How to Track Your Google Rank (hint:Incognito Isn’t Enough)

UPDATED: 03/28/2020

When I have a conversation with anyone about SEO, I usually find that their main goal is to “get on the first page of Google”.  

Then I ask, “What would someone be searching for in order to find your site on the first page?”  

Usually that gets me a “hmm… good question” kind of response, so I’ll ask them how they are checking to see where they rank in Google.  

The most common answer is something like: “I just search Google for {insert my favorite keyword here}.”

Why a Simple Google Search Isn’t Enough

Before we get into the best tools for checking your rankings, let’s take a few minutes to talk about why doing a simple Google Search for a single keyword is a bad way to check your Google rank.

Google results are often different for each searcher. This is because Google tries to personalize results.   Some of the personalization factors include:

  • Your search history
  • Whether or not you’ve visited a site before
  • Social connections
  • Your physical location
  • Your device type
  • Emails you’ve received in Gmail

So even if you don’t include a city in your search for a wedding photographer, Google is probably going to show you results for photographers near you.

General Google query shows map pack and localized results.

But if someone else typed that same query (“wedding photographers”) in a different city or state, they would see drastically different results.  

This also happens on a micro level. Somebody on one side of town will likely see different results than someone search on the other side of town. Especially on the map.  

The browsing history personalization is pretty easy to avoid.

All you need to do is use an Incognito or Private window. These windows don’t save history or cookies, so your own preferences won’t influence your results.  

However, an incognito session can still be influenced by your location (based on IP address) and your device (results will likely be different on mobile and desktop).  

Because of this, your results may not be consistent if you search for the same keywords on multiple devices or in different locations, even if you are using a private browsing session.  

IF you are going to be using this method for checking your ranking, at least make sure you are consistent with your location and device when checking.  

But incognito searching still isn’t my favorite method for checking your rankings in the search engines…

Free Rank Checking Tools 

1. Serpfox

Serpfox is a tool that allows you to track your position in the SERPs over time. The free plan will let you track up to 10 keywords!   You can get a paid account to track even more keywords (and the pricing starts at $10/mo, which is very reasonable compared to other pro tools).  

2. Rank Checker  

The SERPs rank checker does essentially the same thing as Serpfox, but is intended for one time searches instead of tracking over time. If you want to stay free and check more than 10 keywords, you could use this tool to get the same kind of results! The only catch is that it is a little slow, each search takes around 60 seconds.   Just put in your keyword and domain, choose whether your engine, select local/device preferences, and check your rankings!

Using these two free tools, you’ll at least have a way to measure your rankings consistently.

Premium Rank Checking Tools

If you want more features, the ability to track featured snippets, and larger lists of tracked keywords, you may need to consider a paid tool for rank tracking.

1. Semrush

2. Mangools – Serpwatcher

3. AccuRanker

How to Check Your Local Rankings on Google

I recorded a video with some options to track your local map pack rankings as well!

Using Search Console to Check Your Google Position (Rank)

Even knowing your anonymous ranking isn’t a great way to track your SEO progress. 

Think about this. Your potential client is probably not searching incognito. They probably WILL see personalized results. Chances are, you’ll show up all over the page for people using the exact same phrase.  

Not to mention, being on the first page for a single specific keyword is probably more of a vanity metric than a key health indicator.  

A site that is properly optimized will likely be bringing in organic traffic for hundreds of keywords.   So how should you be measuring your progress when it comes to SEO? How will you know if your efforts are paying off?   I’m glad you asked.   There are quite a few things you can track, but my #1 recommendation is getting familiar with Google Search Console.

In particular, I want you to become an expert at reading the Performance Report in Search console.

This will show you all of the queries that displayed your site in the SERPS (impressions), the total number of clicks on those results, the CTR (impressions divided by clicks), and your average position across all queries.   You’ll also be able to see all of that data for specific keywords, along with estimated monthly volume for each keyword.  

*Note: Usually, Google shows 10 results per page. So if you are in position 35, you are the 5th result on the 4th page.   

This report is also a great place to find keywords that you didn’t even know people were using to find your site. Sometimes you’ll find keywords that have a high monthly volume and you are already ranking in the first few pages. That would be a great time to focus on optimizing for that keyword and trying to capture even more of that search volume!  

You may also find that you are on page 1 or 2 for a keyword, but getting almost no clicks, despite having plenty of impressions. This is a good time to evaluate your snippet and think about why people aren’t clicking your result.

Finally, you can compare date ranges on the same chart. This is a great way to track whether your site is improving over time!

In this chart, the solid lines are the previous 3 months, and the dotted lines are the 3 months before that.  

 Now that you know a little about how to read your search analytics, you can start to set better goals for your Google rankings!

Here are some goals you can set.

  • I want to increase the number of clicks to my site from Google search traffic compared to last month.
  • I want to show up more often in Google SERPs.
  • I want to increase the CTR of my results.
  • I want to discover and optimize for one new high volume keyword each month.

With these goals, you’ll have a much better idea about how your SEO efforts are paying off! Remember to check your progress at least once a month and refine your plan and goals!  

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  1. Great information! It’s nice to have a better idea of where your true ranking is. Checking out now!

    1. Haha, thanks! I have been experimenting with different elements on the page, including share buttons. Seems that when I had them in place, they were rarely used. I may have to reconsider that as my audience changes! Thanks for the compliment!

  2. Thank you so much Corey. This is the best SEO article I have read and that’s not an exaggeration. I am not a photographer but a blogger who needs to improve traffic to my website and you’ve made things so much clearer than the other sites that I have visited for this topic. I am really pleased and will be recommending your website. well done and God bless you!

  3. Hey Great Content and insights on google search ranking and how it effects and keeping in minds the goals to establish. Even the tools discussed are pretty useful to give accurate rankings. Great post

  4. Great info, i saw this SERP before but forgot it while i was using SEMRush, i then stopped it and had no proper tool to check real rankings not near me etc. Kudos!

  5. Thank you! I think a lot of websites are actually sharing positions in Google SERPs on a particular keyword. The reason why GSC shows the average positions instead of exact whole numbers. That means that if you have 10 impressions and your average position is 5.5, your real rankings on those 10 “instances” that you appeared in Google SERP’s (impressions) could be 2nd, 1st, 23rd, 13th, 2nd, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 1st and 1st.

  6. Thank you for the tips! That’s what I was thinking – checking the page ranking in incognito mode will not show the real results.
    I am using Google Search Console to see. Just signed up to Serpfox free account as well.
    It’s free but a bit slow. Thanks!

  7. One thing with the tracking in search console is that it also includes your GMB listing in the map pack as a rank. For example, if your GMB listing is in the top 3 and shows up in the snack pack for a keyword like “wedding photographer [city]”, it´s considered as an average rank in the overall top 3, even though your website isn´t ranking that well. That causes a very low CTR compared to the average rank as people usually click through the web pages in their search results, when not searching for a local businesses like hairdresser, restaurants …

    1. Sure, but you can just add a UTM code to the link in GMB, and it will separate out those appearances for you in Search Console!

  8. Glad I found this post. As a small website business owner I am trying to educate myself about the basics and you are giving us great tips. Thx

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