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Can you rely on automated SEO analysis?

With your site's findability hanging in the balance, it's natural that you want to do everything you can to be at the top, butut can you trust the results of an automated tool?

Suzie Swift
March 5, 2019
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is both a complicated and hugely important area. With your site's findability hanging in the balance, it's natural that you want to be sure you're doing everything you can to be at the top of the rankings. But with that demand has come a plethora of automated tools, each preaching their ability to give you the exact steps needed to get you to number one - for free.

Sounds fantastic, right? Well yes, obviously. But is it true?

The short answer is no, not at all. Most commonly, there is a huge divide between the same old stagnant steps a free analysis report will give you (many of which have value, though often not for SEO) and the actual ways in which search engine robots scan pages - which change constantly. So, unless a tool is similarly kept updated, inside of six months it's almost certainly guaranteed to be giving wrong - and potentially even harmful - information.

By way of example, many of these free reports will identify an issue with 'multiple title tags' on pages. This is because they aren't sophisticated enough to recognise that SVG graphics (used for icons) actually require their own embedded title tags. If these were to be removed (SVG doesn't support 'alt text' as other image formats do) you'd actually be destroying the descriptive content of the image used by screen readers for the visually impaired - potentially even leaving you non-compliant with ADA legislation in the US.

Further, some of these tools have undisclosed motives behind them, which generally come in two forms:

In the first, some of these tools are embedded within freelancer or agency sites - they are identifying 'issues' which can, from a certain point of view, be correctly labelled such, but aren't honestly harming your SEO, so that you will engage with the paid services from the business providing the free tool.

In the second case, you have Google pushing their own monopolistic agenda during the current phase of browser domination. Some Google tools explicitly recommend you to convert all of your images to the very poorly supported 'webp' format. If you were to do that, a huge section of your audience simply wouldn't be able to see images when visiting your store. Not exactly good advice.

So what should you do, give up? Not bother? Not at all, there is tremendous value in these reports - for example as a simple reminder that you forgot to add alt text to one of your images (though in some circles, alt text is being increasingly being considered an accessibility issue rather than one of SEO ) - you just have to know to NOT read the report as a definitive list of everything wrong with your store.

Sometimes, you will see elements that simply don't matter anymore, elements that actually have no value to change and would be very expensive to alter, or elements that simply can't be changed on your current platform. Never try to bend your store to satisfy the demands of one particular report, you're not adding value, you're simply changing your store to match the report.

Consider the value of a high-level overview report like Website Grader, which measures things that actually matter to your store's performance, and instead of bombarding you with a thousand lines of meaningless 'faults' in red, divides out your store's performance into easily digestible chunks presented with a human in mind.

And never be afraid to approach a skilled human for advice on highly complex matters like SEO. There's a fantastic Shopify community always able to help give you the right advice: Find an SEO expert

In short, automated tools ALWAYS need to be applied with a pinch of salt and analysed by a human to derive meaningful information - sadly, no single-click solution is going to see your store rise straight to the top of search results!

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