Every year there seems to be a trend in the panels at PubCon (the search engine marketing conference I was at last week). Social media and mobile were two hot topics, followed by remarketing over on the PPC side of things. There was one trend (to rule them all) that seemed to arise in every panel: tools.
One of my sessions was even dedicated to them, the SEO/SEM Tools panel, featuring our very own Tom Critchlow (who was helping out Rand Fishkin as he could not attend at the last minute). Even sessions that were not dedicated to tools had large sections featuring them. One speaker even said "If you are doing something repetitively, make it a tool." Tools are made in-house and even get rolled out for others to benefit (see: HireMarshal).
In search marketing we do many tasks over and over (like competitive research), but what really makes us beneficial to our clients and companies is our ability to understand the searcher. We assist in presenting the right information to the searcher and the search engines in the most optimal way. We also are better than computers and tools because they just give us the information, it is the in-house SEM or consultant's job to interpret that data into decisions and suggestions.
Below are a few tools that stood out to me from a number of presentations including Joanna Lord and Tom Critchlow. These are not your normal must have tools like Google Analytics, SEOmoz and Raven Tools. You are using those right? Want a few more? Try this presentation from Matt Siltala. These are just a few of the many mentioned throughout the conference.
Heard of CrazyEgg? Played with GA Site Overlay? This is another heat map company that can help you understand where your site's users are going and what they are clicking. ClickDensity has a free trial, so check them out if you have yet to try heat maps. These are awesome for landing page optimization and conversion rate optimization. In the end, it's all about your conversions so be sure that your users are getting where they need to go.
Who hates annoying pop-up surveys? I do! But we all need to know more about what issues our visitors are having with our site. KISSInsights offers a survey service that allows you to ask questions of your customers without interrupting their train of thought (and flow through your site). They do have a free option and their pricing on full access plans are very reasonable. And for those of you that are international, they offer templates in 13 languages.
If you have been on LinkedIn for some time, you have seen the rise (and sometimes fall) of their Q&A area. So many people started spamming that section that it became hard to identify the real experts. Quora is leading the charge to do the expert Q&A better. They are a good way to identify experts in different topic areas that you can then approach about guest posting and linking. It's also a fun Q&A engine too, check out this question about the best Austin BBQ. Ever wanted to set up your own Q&A? Try Sponge, it's in private beta, but trust me, it's awesome.
I am giving ClueApp, one of the usability testing sites, a shout out largely because they are recommended from SEOmoz and very responsive on Twitter. If you want to know what people remember about your site, or a competitor's site, you can run a test using Clue. As Tim Ash pointed out in our landing page optimization panel, a user's initial impression of a site is made in milliseconds. Clue uses a 5.5 second test to get what people remember. This is an invaluable tool when testing a new landing page, product launch, or site design. Don't just hope that people are getting the point, know they are.
Remember these are all just tools to give us information. They don't make decisions for us. Use all the tools you need to get the job done quickly and completely. If you are aching for a tool that you don't see out on the market, build it. If you can't build it (I'm not a programmer either) then either hire someone or ask one of the major tool providers to make it for you. I guarantee if you need it, others do too. Welcome to the era of the tool. We are all tools (in a good way).