The End of National Rank Tracking & How To Adapt

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As SEOers we tend to get hyper-focused on rankings and since the beginning of time (aka since SEO existed) we reported using National rankings. In other words, what is our ranking for a particular keyword without any location signals (or personalization signals). We mimic this by searching in incognito mode or using a rank tracking platform. This is the primary rank tracking protocol that pretty much all rank tracking platforms use. You choose a search engine e.g. “Google USA Mobile”, put your keywords into the tool, and then start tracking performance over time. We all know that this type of search does not exist in the real world, but we can assume that our National performance is a strong leading indicator of rankings on the ground and will reflect the true search results most of the time.

In many industries, however, these assumptions no longer remain true and both SEOers and rank tracking platforms need to adapt.

The Problem With National Rank Tracking

If you or your client are B2C (and particularly in a service industry) then you are bound to find that close to 100% of all revenue-generating keywords imply local intent. For example, if you are a Car Repair Shop – all your important keywords such as ‘car repair’, ‘car mechanic’, ‘repair shop near me’ all have local intent. If you are in brick & mortar or eCommerce, then this may be an important subset of keywords i.e ‘furniture near me’, ‘furniture in new rochelle’, ‘furniture stores’. If you are in B2B you will find fewer local intent keywords that are relevant, but it would be worth, at least, considering if this is relevant to you. The issue is that the search results for local search intent keywords are becoming more dominated by hyperlocalized results in Google and, therefore, national rank tracking for these keywords have become meaningless.

For example – take the keyword ‘car repair’. This is the scraped results being reported from SEMrush:

If you take a close look, you will notice 2 important things:

  1. The local pack is showing results in Coffeyville, KS. This is because Google displays the centroid of the entire USA if a rank tracking bot is crawling from outside of the US.
  2. The traditional “blue link” results do not show any localized content. It is all nationalized content.

Now compare the results of the same query mimicking a search (spoofing lat-long coordinates) from my home city, New Rochelle, NY:

This is a completely different search result from what we saw in the SEMrush scrape. In this search, the results are all hyperlocalized to the “New Rochelle” location where we searched from. This highlights the major problem with National rank tracking. Rank tracking platforms will show results based on the IP location of the scraper and will differ entirely from the results that will be seen by a real customer that is searching from a location that is meaningful to the business.

The result is that National rank tracking for local intent searches will not provide useful information to understand ranking performance.

The Solution

So how can you and your rank tracking platform resolve this issue? The simplest solution is to stop tracking nationally for local intent keywords and instead track at a local level. We recommend setting up separate tracking for the local pack and traditional “blue link” results. Now that mobile-first indexation has rolled out for most businesses, we also recommend tracking using Google Mobile. Many rank tracking platforms offer the option to track at a local level in this way, whether this is down to the ZIP or City.

Things get a lot more complicated, however, if your client is at the enterprise level and has dozens to thousands of locations around the country. If this is the case, you may have to track a sample of locations for the same keyword. It is best to make this a representative sample, by choosing a spectrum of low to high-performing stores, as well as a mix of rural, suburban, and urban locations. The method of choosing a representative sample is really important, and we always advise involving business intelligence/analytics folks to best represent the overall business.

So now you have a sample of locations and you’ve set up tracking in your rank tracking platform. This is now where most, if not all, rank tracking platforms fail. Most platforms can provide you with fancy graphs to display your ranking across the various locations. But, what you need to be able to make decisions and track performance is a high-level view of this data. For each keyword, you need a dashboard that shows how many locations are ranking in positions 1-3, 4-10, and 11+. And you need to be able to view performance month over month. If your rank tracking platform doesn’t provide this, then you may need to export the data (via API or otherwise) and build your own dashboards in Google Sheets. Below is an example of a dashboard we built at Kahena.

This type of dashboard allows us to understand month-over-month keyword performance over time. This way, we can make an SEO change and see how it impacts rankings across relevant geographical markets.

TL;DR

  • National Rank tracking is not an accurate way to measure keyword performance for any queries that have local intent i.e keywords with ‘near me’ or ‘store’ modifiers.
  • The solution to this issue is keyword tracking at a local level. If you have multiple locations, ensure that you have a way to consolidate this data and view it at an aggregate level so you can make real-world business and SEO decisions.
Ben Heligman

Ben Heligman

Senior Enterprise SEO Lead
Ben is an integral part of the Kahena team as a senior project manager on some of our most important ecommerce clients. His specialties are retail e-commerce strategy and technical SEO. It can be said that he has taught the current team everything they know. When not off exploring the Far East with his wife Ruthie, Ben enjoys carpentry, ceramics, DIY projects, traveling, hiking, yoga, and relaxing with a soothing cup of tea.
Ben Heligman

Ben Heligman

Senior Enterprise SEO Lead
Ben is an integral part of the Kahena team as a senior project manager on some of our most important ecommerce clients. His specialties are retail e-commerce strategy and technical SEO. It can be said that he has taught the current team everything they know. When not off exploring the Far East with his wife Ruthie, Ben enjoys carpentry, ceramics, DIY projects, traveling, hiking, yoga, and relaxing with a soothing cup of tea.

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