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You’re probably here because you want to know how visible your website is online. Maybe you’ve heard about rank tracking tools or maybe you’ve just spent the day Googling yourself.

Trust me, there’s a better way, and it’s FREE.

The typical solution is to purchase a subscription for rank tracking software. However, there are all sorts of problems with rank tracking software such as inaccurate tracking and partial information. It has a purpose, but as a measuring stick for telling a business how successful they are in search or how much money a business is making from their SEO, it comes up short.

At the end of this article you’ll know what rank tracking software is best used for, and what the best way to track SEO results really is for businesses (hint: it’s not rankings).

The truth is that rank tracking software isn’t perfect because your position on Google will often change due to:

  1. keyword variations
  2. user history
  3. the user’s location
  4. regular Google testing
  5. algorithm updates

At this point you’re probably wondering what the point of SEO is if your position on Google changes so much. SEO isn’t a guarantee that you’ll show up on page one for your favorite keyword; it’s a process where a professional works to increase the chances that you will rank on page one and stay there. The good news is that when you have a great page with strong rank signals, you tend to have a higher position and experience greater stability. But it has to be done right, it takes time, and you’ll experience better results from better SEOs.

After reading this some of you will still want to track rankings and that’s fine! You can get a lot of insight from it when it’s done right.

But you’ll just throw money away every month if you don’t know how to use it properly. 🙁

Let’s go into some detail on the caveats so you’re prepared and can set yourself up for success.

Rankings change based on keyword

Let’s say you’re a mechanic and you want to rank “oil change”. It’s unrealistic to expect that if you’re ranking for “oil change” that you should rank for every variation of that keyword like “change oil”, “best oil change”, and “oil change near me”. There are also misspellings like “mecanic” and long tail phrases like “which mechanic is best near me”. If you’re using rank tracking software, you should be aware that it only tracks the exact keyword you tell it to. This is why SEOs spend so much time doing keyword research – we want to make sure we’re tracking the right terms.

Rankings change based on user history

This causes a lot of confusion. Someone who Googles their own website a lot will end up on the top of the results more often on their device. This is why a coworker may have different results than you. Rank tracking tools do not have personlized results, so you will miss out on some insight here.

Rankings change based on user location

Many searches are local. Type “italian restaurant” and you will get local businesses and a map pack. Now add a geo modifier, like “italian restaurant austin tx”. Great, now switch it up and google “italian restaurant near me”. Each of those provides different results based on user location, even within the city of Austin. If I’m in north Austin, I’ll have different results than the south part of Austin.

Rank tracking tools can’t cope with this. They usually work by mimicking the central location of your target city, so if you’re tracking “italian restaurant” in Austin, the tool will try to mimic a user standing in the “center” of Austin.

Local rank tracking is good to give you a ballpark idea of rankings, but again it’s not perfect. And if you have two locations in the same city, it can be very difficult to use a rank tracking tool accurately.

And of course, rankings vary by country as well.

Rankings change due to testing

A couple years back Google incorporated their AI, RankBrain, into the algorithm. It’s a machine learner that works by automatically testing different results and layouts within the SERP (search engine results page) every day. It’s why we see a lot of results fluctuating in our own tracking that look like this:

You just have to accept that regular testing is a part of today’s world, and we’re not going to be able to avoid it.

Rankings change because of algorithm updates

Sometimes Google changes their core algorithm and it shakes up the rankings. They update their algorithm about seven times each day but most updates don’t affect everyone. Sometimes you’ll see a dip in rankings and you might panic, but not to worry. Google’s algo is a complex beast, and sometimes they make mistakes and push up a fix later. We often see rankings return in a week or so after Google makes some adjustments to their update, if we even take a dip at all.

What is rank tracking software actually good for?

Now let’s talk about the value rank tracking software brings. Surely with all these inaccuracies it’s pointless, right?

Not quite.

The big reason we all use it is to see what happens to rankings after we make a change on the website or after running a link building campaign. This is the fastest, most accurate way to check our progress. An SEO that knows their craft will be able to take into account the limitations of keyword tracking tools when measuring and testing SEO strategy.

Overall the real value in rank tracking software is that it’s a tool for the SEO to do their job. For the savvy business owner, I recommend a different tool for tracking your results.

How to track SEO results properly – follow the money

What’s better, tracking your rankings, or tracking the money you make from Google? If you’re a business owner you probably just picked the money. We can track your leads, sales, etc. from Google a lot easier than we can track rankings, and it’s a more reliable measure of how much revenue your traffic from Google is bringing in. The best part is, we can do it with minimal fuss using Google Analytics, a free and widely used tool. You probably already use it on your own site.

There are two metrics we’ll always recommend to track. Your traffic and your conversions, the latter of which you can setup as goals. For a lead gen site, a goal might be a form fill, and for an ecommerce site, it’s probably a sale. Every google analytics profile also has some segments built by default. One of those is “Organic Traffic Only”. If you apply this segment you can set it up to only view your increases from SEO.

As a business owner, this is really where the money is. And by setting your filter to only look at year-over-year comparisons you can easily see how much additional traffic and conversions your SEO company has brought in compared to the prior year. Once you set the segment, go into the upper right hand corner and select the date range, then “compare to prior year” in the drop down menu. You’ll get a table that looks like this:

 

You can see easily how the SEO efforts have paid off. Traffic is up over 26% for these two months compared to the previous year, and the leads have increased by almost 75%. 

Now imagine sitting down with your SEO agency a year into service and you have this report pulled up. Maybe they’re asking for an increase in their retainer, or maybe you’re not happy with their work. If you’re looking at a rank tracking report it might show that they’ve been very successful even if you haven’t seen an increase in sales or leads, especially if they’re tracking the wrong keywords. But if you are able to track leads, sales, and traffic, it’s a different conversation, one that’s focused on the needs of the client. You can look at this and make an informed decision about how much SEO services are really worth to your business.

While I just spent a good minute bashing rank tracking tools, I’m serious when I say it’s a necessary tool for the SEO to do his or her job. But it’s not a great tool for determining the value of your incoming leads and sales from Google. If you’re running the business, track the money, and if you’re running the SEO campaign, track the keywords.

Thanks for reading! If you’re a business looking for SEO services, please reach out for a complimentary consultation using the form below.

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