The Truth About Reporting On Google Search Rankings
In the old days of SEO, the only thing that mattered was where your website ranked for a list of keywords. It was easy, something all clients could understand and a simple report that all agencies could provide. Today, SEO reporting boils down to the campaign tasks completed along with page-level data on organic traffic and leads (or e-com transactions and revenue). While rankings can be a nice leading indicator to future traffic, chances are the ranking data you are receiving is flawed. If you are an agency sending ranking reports, you are well behind the times and need to make a change in your reporting. If you are a client receiving ranking reports, you need to understand why that data is incorrect and what you should be seeing instead.
The majority of agencies that send ranking reports to their clients are using a web-based software company they pay monthly (based on the number of keywords) to provide them with ranking data. This data can then be accessed via PDFs, spreadsheets or an API. It is white-labeled, making it look like the agency created the reports.
When you do a Google search, your location (via your IP address), device type, search history and other personalization variables are going into deciding what results Google returns — and the order of those results. When different people search Google for the same keyword, chances are they will see different results. Throughout a day for a given keyword, a website is never appearing in the same position for everyone who searches that keyword. So, to say a website is in position No. 3 for a certain date is not possible.
Why Is Google Ranking Data Flawed?
When these ranking data providers report on your website’s position in Google, they are using what they call National Results. Through the use of Google’s uule parameter, they can bypass the location associated with the IP address that their servers are using to scrape the data from Google. The problem with this is: What person searching Google actually sees National Results? The answer is almost no one. This is because Google is personalizing the results for each searcher based on location, device type, search history and other variables. As a result, when an agency (or ranking data provider) reports your website in position No. 2 for a specific keyword, you should wonder how many people actually saw your website in position No. 2 for that keyword.
It is also important to know that while some ranking data providers rely on the uule parameter, others are using proxy vendors to conduct their searchers from IP addresses all over the globe. Then, Google is personalizing those results based on the location that is tied to the IP address.
There are also a lot of agencies that report on rankings, but fail to include the monthly search volume from Google next to each keyword. They normally do this to hide the fact that the majority of the keywords they are reporting on have a very low search volume (10 searches per month, for example) or no search volume at all. If your agency is making claims of first-page results and top rankings, make sure you are seeing true keyword volume and not being shown non-competitive keywords with little to no search volume.
In addition, these ranking data providers are making money off Google data by scraping the results and selling that data. The Google APIs Terms of Service prohibit companies that use their APIs to scrape data, so the companies that sell ranking report data are not allowed to use Google’s APIs to obtain monthly search volume for keywords. In essence, these companies are forced to rely on inaccurate third-party keyword volume.
Where Can I Get Accurate Google Ranking Data?
The only place to get accurate Google ranking data is from the Google Search Console. It is a free service provided by Google that allows you to query organic search impression, click, CTR and ranking data for keywords for your website. The data normally has a couple days of delay and goes back up to 90 days. You can query data for a specific keyword across your entire website or by a specific page. Average position data is returned in decimal format. The reason for this is your website is showing in multiple positions (for the same keyword) to different searchers throughout the day. If an agency is providing you with ranking data, make sure it is in decimal format.
Remember that it is important not to get fixated on ranking data. Instead, you should be looking for SEO campaign reporting that shows campaign tasks completed along with page-level data on organic traffic and leads (or e-com transactions and revenue).