One way to measure the results of your content marketing strategy is to track keyword position. However, you might not know how to check search engine rankings or if you can do it for free.
As I talked about in website KPIs, one of our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for our main content website is to rank in the top 3 spots for at least 50% of our keywords. Unless you’re in the top 3, people won’t find you, leaving you with only a little website traffic.
If you don’t know where each of your posts appears in the search results, you can’t plan the steps you’ll take to improve them. You also won’t be able to measure your KPIs. Collecting the right data is critical to you building a plan that enables you to reach your business goals.
As we talk about how to check search engine rankings, we’ll look at why, how, and both free and paid tools.
Why check your search engine rankings?
As the goal of producing content is to drive prospects to your website, you need to collect data to help you assess if you’re doing good, fair, or poor. Clients often ask me what to track (and importantly, what not to).
You can track the number of visitors, bounce rate, time on page, etc. All of these metrics are available in Google Analytics or whatever website analytics package you’re using. All of these are the results of getting people on to your website.
To get people to your website, you need to produce content that targets a list of keywords. When done correctly, you’ll see your traffic increase as you rank for more keywords.
But what keywords are you ranking for vs trying to? What position are your intended keywords ranking?
It’s vital to set a KPI that involves tracking your keyword position and be religious about checking them. If you know what pieces of content don’t perform, you can take steps to improve them.
I recommend your KPI should be 60% of your target keywords in the top 3 positions of Google.
When to check your rankings?
Before we cover how to check your ranking, it’s worth discussing when. Unless you’re operating in an incredibly fast-moving market where the websites bounce around the search position daily, you can check your rankings weekly or monthly.
The worse thing you can do is check them daily or every few days. The more often you check your keyword positions, the more like you are to start chasing short-term gains, which never bear fruit.
By checking weekly or monthly, you can track the overall changes in the search results and plan a more comprehensive strategy. As you will implement a strategy over a longer period, you can ignore subtle changes in rankings and look at the overall trends.
Checking your search engine positions should become part of your routine. For example, I run SEO Powersuite Rank Tracker every Monday morning and gather keyword position data for several websites. It’s the first item on my checklist for Monday.
Do you need a paid tool?
At the start, you shouldn’t need to spend any money to check search engine ranking for your website. You can typically get away with using free tools. However, as your website grows to over 150 pages, you’ll want to use a paid tool to help you automate the process.
If you’re a data nerd like me, you might want to consider buying a paid tool from the start as you can store data, automatically generate reports, and have unlimited use of the tool (or more than enough for your small business).
With those topics discussed, let’s look at how to check search engine rankings.
Can I use Google Search Console?
Free to use, Google Search Console (GSC) provides a ton of actionable data. Simply link with your website’s Google Analytics, and the tool suite will start to populate data.
You can manually check what keywords each page is ranking for and if a page is ranking for a certain keyword. GSC will show you the amount of impression, clicks, and position each keyword gets for that period. Easily track movements each week or zoom out and look at monthly trends.
There is a catch. GSC will only show you a percentage of the data it collects (frustratingly, Google won’t say how large or small this amount is). So sometimes it can seem that the data is out of date as it won’t show you today’s (or yesterday’s) keyword positions.
That said, as a free tool, it’s excellent and super helpful for generating keyword ideas for new posts. It’s also great for displaying keywords you might be ranking for but not targeting, allowing you to tweak a page with a new keyword and rank it higher.
Is SmallSEOTools.com worth using?
Not the most exciting option, SmallSEOTools.com is a free, basic SEO tool suite. It’s not the best, or the most advanced, but it does help you with near-instant data. You can easily use it to check the positions for up to 10 keywords at once from a range of search engines.
It produces real-time data as it scans your chosen search engine for the keyword before showing you the results. I like to use it for quick checks where I need a ballpark figure in seconds. But it would be a nightmare to use if you needed to look up 100 or more keywords.
If you have a massive website or money to burn, Ahrefs is ideal. It’s a comprehensive SEO tool suite that allows you to check search engine rankings, find plenty of keywords to target, see what keywords your competitors are ranking for and do so much more!
The only downside to Ahrefs is the $99 per month price tag. That said, it offers an incredible amount of data. Plus, they offer a free tool: Webmaster Tools, which they market as a Google Search Console killer.
It’s worth signing up for this free tool as they will show you another level of data that GSC doesn’t. The two complement each other and so are both worth using.
Much like Ahrefs, SEMrush is agency-level software that’s extensive and expensive ($120 per month)! It can help you track positions in real-time, manage paid campaigns, find new keywords to target, find backlink opportunities, and more.
SEMrush is superb if you have a large website with a matching budget for software. That said, it’s probably is too much for your needs as a small business.
SEO Powersuite Rank Tracker
SEO Powersuite Rank Tracker is my tool of choice for checking rankings, finding keywords, monitoring a website’s visibility in any search engine, and more. You might enjoy reading my review of SEO Powersuite Rank Tracker as it’s highly affordable and easy to use.
I use Rank Tracker almost daily, and it helps me collect data insights that drive my strategy. Unlike the other options I’ve highlighted, it is desktop software that you need to run on a computer with plenty of RAM.
How to check search engine rankings for success
Regardless of whether you use a paid or free tool, you’ll have a better idea of how to check search engine rankings. If you don’t regularly measure your website’s performance, you won’t know if your content strategy is paying off.
So mark your calendar, set up a report in your software of your choice that can be run with a single click, and use the data you gather to refine your plan.
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