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.