Forrester, the large marketing technology analysis organization, has released two of three of its Forrester Wave reports related to search marketing. I wrote about the first one yesterday in Forrester Rates The Top Large Search Marketing Agencies, which offered an assessment of large, full service (meaning agencies that offer both organic SEO and PPC) and agencies who serve large clients of $1 billion or more in revenue.
Today, a look at the second report, covering what Forrester describes as SEO “platforms” – the relatively new set of tools that has emerged over the past few years to help SEOs automate and bring more efficiency to a broad range of search optimization tasks that previously were a manual chore.
Forrester’s overall assessment is that SEO platforms are useful, but don’t provide the breadth offered by PPC automation tools. This isn’t surprising – even though search marketers have been practicing optimization long before paid search optimization tools emerged, paid search, at least to some extent, is a far less complex process and more suited to automation. Organic search, by contrast, is more difficult, due to inherent differences in how search engines look at each type of marketing. Rather than the essentially “paying for position” option that’s available to paid search advertisers (it’s more complicated than that, but let’s take this as the basic assumption), organic SEOs must have a deep understanding of how results are determined, and to complicate things, must also understand factors that affect rankings such as personalization, authorship, structured markup and more.
That’s why SEO tools, or “platforms” as Forrester calls them, have emerged. These platforms promise to automate tasks that take time and a lot of knowledge for people to perform. The benefits are obvious: Well-performing organic content will continue to perform well, and the people responsible for maintaining websites don’t have to agonize over keeping up with the algorithmic changes search engines continually make to improve the user experience and combat irrelevant or black-hat content.
Key SEO Trends
Forrester Wave reports are designed to offer purchasing advice to their clients who are seeking outsourced solutions. Nonetheless, they also include a lot of big-picture analysis that can be really useful to anyone doing SEO, whether running a large complex website or a comparatively simple small business website. Regardless of whether you’re considering an SEO platform, the trends described in this Wave report are worth thinking about.
Most notably, the report says there’s a shift in priority toward organic SEO and away from paid search. Two factors are at play here – the maturation of the industry, and PPC inflation. Organizations that have been involved with search now have in many cases more than a decade of experience in what works – and what doesn’t, and are now able more than ever to leverage this experience via deep SEO knowledge. This in part explains the trend we’ve observed at Search Engine Land over the past few years toward more of an in-house focus. SEO knowledge can offer firms a competitive advantage, so many have chosen to keep that advantage to themselves rather than going with a potentially more risky outsourcing option.
And PPC inflation is real, as advertisers continue to shift spend to multiple online formats. Unlike paid search, traffic from organic search is “free” (after discounting the costs of hosting, SEO and so on) so organic search has a natural appeal that likely will only grow.
Forrester also notes that for medium to large sites, SEO is becoming too complex to manage manually. This isn’t just because sites are burgeoning with continually added new content, but also because of the proliferation of ways people can access the web across multiple devices. SEOs now must optimize for the “splinternet” – which includes web, mobile, and the newly emerging HTML5 standards.
Forrester’s Top SEO Platforms
Forrester’s clients are companies with a billion or more in revenue, so their reports focus on products and services that operate at that scale. As such, they eliminate most small or free services from their Wave reports. So the reports are far from comprehensive overviews, but are useful as a starting point for just about anyone wanting to understand what’s important in selecting an outside vendor.
The required criteria for platforms included in the SEO Platform report:
- Audit site content and structure for visibility in natural search results
- Identify and value steps to boost search rankings
- Manage the SEO process
- Service providers
- Companies with revenues less than $5 million
- Point solutions
Forrester also used 21 criteria for evaluating the quality of the platforms, looking at factors like current offering, strategy and market presence.
That left them with four companies. Here’s how they fared.
Rio SEO, recently spun off from search agency Covario, was identified as the only “leader,” because “it actually creates optimized content and web pages instead of just providing optimization recommendations.”
BrightEdge was rated as a “competitive option” due to its content auditing, forecasting, and security capabilities and because it is the only vendor with a proprietary international office.
SEOmoz and Conductor were rated as “contenders.” Forrester says SEOmoz lacked some of the functionality of other vendors but they liked its easy-to-use audit tools. And Conductor got praise for its enthusiastic management and customer-oriented culture but dinged for its lack of mobile and local tools.
If you’re not a Forrester client, you can download a free copy of the SEO Platform report if you’re willing to share a bit of information with Rio SEO.