An Alternative To Ranking Reports

Last month I wrote Ranking Reports Rant, a diatribe against using ranking reports to evaluate SEO success. The reasons are many and include personalization of results, taking your eye of the long tail, increased clutter and testing on SERP pages, and the danger of having agency compensation tied to ranking reports.

There were more than a few agency readers who took umbrage with my post: “but the clients WANT ranking reports!”. Matt McGee countered with a brave suggestion: refuse to provide ranking reports and refer those clients who insist on them to another agency.  Why would Matt turn away clients? Because there is a better way. A much better way and he knows it.

To see how useless ranking reports are, let’s dive deeper into a slightly hypothetical example of a page on our blog titled Tattoo Horror Story. (The example is hypothetical in the sense that I don’t care about tattoo stories, but the data I’m sharing is very real.)

Let’s assume I’m very interested in ranking well for “tattoo story” and this is the page that is going to do it. The page is a simple blog post regarding an odd question posted to our free legal advice forum – the on-page factors are there (including gratuitous picture) and it’s sitting on a reasonably authoritative domain with both external and internal links pointing to it.

Let’s approach this from the standard ranking report methodology. First, I look at the Google keyword research and see there are roughly 880 phrase match searches for “tattoo story” monthly.

Next, I log out of my Google account and do a ranking report check and find that my tattoo story page is crossing the ranking finish line at a dismal 69th place. I then check the amount of traffic being generated to this page that includes the word “story.”

A paltry three visitors so far this year:

I essentially don’t rank for my targeted term and have only 3 visits from anything including the word “story”. Conclusion:  I’m getting roughly 0.1% of the phrase match traffic Google has told me is out there. My page is a failure. I fire my SEO or agency.

Now let’s pretend that instead, I’ve hired Matt McGee who threatened to fire me as a client if I insisted on measuring his efforts through ranking reports. Instead, he talks about my business success. He is paid on his ability to impact my bottom line, not my ranking for specific terms.

He shows me two key metrics:  the volume of incoming search traffic to this page as well as those specific terms driving that volume.  (Note – this is entirely hypothetical, for all I know Matt recommends wearing fuzzy bunny slippers, burning incense and chanting “Matt Cutts” in the dark on Tuesdays as white hat tactics.)

First, we review the search traffic generated by our page by looking at the Google Analytics landing pages report by filtered by search traffic.

Turns out, our Tattoo Story page is the third most popular natural search entry page on the site.

Next, Matt shows me all of the keywords driving traffic to the page. I dive deeper into those terms and learn I have 38 different keywords delivering people to that page.

Diving into the list I learn:

  1. We are getting traffic for the very competitive term “tattoo” – something that I would have thought was impossible if I had a ranking report mindset.
  2. The second most popular term has strange characters  “тату” and we’re getting traffic for “صور وشم” None of these characters even appear on the page – worth looking in to.
  3. We’re ranking for lots of longer tail terms that are tangentially related to our content – “speaker tattoo”, “unity tattoo”, “gambar tattoo”, “courage tattoos”. Perhaps it’s time to build out content for these terms.
  4. Many people can’t spell tattoo, dropping the last vowel to the aborted “tatto”. Hmmmm, anything I can do with this?
  5. About 10% of the traffic comes from variations of “photos”, “pictures” “pics”.  Time to build out user submitted tattoo picture pages.

Now instead of firing my agency or sending my SEO out to build, buy, or fabricate links with “tattoo story” as anchor text, I’m exploring 5 different tactics that can actually increase my traffic volume and won’t burn my site (paging JCPenney).

Replace your ranking reports with a deeper look at those pages you want to rank. Look at traffic trends and specific keywords instead. There is a lot more to be learned here.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is the founder of Atticus Marketing - a search agency dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. Prior to Atticus, Conrad ran marketing for Urbanspoon and the legal directory Avvo, which rose from concept to market leader under his watch.

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  • PPC Optimization

    Seriously? I really think you are trying to thread the needle a bit much. While i have certainly tried to see what kw’s are driving the most queries to incorporate them into copy, I really don’t think I’ve ever said – ah this content is a failure because it doesn’t have any exact match terms, especially since the landing page report is a click away.

    Further wouldn’t you see the total pageviews prior to entering in the filter to discern you are getting decent traffic?

    You do add some good insight on how to extend your article marketing via understanding the long tailed kw’s which are driving traffic to your site.

  • SEO 33

    صور وشم is Arabic and means tatoo images :)

  • Julia

    Тату is Russian and stands for “tattoo” =)

  • croozie

    You missed one very important point. My CEO and CTO want to know what the competition are doing. Rank Tracking software gives me insight that GA and Webmaster Tools can’t.

    I use GA to get an insight on my Long Tail.

  • Christopher Skyi

    “Google Analytics landing pages report by filtered by search traffic.”

    How exactly did you get this report? You’re not “filtering,” as far as I can see — you’re segmenting. I can’t reproduce this report with my own data.


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