We don’t focus on rank tracking when we work on a project. Sure, we do some of it, but it’s simply not the goal. One of the biggest problems with it is that it becomes a big distraction. People will spend endless hours poring through rank tracking reports, and at the end of it all, the chances that it will change something you do today is virtually nil.
The fact that it’s not actionable data is just one problem with it. The other is that it is not stable data. Your rankings would move around a bit over time, even if we froze the entire web world. The reason for this is that Google tunes it’s algorithm at least daily. So even if you and everyone else does nothing, you will see movement in your results.
The other thing to realize is that with rank tracking you are inevitably looking at high volume search terms. Yet for a very significant percentage of web sites the battle will be won (at least initially) in the long tail. So at that level, rank tracking data can’t really tell you anything about the long tail, because you are not even sure what you should look for.
Of course, there is also the small detail of the search engines terms of service (it’s against the TOS to run automated queries against the search engines). If you do choose to run rank tracking software, then make sure you are not slamming thousands of terms into the search engines every day. You should run such a tool only very infrequently, because it comes with a certain amount of risk.
In any event, you can get much more interesting data from your web analytics tools, competitive analysis tool, and other freely available (or inexpensive) tools that are available. You can extract so much more from those types of tools, and it’s actionable data.
For example, you can discover new links by detecting new referrers. You can see what types of keywords people are coming to your site on (you can see you own long tail). With a competitive analysis tool (Hitwise, comScore, Compete) you can actually see what keywords are bringing people to your competitor’s site. Not that’s what I call actionable!
Let me elaborate on why I think that ranking data is not actionable. Keeping in mind that you want to have a site that has had a through SEO review, and assuming that you have already done this, and maintained the technical SEO structure in good shape, there are 3 things you should be thinking about every day:
- Building great content
- Telling the world about it
- Get great links
Of course, part of this is making sure your content is capable of helping you in getting great links. In any event, at the end of the day, how does a change in your ranking affect what you plan on doing today? Probably not at all.