“Why don’t you just automate your SEO?”

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We hear this question from time to time, and it makes me cringe. We recommend against using any SEO tool to automate SEO efforts. Using an algorithmic system to optimize a site meant for human consumption will lead to flawed and incomplete recommendations.

Of course, the idea is so tempting that it keeps cropping up, so I’m going to walk through exactly why it’s a bad idea in the hopes that it means we won’t hear it again for a few weeks.

-Keyword selection and mapping should take into account more than just search volume, which is how most automation systems work. Hummingbird, Google’s newest search algorithm introduced in September 2013, moved us away from a keyword-based SERP to a more intent-based web.

-Essentially, Google is no longer ranking sites higher just because its pages are optimized to exactly match the query. Instead, it is serving results based on the implied user intent to give the searcher the most relevant listing it can find, regardless of level of keyword matching.

-Greater care must be taken when deciding on target keywords and exactly how best to optimize. Optimizations based on a formula simply lead us to pages that may be search engine-friendly, but certainly not user-friendly.

-The combination of intent-based search results and advent of technology that pushes us towards conversational search and longer-tail queries also makes it hard (if not impossible) for a platform to accurately predict what a user is specifically looking for. As Google continues to refine its algorithm to be more user-friendly, you’ll find that creating content and websites that cater to user expectations will rule the day.

-All SEO tools should be used as a way to heighten and improve SEO efforts, instead of replacing what would have otherwise been done by human beings. Using a tool to automate SEO recommendations will often lead to endless strings of tactical optimizations with little thought or investment into what the site as a whole is trying to strategically achieve.

A successful SEO strategy must a) account for the fact that a site is a complex ecosystem of content; and b) strike balance between highly competitive high-volume targets and quicker low-volume wins. In cases where we are optimizing only for high-volume keywords, you’ll lose out on capturing users who search lower-volume terms that may be far more qualified and more likely to convert.

-Lastly, as search algorithms evolve and become more complex, SEO strategies will also need to evolve and be more than just on-page optimizations. Strategy needs to take into account how a website translates across devices, whether or not the content speaks to the end user, if information architecture creates flow on your site, how user experience impacts conversions, and if your analytics system is properly built to scale as your business grows. SEO is no longer just on-page optimizations and keyword selection, so a tool that provides only those things is not an all-encompassing SEO provider.

Is this an argument against using SEO tools like BrightEdge and Searchmetrics? No, no, and no. We use both to augment our campaigns. But relying on tools instead of training and algos instead of people is not now, and will most likely never be, a good idea.

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Leslie To
Leslie spends most of her time bossing people around and giving her opinions on all things SEO. When not busy doing either of those things, she's probably taking pictures of her cat and posting them on social media. While those images are buffering, she squeezes in time to read, eat and sleep.