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What Keywords Does Your Website Rank For?
How do you find out? Do ranking reports matter? How can a single page on your site can rank well for hundreds of relevant search terms? We answer all your questions about keyword ranking.
It’s good to have strong ideas about the keywords you want to target on your website. That kind of focus hopefully means you’re taking steps to optimise your web pages successfully.
But how do you find out if your efforts are working? What keywords does your site rank well for? And if you don’t rank well for those high volume, high competition keywords, have you failed?
Why do different users see different search results with different rankings? How do you find out the definitive ranking position of a keyword?
OK, there’s a lot to unpack here. Step-by-step, we’re going to:
- Explain why ranking well is important
- Show you the tools that help you track keyword ranking
- Explain why different users see your website in different ranking positions
- Help you understand why you shouldn’t obsess over a small handful of keywords
- Show you how to look at the bigger picture, using Google Search Console, a free tool that is available for any site owner to use
- Demonstrate that you could be getting lead-generating traffic from hundreds of relevant keywords, not just the top few you know are popular.
Keyword research helps you identify the search terms that people use to find services or products that you sell. It sounds obvious, but your goal is to get as many of those visitors as possible, so it's crucial to get the best possible visibility for those search terms – your keywords.
In the free, organic search results, that means ranking on page one. The truth is, users rarely click on results beyond the first page. Even then, research shows that approximately 75.1% of all clicks go to the top three results on page one, so anything below the first scroll point on page one is largely ignored.
But how can you find out where your site ranks for highly searched keywords, or which of your pages ranks best?
Position-tracking tools enable you to see lots of different information, such as:
- Tracking and reporting your approximate position for a set of keywords over time
- Which page on your site ranks best for a keyword you've targeted
- Alerting you to significant position changes, so you can investigate quickly and address any issues on your website.
- How your competitors are doing for the same keywords
Keyword ranking tools to consider
The more useful tools usually require a paid subscription, but most of them offer a free trial with no commitment, so give them a try. A completely free option for any website owner is Google Search Console (GSC) - more about that later.
Amongst the better paid options, take a look at these tools, which offer keyword position tracking, as well as many other useful features:
Remember that I said keyword ranking tools show “your approximate position” in search results?
That’s because there is no definitive ranking position that everyone sees. Keyword rankings aren’t rigidly fixed, and neither are the results that are shown to users for a particular search query.
Why? Google uses a person’s browser settings, search history and location data to make some assumptions about what they’re actually looking for – their intent – so everyone’s search results are personalised to some extent.
Let’s look at an example, using the keyword “carp fishing”.
- User A has a history of buying fishing equipment online, so Google shows them ecommerce websites selling carp fishing gear in top-ranking positions.
- User B lives in London but on a visit to Somerset they do a search from their mobile phone for “carp fishing”. Google interprets this as a search for a local venue, so at the top of their search results are nearby carp fishing lakes.
- User C is thinking of taking up fishing as a hobby; they’ve been doing a lot of research online recently, so Google deduces their primary intent is for more informational resources like videos, blog posts, fishing community platforms such as forums.
We’ve hugely simplified this example, but it demonstrates why your own content could rank at number one for some users, page two for others, or not at all! It’s also a lesson in having different types of content for different types of search.
Having gone to the effort of explaining how you can track keyword rankings, I’m now going to do a complete about-turn and say to you,
Don’t get hung up on ranking reports!
Here are a few reasons why:
- Some site owners religiously check their keyword rankings every day and swing into action any time a keyword slips a position or two. The truth is, it’s perfectly natural for keyword positions to fluctuate a little, for all sorts of reasons. Knee-jerk reactions can do as much harm as good on a page that is basically well-optimised. A sustained free-fall should be investigated, however.
- Tracking tools give useful insight, but as we’ve explained, search results are largely personalised to the user, so at best it’s an average position.
- Ranking reports only tell the story for a relatively small, exact-match list of big-money keywords. You won’t ever be able to imagine, let alone track, all the different search terms that bring traffic to your website.
This last point really gets to the heart of it. What if those few popular keywords you’ve chosen are just the tip of the iceberg? What if a single page on your website could rank well and capture traffic from hundreds of relevant keywords?
This is genuinely achievable!
GSC has many so features that give you technical insights into the health of your website, but one of the most interesting areas shows your site’s organic performance in search results.
In the Performance Report you’ll see:
- How many impressions each search term gets over a specified date range (up to 16 months' data is preserved)
- Which search terms your website shows for in search results, and how many clicks each search term gets
- The average position of a search term
- The average click-through rate for each search term
Search Console lets you add filters and date ranges (including date-range comparisons) so you can slice and dice the data to your heart’s content, or download it to a spreadsheet for further analysis. GSC itself only lists a maximum of 1,000 search queries in any report, but if you link your GSC account to Google Analytics, the same data is available for several thousand search queries.
Our case study is from a customer's website selling fishing tackle.
The exact keyword “fishing tackle” is pretty important to the business, of course, and I dare say it’s being tracked on a ranking report somewhere. But the truth is, over the last three months Google Search Console suggests that exact keyword has had an average position of 11, at the top of page two, with 536 clicks.
Should that be considered an SEO fail, then?
Not at all, because Search Console also lists 370 close, but completely unique, variations of that keyword – we call these “long-tail queries” – and between them they got over 3,300 clicks in the same period.
Out of those 370 long-tail variations, 226 had an average ranking on page one, and 65 ranked in the top 3.
The takeaway from this case study is that high-volume, generic keywords are not the whole story; sometimes they are not even a very big part of the story. It’s unrealistic and impractical to list hundreds of long-tail keyword variations on a ranking report, but without a closer look using other tools, the business might have the very wrong impression that it is failing when the reality is the exact opposite.
- Your “golden” keywords are important, but even when they consistently rank at No.1, they probably only account for a tiny percentage of your overall traffic. It’s useful to keep some perspective.
- Long-tail, low-volume keywords often make up a very high percentage of your overall traffic. Download them from GSC's Performance Report for analysis, if only to have some idea what proportion of traffic they’re responsible for generating.
- Rankings fluctuate up and down constantly – it’s normal. Don't panic over short-term changes, but do investigate prolonged declines, and take action
If you'd like help identifying the keywords driving traffic to your website, please get in touch.