[pullquote]How do I know if my search rankings reports are accurate? You don’t. Move on.[/pullquote]A friend pinged me this morning asking about alternatives to using the SEOMoz Pro rank checking tool. The reported results were not the same as they were seeing when manually searching.
Even when logged out of Google and with a clear cache and no cookies, Google is still personalizing search results for each user based on the search history of each IP address and your geographic location.
This question is increasingly common for people reporting rankings to their SEO clients. As mentioned before, I am NOT IN FAVOR of relying solely on search rankings. There are plenty of other, more meaningful metrics.
Here’s my response, which I felt was worth sharing:
For consistency reasons (and time constraints), I’ve stopped using rankings as an indicator of SEO results.
Using 2 data sources gets you a couple different data points. They hardly ever match, so I look at trends over several months and not particular data points from an exact moment in time.
Try reporting on organic, non-branded keyword visits and the number/type of unique landing pages from that traffic segment. If you have conversion data, all the better. Rankings are meaningless unless you are actually attracting qualified traffic and generating sales/leads/whatever. The landing pages reports show how much of your content is exposed in search engines, and where you might be missing opportunities to attract new visitors by focusing on some internal pages or sections.
It’s a lot more work, but I’ve found that clients appreciate tangible results in addition to (or instead of) showing rankings. Anything that keeps the SEM industry more accountable and transparent is a good thing, in my mind.