Can You Automate Your SEO?
Listen up, website owners: “The number one ranking factor, in terms of where you should be putting your energy, is satisfying user intent.” Moz’s Cyrus Shepard dropped this pearl of wisdom on the crowd at SMX Advanced earlier this month and I couldn’t agree more. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a huge part of meeting user intent: researching keyword topics, analyzing the competition and striving to be the most authoritative source available.
— Christina Hecht (@christinahecht) June 12, 2015
Making it Freakishly Easy
This positive trend toward understanding and serving users has businesses flocking toward marketing automation as a way to get to know their customers on a deeper level. Marketing automation software collects contacts, organizes them, and then provides personalized emails, landing pages and content to the right person at the right time. It can be freakishly good at meeting users’ needs.
The success of marketing automation has many website owners wondering if they can automate more of their content marketing initiatives, including SEO. They’re asking:
- “Can you automate content optimization?” Yes, in part.
- “Can you automate link management?” Yes, to a degree.
- “Can you automate reports and measurement?” Absolutely.
Great SEO should be a person-to-person transaction, but there are some tools and tips for automating SEO for your website and making the job easier and more effective.
Automating Content Optimization
Whenever you create content, make it for users first and the search engines second. Optimizing your content with meta tags, well-formed URLs and links will help both users and search engines understand, find and share your content. Marketing automation software suites like HubSpot, Infusionsoft, Marketo, Act-On and others offer a range of SEO tools that automatically offer guidance and prompts to properly optimize your blog posts, landing pages and site pages.
With HubSpot, for example, the blogging interface includes native SEO tools – no plugins needed – that advises you on SEO practices as you type. It’ll help you write better URLs, page titles, meta descriptions and image alt text, advise where and what internal links to place within your content, and make keyword recommendations based on your keyword strategy.
If you use WordPress, plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast offer similar automation tools to generate and edit XML sitemaps, robots.txt and .htaccess files. They also prompt you to optimize your focus keywords, permalinks, title tags, meta descriptions and canonical tags.
Automatically prompting authors with content improvements is a time-saver and helps to ensure consistency and build healthy habits for generating effective meta tags and content, but it’s up to you to lay the strategic groundwork and configure the tools from the get-go. For specific tips on selecting and setting up marketing automation software properly for optimal SEO, download our free guide, 6 Ways Marketing Automation Can Hurt SEO (That No One’s Talking About).
What you can’t automate: You can’t automate the actual creation of content, at least not successfully. Don’t be lazy, don’t blindly trust the software’s default meta tag settings, don’t waste your time looking for content spinners, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t scrape other people’s content and publish it as your own.
Automating Link Management
Inbound links are one of the most highly correlated factors to ranking, and yet they’re one of the most challenging elements for website owners to gain. It takes time, discipline and commitment to quality in order to generate the amount of authoritative content you need to get you over what has been called “The SEO Slog” and start getting organic rankings, traffic and earned links. In fact, it may take several months and tons of effort before you start seeing ROI on your content marketing.
The rigor, however, is worth the reward. Once you achieve this critical mass, rankings, traffic and links do start coming in automatically. If your content is good quality – the definition of which should be obvious (but includes meeting the user’s intent, engaging interest, and demonstrating authority) – then other website owners will naturally link to your page without you having to do a single thing extra.
In the meantime, or if you want to give your content a little push, you can automate parts of the content promotion process. Use a tool like Hootsuite to publish, schedule and push your content promotion – tweets and posts – across all kinds of social networks from one no-to-low-cost cloud-based dashboard. You can also use paid social promotion to help get your content in front of ridiculously fine-tuned demographics and potential customers.
Sometimes, you can and should make a targeted link request to other website owners to link to your content, IF your website or specific content piece would be relevant and helpful to their presumed audience. You can use tools and methods to automate a significant portion of your targeted link request outreach. Start with advanced search commands and browser plugins that will help you quickly identify a list of possible outreach prospects like associations, unlinked brand mentions, lists and resources pages. Furthermore, tools like Screaming Frog can help you find broken links that you can reclaim. Our own Kaila Strong offered a webinar last year detailing exactly how you can deploy link building strategies that really work.
Finally, you want to manage the links you’re getting and keep an eye on the quality, since not every inbound link is worthwhile. There are some links you certainly won’t want, and you need to protect yourself against negative SEO. Fortunately, link quality management is a task you can automate in many helpful ways.
Use paid tools like Open Site Explorer, Majestic, Ahrefs or Monitor Backlinks to regularly find or be alerted to the newest links to your site. One great way to automate this task and get a snapshot of your newest in-links – for free – is to set up Google Analytics’ Trackbacks report to be emailed to you at regular intervals, e.g. weekly or monthly.
If you find links in your backlink profile that you suspect might be undesirable, you can use the tools and steps we recommend in our Google Penalty Recovery process, which guides you on performing a full backlink audit to score, analyze and “auto-prune” your list of backlinks, creating a shorter list of links to manually review. From there, you’ll need to make the effort to manually review each link, reach out to webmasters to remove or improve the link (if you can save it by replacing spammy exact-match anchor text on an otherwise quality link) and finally add it to your running Disavow Links list to submit to the search engines. Making this a quarterly or semi-annual SEO initiative will help you stay on top of low-quality link signals and make manual review far easier.
What you can’t automate: Again, in the post-Panda, post-Penguin world of SEO, you can’t automatically scrape and spin content from other websites, passing it off as your own and expect to earn high-quality incoming links. Nor can you get away with using tools like Posirank that purportedly automate link-building through blog comments and forums. There are no shortcuts to successful link earning. You also can’t automate the manual review, webmaster outreach and link reclamation efforts in your backlink analysis and auditing process.
Automate Reports and Measurement
Automated or not, you won’t know if your SEO efforts are working unless you measure, test and measure again. Thankfully, there are reports and dashboards within your arsenal of SEO tools that you can configure to automatically report the crucial pieces of information you need to analyze your efforts:
- Google Analytics – Get traffic, referrer, keyword, trackback and channel reports sent to you by email weekly or monthly
- Keyword ranking reports – Subscribe to Moz, Raven or SEM Rush to establish keyword tracking reports so you can follow the ranking trends for your top keywords
- Newest links – Subscribe to Majestic or Ahrefs so you can be alerted to new and lost backlinks
- Marketing Automation – Your marketing automation suite’s dashboard is a powerful source of information. If it allows scheduled reports, great! If not, set a reminder for yourself to check-in weekly or monthly
- A/B Testing – Use landing page and email marketing A/B testing tools like Unbounce and MailChimp to automatically serve, measure and test different versions of your messaging for optimal results
- Google Search Console – Formerly called Webmaster Tools, Search Console reports go back as far as 90 days. With no automatic reporting, you’ll want to set a calendar reminder to export and store data every 90 days
The Human Touch
There’s no replacement for the human touch to SEO and marketing. Your users are people, and reaching them with useful, relevant content is your first priority. Even if full SEO automation were a possibility, it would not be wise nor very effective. Bearing that in mind, it is certainly possible and wickedly smart to automate the processes, habits, and measurement that make up your SEO practices on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Use the tools, reports and tips available to make your job easier and more efficient so you can spend more time creating content that users actually want to see.
Questions for you, readers: What SEO tasks do you automate in your daily practice? Which reports and tools are your favorites? If you could have one task automated, what would it be? Leave a comment and let me know if there’s something I missed or something about which you want to know more.
About Christina Hecht
For over a decade, Christina has spent every day tending to the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird in the algorithmic zoo by creating engaging and thoughtfully optimized digital content. Now Christina brings her expertise to Vertical Measures as the SEO Strategist. Christina enjoys working on clients’ projects long-term, helping them set and reach measurable goals, and getting to understand their business’s narrative as seen through an SEO lens. Originally from northern Utah, Christina has been a Valley resident since 1998 and now lives with her husband and daughter in north Phoenix. She volunteers with the Girl Scouts and the Children’s Museum Alliance, and is an NPR fanatic who loves puzzles, games, music and food.