SEO Tools: Why & How to Track Rankings on Personalized Search

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Actual rankings in Google Webmaster Tools (now Google Search Console). Here the query [seo blog] and the number of impressions for my blog.

When it comes to SEO software many people in the SEO industry cry foul.

Others try to sell you software or tools they don’t use themselves. Also many websites peddle SEO software that is harmful to search results and thus might get you banned.


Tracking rankings on personalized search

The software that most SEO experts still advise you to use or rather they use themselves are tools that allow to track rankings in search engines, mostly Google but also Bing, Yahoo, Ask etc.

A friend of mine who focuses on web design services asked ma a question a few days ago:

“Hey Tad, what professional tool do you use to track rankings?”

While I was quick to point out two tools or rather a software and a web app I was also intrigued by the complexity of such a simple question. I ended up writing too many messages. While trying to explain the intricacies of SEO software choices I decided that the question

why & how to track rankings on personalized search needs a thorough answer.

So this blog post deals not only with SEO tools that allow you to track rankings but also with the broader ramifications of rank tracking in a personalized search world where rankings seemingly are obsolete.

Last but not least I want to tackle the almost philosophical question: Can I use software for SEO at all? If yes, what is the best SEO software then?


Another layer of personalization
You might have heard it: Google personalizes search results by default by now. That means whether you like or not unless you have opted out and cleaned your browser your Google results are already personalized.

Google allegedly looks at your searches from the past and serves you pages you’ve visited via Google before. It’s not really new. It’s

just another layer of personalization.

Google has personalized results in manifold ways before that so that you already would see different results on in different countries, when logged in or based on your preferences and connections. Even when searching for “software for seo” you’ll find different results based on

  • where you are
  • who you are
  • your past Google searches.

You might argue that search results are almost entirely subjective.

Google personalizes only to some extent though.The level of personalization gets overestimated sometimes. Rankings still do matter, at least to find out the objective position in Google in contrast to your own biased personal one.


Objective rankings vs actual rankings
So there are basically two kinds of rankings, the rankings before personalization and afterwards. Those afterwards are the actual rankings you see but Google of course rates or ranks results based on a plethora of different ranking factors or in Google’s own words “200+ signals“.

As an SEO you want o find out how you perform on Google search without the personalization layers. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Measuring rankings is only useful though when it’s not the only metric you use. When your rankings do not drive traffic, conversions and sales they’re worthless. There are many tools that allow you to find out the objective rankings more or less accurately.


Tracking rankings with Google Search Console
You also want to track your actual rankings. That is you want to know how actual searchers find your website, which keywords they use and where in the search results you have been found. Google itself helps us here. Google added actual ranking, impressions and click-through data to what is now called Google Search Console.

Now you can actually see where the visitors come from even despite the dreaded [not provided] data loss in Google Analytics.

They are assigned to actual keyword rankings on your site. You won’t see fixed rankings, you will notice that in most cases there is a range of positions you were ranking on depending of course on the manifold personalization features explained above.

The Google Search Console data is very helpful albeit not perfectly accurate as many people have complained. While they may be right it’s one of the best data sources we have for actual rankings. Besides that we have some specialized analytics tools or some Google Analytics hacks.


Other free tools for tracking rankings
So you see, we have Google Webmaster Tools for the actual rankings: There are also quite a few of free tools to track rankings, especially when it comes to English language search results. For localized Google versions in other languages you don’t have as many choices.

You can have that free for a bunch of keywords for free as well on KPMRS. They also offer paid accounts for their web app. KPMRS is also quite accurate. I’m not sure whether their paid plan make sense though. It’s just that you have to pay a little more and you get a professional web bases software that offers ranking checks well.


The best SEO software to track rankings and beyond
Of course there is no single best software for SEO. It depends of course of your requirements.

  • Do you plan to practice simple old school SEO or do you wan to engage in full fledged SEO 2.0 including social media participation and advanced SEO techniques?
  • How much time do want to spend on per weekly with your SEO software or tool-set?
  • Do want to track rankings only or do you need assistance with the actual SEO process?
  • Are you beginner, an intermediate use, an advanced use or actually a SEO pro who want to offer SEO services yourself?

For beginners and people who need actual help with the basic SEO process of their site  or WebCEO (both desktop software or web app) might be the right option. Some people have attacked me in the past for recommending WebCEO but it’s OK for beginners and for tracking rankings.

For intermediate users, people who spend only an hour or two weekly using it Advanced Web Ranking may be the best.

AWR is a rock solid desktop software from Romania. For old school SEO it’s perfectly enough. It shows you accurate rankings for Google versions around the world not only the English ones and you can even track certain Google data centers if you want to obsess about rankings.

For professional users aspiring to become experts who spend time daily with their Internet marketing tasks and SEO 2.0 practitioners Raven Tools is probably the best choice.

I’ve been an early beta tester of Raven, even before it was called Raven and they’ve provided a whole suite for SEO tasks. They provide tools for tracking your link building efforts, social media optimization etc. but have stopped offering rank tracking a few year back.

You have to remember that such rank tracking tools show the “objective” rankings before personalization not the actual ones people may see. These would be the rankings on a completely new computer and network nobody had used before and where the geographic location would be unknown.


What software is potentially harmful for SEO?
We’re in 2015 but some people still fall prey to crap sold on the Web promising all kinds of miracles. Many SEO software offerings fall into this category. Any software that promises to automate your SEO efforts completely or to submit your website to search engines and directories is most probably harmful.

You can’t automate SEO in the sense of on site optimization of your website entirely.

Also organic link building can’t be automated without gaming the system. Search engine submission is obsolete altogether ever since Google appeared on the scene. You don’t do that at all unless you use XML sitemaps.


What can software for SEO actually do for you beyond tracking rankings?
The best SEO software actually focuses on measuring results, be it rankings, traffic or conversions and sales. It’s basically about website analytics more or less. There are legit tools out there that make sense as an software for SEO.

These offerings don’t automate the entire SEO process but the parts that can be automated, the repetitive parts.

Also link building software can suggest link partners based on your website and link structure. Still I am no friend of this approach. It’s OK for beginners and intermediate users who have no time to wade through serious SEO.

In case you want to become an SEO pro you have to do the SEO yourself.

It’s the only way to learn it. I have tried numerous tools over the years and the better I get at SEO the less I use software.

The only exception is keyword research though: You will always need tools for keyword research, many of them are free luckily. Keyword research tools to find out the best terms to use on your website are common. That’s a different topic though.

Last updated: June 13th, 2015.