Rankings have always been the top measure of SEO success. They were what every new and seasoned practitioner alike strove for.
But over the last few years Google have stirred this up a little.
Since 2011 the search giant has been making constant changes to results pages – introduced personalised and localised results, started showing videos and products in organic search and many more, making SERPs unique to a search phrase, location and other factors.
As a result, many SEOs began to question if monitoring rankings still makes sense.
Well, I believe it does.
And I am going to prove it to you.
1. Rankings are the only accountable result of your work
Conversions, engagement or other metrics many SEOs prefer to track instead of rankings these days can be attributed to many departments.
Keyword positions on the other hand are solely the result of SEOs work.
2. They indicate success or failure
SEMrush Position Tracking Visibility Index report showing the effect of SEO strategies on the websites presence in Google
Similarly, rankings change over time is a powerful indication of SEO success or failure.
Continuously increasing visibility in search – be it through improved rankings or increase in number of keywords the site ranks for is a clear sign that whatever you do is working.
The opposite however might indicate that your strategies are insufficient for the goal you want to achieve.
3. They also give a very good indication where your site stands in relation to competition
SEMrush Position Tracking report showing a comparison or website’s rankings vs. its competitor for the same keyword
A screenshot of weekly SEMrush Position Tracking email report presenting changes to rankings to a website and its two competitors
Rankings can also tell a lot about your efforts in relation to competition.
Monitoring and analysing competitors rankings can help you spot new gains:
- Identify new keywords you should optimise for,
- Transactional or high value keywords worth focusing on or
- Opportunities to beat competition with minimum effort.
4. Keywords help spot SEO problems
SEMrush Organic Positions report showing Ebay’s loss of keyword rankings after Panda4.0 update in May, 2014
Fact: a sudden change in rankings can indicate SEO related problems better than site traffic or any other metric.
Why, because for one, traffic naturally fluctuates depending on current search trends and seasonality. And therefore a small dip in the number of visitors can easily go unnoticed. Not to mention that without keyword data in Analytics investigating potential problem is almost impossible.
An unexpected drop in ranking for specific keywords on the other hand immediately suggests a problem – Google update rolling out, manual penalty or perhaps a technical problem with the website.
5. Rankings help track the results of your experiments
SEMrush Keyword Rankings report showing a result of a meta title change on website’s position for a particular keyword
It’s an unfortunate fact but there are no golden solutions in SEO. A lot of the time, to improve your rankings you need to experiment. These experiments could be as simple as making changes to meta-tags and content or as complex as redeveloping page templates.
But they all have something in common – they affect how your site performs in search. And, the only way to measure their effect is through monitoring changes in keyword rankings.
6. Help identify keyword opportunities
SEMrush Domain vs Domain comparison tool report showing common and individual keywords of two competing websites
I am sure there are plenty keywords you should optimise for but don’t. You just don’t realise many of them. Your competition on the other hand, they already know about them and focus their efforts on them. By monitoring their rankings you can discover new keyword opportunities.
But similarly tracking your own rankings can help identify ways to increase your search visibility:
- Keywords that could bring good results with little additional effort. Let’s say you have a number of keywords for which you rank on 2nd page of search results. Focusing on those might be a better solution than working on keywords that lag behind the 5th page for instance.
- By pairing keywords with conversions you can discover best transactional keywords. Not all keywords sell. Some bring only people looking for information, others those who still compare solutions before they buy. Knowing which keywords offer a chance for conversion and their search rankings can help you identify next actions and plan your work ahead.
Constant changes to Google SERPs might render monitoring rankings obsolete. However, without knowing how your site performs in search you have no way of knowing if your campaigns are successful, tests work and identify potential problems with the site.