When our customers and potential new users first start their search for the right SEO and marketing intelligence tool, many of them find themselves lost in the weeds of multiple solutions and vendors. The process can be time consuming and a little daunting. To help shorten the journey and make it more efficient, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short guide to answer some of the common questions that arise. I also thought it would be helpful to list some questions to ask SEO platform companies and some things to consider as you choose the best SEO and marketing tool for your brand.

How Long Should The Search For An SEO Tool Take?

While there’s no perfect amount of time to spend looking for and choosing your SEO and marketing intelligence tool, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure the process moves at a reasonable pace.
First, keep in mind that if you need an SEO and marketing intelligence tool, every day you spend looking for one is another day you’re not improving your efforts or solving the problems that set you on the journey to buy a tool in the first place. If you have an incumbent tool and you’re looking to switch, shorten the process by making a list of the things that aren’t working as well as you would like. Include your basic needs and must haves for the new tool including the problems you have working with the organization and the features of the tool that don’t fit your needs.
The time it takes to choose a tool may depend on whether or not you’re given a trial period or a sandbox account to try out the tool. As with any large platform, there’s going to be a lot of stuff to learn and things to figure out. This process can get pretty complicated if you’re trying to test out more than one or two platforms at a time.
During a platform trial, use your time efficiently and be prepared to make a decision at the end of a trial. A lot of times the trial account you’re using can be converted into the account you’ll use and you’ll already have had time for the data to populate. Letting the trial period expire without making a decision may mean that you lose the ground you already gained setting up the account, creating your custom dashboards, and getting data.
During a trial, use the first week or two to make sure everything is set up and start to learn the tool. Use the next week or two to really start to problem solve and create a workflow that works for you and your team. It takes at least one month of a trial to get a good feel for a tool. That period of time should be enough time for you and your team to make a decision and get started with a tool that fits your needs.

Sandbox or Trial Account – Asking The Right Questions

Before making the final decision, most people try out a couple of different platforms either with a trial account, or a sandbox account. Before embarking on either, make a list of must-haves and focus on addressing your current pain points or greatest challenges. Talk to prospective vendors about current features as well as things on their product roadmap that address your needs.
If you’re offered a sandbox environment, keep in mind that the data you’re looking at isn’t your data and you don’t know exactly how the sandbox environment was set up or configured. Once you start using the tool, your data may not look exactly the same as the data in the sandbox account. Some questions you may want to ask if you’re using a sandbox environment:

  • What type of analytics was the account connected to?
  • How long has the account been running?
  • How many keywords were added?
  • What does the daily maintenance of this tool look like?

In general, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. While it’s great to test drive a perfect version of a platform that someone else has set up, when you have to set up the platform yourself and use your own analytics, you may end up with something that looks a little different and you may be disappointed at the results.
If you’re given a trial account where you use your own data, give the platform you’re testing some time for data to populate. While you may get a lot of experience out of a sandbox account in two weeks, you’ll need 30 days or more to set-up and use a trial version. But in the end, you’ll have experience with the platform and your data connected to your analytics.
I really like to caution against running multiple trials at once. It’s confusing enough to learn and implement one or two platforms, but once you’re looking at data from multiple platforms, features and data start to blur together and the process becomes overwhelming.

Due Diligence – Investigating Tools Up Front

Before starting a trial or sandbox account to choose a tool for your brand, do your due diligence and ask the right questions to narrow your search.
Besides making sure the core features work and fit your needs, there are some intangibles to consider. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How is the company structured?
  • What is the support structure?
  • Is there a dedicated account manager?
  • What is the onboarding process?

How is the company structured?

You’ll want to know how the company is structured and things like where they spend their money and where they invest their resources. For example, do they have a large sales team and lots of offices? If so, that’s a lot of overhead that’s not going toward feature or product development.

What is the support structure?

You always want to ask about their support structure. You need to know how they’re going to help you at your purchase level. A lot of organizations have dedicated account management teams that are only available for customers at particular price points. In addition, some platforms charge for account management support, or give discounts for customers who do not need account support. You can determine your support needs based on the level of technical support you have in-house and experiences you’ve had with other, similar tools.

Is there a dedicated account manager?

You’ll want to know if you’ll have a dedicated account manager, or if you’ll be relegated to a queue where your request for support is answered by a different person each time you call. It can be frustrating to have a high level of support with one person in the beginning and then, after you’ve become an established customer, you no longer have someone dedicated to your account.
You’ll want to make sure that whoever you’re working with day to day is responsive and knowledgeable and actually takes the time to learn about your account and your business. You’ll also want to have access to people further up in the organization that can help you when you need additional support.

What is the onboarding process?

When you’re looking for a product that requires some technical expertise to set-up, as must platforms do, you’ll want to know how much support is provided for the onboarding process. Will someone be available for you to ask questions and help you set up things appropriately beyond the first 48 hours of signing up for the platform and getting the connections completed? You’ll want to be sure that support is available to help you:

  • Get onboarded correctly
  • Set up reports
  • Set up workflows
  • Create keyword groups
  • Create content groups
  • Create custom dashboards

If these types of things aren’t set-up correctly up front, you’ll have less opportunity to use the tools you’ve purchased to their full potential. You’ll want to know that someone is actually going to be there to walk you through those set-ups and help you get the most out of your investment. In some cases, that role may be part of the platform price, or an add-on paid service. Just make sure it’s there if you need it.

What Happens If I Can’t Find The Perfect Fit?

When you’re talking about finding a tool that has 100 percent of the features you’ve listed on your wish list, it probably doesn’t exist. As with anything, there’s going to have to be a little give and take between your ideal solution and the available tool that’s the best fit for your brand.
That being said, you shouldn’t settle for a tool that doesn’t fit your core needs. Make a list of basic needs and another list of things that aren’t working now, if you have an incumbent tool. Finally, make a wish list and prioritize it, if you can. If you can’t find the perfect fit, at least eliminate any tool that doesn’t meet your basic needs.
It can be tempting to give up basic needs in favor of a lower price point. However, it usually ends up costing more in time and energy to get the information you really need with work arounds or other tools. Make sure you’re considering opportunity and time cost when you’re looking at going with something that doesn’t meet all your core needs.
Once you’re sure the tool will meet your core needs now, find out if the vendor is willing to work with you to develop features in the future. Things on your wish list may be part of the provider’s current road map, or they may be things they’re willing to add to the roadmap. You may not get your whole wish list today, but maybe in three months or six months from now as you grow together with your support team, the tool may actually end up becoming more of what you want.
If your needs really aren’t in line with what the company can provide, someone at the company should be able to tell you that you’re not a good fit. We do it all the time because we’d rather have a happy non-customer than an unhappy customer who wants out of their contract because the tool doesn’t fit their needs.
After about 60 to 90 days, sit down with your tool provider and talk about what else you’d like accomplish and if those things can be accomplished with the existing features. If those features aren’t available, the 60-90 day mark is a good time to talk about future feature releases and how they’ll help you meet your goals.
When you’re ready to look for a tool to meet your business goals, give us a shout and we’ll see if we’re a good fit for your brand.