When determining which tools to use for SEM, your needs and experience should be the top consideration. In this industry, people's advice varies on which tools are the best, so always take this into consideration when weighing your options.
To prove this point, I asked a group of industry experts a simple question, "If you could use only five tools to do SEM, which five would they be?" The answers I received were as diverse as the people who answered them.
Before I begin, remember that when choosing a tool for yourself, you should examine your own needs and find a set of tools that best meets those needs. Some of us like numbers and prefer tools to show mathematical interpretations with some dashboards thrown in. Others want to use keyword-based tools as the main approach to search marketing.
As I list their answers today, I'll try to add some background and insight into their choices. If I get it wrong I'm sure they'll let us know.
Andrew Goodman of Page Zero Media, a famed author and paid search expert, chose the ad rotation feature in Google AdWords as his top tool for "instant A/B testing or multivariate testing of ad creative."
Good point, Andrew. I like turning off optimizer and creating copies of the same ad so the established ad gets a larger percentage and the testing ads get enough impressions to show if it can attain a better CTR and conversion rate.
This tool is a great help, and it's also part of my set. Plus, you have to love free tools that save you a lot of time.
Speaking of Aaron Wall, he also had the SEO Book Keyword Tool on his list, along with a mixed bag of helpful tools: "Google AdWords keyword tool, Microsoft Ad Intelligence, Compete Search Analytics, and SEO for Firefox."
I just started using the Firefox Rank Checker. It's a great tool for keeping track of where you're ranked for keywords in Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.
Rebecca Ryan, director of business development of Trellian, wanted something to manage advertising verticals -- Clicktracks or Omniture, for example -- and she added a bid manager to cover many companies and engines. "I would also love to have Nielsons and Syntryx," she said. "Syntryx is a solid competitor analytics tool and great for see where and what the competition is doing. It is great for crossing multiple industries. I would also make some in-house tools to help with reporting, since that to me is the biggest drag in SEMs' lives."
I may have to let you show me your tools next time we see each other Rebecca!
Amanda Watlington of Searching For Profit took a more old-school approach. Going for Excel and a word processor as well as "my Internet connection, my virtual tool belt of keyword tools. They start with Keyword Discovery. And any Web analytics software -- as a consultant I am somewhat agnostic," she explained.
Comfort tools come in all types. Excel is a tool I've used for a long time and I feel very comfortable using it.
You can tell Barry's on the road a lot!
Social media expert and link builder extraordinaire Todd Malicoat, a.k.a. stuntdubl, took a serious business approach listing Internet Marketing Ninjas, SEOmoz pro tools, SEO Book Tools, ClickTracks and Basecamp.
That's a high-powered list, Todd. Make sure you follow the safety warnings on the labels!
Chris Winfield, president of global internet marketing firm 10e20, reflects his success as a communicator with his choices of "Trillian Instant Messenger, Firefox, Tor, Yahoo Site Explorer and Digg."
Now I have to learn more about onion routing.
This is a great cross-section of tools you can play with to see how they fit. Take your time and don't limit yourself to the first set of tools you start to use. All of the people I spoke with have changed their tool preferences over the years, mainly due to improved technology, but some because they just fit a particular preference.
Chris Boggs Fires Back
Wow, Frank. Nice list of names (you even caught the elusive and very talented Avi), and they've covered many of my favorite tools for when I delve into the SEM world. I'll have to do a follow-up on this for SEO tools.
One thing to keep in mind is the level of accuracy that a tool provides. Although Compete offers very insightful data in a variety of presentation-friendly formats, there are typically questions that arise when comparing it to a "more robust" tool's output (like Hitwise or comScore Marketer). We've had a couple of awkward moments in business development situations when we've shown the prospect Compete data. Typically the predicted search traffic and top keywords are off.
That being said, I don't want to bash Compete. The tool can be insightful for illustrative and comparative purposes; much like a SEO may use the toolbar PageRank to quickly judge the merit of a page as related to its inbound links.
One thing you didn't mention: the use of the actual search engines and competitor listings. Using different variations of searches that are both broad and longer-tailed can lead to great insight as to how people are approaching specific keyword buckets.
What tools would you use? Tell us in the SEM Tools of the Experts thread in the Search Engine Watch Forums.