Using Google and other search engines is not a great way of tracking where your site falls in the SERPs. In fact this can be very misleading1. It is better to use tools specifically designed for checking rankings and other information about your progress. Third party tools avoid things like personalized search, location-based results and customized search settings that can throw off data.
SEO Power Suite
On the higher end of the spectrum is the SEO Power Suite2 from Buzzbundle3. The Power Suite is software installed on your computer and there is a different program depending on what kind of SEO work you are doing. For example Rank Tracker allows you to track the position of pages of your site for specific keywords. Link Assistant allows you to analyze links on your site and even develop email templates and campaigns for contacting other webmasters for link building activities. You can purchase the entire suite or individual programs and you do have to continually purchase functionality to update the software to coincide with search engine algorithm updates.
At the time of this writing you can get the suite for $699. Original pricing is a little over $1,200. If you want highly accurate data about your SEO activities and you perform analysis on a regular basis, Power Suite or one of its parts might be a good fit for you. If you are just doing some casual analysis, this might be overkill. Power Suite is great for doing technical audits4 or tracking ongoing campaigns.
Backlinks are an important part of SEO. A great tool for measuring everything you could ever want to know about your links (or your competitors) is Ahrefs.com5. You can run reports on how many links a site has, the types of links they are (such as identifying harmful links6), the anchor text used, and a lot of other information related to these elements.
Ahrefs is a subscription web-based service meaning there is no software to install on your computer. A basic plan allowing you to analyze 5,000 links is 79 dollars per month. Pricing goes up from there the more links you have to analyze. You can check the service out for free to see how you like it before committing. Here is a pretty good review of Ahrefs7 from Ian Cleary8.
Ahrefs also has some other features they are rolling out. They include the content, positions and keywords explorer. With these tools you can see how your content shapes up compared with competitors, see the search volume for target keyword phrases as well as how your site performs for certain keywords.
Google Webmaster Tools
Let’s not forget about the really powerful (and really free) tools provided by Google. Webmaster Tools has become a very useful resource for website owners. You can see search queries that people are using to find your site, find HTML errors, have Google crawl your pages, among other analysis tasks.
You can also export your information right from Google. This allows you to save data over time and compare your progress in optimizing your site. Most importantly, you can also receive warnings of manual actions, spam or if your site has been hacked in your webmaster tools interface.
A cool feature recently added by Google in 2015 is the search analytics tool9. This is the first real keyword and position analysis tool that Google has added to the interface. You can filter data to see where your site ranks for specific keyword terms (something you used to have to dig for).
Screaming Frog10 is an SEO spider that does an on-site audit. You can scan your site and see information related to your pages like length of titles, meta descriptions, and URLs. You can get data about images and their alt tags, info about directives like redirects and canonical URLs.
You can use the program for free on up to 500 pages. After that you will have to pay for a license which is about 135 dollars. With the free license you also will not be able to save reports but you can still export them into Excel.
What tools do you use to track your progress in search? Join in the conversation by commenting below.