review updated 1 June 2007 to cover current services and software status!
This is a comprehensive review of the full version of WebCEO 5.6, a.k.a. the Professional edition. There are two other versions of WebCEO, a Small Business edition and a Free Edition. The distinctions between different WebCEO versions can be found on this page. Basically, the Free Version can't do much while the Small Business and Professional Edition are almost indistinguishable. The Professional Edition makes creating self-branded reports easier and spiders the anchor text from backlinks.
Normal price for the Professional version is $389, promotional price (about twice a year) is $249. Normal price for the Small Business Edition is $189, promotional price is $149. The Free Edition is free. Well not really anymore. To keep even the Free Edition up to date and the tools functional, a user has to subscribe to what WebCEO calls Search Engine Pulse updates which run from $149 for 600 days to $30 per month.
Full pricing can be found on this page. The pricing model is a lot more confusing than it needs be.
The promotional versions are promoted at $226 and $186 discount but that includes some SEO certification courses which are not at this point widely recognised as an industry standard. I did the basic courses back in 2004 when it was still in the form of a guidebook and was not surprised or overwhelmed by the content. Aaron Wall's $80 SEO Book or Brad Cullen's free email course available at SEOElite.com (just sign up for the trial of SEOElite to get it) 7 Days to Massive Traffic offer more current and advanced strategies than one will find within WebCEO training materials.
I am going to go through the WebCEO toolbox one by one and compare them with the free tools I use and the pay tools I own or have tried.
- Keyword suggestion tool
- Optimisation tool
- SEO Editor
- Submission tool
- Ranking checker
- Link popularity tool
- Traffic analysis
Keyword Suggestion Tool
My general comment on this tool is that it is a quick way to get a feel for a section of the marketplace and how competitive that section is, but that the tool is unreliable. It offers some great information - number of searches per day, KEI, pages with keyword (Google), pages with the keyword in title (Google), number of external links to the first ranked page (Google), number of external links to the second ranked page (Google), Alexa traffic rank for page 1 and page 2, the top two bid values for Overture and the Google page rank of the first two pages.
Given the poor quality of Google's revealed external links, it is a pity that the external links come from Google and not Yahoo. It's also a pity to only have access to these indicators for the first two sites, as my personal experience is that there can be a sharp drop off in level of competition right after the first two sites. From the WebCEO Keyword Competition Analysis, you'd never know. There is another tab - View Competitors - which gives the user the top 10 Google results with Page Rank. SEOChat offers the same thing for free but SEOChat is so overburdened with ads and other nonsense it is a pleasure to have the Google results with PR in a clean interface. For some reason the WebCEO View Competition Google results did not always return Page Rank and I was obliged to reload the results a couple of times. I haven't had that problem with SEOChat's PR search.
A more serious concern with the WebCEO Keywords Tool is the quality of sample returned. I work in local and niche markets primarily and the results returned from the WebCEO find keywords function were less than adequate. To begin with, often Daily Word Searches are simply indicated as less than 10. WordTracker and Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Overture) return exact counts down to 1 or 2/day. There is a big difference between 1 search/day and 10 searches/day. On the other hand, for high volume terms, WebCEO returns a large list far faster than either WordTracker and Overture tool, along with a quite useful preliminary competition analysis. On my sample real estate term, WebCEO returned about 16 suggestions in comparison to about 60 suggestions from the Overture tool. While WebCEO argue that they are saving you the $240/year for WordTracker - this is simply not true. Any serious SEO will be using WordTracker and Overture tools whether they own WebCEO or not.
Personally, I find the Digital Point side by side version of WordTracker free and Overture Keyword Suggestion tool to be faster and more useful than any of the above. The Google suggest tool which displays terms in order of frequency of search in Google can be very useful as well. While not quantified, these are suggestions based on real Google searches and not hypothetical data from metasearch engines.
For quick analysis of competition, I also have been using Jim Morris's Nichebot keyword analysis. Nichebot offers the top fifteen Google SERPs with Page Rank and backlinks (Google). But Nichebot's keyword analysis has been broken for the last four days. Forget about NicheBot at this point. Normally for more in depth analysis I use WeBuildPages Top Ten Google Analysis(there are about three versions on their site) which has the advantage of using Yahoo! for backlinks - but all of them are broken as well. After much trouble this weekend - I have a few projects active at the keyword stage right now - I finally found that a combination of the SEOChat PR search tool and WeBuildPages Cool SEO Tool gave me an even better idea of the level of competition on a given keyphrase if with a little less convenience than the currently broken all-in-one tools.
This weekend emergency search for alternative to Nichebot does underscore a significant advantage of WebCEO. It isn't a free online tool that breaks. It is a piece of commercial software on your desktop which is updated regularly and should always work (apart from a day or two of waiting for the update in the case of a major API shift at Yahoo or Google).
On the other hand, in the Professional Edition, WebCEO will give the same silly stats for one's top four competitors for one's keyphrase which could be useful for detecting invisible and tiny text on their websites and then reporting them to Google or Yahoo! for spamming the engines. It also does a nice text of your robots.txt file to make sure one hasn't inadvertently made an error here which will prevent Google from spidering one's site. There all kinds of keyword density stats offered for those who like them.
I don't think I would use the Optimisation Tool very often. My client's pages are written by people for people using the natural and justified amount of keyword repetition. The real game at this point as all the Threadwatch SEO crowd knows is in off-page factors - at least for Google. This keyword density analysis might be more useful for the automatic page generating crowd to check up on their own bots.
I would find this tool more useful with a clearer focus on automatically detecting illegal actitivities in the top ten of the SERPs for a given keyword.
The SEO editor is absolutely fantastic. It gives you immediate access to the title tag, useful metatags like description and keywords, all of the heading tags on your pages, the alt tags (offering you a chance to quickly add text), every link on your pages. It even has a find and replace function.
There are two caveats however. It works on complete html documents. Most of my new websites are either developed within a CMS or use SSI heavily. There are not many complete html documents left for me to use this otherwise outstanding SEO editor on. I've tried it on my SSI stubs (which do have metatags for keywords and description and unfortunately the editor chokes without the doctype, body and html tags which are safely stored away in includes. For anybody who does write complete HTML pages, the built-in editor is a godsend for SEO. Hélas, I don't think there are many such people left among the Threadwatch crowd.
The built-in SEO editor is a very good idea, whose time has passed. Happily enough its full-functionality is available in the free edition - whose users are those most likely to be working with conventional websites stored locally.
The second issue is that the editor also changes the line endings from Unix format to Windows format. As my primary web development machine is a Mac under OS X (Unix) and our servers are LAMP (Linux), changing line endings is a major nuisance.
The Submission Tool is divided into two parts - Auto Submission for Search Engines and Manual Submission for Directories.
The Submission Tool is a solution in search of a problem. Websites are not launched (or shouldn't be) any longer by submitting them to the search engines. They are launched by including a link to the new website in an existing frequently spidered site (a weblog for instance).
The manual submission tool for directories could be very useful if it held set key directory submission components readily formatted for each directory and if the list of directories were far more comprehensive. There are only nine non-regional directories (when I say regional I mean regional - German-language AllesKalr, French Voila, Indian Indiaranking, Polish Onet, Welsh Dairectory) in the list - DMOZ, Galaxy, Gimpsy, Jayde, Joe Ant, skaffe, wow, Yahoo, Zeal.
Apart from the regional directories, the paragraph above contains all the useful material from the Submission Tool - direct links to the directories' own submission guidelines. If there were far more directories listed and if the submission pointers for each directory could be more comprehensive, including more end user information on things like the free inclusion options, this could be a very useful tool.
On the other hand, given the recent devaluation of directory links, perhaps it would be best to stick to these nine general directories and the regional directories. But there are some fine smaller directories with strict submission standards like SiteReviewer.net.
I've been hard on the last couple of tools. But now we come to the crown jewel of the WebCEO suite - the WebCEO ranking checker. No one and I mean no one produces such pretty ranking reports as WebCEO. With the Professional Editions, these reports can be customised in one's own company name with logo at the top and include unlimited keywords. The Free edition is limited to checking a not very useful 5 keywords at a time but is otherwise the same as the Pros get.
Rankings can be checked historically against previous, first and best. Flipping between the different results is very quick. Custom subsets of results can be created. Ranking can be scheduled on a daily, weekly or montly basis. Different subsets could be scheduled which might make the 5 terms limit in the free edition more bearable as well as avoid a SE IP ban for too many requests in a set period.
WebCEO also includes the widest set of search engines I've ever seen from a ranking tool. As well as the dozens of local Google, Yahoo and MSN local in all of their local, language and world-wide iterations (ie. Canada English worldwide, Canada English from Canada, Canada French worldwide, Canada French from Canada) - there are another 200 regional search engines all up-to-date. There are seven German-language search engines included. This diversity is absolutely fantastic as some regional search engines are big players in their home market. In the Canadian market an example of a very strong regional engine was Sympatico until it became part of MSN and shares very similar results (previously Sympatico was a unique combination of Yahoo! and Google results).
An incredible bargain comes again from Digital Point which has quite a complete online ranking checker available for free (donations accepted). While not up to the historical detail of WebCEO, all the basics are there. I used to worry that the free ranking checker at Digital Point would collapse or disappear but it's been in place for years now and only improved with time. One advantage to the online ranking checker is that your IP won't be banned nor does it occupy processor cycles on your computer while checking rankings.
Link popularity tool
I really liked this tool. Similar to the Ranking reports, the Link popularity reports are quite beautiful.
The link popularity tool does track historically. It gives one very quick filters that one can use on the data once collected (excluding one's own domains for instance for better legibility). While the data collected is not as comprehensive as that of industry standard SEOElite (no PR or Alexa ranking of incoming sites), the WebCEO ranking tool is much easier to use and understand than SEOElite. The overview of what links show up in which search engine's backlinks command is excellent and unique (the backlinks command from Yahoo! and MSN are very competitive these days).
Reports from this tool, like for the Ranking Tool, are very easy to email and excellent for client consumption.
In the professional edition, WebCEO will cough up the anchor text for each link and give some nice charts on frequency of keyphrases.
In terms of the competition, SEOElite is stiffly priced at $167 - I recommend looking around for a deal: a few marketers offer 25% or more off. For those on a budget, Aaron Wall has done the SEO community a great favour by buying and releasing as freeware his Back Link Analyzer. Personally I found the presentation and reliability of the WebCEO Link Popularity Tool much higher (although also a nominal beta). Aaron's tool runs much faster though. Like Aaron's Back Link Analyzer, SEOElite is also quite buggy (not true anymore in version SEOelite version 4 - go ahead and try boldly). The overpriced and clunky and partially SE banned, Optilink doesn't get a look in here anymore. In terms of online tools, there is an excellent free backlink checker at Linkvendor which will also supply anchor text. But Linkvendor will not keep historical data or trends.
The WebCEO auditor is a tool for checking your website for problems. The WebCEO auditor is incredibly thorough. It checks for:
- broken links and anchors
- missing images
- slow pages
- missing metatags
- missing alt, height and width tags on images
- stale content
- redirect status
The auditor will work across all editions, although the Free version is limited to just 30 pages of one's site. Usually that is enough to catch onto any major and pernicious errors. For 30 or 50 pages at a time, the Auditor is very quick. In the unlimited version, the Auditor can take a long time. One of my websites coughed up 5000 objects and ties the WebCEO auditor down for half an hour. Switching projects to view a full report for a large site takes a few minutes which is just too slow.
While the report produced for the auditor is comprehensive and comes in two versions - CEO and Webmaster - it could be better conceived for efficiency. I don't particularly like working with them.
One can get better value out of the WebCEO auditor by using it as the last tool in a comprehensive website review (there will be far fewer errors and much more manageable reports). I would recommend starting with a thorough going over of links with Tilman Hausherr's incomparable Xenu Link Sleuth. Xenu Link Sleuth will check your site faster than anything else out there (it will run up to 80 concurrent threads on your site) and produces customisable and easily readable reports like lightning. It will even produce quite useful sitemaps. Run Xenu Link Sleuth (tutorial) again and again until there are no more broken links and redirects left.
After Xenu Link Sleuth, I recommend running CSE HTML Validator Lite on your whole site (link direct to downloadable free version). It's much faster than the page by page official online W3C and WDG HTML Validators. There is a professional edition of CSE available ($129) as well which I have demo'd but didn't like as well as the free edition, as it is not as intuitive to use and most of the vaunted additional problems found were design decisions and not actual errors.
After a thorough audit with these two tools, WebCEO auditor can very usefully provide the final quality assurance and troublecheck. Considering how difficult and time-consuming, it is to audit websites by hand all three of these tools are a great blessing and huge timesavers. Kudos to WebCEO for providing an SEO sensitive auditor.
The WebCEO uploader is a very good barebones FTP client. It works quite brilliantly with a dual pane window. The Uploader will also allow you to directly edit any page on your server locally with immediate save to server.
I didn't have a Windows FTP client (the ThinkPad is a recent addition) and am very happy with the one I have in WebCEO. The Uploader is fully functional in all editions.
Very nice inclusion.
The monitoring service
The basics are free (http every two hours). Additional services (more frequent monitoring) become very expensive. I haven't used this service. In principle, monitoring is a nice addition to the package.
Basic uptime monitoring is available for free from various online services. The paid versions are considerably less expensive than the WebCEO monitoring. Two minute monitoring which would cost $50/month per website with WebCEO can be had for $10/month per website elsewhere. I can only recommend using the free service from WebCEO if you are already using WebCEO.
I haven't used the WebCEO version. I am a happy user of Statcounter . For $29/month I can have all of my projects in a single interface with 15 million page views and a log of 25,000 hits divided equitably between my projects giving me detailed stats on the latest visitor trends (now free for 500 hits per website - a great deal - May 2007).
Statcounter also offers a client login interface where the client can monitor his or her own project. I also keep server logs with AWstats which gives me adequate long term statistics.
To use the Hitlens service would cost my clients hundreds of dollars per month. More controversially, I've also signed up some of my clients for Google Analytics so we will have more and better stats for free. For now Google Analytics is too slow to respond to be worth the trouble of consulting the stats there but I expect this will improve.
Glancing over the Hitlens demo project, I don't feel the presentation in Hitlens lives up to the rest of the WebCEO suite.
I've been using WebCEO since March 2004. I've owned the Small Business Version for a short period and the StartUp edition for the rest of the time. I've gone through versions 4, then 5 and now 5.6.
One of the reasons I didn't make it a mainstay in the ealier iterations was that WebCEO is very slow under Virtual PC. But for the ranking checker the speed was liveable with my dual processor G4.
The real reason I decided not to continue to use WebCEO is that like lotso from SearchGuild in each of the major upgrades, the WebCEO managed to lose my data version. What is worse is that it was more or less deliberate policy.
Well frankly, I don't care if the two databases are not compatible. It's up to the engineers to come up with a transitioning program to rescue our data and reformat to be compatible with the new version. And it doesn't matter if that delays rollout on the new version for a month or two or three. But instead, I remember the version 4 being brutally cutoff (no more functionality) and left with the option of hand entering all my websites again with all of their keywords. And the total loss of my historical tracking data. Just when I was settled in as a happy WebCEO 4 user in June of 2004 I received this notice:
Web CEO 4 will stop functioning on Friday, June 11 because it is not compatible with version 5. We will spend the whole Friday and weekend completing the transfer of information to the Web CEO 5 Datacenter. Therefore you will have to save your reports and projects before June 11 or they will be lost.
Which led to the following web page:
1. You CANNOT use Web CEO 4 and Web CEO 5 together on the same computer. The new version and the old version are incompatible. Moreover, as soon as version 5 is released, version 4 stops working, and we will not support it any more.
2. In version 5, we have changed the database format used for saving your reports history. The new database format is more reliable and safe, but unfortunately is INCOMPATIBLE with the database format used in version 4. So, you must SAVE your previous reports before installing Web CEO 5, as they will be lost after the upgrade.
But in the end, I did go to the trouble of reentering my principal clients' data and subsequently decided to take advantage of the Celebrating Version 5 special and upgraded to Small Business Edition in August of 2004.
Imagine my dismay when the Canadian search results were very different for a couple of weeks from the actual SERPs. The problem existed with both Yahoo! and Sympatico. I couldn't send the (promised) regular reports to my clients because they were wrong. After a few weeks waiting for a fix, I finally gave up on the WebCEO Ranking Checker which was my primary reason for upgrading to SmallBiz and requested a refund.
In fairness, WebCEO were very kind and courteous throughout the whole process of persistent errors and refund. Support angels is a fair description of Marina, Julia, Joanne and the other angels over in the Ukraine.
Recently I bought a ThinkPad for my web business as Virtual PC is just no use at all on a single processor (in my case a Powerbook). Which persuaded me to give WebCEO another whirl. It behaves much better on a well powered PC (PIII 900) than it ever did under Virtual PC.
I did lose my database once more in all of this testing. I lost about two weeks of data including lots of set up for each of my clients. My research in the help files revealed that there is a special database backing up program installed with WebCEO. Therein the user is sternly warned that he or she should regularly back up his or her database if there is important information involved.
I don't know who the engineer with the careless and arrogant attitude towards users' data is, but whoever he is, he should be fired immediately for letting down the entire WebCEO project and all the angels. Given my past tribulations with transitioning between versions, to lose a database again is totally unacceptable. The WebCEO database should be backed up automatically by the program every time it is started and every time it is shut down. Five or six historical versions should automatically be kept on the hard drive if necessary. Reversion to the previous save should happen automatically with a single notification.
Had I lost my database at the beginning of this testing process I don't think I would have bothered with the review but it happened towards the end.
The sanctity of users' data is issue number one and feature number one for any piece of software. WebCEO continues to fail this test. I would like to see them address data security in the next upgrade. I would also like to see a major upgrade take place without any need for users to reenter their hard-earned data.
The pricing policy and packaging around WebCEO are ludicrous. The page on pricing is necessarily four screens long to cover all of the possible variations - with training, without training, different versions.
Particularly obnoxious right now is that this $249 to $479 software package (depending on what prices one counts for the full Professional Edition with training) comes with only 90 days of updates to the Search Engine Pulse service. Effectively that means that your three hundred to four hundred dollar purchase dies in three months.
To keep using it, you have to spring $99 for 300 days or $149 for 600 days of Search Engine Pulse. This is totally unacceptable. A package this expensive should come with at least a year of free support.
Frankly, the Small Business Edition should be done away with and a year's worth of search engine updates should come free with the Professional Edition. The price should be about $200. And all of the hype around the training should be dropped to promote a serious SEO tool.
So my conclusion is that there are some nice tools here. I would use the Keyword Suggestion Tool (as one of several options), the Ranking checker, the Link Popularity Tool, the Auditor and the Uploader. I would put a value on these services as separates as follows:
|Keyword Suggestion Tool||$100|
|Ranking Checker||$140 (rev. up/competition)|
|Link Popularity Tool||$50|
But there must be more respect for the integrity of users data. I would also like to see the pricing and search engine update issues resolved to a far more transparent (honest) model.