by John Eberhard

How well your website ranks on the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) determines to a large extent how much traffic your website will get. There are other sources of traffic (blogs, social media, sending email) but search engine traffic is one of the biggest ones.

First I should explain that a website does not just rank well or poorly on a search engine. It ranks well or poorly for a given keyword. The sequence of actions to getting good keyword rankings on the major search engines is:

  1. Do keyword research to find the gold nuggets, the keywords that have good traffic but not tons of sites competing for them.
  2. Do SEO (search engine optimization) on the site to put those keywords onto the site in all appropriate places.
  3. Do a link building campaign to build up the number of links to your site coming from other sites. See my last article for specifics on what to do here.

So once you do all that, what now? How do you check whether your campaign is working? It’s all intangible, existing in invisible computer bits and bytes somewhere. How can you see whether you are making progress?

Something I started doing a few years ago for our link building clients, is a monthly report that includes a search engine ranking grid. It looks like this:

Keyword – Monthly Searches Google June 2010 Yahoo
June 2010
June 2010
Keyword #1 15 Not top 500 109
Keyword #2 66 Not top 500 Not top 500
Keyword #3 63 Not top 500 Not top 500
Keyword #4 123 25 Not top 500
Keyword #5 20 Not top 500 78
Keyword #6 10 485 115
Keyword #7 261 54 Not top 500
Keyword #8 5 7 2

(Actual keywords have been changed to protect the innocent.)

The point of this is that we can see month to month, how well we are doing in terms of the website’s ranking for the various keywords that we are targeting for the client. Then I do a tally on how many #1 keywords, top ten, etc., we have each month.

I get this information using software called Market Samurai. I don’t enter each keyword by hand and scroll through hundreds of listings.

Keyword Rankings Summary Mar 2010 Apr 2010 May 2010 June 2010
Keywords with #1 position 4 4 5 8
Top ten keywords including #1s 20 19 19 23
Top 20 keywords including #1s and top tens 30 26 34 32
Top 100 keywords including #1s and top tens 66 62 78 81
Top 500 keywords including #1s, top 10s, top 100s 101 100 115 125

With this information, I can now see how we are doing month to month. If your link building program is working, you should see the number of keywords in each category going up. There will be some fluctuation, but over time they should be going up.

You may wonder why I even care about whether our site is ranking for a keyword at the #485 position. That’s not going to get you any traffic, right? That’s right, it won’t. No one is going to scroll through 48 pages of Google results to get to your listing. In fact, until your site breaks the top 20 in terms of ranking for a keyword, you’re not going to see much traffic from it.

The point is that our SEO and link building actions will start working by getting the site to rank for that keyword, and when it first starts ranking for that keyword it will be in the very deep numbers. Then as you continue working, the rankings will get higher and higher, as that ranking number gets lower and lower and you get closer to the top.

If you only checked whether or not your site was ranking for a keyword down to the #20 position, you could be making progress but you’d never know it.

Does SEO and link building take a while? Sure. Getting great search engine rankings and resulting traffic is not for the impatient or the faint of heart. It’s a 6-12 month or longer program. But by using this system, you can see that progress is being made.