A detailed look at what can (and can’t) be automated in SEO

by Hamlet Batista | September 26, 2007 | 14 Comments

robot_flower.jpgIn my post about SEO automation, SEO expert Halfdeck expressed concern about the possibility of customers preferring a sophisticated SEO tool over a highly-trained SEO professional. I am sure many of my peers had the same thought running through their heads when they saw my post on Sphinn. The post even made it to the front page!

The reality is that we should embrace software progress in our field. We should look at software improvements and innovations as tools that can help us scale our own business and be more successful. Is it bad to use SEO software that does all the tedious work and helps us serve 20 clients per month instead of 10?

Man vs. Machine

If we look at the last 100 years, man has achieved an incredible amount of progress. Every invention brings a new level of comfort. You can do many things far easier, faster and more efficiently than before. There is an irreversible momentum in this direction.

The fear of computers replacing the work we do is not unfounded, of course. Machines are replacing human labor everyday. The more repetitive the work, the easier it is to get a machine to do it for you. On the other hand, the more creative and more social the task is, the harder it is for a computer to replicate.

There is software for almost any professional activity that we do, yet we (the professionals) are still in high demand. Nobody is going to trust his or her business to a computer blindly, after all. If something goes wrong, who would they complain to? 😉

So the question becomes: do we resist change, or adapt and thrive?

SEO processes that can be automated so far

Search engine friendliness. Most SEO experts start optimizing sites from keyword research. I start by establishing a baseline for the web site so that I can identify problems and measure progress. This includes:

  • Checking the current rankings and index penetration

  • Checking and fixing broken links, missing tags (title, meta description), etc.

  • Checking search engine penalties, duplicate content problems, etc.

It is not trivial, but it is perfectly possible to automate all this. The harder part is fixing the problems automatically once found.

Keyword Research. It is hard to do keyword research without a tool. On the other hand, advanced keyword research involves more than just selecting a group of keywords based on their KEI. In my keyword research process I focus more on the organization of the keywords, measuring relevancy, understanding the intention of the searcher, the real value of the keywords based on the potential traffic, as well as how much they are worth in the PPC marketplace. I also include in this process the selection of which pages should be optimized for which keywords. Again, this is not trivial but it can be automated.

Competitive Analysis. Studying and following a top-ranking competitor is one of the most fundamental, bulletproof ways to achieve high rankings. We normally rely on tools to perform the analysis, so clearly it is possible to automate this.

Site Architecture. If the site is built with a content management system, it is possible to make changes to the CMS to allow for site architecture changes that improve the site’s crawlability and navigation.

On-page Analysis. Extracting the relevant metrics from a particular web site also requires the use of tools, so at least extracting the raw data is automatable. Acting on that data to create an improved version that is still comprehensible to a human being is not, however.

Link Analysis. Extracting the links and anchor text of a particular web site efficiently requires tools, so this is automatable too.

SEO processes that cannot be automated so far

On-page optimization. In order for a computer to make changes to a page and still keep it readable for a human being, the computer would need to comprehend it. If you look at how badly automatic language translation tools work, you know that we are still a little bit far from that. I can’t say that it will not be possible in the future, though.

Link building. Aside from identifying link targets, automatically submitting your site to directories and social bookmarking sites, or doing massive link exchanges, link building is probably one of the most difficult tasks to automate. Why? Because those easy links I just mentioned are not worth much. Useful links are generally placed by other webmasters and they usually don’t like automated spam asking for links. Effective link building requires creativity and a personal touch.

That being said, here is an interesting idea that might (or might not) work. As I discussed in my previous post about advanced link building, giving tests and rewarding test takers with badges is a really good way to build links. I think that this specific link-building method could be automated. You create the web application that gives the tests, generalize it enough so that you can plug it into any of your sites or your clients’ sites. I am imagining here a test-giving engine that takes a feed of questions and correct answers. You could buy several trivia books to feed the engine with groups of related questions and let the visitors do the link building for you. You can also automate the initial promotion of the tests by submitting to social sites or e-mailing your popular friends 😉

What do you think?

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

“We kept putting more energy into getting SEO audits done to understand why we started to lose positions to smaller, newer companies, but we kept losing ground. We kept trying to SEO audit recommendations, but our programmers couldn’t go fast enough.

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