When we search for a keyword on Google, we get a search engine result page (SERP) with links to web pages that answer our query. There is a huge difference between being number 1 and being number 10 on the SERP. The top links get most of the visibility and traffic. This is SEO ranking.
Web pages rise and fall in ranking all the time. Hence we need to track the rankings to know why they go up or down and how to optimize the pages.
Read on to learn how to do this regular task in SEO optimization.
What is SEO rank tracking?
SEO rank tracking is monitoring the rankings of your web pages on the SERPs. The rankings indicate how well the search engine evaluates your web pages as “good enough” to be pulled to the top of the SERP for a given search query (keywords). SERP ranking is a key metric of SEO performance.
Still unclear? Let’s break this down.
What is SEO ranking?
SEO or keyword ranking refers to the rank of a particular web page on the SERP when we search for a given keyword. The ranking is always considered with a keyword. A page’s ranking changes depending on the chosen keyword.
Your website likely has several web pages. These web pages rank individually. Some pages may rank in the top 10 for many keywords, while others may rank much lower, even on the same site. We track the web pages, not the entire website.
The pages that should rank high depend on the targeted keywords. For product-related keywords, conversion pages, such as product or service pages, should rank high. For branded keywords, however, the homepage should rank at the top, even if it is not a conversion page.
A good ranking means your web pages appear in the top three positions when we search for relevant keywords.
Basics of SEO rank tracking
The step-by-step process of rank tracking depends on the tools (see below), but generally, it involves:
- Choose the relevant keywords
- Choose the web pages to track
- Input these into a tracking tool to get reliable data over a while
- Interpret the data to reveal trends in your web pages’ rankings
- Compare these trends with your competitors’ web pages for the same list of keywords
This is a continuous task with lots of support from tools. Do this regularly to get the best results. Why? Read on to find out.
Why track SEO rankings?
This is part of your regular optimization to maximize your Return on Investment (ROI). Specifically, it helps:
- Benchmark your progress
- Optimize your web pages
- Monitor your competition
- Find opportunities to increase revenue
Benchmark your progress
Whether you do it yourself or outsource, making your web pages SEO-friendly is a lot of work, so you would want to know whether it pays off.
However, you have to wait for the payoffs. SEO is a long-term game – after you’ve done all the necessary work, the results only come at least three or four months later. You can expect traffic to your web pages months after they go live. The long wait may lull us into thinking that nothing is happening.
Or, if your products do sell, you may get an illusion that your SEO effort has paid off, while other factors may be driving the sales.
Avoid the guesswork with rank tracking. Rank tracking gives you detailed insights to evaluate how good your SEO is. It is one of the critical metrics in measuring your pages’ SEO performance.
Optimize your web pages
Low SEO rankings mean your pages are not delivering their intended value. It indicates that we should improve the web pages now so that they can climb the rankings in the next few months.
See below for optimization tips.
You know your competitors, but SEO rank tracking reveals how their web pages do online compared to yours. More than that, the tools below offer insights about the sources of their traffic, which of their pages are the most popular (or the least popular), and so on.
Of course, your competitors are likely digging through the data about your pages too. All the more reason to do it!
Find opportunities to increase revenue
The nuanced intelligence you get from SEO rank tracking enables you to identify gaps in the market. The places in which your competitors are lackluster are where you may shine.
In other words, SEO rank tracking is crucial in staying updated in online markets. Catch the opportunities before others optimize their SEO effort to beat you.
How does SEO ranking work?
SEO ranking indicates the quality of a web page in answering the searchers’ queries compared to similar web pages.
Since the top three pages get most of the search traffic, high SEO rankings are crucial in getting visitors to your web pages. You can only increase your leads and sales, especially if you run an online business.
Search engines assess the quality of a web page based on several factors, such as the 10 factors here. Improving on these factors will raise your rankings.
Why these factors? Read our guide on how search engines work to gain a thorough understanding of how your web pages are evaluated by them.
Want to check how your web pages measure up against these criteria? Use the SEO rank tracking tools below.
SEO rank-tracking tools
The top-rank tracking tools below all have tutorials, lite versions, and trial periods for you to learn how to use them.
Here we offer an overview of the standard features you can expect in most tracking tools.
Your needs vary. In this article, our recommendations aim to serve solopreneurs and small to medium businesses.
(If you are an enterprise, chances are you’ve already had your chosen SEO tools and processes).
Disclaimer: as an agency, we use SEMRush and Ahrefs.
The tools are built upon tracking variables, such as:
- Number of single keywords (no corresponding URLs)
- Number of URLs (pages, sites, competitors, industry)
- Periods (Present (today, this week, this month). Historical (going back how far?). Future forecasts)
- Locations (city, country, world region)
- SERP features (results, People Also Ask, Ads, Video, Images, News, etc.)
- Search Engines (Google, Bing, Yandex, etc.)
- Ads costs for given keywords and URLs
These variables influence the pricing. For example, tracking 1000 keywords likely doubles or triples the cost of tracking 100 keywords. Keyword variation is another pricing factor. It is easier and cheaper to track a primary keyword and ten of its variations than to track ten different keywords.
Clarify your needs so that you can gradually scale up.
The tools use these tracking variables to measure SEO metrics, such as:
- search volume
- keyword difficulty
- average position
- search visibility
- domain authority
- on-page and off-page SEO quality
We can get significantly different results from one tool to another. For the same keyword, we have seen a web page ranking 7 according to one tool and 13 according to another, while Google ranked it at 9. All tools are different, use their database and report more or less in real-time.
If you want to triple-check, go to Google, but you can check only one keyword here. For 100 keyword rankings, use the tools but also accept the gaps. Once you start a campaign, you should always stick to one tool only (for example, don’t start tracking with Ahrefs, then check on Semrush).
In addition, look for other user-friendly qualities, such as:
- How the interface displays the data:
- Is it intuitive?
- Does it display just enough info, or too much?
- Is customization easy to use?
- Reports: regularity and detail. By email, download, or alerts.
- Is it affordable to start?
- Is the price of scaling up reasonable for you?
Whatever your choice of tools, the challenge is making sense of the data.
- How good are you at reading graphs and tables?
- Can you tell a story about these trends?
- Can you extract actionable strategies from the reports?
A helpful tool can offer you immediate insights and advice, which would be good enough with a new site.
But as your business grows, expect to dig deeper into the data, cross-check the tools, and troubleshoot problems. Think like a detective: know what you measure, track meaningful metrics, connect the dots, and try different solutions.
SEO is an art and a science, with a sprinkle of luck.
Here are some of the best free and paid SEO rank tracking tools.
There is no ‘real’ free tool for rank tracking. Some tools let you start with a free trial period; some offer minimal functionality for a simple checkup, but it leaves you wondering what to do afterward.
With that said, there are some ‘free’ tools we have enjoyed over the years:
- Google Search Console
- The Hoth
Google Search Console
This should be your first SEO tool (if it’s not already).
You can only audit your site. You cannot compare with your competitors.
With its six filters, this tool can help you answer these questions (and more) about a given page for a given keyword:
- What is the most attractive type of content (web, image, or video)?
- What is the best time of the year for your web pages?
- Which countries do your visitors access your pages from?
- Which device do your visitors access your pages?
- Which are your best-performing pages over time?
As the filters are layered, you can get very specific about your website traffic.
There is a lot you can do with Google Search Console.
A free rank checker, Reddico SERP Speed is a web page performance tracker tool. It shows the data for only one keyword and page and whether that page appears in the top 100. It also compares the best-performing pages for a given keyword.
This works for you if you have a brand-new website with a handful of pages. All you can do with it is to check each page individually for your short list of intended keywords.
However, in most cases, your very new pages would most likely be below the top 100, so in our opinion, this feature is not very useful.
The Hoth’s Google Rank Checker is straightforward and quite reliable (it is sourced by SEMRush data). You don’t have to sign up for an account; you only need the page you want to check. Enter the URL and get a list of your best-performing keywords for that page. You will see which keywords attract the most traffic and their rankings over time.
Limitation: this tool only tracks Google results in four countries: the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK.
We compare some popular rank trackers and why they stand out based on the following:
- Exceptional features that we like
- Price: the starting price as of April 2023 (when this article is first published). For updated pricing, please see their websites.
- $: less than $50/month
- $$: from $50 to $100/month
- $$$: more than $100/month
These tools offer features that satisfy most SEO and website auditing purposes. They bill based on the number of keywords, searches, and reports.
|SE Ranking||Has a demo account that enables you to quickly walk through the features before starting the free trial||$|
|SEO Monitor||Various levels of keywords & keyword groups||$|
|RankTracker||Daily email alerts||$|
|SEMRush||Has a free version
Shows lots of data for each keyword
Paid ads options
Social media trackers
Intuitive and good-looking interface (with customizable dashboard for external reporting)
|SERPStat||Local SEO: Google, Yandex||$$|
|Ahrefs||See competitors’ top-performing pages globally
Best and most accurate for backlinking
Tracks outgoing links
|Accuranker||Specializes in rank tracking & SERP analytics||$$$|
These are the APIs that scrape search engines for raw data of SERPs.
|SERP API||Location-specific SERP raw data for Google||$$|
|Zenserp||Google Image, Trends, Maps, News, Youtube,
Pros: raw data allows you to build custom tools
Cons: you must know how to code
How to use: integrate the data into other tools or request the API via a programming language.
SEO optimization tips
The best SEO tracking tools give you tips on improving your performance based on your situation. There are too many for us to cover here.
Instead, we offer some evergreen tips. You can try these starting points before digging deeper for a more particular solution.
Optimize on-page elements
Include your target keywords in essential on-page elements such as title tags, meta descriptions, headers (H1, H2, H3), and image alt tags. However, avoid keyword stuffing and maintain a natural keyword density.
Focus on producing well-researched, valuable, and informative content that satisfies user intent and solves your target audience’s problems.
Improve site structure and navigation
Ensure your website has a logical and user-friendly structure, explicit internal linking, and easily accessible content. Build a flat structure instead of a deep structure.
A well-organized site makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index your pages.
Implement responsive web design
Ensure your mobile-friendly website looks great across all devices and screen sizes. Use responsive design techniques and test your site’s mobile performance regularly.
Build high-quality backlinks
Develop a link-building strategy to acquire relevant, authoritative, and high-quality backlinks. You can do the following:
- Guest blogging
- Broken link building
- Create shareable content to attract valuable links
A white-hat link-building strategy goes beyond website building. It involves knowing your community and your audience, where they hang out, and joining them there. This includes various activities, such as events, podcasts, interviews, guest posts, partnerships, and social media. Try platforms like Amazon, Quora, Reddit, and Linkedin when appropriate.
Be proactive in reaching out, and be generous in your offerings.
Common mistakes in SEO rank tracking
Do not downplay the importance of backlinks and link building
Of all the ranking factors, quality backlinks are the biggest heavyweights.
Earning a quality do-follow backlink – one from a page with high domain authority – takes a lot of hard work, but it is well worth a small celebration. These backlinks bring definitive added value to your rankings.
Do not overlook the impact of page speed and mobile-friendliness
In 2023, being mobile-first is already outdated. Now it is ‘mobile-only.’ Expect most of your audience to access your pages from a mobile device, using a sometimes sketchy internet connection. If the page does not load, they bounce. So a fast page speed and a mobile-friendly user experience would earn you some big jumps on the rankings.
Google even informed the community that what is not visible on mobile but visible only on desktop may be ignored. Avoid having “content cut” on your mobile version due to lack of space.
Do not rely too heavily on automated SEO tools without human input
Yes, this article is about how excellent the tools are at helping you. But that is what they do – to help, not to run the whole campaign. You may have heard of AI-powered tools and their almost magical abilities, and we are excited to see what they can do next. But for now, SEO rank tracking still needs human analysis and interpretation.
Understanding the trends accurately, communicating their significance to the stakeholders, and finally, drawing up an action plan forms the skill set of a competitive SEO performer.
Do not forget to keep up with the latest SEO trends and algorithm updates
Google Search updates its algorithms thousands of times per year, a handful of which are significant updates with the power to transform your ranking picture. Follow the updated practices to capitalize on the trends. In SEO, we cannot afford to stay out of the loop.
Do not overlook long-tail keywords with low search volume
Despite the low search volume, long-tail keywords are well-targeted. They serve audiences deep into the user journey, with specific searches that would most likely lead to a desired action. You will have less competition and quicker results by targeting long-tail keywords.
How important is SEO ranking in 2023?
SEO ranking is just one of the indicators of a well-performing SEO strategy. Ultimately, it is about getting more qualified, high-converting traffic. Better rankings only mean you will, more likely, not definitely, get more traffic. This may have worked in previous years when the SERPs offered only links to web pages.
Now there are many other SEP features: videos, People Also Ask, or snippets that answer searchers’ queries without having them click on any link. With the rise of AI chatbots, search engines like Bing strive to answer search queries via chat (combining various sources) rather than directing users to separate web pages.
Therefore, in 2023, SEO rankings may be deprioritized; instead, we should start tracking click-through rates as a more accurate traffic indicator.