I was speaking to a fairly experienced SEO freelancer this morning – been in the business three years and a pretty smart guy – and was shocked to learn he wastes an entire day each month preparing ranking reports for his clients. He manually checks the results for the thousands of search terms he's targeting, in a bunch of separate search engines. Enter term, press search, eyeball results (clicking through to pages 2-5 if necessary), rinse, repeat.
I'm sure many of you reading this are questioning my use of the words "fairly experienced" and "pretty smart" right now, but Dave reminded me a lot of SEOs are self taught and it's easy to pick up bad habits or retain holes in your knowledge you don't know you have. With that in mind I thought I'd paraphrase the advice I gave to my time wasting friend this morning.
There are lots of tools available for ranking reports but most are of the "SEO Swiss Army knife" variety . We steer clear of those for a variety of reasons.
As the reports I need personally tend to be for a couple of dozen to a couple of hundred search terms I find the following tools meet my needs and let me do the job without installing (or paying for) lots of extra software:
• Mozilla Firefox
• Aaron Wall's Rank Checker extension for Firefox
• Jeremy Gillick's Switch Proxy extension for Firefox
• Microsoft Excel or, if you don't want to spend a single penny on this, Open Office Calc.
Assuming you already have a keyword list in your spreadsheet program simply fire up Aaron's Rank Checker (one installed it adds a button bottom right of the Firefox status bar), select the "Add multiple keywords" option and paste those babies in. Add the domain, press save, name the keyword set (I normally use the domain name in question) and you're almost ready to go.
Before you run your report you'll probably want to adjust the "delay between queries" in the options for this extension, as Google et al don't like frequent, automated searches. Searching too often could mean no results or (rumour has it) "poisoned" and misleading results. I have this "courtesy setting" at 10 seconds between queries, leaving a full 40 seconds between searches (assuming you're hitting MSN , Yahoo! and one local Google in addition to Google.com). Plenty to avoid looking like a bandwidth hog I hope (and if anyone reading this can advise of a safe rate at which to do this kind of thing I'm all ears).
That's about it. Press "run" and leave the extension ticking away in the background while you get on with more productive tasks such as checking YouTube & Facebook.
Using proxy servers
There are two reasons you might want to use the Switch Proxy extension in conjunction with the above: to avoid being labelled a bandwidth hog (i.e. making too many queries to a given engine in a certain time period), and to get geo-targeted results.
On the first, you should be avoiding this if at all possible…ranking reports are typically a once a month job so no need to enact a mini dDOS attack on the engines. If the MD of your biggest client is on the phone demanding a report RIGHT NOW you might want to do it on the hurry up though. In that situation use Switch Proxy to send Rank Checker's queries via an anonymous proxy, then spot check afterwards from your own IP address (or another proxy physically located close to the one you used) to make sure your rank checker results are a close or exact match for those you see with your own eyes.
The second and more common reason for rank checking via a proxy is to get geo-located results. If your client site has a geographic focus other than your own, or no specific geo-focus at all, you'll probably want to use a proxy close to their physical location so you get as similar results to them as possible. On larger projects you might even need to run multiple reports from various locations to get a global view, though that level of detail can probably be omitted unless you're working for one of the Amazons or Ebays of the world.
One proviso to the above: Rank Checker is a Firefox extension, not an application in its own right. Save & edit features might not be what you expect and its possible to lose saved data with an errant click. Save everything you do to a file from your spreadsheet application and you won't go far wrong though.
That's how I do it…would love to hear from anyone who has quicker tools, a slicker process or advice for staying on the right side of the search engines while doing this kind of thing!