Updated: Feb 26, 2019
If you’ve invested your time and money creating a website, then there is a good chance that you have also come up with an SEO strategy for that site This means you’ve researched keywords for each page and have optimized all the pages for those keywords and for the audience who you hope will visit your site. This is all well and good, but how do you know if all your work is actually working?
Finding out where your site is ranking in a search engine like Google seems like a good place to start, but as simple as that may sound, the reality is that this can be extremely time consuming and difficult.
Google Prohibits Programs From Checking Ranks
If you do a search on Google asking how to check your search position in Google, you’ll find a lot of sites that offer this service. These services are misleading at best. Many of them are flat-out incorrect and some service can even put you in violation of Google's terms of service (which is never a good idea if you want to remain in their good graces and on their site).
If you read the Google webmaster guidelines you’ll see:"Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google."
In my experience, trying several of the tools advertised for checking search rank proved that they don’t work anyway. Some have been blocked by Google because the tool sent too many automated queries, while others that appear to work produced incorrect and inconsistent results.
In one case, we wanted to see where the tool said a site we manage ranked when searching for the site’s name. When we did the search in Google ourselves, the site was the top-ranking result; however, when we tried it in the ranking tool, it said that the site did not rank even in the top 100 search results! That's some crazy discrepancy.
Checking to See If SEO Is Working
If Google doesn’t allow programs to go through the search results for you, how can you find out whether your SEO efforts are working?
Here are some suggestions:
Go through the search engine results manually. This is, obviously, the most tedious way to discover where your page is showing up in a search. It won't be 100% reliable, as different Google servers can deliver different results (which is why you should do so using an "incognito search"). But it does work, and Google allows this type of access. It’s just time-consuming and not at all exciting.
Use your analytics software. Using Web analytics software should tell you the URL that your customers were on before they made it to your page. This is the referrer and any that come from Google should have the page number they were on when they found your page.
Go through your server log files. As long as your web server logs are in the combined log format or some other format that includes the referrer information, you can see what pages people come from to get to your page. Any results from Google will tell you where your page showed up in their search.
Use Google Webmaster Tools. If you go into the “search queries” section of Google Webmaster tools for your site, you will see all the keywords that people used to find your site. When you click on the keyword you’re interested in, Webmaster tools will include the position in the search results.
Figuring Out Site Rankings for a New Site
All of the suggestions above (except going through the results manually) rely on someone finding your page via search and clicking through from Google, but if your page is showing up at rank 95, chances are most people never get that far.
For new pages, and indeed for most SEO work, you should focus on what is working rather than your arbitrary rank in a search engine.
Think about what your goal is with SEO. Making it to the first page of Google is an admirable goal, but the actual reason you want to get onto the first page of Google is because more page views impact your website revenue. So, focus less on the ranking by itself and more on getting more page views in more ways than just site ranking.
Here are some things you can do to track a new page and see if your SEO efforts are working:
First, make sure your site and new page have been indexed by Google. The easiest way to do this is to type "site:your URL" (e.g site:www.lifewire.com) into the Google search. If your site has lots of pages, it may still be hard to find the new one. In that case, use Advanced Search and change the date range to when you last updated the page. If the page still doesn’t show up, then wait a few days and try again.
Once you know your page has been indexed, start watching your analytics on that page. You'll soon be able to track what keywords people used that turned up your page. This will help you optimize it further.
Remember that it can take several weeks for a page to show up in the search engines and get page views, so don’t give up. Keep checking periodically. If you don’t see results after 90 days, then consider doing more promotion or optimization on your page.