So, why would you want to track your keyword rankings?
Well, for those fortunate enough to rank well for target keywords, it's satisfying to see that you’re on page one of the results!
But there's a much more important reason than that warm feeling inside …
Knowing how your pages rank for each of your target keywords is an invaluable performance indicator. It helps you identify the other businesses in your industry who are competing on your turf. It also lets you identify where you have room for improvement. And while it’s important not to go OTT and fixate on each figure, you do want to maintain a healthy position for those popular target keywords so you don’t miss out on valuable traffic.
A bit about the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
Search engines have complex algorithms dedicated to delivering the most useful content to the searcher. SERPs are the results pages we see on Bing, Yahoo and Google when we type in “that thing I need”, “that food I want” or “that problem I have”.
Chances are you’re ranking for something, even if it’s your brand name (if not you should check your robots.txt file for a nasty disallow thingy), or a really long specific-string-of-words that only you have ever typed and Mr Search Engine Bot has run along and indexed. But how many people are going to type that in? The more popular (lots of people searching) keywords you rank well (top 3, amazing, first page also very good) for the more traffic you’ll get. So understanding how you're performing over time and responding to these results can be very beneficial to your business.
1. Assessing your existing exposure
Knowing which target keywords you’re ranking well for (and even finding out which keywords you haven’t necessarily deliberately targeted) gives you a clear idea of what you’ve done well, so give yourself a pat on the back.
So what do you do next? Well, certainly don’t stand still.
You’ll want to continue to check your ranking positions over time. Set up a schedule that works for you and your business. You can start checking your average position in Google Webmaster tools, and you will want to set up a speadsheet to track your progress. You can expect a certain amount of fluctuation over time, but keep you eye out for any big, prolonged drop offs so you can respond quickly.
This screenshot is from my teenytiny Wordpress blog so while the number of queries is pretty small it’s interesting to see what I’m getting impressions, clicks and not too shabby ranking positions for.
You can also see some keywords data in Google Analytics which will give you an idea of how much traffic is coming through to your site from organic searches. Click on Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries.
Analyze what’s performing well and assess whether there are more opportunities there for your business. Perhaps you’ve noticed a seasonal impact on an area of your business that can be pushed and expanded upon.
You’ll also want to check your visitors are converting. Driving lots of traffic is so important but it really doesn’t help if those keywords just don't convert for you, whether it’s sharing a page, signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase.
It always helps to double check you’re targeting popular keywords in your market. The language used by your potential customers can develop over time so keep up to date with trends by checking the search volume of your keywords. You can get started right away with the free tool on our home page Wordtracker.com.
2. Checking out the competition
Just as you shouldn't stand still, neither will your competition. You can compare yourself directly with your competition through your ranking position.
Depending on the size of your site you might want to start with your top 50 or 100 keywords and run a competitive analysis to understand who ranks for what.
Being able to see where you rank for certain keywords can give a fantastic insight into how your website is performing in relation to those working in the same market, and can help spur your actions by presenting some interesting questions:
Why are my competitors ranking higher than me?
Look at their Domain Authority, title tags, and backlinking profile to better understand what you’re up against. Maybe their description tag is really nice and enticing with a strong call to action, or their site loads faster than yours. Compare all these elements with your own site and see what they’re doing that is better than what you’re doing. Be inspired.
Don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to see any direct results, particularly if you have a new domain, or you’ve recently made updates. It will take time for search engines to index your pages and for your domain and brand to build authority. Keep working, keep an eye on your competition and celebrate the small wins.
Why have my rankings gone down?
If a competitor knocks you down a peg or two, or even off the first page of results for a high volume keyword you’ll want to know about it so you can respond and work to regain valuable traffic.
Perhaps they've found a great way to use video on their page (Google loves rich content), or maybe they've optimized their images or their title and header tags more clearly and effectively than you. Are they getting more links to their page than you?
There are a few simple things that you can take action on to help a search engine recognize your pages' relevancy:
Tidying up your internal link structure and anchor text to show search engines exactly what each page is about.
Review your Title tags and H1 tags and make sure you’re using your primary keywords in the most effective way.
Tidy up your content, make sure it’s up-to-date, thorough, relevant and useful.
Making sure all of your images have meaningful titles and alt text.
Alternatively if you see a massive drop in your rankings and ultimately traffic then you may have been affected by a Google update. You can recover with a bit of work, check out Jennifer Horowitz's article about real world examples of recovering after a Google update.
What effect did last month's work have on my rankings?
If you’ve been creating good quality content with some nice on page SEO and people are sharing it and linking back to it you’re likely to see an improvement in your rankings - over time.
Keep a report on all the traffic every piece of content drives to your site. Analyse the amount of visitors, bounce rate, tweets, retweets, shares and backlinks.
This sort of reporting works really nicely alongside ranking reports for visibility of the impact of new and existing content on your web presence.
3. Filling in the gaps
Monitoring your rankings and those of your competitors is a good way of keeping on track with your business direction as it exposes areas for improvement.
Check out the keywords you're not ranking, or ranking badly for. Is it worth investing time and energy in these areas with some additional content or resources, or some positive link building?
Maybe these areas are no longer important to your business and your focus is now elsewhere, in which case you won't want to spend your time creating new content. But it may be worth considering updating your existing content. You might also think about creating a presentation, infographic or downloadable document that will inject some new life into your existing pages.
Checking out your competition lets you see where others are doing well and might give you some ideas for your own site. You may find additional lines of content you hadn't considered, that would be a valuable extra resource for your audience, helping you widen your reach and engagement.
If you have a blog on recipes is it worth including a section on healthy eating or exercise?
If you have a picture framing site, is it worth publishing posts about photography tips?
As long as you're focusing on creating good quality content that helps inform your visitors you'll be building your brand and website authority in your industry.
The end result
The act of simply analyzing your ranking positions isn’t in itself going to generate more revenue. However it will give you a big picture perspective and allow you to pinpoint what is working, what you could be doing better and new topics for consideration.
Acting on your analysis will help you to reach your ultimate goal whether it’s to get more leads, generate more sales, or get more exposure, gain more followers and build your brand.
We'd love to hear from you, feel free to share your story in the comments below.