When You Need Custom SEO Tools, and When You Don't

26 Jan 2020, 3 min read.

I had the opportunity to join a great panel of talented colleagues last month at Catalyst Digital’s TechSEO Boost conference in Boston. Thank you to Paul Shapiro and the Catalyst team for inviting me — I always appreciate an opportunity to visit my hometown, and I had some great conversations throughout the conference with this amazing community of technical SEOs.

The concept for the session was to figure out when to create custom SEO tools from scratch, explore how to combine existing industry leading tools in new and unique ways, and determine when it makes sense not to build a tool at all. Our panel was moderated by Nick Vining (Catalyst) with panelists Claudia Higgins (Argos), Derek Perkins (Nozzle), JR Oakes (Locomotive), and me.

Navah Hopkins pinpointed my key takeaway in her article about the 14 technical SEO takeaways from the conference. When you decide there is something you need to build, don’t start yet! You generally need to let that idea simmer for a while.

After speaking on this panel, I read the book “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson from Basecamp, and they mentioned a really good approach to this exact point. Wait. They make every idea wait a while - generally a few weeks, at least. That’s just enough time either to forget about it completely or to realize that you can’t stop thinking about it.

I find the approach particularly helpful for ideas about building SEO tools. For example, we were envisioning a potentially massive opportunity at Apartments.com - we wanted to take all our data sources and aggregate them together. This is a project I had been yearning to do for years, and I finally had the team with the right capabilities to be able to do it.

We were going to leverage all the top SEO tools we license, normalize the way their data comes in from their APIs - from keyword rankings to crawl statistics, and keyword data - then join it with all the internal data we have about our site content, log files, etc. In the end, we would have a centralized SEO data warehouse to let our analysts run free with access to pretty much anything they could imagine to explore and help with SEO.

This was the perfect project. Except - we scoped it - and it was about three to six months of work for two full time data engineers. After a quarter or two, we would have absolutely no insights, ideas, analyses, nor recommendations for our SEO team to implement to actually grow our organic traffic.

Clearly, we decided not to build this glorious SEO data warehouse - we know what we are going to build it eventually, but we agreed to get there gradually over time. We broke down all those integrations and connections into the top handful of meaningful analysis projects. Those projects were prioritized in our analytics sprints, and we tackled them one at a time, delivering a little value each and every time.

Instead of taking a waterfall approach and potentially waiting until halfway through the year to deliver an SEO recommendation or traffic-generating finding, we used an agile approach to build the custom SEO tool in components. I am very pleased we took the opportunity to pause and think about the solution we had designed. In the end, we came up with an even better idea to help our business grow, and deliver something of value to the business along the way.

Check out a full video recording of our panel - this was just one insight that mentioned on the panel, and there are so many more thoughtful ideas we explored in Boston.

To get in touch, connect on LinkedIn, send a message on Twitter, or write to jordan@jordansilton.com.