Web-based SEO applications are gaining more fans every day in the debate over desktop vs. web apps. Web apps are said to be simpler, easier to use and are easy to learn by end users. Accounts can be accessed from any location, and it seems that all you need is an Internet connection and a password.
I tell you, if they had a Like button somewhere I would click on it right now.
On the other hand, desktop SEO apps are stuck to the machines they run on, and sometimes their features are so complex that they challenge the minds of the most intuitive and experienced testers.
So why in the world would someone choose desktop SEO software?
Desktop SEO solutions are native apps. Therefore, they have the advantage of providing a complex business logic, with strong features and patterns.
Web apps, on the other hand, are based on a client-server model. This restricts activating features and tools directly from the web pages you see on your computer.
Differences in behavior are reflected in other aspects, too.
Application Look and Feel
The fewer limitations that desktop apps have the more complex that end-user interaction becomes. Total control over features and tools means you also need to “tell” the system when and how to perform the actions.
With a more simplistic business logic, web apps have fewer layers. Therefore, poorer control on features and tools can make everything less complicated, which is perfect if you only have a small site to manage.
Frequency of Updates
Desktop SEO apps have an integrated querying engine. In rank tracking, for example, this gives you total control on the frequency of updates. It’s like having your own little postman who’s ready to deliver new queries to search engines whenever you need to send them.
This is not possible with hosted web apps. The querying engine is hidden on the server side. So, when you create an account, instead of fresh ranking numbers for your site, you might get a set of old data and a message saying the next update is scheduled in a few days, usually only once a week.
But, what if your SEO campaign includes paid ads? Google AdWords results are more volatile than organic results. To evaluate your positions correctly, you may need two to five updates a week.
Accuracy of Results Based on Location
All search engines look at the IP address from where queries are sent in order to compute an approximate location and return the most relevant results.
With a desktop app, you can easily manipulate locations down to the city level by defining them manually or adding multiple proxy servers within the application.
This mechanism for rank-tracking cannot be implemented in a web app on the client side. Queries are sent only from the web-hosted server, based on the requests that you enter into your account.
Let me explain how it works.
Suppose you’re in San Francisco, and you have a customer with a local business in Birmingham, UK. He wants to see where his site is listed in Google UK for searchers located in Birmingham.
With a desktop SEO software, you can either use UK proxy servers with IP addresses from Birmingham, or you can define Birmingham as Google Location in the UI, without using any proxies at all. This way, the application gathers the same results that searchers from this location see in the browser.
For the time being, with a web SEO tool you can specify the location only to the country level. So, when you choose the Google UK search engine in your profile, rankings may be retrieved with a London IP address. Thus, results may not be similar to those gathered from Birmingham.
Integration of web based tools
Another beautiful thing about desktop SEO apps is that they can have integrated web-based tools. Tricky, right?
For example, you can access some useful keyword research tools directly from the application framework, without having to load them in a new browser session.
As you may have guessed, hosted SEO apps can’t embed desktop components.
Still, desktop SEO apps are also more vulnerable to environment limitations.
Differences between desktop and web tools are reflected in three environment aspects:
First, there’s the dependency on one computer
A desktop application is installed and runs standalone on a specific desktop or laptop. This means you can use it only if that computer is running.
For example, if you want to run a scheduled update over the weekend, you need to leave your computer turned on.
Things are simpler with web apps, because you can log into a hosted SEO account from any machine you have access to. And you don’t even have to worry about leaving your computer running when a new update is scheduled.
Then there’s platform compatibility.
Desktop SEO app limitations are imposed by operating systems requirements. Some are compatible with all platforms, providing Windows, Mac and Linux users with the same end-user experience. But, some are designed only for a certain platform, making it impossible to switch to a different one.
Due to their very nature, all web applications are automatically platform independent. They only need a browser, so limitations are imposed only by browser-supported features.
What is the Internet connection is dodgy or absent?
Both desktop and web SEO tools need an Internet connection to gather and display fresh rankings. However, a difference in behavior appears when the Internet connection is down and the only one smiling is the little postman, tired of so many queries :).
While you can run a desktop application and check the previously gathered ranking data, it’s impossible to access a hosted account without an Internet connection, so you can’t even see your data.
When it comes to infrastructure, desktop vulnerabilities turn into advantages.
The differences between desktop and web apps are seen in the way information is transferred and stored in the database.
With desktop SEO solutions, data is stored locally, on each user’s computer, or on a centralized database. This provides you with a constant time of response, and places the transfer speed and infrastructure down time entirely in your hands.
With hosted apps, ranking data is stored remotely, on a database hosted on the provider’s side. This mechanism can make web apps slower than desktop apps, since data-transfer speed depends on the Internet bandwidth. Here you also don’t have any control on infrastructure down time. This can become a big inconvenience, because data cannot be accessed while the host server is offline.
Desktop databases easily allow tracking and storing tens of thousands of keywords because all data is stored locally. This way, each user gets to use his own resources.
Web-apps databases don’t have this capability. The number of keywords you can track is usually limited according to the account type because everyone uses the provider’s common resources.
When it comes to data security, opinions collide. Online storage, some say, provides more complex security management than does local storage.
But, if you think about it, there are a lot of methods for setting your own security access rules and for protecting your local data. Of course, there’s no getting around privacy concerns when you store data remotely. It comes down to trusting your provider.
The technology underlying each type of application is not reflected only in the environment requirements and user experience, but also in the implementation costs.
The major difference between the two types of SEO solutions can be seen in the way costs are spread across a long time:
With desktop tools, the initial cost is more consistent, often based on the number of licenses you will need. But, once the system is running, you can put a lock on your wallet for quite a while.
Spreading the Purchase Cost
Web app generally are sold like subscriptions, minimizing initial costs, but making them a recurring expense.
Here’s an example:
A good desktop SEO software license is about $400, depending on features and tools. A good web solution has an average price of $100 per month. Over a year, you will pay $800 more for a web app.
There are, of course, free desktop and web SEO tools to be had. However, these free often have limited functionality and no guarantees.
Each SEO solution comes with its advantages and disadvantages:
Desktop applications give you control over updates, better response time and high interactivity. But you’re tied to the computer on which the app’s installed, and training can be a bear.
Web apps are often packaged in a much simpler framework, and can be accessed anywhere. But you have less control over how the apps are developed, and features might be less customizable.
So, which one would you choose?
Or, maybe a better question is: Why do you think one is better than the other?