Raven pull their Rank Checking feature: a Reaction from other SEO tools

Raven pull their Rank Checking feature: a Reaction from other SEO tools

11th December 2012

Raven, one of the most popular SEO tools and digital marketing platforms used by search marketing agencies and in house teams; last week they announced their decision to close the rank checking element of their platform motivated partially by pressure applied by Google, who aren’t keen on the scraping of their results for rank checking.

If you’ve not come across the story before I recommend reading this thoughtful piece on the decision written by their CEO Patrick. Which I think is a glowing example of how to handle a difficult decision like this.

However while many have admired how Raven have handled the changes it’s inevitably lead to a scramble of their customers exploring other options for rank checking.

I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some other players in the space to get their take on where they see rank checking going in the future.

How do you think we’ll be reporting on search engine rankings in 12 months time? How will it be different from now?

Dixon Jones – MajesticSEO

There are two answers. Cynical and very cynical. The Cynical one:  I believe we will be tracking traffic from search engines by landing page, not rankings directly. At least not SERP tracking at scale. This is not the only initiative Google have been working on. Personalised results start to make a mockery out of non-personal rank checking for example. Very Cynical answer: What makes you think there will BE any organic results 12 months from now?

Laurence O’Toole – AnalyticsSEO

There has been a lot of vigorous debate from SEOs online since Raven’s announcement and there are definitely two schools of thought and they’re both right!

One camp is arguing that keyword rankings were useless anyway because of personalisation, localisation, ‘Not Provided’ and different devices, and that we should be focusing on different metrics.  The other camp argues that keyword rankings still have value as it is something that all customers universally understand and still want, and although there are quality difficulties it is still very valuable data that helps you understand how to setup a campaign properly in the first place and how to track whether the changes you are making are moving the needle.

I think both camps have valid points.  In an ideal world we should focus on real business metrics (see my post on this from November 2010) such as:

1.      Growth in organic visits (branded vs non-branded)

2.      Growth in sales leads or goal conversions

3.      Growth in sales conversions and revenues

4.      ROI calculations based on the Incremental Growth in Revenues attributable to SEO over the cost of your SEO service

5.      Growth in the number of organic keywords bringing traffic and conversions

6.      Growth in the number of organic landing pages bringing traffic as a percentage of total pages indexed (broken down by branded and non-branded keyword traffic) – in our SEO platform we call this “Organic breadth and depth”

7.      Growth in the number of referring domains that are generating site visits (highlighting the ones that you have done outreach to)

8.      Attribution modelling to capture the share of multiple site visits and conversions from natural search

9.      Performance of all of the above against targets and budgets set at the beginning of the SEO or inbound marketing campaign

But at the same time, there’s only so much you can do analysing keyword data from your web analytics software (especially since ‘Not Provided’ is now averaging 20.5%’) without further analysing data about how well you are doing (ranking) for your keywords and what the demand is (search volume).  The average ranking data in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t always marry up so it’s far from ideal.  Google explain why there are difference here and we did a simple GA vs GWT ranking research study here.

So ‘funnily enough’ this leaves you in the position where setting up an Adwords campaign for a new SEO client is the only way you can at least gauge the search volume for a keyword and then use your analytics data to estimate how well you are doing – but it’s not going to give you the whole picture.

Clearly, anyone is going to want to check whether they rank well or not, otherwise there is a real danger you would try and optimise for the wrong keywords.  Companies may stop automatically producing ranking reports, but understanding how well you are doing is a fundamental step in the SEO process (especially when pitching and taking on a new client) and I don’t see that need changing.

Erica Douglass – Whoosh Traffic

As a business owner, I completely understand Raven’s decision to abide by Google’s guidelines.

However, both Raven and Google need to consider that there is a business need that is not being met by Google’s current API.

It would benefit businesses and Google alike if Google provided a paid API for getting access to rankings data. I understand that Google wants to push businesses into using AdWords, but the revenue stream potential for Google, if they offered a paid API with access to SEO rankings, is significant.

Google needs to consider working with the SEO community instead of going against it. Not only will it help improve their reputation, but there is significant potential for profit.

I would be happy to help Google’s team test a real, paid API with access to search ranking results.

Brian LaFrance – AuthorityLabs

As long as there are organic listings in search results, there will be a need for rank tracking. People have been downplaying rankings for 10+ years and this situation is no different. You can’t tell me that if your competitors are showing up above you in the organic results, it’s not important to know that and respond with more relevant and more important content on a given search term than those competitors.

Just like the SERPs have evolved over the years, rank tracking has too. If anything, tracking and monitoring SERPs is more important than ever. Knowing how your site ranks, what types of results exist (ie. video, news, images), and understanding how those differ from location to location is important and that’s where plain rank tracking is going. You don’t go into a golf tournament without knowing what the course looks like, just like you don’t go into building a competitive site without knowing what you’re up against. Ignoring a site’s visibility in the SERPs is naive.

Google’s position to block access to their API for those who use scraped data isn’t unreasonable. What is unreasonable is that they know full well how important SERP monitoring is for users but still fail to offer any kind of accurate API for that. They have no problem leeching off of the content of others but do have a problem with others using their content. It just shows how little Google actually cares about webmasters.

Raven’s decision to remove SERP tracking was a huge surprise. I’ve known those guys for a while and they’ve been using our data for SERP tracking over the past year and a half. It had to have been a pretty difficult decision for them. SERP tracking gets expensive and isn’t easy to do at scale. Storage of SERP data gets expensive. I can’t say for sure what ultimately influenced their final decision on removing SERPs vs. AdWords data, but they’re a good group of people and it had to make sense for them. They wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t think it was a good decision going forward.

How do you feel about Google’s position that people scraping search results shouldn’t have access to their other APIs?

Dixon Jones – MajesticSEO

It’s their search engine. I think the fault lies with regulators and law makers going back many years and not with Google.

Laurence O’Toole – AnalyticsSEO

The words ‘Pot and kettle’ spring to mind.  Is there another company that crawls the web and scrapes more website content for commercial gain than Google?

It would be interesting to get an opinion from a competition lawyer on how the FTC, the Competition Commission and the European Competition Commission should look at this.  Google has been arguing in the FTC hearings that it is not in a dominant position in Search and it is not favouring its own products, because they are all part of one search product.  Clearly, in reality this does not ring true.  In competition parlance, whether they are in a ‘dominant market position’ or have ‘market power’ is neither here nor there.  What’s key is how they are acting – are they acting in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory way?

There was a time when ‘Do not do evil’ was something users could really believe in.  But if you look at this series of events since Google floated; Vertical integration in Search through product comparison, paid inclusion shopping listings, ‘Not Provided’ keyword referrer data favouring their Adwords customers over organic search marketers and now effectively threatening foreclosure on any company that wants to offer a combined SEO and PPC optimisation platform; would any reasonable man conclude that it has started to favour its own products and services more and more?

What do you think of the business decision of Raven to remove rank checking?

Dixon Jones – MajesticSEO

Brilliant, given where they find themselves. At best they would have bought themselves a few months before having to face this. Now everyone else needs to either choose to follow Raven’s lead or decide to be an enemy of Google. Google is bigger than the GDP of most nation states – so picking a fight with them is like fighting to stop encroaching anti-smoking laws. It’s a one way trip… so just give up smoking before you go up in smoke.

Laurence O’Toole – AnalyticsSEO

I’m sure it was a difficult decision for them.  They knew they would lose customers as a result but they stuck to their strategy and you have to respect them for that.


Written By
Kelvin Newman is Creative Director at SiteVisibility and specialises in achieving natural search results and producing link-worthy online content, working with a variety of brands including the RSPCA & uSwitch.
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