In Chapters 4 and 10 we discuss the need to monitor your rankings in the search results to monitor performance for your own website, but also for websites of your direct competitors. You’ll probably want to check the rankings of many keywords that are important in driving traffic to your site, but you might limit checking the rankings of competitors to just a few of the most important keywords.

There are three ways to check rankings of pages for a particular keyword.

Manual Review

If you want to know where you rank for a specific phrase simply go to the search engine of choice and do a search and scroll through the results for your web page to appear.  Sporadic use of this method can serve as a valid tool, but it’s obviously not scalable. Moreover, this method invokes your personalized history–if you check your competitor’s page every day and click that listing, the search engine may assume you like that site and will adjust your search results to show that page in a higher ranking position despite overall relevance. Ultimately this adjustment will invalidate your test.

Rank Checking Tools

Standalone rank checking tools pretend to be a human being doing a search on Google (or another search engine) and they let the search marketer know where that marketer’s page shows up in the search ranking for that keyword. For example, a standalone tool might search for “digital cameras”  to see if the marketer’s page is found. Usually, the tools look at the top 50-100 results to let the marketer know where his page showed up, if at all.

Search engines don’t like rank checkers because they are wasting server time they could be spending on real searchers that make them money. In addition, personalized search has made standalone rank checking tools less valuable, because they check the non-personalized results only.  We have listed a number of popular Rank Checking Tools as well as detailed reviews.

Because rank checking tools show only non-personalized search rankings, it doesn’t give you a true average of where your page ranks across different searchers, but it does give you an unbiased look at how your content stacks up against competitors without taking the searcher into account. Even though personalized search results are the norm these days, there are still plenty of searches that are not personalized, so rank checkers let you see how well you are doing there.

 Average Rank from Webmaster Tools

Google or Bing Webmaster Tools are the newest–and best–way to monitor your rankings, so you might want to learn a bit about how the rank checking feature of Webmaster Tools works.  In short, Webmaster Tools rank metrics show the “average position” of a page for search, which means that it takes personalization of search results into account, unlike the rank checking tools listed above. So, if your page ranked #2 for three searches and #7 for two other searches, the Webmaster Tools rank checker would tell you it had an average rank of #4 (2+2+2+7+7 divided by 5).