Tracking and Recording Search Rankings Accurately


If you’re serious about SEO and getting your website to the top of the first page, you absolutely must monitor the position your site appears in Google (and other search engines). However, the results you see when you search aren’t necessarily what your potential visitors will see.

Are you aware your search results are biased? There are several factors affecting what you personally see and it’s important to know that when you record your progress.

The results you need to see and record are results from a third party, almost like a random user. It should be your aim to see the results of a neutral user as independent from anything you would see as possible.

When you check and record the results of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), there are many factors that will influence exactly what you see. It is these factors you want to mitigate as much as possible to give you a more neutral and thus accurate picture of how your website is ranking.

Now we know why it’s important, I’ll take you through how you can track and record more accurate SERP results. Let’s split this into two parts for clarity because accurate measurement is a key part of making your marketing strategy work.

First, we’ll look at factors related to you that affect what you see when checking keyword rankings:

  • Who you are
  • Where you are
  • What you’re searching
  • Tracking (with cookies or other methods)

Even if you’re in love with this search engine, Google is not like the Back Street Boys.

Google does care and all four of the above factors will impact what you see on a SERP.

The second part is considering the best way to get independent SERP results for your website and how to track them. Luckily there are two really simple ways you can do it:

  • Using a virtual private network (VPN)
  • Using a rank checking tool

Okay, so here we go with tracking and recording search rankings accurately.

Part 1:

Using Your Google Account

Who are you?

Are you logged into your Google account? If you are, the data it has about the sites you visit will influence the search results you see. Even in the same house on the same computer, same operating system and user account, you could see different results. As well as everything I’ve just mentioned, the browser you’re using makes a difference, as does one where you’re logged into a google account or using an incognito or private browser which we’ll cover below.

Your Location

Where are you?

Delia Smith Norwich

The physical location you make a search from is indicated by your IP address. More than one computer and indeed several households can share the same IP address at least for a period of time. In the days of dial-up, your IP address would change every time you connected to the internet. Nowadays with broadband, you can keep the same IP address for six months or more.

One way to get different SERP results is using a VPN. With a VPN, you can guarantee your results will be different every time if you jump to a different country. The order of results will differ between locations in the same country and SERP features can also differ greatly when jumping between countries.

Incognito Or Private Browser

What are you searching? Are you being tracked?

If you’re not logged in or don’t have a Google account, then you’ll see more neutral results searching with your web browser. Thing is that browsers retain cookies for however long they want to stay on your computer. Things have changed officially at least with the introduction of GDPR privacy regulations. But really, can you trust random websites not to be tracking you? If not with cookies, they have other ways.

incognito browser

Opening up an incognito window in Google Chrome, or private window in other browsers will help avoid tracking over the long-term sice they are supposed to clear browsing history and cookies as soon as you’ve closed the window.

Be aware though that you can still be tracked and identified using your browser window size and computer information like location settings and time zone. It’s not a stretch to assume search engines like Google could put that together with your IP address and determine with a high degree of certainty who you are.

Part 2:

Check Results With A VPN

Change your location.

VPN

A Virtual Private Network, commonly known as a VPN for short, is a way to change the location your computer appears to be located. This effectively eliminates the ‘where you’re from’ element of your search. You may be sitting in the UK, but the websites you visit could think you’re in France, Spain, Australia, Canada, Malta and so on.

When you visit a search engine using a VPN, they will show you a different set of results based on the VPN’s location. Even if you’re in the UK and choose a British VPN location, the results will almost always be independent of your actual location, therefore not personalised.

Of course, you absolutely must use an incognito browser when doing this, but the limitations of that browsing method still apply. Checking results using a VPN doesn’t guarantee a clean set of results, but when also making use of an incognito or private browser, you can get a pretty neutral set of results.

Check Results With A Tool

Results independent of your location and computer.

If you really want independent results, the best way to go is with a tool like AHREFS, Semrush or MOZ. Using their SERP results tracking solutions, they are making searches from an independent location to yours. You can even specify a location for them to make the searches from and get the rankings. When I say specify a location, this could be a city, an area or in that city or even a road within that city depending on the tool.

Using one of these or similar tools, you can track results and keep track of them every day of the week and monitor changes. Dedicated tools such as this will often present changes in rank on a graph. You may also be able to track competitors and how they are ranking in search.

How Will You Track Progress?

Now you should have a good idea of how search engine results can be affected by your browser. And of course a solution to how you’d like to track your SERP rankings.

That said, if you want to track the performance of your website, it’s important to do so using different methods. In this way, you can verify that what you’re being told and recording is reasonably accurate.

It may not be practical to check rankings manually using a VPN, or ask people in different parts of the world to try and get non-personalised SERP results for you. It may not be cost effective to purchase five different rank tracking tools to test and verify their ranking data.

It’s most important that you understand the possible limitations of whatever method you choose to track your SERP rankings. When you have a method you’re comfortable with, occasionally check SERP rankings with another method to see if there are any differences.

As your marketing consultant, I’d recommend one of the rank tracking tools from an SEO SaaS company. Using my own subscription, I’d happily report the results to you each week or month included in your consultation fee.

However you check your search engine rankings, be sure to track them along with website traffic, enquiries and sales.


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