you recognize opportunities where you may not have known number four. With Competitor Discovery, what we’ll do is we’ll look around and find other sites, other brands, other things that are creating content that’s taking traffic away from you. We’re going to show you things like CPC data, we’re also going to show you all the traffic and some analytics information alongside. Then what we’re going to show you that’s supposed to be most helpful part for you is the exact keywords and the exact content that they’re creating that they’re competing with you for.
The example I always like to use is if I make trail running shoes and I have a site for that. I’m very specific about just this trail running shoes. It’s not helpful for somebody to just say “Nike is a competitor” because Nike makes a million things, everything from apparel to equipment to shoes for 20 different sports or more. Just giving me Nike.com and saying good luck is probably more harmful than helpful because it will take me forever to sort through it.
Instead, what we’ll show is the exact keywords on Nike and the exact content on Nike that’s competing for trail running shoes so that then you can say, “Here’s exactly what they’re doing.” This dovetails into another question that we get a lot which is, “How can I find content ideas using SEO?” This is one of the best places to do it.
If you’re looking in Competitor Discovery, even if the thing that was surfacing is not necessarily a direct competitor, (1) it’s taking traffic based on these keywords and (2) it means they’re creating content that’s relevant to your audience based on those search terms. Take a look at that content and if it’s not a direct competitor, what it is is a great list of content ideas for things that you can talk about in relationship to your brand to create new content around a particular idea that obviously already has some traffic driving to it.
There are a lot of different ways that you can take this data and information around trending keywords and topics, keyword activity, competitor activity, Competitor Discovery, and Keyword Discovery, and put it together to say, “Hey, we actually don’t have a lot of content that looks like this around this thing.”
For example, I’ll go back to the trail running shoe idea. Maybe all I’ve been talking about with my trail running shoes is what my shoes are made of, how awesome they are, and some pictures of them. But maybe what people want to know is best trails in the area. Maybe as the shoe manufacturer, I could get a community together to talk about that. Maybe I could show some videos of the shoes in action. Maybe could get a runners’ community together.
There are a lot of different things and aspects that you can find that it looks like people are interested in and some ancillary topics that are not just great for creating content but are great for conversation starters on things like social. As we’re talking about how search and social continue to weave their way together as well as content, this a really great way to try to talk with your audience a little bit more about some more relevant things.
There may even be some great partnership opportunities in there. I think that sometimes the Competitor Discovery title throws people off a little bit. Its competing content it’s not always necessarily a direct competitor. What you can use it for is a million other things besides just finding a new competitor. You can find those too but you can also find partnership opportunities, content opportunities, social opportunities, overall marketing trends, really great things like that. I would say that that’s probably a missed opportunity but it’s not something that you’re looking at or using right now.
The last question I’m going to address is, people always ask, “If you have to do one thing with SEO, what would you do?”
That one makes me laugh because it’s a lose-lose question. No matter what I say, it’s not going to be the perfect answer for everyone and somebody will disagree with it. What I would say for me that’s important is setting up a workflow that you’ll actually use. Bar none, that’s the thing that I tell everybody.
SEO, because it keeps changing so much and content and social, every aspect of this industry is constantly influx. That said, the only way to really tackle a problem that you know is going to ebb and flow often is to find a systematic way of addressing issues and making improvements that you’ll actually do on a regular basis because that’s the key with search and content, these things on a regular basis. Developing a system that you will address consistently is going to be the thing that helps you the most.
For me, when everybody asks for the one thing that I would do, I say develop a good workflow. Figure out what works with your team, figure out who’s going to own what. Find a tool that you’ll actually look at on a regular basis or set up reporting or recommendations thing that works regularly. One of my little tips that I always give people, because we have custom reporting and dashboard center, is I have a report that comes to me every day that has my top keyword activity, major goal completions, and top recommendations just embedded in an e-mail. I don’t even necessarily have to log in every day. It’s just always in my inbox and it’s there. That’s part of what works for me because I need just an overview of what’s going on and I need to keep my finger on the pulse.
For folks who have a lot of different hats that they’re wearing, I say set up custom dashboards based on all of your hats. Set up a social dashboard, a content dashboard, a competitor dashboard, whatever you need to do. For folks who are really deep in the weeds in SEO, rearrange the tool to make it what you need. We’ll do that with you and find a tool that has a workflow that you will actually log in to and enjoy using as much as you can enjoy it.
The workflow thing probably is my biggest recommendation not just for 2015 and 2016 but probably for all time. I hope that everybody has had a great week and a great start to the holiday season. I will catch you guys again soon. Bye.