Saying ‘No More’ to Old-School Keyword Rank Reports

If you are still relying on Google rank reports for specific target keywords, using daily ‘scrapes’ of the Google search results, then I have bad news for you — the data you are looking at might have nothing at all to do with where your site is actually ranking for ‘real life’ searches. This post is your reality check, and intervention! For everyone else, this is a celebration of all the reasons we started de-emphasizing the ‘old-school’ keyword rank reports in the first place and moved onto other metrics and sources of signals for gauging SEO campaign success.

Let me take a step back and share a story that I think will be illustrative of the situation:

Years ago, I worked for an anti-virus company. The state of computer security today is pretty chaotic, there are over 50,000 new samples of viruses/malware coming out everyday. These new samples are nicknamed “zero-days” because they had been spotted in the wild for only minutes or hours. Well, in order to be able to find/detect sample they need to create rules for them, but with so many samples coming in on a daily basis it’s impossible to make one for each and every one. It’s a big game of ‘whack a mole’. The problem was we couldn’t address every single sample, so we had to prioritize. So what we decided to focus on were the viruses/malware we could confirm were on ‘real machines’. The anti-virus companies get their samples from a large variety of sources – and infected customers’ machines are just one of those (and not a very big one). But those samples that we could confirm became the most important samples to address because in our mind they would make a difference in the real world, for sure – for at least one real person. Which is more than we could say for all the others.

Okay, so back to current day & to the organic search industry.

I think this logic can be applied to our field. In a sea of data, we have a serious prioritization problem. What do we look at? What do we analyze, and crunch, & visualize in order to understand the ‘narrative’ for what took place, and is happening.

SEO has changed, ranking reports no longer reflective of reality.

If you look at the growing importance of Google Webmaster Tools and all the search query data it provides, compared to the other data we can get using the standard ‘keyword rank report’ sites that scrape Google search results, it’s no-contest. Those keyword rank reports have long been a major part of most SEO engagements, but due to the changing search landscape — they have been left out in the cold, and as a result they should not be used in strategic decision making.

Here’s why typical Keyword Rank Reports provide poor visibility into what’s happening in the real world:

    1. Standard ranking reports have a high noise-to-signal ratio. Meaning: it’s tough to make sense of them
      Keyword rank reports usually will end up having multiple variations of the same root terms, and sometimes these keywords have ranks that move in opposite directions. How do we make sense of this? By trying to see which side of the equation had the bigger change? It’s a mess trying to make sense of a pool of keywords all moving in different directions, and standard rank report methodology just doesn’t have a solution for it.


    1. Standard ranking reports only look at generalized search, in reality most people search while logged in, taking advantage of personalized search.
      Nowadays, most searches are going to be run (assumption) using some form of personalized search. Google likes to take into account who you are, where you live, and what your search history is, what you have liked on Google+, etc, when it puts together search results. This means, that in ‘the real world’ — nobody who is actually going to use Google to find your site is looking at generalized search. So how relevant are generalized search rankings anymore anyway?


  1. Standard ranking reports only track certain exact match keywords which you have to have explicitly entered, while in reality search queries come in all kinds of spellings, variations and long-tail forms. 
    “On a daily basis, 15 percent of queries submitted have never been seen before by Google’s search engine.” (CNET) That is a lot of long-tail… All of those queries, and potential customers, are outside your field of vision when you aren’t able to track rankings for long-tail searches.

So, what’s the solution?

I think the solution lies in Google Webmaster Tools search query data, for sure. Although it has it’s imperfections, it will provide a more ‘reality based’ look at organic search. We’ll have better context for those who are seeing our search results, and have the pre-click data on impressions and clicks which we never used to have. Although the ‘old-school’ keyword rank reports may be dead in the form we all understood them to be, there will surely be a new form of keyword ranking report that takes it’s place and does not fall victim to the issues described above… More on that in future posts!

For now, please join me (and Rose & The Doctor) in saying ‘No More’ to Old-School Keyword Ranking Reports.

And good riddance!

Philly Marketing Labs


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