Tra­di­tion­al SEO reports have focused heav­i­ly on rank­ings. How­ev­er, with the wide­spread use of per­son­al­ized search as well as instant search, rank­ing report data has become increas­ing­ly inac­cu­rate, and there has been move­ment in the SEO com­mu­ni­ty away from the reports. Though rank­ing reports do pro­vide some help­ful infor­ma­tion, more focus must be placed on more accu­rate and insight­ful tools such as web ana­lyt­ics in order to prop­er­ly assess SEO per­for­mance.

Ranking ReportWhether users are aware or not, most search engine results are affect­ed by per­son­al­ized search. Users signed in to Google will see results cus­tomized by their own set­tings, past search­es, and social cir­cle infor­ma­tion. In fact, even if a user is not signed in to a Google account, the engine stores up to 180 days of signed-out search activ­i­ty linked to a cook­ie that includes past search queries and most vis­it­ed links. Search­es are geo-tar­get­ed based on IP address and cook­ies. For exam­ple, if you type “gym” into the search box, your results will be gyms in your local area. All these cus­tomized search­es ren­der inac­cu­rate tra­di­tion­al rank­ing reports, which run queries in the search engines to pro­vides infor­ma­tion on where your list­ing would be ranked if a user searched for a giv­en key­word. Instant search fur­ther com­pli­cates the issue by show­ing the user cus­tomized poten­tial queries.

Many SEOs agree that the val­ue of the rank­ing report is dimin­ish­ing, although still pro­vides some val­ue. The rank­ing report tra­di­tion­al­ly pro­vid­ed action­able infor­ma­tion about the engines. Rank­ing reports can help in demon­strat­ing trend­ing over longer peri­ods of time, but in the short term, fluc­tu­at­ing results will gen­er­al­ly not pro­vide good infor­ma­tion and will frus­trate those who hang their hat on search engine rank­ings. The rank­ing report can also help with com­pet­i­tive research, demon­strat­ing com­peti­tors’ approx­i­mate rank so you can learn from high­er rank­ing sites, and main­tain your com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over low­er rank­ing sites. For exam­ple, if you see in a rank­ing report that a close com­peti­tor con­sis­tent­ly ranks high­er than your site for a giv­en key­word, it is worth look­ing into their site con­tent and struc­ture to see how they are able to attain a high­er rank­ing.

It is impor­tant to keep in mind that although rank­ings can be use­ful, the ulti­mate goal of SEO is to increase site traf­fic and rev­enue. And to track the effects of SEO on traf­fic and rev­enue there is no bet­ter tool than web ana­lyt­ics. Ana­lyt­ics pro­vides action­able SEO data. For exam­ple, ana­lyt­ics shows what key­words pro­duced traf­fic. Know­ing this is more valu­able than sim­ply know­ing where some­thing may rank because it ties SEO direct­ly to site per­for­mance. Ana­lyt­ics also con­tains traf­fic num­bers from each search engine, which can help web­mas­ters deter­mine which engines need the most atten­tion. Ana­lyt­ics pro­vides in-depth behav­ioral insight about how peo­ple using key­words from organ­ic and paid search expe­ri­ence your site. You can eas­i­ly see whether the key­words that you opti­mized are at the top of the list of traf­fic dri­vers. If you’re not see­ing what you hoped for, then it’s time to opti­mize fur­ther or choose new terms. It is worth com­par­ing this list to rank­ings to see whether the terms you rank well for are bring­ing in traf­fic or vice ver­sa. Some­times key­words for which a site has a low­er rank­ing will bring in the most qual­i­fied traf­fic. If you have goals or e-com­merce set up in your ana­lyt­ics, you will be able to get even more insight into the most prof­itable and high­est con­vert­ing key­words.

Though web ana­lyt­ics have the poten­tial to be very pow­er­ful, there are a few rea­sons that pre­vent peo­ple from using ana­lyt­ics in their SEO reports. First, many peo­ple don’t know how to use ana­lyt­ics prop­er­ly, and are unaware of all its report­ing capa­bil­i­ties. The biggest prob­lem how­ev­er, lies in many sites’ fail­ure to prop­er­ly imple­ment their ana­lyt­ics tool. Ana­lyt­ics requires some­one with both knowl­edge of the tool and busi­ness in order to be set up in a way that makes sense for the web­site. Poor­ly imple­ment­ed ana­lyt­ics can lead to inac­cu­rate infor­ma­tion in the traf­fic sources report, which is bad for SEO report­ing.

Anoth­er tool that many SEOs use for infor­ma­tion is Google Web­mas­ter Tools. The prod­uct already helps to diag­nose many SEO issues like dupli­cate page titles, dead links, and trust and author­i­ty site issues. The tool also pro­vides approx­i­mate infor­ma­tion on the amount of impres­sions your list­ings gar­nered for any search query. It includes the amount of times your list­ing was clicked as well as the aver­age posi­tion of the list­ing. Aver­aged infor­ma­tion can be help­ful to guide the SEO process, but is not very action­able as an SEO report­ing tool. We look for­ward to Google’s future improve­ments to the tool that may help to pro­vide SEOs with more accu­rate data on search results and make report­ing a more sci­en­tif­ic process.

Search Dis­cov­ery uses a com­bi­na­tion of tools in order to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble infor­ma­tion to our clients. Using rank­ing reports, ana­lyt­ics, Web­mas­ter tools and oth­er research tools, we can begin to see a fuller pic­ture of how sites rank, how those rank­ings gen­er­ate val­ue, and how com­peti­tors stack up. The key to rank­ings is focus­ing less on the defin­i­tive rank­ing num­ber, and more on the trend­ing and rel­a­tive posi­tion of the site in the con­text of real-world, rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing per­for­mance. Good SEO isn’t about the day trade of search engine result rank­ings; it’s about con­stant­ly improv­ing your site over the long term in order to improve your busi­ness. In order to prop­er­ly track SEO, com­pa­nies must focus more on their ana­lyt­ics imple­men­ta­tion so they can get infor­ma­tion about what key­words send both vol­ume and qual­i­fied traf­fic to their site. That insight should dri­ve SEO efforts.

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