“What’s my Google rank?”
If you ever have launched and promoted a website, you have faced this question. And you probably used some rank tracking tools to check your site’s average search results and SEO reports. That’s what we did, too, for quite some time.
Rank tracking is a great way to find out what’s going on with your website. It’s easy to analyze and understand; it’s precise and easy to break down. But it does have some weaknesses. It’s limited. It doesn’t always show the same results — even if you’re searching the same keyword from the same location but different devices, there’s a chance you’ll end up with different results. Those are just a few of the drawbacks.
In this article, we’re telling the story of how we stopped tracking keywords: what happened, why we did it and what metrics we tracked (and are still tracking!) instead.
How We Used Rank Tracking Tools Until 2019
A short backstory: For seven years, we had been tracking Google keyword ranking for our own blog and for our clients’ blogs.
We used some tracking software during that time — the most popular tools, by the way — like Moz, Ahrefs and SEMrush. Here’s how.
#1. MOZ, to track search visibility
Moz positions itself as a tool for everything. Fair enough. It provides a number of features — from site crawling tools to link research and even customized and branded reports.
But as we found out, it works best when it comes to the Search Visibility feature. We used Moz for:
- Monitoring competitors. We benchmarked our website against our competitors’ sites. We also checked what type of content worked for them in terms of backlinks.
- Checking the spam score. The feature isn’t perfect for now, but it can give you an idea of whether the website’s link profile is legit or not.
- Prioritizing keywords. We used Moz to predict keyword performance. MOZ claims it’s 95% accurate.
We also used the MOZ’s Link Explorer a couple of times. However, it isn’t as good as the one Ahrefs has.
#2. Ahrefs, to research competitors and discover new article topics
Just like Moz, Ahrefs is another universal tool. We used it for:
- Skyscraping technique to get high-quality links
Here’s how it works:
- Find a good piece of content that has lots of backlinks (using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer or Content Explorer).
- Create a piece of content that is way better.
- Ask websites that link to the first piece to direct visitors to your content instead. You can contact them by email or use the comments section.
- Not all are going to answer, but it’s worth a shot.
- For gathering content ideas
We used Ahfers’ Content Explorer to find the best articles on topics we were interested in. There are over 10 filters (by language, published or republished, number of words, etc). Plus, it has an option to sort content by the number of shares on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
- For closing our content gaps
The Content Gap tool helped to find and close content gaps by seeing the keywords our competitors ranked for. Using this tool is a good way to understand where their traffic is coming from.
#3. SEMrush, to track positions and conduct site audits
SEMrush is a complete set of marketing tools, made for SEO experts. We used it for:
- Position tracking. SEMrush lets you choose a device for collecting statistics. For example, you can check how many desktop, tablet or smartphone visitors you have. This is very convenient, in case you’re not sure whether you need adaptive or responsive web design.
- Site auditing, which comes in very handy for checking:
- Slow-loading content
- Crawl errors
- Missing headers
- Overuse of keywords, etc.
- Backlink analysis. The backlink analysis lets you enter your site’s domain name and see the list of backlinks. This is convenient for checking the anchor text of each backlink, top-level domain distribution (.com, .org, .gov, etc.) and IP addresses.
Basically, that was it. No matter how brilliant all these tools were and how much they helped us automate the whole process, we still had to do some manual last-time checks. Just to make sure everything worked as expected.
Why We Aren’t Using Rank Tracking Tools Anymore
If keywords are that important in content promoting, why not cram them into your content as much as possible? Because you’ll be doing more harm than good. As the Google representative said, we need to pay less attention to keywords and more to valuable content. We couldn’t agree more. Back in the day, search engines judged pages only on web pages’ content, not any so-called off-page factors like the links pointing to it.
But it doesn’t work like that anymore.
Nowadays, you have to write content for people, not search engines. No matter how many high-ranking keywords you add, if your content doesn’t appeal to the end-user, you’re in trouble. We’re still using keywords to optimize the content — well-structured content, full of visuals, great examples and insights. Because that’s what SEO copywriting is all about: creating useful and valuable content that targets specific keywords.
Our experience confirms that first, you need to write useful content, then you add keywords. If you want to add them. We’re not saying that rank tracking is a bad idea. We used a keyword tracker — and sometimes still do — for every client we had. But to make great content, you need to go a bit further than just adding a couple of high-ranking keywords.
What Do We Track Now?
If we’re not tracking keywords, what are we tracking then? We’ve prepared a shortlist of essential metrics.
#1. Search Impressions
An impression here stands for the number of times someone has seen a site in search results.
As we’ve said at the beginning, rank tracking only tracks keywords you ask it to. That means it’s limited either by your budget or imagination, or both.
As reported by Google Search Console, impressions include any keyword you might happen to rank for. To compare, even search visibility trackers like SEMRush or Ahrefs operate a limited number of keywords.
#2. Long-Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are longer in length (3 words and more) than general keywords. They have lower search volume and thus lower competition level. What’s even more important, long tail keywords deliver higher conversion rates.
Let’s run a simple check.
For example, if you’re providing software development services, you may try ranking for such a popular general keyword as “best developers.” Google reports there are ~1,920,000,000 results with such a keyword. Looks like a whole lot.
Or you may try “best Node js software developers Europe” as a keyword — about 7,650,000 results. Far less than before.
To track long-tail keywords, you can use the same SEO tools we’ve mentioned:
#3. CTR and Contact Form Submission
Finally, we pay attention to the CTR and contact form submission.
Click-Through Rate will show you well your ads and free listings are performing. That will help you understand the issue and make content and visuals even more compelling and highly relevant.
To calculate the CTR, you need to divide your organic clicks / organic impressions.
Or use an online CTR calculator, like this one:
Form submissions are also quite common conversion actions, from registering for an event to submitting an estimation request. Often these form submissions are the primary goals of marketing campaigns.
Tools you can use for CTR and form submission tracking:
So, We Aren’t Using Keyword Trackers, Nor Looking to Be on First Positions. Here’s Why.
Google made quite a few improvements to its search console in the last few years. Now, we have advertisements and paid results, mark-up data, FAQs and YouTube videos ranking at the top of search results. Rumor has it that ranking in the top position is not good enough anymore.
At first glance, everything works just fine. Users get answers in seconds; there are lots of data formats to choose from. But even popular options aren’t perfect yet.
According to the research, 65% of Google searches ended without a click to another web property. One of the new SEO practices that make it happen is zero-clicks results.
The zero-click result stands for the direct answer to the user’s question right on top of the search page. If the answer is full enough, users don’t need to open any web pages.
Google introduced the feature to help users find the best and most relevant answers to their questions in a lightning-fast way. But such an approach also has cons.
As it’s for Google to decide which content is good enough to show up in the zero-clicks field, it may lead to:
- Google showing the popular but not fully accurate information
- Promoting paid content
- Giving short answers, not enough to understand the topic
- Keeping potential clients away from services that don’t belong to Google
Put simply, FAQ is just another subtype of the zero-clicks field we’ve just reviewed. Websites create a special markup to rank higher in Google, while users are supposed to see direct answers to their questions.
There’s a catch, though: People who see the information don’t always check its validity, accuracy and relevance. Not to mention that the FAQ field isn’t that big, so it’s impossible to add all the important details. For example, here’s what you get when you enter “healthcare software development” into the search box.
Though the information is quite helpful, it’s just a quick overview. The rates may vary depending on your region, company size and many other factors.
Voice search is getting popular too. Partially because of its convenience, partially with the rise of Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and other voice helpers.
The problem is that voice search requires not just special markup but also keywords, SEO optimization, and Google’s algorithms work a bit differently for it. Most sources can’t be read by Google. If you ask your voice assistant a question, you get only one answer, without a chance to listen to all the others. That may result in users getting really narrow information and not always from trusted sources.
By pushing to show the most relevant results, Google is often missing the point. That’s why racing for the first positions by tracking keyword rankings doesn’t always work.
If you’re into content marketing, make sure to improve your copywriting first. Add materials that contain relevant and accurate information and are at least 1,000 words long with images, infographics, quotes and links to trusted sources.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a keyword tracker. It’s just that quality matters the most (and Google knows that), even if your copy isn’t full of high-ranking keywords.
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