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    "The Best SEO Tool is the One Between Your Ears"


    Automated tools are awesome! They do the menial, time-consuming work that you just don't have time to do. They make our lives easier.

    BUT! At the same time, tools are machines. Machines are programmed to do a specific job, and they often do that job flawlessly - but they lack context. Context is something that you must supply.

    We've been getting a lot of questions from newbies lately, asking if they should be worried because Google Analytics, Yoast, Search Console, or another such tool is throwing a red or yellow warning light at them. "What does this mean? How do I fix it?" Sometimes these issues really are urgent - but not always. Sometimes, they're only being shown because the tool is programmed to point them out...even if they aren't anything worth worrying about.

    One example is 404s. Search Console's Crawl Errors Report is designed to look at your site and display all of your crawl errors to you. Thing is - sometimes a crawl error is in place for a reason. Even Google's help section about the Crawl Errors Report says that the first step in evaluating a 404 error is, "Is it worth the time it will take to fix it?"

    I'll give another example: Yoast has a neat feature called the "Focus Keyword." If you haven't set a focus keyword for a piece of content, Yoast will warn you about it. But the focus keyword is a Yoast tool and it has nothing to do with Google.

    Basically, you put a keyword that you want the page to rank for into the Focus Keyword box. Then Yoast will look at the page as you write it and make suggestions about whether you should use the keyword more or less often. But you can write a perfectly good page without this tool! Just because Yoast warns you that you're not using it doesn't mean that you have to - it's just a machine, and it has no sense of the context under which you are writing.

    Likewise, even if you set a focus keyword, you don't have to follow Yoast's suggestions. That's all they are - suggestions - and they're based on Yoast's tool, not Google. You need experience and knowledge to evaluate whether Yoast's suggestions are worth your time.

    So don't let yourself be led by the nose by your tools! Evaluate their suggestions critically, using your own experience. And if you have questions about how a tool works, by all means ask the tool maker! The best tools keep their help sections up to date, and they're very forward about how they work. Moz takes a lot of guff around here, but you can't fault them for being totally open and honest about how DA and PA (which are tools of theirs) actually work.

    This thread wasn't made to preemptively shut down people with tool questions - it's just here to remind people that they shouldn't blindly listen to or follow their tools without thinking critically about how they work.

    EDIT: The thread title comes from what may as well be the SEO Chat mantra. I've seen it used a lot - here are some historical threads that use the phrase and are probably related to this topic!

    1. Which Seo is best

    2. Is there a utility/site to analyse my text before I use it on my site? (terriwells makes the excellent point that sometimes it's not the tool between YOUR ears that is best - sometimes it's the tool between a friend's ears! See post number 5)

    3. https://forums.seochat.com/google-op...ls-447121.html (Posts 14 and 15 are brilliant)

    4. Can anyone explain Structured Data?

    Add a thread where this mantra was well used, or where you learned something new about tool use, or just a rant/rave/whatever below!

    Comments on this post

    • Hikin Mike agrees
    • Test-ok agrees : Nice read Mark
    • Prof.stan agrees : Great :)
    • therealaleech agrees
    • Pierre Benneton agrees
    • eduwings agrees : great post. read my blog also http://eduwingsudaipur.com/blog/
    • david19922 agrees : the tool for SEO is SEO Yoast
    • Rohan09 agrees : useful post
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    Subdomain SEO questions >> I have seen many times new bee ask about subdomain SEO and read Chadders reply this is one of best response for this specific concerned.

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    • shellyrajput agrees
    You do your business I do mine because you are you and I am I If we meet it is nice.
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    'the one between your ears' I thought that was an interesting way to put it. You make great points. I am no SEO guru by any means but while using the Yoast plugin, one can easily become obsessed with the green buttons. I've had to pause and resist the temptation to almost stuff my main keyword in the blog post, because I want to have as many green buttons as possible. What you said made a lot of sense.

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    • Pierre Benneton agrees : You are on the right track. Resist the green light's call.
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    "One example is 404s. Search Console's Crawl Errors Report is designed to look at your site and display all of your crawl errors to you. Thing is - sometimes a crawl error is in place for a reason. Even Google's help section about the Crawl Errors Report says that the first step in evaluating a 404 error is, "Is it worth the time it will take to fix it?""

    I agree with this post, and as a professional SEO I can attest that some tools give false positives and need to be actually analyzed, not just acted on automatically. That said, out of curiosity: in what cases would a crawl error (I assume you mostly mean 404s) be, "in place for a reason?" I've never heard of intentional 404s before.
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    Originally Posted by Julian_SEO
    That said, out of curiosity: in what cases would a crawl error (I assume you mostly mean 404s) be, "in place for a reason?" I've never heard of intentional 404s before.


    You're right, and I was wrong. I don't think there ever is a time when the ideal response is to intentionally leave something as a 404. A redirect or a 410 is generally the better choice, depending on the situation. But I can think of a few examples of why it might be there on purpose, even if it isn't the best response. Keep in mind I'm not an expert!

    How about a site hack: https://productforums.google.com/for...rs/K95qTpkUG1E

    In this example, the person with the problem has deleted all the pages created by the hack (some nasty NSFW stuff it sounds like). When they did that, they left the pages as 404s. The first response, as I interpret it, is basically "That's fine I guess. But you should really set them up as a 410." So a 404 might be there on purpose because the webmaster doesn't know how else to do it. Or they're lazy. In which case they can probably ignore those 404s and consider them to be there for a reason.

    Or maybe they deleted an old, outdated piece of content and just didn't feel like writing something new to redirect the old link to. That's not advisable - but if you're a webmaster and you know that you want to write a replacement but don't have the time/money yet...you can rest safe that the 404 you left isn't going to net you a penalty. You might lose links and you're missing a great opportunity, but the 404 itself is not the direct problem.

    Maybe if you've coded a custom 404 page that you really like, then you might let a page like that go to 404. I'm not sure. I imagine it varies from site to site. In an ideal world, there would be no 404s anywhere.

    Google's directions on how to determine whether or not a 404 is worth fixing are actually really interesting to me:

    Originally Posted by Google

    1. Decide if it's worth fixing. Many (most?) 404 errors are not worth fixing. Here's why:Sort your 404s by priority and fix the ones that need to be fixed. You can ignore the other ones, because 404s don't harm your site's indexing or ranking.
      • If it is a deleted page that has no replacement or equivalent, returning a 404 is the right thing to do.
      • If it is a bad URL generated by a script, or that never have existed on your site, it's probably not a problem you need to worry about. It might bother you to see it on your report, but you don't need to fix it, unless the URL is a commonly misspelled link (see below).

    2. See where the invalid links live. Click a URL to see Linked from these pages information. Your fix will depend on whether the link is coming from your own or from another site:
      1. Fix links from your own site to missing pages, or delete them if appropriate.
        • If the content has moved, add a redirect.
        • If you have permanently deleted content without intending to replace it with newer, related content, let the old URL return a 404 or 410. Currently Google treats 410s (Gone) the same as 404s (Not found). Returning a code other than 404 or 410 for a non-existent page (or redirecting users to another page, such as the homepage, instead of returning a 404) can be problematic. Such pages are called soft 404s, and can be confusing to both users and search engines.
        • If the URL is unknown: You might occasionally see 404 errors for URLs that never existed on your site. These unexpected URLs might be generated by Googlebot trying to follow links found in JavaScript, Flash files, or other embedded content, or possibly that exist only in a sitemap. For example, your site may use code like this to track file downloads in Google Analytics:
          <a href="helloworld.pdf" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackPageview','/download-helloworld']);"> Hello World PDF</a> When Googlebot sees this code, it might try to crawl the URL http://www.example.com/download-helloworld, even though it's not a real page. In this case, the link may appear as a 404 (Not Found) error in the Crawl Errors report. Google is working to prevent this type of crawl error. This error has no effect on the crawling or ranking of your site.

      2. Fix misspelled links from other sites with 301 redirects. For example, a misspelling of a legitimate URL (www.example.com/redshoos instead of www.example.com/redshoes) probably happened when someone linking to your site simply made a typo. In this case, you can capture that misspelled URL by creating a 301 redirect to the correct URL. You can also contact the webmaster of a site with an incorrect link, and ask for the link to be updated or removed.

    3. Ignore the rest of the errors. Don't create fake content, redirect to your homepage, or use robots.txt to block those URLs—all of these things make it harder for us to recognize your site’s structure and process it properly. We call these soft 404 errors. Note that clicking This issue is fixed in the Crawl Errors report only temporarily hides the 404 error; the error will reappear the next time Google tries to crawl that URL. (Once Google has successfully crawled a URL, it can try to crawl that URL forever. Issuing a 300-level redirect will delay the recrawl attempt, possibly for a very long time.)


    So they say that if you delete a page and there's no replacement a 404 is "the right thing to do." They also say that if something is gone for good and you're NEVER gonna replace it "let the old URL return a 404 or 410. Currently Google treats 410s (Gone) the same as 404s (Not found)." I know people sometimes direct stuff like that to a homepage, so it's interesting that Google says that "can be problematic. Such pages are called soft 404s, and can be confusing to both users and search engines."

    I don't think a 404 is ever the perfect solution but it's a shortcut that Google doesn't seem to mind if you use.

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    • Prof.stan agrees
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    To add - I guess 410 codes are not that common. One of our great mods made a post about how they work here: Trying to de-index with 410, what is the result supposed to be?

    Good reading for anyone interested!

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