Tracking the performance of the content on your website against the keywords you’re ranking for, or are targeting, has always been a pretty fundamental part of the SEO process.
But the variables are endless. Rankings for which devices? Which locations? And most importantly, which keywords?
We have tested many ways of tracking keywords and have settled on a process that we recommend to our clients.
In this article we outline how we got to this happy place. But first a quick recap on what it all means.
What is keyword rank tracking?
There are many software providers that offer rank tracking services. They can track the position of content snippets any number of keywords on desktop and mobile search engine results pages (SERPS), for any given location, monitoring any fluctuations daily.
This is pretty useful information as we know there is a direct correlation between the position of a content snippet on a SERP, and clicks through to a website. The general rule being the higher up the page the better!
We recommend rank tracking to monitor the performance of content against keywords being targeting, and to highlight opportunities.
How does rank tracking work?
This is a very good question and one that the software providers tend to be a little guarded about. You and I can cross check the ranking information they provide against our own location very easily, we just go onto the SERPs. But checking rankings in other locations – or for a country as a whole – is a bit more involved.
We believe rank tracking software providers have servers set up in many locations across the world, which they use to interrogate the Google Search API. By having this facility they can track rankings for any locations where they have a server. In addition, we believe that many of these software providers use their own, top-secret algorithms to average-out rankings data for a county (or Zip code if you’re in the US) or country.
But please don’t quote me on this.
What devices should I consider tracking rankings on?
The SERPs differ for desktop and mobile devices. Traditionally we have tracked rankings for desktop rather than mobile, but in 2019 we decided to change the default device we recommend our clients track – to mobile.
There were two main reasons for this.
The way people search is changing. More people are using mobile than ever before. The way we search on a mobile device can be quite different from how we search on a desktop computer. The main difference is that the person conducting the search is likely to be, for want of a better word, mobile (i.e. not in front of a computer at home or the office).
We use our clients analytics data to check the desktop/mobile split of visits to their websites. Unless the percentage of visits from desktop devices hugely outweigh mobile, we’ll recommend the later for rank tracking.
Mobile-first indexing started being rolled out in 2018 and at the time of writing, many sites have moved across. What this means is that Google rank the content on a website based on how it has been optimised for mobile-devices. It felt like Google were prioritising mobile over desktop, and that we should too.
Whilst it is possible to track rankings for both mobile and desktop devices, we don’t recommend this to our clients. We think having two lots of all the data can over-complicate and there’s the danger of getting drowned in the detail. If clients want to track both, we’re happy to do this of course.
Some rank tracking software providers offer a third device as a tracking option; tablets. Whilst we do believe that users might search in a different way using a tablet to how they do on a desktop computer or mobile phone, when we compared the data for mobile and tablet, we didn’t see much difference. Once again, if a client wants us to track for a third device, we’ll do it!
What location, or locations, should I track?
Our default position had been to track the rankings for our clients in their county, and if they targeted customers anywhere in the country, then nationwide as well. The reason we suggested this was that we wanted to provide the best indication of how their content was performing for their targeted keywords in the whole market they served.
However in 2019, after conducting several tests, we changed our mind about this, and started recommended that our clients target an individual location – town or city – or individual LOCATIONS – i.e. several towns and cities they were targeting.
The reasons for this goes back to how the software providers generate their data and how the search terms we use have changed in recent years, particularly on mobile devices.
Allow me to explain.
We want our rank tracking data to be as accurate for our clients as possible. We started noticing some peculiarities when monitoring ranking data for clients where we’d defined the location as a county. The search volumes suggested didn’t always make sense. We now believe that no software provider can accurately provide rank tracking data for a whole county or country. The data is going to be more accurate for an individual location.
We also realised that the ranking positions being presented for important search terms like [yourproductorservice near me] and just [yourproductorservice] meant nothing for a county or country.
What keywords should I track?
And so to the big question.
This is one we’ve given a lot of thought over the years. We freely admit our position has shifted from “we’re not tracking enough”, to “we’re tracking too many”, and back again.
Ask one hundred SEO’s what their tactic is when it comes to selecting keywords to track, and I’d wager each would give a different response.
Which is why we decided to devise our own procedure for our clients. Next I’ll explain what it is and why we think this is the most efficient, fail-safe method.
There are two prongs to our approach. The starting point is the client and their product or service.
We create a list of modifiers – the words we believe users might use in addition to the primary search term.
One of our clients sells window shutters. Their modifiers might include transactional ones e.g. [buy window shutters], modifiers based on the material their shutters are made of e.g. [hardwood window shutters] or be based on the shutter style e.g. [tier-on-tier window shutters]. And there are many more.
We agree the modifier sets and modifiers themselves with our clients.
The second part of this approach we like to think of as our insurance policy. We create another list of keywords which is pulled from our clients existing Search Console data. We start with the best performing pages on the website – those that have generated the most clicks – and work our way down.
Once again we’ll look to agree this list of pages with the client before we start to pull a list of keywords for each page. It may be they want to track pages that aren’t performing so well as well.
Finally we pull these two lists together into one comprehensive list.
And then we repeat the exercise every six months and make recommendations to our clients about which keywords to drop, retain or add.
Why is rank tracking important?
We use our clients rank tracking reports to measure our own performance, highlight fluctuations in rankings, identify opportunities, benchmark against competitors and monitor the SERPs. It’s all pretty important stuff!
How much does rank tracking cost?
By default, for each client we track rankings for one device (mobile), one location of their choice and 100 keywords. The cost of this is included in their monthly fee.
Each client is invited to add either a) additional devices b) locations or c) bundles of 100 keywords, at £12.50 per/month each.
For example if a client wanted to track 200 keywords on one device (mobile), in two locations (their town, another town) that would cost an additional £37.50 per/month (i.e. 3 x £12.50)
We hope this demonstrates our thoughtful approach to rank tracking and highlights why we take it so seriously.
We’d welcome your questions or thoughts and invite you to contact us to discuss these at your convenience.