Ready for a confession? OK, I've recently gotten into watching reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Back off, I work in SEO; it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a geek.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure Data is my favorite character. He's a machine, a robot, and yet with all of his superior automation, he longs to have human emotions and intuition.
It reminds me that as powerful as technology is, without humanity, it is and will always be incomplete. Whether it's the 21st century or the 24th, machines and tools are only as valuable as the people controlling them.
When we're talking about link building tools, there's absolutely no substitute for the human element. There are some killer specimens of tools in all areas of building links and they can definitely strengthen a link building campaign.
Link building tools certainly bring a lot to the table in terms of data collection, organization, and presentation, but they aren't a replacement for having savvy individuals working the controls. Personality, humanity, and the ability to analyze a situation are still the strongest link building tools in the world.
Keywords tools are a great way to figure out what phrases to target and what kinds of content to generate. They give us an idea of what's being searched, and the search volume associated with each term.
Without some human deduction, however, it's easy to get swallowed by the sheer volume of keyword possibilities. We need to be able to prioritize and cross reference data to make sure that we put our energy in to the keywords with the most potential and the most reward.
For example, just because a phrase is well searched doesn't mean it's necessarily the best one to go after. There's competition to consider, as well as practicality.
- It's one thing to rank well for something you sell, but if it's only a minor part of your business, should it be a priority?
- If you rank well for a term but your analytics show that it isn't bringing in much traffic is it still worth putting more energy and resources into pushing it up further?
- If a site ranks for a particular phrase but has a high bounce rate, is it perhaps the wrong page to be targeting or does the page simply need conversion optimization?
These are all questions people will ask themselves while looking at the information a tool can offer. Keyword tools provide raw numbers which are educational, but they aren't the end of the process. It still takes some level of human comprehension to determine the variables and calculate the most productive targeting strategies.
I love prospecting tools that generate lists of possible contacts based on specific parameters. They can create organized lists, spreadsheets, and columns of interesting factors that a standard search will not.
It's awesome to get all of that information in front of you, but it doesn't automatically equate to a 100 easy contacts. The fact is you still need a discerning eye to look at the list for insights that a tool can't give.
Just because a site has 100 backlinks that shouldn't put it out of the running for contact. If it's a small enthusiast site with a fair amount of authority, it's still well worth the effort.
Conversely, a site with 10,00 back links isn't always a prime target. If it's full of thin content, obviously paid reviews, or if all of the backlinks come from the sub-pages of one other site, then it's not as great as the numbers would have you believe.
It may save time to generate the list, but if you really want to be effective, you still have to visit the site. That means you need a person to read the content, look up the name of the site owner and try to determine who this person is and what drives them.
- What will appeal to this site owner based on what you perceive their passions to be?
- What kinds of information does this person value?
- What is the best way to reach out to this webmaster?
You need these kinds of insights to actually get through to someone in a meaningful way. People connect based on common interests, and shared experiences. You can't connect with someone based only on a URL, a backlink count, and a title tag.
A computer can't build a relationship with someone by sending out the same template email to 100 scraped email addresses. It. Just. Can't.
But human beings can, by visiting sites and actually trying to understand the person behind their link target. That personal intuition is essential to making a prospecting list, of any size or detail, truly indispensable.
Backlink Analysis Tools
Backlink tools are awesome. Being able to see all of your own or a competitor's back links is absolutely indispensable in link building. We need that information to define our future strategies or our tactics for pillaging a competitor's links.
Again, just knowing where the links are coming from or what anchor text they're using isn't enough without someone to be able to translate the words and numbers into actionable approaches. Just like with prospecting tools, you never know if someone else's backlinks are merit based or artificially inflated until you actually look at them.
It isn't always accurate to run a report and say, "Competitor X has 30,000 back links, so we need 30,000 back links to beat them." Au Contraire my friend, it's not always that simple. The manner of the back links, their placement and the value of the site they are on is major intel that you need to determine before creating your own plan of attack.
Perhaps the most important insight you need to glean from backlink analysis is to determine why the links were given. Whether they are your links or someone else's, nothing is as important to getting links as figuring out the motivation behind them.
- What piece of content is fairly popular?
- Do you have images people are using and linking to?
- Do you have a particular product that seems to get buzz?
- Does the other guy?
- Does it look like they are buying links or getting a lot of site-wide links or blog reviews?
All of these are questions that need to be asked and answered in order for back link analysis to really work. And no tool can do that. It can give you the info, but you still need a smart person to process it for the real messages beneath the numbers.
As a society, the developments we've made are utterly astounding. Yeah, maybe we don't have transporters yet, but I'm not giving up hope.
We've managed to create tools and machines of all kinds that are simply amazing in how they improve our quality of life. But sometimes we give them too much credit, because in the end, they are still nothing without the minds and the hands controlling them.
We've gotta have tools. We couldn't live in our homes, drive to our jobs, or work on our computers without the tools that created them. Unfortunately, we don't have self-cleaning homes or self-driven cars (though Google's working on it), and we don't have self-driving link building tools either.
So can they help provide vital information and save a ton of time? Oh hell yes. But can they do the job themselves? Nope. Sorry, not yet.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!