There is often the debate in SEO about tracking the rankings of keywords. In the past agencies guaranteed rankings and set KPIs on how much the rankings would increase and by when. They would, for example, promise to rank number 1, 2, 3 for some of the client’s short tail keywords.
This method of ranking with keywords is however, no longer guaranteed within a set time period, due to many changes in the Google algorithm. As a result, many agencies and search professionals no longer guarantee such exact changes in rankings. Despite this, some companies still want to know how their rankings have changed and want to be measured on this. There is now a division in the search industry with some agencies keen to track rankings while others are not.
In this post I review the ranking tool RankTrackr and I interview two well known people in the search industry and their opinion on recording keyword rankings.
The Ranktrackr interface is clean and easy to use. Once logged in, users add the URLs they want to track. As I have a travel blog, I wanted to see what keywords the big competitors in the industry tracked.
When users first log on, they are presented with a dashboard as shown below.
Users add the URLs they want to track by clicking on the “Add URLs” button.
Users can choose the search engine they want to track. This tool also allows users to track keyword within YouTube something which I had not seen before.
Once users have the URLs, they go back to the dashboard and then select that URL to add the keywords.
I uploaded a variety of travel related terms. I also scheduled a weekly report which I receive and looks like the below.
The tool comes with a number of a features which is constantly being updated. There is also the possibility of a free trial which allows you to test the product out before signing up to a number of different price plans:
- This tool allows you to set up weekly reports which show the week on week comparison of the keywords.
- Users can track keywords in YouTube
- You can change the Google location, for example make it Google.com.au instead of Google.com/.co.uk
- The tool retrieves data from search engines to ensure the highest accuracy in terms of rankings.
- Unlike some tools that track keywords automatically and report back., you will need to add all your own keywords.
- It can take some time getting used to the tool and depending on the price plan there are limitations with the number of keywords you can track.
There are many people using the tool including agencies where there are special features available such as scheduling reports for clients and managing sub-users. Have you used the tool? What were your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.
I wanted to find out from the experts in the search industry, their opinion on tracking and reporting on keyword rankings.
I first interview Larry Kim, the founder of WordStream, a leading search marketing software and services provider based in Boston, USA. I asked Larry five questions about tracking keywords:
1. Why do think tracking keywords is not important?
We just don’t live in a keyword world anymore. Sure, there’s still some small utility to keywords, but there are much more important things you need to focus on! In fact, focusing too heavily on keywords can get you in trouble. If it looks like you’re digging back into the historical bag of SEO tricks, you’re going to get nailed.
2. What else should people focus on instead?
You know what’s more important than making sure you’re using the right keywords? Topical relevance. Building trust. Accurate information. Solving a problem for your audience member. Making an emotional connection. Today, all of these things trump keywords and they need your attention.
You also need to:
- Build your content distribution network. Content promotion has to be baked into your strategy right from the planning phase. Great content is pretty pointless if it doesn’t get in front of the right audience so as you’re planning this epic piece of content, figure out what formats and resources you need to promote it.
- Write more engaging content. Focus on and measure what matters. If you treat every piece of content like a direct sales letter, you’re going to lose trust and quickly burn out your audience. Instead, focus on your engagement metrics — Likes, Shares, Comments, dwell time, etc. — and work on improving these.
- Build your brand with remarketing. Content remarketing is a crazy effective way of recapturing lost traffic, nurturing people through the funnel and even converting. What it’s really great for, though, is reinforcing your brand. You can follow people around the web, across social networks, in their email — wherever they happen to be — and get back in front of them with relevant content.
In general, focus on marketing!
3. What do you say to people when they want to rank number 1 in Google?
Good luck! Seriously, if you want to rank #1 in Google, you need to be that brand that is the best solution for queries on those keywords. It’s as simple as that. Build a brand worthy of that position and you will get it — no dark arts required.
If you’re not there yet, use PPC to get in that above the fold, top of the results space. Most of that top SERPs area is dominated by ads now, anyway.
4. How have you increased traffic to your site and its visibility?
Our incredibly talented SEO and Content Marketing Manager Elisa Gabbert has been with us for six years, building our blog traffic to the point we have some evergreen posts getting 20,000 to 30,000 views every single month. In March we had a new post attract over 100,000 views, which was a huge win for our brand.
In addition to the work Elisa does, we have a team consisting of full-time content producers, part-time writers, social media and PR. We’re putting out five to seven blog posts per week ranging from shorter opinion and news pieces, to epic long form content and tactical guides. Our main focus is quality and we measure content not by a few arbitrary metrics, but by its overall “awesomeness,” which includes a wide variety of engagement and visibility metrics.
5. What would you recommend to people to say to their clients, when the clients ask them why they are not number 1 in Google despite doing SEO?
I’d recommend they ask the client to look at the content that ranks for the first page of the keywords you care about. Envision something that is 10 times better. Create it.
This also speaks to the expectations agencies are setting when they take on these clients. Are you promising first-page placement? Why are they surprised they’re not on the front page, in position #1? Maybe it’s worth offering a complementary PPC marketing service, as well.
My next interview is with our very own State of Digital editor Barry Adams. Barry is the founder of Polemic Digital an SEO agency in Belfast.
1. Do you think tracking keywords is important?
Yes I think tracking keyword rankings is important and, if done right, can help your SEO efforts tremendously.
First of all, let me make clear that keyword rankings should never be the only metric you judge your SEO efforts by. Rankings are part of a mix of metrics to keep track of, and not the most important one either (I’d say conversions from organic search are the top one).
But SEOs that don’t pay attention to keyword rankings are missing out on an incredibly valuable data source. Rankings let you know what Google thinks you’re relevant for, which pages work well for you and which need more effort, what areas of your content need improving, etc.
It’s important to understand that a ranking metric, as reported by the various tracking tools, needs to be seen in its proper context. Search results are subject to all kinds of different nuances, including personalisation, universal search results, and rich SERP snippets. A rank for a keyword doesn’t tell you all of that, which is why you need to look at ranking trends and fluctuations.
And it’s not just about what keywords your site ranks for, it’s also about all the related metrics: search volumes for these keywords, related keywords, competitor ranks, and which URL on your site is ranking. The latter especially is an important data point, and if that fluctuates – i.e. Google alternates what URL on your site it ranks for a given keyword – it could indicate you have a content cannibalisation issue or some other duplicate content problem.
Rankings provide valuable supporting data for your ongoing SEO efforts, and I feel it’s very foolish to ignore keyword rankings entirely.
2. How many keywords should you track?
It really depends. As with all things in SEO, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to keyword rankings. I have some sites that I track a few dozen keywords for, and others that track thousands of keywords.
For the average Joe, I reckon up to 100 keywords probably suffices. It’s not so much how many keywords you track – it’s tracking the right ones. That’s something many beginner SEOs get wrong. You need to select the right data to analyse, otherwise you risk being overloaded with ranking data where you have to sift through the straw to get to the needles. So pick the right keywords; those relevant search terms that align with customer behaviour and give a strong indication of your site’s overall performance in search.
Also, use a tracking tool that identifies the various aspects of a given SERP; i.e. local results, geographical differences, rich snippets, etc. That extra information in addition to the rank will enable you to analyse the data in its proper context.
3. Does appearing higher in Google affect your traffic?
Obviously. The top ranked pages get the most clicks. It’s not as simple as some of the click-through rate studies show, but generally speaking a higher rank in organic search results drives more traffic to your site.
Universal search has a great deal of impact on how much traffic you get from your regular organic rank, so you need to know what elements a given SERP consists of, and ensure that your SEO tactics align with those. For example, if a keyword SERP is dominated by local map listings, you should strive to get your local business in there.
With regards to ranking flux due to personalisation, in my experience this only tends to have an impact in fairly limited context. Usually rankings are personalised based on the user’s location, and some sites that are visited frequrntly by the user get a higher preference. Beyond that, personalisation flux in rankings rarely move the needle more than one or two positions, if that.
4. How have you managed to increase rankings for competitive terms?
The usual tactics; great on-site optimisation, a page focused on the specific keyword, active link acquisition, and supporting tactics such as social, PR, content marketing, etc.
5. What were the results?
More traffic to the site, more sales of relevant products, increased repeat business from branded search and email marketing. For one clients we’ve seen organic traffic grow by as much as 1300%, and the conversion rate almost doubled – the result of top rankings on highly relevant generic non-branded keywords, driving visitors which the site then managed to convert in to customers.
For the client where we got 1300% growth, we targeted ten specific keywords where the client had no rankings in the top 100. In the course of our 8-month SEO project we managed to get their site in to Google’s top 20 results for all ten keywords, with five in the top 3 results and one nr 1 ranking. That ended up driving 4300 additional monthly visits to the site at a 2.98% conversion rate, generating a substantial ROI for their SEO investments.
High rankings on generic non-branded keywords are crucial to capturing prospective leads early on in the sales funnel, and can truly drive your online performance to new heights.
In the end, your keyword rankings should support your business objectives. If your rankings are not driving traffic and sales, you’re either focusing on the wrong keywords or your result in the SERP is the wrong kind. You won’t know which it is, unless you keep track of your rankings and know exactly what keywords you rank for, and how your result is shown in the SERP.
Thank you to both our experts for their time in taking part in this interview. Both have mentioned that keyword rankings should never be the only metric that SEO work is judged on. As Barry mentioned, it should be part of a mix of metrics to keep track of, and not the most important. What do you think about tracking keywords? Get in touch with me on Twitter and share your view.
About our experts:
Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream, a leading search marketing software and services provider based in Boston, managing approximately a half-Billion in annual ad spend across over two thousand customers. He regularly shares his advice and insight with over a million visitors a month at his WordStream Blog and is a columnist and top contributor for leading industry publications including Inc.com, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and Social Media Today.
Larry is often called on to speak at industry events and has spoken at INBOUND, SMX, ClickZ/SES, Pubcon, SearchLove, MediaPost Search Insider Summit, PPC Hero Conference, SEMPDX and many others. He was recently named “Most Influential PPC Expert” for 2013 and 2014 by PPC Hero Blog and marketing agency 3Q Digital and won ClickZ’s Digital Marketing Hall of Fame and Small Business Influencer awards in 2013.
Polemic Digital was founded in 2014 by Barry Adams as a specialised SEO consultancy. Many consultants and agencies claim they do SEO, but most have barely a clue what they’re talking about. With Barry there’s no bluffing – he is a true specialist, and is counted among the top SEO providers in Europe.
Barry has been an active SEO practitioner for over 15 years and has earned a fair share of accolades. When he was leading the digital team at Pierce Communications from 2010 to 2014, they won national awards for their work, and to date his team has been the only Northern Irish digital agency to be nominated for the UK and European Search Awards.
Barry’s blog was also nominated for Best Blog at the 2013 UK Search Awards, and he was awarded Digital Industries Person of the Year at the 2014 DANI Awards.
Barry is a regular speaker at top digital conferences such as SAScon and SMX, an associate lecturer for the University of Ulster’s MSc in Digital Media Communication, and he provides regular talks, trainings, and workshops on digital marketing, SEO, PPC, and Social Media for a variety of organisations and events. Barry also lectures on SEO for the Digital Marketing Institute and Queen’s University Belfast.