Case study: How Raven helped a search startup slay time-sucking vampires
Six months ago I was tasked with building a search practice from the ground up. Here’s how I avoided the temporal vampires of common SEO tasks and pulled it off with a little help from Raven Tools.
For a startup, time isn’t just money—it’s everything. Before planning out our new practice at Arc Intermedia, I asked myself: What are the biggest time drains facing most search departments? While your list may vary, I’ve found the most time intensive SEO/SEM activities to be:
- Keyword research
- Link analysis
- Rankings updates
For agency veterans, these four tasks may evoke Transylvanian flashbacks to dark and stormy nights spent poring over spreadsheets and swearing at pivot tables. Off in the distance, Sergey Brin cackles as you desperately double-check your SERP reports to attribute changes to your SEO tactics.
I’ve been preyed upon by time-sucking vampires before, and I was not about to risk my neck again.
I researched and selected the most powerful of allies before reentering the crypt. If these tasks were my Draculas, Raven Tools would be my Van Helsing.
Integrated keyword research
Raven Tools won’t make you a better researcher. That takes practice and drive. It will, however, make you much faster in your day-to-day operations.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the vast array of keyword research tool options or to waste precious time on redundant research. Raven Tools’ Research Assistant section freed up my workflow by integrating the larger keyword research tools (SEMRush, SEOmoz, Wordtracker, Google AdWords and OpenCalais’ Alchemy API) while playing nicely with outside tools.
The simple Keyword Manager dashboard solves versioning issues created by iterative keyword documentation as phrases are added and removed. Keyword Opportunities and Google Analytics keyword referrals are also powerful toolsets for tracking on the fly. Since nothing is self-contained, everything you select winds up in Keyword Manager.
But the best part is the ability to tag each keyword multiple times for much better data parsing and organization. My most used tag schemas are:
- Primary/meta keyword
- Associated page
- User intent
- Site hierarchy
- Topical categories
Tagging is the connective tissue of Raven Tools, enabling not only better data analysis but also more robust reporting. I can even use Raven Tools to map longitudinal growth of rankings for my tagged keyword groups. And all of this involves minimal setup.
‘Set it and forget it’ rankings
My dream keyword tool accurately and inexpensively tracks my daily rankings, while integrating directly into my categorized reports. Raven Tools gets pretty close.
I’m able to monitor keywords on a weekly basis with Raven’s SERP Tracker. The tool accurately tracks to the 100th ranking position, and even if it’s off a tad, Raven Tools gives you the ability to correct it. See?
Being able to fix ranking report errors without exporting to Excel once seemed as impossibly supernatural as vampires. Less time bouncing between programs and dashboards has given me more time for optimization.
There is a weakness, however. With limits of 1,000 keyword rankings in the Pro package and 2,500 rankings in the Agency package, I know I’m likely going to have overage costs. While the rate of $0.06 per additional keyword at the Pro level sounds reasonable, it can add up quickly with multiple clients.
To make Raven Tools work as our rankings tool, we have to plan for our overage costs. We estimate the number of rankings we’re likely to track for a client based on keyword-to-page assignments, size of the site and campaign needs. Overage costs can be absorbed, passed through or reduced (through limited tracking)
based on contractual agreements.
I like SEO tactics.
Linking it all together
In addition to keyword research and Link Manager to help you keep things organized. The real powerhouse, however, is Site Finder. In Raven Tools’ own words:
“Enter any keyword phrase, and Site Finder automatically finds domains that link to the Top 10 Google results for that keyword phrase. It then uses a combination of ranking factors…to determine how valuable a link from one of those domains would be to your website.”
Raven Tools even incorporates the new Citation Flow metrics from Majestic SEO. Everything rolls up into your reports.
I’ll admit that as great as Raven’s link tools are, I still find myself diving into my Majestic SEO account for deeper analyses. But while there’s still room for improvement, Site Finder and reporting integration alone make Raven Tools worth the price tag for link examination.
Reports that wow clients
While developing Arc Intermedia’s search practice, another one of the first things we did was ask our clients a simple question: What do you want to see in a monthly report?
Our clients wanted an accurate narrative above all else. They wanted year-over-year and month-over-month analysis. And they didn’t want a glut of data with little bearing on their operations.
Storytelling trumps a tome of charts and graphs every time, and Raven Tools helps us craft an accurate narrative.
Raven Tools’ Report Wizard features a drag-and-drop interface that makes it child’s play to configure our reports exactly as we like. Here’s what we deliver to meet our root clients’ needs. (Sorry, not all of our secret sauce will be served.)
- Summary Module: Start off with an executive summary and a recap of deliverables and meetings.
- Google Analytics Modules: Cover traffic performance and conversions at the beginning of the report, with written explanations of the data. This is a great place to map implementation of SEO recommendations against traffic and conversion patterns—a nice corollary lead-in to attribution later in the report. The Top Search Engines, Top Keywords and Top Landing pages add actionable information for the client, enabling doubling down of SEO efforts on specific keywords and pages and quick identification of problematic engines.
- Keyword/Content Opportunities Modules: These walking, talking arguments for targeted optimization work nicely when I need justification for additional on-page optimization.
- Engagement Summary Module: Longitudinal information on total page views, average pages/visit, average bounce rate and average time on site. Painfully simple, infinitely useful.
- SERP Tracker and Keyword History Modules: Visualize the growth of my head keywords—an excellent progress tracker for clients with their hearts set on obtaining the top ranking for their industry keyword. The SERP Tracker reporting module is where the interconnectivity of the Raven Tools suite really pays off. You can filter each SERP Tracker module you add by keyword tags.
The benefits are immense. I quickly compile keyword reports parsed in the exact manner I like with the exact metrics I want to see. Google Analytics Visits and Conversions, Search Volume and Competition can all be added right next to my rankings. All of my summary tables populate nicely, and each module instance provides an opportunity to supply a write-up.
- I think I’ll keep how we use Raven’s Link and Social modules to myself.
Why we use Raven Tools for reporting
I made the mistake once of presenting a data-heavy, Excel-fueled status report to a client. A report that took far too much of my time to compile was greeted by blank stares and furrowed brows. Never again.
Raven Tools makes it incredibly easy to match our clients’ reporting expectations, improve our workflow and save time, so that I can focus on critical actions. Most importantly, it’s the easiest format for our clients to digest and allows us to move projects forward swiftly.
There are limitations of Raven, such as a lack of direct support for additional analytics packages and the aforementioned rankings overages. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Bottom line from me to you: if your client is running SEO/SEM and uses Google Analytics, Raven Tools is pretty hard to beat.
Raven Tools: A stake to the heart
When I needed to rapidly build a savvy, data-fueled search practice from scratch, I turned to Raven Tools. Now, with such a powerful toolset and dashboard at my disposal, I’m able to avoid the time traps built into research and reporting.
While increased customization of our reports is always possible, using Raven’s modules as our baseline enables us to quickly compile our key data points, make sense of the data and have smarter exchanges with our clients. The result? Clients are already asking for renewal ideas—not bad for six months in!
Raven Tools staked our time vampires to dust. I can provide the output of a larger scale agency with a simple and powerful tool. That’s why I’ve built Raven into everything I do.
Ron Sansone is the Director of Search & Online Marketing at the Philadelphia online marketing firm Arc Intermedia. In addition to his day job, he is also a cordcutter and yellow lab enthusiast. Follow @RonSansone on Twitter.