Tracking SERP Results: Rank Tracker?

Up until recently SEO experts, enthusiasts, agencies, clients and everyone with an opinion natural search seemed to be making a case as to why keyword rankings, often generated by way of a rank tracker, were not the best metric to use when measuring effectiveness of a SEO campaign. This mentality really snowballed with a lot of band wagon jumping and SEOs with delusions of grandeur insisting that they can do so much more than offer ranking reports that clients should take the new more business focused analytics data.

Some critics even went further saying that the tracking of rankings was actually a bad idea and should be discouraged and only the bigger picture, tied into the overall success of the business should be considered when evaluating the campaign. This is despite some of the biggest and most respected players in the game still offering various kinds of rank tracking solutions.

Leaked Keyword Data

Leaked Keyword Data

Google moved the goalposts on the SEO game when they stopped passing natural search keyword referral data to analytics (although it seems on occasion some of this data still leaks through when I examine my Piwik data) and made the granular reporting that search engine marketing had been previously built on impossible. Up until this point, when people said everything online was trackable it really was. Site owners and markets were able to track user behavior, conversions and ROI down to a keyword level and identify which keywords not only brought in the most traffic but also which provided the best rate of conversion.

Tracking keyword positions in the SERPs has always been a useful and important metric despite what you have read from so called experts, it is true that you could do a lot more than simply look at the position in which your keyword ranks to gauge if your overall marketing strategy is effective, however, at the end of the day if you are employing a SEO agency or working on link building you are doing this with one end result in mind which fits nicely into the below chain of events:

  1. Increase the volume of relevant (qualified) traffic to your site by
  2. Increasing the number of people who find your site when searching by
  3. Improving the ranking of specific relevant keywords

You could break the above down more and even link step 1 back into making a profit, you could go even higher and link it into your company mission statement but the end action that drives the success all the way up this channel is increasing search engines rankings and if that is something you are going to invest time or money into you need to be able to track the results of your effort.

Purists on rank tracking

Quite a lot of people in SEO denounce the use of rank tracking software as something that should not be done, reasons for their unjust condemnation include:

  1. Automated queries to google “not been allowed”
  2. The accuracy of rank trackers been questionable
  3. The increase of personalised search impacting rankings
  4. The impact of local results on the SERPs meaning you might not see the same thing as someone in the next town when you search

While the above arguments to have some weight there are really strong counter arguments to all of these points:

  1. Automated queries to google “not been allowed”
    Who cares if it is against the terms of service, as a business person who needs to track their results and can use this information to increase profitability would you let this stop you?
  2. The accuracy of the rank trackers been questionable
    There are good and bad rank trackers, most of the people who criticise or make the sweeping statement that “all rank tracking software is inaccurate” have never used any otherwise they would not make this inaccurate statement
  3. The increase of personalised search impacting rankings
    It does impact rankings, these same people were probably also a part of “personalised rankings has killed SEO” crowd but like surviving members of Hells Gate they have now moved onto something else unfounded. Simply don’t use the personalised search results when checking the change in rankings or increase in overall SERP exposure.
  4. The impact of local results on the SERPs meaning you might not see the same thing as someone in the next town when you search
    As with 3 above, this does have a little weight to it but there are hosted rank trackers, proxies and lots of other wonderful things that knowledgeable SEOs have access to and can make use of.

What exactly should you track and report when monitoring keyword positions in the SERPs?

You obviously need to identify the current position but you would also want to show the increase/decrease on a keyword level. It is also important to log these over time rather than just vs the last position reported. A record of the change daily, weekly and monthly is important to track trends and the further back you can chart, if you are doing a good job, the bigger ranking improvement you will be able demonstrate.

It can also be useful to combine the above information on a summary level and show key benchmarks like the number of words in the top 3 today vs the time measurements defined above. The total number of rankings in the first 10 places is particularly useful to track as this is the 1st page and can show where a site or business is trying to take over the first page with a combination of its listings.

A really simple reason why you should carry out rank tracking

Clients love it, no matter how well educated a client is in online marketing and no matter how well you can demonstrate the conversion rate of traffic that is acquired via natural search C level business people love to be able to type in their vanity terms in google and see their site at the top of the page. Providing a rank tracker report illustrating current search positions for all terms in scope and highlighting the movement on these terms month on month definitely has appeal.

Regardless of how involved SEO professionals try to become in providing added business value, and this should make up a huge portion of any pitch, the bottom line is a lot people will always see people doing SEO for what it is on the simplest level, increasing the rankings on specific keywords so more people click through and when you deal with someone analysing on this level you need to report to them in the simple terms they understand.

A cynical reason why people working on SEO don’t like to provide search engine rank tracker reports

Most people, like it or not, are negative. It has been proven that people who come home from a holiday and have had a bad experience are far more driven to post a negative review online than the people who had a fantastic time. The same mentality can really distract people who are given a, on the whole, positive rankings report.

If a portfolio of 20 terms shows gradual improvement on, for example, 17 terms with 2 staying static and one falling 10 place which do you think would be the one on which the client focuses?

Rank trackers are either run either:

  • Manually on demand (usually on locally installed rank tracking software such as Market Samurai) or,
  • Via an automated process (usually on a hosted rank tracking service or if the software variant described above is installed on a dedicated machine).

Either way, on larger portfolios of terms these can take time to complete.

<p?Manually running a rank tracker is a commitment; this is especially the case if it needs to be done at a specific time to keep the reporting data consistent – this means more work for the SEO guy.

Having an automated report run is no more work but it is likely that, if the client knows the report can be run “as often as required” they will ask for it daily.

Following SERP rankings on a daily basis can seriously effect your mood and not in a good way. Making this kind of information available to a client could well lead to an influx of calls and questions around your service as keywords hop up and down. This kind of information can be useful in the right hands but in the wrong hands it can turn what would normally be a perfectly good client in to a time hogging pest! One snapshot per week showing the big movers should usually be enough.

Selecting the best solution when you need a rank tracker

If you are now convinced that rank tracking is a vital metric or even if you are on the fence but willing to give it a go, if you plan to track more than a handful of search terms you are going to want to make use of either a tracking service or some software.

Hosted or local, that is the question

Hosted (usually more of a service paid for monthly) trackers are more hands off than the downloaded software option, this is probably the first decision you need to make based on:

  • Cost/total budget,
  • If you are wanting to make a one off payment or happy to pay a recurring fee,
  • If you are doing SEO for a client can you add the cost of generating ranking reports into your retainer,
  • How involved you want to be with the tracking process,
  • How reports need to be made available/if you need to report results to a client.

Ranking reports

The last bullet above introduces the concept of ranking reports, the actual report that is generated containing the information in a presentable form as opposed to just viewing the rankings and changes in the user interface which might be quick and efficient for the tech savvy or the SEO inclined but business people are far too accustomed to their PDFs, charts and data exported to simplified formats to review.

Choosing rank tracker software

Choosing a rank tracker and a breakdown of the advantages of hosted/local and then a review of some products within each of these categories will follow shortly, keep coming back, rank tracking is something that is going to be under the microscope over the next few weeks!