Guest Post: Ryan Introduces - easily build xpath string for google docs

Today I'm introducing a guest post from Ryan Boots. We've talked a lot about using Google Docs on the Distilled blog and in particular the importxml function. In order to use the importxml function you need to write xpath and Ryan has built a nifty tool to make some of the common SEO-related strings easy to write. Ok, over to Ryan.

I’ve been blessed to have some fantastic training opportunities this year. In March I went to Link Love in New Orleans where I heard Tom Critchlow and several other SEO vets present a series of great sessions on link building. (I was shocked by the sheer volume of alcohol flowing on Bourbon Street, but that’s a separate story.) And in June I went to SMX Advanced in Seattle. All in all, I feel I’ve gotten some great training in the last six months on how to get my hands on some juicy intel to score some links.

So when I sat down a few weeks ago to start applying some of this instruction – specifically to do some competitive backlink analysis – I began looking for a quick and dirty way to pull SERP links into a spreadsheet. Through blog posts by Tom and over at SEO Gadget, I soon discovered the joys of Google Docs and, especially, the magic of the importXML feature. I was floored. What better way analyze top results across a related keyword set? Mind you, I’ve never touched illegal drugs, but I swear this was like the SEO answer to crack cocaine.

But like any good junkie, I rapidly developed a tolerance. Regular Google SERPs just didn’t do it for me anymore. I wanted Bing and Yahoo. Maybe pull in the full SERP, titles and meta descriptions included, for a really good analysis of the right on-page text to target. But more than anything, I was sick of tweaking the individual code in each cell for result size and search string. So I searched for some sort of tool to help compose the code more quickly. I was stunned to come up empty.

Well, necessity being the mother of invention and all, since I couldn’t find a tool, I decided to build one. With the assistance of an outstanding developer, here it is:

(Quick note: I can’t say enough about Bruce. His quick turnaround time is one of the main reasons this site got launched so fast. Between his mad skillz in development generally and WordPress and Magento specifically, if you’re looking for development expertise, you should snap him up.)

We’ve done our level best to develop XPathBuilder with SEOs in mind, especially the ridiculously busy SEO who just wants his or her importXML strings built quickly without spending nonexistent time or mental bandwidth to futz around with code. (In other words, I basically built this thing for me, but I’m letting you use it.) In addition, we tried to make it as intuitive as possible to use. Quick, simple, no hassle.

We opted to start out with the following search engines:

  • Ask
  • Bing
  • Google
  • Google Canada
  • Google Suggest
  • Google UK
  • Yahoo

As many of us SEOs still in mourning over the loss of Google’s Wonder Wheel, I’m especially hopeful that the addition of Google Suggest will be a handy way to do some lovely keyword research.

Understand: this thing is still very much a work in progress. I am acutely aware it is far from perfect, so I’m looking forward to hearing from the search community on ways to improve upon it. Personally, here’s a short list of items I’d like to add down the road:

  • Search engines across all major countries (at least Google at first, with Binghoo to be added later)
  • Other search verticals (Google Shopping, Blog Search, maybe even Image Search?)
  • Pull in local SERP results (i.e. just the results from the seven pack for a given query)
  • Twitter results (pull in all of a given account’s followers)

I do look forward to this becoming regarded as a useful tool within the community. We set up a separate Twitter feed for it: @xpathbuilder. So come use it, beat up on it, and let us know how we can make it better.

Ryan Boots (@rpboots) is a search engine optimization specialist for Spark Energy.

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