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Why Rank Tracking Shouldn’t Be in Local SEO Monthly Reports

When I came up with the first template for our monthly SEO reports for Sterling Sky, I made a very firm decision that I didn’t want to have rank tracking as a part of them.  We use 4 different rank trackers here internally (BrightLocal, Places Scout, Whitespark, Local Falcon) and I find them immensely helpful for helping diagnose issues. However, I have a very strong opinion that ranking reports should not be something that is used when reporting monthly to clients.  Recently, one of our clients asked why and I thought this would make a great article topic.

“I’m a bit confused on the fact that none of your other clients are looking for increase in ranking and maybe I’m missing something important here…for organic traffic, is there anything in search other than rank that increases leads? […] I guess it’s just the only metric that I know of to try to stack ourselves up against our competitors”.

So why don’t we send clients monthly ranking reports?  Here is the answer that I sent Brent.

      1.  First is because rank tracking isn’t accurate.  Google’s search results are highly personalized based on the location of the user and their previous browsing history.  For example, you have probably visited your competitor’s sites quite frequently and therefore you’re going to see them higher in the search results compared to someone who hasn’t visited them recently.  Your location also a huge impact on what you see.  I picked just 4 different points from this grid to highlight this for “bear river insurance”.  You’ll see that not only are the results different, but the pages on your 2 sites that rank for that query also aren’t even the same.
      2. Second, we couldn’t possibly track all the keywords that bring in traffic.  In the last 12 months, Google tracked clicks from 169 different keywords on one site and 163 keywords on the other.  Imagine how hard it would be to track all those from dozens of different locations.  Like you, we do keep a close tab on the ones that are searched highest, but they are definitely not the way to measure everything we’re working on.  One of our strategies is to continue to get you ranked for different keywords that you don’t already rank for.  “Bear River Insurance” accounted for 0.4% of your clicks on the one site in the last 12 months and 9% on the other.
      3. Third, we don’t strictly spend time on things that increase ranking.  For example, we have been doing various experiments to see how we can increase click-through-rate for search results you already rank for.  Things like schema or Google Posts don’t impact your ranking but can increase the amount of traffic you get from Google.  Also, the time we spend managing your Google Ads & Bing Ads account have no impact on your ranking either.

There are a ton of moving pieces here so our goal is to do the strategies we see producing results and report back on how that is impacting your lead volume over time.

In summary, I think every Local SEO agency should have rank trackers and I actually advocate for having multiple.  However, I don’t think they should be a KPI or the main thing you are looking at when measuring success and reporting back on the work you do.

What should you measure?  Leads. Here is a snapshot of how we break it down on reports:


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Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. These arguments get really frustrating. It seems like every metric has their issues and we get argued with for anything we report. I think this article does more harm than good. I understand rank tracking is not 100% accurate but we have to be able to present this data. Report with consistency and at least you should be able to tell if you’re going up or down. Default to GSC if all else fails.

    1. Hey Daniel, I agree that using ranking reports to get a sense of whether you are trending in one way or another makes sense and is super useful. The main point of this article is that “I don’t think they should be a KPI or the main thing you are looking at when measuring success and reporting back on the work you do”

  2. I just took on a client who provided me with some of their prior ranking reports… what was surprising was that many of the terms they were tracking were not the terms searchers were likley to use; and there were many ‘top kw’s’ that were not tracked at all. Clients often talk a lot about rankings early on, but I find it’s more important to educate them and move them on to more important data. *We internally track rankings for important kw’s, and we use that date as part of a holistic approch. We do not send our clients “ranking reports”.

  3. We stopped sending ranking reports to most clients years ago. They just were not accurate. Some clients missed them and asked us why we stopped providing them.

    Because depending on your location, search history, your friend’s search history… “your results may differ” in what you see in the SERPs. They have seemed to get that.

    Instead, we focus client’s attention on GMB Views and Actions. Not just the GMB Insights but GA also. We want traffic AND conversions. And we can track those things to varying degrees.

    At the end of the day our clients report that YES! They are getting more calls from their GMB listing; They are getting more traffic to their website from their organic positioning. And business is good.

    That’s what counts.

  4. Joy, I’m assuming that you linked your clients’ site for SEO purposes (really no other reason to even include their name). How often are you building links like that (irrelevant) just for the sake of building links? Seems to be the opposite of what you typically preach?

    1. Hey Doug,

      I think any time a business owner lets me use information that is useful to share with others, linking to them is the right way to show my appreciation. I do this with most people (hopefully everyone) I quote and whether or not they are a client doesn’t matter. Having a real name and business also makes things more relatable. Someone else reading this with a similar client might be more likely to resonate. I’m not sure how this would go against anything I’ve publicly said. I decided to publish this topic because it’s a question I get often and thought this answer to my client summed up my stance well.

  5. That’s a bit of a stretch Joy. The link is purely for SEO purposes, I’m with Doug, I didn’t think you were one to be creating links purely for SEO purposes.

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