Organic rankings on Google are widely misunderstood, and ranking data is often obtained improperly and misinterpreted as a result.
Naturally, if you are conducting an SEO campaign, you will want to review ranking data; otherwise, you will not have an easy time evaluating whether your efforts are having a positive or negative result. The good news is, there is an accurate way to track rankings — and the even better news is, this method is free.
How Do Google Results Work Today?
The first point to understand is this: There is no longer any such thing as a single, consistent and universal keyword ranking. Google results are personalized based on your IP address, device type, search history, web history and other factors. Thus, when different people search Google for the same keyword, they see different results. In addition, a website rarely appears in the same position for the same keyword for searches during the span of even one day.
How Do Third-Party Google Ranking Tools Get Their Results?
Third-party tools used to check rankings commonly connect to Google through proxy networks. A proxy network provides the ability to make requests from a large pool of IP addresses (from locations throughout the world). These third-party ranking tools send huge numbers of automated requests to Google, which violates Google’s Terms of Service and Webmaster Guidelines, as they scrape the results and store the websites that are returned in each position.
Why Are Third-Party Google Ranking Tools Inaccurate?
With Google personalizing results for each searcher, a website will rank in different positions for the same keyword during the same day. The problem is that third-party ranking tools provide only a snapshot of where a website ranked at the exact moment in time when the automated query was sent to Google. Furthermore, the ranking that is returned may be personalized based on the IP address that the tool used to run the query. If you compare ranking results from two different tools for the same keyword, you are likely to see two different sets of results.
Some tools make use of the UULE Google parameter in an attempt to bypass localization and present “National” search results. The issue here is that a searcher will rarely see these “National” search results because their searches are being personalized. So, these results have little, if any, value in the real world of SEO.
Where Can I Get Accurate Google Ranking Data?
Google Search Console is the only place to get accurate ranking data: Google tracks all keywords that resulted in a searcher seeing your website in the results. Since your website is shown in different positions for the same keyword each day, Google provides an average ranking down to the hundredth decimal.
How Can I Use Google Search Console To Track My Rankings?
Using Search Console to track rankings is a matter of following a few fairly simple steps. Below are instructions, along with a few screenshots of the type of data you will see.
1. Make sure you have set up and verified Google Search Console for your website.
2. Log in to your Google Search Console account.
3. Once logged in, click on “Search Analytics” from the “Search Traffic” nav dropdown on the lefthand side of the page.
4. Once you are on the “Search Analytics” page, make sure the “Position” box is checked.
5. Next, click the “Queries” dropdown and select “Filter Queries”.
6. Once the “Filter Queries” overlay pops up, select “Query is exactly” and type the keyword you want to see rankings for in the “keyword” form field:
7. Next, click on the “Pages” dropdown and select “Filter Pages”.
8. Once the “Filter Pages” overlay pops up, select “URL is exactly” and enter the URL that the keyword you filtered is targeting:
9. You should see the average position for that keyword and target page:
Reviewing Google Search Console data regularly will help you identify where your SEO is working, and where it isn’t. At Straight North, we look at this data constantly, for our marketing as well as for each client. Whenever results change significantly — up or down — the next step is to probe deeper to understand why. This process, repeated over time, is a sure way to continuously improve your keyword focus and execution.