When I have a conversation with photographers about SEO, I usually find that their main goal is to get on the first page of Google. Then I ask, “What would someone be searching for in order to find your site on the first page?” Usually that gets me a “hmm… good question” kind of response, so I’ll ask them how they are checking to see where they rank in Google. The most common answer is something like: “I just search Google for wedding photographers.”
If that answer describes how you’re checking your Google ranking, this post is for you!
First, let’s talk for a second about why this isn’t the best way to check your ranking. Google results are often different for each searcher. This is because Google tries to personalize results. Some of the personalization factors include:
- Your search history
- Whether or not you’ve visited a site before
- Social connections
- Your physical location
- Your device type
- Emails you’ve received in Gmail
So even if you don’t include a city in your search for a wedding photographer, Google is probably going to show you results for photographers near you.
But if someone else typed that same query (“wedding photographers”) in a different city or state, they would see drastically different results. This also happens on a micro level. Somebody on one side of town will likely see different results than someone search on the other side of town. Especially on the map. The browsing and connection personalization is pretty easy to avoid.
All you need to do is use an Incognito or Private window. These windows don’t save history or cookies, so your own preferences won’t influence your results. However, an incognito session can still be influenced by your location (based on IP address) and your device (results will likely be different on mobile and desktop). Because of this, your results may not be consistent if you search for the same keywords on multiple devices or in different locations, even if you are using a private browsing session. IF you are going to be using this method for checking your ranking, at least make sure you are consistent with your location and device when checking. But incognito searching still isn’t my favorite method for checking your rankings in the search engines.
Let’s look at 2 other free options that will let you check and track your rankings over time!
1. Serpfox**UPDATE 9/2/16** It seems that Serpfox no longer offers the free account ::sniff:: Serpfox is a tool that allows you to track your position in the SERPs over time. The free plan will let you track up to 10 keywords! You can get a paid account to track even more keywords (and the pricing starts at $10/mo, which is very reasonable compared to other pro tools).
2. Serps.com Rank Checker The SERPs rank checker does essentially the same thing as Serpfox, but is intended for one time searches instead of tracking over time. If you want to stay free and check more than 10 keywords, you could use this tool to get the same kind of results! The only catch is that it is a little slow, each search takes around 60 seconds. Just put in your keyword and domain, choose whether your engine, select local/device preferences, and check your rankings!
You can see that this tool gives me the same result as Serpfox.
Using these two free tools, you’ll at least have a way to measure your rankings consistently.
But even knowing your anonymous ranking isn’t a great way to track your SEO progress.
Think about this. Your potential client is probably not searching incognito. They probably WILL see personalized results. Chances are, you’ll show up all over the page for people using the exact same phrase. Not to mention, being on the first page for a specific keyword is probably more of a vanity metric than a key health indicator. By the way, do you even know if the keyword you are tracking is the most used head keyword used by your clients?
A site that is properly optimized will likely be bringing in organic traffic for hundreds of keywords. So how should you be measuring your progress when it comes to SEO? How will you know if your efforts are paying off? I’m glad you asked. There are quite a few things you can track, but my #1 recommendation is getting familiar with Google Search Console.
In particular, I want you to become an expert at reading the Search Analytics page.
This will show you all of the queries that displayed your site in the SERPS (impressions), the total number of clicks on those results, the CTR (impressions divided by clicks), and your average position across all queries. You’ll also be able to see all of that data for specific keywords, along with estimated monthly volume for each keyword.
*Note: Usually, Google shows 10 results per page. So if you are in position 35, you are the 5th result on the 4th page.
In the screenshot above, you can see data for the same keyword I was tracking with the free tools earlier. Google tells me that the average position over the past 28 days for “SEO for photographers” is 36.9. Not to much different than the 31 I was seeing in Serpfox, but keep in mind that this is data for the past 28 days. If I narrow it to the past 7 days, the average changes to 31.3. Nice! Good confirmation that the other tools are giving me an accurate picture of my ranking for that keyword. This report is also a great place to find keywords that you didn’t even know people were using to find your site. Sometimes you’ll find keywords that have a high monthly volume and you are already ranking in the first few pages. That would be a great time to focus on optimizing for that keyword and trying to capture even more of that search volume! You may also find that you are on page 1 or 2 for a keyword, but getting almost no clicks, despite having plenty of impressions. This is a good time to evaluate your snippet and think about why people aren’t clicking your result.
Finally, you can compare date ranges on the same chart. This is a great way to track whether your site is improving over time!
In this chart, the solid lines are the previous 28 days, and the dotted lines are the 28 days before that. You can see that I’ve increased impressions by almost 400% (that means my site is showing up in search results 4x more than before), but my CTR (click through rate) has gone down. Now that you know a little about how to read your search analytics, you can start to set better goals for your Google rankings!
Here are some goals you can set.
- I want to increase the number of clicks to my site from Google search traffic compared to last month.
- I want to show up more often in Google SERPs.
- I want to increase the CTR of my results.
- I want to discover and optimize for one new high volume keyword each month.
With these goals, you’ll have a much better idea about how your SEO efforts are paying off! Remember to check your progress at least once a month and refine your plan and goals!
Need some help reading your Search Analytics? Want someone to keep you accountable to your new SEO goals? Become part of the Fuel Your Photos community by joining the free Facebook group!