How to Build Your Own Thumbdrive SEO Browser


Recently Firefox automatically updated to version 5, and with that update came a nightmarish scenario: virtually every Firefox SEO add-on suddenly ceased to function.

By now many of these add-ons have been repaired, but at the time I was rescued by a side project of mine –a portable SEO Browser designed to run from a thumbdrive, complete with all my favorite tools and SEO gizmos. I’ve been meaning to share this idea with the Moz community for some time, and in the light of the morning’s Firefox add-on debacle, I think there’s no time like the present:

Of course, saving myself from a Firefox update wasn’t the intended purpose of my SEO thumbdrive, the original idea was to have browser full of SEO tools I could carry around with me at all times. That way whenever a friend or acquaintance asks me to take a quick ‘look at their SEO’ I’d have a full array of tools at my disposal, rather than just their blank browser.

Side Note: Do you get asked to examine websites at parties too, or is that just me?

As it turns out, there are several other benefits to a portable SEO browser:

  1. It can be used on a desktop/laptop as a separate install of Firefox, so you can keep a clean main install for your browsing pleasure. (I’m a Chrome man myself, but plenty of folks use FF.)
  2. You can drop a copy on someone’s desktop – fully configured and ready to go. (Incredibly helpful for getting new employees up to speed, or helping an SEO newbies help themselves.)
  3. You maintain direct control over updates, so you’ll never accidentally outdate your SEO add-ons.

If you’re interested in setting up your very own portable SEO Browser, you will need:

  • A Thumbdrive with at least 250 Mb capacity.
    (I love my Patriot Xporter XT although it’s admittedly not the sleekest drive on the market.)
  • Access to both a PC and a Mac.
  • About 30 minutes of time.

Many of you already have these items, so let’s get started.

PC Installation

  1. Plug your Thumbdrive into a PC you have access to.
  2. Download and Install Firefox Portable.
    The core component of the SEO Thumbdrive is Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition, a PC-only version of Firefox designed to be run from (you guessed it) a portable device. Firefox Portable lets you carry all your SEO extensions and bookmarks with you, while leaving no personal information behind on the machine you run it on. Download the Firefox Portable installer, and then install it directly onto your thumb drive, ideally in a folder marked “PC” or “Widows” to keep it separate from the Mac installation to follow.

  3. Launch Firefox Portable and Install Your Favorite SEO Add-ons
    Because every plugin you install in Firefox Portable will be carried with you, and you won’t be using it for normal browsing, there’s no reason to go light on the number of add-ons you install (save personal taste). There are a lot of spectacular SEO add-ons out there, here are a few of my favorites:

    • Firebug – Absolutely vital for examining/debugging technical SEO issues.
    • FlashBlock – Ultra-simple flash blocking with one-click reactivation.
    • Web Developer – Lets you disable Javascript, Cookies, Images and CSS to see a site the way spiders do (plus dozens of advanced features more relevant to web developers).
    • MozBar – The SEOmoz toolbar – PageAuthority, DomainAuthority, direct interface with Open Site Explorer, and more nifty functions than you can shake a stick at.
    • Google Toolbar – Get PageRank straight from the source, and you can turn off pretty much all the other functions.
    • User Agent Switcher – The next best way to pose as a searchbot if you’re not using MozBar.
    • RankChecker – A tool by Aaron Wall, very handy for quick low-volume ranking checks. (Requires registration to download)
    • SEO For Firefox – Another tool by Aaron Wall, I mostly leave this one turned off, but the SEO XRay functionality can be quite useful (Requires registration to download)
  4. Customize Toolbar Layouts (Optional)
    All those plugins you just installed probably made a huge mess of your Firefox Portable browser window, luckily the visual formats of most of these tools are fairly malleable!

    • Right-click in the toolbar area and select “Customize…”
    • From here you can reorder all your add-ons, move buttons around, and even hide functions you don’t need by dragging them to the “Customize Toolbar” window.
    • If you’re feeling advanced, you can even play with the “space” and “flexible space” options to beautify your layout.
    • Consolidate your chosen features into as few menu bars as possible, and hide the rest.
  5. Install Additional SEO Tools
    Turns out many SEO tools/programs run just fine from a thumbdrive, so you might consider rounding out your new portable toolkit by installing a few.

    • Xenu’s Link Sleuth (PC) – Your own personal site crawler, finds broken links, catalogs files, builds sitemaps, etc..
    • Screaming Frog (Mac/PC) – An SEO influenced Xenu alternative, more robust functionality but costs 99£. (See Peter Meyers’ post on Xenu vs. Screaming Frog)
      Free version works fine from thumbdrive, paid version untested.
    • Does your favorite SEO application run from a thumbdrive? Test it out and share results in the comments.
  6. Test
    Disengage your thumbdrive, take it to another PC and open your portable SEO Browser

    • Make sure no instances of Firefox are currently running on the computer your thumbdrive is plugged into. If Firefox is already running, activating your SEO Browser may cause an error message or cause new windows to open in the system-based instance of Firefox, rather than your portable version.

And Voila! You now have a highly transportable SEO arsenal (besides the one you keep atop your shoulders) that you can carry with you at all times. The only thing that remains is to repeat the process on a Mac with a few subtle differences:

Mac Installation

  1. Plug your Thumbdrive into a Mac you have access to
  2. Download and Install Portable Firefox
    For the Mac installation instead of installing Firefox Portable, you’ll be installing…wait for it…Portable Firefox! (Amazing right?) Download the Portable Firefox installer, and then install it directly onto your thumb drive, ideally in a folder marked “Mac” or “Apple” to keep it separate from your PC installation.

    • The installation is a bit more of a drag-and-drop than the PC version.
  3. Launch Portable Firefox and Install Your Favorite SEO Add-ons
    You know the deal.

  4. Customize Toolbar Layouts
    (if you feel like it)
  5. Install Additional SEO Tools
    Xenu may not be an option on a Mac, but the Screaming Frog is still a viable option.

    • Mac users, are there any other favorite applications that would run from a thumbdrive?
  6. Test
    Disengage your thumbdrive, take it to another Mac and open your portable SEO Browser.

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