All The Gear, No Idea – 3 Problems With Overusing SEO tools

A good SEO is a complex creature. Appreciative of brand and a lover of great content, yet also the proud owner of a highly analytical and technical mind – they have a remarkable number of strings to their Googley bow!

All too often, however, they tend to place a little too much emphasis on the left side of their brain, believing their technical wizardry is enough to game the system. Or even worse, they subscribe to this old fashioned view of SEO but lack the technical skills themselves to manually investigate, repair and optimise, depending almost entirely instead on an ever growing array of SEO tools that promise to do it all for them. This presents three problems:

  1. These SEO tools have not been designed by the people who build Google’s algorithm. Instead, they are often a well intentioned but crude attempt to reflect what they believe Google is trying to achieve, which is a very different thing indeed. So, for example, if a tool analyses your website’s technical health, it will provide a score for a range of variables. So it may say that your site speed is a 6/10, or your on-page optimisation is a B+, or your internal link architecture is 83%. But in truth these scores are almost entirely arbitrary. They may tell you how your website scores relative to another website using the same tool, but they do not tell you what that means from the perspective of Google’s algorithm.
  2. They are immediately out of date – even if the people behind the tool had some incredible insight into the inner workings of Google and used that to reverse engineer their product, that insight has a shelf life of approximately zero seconds. In fact, now that google’s algorithms are largely based on machine learning, there probably isn’t even a human within Google that could tell you precisely how the near infinite combinations of signal should be prioritised within any given search vertical!
  3. They distract from what really matters – I think my biggest issue with some of these tools is that more technical SEOs, of which I am not one, use them to impose their authority on SEO debates, even though the issues their little gadget is highlighting are dwarfed by the non-technical considerations of brand, content and user experience. After all, Google is simply trying to provide search audiences with the most valuable, entertaining and useful content from the most trusted and authoritative brands, and it’s got rather a lot of practice in doing it. Better in my opinion that we therefore spend our time working out how to better serve our audience than tinkering around in the engine room.

It’s not all bad. Where these tools are absolutely brilliant is in helping to adhere to what is commonly agreed to be best practice. So if a tool says your website speed is a 6/10 and “here are three ways to make it an 8/10”, that’s useful stuff. It may not help your rankings overnight, but good website speed is good for the user and what’s good for the user is (in the long term at least) good for your rankings.

So my point is not to dismiss the value of these tools for SEOs, but rather to understand their role. After all, when a distinctly average golfer turns up to the first tee looking like they’ve just been sponsored by Callaway, it quickly becomes clear that their performance will be shaped by something other than what’s in their bag.