This is one of the most common questions I receive from clients:
Why does the keyword ranking report say I’m in position A for this keyword, but when I search Google live for it I’m actually in position B?
Or I’m not there at all?
It’s a viable question and concern.
As an SEO agency, reporting results is one of our most important jobs.
However, there are sometimes discrepancies between what’s reported and how it looks live.
This is an issue for anyone doing small business SEO.
Since there are way too many keywords to check manually, we have to use a rank checker to gather this data, and they aren’t always accurate — at least, not in real time.
In this article, I’m going to break down the differences between live ranking in the wild and what ranking reports show us.
My hope is this will clear up some of the discrepancies and help you use your reports more accurately to gather actionable data and make smarter decisions.
Let’s get to it:
What is Live Keyword Ranking?
Live ranking, in a nutshell, is the position you are ranked for a given keyword, or set of keywords, at this exact moment in time.
It’s how Google is currently ranking your website if the results were static.
Unfortunately for reporting purposes, results are hardly ever static.
Due to new content being indexed, website authority or different pages changing, and Google making changes to their algorithm, the SERPs (search engine results pages) are constantly adjusting.
In a sense, we want it to be this way.
If you’re trying to get ranked for a keyword, you want to know there is a possibility Google will move other pages out of the way to make room for yours.
In order for this to happen, the results must be fluid, not permanent.
But it does cause a conundrum when it comes to reporting these rankings.
The report you see is a single moment in time.
Reports cannot be dynamic.
So you may get a report that says your rank for a certain keyword is A, but you check it the next day and it’s B.
This is the nature of search results.
Thankfully, there is a way you can use your reports more accurately.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about a major reason why what you see when you check your live rankings may be different than what’s reported.
Searching For a Keyword in Google
When you conduct a search, you are usually seeing personalized suggestions.
Google personalizes the search results it shows you based on your location, the device you’re using, your past search/browsing history, and more.
For instance, if you have visited a website often, that website may show up higher in your personalized results.
If you’re searching for a local business, like “Asian restaurants,” Google will usually show restaurants closer to you.
Why does Google do this?
Because, in most cases, the results shown are more relevant to the searcher, and that is Google’s ultimate goal.
They use the information they know about you to try to guess your intent to the best of their ability to show you what you’re looking for.
Now, this doesn’t happen for all searches.
Informational searches, such as “how to X” tend to be less personalized than local searches (restaurants, mechanics, flower shops, etc).
Bottom line, when conducting any live search and trying to find your rankings, it’s important to know whether you are getting personalized results and what type of search you are conducting.
Also, you may be seeing something completely different than your target market, so even though you may not see your page, your potential customers may still see it on their end.
How to See Non-Personalized Live Rankings
When conducting a search to find your live rankings, you need to turn off personalized results.
My favorite way to see non-personalized Google rankings also happens to be one of the easiest.
Simply open up an incognito window in Google Chrome and conduct your search through it.
You can also type “&pws=0” at the end of your search query, like so:
But I think using an incognito window is easier to remember.
Why The Keyword Ranking Data Can Differ
Most ranking reports show you keywords, their position, and possibly the change in position.
Unfortunately, no ranking report can show you all of the keywords you rank for unless it came from Google itself.
You can get the top 999 keywords and positions from your Google Search Console, but you likely need more than that to make accurate decisions.
Ranking reports almost always differ slightly than live rankings at any one moment in time.
They are as accurate as they can be, but it’s hard to get exact data.
Google’s rankings are changing all the time, so:
1) It takes time for these changes to reflect in the reports and
2) A portion of the report may become outdated quickly if the rankings change after it was created.
How to Handle the Differences (And The Better Stats to Monitor)
First, don’t panic if you can’t find yourself in the search results.
This is most likely a normal fluctuation and your ranking should return within a few days or a week at most.
Second, the key to accurately using ranking reports is to monitor changes over weeks and months, not days.
The SERPS are too volatile for you to get accurate data otherwise.
But if you monitor trends over weeks and months, you will get an accurate reading on how your rankings are changing over time and if your strategy is working.
However, I think a better stat to monitor is phone calls, form submissions, purchases, or any statistic which comes as a result of your rankings.
It paints a bigger, more accurate picture of how the campaign is going.
To Sum Up Keyword Rank Tracking
It’s tough not to get a little worried when the rankings you see with your own eyes differ from what the report says.
But there are many reasons why this may be the case, and it’s a normal occurrence.
The key is to monitor your rankings over a longer period of time, preferably each month, to get a long-term view of how your rankings are changing.
And when you do check your live rankings, make sure personalized results are turned off.
This will give you a more accurate look at how your rankings are looking in the wild.