These weeks Ask an SEO Question is from Geoff in Birmingham, UK:
“Are search engine ranking tools useful when Google results are so personalized now? What alternatives are there to find out where a website is for a particular search term / keyword? “
Are rankings still relevant at all?
This has been a heated debate in the SEO community for more than a decade.
When the major search engines started producing results that differed depending on who you were, SEO experts began to wonder if the rankings you were seeing were actually the rankings you were getting.
And then there is the ever-changing layout of the SERPs.
What is the best result for you when you look at a SERP?
Is it the purchase result?
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Is it the result in the cards?
What about the knowledge panel?
The definition of the top result is not very clear these days.
Tracking rankings is not very clear in most cases.
The variation in the SERP layout makes it impossible to determine the true top position without additional analysis.
How modern rank tracking tools work
Many of the tools that track rankings have settings to understand the parts of each SERP that appear under a particular query.
But even then, tracking rankings is no longer as easy as looking at a simple chart.
However, rankings are still important to track.
Even with the spread of personalized results, I can anecdotally say that the SERPs appear static for most of the queries.
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This means that most users will see the same results that they see when they run a query.
This is how you can track rankings in most queries.
The more informative a query, the more likely it is that the rankings in the SERP are static.
The importance of ranking
As I said above, rankings are important to keep track of.
Rankings should rarely be an important performance indicator for a search engine optimization program.
But all too often they are.
Many interested parties come to us and concentrate on rankings.
The prevailing thought is whether I could just rank for [insert keyword here]All of my problems with digital marketing are over.
This is seldom the case.
In many cases, we’ve even seen rankings for certain keywords result in useless traffic that is never converted.
Keyword research is an essential requirement for tracking rankings.
In the past, rankings were something that SEO pros showed their clients because, frankly, they were easy to understand and showed the progress made.
Creating goals for ranking a certain keyword is absolutely useless today without going further and analyzing the traffic generated by the ranking.
It is imperative that any rank tracking be tied to additional goals.
This can be difficult (not intended) in today’s world.
Knowing a consumer’s path that came from a particular keyword is difficult.
However, if you know how your total organic traffic is converting, you can make pretty accurate estimates of how rankings affect leads or sales.
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Ranking tools cannot provide accurate data on the sales generated by certain keyword queries.
In many cases, informational or top-of-funnel queries will not convert for a short time.
There can be 3-5 visits to a site before a top-of-funnel prospect becomes a lead.
This is where your most valuable SEO tool comes in.
Your most valuable SEO tool is your brain.
You need to work on making the logical leap into how changes in the rankings on the SERPs will affect your traffic and monetization.
Use the search engine ranking tools properly
Back to the original questions – are search engine ranking tools useful today?
The answer is yes.
However, it’s important to understand that any tool that isn’t between your ears is just a tool.
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A man with a hammer thinks everything is a nail.
And an SEO expert with a ranking tool believes that success happens in the SERPs.
In reality, the success happens on the website.
editor‘s Note:: ask one SEO is a weekly SEO advice pillar written by some of the top in the business SEO Experts selected by the Search Engine Journal. I have a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!