10 Jan 2013

Why Ranking Reports Are Now More Important Than Ever

I once told Arienne that “rank checking” was my heroin. Of course, heroin is a dangerous drug that has potentially lethal consequences. However, checking the rank of your web site for a target term can be very addicting while being counterproductive to your overall marketing health.

No one articulates this so eloquently as Jill Whalen over at High Rankings. In fact Jill has been one of the strongest voices against rank tracking. But many in the SEO industry rely on ranking reports to gauge success and to appease clients that need simple metrics to gauge ROI.

This debate over ranking reports has been a long time discussion in the SEO industry. Google has always taken a negative stance on SEO’s that track rankings, especially with automated processes. However, they have recently stepped up their assault on rank reporting by pressuring some of the largest tool vendors to forgo ranking reports in order to receive access to other “Google sanctioned” data like the AdWords API.

As I mentioned above, I used to love ranking reports and saw them to be the crux of any continuing SEO campaign. However, now I am less infatuated with ranking reports, and more interested in the data they provide. What’s the difference you ask?

Archives of ranking data for a large array of keywords and pages across a domain can be extremely valuable when running initial analysis and developing forward strategies. It’s because of this, that I think ranking data will become the single most important metric for SEO in 2013 and beyond.

I can already hear a collective groan led by Jill. 😛

Here at Internet Marketing Ninjas our client analysis team is responsible for running comprehensive audits and analysis on incoming clients. Part of this process is learning the historical relationship between the engines and the client’s domain. For this task I like to tune into Google Analytics (or other vendors), Google Webmaster Tools, and yes, ranking reports. All three of these data sets are vital to understanding how Google has interpreted the domain in the past.
Understanding this historical relationship is vital for moving forward. Continuing updates like Google Panda and Penguin need to be resolved before any further strategy is developed. In my honest opinion ranking data is the best way to identify these changes.

Now, let me be clear when I say “ranking data”, I am not talking about the position for one or two terms. I am more interested in looking at the bulk of rankings over time, and identifying trends. For example, if your site loses significant rankings for one or two terms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have been affected by an algorithm update. However, seeing 10 to 20 terms change position by more or less than 15 positions, is an absolute sign that a change has taken place, changes like that need a specific strategy moving forward.

What about referring organic traffic?

Many SEOs don’t use ranking reports for this type of analysis. In fact most tend to zero in on organic referral traffic found in Google Analytics. But the problem with traffic data alone, is it only shows trends for terms and pages that are already ranking well. For example if a client has a majority of their keywords ranking on page 3 or 4, and during the next Panda update those rankings drop to around page 8 or 9, there’s a good chance that the client won’t even notice. Because pages that rank on 3 or 4 tend not to acquire enough traffic to show a notable trend. If the client never recognizes this change, they may continue with an expensive SEO campaign without seeing any results because they never fixed the underlining issue.

Focusing on ranking reports for the future success of a campaign is what Jill calls a “fools errand”. But, completely ignoring historical ranking data when developing strategies moving forward, can be detrimental to understanding how to respond to algorithm updates and changes.

So my best advice when it comes to ranking reports, is to continue to collect the data, but not use the metrics for calculating ROI or gauging success. In fact you might not need to even regularly check them until analysis is needed.

When you go to a new doctor they usually want to take in all of your medical history. Sometimes, this means filling out large surveys, or having your medical records sent in from another location. This is important because without this data medical professionals can’t accurately diagnose and develop a suitable treatment. Traffic data, Google Webmaster Tools, and ranking reports are like your web site’s medical history. In order to develop a successful strategy/treatment SEOs need to have access to it all. So the next time someone says that ranking data isn’t important, remember that it can be extremely important when the health of your SEO campaign is in jeopardy.


  1. Lyndon NA (theAutocrat) January 10, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    I’m so tired of seeing people bad-mouth Ranking/SERP Position reports.
    To me, it just goes to show how limited many are in regards to their perception of SEO and what that data can be used for.

    If you don’t know what terms bring you what traffic, if you don’t know that traffic arrives due to what terms – how are you expected to;
    1) reduce bounce rate/increase retention rate
    2) target finer/more accurately
    3) convert better
    4) providing assistive/relational links for the “nigh quite right” visitor

    There is so much more to it than just “you rank 5th for X”.
    If they don’t understand that, I feel sorry for them – but it doesn’t mean that they should force others to be so restricted/limited.

  2. Eric January 10, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    So you really think that ranking data will become the single most important metric for SEO in 2013? Very interesting and you have the information in this article to back that up. And I really apreccaite the great analogy in the end to wrap it all up! Maybe I need to be be checking my ranking data today!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. January 10, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    We’ve been having this discussion internally as well. Glad to hear you’re on my side Joe. 😀

  4. January 10, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    HI Joe,
    I love ranking reports, also. I don’t necessarily report rankings to clients – but it does help me keep track of how my efforts are either working or not working. Not sure I think this is the single most important metric in 2013, but I think it’s a really important one.

  5. Matt Mikulla January 10, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Right on Joe.

    When researching new business opportunities you don’t have access to analytics data. Ranking reports do not require access to marketing or IT.

    As you stated, they are great for analysis and strategy when engaged in a campaign.

  6. Joel January 10, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    I’ve never understood people who want to discard rankings altogether. YES, the net is getting more personalized and localized, so you will rank very differently pending dozens of factors.

    But just because the data might not be “clean” doesn’t mean it’s not USEFUL. If you’re not watching your rankings, how can you ever be sure that the things you are doing are improving visibility or helping you gain traction? Sure, traffic data is nice. As we march onward to “not provided”, we’re losing that.

    Traffic, rankings, conversions – these are all half-windows into success. You need their collective data to make sense of what is happening.

    Good thoughts, Joe

  7. SeoKungFu January 10, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    There is a huge difference between adapting to the changing realities than dissing and bashing a reporting technique just because it meanwhile evolved and is not what it used to be…

  8. Glenn Paul January 11, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    Nice post Joe… However, I am having a hard time confirming which data to rely on, when it comes to the ranking report. I say this because I use the data from Google analytics quieries and webmaster tools information to know the current position of the keywords. I get controversial data from both these tools and when I check the positions directly in Google, the data supplied is entirely wrong.

    Can you help me understand this:

    A keywords has 3600 exact match searches and we are on the first page for that keyword. So it should be getting 3600 impressions per month logically. But google analytics only reports around 100 impressions. Wondering why 😮

    1. Joe Hall January 11, 2013 at 12:50 PM


      I always say you need to take in all the data and make judgement calls from there. That includes using 3rd party tools for analysis. Also, the data you see in Google products aren’t exactly rankings….they are based on impressions and traffic…so you can see what terms are ranking from there, but never truly understand where you are until you combine that data with actual ranking reports from a 3rd party.

  9. Steven January 11, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    “the single most important metric for SEO in 2013 and beyond.”? Please. I totally agree with you that it is an important metric for analysis purposes when required, but single most important metric for SEO? I think not! Still, nice to see you rank first for “most important metric for seo in 2013” 🙂

    1. Joe Hall January 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM

      Steven, whats your favorite metric?

  10. Arienne January 11, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    I like being just a first name. I feel like Madonna. Oprah. Elvis.

    1. Joe Hall January 11, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      Yeah, you are now a personal brand!! LOL

  11. Craig Med January 11, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    This is so true. I’ve been trying to tell people this!

  12. January 14, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    With the quality evolution of the search engine algorithms the approach and methodology of achieving high rankings has changed but ranking high has always been important as only when you rank high your website can get the targeted search traffic which is the major marketing goal of the online marketing campaigns.

    High Rankings lead to a high CTR (Click Thru Rate) which leads to increased traffic with a potential for good conversions.

    Hence, SEO is beyond rankings does not mean that high SERPs are no longer a long term goal of an SEO campaign but it means that the website has to reach out and branch out and gain quality web presence before it is ensured of a good high ranking search presence.

    Had written in detail in May 2011 on http://blog.webpro.in/2011/05/seo-is-much-beyond-serps-but-importance.html

  13. January 14, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Great take Joe.
    I work in-house and I’m sort of divided on the issue.
    I personally think rankings data is one of the quickest ways to see exposure to algorithm updates. Additionally, rankings data used in conjunction with other data can be really revealing and help come up with strategy moving forward.
    That being said, I’ve known people that use ranking data as their ONLY success metric. Even in e-commerce where you can track data like non-branded organic revenue! This is where I think SEO’s sort of get annoyed with key word ranking data and begin to hate it 🙂
    Thanks again for the insightful read.

  14. Pedro Pereira January 16, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Great Article 🙂

  15. Gerrid Smith January 28, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    Google’s search results can differ based on who is searching. Google personalizes the results based on a ton of factors including location, previous searches and clicks, web history, social metrics and so much more. So proving a ranking report really doesn’t do justice to what the real searcher sees.

  16. Shar Wells January 29, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    This blog is very informative and the information provided in this article is very useful because we can always use more online tools.

  17. Andrea February 20, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    Hi Joe! Great post. What tool do you recommend for acquiring ranking data?

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