How To Choose the Right Rank Tracker for SEO

In this rank tracker buying guide, I want to explore some of the things that you might consider when choosing which rank tracking software to use for your website(s).

Many of these considerations are filterable on my rank tracker comparison table which you can use to find the best rank tracker for your own particular requirements.

What is a Rank Tracker?

Quite simply, a rank tracker is a piece of software that automatically checks your website’s position in the SERPs.

SERPs stands for Search Engine Ranking Pages.

When you perform a search, the results pages are known as the SERPs. Each SERPs page usually has 10 results per page and is often several pages long. The first organic result (after sponsored results) is known as position number 1. And position number 10 is at the bottom of the first page, with position 11 being at the top of the second page.

Organic results are the non-paid links to websites that the search engine thinks will answer your search query. Paid links are clearly marked as Ads.

The words position and rank are used to specify the numerical placement of a website in the organic SERPs. For example, a rank/position of 1 denotes the first result in the SERPs and is the position/rank an SEO will be striving to achieve for their specified keyword. These terms are used interchangeably throughout this article.

Why would you want to use a Rank Tracker?

When you are responsible for a website that depends on organic search traffic, it is useful to keep track of the positions that your website ranks for certain keywords.

A keyword is the query that a user types into a search engine – despite the name, a keyword can consist of several individual words.

By tracking keywords, you can:

  • Track the progress of your website
  • Check the performance of your SEO efforts
  • Quickly identify issues with your website

For example, I would like this webpage to rank in the number one position in Google for the keyword ‘Rank Tracker Buying Guide‘. I could carry out a Google search for this keyword each day and make a note of its current position, however, this can be very time-consuming, particularly if you are tracking several hundred keywords across several different search engines. By configuring rank tracking software to check and record the position regularly, I can free up a lot of time for more important tasks.

Right now, this webpage does not rank in any position for my keyword because I haven’t yet published it on my website. I expect it will take around six months to rank on the first page of the SERPs (positions 1-10) because this website is pretty new and hasn’t yet built up any authority.

By using a rank tracker, I will be able to track the keyword’s progress over this time period, including the day that it enters the SERPs and when it gets into the Top 50, Top 20, Top 10, and Top 3 positions. Rank tracking software usually represents your rank data using a line chart through which you can easily see when your rank increases and decreases.

I will also be able to make educated guesses about the performance of my SEO efforts. For example, if in a month’s time, this webpage is still not in the SERPs for my specified keyword, I might edit it a bit and add a few images. Then, if this webpage begins ranking for my keyword a week or so later, I might attribute the change in position to my updates.

Another use of a rank tracker is to identify SEO issues. For example, if I notice a fall in traffic, I can check the rank tracker to see if any of my keywords have lost positions. If there are a lot of rank decreases, it could indicate that the search engine has changed their algorithm or that my website has been penalised. Some rank trackers can be configured to send you an email alert if several of your keywords lose rankings at the same time.

How Rank Trackers work

In general, rank trackers use a software robot to type a query into a search engine and then scrape each page of the SERPs to identify your website’s current position. Some rank trackers will also make a note of the positions of your competitors websites.

Although this may sound like a simple task for a developer, it is not quite as easy as you might think. Search engines can (and do) block robots from accessing the SERPs and may use a captcha to check that the searcher is human. In addition, rank tracking software requires access to VPNs to emulate searches from different locations around the world.

Limitations of Rank Trackers

Before using a rank tracker, you should be aware that positions in the SERPs are in a constant state of flux.

It is never wholly accurate to say “My website is number one in Google for such-and-such keyword“. Although it may appear to rank in the first position every time you do a search, when somebody else does a search from a different location or using a different device, your website might be in the number 2 spot, or not even rank at all.

Search engines also regularly change the positions of websites in the SERPs, for example to test the performance of a newly discovered website. So, even if a website appears in the same position for 100 out of 100 searches, it might change position on the 101st search.

Therefore, we must bear in mind that no rank trackers can show a true representation of your website’s actual SERPs positions – they can be pretty damn close, but never 100% because they change so often.

Consequently, we should not overreact when our positions change slightly over short periods of time – it is normal to see rankings fluctuate by a few positions day-by-day, with corrective action only being required if we see larger fluctuations over a longer date range.

A note about accuracy: Some rank tracking providers make claims about their software being more accurate than their competitors. Sadly, these same providers are not so forthcoming with information about how they measure or improve the accuracy of their ranking data (trade secrets etc.)

Technically, any rank tracker provider could claim to have 100% accuracy as long as they are reporting the actual SERPs position of a website after a particular keyword search, even if at that particular moment in time (as explained above) the SERPs is slightly different to what it might usually show.

Therefore, personally, I don’t feel these claims of better accuracy hold much water – pretty much every good rank tracker will report an accurate position.

The only way that I can envisage a rank tracker being able to get more accuracy is if they perform multiple searches of the same keyword at random time intervals and aggregate the results.

Some rank trackers may already do this, but because they are coy about how their technology works, this is only an assumption.

Any rank tracker that I find to report rankings that are obviously inaccurate will be removed from the comparison table.

The two types of Rank Tracker

Broadly speaking, rank trackers can be split into two categories; dedicated rank trackers and rank trackers that are part of a larger SEO suite of tools.

Dedicated rank trackers have usually been developed from the ground-up to have a single core function, and they carry out this function well. They may offer additional SEO tools that have been added along the way but their focus is on rank tracking and they often have more rank tracking features.

Conversely, SEO Suites have been designed to carry out several SEO-related tasks including website audits, keyword research and backlink analysis. For this reason, these rank trackers are more of an add-on to the rest of the tools and are not as comprehensive as a dedicated rank tracker might be.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but in general you can expect more rank tracking related features from a dedicated rank tracker than you might get from an SEO Suite. And with an SEO Suite, you get additional SEO tools included in the price.

Because dedicated rank trackers do not usually contain additional SEO tools, they can often (although not always) be more affordable, particularly if you are only looking for a rank tracking solution.

Projects, domains & competitors

Another limitation of rank trackers that are part of an SEO Suite is that you can only check your own verified domains that have been set up as a project within the system and there is often a limit to the number of projects/domains you can have. However, these types of rank tracker often allow you to also track a small number of competitors as well.

In contrast, dedicated rank trackers usually allow you to track the keyword positions of any domain you choose, whether you own it or not.

Many rank trackers also provide tools for competitor analysis, which means that you are able to compare your own website’s performance with that of your competitors.

Why you should not buy a Rank Tracker plan based on number of keywords

The pricing page of rank tracking software usually shows how many keywords are included in each of the payment plans, however, it is not simply a case of ‘more is better‘.

The reason for this is that different brands of rank tracking software do not use the same criteria for their keyword limitations.

For example, take a look at the two pricing plans below:

Disregarding the pricing, it may appear that Advanced Web Ranking’s 7000 keywords is better than SE Ranking’s measly 250 keywords.

However, with SE Ranking, each keyword can be tracked across five search engines (e.g. Google US, Google UK, Google CA, Yahoo US, and Bing US). So, 250 keywords tracked across five search engines is actually 1250 keyword/search engine combinations. In addition, SE Ranking checks the rank of each keyword across all five search engines on a daily basis, which makes 37,500 SERP checks per month on average (1250 x 30).

In contrast, Advanced Web Ranking’s 7000 keywords are in the form of keyword credits. Each keyword credit allows a single SERPs check – for example, one keyword in one search engine at one time (e.g. daily). So, if you want to track the positions of 250 keywords in a single search engine each day for a month, it would cost you 7500 keyword credits (250 keywords x 30 days). That’s more than the 7000 in your payment plan and you haven’t even added any additional search engines.

This is not to say that SE Ranking is better than Advanced Web Ranking – just that it is important to compare like-for-like and take into account your unique needs. For example, if I wanted to track 1000 different keywords in a single search engine on a weekly basis, I wouldn’t be able to do this with the above SE Ranking plan because I am limited to 250 distinct keywords. However, I would be able to achieve this with Advanced Web Ranking (1000 keywords x 5 weeks x 1 search engine = 5000 keyword credits).

So, whilst the keyword credit system used by some rank trackers is more flexible, it may not necessarily be the best choice.

To make comparisons a little easier, my Rank Tracker comparison table shows the maximum SERP checks you can perform per month along with how it has been calculated.

Which Search Engines/Locations should you track?

Many people will only be interested in tracking their rank in the Google search engine because it currently has the largest market share.

However, it should be noted that there is a different Google search engine for each country, and each one would have to be separately tracked in your rank tracker.

For example, if you have a website that targets English-speaking countries across the world, you may wish to track your keywords in Google US, Google UK, Google CA, and Google AUS. You should check you analytics software to see where the majority of your website visitors are located.

Similarly, if your website targets people in Russia, you may consider tracking the Yandex search engine, or if it targets the Chinese population, you may wish to track the Baidu search engine.

You should take time to consider if you would also like data from other search engines, such as Bing or Yahoo (again, it is worth checking your analytics logs to see if a significant proportion of your current traffic comes from alternative search engines).

If you run a Youtube channel or an Amazon store, your positions in these respective search engines will also be of interest to you.

Some rank trackers also allow you to track keywords based on the language used (e.g. you might wish to track both English and French languages if your website targets Canadians).

Finally, many rank trackers are able to search from more granular locations, such as at city, county or state level. Whilst national level rankings are often good enough, there can be fluctuations between regions. For example, if you search for a graphic designer from New York City, you are more likely to get results for graphic designers that are based in NYC. So, websites that target particular regions may want to set the location in their rank tracker to something that is more precise.

For rank trackers that use a keyword credit-based system, a credit will be used for each keyword/location/search engine combination, which can quickly burn up your budget if tracking your position across several search engines/locations.

Mobile rankings

It’s no secret that a search on your phone can return a completely different set of results than the same search on a desktop or laptop.

Therefore, several rank tracking software providers have the option of checking mobile rankings in addition to regular rankings.

So, if your website gets a lot of mobile traffic, you might consider tracking your mobile rankings as well.

As with checking different locations (above), checking mobile rankings counts as a different search engine, and so would use up an additional keyword credit.

Search types

Some rank trackers have options to check different types of search results.

This can include paid (sponsored) advertisements that also show up in the SERPs or local results (map pack). If these results are important to you, then you should consider a rank tracker that offers these capabilities.

SERP features

Some rank trackers can also track SERP features, also called rich snippets or structured data.

SERP features are formatted organic search results that are displayed a little differently to the regular search results.

Examples include knowledge panels (additional information about certain entities, such as brands that are shown to the right of the search results on desktop computers), reviews (including star-based ratings), and featured snippets (an excerpt of formatted text from a website, often shown at the top of the organic results).

Additional metrics

Some rank trackers will also provide additional metrics that can be used to help in your decision-making processes.

One of the main metrics that can sometimes be useful to know is search volume (SV).

Search volume or SV is an estimation of the number of times a particular keyword is searched for each month. Whilst it can be useful for getting a general idea of how popular a keyword is, it is very difficult to measure accurately without access to first-hand data (such as data from Google Search Console). Therefore, like most metrics provided by SEO tools, search volume should not be considered 100% accurate.

Some SEO tools also provide a keyword difficulty (KD) metric. This is an estimation of how difficult it will be to rank a keyword, however, it is only a best guess and is often not that useful.

Similarly, bespoke metrics like Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) have limited utility.

Custom reports

By default, all rank trackers will show each of your keywords in a table along with their current position and whether they have gained or lost positions since the previous check.

Most rank trackers also display a line chart plotting the rank of a website for a particular keyword over a specified period of time.

Some rank trackers take this further by allowing you to produce custom reports displaying only the information you require, which can then be downloaded as a PDF.

Custom reports are useful for larger organisations and agencies because they can be used to present information about progress and performance to the clients or board.

Email alerts

Another useful feature provided by some rank tracking software is the ability to set up email alerts.

These are automatic notifications that are sent to you when certain parameters are triggered. For example, you could configure an email alert whenever a keyword loses more than 10 positions in the SERPs.

Step-by-step guide to choosing a rank tracker

Now that you have an understanding of the main considerations when choosing a rank tracker, it’s time to decide which one is right for you.

You could jump right in and use my comparison table, however, I would recommend that you initially go through these steps.

  1. Make a list of the keywords that you want to track and tot up the total number.
  2. Make a list of the search engine, location, language, and device combinations that you wish to track. Each combination counts as a single SERPs check, so for example, you might want to track your rank in the following 5 search engines:
    • Google US Desktop English (National)
    • Google US Mobile English (National)
    • Google US Desktop English (California)
    • Google US Desktop Spanish (National)
    • Yahoo US Desktop English (National)
  3. Multiply the number of keywords by the number of search engines (so, for example, if you wish to track 100 keywords across 5 search engines, that’s a total of 500 searches)
  4. Decide how often you want to check the rank of each keyword. If you want daily checks, multiply the number from step 3 by 31. If weekly checks will be okay, multiply the number by 5.
  5. This final figure is the number of SERP checks that you require each month. It is recommended (although not mandatory) that you add a further 25% to this figure (multiply by 1.25) to give you a bit of leeway for adding additional keywords and search engines in the future.