With Google improving the way it ranks content, and a trend to focus more on topics rather than keywords, a lot of fuss has been made about the usefulness of tracking your page’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Some are asking should you still track keyword ranking?
Well, if you’re a content marketer who spends time creating content (like a blog post/article) and specifically crafting it for search (by incorporating SEO best practices like using proper headers, alt tag, title tags, etc.) then you probably want to know how that content is performing.
Of course, you can get a sense of that if the page’s traffic goes up, but when you write content specifically targeting a keyword, you want to know if it’s actually performing, meaning is it ranking for the target keyword?
If it isn’t, or it’s on the 2nd or 3rd page of Google, you probably want to spend time promoting that page to boost its ranking.
Additionally, you (or someone you’ve hired) may be spending a lot of time promoting a page and building backlinks to it in order to increase its ranking. So you would want to know if those efforts are making a difference and improving that page’s ranking for your target keyword.
In those two situations, you definitely want to track keyword ranking. It’s the metric you’ll use to define your effectiveness when creating content (your blog posts, web page, etc.) for search and spending time promoting it to increase its position in Google (which should be an important factor to consider when developing your content strategy).
Those are just two situations I can think of. There are others where it is still important to track keyword ranking. And, by all means, don’t just take my word for it.
Rand Fishkin (the founder of Moz and a well-known SEO figure) has come out and said the same thing, that tracking ranking is still important. He published a video for Moz’s White Board Friday series on the subject that I would recommend checking out.
So with that said, how do you actually go about tracking keyword ranking?
You could manually check but that wouldn’t be a very good use of your time. Plus, even if you were to use the incognito browser, you still may not get an accurate representation of ranking due to localization.
Therefore, it’s much better to use a tool and in this post, I’m going to show you five of my favorite for tracking keyword ranking and exactly how to use each (with detailed steps and diagrams).
First up, Ahrefs…
Ahrefs is one of my favorite tools, and easily, my favorite on this list. That’s not to say that every tool on this list is not extremely useful. I love the fact, though, that Ahrefs has the most accurate database for checking backlinks and it’s great for finding keyword opportunities.
I won’t touch on that too much but I will show you how Ahrefs can be used to track the keyword performance of your page (whether’s that your blog post or just another page on your website).
There are two main ways to do this in Ahrefs. The first is to simply enter the page URL to see what keywords the page ranks for. The second involves adding your site as a project and using Ahref’s rank tracking feature.
First, to find out what keywords a page ranks for, head over to Ahrefs. You will need to sign up for an account to use the tool. Ahrefs has paid plans but you can use the tool for free for two weeks. After two weeks, you can elect to continue with a paid plan or downgrade to a free plan.
The free plan is limited but will allow you to look up 5 URLs a day.
With your account set up, you will be able to paste in a page URL to see what keywords it ranks for. You can also find what and how many backlinks the page has. This doesn’t have to be your own URL either. You can use this to look up backlinks and keywords for a competitor’s URL.
For now, we’re just going to use it to see where our own content is ranking. For this example (and the rest of the tools in this post), I’m using Duct Tape Marketing’s blog post, “7 Steps For An Effective Social Media Marketing Plan” to test the functionality and the accuracy of checking keyword ranking.
To find what keywords this page is ranking for, paste the page URL (web address) into the search bar in Ahrefs. From there, click “Organic keywords” in the left-hand sidebar:
This will bring you to the Organic Keywords page. Here, Ahrefs lists all the keywords that page ranks for.
You would then just find your target keyword to check its position:
You could then paste this into a spreadsheet to track it over time (manually doing this everytime you want to check the page’s rank).
Of course, this method can be a bit tedious. Ideally, you want this process to be a bit more automated so you don’t have to continually copy the page URL, paste it into Ahrefs, find your target keyword, mark its position in a spreadsheet, etc.
So, instead, you could try using Ahref’s Rank Tracker. This feature can be used to automatically track your ranking for a given keyword and which URL ranks for that keyword.
To set this up, you will need to set up a project (if you don’t have one set up already). Head to your dashboard and set up a new project:
Here, you can add your domain (or a competitor’s domain) and give your project a name.
On the following screen, you’ll be directed to add keywords for this project:
Add the keywords you want to track for this page into the input box. Then, click “Add to list”. After you do this, you’ll be prompted to select the locations you want to track. I chose the United States. With a location chosen, click “Next”.
On the final screen (not pictured) you’ll be prompted to add competitors. For our purposes (rank tracking), I skipped this step for now.
The keywords that you entered will be added to your rank tracker. If you skipped that step earlier, you can always head to your dashboard and click “Add keywords” to add keywords that you want to track:
Anyway, click the link that says “Rank Tracker” and you’ll be directed to a page that lists all of the keywords you are tracking:
The page will list the keyword, the position, and the URL that is ranking for that keyword.
Ahrefs automatically detects the page (URL) that ranks for the keywords that you entered (if it ranks at all). The only problem with this is you might want a different page to rank for that term.
To address this you could enter the specific URL (instead of your root domain) as the project URL to see what keywords rank for that specific URL:
You only have so many projects at once (starting at 5 on their lowest plan to 100 on their highest plan) so think about which method will be better suited for you.
Moz is also another great tool for backlink analysis, keyword research, and checking ranking. In order to check a page’s rank, though, you will need a Pro Plan. Moz does not offer a free plan that includes their rank tracking feature.
In Moz Pro, head to your dashboard and scroll down until you find a section titled, “Page Optimization & Ranking Tools”. In this box is a link labeled, “Rank Tracker”. Click that link to head to the Rank Tracker page:
On this page, you will find all the keywords that you have checked rank for and are tracking. To add a new keyword to track, add your target keyword and the URL of the page you want to check for that keyword:
If you want to check the rank for that specific page, make sure to check the “Exact URL” radio button. This is preferred if you want to check the rank of one of your blog posts to see if it ranks for that keyword rather than seeing if your root domain or another page on your website ranks for that term.
Again, I used the keyword “social media marketing plan” as an example (just as I did with Ahrefs):
If you were paying close enough attention :), you may have noticed that Ahrefs said this page ranked #1 for the keyword, “social media marketing plan” while Moz says it ranks #5. Well, they’re actually both right.
Ahrefs is factoring in that the Google SERP is showing that blog post in the number one spot as a Google “card”:
Moz (and the rest of the trackers on this list) do not take this into factor. They simply show the position for the search result (which is in the 5th spot):
It shows up both as the Google card and in the 5th position. So both trackers are technically right. But, when you think about it, the true position is #1 because that card is taking up what would be the first result (and the most likely to be clicked).
This is why I like Ahrefs the most. Of course, there a still a lot of searches that do not show these new Google cards. But, as Google improves and tries to showcase better results, we can likely expect to see these more and more.
SEMrush is very similar to Ahrefs in that you can input a URL to see what keywords it’s ranking for and they also have a rank tracking feature.
To see what keywords a page is ranking for, head over to SEMrush and paste the page URL into the input box on the homepage (you do not need an account at this point. SEMrush will let you search a few URLs before needing to sign up to a paid plan):
After you click “Start Now”, you’ll be directed to the results page for that URL:
Here, you’ll be able to see what backlinks this page has (although, the backlink profile isn’t as large as Ahrefs). If you scroll further down the page, you’ll see a section titled, “Top Organic Keywords”. This is a snapshot of the keywords the page ranks for.
Click “View full report” to see the full list:
This page will list all of the keywords the URL ranks for. If you’re using SEMrush for free, this will be limited to 10 results. From here, you can find your target keyword and note its position:
Like I mentioned above, SEMrush has a rank tracker just like Ahrefs. To use it, you will need an account. SEMrush offers paid plans but you can sign up for a 14-day free trial and downgrade to a free plan after the trial (should you not decide to continue with a paid plan). The free plan will be limited but you’ll still be able to set up a project to track keywords.
To track keywords, login to your account and click “Projects” in the left-hand sidebar navigation. Then, click “Create my first project”:
You’ll then be presented with a popup box to enter in your domain and name your project:
From there, continue on by clicking “Set up” in the Position tracking box:
A box will pop up to set up rank tracking. The first option will ask you to enter the URL you want to track:
There are a few options here (under “Advanced settings”). You could track the root domain of your site (ex. www.example.com) but if you want to see where a specific page is ranking, and track keywords specific to that page over time, you likely want to enter the specific URL for that page (ex. www.example.com/my-blog-post).
To do that, you would choose the “Tracking URL” option and enter the URL for that page. Then, you can continue onto entering in the location you’d like to look at and enter in any competitors if desired (not pictured).
The 4th, and final step is to add the keywords you want to track:
Enter your target keyword(s) and click “Add to project” then “Start Tracking”.
The data may take a few minutes to gather. When complete, click the Position tracking box. You’ll then be directed to the following page where you can see where that page (URL) ranks for the given keyword you entered:
For some reason, when searching the URL using the search box (as we did first), the page shows up as ranking #5 for the keyword, “social media marketing plan” but when using the position tracker, it shows up at #1. Again, both are right since Google is displaying the page as a Google card and in the 5th result.
However, I’m not sure why SEMrush would give you one or the other depending on which ranking feature you use. Anyway, that’s something to keep in mind.
The fourth tool on this list is called Rank Tracker and is a desktop program by Link-Assistant. Rank Tracker can be purchased separately or as part of a bundle in Link-Assistant’s SEO Powersuite package which includes tools for backlinks analysis and on-page SEO audits.
For now, we’re just going to take a look at Rank Tracker because it’s the only tool we need in order to track keywords. The tool can be downloaded and used for free but you won’t be able to save your projects.
If you do decide to purchase the software, one thing that I like specifically about Rank Tracker is that it is a one-time purchase (as compared to monthly plans like the rest of the tools in this post).
To start tracking keywords for your content using Rank Tracker, first install the program and open it up. Upon first opening the program, you’ll be prompted to enter in your site domain:
From there, you can sync your Google Analytics and Adwords account with the program to draw data from both those accounts. This isn’t necessary to do, however, in order to track keywords. So I skipped it for now.
In the third step, you’ll be prompted to add the keywords you would like to look up and track:
Finally, the fourth step will allow you to decide which search engines you want to track:
I simply went with Google. I really don’t even bother with Bing or Yahoo at this point since such a small population uses the two search engines.
With that process complete, the keyword will be added to your project along with the position the keyword ranks and the URL that ranks for that keyword:
The program automatically grabs the page/URL that ranks for that keyword.
The problem with that is you might actually want another page to rank for that keyword than the one that shows up.
For instance, you might have a shoes page (ex. www.example.com/shoes) that ranks for the keyword, “Nike shoes” but you really want your Nike specific page (ex. www.example.com/nike-shoes) to rank for that keyword (possibly because that page will have a higher intent and be more likely to convert visitors).
To address this issue, you can hover over the URL to show a link icon. Click this link icon and the following box will pop up:
Here, you can paste the URL you want to rank for that keyword and click “OK”.
In the results area, there will now be a caution icon next to the URL:
This indicates the URL that is ranking for this keyword is different from the URL (page) you would like to rank for it. It’s not perfect but it does give you a quick snapshot of what pages are ranking.
Alternatively, you could set up each specific page/URL you want to track as its own project (by adding the specific URL as the domain when you first set up the project). Then, you could see if only that page ranks for that keyword.
The downside to this would be under the Pro plan (currently $125) you only get 5 projects and under the Enterprise plan (currently $300) you get 100 projects. So you would be limited to 5 or 100 different pages to track as separate projects depending on the plan you choose.
The final tool I would recommend is called Pro Rank Tracker. Honestly, I’m fairly new to this tool, so I’m still messing around with a bit. But, it is designed specifically for keeping track of your keyword rankings. That’s pretty much all it’s meant for as it doesn’t offer added features like backlink analysis and keyword research like the rest of the tools on this list.
With that said, the rank tracking is just as accurate as the other tools, and if that’s all you need, they offer more affordable pricing starting at $19/month (they also do have limited free plan).
To start tracking keywords, first create an account, and from your dashboard page, click the link labeled, “Click to add URLs/Terms”:
You’ll then be directed to the following page where you can add the URL you’d like to keep track of and the associated keywords you’d like to track:
If you’re looking up a specific URL (like a blog post) you’ll want to select the “Exact Match” option so that you’ll see results for this URL only.
You could also choose this option if you were adding your root domain (ex. www.example.com) but only wanted to see if that exact page (so your homepage) ranked for a specific keyword (and not any of the other pages on your site).
With that setup, click the “URL View” or “Term View” in the left-hand navigation menu:
The views are slightly different but both will show you the URL you entered and where that page ranks for the keyword you entered:
So there you go! There are five tools you can use to track keyword performance (your ranking) of pages on your website (like your blog posts, web pages, etc.). Personally, I like Ahrefs best (I’m not affiliated with them at all, I just like their tool a lot) but the others will all work. So find the one you like best and stick to it.
Again, if you’re a content marketer, tracking keyword ranking will help you figure out if the page or blog post you created is actually ranking for the keyword you intended it for. Also, if you (or someone you hired) is spending time promoting the page, building backlinks, or making on-page SEO improvements, tracking ranking will let you know if those efforts are making a difference and improving your ranking.
I hope this post was helpful to you, now get out there and start tracking!
Cody Slingerland is a Freelance Content Strategist, Writer, and SEO Consultant. He places a huge focus on creating amazing, in-depth, long-form content that aims to educate and inform readers. He has 5+ years experience in Content Marketing, SEO, Email Marketing, and CRO. To work with him, or for tutorials on Content Marketing, visit his blog here.