As an SEO, it is a critical part of my job to show clients how their SEO campaigns are performing. More times than not, the performance of these campaigns is judged pretty much solely on the positions of keywords in the SERPs that I am targeting for the client’s website. Many SEOs will argue that search engine rankings are not the be-all-and-end-all of an SEO campaign and that they are actually becoming less relevant altogether. I hold this very opinion and this is mainly down to the increased appearance of blended search results (i.e. search results containing news snippets, images, videos, shopping snippets, etc). Even though this is the case, the fact of the matter is that clients want tangible results; results that they can see business from.
I’ve put together, with the assistance of my SEO sidekick, Liam McCarthy (he’s going to hate me calling him that!), a list of some of the different tools, both paid and free, that we have used in the past to check keyword positions in the SERPs. I will also be explaining some good ways in which you can gain a more accurate representation of the performance of your search engine campaign. On top of this, I have called in the help of Dan Petrovic from Dejan SEO, Simon Penson of Zazzle Media and Magnus Simonarson of ConsultWebs.com to share their thoughts on the topic. Thanks guys!
How Often Should I Check My SERP Positions?
People often get obsessed with checking the SERPs every waking minute of the day and I have to admit that there was a time when I did this. My advice: stick to a monthly evaluation of the SERP positions.
There’s nothing wrong with checking on a weekly basis but make sure that you are not trying to react every time you see a fluctuation. The SERPs change multiple times throughout a single day sometimes so you are inevitably going to see some downward movement at one time or another. Keep a level head and stay calm when you see some flux in your keyword positions; take a deep breath and then decide whether you need to instantly react to the change.
Search Engine Rank Tracking Tools
There are loads of different tools out there, both paid and free, that you can use to track the search engine performance of your targeted keywords. I’m going to talk a little about some of these tools and how you can find the right tool for your website.
SEOmoz Pro (Paid Tool)
One of the real colossi of the SEO world, SEOmoz Pro is one of the premier tools for SEO folk, and with good reason. You can store a series of campaigns for your clients/sites, where you can utilise tools such as link analysis, competitor analysis, online webinars, Q & A, a plethora of research tools, and most saliently of all; a weekly automated rankings check. The amount of campaigns/keywords et al is all dependent on which plan you choose. A pro account will give you 5 campaigns and up to 300 keywords. It’s going to cost you a pretty penny to attain one of Pro, Pro Plus or Pro Elite, but this service from SEOmoz should certainly be a key component in anybody’s SEO endeavours.
The only drawback that some find with the SEOmoz rank tracking is that it can only provide you with ranking updates on a weekly basis because they don’t scrape the SERPs on demand. Having said that, I like to take a monthly look at my SERP positions so this is one of my most used tools.
SEO Search Rankings (Paid App)
One of the lesser known/used SERP trackers out there, the SEO Search Rankings app is a simple, instant SERP tracking tool available for Apple devices. This is a simple web scraper so make sure that before you use it you are aware that it breaks Google’s ToS. Another thing to note is that the app can sometimes be influenced by local results; therefore, when you are tracking keywords within heavily blended searches, you may not get 100% accurate results.
Putting the past comments aside, the app is great for providing a quick snapshot of your SERP positions. The overall UI is very simplistic and easy to use, with there being three main pages that you’ll see: your domains, your inputted keywords for those domains and a graph for each keyword displaying ranking history. It will track the SERPs up to 64 places, so any lower and it won’t be displayed. After plenty of experience with this tool, I must say that I’m quite a fan it but I definitely don’t solely rely on it.
What’s My SERP (Free & Paid Tool)
This tool enables you to store keywords which you can simply refresh and get an instant SERP tracking. You also have the option to compare your rankings against a group of competitors. A handy part of this is that it will track up to 300 places in the rankings. For registered users, you’re permitted up to 25 keywords per domain, and up to 10 domains. Non-registered users can have 20 keywords. Though the key point of this, the keyword rankings are generally hit and miss. The results tend to see a lot of fluctuation, as well as generally being off the mark by a few places. For a completely free tool the services are rather good, though the actual tracking isn’t quite up to scratch.
Authority Labs (Paid Tool)
I’ve only recently started using Authority Labs’ rank tracking software. You can try their services out for 30 days and then you will need to pay for the pleasure after that. Like SEOmoz, Authority Labs has some fantastic historical tracking features and some fancy charts to go with it. It’s all web-based and can be viewed really well on mobile devices too, which is handy.
The competitor tracking is a good feature and looks great bedded into your monthly reports , so for agencies like ours it can be great. You can track keywords across many different countries from within Google, Yahoo and Bing, and you can see all of your different campaigns from one dashboard. Overall, a great tool, but when you look at how much it costs compared to services that offer cheaper monthly prices with additional services, it may not be the best option. Having said that, the accuracy of results, detailed reporting and clear dashboard make it a tool to at least try out.
SEOSerp (Free Tool)
There is one final freebie to report, the SEOSerp 1000 SERPs checker. It’s much simpler than most of the other tools which have been mentioned; you type a keyword and a domain in, and that’s your lot. Firstly, the overall look of the website is very poor; it looks like something an 8 year old made in the 90s. Secondly, the overall tracking is just poor. I’ve entered terms which I knew were on the 2nd or 3rd page and this tool has reported that they’re not even in the top 100 SERPs. For a “1000 SERPs checker”, it seems to only report keywords that rank on the first page. I’d definitely stay away from this one.
Expert Opinions on SERP Tracking
I spoke with Simon Penson, MD and founder of Zazzle Media to get his views on SERP tracking and find out what tools he preferred to use. Here’s what he had to say:
“Rank Tracking is extremely tough now and increasingly it’s a metric that we are devaluing. With so much flux and increasing attempts by Google to prevent companies scraping results to get that info we are focusing on overall search visibility TRENDS. The Searchmetrics Suite is obviously good for this.
That’s not to say we don’t track or report however, and we like Authority Labs’ software as it tracks daily, allowing you to plot movement over time more accurately. We also set up several customs segments in Analytics to track things like non branded organic traffic as ultimately that’s why we all want to rank well in the first place!”
I got gathered the opinions of Magnus Simonarson, VP at ConsultWebs.com, who is a big fan of STAT Search Analytics. Here’s what he had to say:
“Why go with STAT Search Analytics?
Part of it is the strength of their platform. They collect their rankings and SERP analytics every single day. They give you the power to track unlimited keywords in basically every market across the world. And that includes local tracking by city, postal code, state—any method that is supported by Google.
The other part is how they approach the business. You can expect one-on-one, agency-style service from them, and they make it very easy to get your data out and use it in whatever way you need. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve priced their service in such a way that it actually encourages you to think big and be ambitious with your campaigns.”
Dan is the Managing Director of the Australian-based SEO company, Dejan SEO. Dan’s weapon of choice is Google’s Webmaster Tools but has also developed some of his own tools as well.
“I use Google Webmaster Tools to track keyword positions for my websites. Despite all the whinging and complaints about its accuracy and reliability it’s still my first choice. This is not an act of stubbornness but a choice I made after many years of trial and error.
There is no such thing as the “absolute position” anymore. Google customises results based on your device, location, connection speed, search history and many other factors such as deliberate search filters. Google Analytics doesn’t provide absolute accuracy on traffic data, but how many people do you know go into raw long files to check their traffic? Once you go past a certain threshold the data is good enough and statistically valid.
You think a dirty scraping tool won’t have some form of search result customisation? You’re wrong. I’ve been there and done that.
What I like about Google Webmaster Tools is that it gives me the ability to see the average ranking position for both a keyword and a page. I can also filter things out (web, image search, country…etc).
For more sophisticated analysis and decision making I use CSV export and my own software such as the keyword potential calculator. This tool gives me the ability to predict traffic and financial outcomes based on CTR and position data.”
What You Need to Remember About Rank Tracking
From all the tools that we have looked at and all of the expert opinions we have gathered, it is clear to see the downsides to using tools that just scrape the search results. Not only can they provide you with an inaccurate set of results but you are also at risk of them being shut down by Google. This has happened recently to Raven Tools, a widely used SEO suite, which has caused a lot of SEO professionals to move over to a new platform
and lose all their historical data.
Update: Users of Raven Tools that moved over to a new platform have not actually lost all of their historical data as the clever guys and girls there have developed a handy export tool for their users. You can read more about it here.
There is also the question of relevance toward rank tracking. With many of the search results now containing blended results that almost completely dominate the first page of Google, it means that ranking in the top organic position could actually mean that your site is still only visible on page 2.
A Better Way to Track SEO Performance
Rather than focusing religiously on the positions of keywords, try to dig a bit deeper and see how well they are working toward driving conversions on your website. Use metrics such as unique visits from keywords as a key performance metric instead of simple fluctuations in the SERPs.
This article from Bryan Casson about setting up custom filters within Google Analytics to track organic keyword positions changed the way that I have tracked my keyword performance. Bryan displays how you are able to show which position a keyword was within the SERPs when it was clicked through to visit the website. By doing this we are able to track things like how traffic is affected by fluctuations, the total traffic that page 1 keywords bring in to your site and so much more. Not only this, you can then get some great visual reports that give a real representation of the performance of your SEO. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now and I promise you that it will help you out.