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Beyond traditional SEO tooling: Upskill your team through smart and savvy means

Tom Slaiter

Posted by Tom Slaiter

20 September 2022

When it comes to SEO tools, there are many available on the market today offering so much in varying guises. If you’re running a large team, for example, there are plenty of tools out there that will cater to your long-term needs of having security around areas, such as customer support and eventual long-term historical website data, among other things.

You’ll also likely want an enterprise SEO tool that strives to lead the way in thought leadership, not only through their evolving product offering but through their blogs, best-practice guides, and training workshops. This in turn can be a great driver to upskill your team on their overall development journeys.

There are, of course, plenty of SEO tools that can cover a lot of what you need, enterprise-scale or otherwise, and they each have their various pros, cons, USPs and shortcomings. Delving into this would take forever, and there are plenty of existing SEO tool comparisons out there. 

Let’s assume, however, that you have your desired toolset in place and you’ve got your general areas of technical SEO, content research, rank tracking and SEO reporting covered. Your team feels they can get their day-to-day tasks done in a high-quality manner and your clients and stakeholders are satisfied. Your investments include regular training on the tool and on SEO in general, and you may even have perks such as free SEO conference tickets through your partnership with the supplier so your team can learn further.

Yet these days almost anyone who works in digital in general can partner up with a popular SEO tool and learn their way around it with relative ease. Of course, as SEO has evolved, the tools have grown in demand, and have become not only more powerful but chiefly more accessible as a result. 

Now that’s not a bad thing, though to really set your SEO offering ahead of your competitors you’re almost certainly going to have to think outside of your toolset and upskill your team through more imaginative methods that go that extra mile and solve that niche SEO problem. SEO never stands still, and there is so much opportunity for SEO professionals to get better at their jobs through some of the brilliant flair and industriousness that exists across the industry. Often, this can be outside the mainstream toolset, so make sure you and your team don’t miss out.

Why do I need to think outside the box when I have such a vast array of SEO tooling?

Firstly, let’s address a known truth that even the most complete SEO tooling software will admit to, and one that will repeatedly arise through feedback sessions from your team: limitations. No SEO tool can do everything. Some will be highly proficient in one area (say, log file analysis) than another (perhaps keyword research). 

In addition, most advanced SEO tasks, or requirements that need you to go beyond a screen grab of data, an overview of performance, or a summary of issues across URLs, will require a data export into third-party software, usually Excel. From here, you’ll need to manipulate, filter and pivot the data export accordingly so it answers your requirements and presents you with the dataset you actually wanted from the tool in the first place. Now, this is very normal, as no tool will have an understanding of the nuances required for specific tasks for specific websites. But this is where the need to go beyond traditional tools begins, so let’s get started.

Unlocking the real potential of API integration

API integration has long been on the SEO tool scene, and most of the big hitters will have data connectors with Google Analytics, Google Search Console, various page speed tools and other SEO tools in the market they may have partnered with to enrich their data.

But what about getting these all together so you’ve got a master sheet with all your desired metrics, avoiding the need to perform multiple VLOOKUPs on Excel to match data to URLs from various exports? There are solutions out there which can pull in data from almost every desirable source and present you with a near-complete overview when it comes to SEO. This can not only include third-party connectors such as Google Analytics, Search Console, Moz, Searchmetrics and Majestic (among many others), but can also present data on various on-page and HTML elements, and even imports from paid search and paid social. 

One that springs to mind is SEOTools for Excel, which has been around for some time, though is often overlooked among the emerging bigger names. Tools like this, which make smart use of custom API connectors and integrations, all within the familiar and free-roaming environment of Excel, can be dubbed the “SEOs’ SEO tool” and enable near limitless potential when it comes to data manipulation. A full list of its connectors and functions can be found here

SEOTools for Excel is still an SEO tool in its own right, though we hope it starts the ball rolling in the exploration of API use and data connectors. It’s worth encouraging your team down this route, and there ways in which you can explore this further to sharpen up your SEO offering.

API manipulation continued: Google Sheets

Google Sheets, while perhaps not used quite as much by some traditionalists who prefer the familiarity of Excel, is emerging as a great place for SEOs to experiment with data manipulation through its increasing offerings of API integrations. What’s more, it’s free. 

Due to its cloud-based offering, Google Sheets is fast becoming a preferred place where data is stored and maintained, as it allows better collaboration across teams, and the same goes for SEO professionals. Many may upload keyword ranking data from a tool like Ahrefs, for example, and then go from there in terms of further data exploration through API use. Let’s take a look at some of its capabilities. 

Much like what we’ve explored with SEOTools for Excel and in a similar vein to the emerging capabilities of Google Data Studio, Google Sheets has the power to incorporate “Add-ons”, whereby you can muster the enhancements of various third-party tools and work from one centralised document. In terms of SEO tooling, you can incorporate Google Analytics, Moz, Majestic, Ahrefs, SEOMonitor and many more to enable you to have a far-reaching view of all your desired metrics. 

This will allow you to operate in a freer way than simply within the interface of one tool, and the data and insights potential is huge. For example, integrating Google Analytics and Google Search Console will allow you to compare data across the two platforms to potentially identify pages that have been performing well in the SERPs rankings-wise, but are suffering in terms of engagement and conversion rate. You may also want to examine Googlebot hit data from a log file analysis project and marry that up with page speed data or keyword ranking data to get even more granular and identify a solid action plan moving forward.

Going back to Google Data Studio, all of your customised data within Google Sheets, using Add-ons or otherwise, can be connected to a customised reporting dashboard. Your team may be frustrated with some of the limitations of the reporting features of your existing toolset. Niche reporting requirements can be addressed by making use of your Google Sheets work and connecting this to a Google Data Studio dashboard and visualising as you see fit. 

Further Google Sheets innovation
There are plenty of people doing great things in Google Sheets through the use of scripts to pull in and arrange data in any desired manner. For example, there are scripts out there that can pull in competitor traffic data, or even allow you to create keyword ideas with location appends to give you an instant pool of content ideas. Some of these scripts may require an API subscription, though there are lots of brilliant people out there sharing their Google Sheets scripts which can pull in data from third-party APIs and encourage the use of custom formulas and functions. Going beyond Google Sheets Add-ons, encourage your team to experiment with these scripts themselves to manipulate data how they want. 

SEO automation: PowerShell, Python and SQL

Keeping in theme with scripts and coding, a hot topic in the SEO community these days is the use of automation to complete everyday SEO tasks, be it research, analysis or even implementation. 

Operating scripts to perform SEO work through the use of an application such as Python or PowerShell can really set your team ahead in terms of not only output, but the freedom to explore data mining and manipulation as they see fit. While coding may not be for all in the industry, it certainly has its advantages and the potential for upskilling your team can be huge.

What is PowerShell and how can it help with SEO automation?
PowerShell is an open-source command-line shell and scripting language that usually comes already installed on most Windows systems. Functions within it such as Invoke-WebRequest can help return website data such as links, images, on-page SEO elements and various other HTML elements in a matter of seconds, through the use of just a few lines of code. Think of it as a command line alternative to Screaming Frog, with the ability to customise scripts accordingly in order to get your desired output.

Variables can be inserted into scripts to command it to only return URL data around a certain object, for example, so if you want to run a script on a large website but only want to return data around a certain search term, you can modify the script to do so. PowerShell also enables you to do things the other way around and pull data on an import of URLs from an Excel document.

To kick things off, explore some of the PowerShell scripts for SEO available on certain GitHub repositories and play around with some of these scripts. PowerShell is relatively easy to get to grips with and your team will no doubt be manipulating data exports with their customised scripts before too long.

Using Python for SEO automation
Today, Python is probably the most talked about language when it comes to creating scripts to automate all manner of SEO tasks. In fact, there is a large community of Python-centric SEO professionals that regularly sing its praises and do brilliant work in creating new ways to trim the fat of SEO auditing. 

Python is a relatively simple and easy-to-learn language. It allows your team to automate lengthy tasks such as visibility analysis, keyword research, keyword category mapping, XML sitemap creation and response code analysis, among many other things. 

You can download the latest iteration of Python from its website, and it can be run from your computer’s command line platforms, or indeed on cloud-based software such as Google Colab. Even if your team is brand new to the world of coding, there are plenty of free resources to learn from, many of them through the aid of video and visualisations (such as freeCodeCamp) where you can get up to speed. Getting to grips with the fundamentals of Python can take as long as just several weeks if you’re really committed, so invest in some training time for your team on a consistent basis.

Being able to extract data and work on certain time-consuming SEO tasks using Python can save you hours of work, so your team can focus more on the bigger picture stuff. Ever spent hours writing meta descriptions for hundreds of URLs or crafting optimised alt texts for images? There are ways in which you can automate the creation of these through Python.

Python uses a number of different libraries to help with the automation of certain SEO tasks. For example, the BeautifulSoup library can be used to extract data from HTML, while the Matplotlib and Seaborn libraries can help with data visualisations such as bar charts and heatmaps. 

A quick look at SQL for SEO automation
SQL, or “sequel” as you may discover it’s occasionally pronounced within the industry, stands for “Structured Query Language” and is a programming language used for mining and manipulating databases. Like Python, it is relatively user-friendly and relatively easy to learn.

Also much like Python and, to an extent, PowerShell, SQL can allow you to automate manual SEO tasks such as internal link analysis, link building opportunities and competitor backlink analysis, among others. One common use case is tagging keywords by intent type or which part of the marketing funnel they’re in. Many still use Excel formulas or even value filtering (such as “buy”, “how”, “what” etc) to assign these. However, a simple SQL script can run this automatically for you and arrange the keywords into the relevant funnel categories for you. 

Check the popular SQL databases such as MySQL, SQLite and BigQuery and start running commands to automate your SEO tasks. 

When it comes to SEO automation, there are plenty of other options out there outside of the three we’ve detailed here, and it’s a topic that’s only gaining steam within the industry. While some may be put off due to the apparent learning curve and concerned that they’re not technically or mathematically minded enough, there’s certainly a creative angle around the freedom presented by these SEO automation tools which you can use to encourage your team to upskill themselves. 

Neat tricks through free tools and plugins  

Encouraging your team to move out of their comfort zone further, let’s explore some of the potentially lesser-known tools that you can experiment with and add to your arsenal. These are also, crucially, free, or at least have freemium versions, and can empower your team to perform neat actions for niche cases where your larger tools may struggle. 

Web Developer Chrome Plugin
A favourite among browser plugin enthusiasts, Web Developer enables you to tinker with the appearance of any webpage to explore potential SEO issues beneath the surface. You can disable images, and cookies, view JavaScript for potential JavaScript SEO issues as well as validate areas such as structured data and CSS. Using this tool alongside the automated weekly audits your toolset sends your team may help them discover issues they may not have spotted prior. The tool will also familiarise them with the very fundamentals of technical SEO from a developer’s standpoint.  

Keywords Everywhere Chrome Plugin
The freemium version of this tool offers users loads of ideas for content and keyword analysis in general. Enabling the plugin and then commencing a Google search will show you keyword trend data over time, related keywords and people also asked data in the right-hand side of your Google search result. All of this data is exportable. Use this alongside your existing keyword toolset for your team to enhance their existing keyword research capabilities. 

Hreflang Tag Generator
International SEO can be a tricky venture, particularly when it comes to effectively marking up your localised pages with the correct hreflang tags. Automating these by crawling a selection of URLs or referring to an XML sitemap as a single source of truth may cause problems in areas, such as inconsistent return tags and inadvertent 404s in the HTML where there aren’t equivalent pages in certain languages. This hreflang tagging tool allows you to carefully create hreflang tags for either sitemap HTML implementation and is a good way to get your team up close with international SEO best practices. 

SERP Speed
Reddico's free page speed tool analyses web page performance against target keywords and then compares your target page with its SERP competitors and their respective Core Web Vitals metrics. It’s a great resource for your team to assess potential wins in page speed in regard to your ranking position on a target keyword, and what you can do to get ahead of the game. 

Real SEOs don’t rely on tools!

Ignore the slightly gatekeeping-sounding subheading above (meant in jest, of course!), but there can be an overreliance on SEO tooling in the industry, which can lead to teams ending up somewhat blunted in their insights and hindered in their potential.

Lots of us in stakeholder positions have likely come across standard templated, placeholder audits and strategy documents, which are often little more than modified exports from certain tools. This can lead to stagnation when it comes to upskilling. Experimenting with some of the ever-evolving offerings in the SEO technology space, be it the new offerings of Google Sheets, the potential of Python or some of the brilliant independent (and often free) apps out there can open up new doors and unlock talent.

Even alongside this, it’s important to remind your team, particularly when undertaking technical SEO work, that a lot of insights can be found by simply looking at a website’s source code, playing around with JavaScript configuration, testing it in browsers or using advanced search commands to asses indexation issues, among other things. The eye of a well-trained expert will always uncover more than any tool can.