Keyword rankings are becoming more variable each day, and they can change from one hour to the next. Four primary factors influence your ranking at any point in time, and having an idea of what they are could give you an advantage.
Google, Bing, and other search engines out there constantly tweak, refine and update the algorithms that drive their search results. Nowadays, many of these tweaks are driven by AI, so there’s no telling what turns they may take at any given moment.
Every search query is affected by the location of the searcher. For example, if you’re looking for a custom web development agency in your city, Google will consider both your location and that of the businesses it presents. Typically, this means that you’ll see a business closer to you first.
It’s no secret that search engines know a lot about us, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Google and other services use what they know about you to show you more relevant results.
If you have been on a particular website many times, for example, it will probably show up in your results more prominently.
Obviously, if you’re signed into Google through YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, etc., you’re more likely to get personalised results. However, your results can still be personalised regardless through session cookies, IP, and other means.
The final and arguably most important factor that affects your rankings is user engagement. Are people clicking on your web page when it shows up in their results? And when they do, how long do they stick around?
The answers to these questions can be the difference between having a successful SEO strategy and slowly slipping down the rankings. No matter how visible your site is in the short term, it will suffer over the long term if it can’t provide value to your audience.
The Google Search Console can show you how your site ranks for various search terms. The values that it offers are averages, not exact figures, due to the various factors we described above, mainly personalization and localization. This means the results can be a bit misleading for local businesses.
That said, this official tool from Google should always be your first port of call. The rank tracker provided by the console will show four key metrics. They are:
The first thing you’ll need to do is register your site with the Search Console. Next, click on Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
This will show you a list of keywords that your site ranks for and how many clicks it generates. There are a few things you can do to improve the quality of the data you see here.
Doing this will help you get the most accurate data regarding your actual rank. That said, the data will still not be perfect, and the results could be misleading depending on your target audience.
All the major browsers provide the option of accessing the internet in a private session. In essence, this means that you can access any website without sharing information about your browsing habits and other factors that might influence the search results.
The advantage of this feature in this context is that it allows you to perform a manual check of your Google rankings. That said, your location is still factored in, so it can artificially inflate your results.
If you’re sitting in your office, searching for your type of business somewhere in the vicinity, the chances of your website showing up near the top of the results page grow significantly. You can disable location tracking in your searches or use a VPN to make Google think you’re accessing the site from elsewhere, but this is also not exactly representative of a real-world scenario.
On the other hand, say you run an ecommerce store or another type of business in which location does not influence your results; the rankings you get this way will be quite representative.
All caveats aside, as we explained above, location is a significant factor when it comes to search result rankings in most scenarios. So, if you want to be extra diligent, try searching your keywords using the incognito mode from various locations.
The easiest approach is asking your staff, friends, and family to search from their home and work addresses and cross-reference the results.
In this day and age, search engines work with so many variables and inputs that even something as simple as wanting to know how your website ranks against the competition can be a hugely complicated endeavour.
There are a few ways to check your progress, but no matter how diligent you are, the results will be somewhat inconclusive. That said, search engine optimisation is a long-term investment, and a gradual increase in traffic and conversions is the only real way to see how well you’re really doing.