The Problems with Tracking Rank & SEO
Rank tracking is a go-to practice for nearly all SEOs but that doesn't mean it's not without its problems and idiosyncracies. Jason Pollack (SEO manager at NBC Universal) and Gaby Alias (SEO specialist at Peacock) share their thoughts on rank tracking:
How Google's SGE will impact rank tracking
Why knowing your SERP is more important than ranking #1
Living with rank volatility
The Real Deal with Tracking Google Rankings
Rank tracking sounds simple at first glance. You throw your keywords that you want to track into an SEO tool and you see where you're ranking. Unfortunately, it's a lot more complex. First off, ranking is not the goal per se, traffic and conversion are depending on your business model. Then you have to factor in rank volatility, which can be its own headache. Even where you're ranking #1 it might not be what you really want (as crazy as that might sound. If you're in the news business like Gaby and Jason are, then the traditional organic results are probably not even your target (at least your primary target).
Shall we dive into it?
Rank Tracking Tip # 1: Know What at the Top of Your SERP
Ranking #1 on the SERP might get you nowhere. Odd as it may sound that can very much be the case. Leave aside edge cases where there aren't even any organic results ranking above the fold, certain verticals are not built for the traditional organic results. Take Jason and Gaby's niche, news and current events, as a primary example. News content on the SERP is predominantly accessed via the News Box. Folks aren't skimming the organic results when searching for news-related queries. Instead, they see the very prominent and increasingly prolific News Box that heads the SERP. Ranking #1 is not the goal in this vertical - hitting the News Box is.
The idea is, you have to understand what is at the top of your SERP. It can be anything from a Direct Answer to a very space-consuming set of PLAs. Knowing the landscape here will help you better understand what opportunity does and doesn't exist on the SERP and can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
Rank Tracking Tip #2: Live with Rank Reversals
Rank volatility is the norm. Whether it be via an official Google update or even more likely in a "baby algorithm update" your rankings are going to move. They're going to go up and down all over again as Google heavily tests ranking changes. It's very common to see your ranking improve only to revert back to their original position a week later only to be tested again higher up on the SERP a month after that.
This is simply the ecosystem.
As Gaby mentions, it's pretty common to see a page surge in the rankings for a few days only to completely fall off a few days later. I commonly notice with newer pages that Google ranks them really well for a bit (when the domain is already established) and then almost randomly demotes the URL a good 5 - 10 positions soon after.
It's a volatile ranking world out there. Knowing that before you walk in can save you a lot of frustration.
Rank Tracking Tip #3: Be Prepared for AI to Change Rank Tracking
Rank tracking depends on an SEO tool's ability to scrape Google in order to see what URLs are in what position on the SERP. Google's SGE throws that model on its head as the traditional placement of URLs is not the paramount question. Rather, SEOs are going to want to know if their URLs are one of the "organic cards" that Google shows within the SGE result.
Moreover, Google lets you expand the initial SGE result in order to get a breakdown of the AI summary that includes additional "organic cards." SEOs are going to want to know a) how often are users clicking to see the expanded result for which keywords b) what URLs are being shown there.
All of this is a lot of heavy lifting for rank trackers. I would be prepared for a major schism in rank data at the onset of full SGE implementation and beyond. I think it's going to be very expensive for the SEO tools to handle this.
Bottomline: Rank tracking is going to change in the near future because of Google's SGE.
For more of the SEO Rant Podcast check out our previous episode on: SEO Testing for the Everyday SEO