As you may have heard, Google is clamping own on how tool owners use their APIs. For many businesses these policy changes raise some serious concerns, and for many SEOs, the moved seemed to herald the end of their world.
Hearing about Raventools dropping support for rank tracking next year, got me mulling over some questions. How valuable are rankings? Will our clients be upset without this data? How do we use rankings anyway?
I’ve been doing SEO for 7+ years now, and I can’t imagine not having rankings data to see what’s working and what isn’t. As the founder of an SEO software dashboard that provides rank tracking too, I'm committed to providing rank tracking data to our customers - even if that means never having access to the Adwords API.
Asking The Experts
I decided to ask a few well-respected agency owners their thoughts on rank tracking, as well as offer a few ways I see some of our own customers using rank data.
Patrick Altoft, Direct of Search at Branded3 in the UK says rankings are valuable to his agency, writing to me in an email, he said:
"Try telling a client who makes £1m+ per year profit from a single keyword that rankings are not important.
We report on rankings and don't shy away from using them as a key metric in our campaigns. Clients understand them and as long as you tie everything back to visits, revenue and profits there is nothing wrong with that."
Joost, well known Wordpress SEO plugin author and consultant at Yoast takes a slightly different angle saying about rankings,
"…It's not a metric I often talk with clients about, but it is one of the methods I use for myself to see what's happening and whether specific keyword groups are affected. I think rankings are mostly useful in larger groups and when segmented properly."
I think Joost hits the nail on the head on why SEOs use rankings data internally: intelligence. Rank tracking data can help you identify issues and opportunities fast.
Here’s a few other ways I see our agency clients at SERPs.com using rankings data.
1. Use rankings to spot penalties and Google updates quickly
It can be really easy to identify a Google penalty using rank data. Especially in larger sites, a specific page or keyword getting penalized could get lost when just looking at higher level traffic patterns. A penalty or updates becomes very clear however when you look at a historical ranking:
2. Identify high ROI keywords that rank lower than #1.
Good SEO requires hard work, execution and usually a large chunk of time and labor creating content, fixing on-page issues and defining long-term strategy. So for many marketers, rank data provides a way to identify keywords that can provide the most impact to ROI.
For many businesses a few key terms can drive a significant amount of their online business. Knowing where your key terms rank in Google, and how much traffic those terms are getting can help you identify where you spend valuable time. Key terms with significant traffic that rank 2-10 are ripe for a SEO to analyze:
3. Simplify the SEO discussion.
In a corporate environment, while SEO is more well known and respected than ever, not everyone lives and breathes it the way we do. Being able to show a simple metric that moves up or down like rankings is a way to get your team invested. It’s a simple way to show progress to others in your company that may not understand a metric like "non-branded organic traffic".
When dealing with clients who have hired you because they don’t do "computer things" rankings are often the one metric that they can understand. Higher rankings = more traffic and more revenue for their business. It just makes sense to them. They hired you so they can focus on running their business, not watching or figuring out what the heck "non-branded organic traffic" is.
Scott Hendison, aka the Search Commander, added this about how his clients view rankings, "You can tell site owners that 'rankings don't matter' until you're blue in the face, and they still want them."
4. Get more SEO budget with a rankings improvement forecast.
If you know what positions your keywords are in, and how much traffic on average they get over, say a 30-day period, it’s a pretty easy calculation to generate projected traffic if you ranked higher using one of the many CTR datasets available.
Once you know a good range of how much extra traffic you could get, you have a slam dunk, data-driven recommendation to show a boss or client on what you could do with a higher SEO budget.
5. Use rank movement to prove SEO progress is being made.
Rankings are a leading indicator. They are one of the first metrics to improve once you start a SEO campaign. A keyword moving from 50 to 20 overnight in Google won’t bring more traffic (no one goes past the first page), but it’s obvious that something changed. It’s a positive signal that you moved 30 positions in a day, even if traffic hasn’t started to increase yet.
Rank tracking is useful when used intelligently.
Rank tracking is still valuable to SEOs. It’s valuable for internal SEO strategy, as well as for communicating with clients. It’s not the end-all-be-all SEO metric, nor should it be. But when combined with other metrics, it can be a very powerful tool in your SEO superbelt.