Last week I was jolted by booting up my computer only to see the blue screen of death. The computer was dead, dead, dead and I had to replace it with a new one, going through the painful process of restoring all of my software, tools and data. The old computer was using Windows XP, while the new one had Windows Vista, which made the transfer of data a bit less easy than I had hoped.
I had most of my data backed up externally via Carbonite and via a 64GB Kingston flash drive. Unfortunately, my new hard drive was in a different format than the old one. It turns out the flash drive was able to transfer data easily enough, but it wasn’t as easy for me to recover everything from the external back up. Also, the old computer was the host for our community website with about 300 logins, and restoring that was no fun.
What follows are thoughts, tips and tools for recovering from a computer disaster. I’ll touch both on ways you can protect yourself ahead of time, as well as some of the cool tools I’ve installed.
Get a password manager
At the top of my to-do list before my computer died was to write all my passwords in an Excel spreadsheet, but I never got around to it. My first step in recovery was to install Roboform, a password manager that securely stores all of your user names and passwords and makes it easy to apply them whenever you need them. What is even more appealing is RoboForm2Go (which stores the login data on a USB drive) and GoodSynch, which makes it easy to synchronize that data across computers.
General software utilities
Here are the tools I use in my day-to-day activities as an SEO.
Dreamweaver is my favorite HTML editor and FTP program.
Snagit is a great quick image grabber and manipulator program, while Adobe Photoshop is my favorite image editing tool for more advanced editing. Smart Draw makes it easy to make nice flow charts and mindmaps.
Camtasia is a wonderful screen recording program useful for making how-to videos and showing search engine changes.
Microsoft Office is a great tool for saving content ideas, website layout plans, and link submission status. Their free Ad Intelligence Excel plug in is a great keyword research and market research tool. When you download Ad Intelligence Microsoft offers a free 60 day trial of Office. Google Docs is also a great, easy to use service.
StyleWriter is a great style and grammar editor, but their Vista version will not be out for another 6 months or so. When I was learning to write this program (and the feedback of a few thousand ebook customers) helped me immensely.
I think every professional SEO should have access to at least one backlink analysis tool. Here are several that I can recommend.
We have a free one that is about 85% functional called backlink analyzer, which is the one I typically use, mostly because it is quick and I spent many hours playing with it during development.
A couple of the better paid desktop link analysis tools are Advanced Link Manager, OptiLink, and SEO Elite (but beware the hype in the sales letter on that last one). Of the three, Advanced Link Manager is my favorite, as it has many features like auto-updating and storing links by the date they were found—which makes it easy to track the evolution of links to a competing site.
Recently there have been a lot of paid web based link analysis tools created. Majestic SEO, Shoemoney Tools, and SEOmoz Linkscape are all strong choices. Raven SEO Tools also seems to keep adding a lot of tools to their offering.
There are also some free web based link analysis tools, including Backlink Watch and Link Diagnosis. While I cover Firefox extensions later in this article, I think Joost de Valk’s SEO Link Analysis extension fits better here.
If you register your site with Google Webmaster Central you will be able to download your own backlinks there (but not the links to other sites).
Some of the best SEO tools have been developed as Firefox extensions. Here are some of my favorites.
AdSense Notifier. If any of your sites make decent money with AdSense, this tool is a quick way to detect problems. It is particularly helpful if you have access to multiple AdSense accounts so you know if the issue is just slow ad reporting, or the issue can be isolated to a site.
FireBug makes it easy to test making HTML changes inline. Good for fixing CSS errors.
Google Global makes it easy to compare rankings in various flavors of Google around the world, and of course the Google Toolbar has many great features, but I mostly use it for the site search option and the spell checker.
Greasemonkey allows you to add other UserScripts to modify various websites.
PDF Download makes Firefox less likely to crash when opening PDF files.
Rank Checker is a lightweight rank checking tool which also saves historical ranking data and has an auto-run feature for daily or weekly rank checking.
SEO For Firefox shows SEO oriented competitive research data inline with the search results on Google and Yahoo. If you are having trouble installing or using SEO for Firefox then SEO Quake is a good alternative. The SEO Toolbar shows similar data to SEO for Firefox in a toolbar and makes it easy to compare sites against each other. It also contains links to tons of other SEO related tools and allows you to select from a dozen different keyword tools.
User Agent Switcher is good for understanding the site architecture of large complex sites when they serve GoogleBot different URLs than they serve end users.
Web Devleoper allows you to change all kinds of settings to deconstruct a page.
I would consider using Google Analytics if you have a thick website that would be exceptionally hard to replicate (like a SearchEngineLand or a TechCrunch) and/or if your main mode of monetization is AdSense and you want to tie together your AdSense and Analytics accounts to see what pages are monetizing best. That choice might be a bit more costly for sites that have easy-to-replicate or sites in small niche markets, like B2B. If you have a smaller or thin site and are afraid of sending all your user data to Google then I would consider installing Mint or GetClicky.
My favorite ranking analysis tool is Advanced Web Ranking. It is feature rich, automatically pulls in updated data, and even allows you to add competing sites and backtrack how they performed while you were collecting earlier data about other sites you tracked for those keywords.
Competitive research tools
Compete.com stole the show about a year and a half ago when they launched, but since then many other companies have made great progress on this front. Google has been busy commoditizing data, while many third party services have been busy trying to build value around the competitive research idea.
Google knows its data is worth a lot of money. And they have decided to share a lot of it with advertisers via their Search-based Keyword Tool and Ad Planner. Avinash Kaushik recently reviewed the tool, and Danny Sullivan reviewed the ad planner when it came out.
SEM Rush is probably my favorite competitive research tool for its speed, depth, and how it cross-references data. I liked SEM Rush so much that I was the first person to review the service and we used it to power our competitive research tool. Other similar tools include SpyFu, KeyCompete, and Keyword Spy. Each tool has it’s own proprietary keyword database and features.
WikiRank is a cool competitive research tool that tracks the traffic to different Wikipedia pages. Given Wikipedia’s great search engine rankings, this is a great third party tool for comparing the accuracy of data from other tools.
Some handy browser links
I tend to be quicker at doing things I like and slower at things I enjoy less. I suppose everyone is that way. So what I do is set my browser homepage in a couple different browsers to tasks that I should do frequently but often forget. Another option along these lines is to create a custom homepage of your own that offers links to various critical tasks you need to do frequently.
I hope you found some of these tips and tools helpful, and would love to know what tools you use and recommend. Please add them to the comments below.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.