SEO Tools: Why & How to Track Rankings on Personalized Search
Long story short: You can see actual rankings in Google Search Console. Above you see the query [outreach message] and the number of clicks and impressions for my blog.
Yet there are also other tools beyond Google that help you find out where you actually stand and how people find you in search.
Yet does it make sense to track rankings in a world where search results are personalized to the point that Google gets accused of creating a filter bubble?
Tracking Rankings on Personalized Search
The software that most SEO experts still advise you to use or rather they use themselves are tools that allow to track rankings in search engines, mostly Google but also Bing, Yahoo etc.
A friend of mine who focuses on web design services asked ma a question a few days ago:
“Hey Tad, what professional tool do you use to track rankings?”
While I was quick to point out two tools or rather a software and a web app I was also intrigued by the complexity of such a simple question.
I ended up writing too many messages. While trying to explain the intricacies of SEO software choices I decided that the question
why & how to track rankings on personalized search needs a thorough answer.
So this blog post deals not only with SEO tools that allow you to track rankings but also with the broader ramifications of rank tracking in a personalized search world where rankings seemingly are obsolete.
Last but not least I want to tackle the almost philosophical question: Can I use software for SEO at all? If yes, what is the best SEO software then?
Another Layer of Personalization
You might have heard it: Google personalizes search results by default by now.
It means whether you like or not unless you have opted out and cleaned your browser your Google results are already personalized.
Google allegedly looks at your searches from the past and serves you pages you’ve visited via Google before. It’s not really new. It’s
just another layer of personalization.
Google has personalized results in manifold ways before that so that you already would see different results on in different countries, when logged in or based on your preferences and connections.
Even when searching Google.com for “software for seo” you’ll find different results based on
- where you are
- who you are
- your past Google searches.
You might argue that search results are almost entirely subjective.
Google personalizes only to some extent though. The level of personalization gets overestimated sometimes.
Rankings still do matter, at least to find out the objective position in Google in contrast to your own biased personal one.
Objective Rankings vs Actual Rankings
So there are basically two kinds of rankings, the rankings before personalization and afterwards.
Those afterwards are the actual rankings you see but Google of course rates or ranks results based on a plethora of different ranking factors or in Google’s own words “200+ signals“.
As an SEO you want o find out how you perform on Google search without the personalization layers. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Measuring rankings is only useful though when it’s not the only metric you use. When your rankings do not drive traffic, conversions and sales they’re worthless.
There are many tools that allow you to find out the objective rankings more or less accurately.
Tracking Rankings with Google Search Console
You also want to track your actual rankings. That is you want to know how actual searchers find your website, which keywords they use and where in the search results you have been found.
Google itself helps us here. Google added actual ranking, impressions and click-through data to what is now called Google Search Console.
Now you can actually see where the visitors come from even despite the catastrophic [not provided] data loss in Google Analytics.
They are assigned to actual keyword rankings on your site. You won’t see fixed rankings, you will notice that in most cases there is a range of positions you were ranking on depending of course on the manifold personalization features explained above.
The Google Search Console data is very helpful albeit not perfectly accurate as many people have complained.
While they may be right it’s one of the best data sources we have for actual rankings. Besides that we have some specialized analytics tools or some Google Analytics hacks.
Other Free Tools for Tracking Rankings
So you see, we have Google Search Console for the actual rankings: There are also quite a few of free tools to track rankings, especially when it comes to English language search results.
For localized Google versions in other languages you don’t have as many choices.
You can have that free for a bunch of keywords for free as well on KPMRS. They also offer paid accounts for their web app. KPMRS is also quite accurate.
I’m not sure whether their paid plan make sense though. It’s just that you have to pay a little more and you get a professional web bases software that offers ranking checks well.
The Best SEO Software to Track Rankings and Beyond
Of course there is no single best software for SEO. It depends of course on your requirements.
- Do you plan to practice simple old school SEO or do you want to engage in full fledged SEO 2.0 including social media participation and advanced SEO techniques?
- How much time do want to spend on per weekly with your SEO software or tool-set?
- Do want to track rankings only or do you need assistance with the actual SEO process?
- Are you beginner, an intermediate user, an advanced user or actually a SEO pro who wants to offer SEO services yourself?
For beginners and people who need actual help with the basic SEO process of their site or WebCEO (both desktop software or web app) might be the right option.
Some people have attacked me in the past for recommending WebCEO but it’s OK for beginners and for tracking rankings.
For intermediate users, people who spend only an hour or two weekly using it Advanced Web Ranking may be the best.
AWR is a rock solid desktop software from Romania. For old school SEO it’s perfectly enough. It shows you accurate rankings for Google versions around the world not only the English ones and you can even track certain Google data centers if you want to obsess about rankings.
For professional users aspiring to become experts who spend time daily with their Internet marketing tasks and SEO 2.0 practitioners Raven Tools is probably the best choice.
I’ve been an early beta tester of Raven, even before it was called Raven and they’ve provided a whole suite for SEO tasks.
They provide tools for tracking your link building efforts, social media optimization etc. but have stopped offering rank tracking a few year back.
You have to remember that such rank tracking tools show the “objective” rankings before personalization not the actual ones people may see.
These would be the rankings on a completely new computer and network nobody had used before and where the geographic location would be unknown.
What Software is Potentially Useful/Harmful for SEO?
We’re in 2021 but some people still fall prey to crap sold on the Web promising all kinds of miracles. Many legacy SEO software offerings fall into this category.
Any software that promises to automate your SEO efforts completely or to submit your website to search engines and directories is most probably harmful.
You can’t automate SEO in the sense of on site optimization of your website entirely.
Also organic link building can’t be automated without gaming the system. Search engine submission is obsolete altogether ever since Google appeared on the scene. You don’t do that at all unless you use XML sitemaps.
What can software for SEO actually do for you beyond tracking rankings?
The best SEO software actually focuses on measuring results, be it rankings, traffic or conversions and sales.
It’s about website analytics more or less. There are legit tools out there that make sense as an software for SEO.
These offerings don’t automate the entire SEO process but the parts that can be automated, the repetitive parts.
Also link building software can suggest link partners based on your website and link structure. Still I am no friend of this approach. It’s OK for beginners and intermediate users who have no time to wade through serious SEO.
In case you want to become an SEO pro you have to do the SEO yourself.
It’s the only way to learn it. I have tried numerous tools over the years and the better I get at SEO the less I use software.
The only exception is keyword research though: You will always need tools for keyword research, many of them are free luckily.
Keyword research tools to find out the best terms to use on your website are common. That’s a different topic though.
Hi Tad, thanks for the initial advice and also this post which goes into greater detail. Due to time retraints I’m going to give AWR a try and see how far that gets me but the Raven tools look extremely good, maybe for when I’ve engineered more time for the task. Cheers, Richard
Great post. Thanks for sharing these tools and tips. It is a very great help in mastering SEO and using SEO tools to make our sites boost up its ranking.
Hey Richard, thank you for the inspiration. It’s one of my better posts I think. Your question triggered it.
Also you are right: When you focus on other services, like web design, and SEO is just a small part of your business AWR is perfectly sufficient.
sheldon: You probably mean tracking rankings not boost them, the post doesn’t say much about boosting ;-)
Thanks for the post. I think that rankings are still a valid SEO metric. Despite the personalized search and all, you still need to have at least a basic idea of where you rank for your keywords and which way you’re headed, up or down.
As far as rank checking tools go I like Rank Tracker by LinkAssistant a lot, I think you could add it to your list.
Rick: True, I’ve tried Rank Tracker by Link Assistant a while ago and it worked fine but I had a problem with the interface.
It showed text on buttons in such a tiny font size to render it almost unusable. I’ve mailed the bug to the software vendors but they never fixed it.
I may take a look again.
+1 for Rank Tracker by LinkAssistant.
I also use Google Global for Firefox to turn off Un Search.
Being in Canada, one other problem I find with tracking rankings is localization. If I use a web service, like the ranking tracking that comes with my SEOmoz pro account, then the rankings are different from what I see when I track rankings in a *fresh* (cookies and cache cleared) browser in my city. So, to get around this, I have developed my own ranking tracking system built in PHP/MySQL. I have it installed on a web server located in my city, and it has a CMS for adding/editing/deleting domain/keyword combinations. It also tracks Google Local listings. It has a backend where you can see and chart your rankings over time. I plan to release the code for free to the community in the next couple months once I have my blog up and running on the new company site I am developing.
RP_Joe: Yes, I use Google Global as well but it doesn’t work for localization, so I still see German results in google.co.uk :-(
You can add &hl=en to the URL to fix that though.
Darren: Hell, yes, that’s a big issue. In fact most of us struggle with that. Tell me when you’re done. I’ll write about your tool . I can guarantee that you get a lot of links :-)
I’ve found the firefox add-on “Rank Checker” by SEO book to be quite accurate. You can schedule it to run daily, export the results to a csv and make a pretty graph using excel. Rank checker is good for beginners as its free and requires little configuration to get up and running.
A paid service you didn’t mention in your post is Authority Labs. AL checks your rankings daily and displays them in a graph and also shows you position movement +/- for your keyword rankings.
thank you for the feedback. Indeed I considered to add Rank Checker to the post above as I use it myself but I’m not sure about its accuracy. Searching here in Germany the results aren’t as good as with local tools.
So I only use it for quick & dirty checking. I often see me at #15 in Rank Checker when I’m actually on #11 or something like that.
Also as Rank Checker runs from your Firefox you don’t get an objective ranking report but one based on your IP thus a biased one.
Authority Labs looks good indeed. I’ve discovered it only recently though so I can’t recommend it just yet.
Good one Tad, I like Google webmaster tools rankings also. Even the top tier ranking programs like Bruce Clay and SEOMoz cant compete with the numbers from google itself. And if you are targeting a phrase that does not show up in “Top Search Queries” according to Google, then you are far off from a number one spot anyway. So IMHO thats one of the biggest charts to watch. From there, the keywords that actually drove traffic to your site according to your analytics and google webmaster tools is another key component to watch. So, I think we shouldnt agonize over rankings too much, and focus our efforts and budgets on the campaign.
Optimising is more than just rankings. It is ranking for the right keywords that can convert.
By concentrating just on appearing at #1 you are being distracted from the real goal – to convert useful traffic.
That being said, thanks for the links to the tools :)
Marc, sedunia: That’s true to some extent. I’m watching Google Analytics all the time and now GWT more often as well but sometimes they can’t tell you what you want to know.
For instance there are keywords with lots of traffic that don’t make business sense while others get sales with a few clicks.
Also you need to track progress over time and see whether there are correlations between rankings, search traffic, conversions and sales.
So sometimes I just take a look
at my rankings to know why convesrions and sales have gone down.
Also clients can’t use Analytics like we can. They need some simply graph for their rankings to see here is some progress.
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In terms of the localization issue you can use proxies in AWR so setting up your own VPS to act a secure proxy in all required locations gives you the “correct” results.
Note: Make sure it is a secure proxy!
Free Monitor for Google is a good tools for google keyword position
Thanks Tianxin, I completely forgot about Free Monitor for Google. I’ve used it back then in 2005 but Google has blocked it around 2006 and then I switched.
Does ist still work or rather does it work again?
I’d not even heard of Raven, I’ve been using various tools for a few years now *trots off to go have a look*
I work at an SEO firm and I think you just have to be consistent. If you work with too many different tools you get information overload. We use a web based rank tracking system. We find this to me most effective because then you don’t spend half your day banned from google because you did too many searches. Plus the tool is using the same method to check your ranking each time and it does it unpersonalized.(http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=all) – still not perfect but it’s a safer bet.
Steve: Yeah, Raven is must know by now.
Chris: Yes, in case you have the resources and expertise like those a SEO company has that’s certainly the best solution.
Also you are right that you should beware of information overflow.
Choose the best tool for you and stick with it. It’s important though to have a 2nd tool as a backup in case the main one fails.
I think many people are missing out on the helpfulness of Google Webmaster tools. Lots of helpful free stuff out there. And your point about personalized search is well made. It does have an impact but that impact has been overblown a bit.
Wonderful stuff! Ive been depending on a monitoring site to check the ranks of my sites. I just wonder how to do it alone. Thanks for the tips!
This is very useful. Thanks for the hints… I am wondering how to keep track of my page ranking…
Using Google Webmasters tools to personalize your search and utalise the information available to you and your customer is vital, i do agree that you can have information and statistic overload if your not careful.
Good updates on the useful seo tools. Google webmaster tools allow various functionality regarding seo. Also the raven seo tool is growing to be popular with its varied set of tools that help both tracking and reporting. Nice sharing.
With the recent Google Panda update, I don’t really want to look at the ranking anymore.