I started typing this as a comment on this post but the comments there are getting a bit overwhelming so I’ve moved it to my blog so I can have a proper rant, and also direct my clients to this page.
Yesterday afternoon myself and thousands of other Raven Tools customers got the message below, letting us know that we had less than a month before Raven would shut down the SERP tracker tool that sits at the heart of its toolset.
Now having spent thousands of dollars on my own Raven accounts for Ioptimal in the past few years as well as referring $10,000’s more worth of business to them via other agencies I’ve worked with in the past 4 or 5 years this message came as a real shock. First and foremost because communication from Raven is usually very good and this message amazingly didn’t even have the decency to say ‘hey, we’re sorry, we know this sucks but we don’t have a choice’ or even, I don’t know, “we value you as a customer” – just might have been nice and probably would of limited the backlash they’re received.
Secondly, it amazes me that Raven wouldn’t do anything to try and encourage their loyal users to stay with them given they’re pulling out a huge part of their system. It’s a smaller toolset, their costs are lower (because they no longer have to pay for authority labs data or SEMrush data), they should pass that saving on to try and encourage customers to stick around.
But customer service issues aside what I soon realized is that actually I’m not going to work myself up about this, at the end of the day I’ll work out an alternative way of running my reports and my business will go on as normal. But as I started to point out in the comments of Raven’s announcement page I really think alienating their SEO customers in this way is going to damage Raven’s reputation beyond repair. So I write this to seriously urge them to reconsider their decision.
Serp rankings matter. They’re not my words, they’re taken directly from the Raven Tools website on a page I can only assume will be removed shortly.
So lets get something straight. SEO’s have been talking about this for years now – “rankings are dead” – and yet to this day I’m yet to know of one proper SEO agency who has successfully removed rankings from their client reports. Forget about all the content marketing yada yada BS you read on every mainstream SEO blog these days. When a client pays an SEO agency to improve their search rankings they want to know that the agency has improved those rankings. Yes more traffic is great to report on, conversions are better still but those figures are influenced massively by external factors.
SEO agency: “In December your sales from SEO increased by 50%”
Client: “Yeah, it was Christmas”
Rankings are still the closest thing SEO’s have got to an isolated metric to measure their performance on the majority of campaigns. As much as they’re a pain in the arse to run and susceptible to fluctuations as Google messes with localization and personalized search, any SEO that thinks the days of ranking reports are over is dreaming.
Raven’s CEO says “I’d rather provide tools and data that prove ROI, conversions and goals, not simple rankings.” but I mean without rankings, what is an SEO performance report going to look like in 12 months time:
(not provided) – 100% – 1521 Visits
That will be £2000 please!
So where does this leave Raven?
When I started using Raven right at the beginning it was first and foremost an SEO toolset (I think their website actually used to be ravenseotools.com or something like that). Their first customers were all SEO’s and to this day I can only assume that’s still a huge part of their business. As one commenter pointed out on their blog post;
“Look at your own homepage. See how there are 5 SEO-related feature boxes and only 1 PPC box? See how in the footer there are 13 SEO-related tool links, but only 2 PPC links? “
The fact is that although Raven has integrations for a bunch of other social media and PPC stuff these days those tools are very lightweight api integrations. The Adwords tool is just a stripped down version of the Adwords interface. I’d be hugely surprised if any proper PPC managers are actually using it to manage their campaigns given the range of powerful free tools which Google offers and the far superior technology of enterprise level paid tools.
I guess Raven must feel differently about this but for me, Raven is still an SEO tool, but without rankings, what does it actually offer? A couple of API driven research tools and the link manager. Useful yes, but only as part of an all in one solution, which it can’t be without rankings.
To backtrack a little and without knowing the full details, what’s basically happened is that Google have threatened to revoke the Adwords API access of companies who violate Google’s terms of service in other parts of their business.
Scraping ranking data, although this isn’t done by Raven but by a third party whom they work with, is a violation of these terms of service which has meant Google have been able to play hardball with Raven (with other companies undoubtedly to follow) and force them to remove their SERP tracking or face losing their API access. Clearly this is like being caught between a rock and a hard place for Raven who really need both types of data to make their tools work properly but for me, choosing to comply with Google and remove rankings functionality was the wrong decision and sets a dangerous president because:
- There’s no guarantee that Google won’t decide in the future that other parts of their toolset violate their guidelines and have to be removed. Who’s to say Google won’t go on to claim Raven’s use of Linkscape and Majestic data is as an attempt to reverse engineer PageRank or the link manager contravenes their paid link policy? By letting Google set the rules your business becomes dependant on the whims of a company which wouldn’t give a second thought to chewing your business up, spitting it out and not even bothering to pay tax on the profits.
- It alienates their core SEO customer base which will lose both existing and future customers. Raven is a leader in SEO tools, but a long way behind others when it comes to paid search management and social media tools. The plan may be to develop these in the future but there’s a long way to go.
- It massively limits their ability to develop new SEO tools. For better or worse, scraping is at the heart of most SEO tools (and ironically its also at the hart of what Google does as a business!). Without being able to scrape any Google data or use 3rd party services like SEMrush, they’ll be reliant on the SEO data which Google choose to provide- so either via Analytics data which is being stripped away by the day thanks to not provided and webmaster tools – the data from which is, to put it simply, wrong.
It should be fairly obvious to anyone involved with the SEO business that Google are proactively working to make accurate SEO analysis harder. That’s not the anti-Google conspiracy theory of some tin-foil hat-wearing cynic. It’s just common sense that to satisfy the ever growing demands of their shareholders they need to sell more adverts. Having reached saturation in their market share, to do this they need to send less free traffic to business websites to force them onto Adwords. Whether as an SEO you play by Google’s rules or not, in the future you’re not going to be able to rely on Google data to make your job easier.
To be clear on this, and as I pointed out in the comments on the Raven blog, I say all this as a loyal and concerned Raven Tools customer. I totally respect that its their business and they an run it as they wish. Just as Google have every right to make life a bit harder for SEO’s if its what’s right for their business. For the time being I won’t be cancelling my Raven subscriptions, but long term my guess would be I’ll be looking to migrate to a tool which isn’t so reliant on a relationship with Google.