(And What to Use Instead)
Original article posted on WordStream, written by Megan Marrs on December 21, 2017.
What is a Rank Checking Tool?
There is an abundance of SEO rank checking tools on the web, each promising to deliver results on where your site ranks on Google for your chosen keywords.
For most keyword rank checking tools, all you need to do is type in a keyword, and the tool’s bot will scrape data from Google and spit out a number showing where you rank in Google for your key phrase.
Sounds like a dream come true? Well, sure. But a dream is all it is. In truth, keyword rank checking tools are pretty useless.
The Ranking Myth: There’s No Such Thing as Ranking
There was a time, years ago, where SEO rank checking tools were fairly accurate and could provide a decent assessment of how your site was performing and allow you to check website SEO rankings.
But those days are over, and this is no longer possible. Google has grown increasingly more sophisticated with its ranking algorithm and has added a host of new variables that affect how your site ranks in an individual’s Google search results page. We now encounter variables such as:
- Search History: A user’s search results page can vary depending on what websites they’ve visited in the past.
- Geography/Local Results: Google will show different SERPs depending on the current location of an individual and where they live.
- Social Media: If a user’s friends have +1ed a page, Google gives preference to the endorsement of friends.
- Device: SERPs can vary depending on the device you are using to search and how you are connected to the internet (wireless, mobile account, desktop, tablet, smartphone).
For Android users, even more personalization occurs with Google Now which takes into account your favorite hangouts and your daily commute.
These variable factors mean that it’s simply impossible for a SEO rank checking tool to determine how your site ranks because every individual users’ results will look different. One user may see your site appear in the 1st, 3rd, or 5th spot in Google’s SERPs, while another user may not see your page show up at all.
Gone are the days where users searched Google with a clean browser, no cookies, and no search history. Today web users search while logged into their personalized Google accounts, which means Google continuously tracks a user’s choices and decisions and will alter search results based on their actions (and that’s scary for reasons beyond proving the ineffectiveness of keyword rank checking tools).
Rank Checking Tools Put Blinders On You
A single site can rank on thousands of different keywords and their synonyms. Even if you could get an accurate reading on where your site ranks for a pre-selected keyword, it’d be pretty insignificant taking the big picture into account. What about the hundreds of other keywords people are using to find your site?
Getting too preoccupied with a few single keywords can have the blinder affect. Attention and focus is horded by a few keywords, when really you should be examining the other, less obvious keyword opportunities.
Better Than Rank Checking: Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
I know, you’re sad. You came here looking for keyword rank checking tools and now I’ve rained all over your SEO parade. Well fear not, we won’t cast you upriver without a paddle or two.
Marketers want to use SEO rank checking tools in order to get a measure on site performance. Both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can help you do just that, plus a ton of other awesome stuff no keyword rank checker could ever do.
- Visiting the Acquisition > Keyword > Organic will show you the keywords bringing visitors to your website.
- Behavior > Site Content > All Pages shows you your most popular website pages, helping you get a broad sense of what subjects are popular on your site. Use this info to generate ideas about what new, related keywords you could target.
Google Webmaster Tools provides ample data as well.
Search Traffic > Search Queries shows keyword queries bringing users to your site, as well as the number of impressions, clicks, and CTR you’re getting for each keyword. You can even see your average position for keywords (yes, this is showing your keyword ranking, but don’t forget, it’s an average and can vary a lot across different users).
In Webmaster Tools you can also see external links to your website, internal links, how Google is indexing your site, and tons more.
Rank Checking is so Last Year
SEO is changing, and it’s changing fast. It’s time to abandon outdated tools and old-school SEO dogma. Online marketing will only work for those willing to stay ahead of the game and adopt new, emerging strategies and best practices. Even with Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, it’s important to not get too entrenched in the ranking game and avoid becoming fixated on a few obvious keywords.
Keyword rank checking tools aren’t inherently bad (besides the fact that most don’t work). The problem is that they foster the mindset that all that matters is the keyword. This is dangerous thinking as Google continues to refine its algorithm and tries to purposefully break apart the pre-existing keyword ranking traditions.
The truth, although admittedly it sounds as corny as a Disney movie’s happy ever after, is that successful online marketing today (and therefore, successful SEO), is all about delivering quality content and not being afraid to think creatively. Businesses need to understand their audience’s intent and hone in on it. Do that, and you’ll have no problem seeing yourself rise to the tops of the Google SERPs, no ranking tools required.