magnifying-glass-by-stephenjohnbryde-via-flickr

What’s the most often neglected factor that can bring small businesses and freelancers the biggest impact in terms of online marketing for the smallest budget? It’s not Social Media, Google Adwords or any other paid advertising scheme. No, it’s SEO (search engine optimization).

Whenever I mention these three letters to colleagues and friends, I get that look, hovering halfway between ridicule and information overload. SEO? In the best case scenario people deem it insanely complicated and technical, in the worst case they just write it off as a scam. But what is search engine optimization really? There’s a lot which can be said about it — and yes, there are many moving parts — but the idea is so simple any child can understand it.

  • SEO means making sure that people find your site when they’re typing in certain words into a search engine

Let’s say you make the best cheese cake in Chicago. Doing good SEO means that when someone on the planet looks for “cheese cake Chicago” they’ll find your store, not on page four, five or three-thousand, but on page one, position one (or ranking as high as possible).

Reaching that sweet spot has become sort of a holy grail. People pay tons of money to “experts” whose expertise is often difficult to assess, or they fall for scammers and their too-good-to-be-true shortcuts.

First of all, it’s a good idea to manage one’s expectation. There’s no easy way to get from page 3000 to the first page in one day. But, there are all kinds of optimizations a person can do without a lot of technical expertise that have long term effects.

In the end, nobody (!) really knows how search engines rank stuff (except their engineers), and on top of that they keep changing their algorithms. There are no magic pills or silver bullets here. However, there’s a very simple principle:

  • By making small changes and analyzing your search results over a period of time, you see what works

In short, forget about all the technical details for a moment. SEO is about learning by doing. If today you’re on page 40, you make a few small SEO optimizations, and in a few months you’re slowly rising, you’re probably doing something right! If you’re falling or nothing happens, then maybe you should try something else instead.

Search Ranking Tracking For Beginners

In order to make this “learning by doing” approach to SEO work, the most important element (besides learning about common SEO practices) is to regularly check your search ranking.

You could of course go to Google every morning, type in “cheese cake Chicago” and see if the results are changing, but there are a few problems with that:

  • It takes a lot of time
  • Your search results are filtered, i.e. they are different from what customers might see

In order to prevent the filtering you can open your browser in Incognito or Private mode, and go to google.com/ncr (no country redirect) in order to get vanilla results which aren’t affected by your local settings and preferences.

But still, it’s no fun to do this manually. There are a number of tools out there, that can check multiple keyword combinations for you, automatically, across different search engines and locales. Many of these so called search ranking trackers can be pricey for beginners, so today I’d like to present three different search ranking trackers which are completely free.

1. SeoBook.com’s Rank Tracker Firefox Plugin

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This little add-on runs in the background of your Firefox browser. Its functions are simple but straightforward. You can enter the domain you want to track, a number of keywords and which search engines to analyze. After a little while (depending on the amount of keywords) you’ll get a nice list of results showing you exactly how well you rank for each keyword

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Keyword lists can be saved, exported, etc. Note: In order to download this add-on you need to register a free account on seobook.com.

2. Cute Rank Search Ranking Tracker

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The CuteRank search ranking tracker is a standalone tool for Windows and Mac. There’s both a free and a premium version available. The free version only allows tracking of one domain, but for many people this will be enough to get their feet wet.

This search ranking tracker works similarly to the one above. You enter your domain, which keywords you want to track on which search engines, and CuteRank will compile nice-looking tables and even graphs.

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3. Rank Checker Ace

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Last but not least, here’s my favorite free search ranking tracker: Rank Checker Ace. It doesn’t look like much at first, but its features are impressive for a free tracker, allowing you to track 1000 keywords in total and 100 per domain.

UPDATE: Rank Checker Ace has been rebranded as Pro Rank Tracker. While the user interface has been greatly improved, i.e. simplified, keywords now are limited to a mere 50 for free users.

Contrary to the above tools, Rank Checker Ace is not dependent on your local machine. Firstly, it runs in your browser, like professional premium search ranking trackers, meaning you can access your data from anywhere. Secondly, Rank Checker Ace runs the search queries through their own system so that you don’t have put up with proxies in order to circumvent Google’s limitations and captchas.

Another cool feature is that you can schedule daily or weekly emails with your results, so that while sipping your coffee in the morning you can get a quick overview what’s happening to your URLs and keyword rankings.

Last but not least, Rank Checker Ace also gives an estimate of local and global search per keyword – something that none of the above trackers do – so you can get an idea of the potential traffic for each search term.

Rank Checker Ace may look a bit complicated in the beginning, but don’t be dismayed. Behind the plain surface hides a lot of power. Also, they have a fairly comprehensive help section to get you started.

 

Which search ranking tracker are you using? Why? Tell us about it!

photo: CreativeCommons by stephenjohnbryde