SEO Ranking Data: Tracking Passively and Actively

On tracking SEO Ranking DataPeople ask me at times whether I talk about SEO ranking data with my clients and/or monitor it for them. In almost all cases I do monitor it, in some cases, we talk about them, in a lot of cases we don’t, as it’s just not that reliable of a metric. On the other hand, with Google hiding referral data more and more, we’ll need to track rankings to guesstimate some of our improvements. So let me show you what tools I use and how I use them.

Clicky (aff) has recently added what I call passive rank tracking to their already awesome analytics package. André wrote about stuff you can do with the rank tracking in the Google referrer data over 2 years ago here on Yoast. About 2 years ago as well, I used this same referrer data to build a passive rank tracker, independent of Google Analytics, because I wanted to do things with that SEO ranking data that I couldn’t do in Google.

The one metric I wanted most of all from that big blog of SEO ranking data is the average rank from referrers. You see, because of personalized search results, rankings are never the same and there’s no “good” way of tracking the impact of personalized search. Now you have a semi decent average in Clicky though, so I like that.

Because Clicky has a pretty decent API too, you could use this to do all sorts of cool stuff. I use this kind of data in combination with Authority Labs and a new toolset in my arsenal, SEscout. Authority Labs shows me all sorts of info about universal search other tools don’t give me, SEscout does hourly rankings when you have a paid account, which helps me track fluctuations in “the force” more easily.

SEO Ranking Data in Aggregate

Rankings for specific keywords are very often not that interesting for my clients, as outside of the clients for my website reviews, most of my SEO clients tend to think in tens or hundreds of thousands, if not millions of keywords, not one, two or ten. So for them I track rankings in aggregate, something you should probably do too if you track more than a couple of keywords. You can then answer questions like “how did we do on this keyword group”, “how did we do on that keyword group”. Authority Labs allows you to tag keywords which makes this kind of analysis even easier.

I then compare that aggregate number to the SearchMetrics data for their site and see how good that number is (usually they correlate very highly), after which I can see how well their competitors did using SearchMetrics as well.

The issue is with both Authority and SEscout: they don’t give you the complete view because they don’t do personalized search, which is good, because we want to know our “real” ranking, but it’s also bad, because it might not always correlate well with our traffic. That’s where the extra layer Clicky added comes in, which allows us to see just how much personalized search impacts those real rankings. For quite a few of my own keywords I can see that without personalized search, I’d get a lot less traffic, while for others it’s completely the other way around.

Always correlate SEO ranking data with Analytics!

Of course, no ranking is worth anything if you can’t correlate it to a decent amount of incoming traffic. Luckily, both the Google Analytics and Clicky API allow you to easily correlate the two and see where you have a chance of gaining more traffic.

One of my favorite ways of looking at sites SEO ranking data is looking at where they rank inbetween #5 and #10 that’s already sending traffic. If a keyword you rank #8 for consistently sends you traffic, that’s a keyword with enough traffic to optimize for and see if you can get into the top 5 or even the top 3.

And now, it’s your turn! How and where do you use SEO ranking data? Share it in the comments!

Image credit: financial chart from Shutterstock.

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20 Responses

  1. Mark AylwardBy Mark Aylward on 21 November, 2011

    The more time I spend reading and researching about SEO, the more I become convinced that quality and relevant content, with a consistent use of relevant anchor text is all that’s really necessary for decent traffic in a particular niche. I’m sure this sounds a bit silly to an SEO expert, but many people get totally lost in the detail and produce lousy irrelevant content as a result. Your thoughts?

    • Jamie CurranBy Jamie Curran on 21 November, 2011

      I think the article is great and informative. I try to read and absorb the interesting things that make it to my screen and this is one. I also agree with Mark in his comment that the core activity should be links with consistent anchor text for your niche.

      • Angelica TurleyBy Angelica Turley on 7 December, 2011

        Yes, yes, yes relevant content is the key in cyber space to all content or we would be lost. Mark you are right as a newbie the internet is like getting off the train in a huge city with no destination address. That is exactly how I feel. Thank you all for this comments that give me ideas and more questions for my trainer like give a sample of what anchor text is. More blogs is Jeff’s idea I keep to analyze traffic, I think. Thank you all.

    • Michael Rurup AndersenBy Michael Rurup Andersen on 21 November, 2011

      I do agree that sometimes SEO’s can get lost in details, yet most of the times it’s necessary. It helps a lot when wanting to get the most out of inbound traffic, both in sales and SEO-vice.

      Thanks for a good post!

      And I just added some new tools to my list of tools I want to try out.

    • Derek MortonBy Derek Morton on 6 December, 2011


      I absolutely agree. I get more traffic with the anchor text than when I focus on going full on SEO with every sentence. Plus with the continued rise of Social Media, we’ve got a few other ways to help drive traffic to our sites. The real power is utilizing both tools

    • jeremyBy jeremy on 7 December, 2011

      I agree. Once you’ve grasped the basic concepts just write great content – though it helps to remember to use all the header tags and image alt tags and what not.

  2. NavigacijaBy Navigacija on 21 November, 2011

    I Agree with that no ranking is worth anything if you can’t correlate it to a decent amount of incoming traffic

  3. Rajesh NamaseBy Rajesh Namase on 22 November, 2011

    I agree, very good and informative article.

  4. mahenderBy mahender on 23 November, 2011

    “automatic or programmatic queries to Google” is a big NO and sometime lead to Google penalty, I believe these tools need to take up above way to get ranking data.
    Do u think that it is safe to use them?

  5. Marty RogersBy Marty Rogers on 24 November, 2011

    I agree with Mark, it’s all about sticking with the fundamentals when it comes to performing SEO and not overcomplicating things. Do the work, see the results, it really is that simple.

  6. Scott McCullochBy Scott McCulloch on 24 November, 2011

    Thanks for the article and the SEscout link (it’s what I have been looking for)

  7. Grant BrookesBy Grant Brookes on 24 November, 2011

    Is anybody aware that whether the last update from Google has made any difference to the SEO Ranking Data?

  8. Cameron BaileyBy Cameron Bailey on 25 November, 2011

    Just want to thank you again for a great article. Its been bookmarked for a few days and I finally got around to it.

    I loved your comment about keywords ranked at 5-10 getting traffic as an opportunity. That is a great thought.

  9. sydneycoolBy sydneycool on 25 November, 2011

    Thanks Joost – as always a great article – you always explain SEO simply esp. for beginners like me. This has some nice tools I didn’t know about.

  10. tobiBy tobi on 27 November, 2011

    Very useful.
    It very useful knowing what keywords will get you traffic, and I totally agree with the last paragraph. I would also try and find out what other keywords are being used by the top competitors for a specific keyword search.

  11. Ryan O'MearaBy Ryan O'Meara on 27 November, 2011

    Very often I have clients who obsess about ranking for new keywords. What I tend to do is take a look at the rankings they already have, but are sitting between positions 4 and 10. I’ve found getting an increase on a pos 4 to a pos 2 can often send way bigger numbers through to my client’s sites than a brand new first page ranking. Sometimes I think there’s too much focus on volume of different keywords on page 1 rather than number of keywords sitting in the top 3 spots.

  12. Baadier SydowBy Baadier Sydow on 28 November, 2011

    Great post Joost. I was thinking something similar while looking at a keyword list in the 100′s earlier today and just wondering where to start on it.

  13. Jason GerardBy Jason Gerard on 28 November, 2011

    Great post Joost.

    You’ve highlighted a few key areas that I found very interesting. I think the concept of moving from a ranking around #10 on a keyword that’s driving traffic up to the Top 3 is a great concept. Particularly as you already know the site is attracting visitors, and the search term is commonly used.

    I’ve found some people want to use very very specific terms, which may rank well, but don’t generate much traffic. Just a question are you also using Webmaster Tools to verify some of these analytics figures?

  14. Jeff DownerBy Jeff Downer on 5 December, 2011

    You’re right, at the end of the day the real metric is traffic not particular key word rankings. With so much data to sort through it’s easy to lose sight of that.

  15. Jeff FolgerBy Jeff Folger on 6 December, 2011

    I have several blogs and all are with the same host do you think I would get better rankings if I had a couple of hosts? I frankly need to read more of your SEO articles. I only look for a few keywords but I need to know where to start… Keep up the good work.. Oh after Panda I went from a PR3 to a PR5 and it may be just because I went over 8yrs longevity on my blog.