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Why rank tracking is important for SEO

Author: Vinnie Wong

An image of author Vinnie Wong, with various search-related iconography, including a bar chart, clicks and impressions metrics, and a pie chart

Your position in search engine results pages (SERPs) greatly influences your online visibility, which is why SEOs and site owners commonly track their rankings. But, the goal with SEO is not necessarily to optimize your pages for the top position—it’s to attract and convert an audience in order to propel your business forward.


Like many other SEO metrics, rankings are a snapshot of how your content is performing—it’s not the entire story. Contextualizing your rankings will allow you to get a wider view of how your brand is actually performing in the search results, enabling you to make better strategic decisions.


In this article, I’ll guide you through how to approach rank tracking, tactical tips for better rank tracking, tool recommendations, and more.


Table of contents:


Why rank tracking is important for your SEO


Effective SEO and content marketing are more than just publishing content and hoping for the best. Be it qualitative or quantitative, data drives strategies and success when it comes to online visibility.


Rank tracking gives you a window into how relevant search engines consider your content to be for certain queries, which can be a proxy for what your target audience is looking for.

Besides evaluating strategy success and guiding optimizations, tracking your site’s rankings provides numerous advantages, such as:


01. Identifying opportunities for greater visibility: Simply put, the more often your site ranks at the top of search results, the more organic traffic you receive. Over 99% of people will only visit a site on the first search results page, according to Backlinko, highlighting how important it is for your site to rank higher for your target keywords. By tracking your ranking trends for specific keywords, you can assess the effectiveness of your SEO strategy and identify areas for improvement.

02. Stakeholder buy-in: While SEO is a long game, building a number of minor wins will lead to compounding growth. It can be difficult to explain why your team should pursue a certain direction with content or SEO (or why you should get budget/buy-in for your recommendations), but by tracking your rankings, you can show the ROI of your SEO efforts to stakeholders by tying them back to business-critical metrics like conversions or revenue.

03. Competitive analysis: Tracking your rankings alongside those of your competitors enables you to gauge your position in the market and identify any competitors who are catching up or surpassing your brand. By keeping a close eye on your competition, you can adjust your strategy, maintain a competitive edge, or even use their online growth to make a case for more internal resources to regain diminished rankings.


04. Data for more informed decision-making: Rank tracking provides valuable data that can inform your overall business strategy.


For example, by analyzing which content pieces or campaigns have led to significant ranking improvements, you can make data-backed decisions on where to focus your efforts and allocate resources. Identifying “striking-distance” keywords (keywords ranking just outside the top positions, usually 11-20, in search results) is also a common way to use rank tracking data to identify low-hanging fruit.


You would never need to track your rankings if they didn’t change, but they do—even for older content. Search engine rankings constantly evolve, causing your website’s SERP positions to fluctuate. Let’s dive into the key factors behind these shifts and how they can guide your SEO and keyword tracking decisions.


Why rankings change

Your content’s search rankings can move up or down due to a variety of factors. Some you can control, others not so much. To make the right moves with your website optimization and keyword tracking, let’s look at the main factors behind ranking shifts:


  • Algorithm updates: Google and other search engines are constantly refining their algorithms to deliver relevant results to users. When they introduce new updates or tweak existing ranking factors, your pages’ positions can change significantly.

  • Competitor activity: It’s frustrating when your competitor leapfrogs your site for high-value keywords. Perhaps they optimized their site, updated their content, or earned more backlinks to those pages. As they improve their own SEO, their rankings may adjust to reflect that, nudging yours up or down in response.

  • New content and indexation: Search engines crawl and index fresh and older content non-stop. This means the SERPs are always changing as new pages join the fray and old ones bow out. If a top-performing piece targeting the same keywords as yours hits the scene, your rankings might take a hit.

  • Seasonality and trends: Some keywords see shifts in search volume and rankings because of seasonal fluctuations or current events. As user behavior evolves, search engines adjust their algorithms, which can impact your position.

  • Technical issues: Website problems like slow page load times, broken links, or indexation issues can drag your rankings down. Keeping an eye on your site’s technical health and fixing any problems is key to keeping your rankings steady.


While we’ve highlighted the importance of rank tracking, it’s important to know that rankings aren’t the be-all and end-all of your SEO success. They play a significant role in driving traffic, but other factors like search volume and intent are just as crucial in determining the overall performance of your website.


Why rankings aren’t everything


You might celebrate high rankings for your target keywords, but don’t let that be your only measure of success. The real magic happens when you turn that traffic into tangible results—think leads, sales, and engaged users.

Top rankings alone can’t guarantee an amazing user experience, which plays a huge role in keeping visitors around and driving conversions. Picture this as an example—a page ranks high, but:


  • Takes forever to load,

  • It’s hard to navigate,

  • And visuals are an eyesore.


It’s no surprise that visitors won’t convert.


On the flip side, a site with slightly lower rankings but fantastic user experience could see much better conversion rates.


So, while it’s great to see those rankings climb, remember there’s more to the story (and any number of scenarios in which high rankings don’t equate to business success). Two things to consider when thinking about which keywords to track include search volume and searcher intent.


Search volume is no replacement for search intent

While search rankings and search volume are different concepts, they’re deeply intertwined by competition: Keywords that have a high search volume are usually more difficult to rank for, since more websites will likely want to get their content in front of those searchers.


Search volume refers to the number of times a specific keyword is searched for within a given time frame (typically monthly). Targeting high search volume keywords can lead to increased visibility and traffic, but it’s essential not to overlook the importance of intent and its impact on conversion rate. After all, driving traffic to your website is only half the battle—you also need to turn those visitors into customers.


Conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a contact form. A high conversion rate shows that your website is effectively addressing your audience’s search intent (be it informational, commercial, or transactional), which can be very influential in convincing them to complete the desired action, leading to increased revenue and business growth.


When selecting keywords to target, it’s crucial to balance search volume and search intent if you want visitors to convert. While it’s tempting to go after high-volume keywords, established players in your industry might already dominate the results for those search terms. It’ll take a lot of effort and potentially a larger budget to make your way into those results.


An image of a chart labeled “long tail keywords,” showing search volume on the Y-axis and conversion rate on the X-axis. As conversion rate increases, search volume decreases.
Long tail keywords typically have less search volume but a higher conversion rate.

In this case, it’s probably a better use of your time to go after long tail keywords—more specific, less competitive phrases. These typically have lower search volume but often yield higher conversion rates. These keywords are more aligned with the searcher’s intent, making it more likely that visitors will click through and convert.


“There once was a time when nobody really knew what the Walmart Marketplace was. That’s when my former team decided to create a blog series around the Walmart Marketplace because it was relevant to our product. Even though Semrush said there was zero search volume, we rolled with it—and sure enough, those articles were some of our greatest hits. We had some of the earliest ranking content around the topic, and received lots of leads from that series.” — Allison Lee, editor-in-chief at Wix

To make the most of your SEO efforts, focus on targeting a mix of high search volume keywords and long tail keywords with strong conversion potential. Remember, the goal of your SEO strategy is to grow your business—not just to achieve high search rankings.


Tactical tips for tracking your search rankings


It’s challenging to know where to start or which tools to use if you’re new to the world of SEO. Here are some tips to help you track your progress, identify opportunities for improvement, and make informed decisions for optimizing your website.


Track SERP features

Optimizing certain pages for “zero-click” queries (searches that don’t typically result in the user clicking through to a website, usually because the query was answered directly on the SERP) can boost traffic by way of featured snippets, local packs, knowledge panels, or other SERP features. Yes, that does make the term “zero-click” somewhat misleading, as a study by Ahrefs showed that featured snippets can “steal” nearly one-third of clicks from the top result.



Remember, search engines like Google are trying to provide the best user experience as quickly as possible.


Screenshot of a Google search results page for the query when should I bathe my dog, with a featured snippet providing an answer, and a clickable link to the full article inviting users to explore further. Source: Google.
The featured snippet for the search term “when should I bathe my dog” answers the query, but someone might want to click into the link to find out more. Source: Google.

While this answer (in the example above) might satisfy a search query, a user may still click on the result to learn more considering their dog’s skin condition, for example.


However, some zero-click queries actually live up to their name and are far less likely to result in a click-through to a website. This can happen when users are looking for things like the weather, stock prices, definitions, or similar at-a-glance information.


In addition, the presence of new SERP features could affect your page’s performance. Rank tracking tools may not immediately reflect this, so if you notice a sudden change in key metrics (like traffic or CTR, for example) that’s not accompanied by a dip in rankings, then the next place to check is the SERP for that keyword.


Be deliberate about which keywords you track

A common mistake that many new SEOs and site owners make is tracking every keyword that might be relevant to their business. This approach can actually be counterproductive as it can lead to a significant amount of time (and potentially resources) spent optimizing for keywords that don’t drive conversions or revenue.


Think of your keyword strategy as fishing. Instead of trying to catch every fish in the sea while fishing at peak hours and sitting next to people who have bigger boats than you, focus on fishing in quieter waters where you know you’ll get a catch. In other words, track keywords that have a high potential to rank and are relevant to your audience.

This is why long tail keywords are often a good place to start, as they tend to be less competitive and more specific to a particular niche or audience. Additionally, long tail keywords are typically more aligned with the searcher’s intent, which makes them more likely to generate conversions.


Monitor multiple search engines

While Google accounts for the lion’s share of the worldwide search engine market (93% as of March 2023), tracking your rankings on other search engines like Bing and Yahoo! could provide new opportunities for traffic and conversions.


While your website may rank well on Google, it’s possible that your competitors are outperforming you on other search engines. This is especially relevant for sites with international audiences, as the popularity (and even existence) of any given search engine can vary by country.



By tracking your rankings across multiple search engines, you can identify areas where you may need to improve your optimization efforts to stay ahead of the competition.


Another reason to track your performance across multiple search engines is to gain a better understanding of how different search engines interpret and display your content. Search engines have different algorithms and ranking factors, which can result in not only different search results, but also different search features or capabilities for the same query.


Track local and global rankings

If you have a physical store or primarily serve customers within a specific geographic region, tracking your local rankings is crucial. Local SEO refers to the practice of optimizing content for searches that are specific to a particular location, such as best restaurants in Los Angeles or plumbers near me. These results are often displayed in local packs or map listings, making it easier for users to find businesses in their area.


Even if you don’t have a physical store, tracking your local rankings is still valuable for home or professional services providers that serve a specific geographic region (i.e., landscapers, home inspectors, etc.).


If your business operates primarily online, tracking your global rankings is more important. These rankings are especially important for eCommerce businesses that sell products worldwide or offer services that can be accessed remotely.


Rank tracking mistakes to avoid


When it comes to rank tracking, there are some common mistakes that can actually hurt your SEO efforts in the long run. Here are a few key “don’ts” to keep in mind:


Focusing on low-value keywords

As mentioned above, you shouldn’t track every keyword that is possibly relevant. The ones you do track should be for pages that have some sort of strategic value for your business. Prioritizing those keywords simply provides you with more useful, actionable data.


For example, if you operated a local gym, a 10-position dip in rankings for your location and sign-up pages would need to be addressed much more urgently than the same rankings nosedive for your “member of the week” page.


Focusing solely on rankings

While tracking your rankings is an important part of an effective SEO strategy, focusing solely on this metric can be a mistake. Rankings alone don’t provide the full picture of how your website performs in search results or how users interact with it.


It’s important to also monitor metrics like click-through rate, bounce rate, time on site, and conversion rate, for example, to understand your website’s overall performance. External factors, like seasonality, should also be considered—an umbrella brand might rank number one year-round, but it's probably converting much less frequently during dry seasons; that is not an insight that rankings alone would show you.


Prioritizing only high search volume keywords

While high search volume keywords can drive significant impressions and/or traffic to your website, it can be a mistake to overemphasize these keywords in your strategic decision making.


High-volume keywords are often highly competitive, making it difficult for smaller businesses to rank for them. Instead, consider targeting long tail keywords that are more specific and less competitive, which can drive more targeted traffic to your site and improve your chances of ranking higher.


“Volume doesn't always equal value—keep an eye on zero-volume keywords for niche industries (especially B2B), emerging trends, and recurring events (like the Oscars, for example). Don't underestimate the power of high CPC keywords, as they often indicate competitive and profitable markets even if they are considered to be zero-volume by some tools.”Myriam Jessier, digital strategist and SEO trainer at PRAGM

Tools for rank tracking


There’s a large selection of rank tracker tools available, some more comprehensive than others. Depending on your budget, you might not need the most expensive one or you may not require a paid tool at all.


So you can decide which tool best fits your situation, we’ll explore a few of the most common options and share why many SEOs consider them to be the best for tracking keyword rankings.


Google Search Console

Every site owner can access Google Search Console (GSC) for free, all you need to do is verify your site (note: Wix site owners can use the built-in GSC integration to verify their site).


GSC provides the most accurate raw data for Google search results and offers a wealth of data about your site’s search performance, including keyword rankings, impressions, clicks, and click-through rate (CTR). It also helps identify and fix technical issues that could be affecting your site’s performance.


The downside to GSC is there is no automated way to track keyword rankings. You’ll need to manually go in and check each time you want to know the positions of your target keywords.


Identifying “striking-distance” keywords with GSC

One way to use GSC’s keyword tracking is to identify low-hanging fruit to go after.


 A screenshot of the performance tab in Google Search Console, displaying a graph with data points for 'Average CTR' and 'Average Position’. Source: Google Search Console.

To do so, select the Performance report and you’ll see a chart showing clicks and impressions (the default setting). Next, toggle the chart’s Average CTR and Position filters. This gives you an overall idea of how often users clicked on your listing when they searched for a specific keyword.


To find potentially under-optimized pages, export your site’s data by clicking on the top-right Export button. You’ll have three options to choose from; Google Sheets, Excel, or CSV. Whichever format you choose, you can create a filter showing keywords that you rank for from positions eight and beyond. Click on the Position filter icon at the top-right of the table.


A Google Sheet showing data for queries that rank between position 10 and 11, including clicks, impressions, and CTR.

Comb through the lower ranked results, as you can click into each keyword to see which pages these keywords are ranking for. If you haven’t updated those pages in a while, adding or refreshing content could be an easy win to bump your articles higher.


Note: Wix site owners can also access GSC data, including average position, impressions, clicks, and CTR, from directly within the Wix dashboard’s Top Search Queries on Google report.


Ahrefs

If you explore paid rank tracking tools, you'll find more features that can be helpful for SEO professionals at agencies or those managing multiple domains. Subscribing to any of Ahrefs’ paid plans, starting from $99 per month, gives you access to its Rank Tracker.


A screenshot of the Ahrefs dashboard displaying high-level traffic and SEO metrics for four distinct domains, providing a comprehensive overview of their performance
Ahrefs is one of the most complete SEO paid tools on the market. You can view your traffic estimates and do in-depth keyword analysis and research. Source: Ahrefs

If you have several domains, you can add each of them as separate projects to track multiple keywords associated with each domain.


Clicking into one of the projects will bring you to this dashboard where you’ll see which pages are ranking for certain keywords. To track keywords, just click on the orange button in the top-right corner.


A screenshot of the Rank Tracker tool for a single domain on the Share of Voice filter, which is the percentage of total organic clicks (from search results) for tracked keywords that go to your website.
The Rank Tracker tool monitors changes in fluctuations from the time you add the URLs and the keywords they rank for. The dashboard gives a high-level overview of your average position, including the percentage of total organic clicks (from search results) for tracked keywords that go to your website (Share of Voice). Source: Ahrefs

Add each keyword line by line or search for published articles by URL to track them.


A screenshot where to add keywords to track in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker tool.
Adding keywords to track is pretty simple in Ahrefs. You can add up to 10,000 keywords on the Standard plan. Source: Ahrefs

From the dashboard, you can toggle specific views by clicking on the corresponding box (the default view is “Share of Voice”) to get quick insights. Under tracked URLs, you can see performance over time through a graph or check what the SERPs currently look like, which can be useful for identifying new SERP features that don’t affect your rankings but may affect traffic (e.g., direct answers).


Semrush

Semrush subscribers can monitor their rankings using its “Position Tracking” tool.


A screenshot of the Position Tracking tool dashboard in Semrush.
The Position Tracking dashboard in Semrush is much busier than Ahrefs but it communicates largely similar metrics, like visibility, estimated traffic per page, and the average position for each keyword.

Once you’ve set up your project and added your keywords, you can customize your tracking settings. For example, you can choose to track your rankings on a daily or weekly basis, and you can set up email alerts to notify you of any significant changes in your rankings.


You can also use Semrush to uncover underperforming keywords. To do this, navigate to the Organic Research section (in the left-hand menu), enter your domain, and click on the Positions tab. This will show you a list of all the keywords your website is ranking for, along with their search volume, position, and other metrics. Similar to how you might with GSC, you can sort the list by position to find keywords that are ranking below the first page of search results.


You can also use Semrush’s “Keyword Gap” tool to compare your keyword rankings to those of your competitors and identify areas where you may be falling behind. The tool even has an “On-Page SEO Checker” feature that can analyze your content and provide recommendations on how to improve it for better rankings.


Rank tracker alternatives

Most SEOs use either Ahrefs or Semrush. Both are equally robust, and much of the time it comes down to personal preference and how easy each person finds the tool to use.


For tracking keywords in particular, there are several cheaper alternatives that deserve a shoutout if you’re on a tighter budget.


  • Agency Analytics: A powerful all-in-one SEO tool with a comprehensive rank tracking feature, customizable white-label reports, and integrations with third-party tools.

  • AccuRanker: A high-precision rank tracker that provides real-time and historical data, competitor analysis, and a user-friendly interface.

  • SERPWatcher: A rank tracking tool that focuses on tracking daily changes in keyword rankings, providing insights into search visibility, and monitoring local and mobile rankings.

  • Rank Ranger: A comprehensive SEO and digital marketing platform that offers advanced rank tracking, in-depth keyword research, and comprehensive reporting capabilities.


Keeping track of the goal, not just keyword rankings


Regardless of which tool you decide to use, rank tracking should be used to identify the best keywords as part of your overall SEO strategy. But, remember that it’s primarily a means to an end.


The goal is to improve your business and raise its bottom line. Keep this top-of-mind when you create, track, and optimize content so you can make more profitable decisions.


Rank tracking for its own sake won’t get you very far if you obsess about the numbers; it’s about honing in on what type of content brings the most value to your audience and improves your business.


 

Vinnie Wong

Vinnie is a content expert with over 5 years of SEO and content marketing experience. He's worked with Ahrefs, Empire Flippers, and is committed to crafting exceptional content and educating others on the symbiotic relationship between content creation and effective link building. Twitter | Linkedin


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