Keywords have been the foundation of search engine optimization (SEO) since the inception of search engines.
As keyword ranking evolved over the decades, so has the way we track them.
So What Does Keyword Tracking Mean?
Tracking keywords involves using software to monitor a specific set of keywords on an ongoing basis.
There are many tools for tracking keywords, each with their own suite of benefits and other tools.
This guide is not meant to sway you to use any specific tool. Rather, it’s intended to help you figure out the best method for tracking your keywords.
Why Should We Track Keywords?
Most stakeholders investing in SEO think of two things:
- What are my rankings?
- Is my investment improving my revenue?
Our jobs as digital marketers is to help paint a picture with data to show that our SEO efforts are helping generate business from organic sources.
One of the ways we do that is by showing the progression of keyword rankings.
By showing improvements in rankings, we can often connect the dots to improved organic traffic and conversions.
What Metrics Matter?
When tracking keywords, the three most common metrics you will see are:
- Visibility: An estimate of a website’s trend of organic visibility for the set of target keywords currently being tracked in the campaign. This is typically set on a scale of 0-100%. If you have an organic visibility of 100%, then all of your tracked keywords would be ranking in position 1.
- Position: This is defined as where you rank in Google, or whichever search engine you’re tracking.
- Volume: This is the average monthly search volume. Typically higher volume keywords are more important to track, but there is definitely a case for tracking small volume keywords.
- Page: This is the page that’s ranking for that specific keyword. It’s always important to know what your top ranking pages are.
You can mix and match which metrics you feel are most important for your stakeholders.
Just make sure you’re able to use these metrics to tell the story of your work.
1. Simple Keyword List Tracking
The traditional method for tracking keywords involves a single list of keywords.
This was most common when search engines were less complex. (Learn all about how search engines work today in Search Engine Journal’s ebook, How Search Engines Work.)
As search engines evolved, so did keyword tracking tools.
They brought new features to keep up with the evolving search landscape.
However, there are still many cases where tracking a simple list of keywords is useful. For example:
- Your business offers only one product/service.
- You’re a restaurant or bar in a single location.
- You have a low consideration service/product.
A simple keyword list report may include a visibility trend chart and a table with your keyword ranking performance.
If your business is targeting multiple locations, then you’re in luck!
Most keyword tracking tools offer the ability to track rankings in different locations.
You can run a simple keyword list, but include different geography-related terms in your different lists.
2. Category Split Keyword Tracking
As your business offerings expand, you may find that a simple list of keywords may not cut it.
You may find that as your list of keywords grows past 100 or 1,000, it becomes difficult to see the big picture.
Visibility Gets Cloudy
When you’re tracking keywords for multiple services and multiple brands, measuring performance with a single visibility metric no longer makes sense.
Measuring a single organic visibility metric across multiple facets doesn’t help you determine where your strong and weak points are.
It’s like looking at organic traffic as a whole, but not looking at content silo performance.
How Do We Fix Our Keyword Reporting with Categories?
When you’re reporting to stakeholders, splitting your visibility metrics into specific categories allows you to more clearly show your organic performance across their business landscape.
Start by tagging your keywords with a unique identifier. This can be a service or product category, or brand name.
Next, filter your reporting to only display visibility and keyword ranking tables for those tags.
It’s as easy as that!
You can still use the same metrics as a simple keyword tracking list but split them amongst your different categories.
3. Keyword Funnel Tracking
Tracking keyword along a user funnel starts to get a little more complex.
How it works is it blends data from keywords and website analytics to track user engagement at each stage of the purchase cycle.
This takes a step back from the traditional keyword tracking and looking more into search behavior.
Why Track Keywords in a Funnel
Many industries are starting to catch on that users search for things in more ways than a single list of keywords.
In fact, 15-20% of searches in Google every day have never been searched before.
Keeping tracking of the different long-tail queries becomes a bit mundane to keep up with.
Additionally, many advanced business types require reporting more advanced than a simple keyword list because they don’t accurately paint a picture of the consumer journey.
How Do We Set Up the Funnel?
Let’s tap into our traditional marketing roots and look at the old school marketing funnel.
- Top Funnel – Awareness
- Mid Funnel – Consideration
- Bottom Funnel – Action
So how does this relate to SEO and your website?
To remain an agile and effective SEO, we need to tailor our digital efforts to what consumers are looking for.
When we start looking into the different ways searchers interact with different industries, we start to learn how to more effectively market to them.
Step 1: Assign Webpages to Funnel Stages
Let’s look at an example of a healthcare website.
Where would a healthcare website’s pages fit into the funnel?
- Top Funnel: Blogs & Resource Content.
- Mid Funnel: Conditions Treated, Insurance Info, Company About Page.
- Bottom Funnel: Services Pages, Location Pages, Contact Pages.
Some key metrics we want to track here include:
- Conversions value.
- Assisted conversions (if possible).
- Organic Sessions.
Step 2: Sync Google Search Console Keywords to Funnel Stages
This step gets advanced as it requires advanced tracking software to tag keywords in Search Console based on filters.
My team likes to use Funnel as our integration software and sync all this data into Google Data Studio to visually report the funnel.
There are some basic types of searches that occur when users travel through the marketing funnel.
If you can apply some of those keyword filters to your reporting, then you can assign those keywords to your funnel stages.
Some sample keyword filters you can use include:
- Top Funnel (Keyword Starts With): What, How, When, Can, Does, Why
- Mid Funnel (Keyword Contains): Best, Top, Review, Benefits, Vs
- Bottom Funnel (Keyword Contains): Brand, Location, Near Me, Specific Service
The metric we’ll be pulling from this step is organic impressions from Search Console.
Step 3: Sync Keyword List to Funnel
As mentioned in a previous section, looking at a single visibility metric to represent all of your keywords doesn’t accurately represent your organic performance.
In Step 3, you’ll need to tag your tracked keywords to a specific funnel stage.
Use some of the keywords filter suggestions from step two or look at which page is ranking for those keywords.
The metric you’ll be using for this step is visibility. That’s it!
Once you’ve mapped out your funnel, you should have a multi-step funnel, each step with the following metrics:
- Conversions – Google Analytics
- Conversions value – Google Analytics
- Assisted conversions (if possible) – Google Analytics
- Organic Sessions – Google Analytics
- Organic Impressions – Google Search Console
- Visibility – Keyword Tracking Software
With this fancy new keyword tracking funnel, you’ll be able to impress your stakeholders with this captivating view into your efforts.
As you work through the various stages of your search engine optimization strategy, you’ll be able to track your performance at both a high level and granular level.
This is a perfect method for talking to your C-Suite level stakeholders.
Screenshot taken by author, January 2020