Google Does Love Ranking Data – They Just Aren’t Ready To Admit It

During the Matt Cutts You & A at SMX Advanced in Seattle last week, someone asked Matt if Google would ever “like” query systems that provided ranking reports to SEOs. Matt said, again, that the focus shouldn’t be on rankings, and that website should be focused on “what makes the most money.”

I rebutted that stance on Twitter, stating that I thought that was a great viewpoint in theory, but as an agency SEO, if I don’t care about my clients’ organic rankings, I’m out of a job. I’d probably argue that most SEOs (in-house, agency, affiliate – whatever) also care about rankings more than Google wants them to.

Matt actually answered my tweet (that was cool!) and we talked back and forth a bit about the reality of how the world actually works versus how Google would like to tell us how to work.


Don’t get me wrong, I would love to still be in SEO the day a client comes into our agency and says, “I don’t care where I rank, or what position I am for a specific keyword, I just want to make more money.” Reality does have a hand in our day to day life though, even on the interwebz, and we need ranking information – plain and simple.

Here’s the rub: Google actually does agree that rankings are important. Webmaster Tools has reported this data for at least a year now, and the recent announcement of Google Webmaster Tools data being integrated into Google Analytics is another step in the process. Rankings are important, they’re just not ready to give in and admit it yet. Check out the following from the Google analytics blog announcement regarding the integration:

The initial release will be a set of reports in Google Analytics using search data from Google Webmaster Tools. This includes query information, clicks, impressions, clickthrough rate, and average position. You’ll also be able to use Google Analytics advanced data filtering and visualizations with this data.

Let me pull the important part of that paragraph out for you:

Average Position

I haven’t actually seen this data in my Analytics dashboards yet. You need to be sure you’re looking at the “New Version” after you’ve requested access to the pilot. Check out Barry Schwartz’ article from last week’s announcement for some screenshots.

What Can SEO’s Do With Merged Rankings & Analytics?

The waiting is the hardest part. The anticipation of having average position data for organically ranked keywords in my Google Analytics account gets my nerdy hopes up. It may be likely we’ll have to use the Advanced Data Filtering option in a Custom Report, but even with the setup of that report, this feature has the potential to save any SEO a ton of time each month.

Prior to this being available, we all took our ranking reports and manually merged them with our Google Analytics data each month. We built elaborate messes of spreadsheets that tracked fluxuations in rankings and correlated them with fluctuations in revenue.

Once I have sample data to work with, I’ll share a how-to with readers on how to integrate ecommerce data with ranking data for a given time period. I personally can’t wait to see how it looks.

Ultimately, I do see a light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the ranking versus ROI argument. There has always been a pattern to how concepts are adopted.

Think of the reaction from clients and C-suites when you started talking about reviews years ago, or needing funds for link building – they were resistant, scared, annoyed, and avoided the conversation as a whole for months and years, eventually they saw the light and turned the corner. I think the same will eventually happen with the ranking versus  ROI argument.

What really needs to happen is integration of revenue tracking into every ecommerce platform. Every shopping cart, booking engine, and home grown payment application needs to support tracking scripts.

Once we can show every single website owner the realities of dollars and cents, they’ll start turning the corner to ROI over Rankings. But until then, we have to see ranking data (there’s no way around it) and Google does agree, even if they won’t say it out loud.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Google: Analytics | Google: Webmaster Central | Search & Analytics


About The Author: is the co-founder of Ignitor Digital, along with long-time colleague Mary Bowling. At Ignitor, Carrie tackles tough technical SEO roadblocks many small business owners don't even know they have. Her experience with analytics and troubleshooting helps her get to the root of issues. When not working, Carrie loves to cook for friends and family, hang out with her pretty awesome kids, and read books that have little-to-no educational value! You can also follow Carrie on twitter, @carriehill.

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  • Rick Bucich

    People in the business for awhile will remember that Google used to provide an API so you could check your actual rank on the back end without violating TOS on the front end. It was very useful and seeing the frequently wild fluctuations visually across many keywords allowed me to develop a pretty thick skin knowing that the patterns are normal.

    This was pre-personalization of course which likely led to it being discontinued. WMT is useful but really only helps for terms driving impressions & traffic, sometimes it’s valuable intel to know where something ranks even if it does not yet provide impressions.

  • Carrie Hill

    Thanks for the comment. Ido think rankings on keywords that aren’t gaining traffic is important from a “where can we improve” point of view – but I don’t think Google will EVER show it. They probably don’t want to take the resources to show rankings on keywords that don’t have any significant impressions, I imagine for every WMT account across the web, it would take a lot of server space.

  • Glenn Ferrell

    @Rick commented on the Google API for checking rankings (required a SOAP API key until they stopped giving them out.) This and your points above make it clear that Google understands the importance of rankings. I personally think that the Google TOS (clause 5.3) which prohibits automated queries is outdated and deserves either further clarification (by Matt Cutts) or compromise. I believe everyone would be okay with some kind of limitation on automated queries. But the way it is now, any automated queries violate the TOS — which literally means that every rank checker, backlink checker, etc. is in violation of these terms of service.

    Just getting access to rank checking through either GA or Webmaster tools really seems (to me) to fall short of what SEOs would like to see. Most SEOs also want to do some analysis of prospective clients (or client’s competitors) as well. And the growing Bing market is additional support for a more generalized tool that covers multiple search engines.

  • Bharati

    With the quality evolution of the search engine algorithms the approach and methodology of achieving high rankings has changed but ranking high has always been important as only when you rank high your website can get the targeted search traffic which is the major marketing goal of the online marketing campaigns.

    High Rankings lead to a high CTR (Click Thru Rate) which leads to increased traffic with a potential for good conversions.

    Hence, SEO is beyond rankings does not mean that high SERPs are no longer a long term goal of an SEO campaign but it means that the website has to reach out and branch out and gain quality web presence before it is ensured of a good high ranking search presence.

    If we get the ranking data from Google tools itself it will reduce the dependency on other third party SEO tools but what is required is a mature and a wholesome approach and attitude towards SERPs from the SEOs and the clients because there are still many clients who start their SEO discussion with ‘ I want to rank for these keywords on page1 and position 1 of Google ….’

    I have written quite a few times on this topic on the following links:


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