Tag Archives: keyword

Comparing Rank Tracking Software

3 Feb

I’ve been using Advanced Web Ranking (not to be confused with Advanced Web Ranking Cloud) for eight years. Read riveting tales from 2010 wherein I try to find a replacement for WebPosition, eventually deciding on AWR. Things were simpler then; there weren’t many players in the ranking software space, and almost everything was desktop-based.

Fast forward to 2018. When AWR started shitting the bed a month ago, I was faced with more than three dozen contenders for my search engine querying and reporting needs, almost all of them cloud-based or SaaS. I could have ferreted out even more options, I’m sure, but when I added the 40th vendor/software suite to my spreadsheet of rank tracker candidates, I stopped.  (Full list at end of this post.) Daunting. “If you can’t find what you want from 40 vendors, there’s something wrong with you.” I said that out loud.

This post is long. If you want to skip the criteria I used and go right to the two winners and six runners up, go ahead. But you might be looking for something substantially different than what I found.


Partially obfuscated spreadsheet of rank trackers, criteria, and notes. Pure madness.

SEO Reporting Software Criteria

So, what exactly did I want? That’s an important question. My criteria are similar to those of many, but might very well be different from yours. Keep that in mind as you read on. Oh, and if you don’t have any interest in SEO software, you should probably stop reading and have fun with some of the non-SEO posts on this site, or go contemplate a tree, or something.

If you’re still here, let’s dig in for rank checking software comparison.

What I did NOT want

I already have great sources for keyword research, backlinks, competitor analysis, website violations/improvements, and some other important SEO metrics. Sometimes I subscribe to a service for a month and do what I need to do. Sometimes I lean on one of my colleagues who already has a subscription to one or more vendors. Several of the SEO software vendors I considered are full-service suites of sorts, and therefore often priced themselves out of the SEO ranking software market.

At most, I do keyword research and backlink audits quarterly for existing clients so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for it every month. If you’re looking for a 360-degree SEO suite, this rank tracker comparison might not be for you.

Historical Ranking Data Import

Although I’m not importing data for all projects when I migrate, I’m importing historical ranking data for most of them. (A couple clients wanted to archive old data and start fresh.) Some vendors like RankTrackr (not to be confused with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker) and Tiny Ranker don’t have a way to migrate SEO ranking data from your old projects to their platform. With them, you’ve no choice but to start with a fresh slate in reports. Other companies say they’ll import data for a fee, including SERPBook and SEMRush.

Caveat: Your data might not be in the format they want. Look before you leap.

Ability to Pause/Stop SEO Projects

Sometimes clients leave for a few months. (See my post from a week ago about why SEO clients leave.) Sometimes you’ll have cause to pause a project for years. It doesn’t happen often, but about half of rank trackers surveyed don’t allow you to pause. Or they offer janky workarounds: “Just delete the keywords and save them on your computer. When you’re ready to start again, add the keywords again!”

Who won’t let you pause an SEO project? SE Ranking, RankTrackr, Tiny Ranker, Rank Ranger, and others. SERPFox is one of a few non-pausers to offer what I consider sub-optimal workarounds, but SERPFox at least preserves your data, somehow.

Reporting Format

I’m accustomed to being able to upload several HTML reports for each client. While there are several candidates who offer access to an API so you can cobble together your own reports, I don’t want to do that. I’m also not interested in reporting software that only generates static PDF reports and/or ugly CSV spreadsheets. These are comparatively horrible ways to display report data. Rank Ranger, SE Ranking, RankTrackr, and others all fall short here.

Vendor Support Hours

Chances are, after you’re all setup with your new rank tracker, you’ll seldom need support. But take it from somebody who’s needed a lot of support from Advanced Web Ranking over the past month: you’ll care about support when you need it. AWR is in Romania, I’m in California. AWR is at the support desk when I’m asleep, and vice versa. I open a ticket on Monday. I receive a response on Tuesday, to which I reply. Wednesday I get their reply, and so on. The weekend comes, and the snail’s pace of support slows to a stop. …And that’s when they bother to respond in a timely manner.

Support availability matters sometimes. Do yourself a favor and weigh candidates support hours in your process. Spoiler: I ended up picking two vendors. One of them offers perfect support hours for me, the other one, not so much. The latter is half a world away, which is unfortunately not uncommon with the ranking software bros.

Update Frequency

Don’t let companies fool you; updating your keywords’ rankings every day, or every hour isn’t adding value for you. Well, if you’re playing at the most vaulted, vaunted levels of SEO, I suppose you could argue that point, a little, but if your clients need detailed reporting more than once a month, you should find different clients. Spend more of your time DOing SEO, and less time measuring it. Anyhow, several vendors offer different plans/options for different scanning/querying frequencies. I don’t want hourly or daily scans because I’d be paying for unused fluff. Some services, like SEO Rank Monitor, SEMrush, and others only offer daily tracking.

Obviously, you sometimes won’t want to wait a week or longer for keyword rank data. SerpBook and Rankinity get around that thusly. SerpBook gives you a bunch of monthly credits for on-the-fly, ad hoc rank checking, e.g. for research, in addition to your regularly-scheduled data, and the latter is a granularly-priced pay-as-you-go service, so…

Well, this is as good a time as any to talk about pricing and cost.

It’s so hard to compare different products’ pricing models. …No two vendors define their pricing the same way. It’s almost totally incongruous.

Comparing SEO Reporting Software Pricing – Not easy.

On January 31st, as I was deep in this ranking software comparison, I guest lectured part of a class on Digital Media and Analytics within Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program. My spiel (“Serendipity: Two UX ROI Stories”) was last on the docket, so I got to enjoy the first hour of Ethan McCarty‘s class.

While much of the class discourse (analytics/meaningful data/correlation vs causality/etc.) resonated with my experiences, I was particularly moved by Ethan’s reflection on his experience choosing and comparing web metrics software suites.

“Buying any kind of SaaS (such as SEO software) is kind of like buying a mattress,” said McCarty. “They all might have a similar feature sets, but each vendor names things differently, accentuates their own strong points and usually does a pretty good job of obfuscating their weaknesses. They are also all sold on different pricing schemes which makes comparison shopping grueling even if you’re a diligent spreadsheet-keeper. You may as well buckle and get the one you find most comfortable to use,” he said, speaking of both SaaS solutions and mattresses, natch.

Mattresses, am I right? It was comforting to find a sense of simpatico. We are not alone. This sucks for almost every discerning consumer, it would seem. I had to ask most vendors several followup questions to try to figure out how they actually priced their services.

How do we define rank-tracking pricing units?

“Keywords” are the near-universal pricing unit in the ranking space. But different vendors define that word conflictingly enough to make apples-to-apples pricing comparisons almost impossible. That’s why it’s in quotes there!  I kid you not, the number of “keywords” I have varies by MORE than a factor of ten, depending on the vendor. It’s nuts! What’s worse, getting straight answers regarding a vendor’s definition of “keyword” is akin to pulling your own teeth. Not fun.

We’re dealing with several variables, depending on the vendor:

  • Keywords (kw) – number of different keywords in the project
  • Search Engines (SE) – # of different search engines to be queried
  • Depth (d) – number of SERPs of data you want to gather (ranged from 1 to 30)
  • Projects (p) – number of, in my case, clients
  • Frequency (f) – how often do you want to query for data?
  • Sites (ws) – number of  websites you want data for (e.g. your site/s + ‘competitors’)
  • etc.

Vendor SE Ranking defines a keyword as one keyword in a project regardless of the number of SE. Well, you can add up to five SE, and that kw still counts as one “keyword” in their pricing model. I didn’t catch how deep (d) their data delves into the SERPs, but they offer different pricing for three frequencies, ranking from one day to one week.

Some vendors, like AWR Cloud, SerpBook, and others count Google-US, Bing-US, and Yahoo-US as a single SE unit. But they count other SE and location-based SE as individual units. But AWR Cloud only goes a few pages deep for a “keyword” while SERPbook digs to 10 SERPs and still calls it a “keyword”.

Some rank checkers count a keyword as a single SERP. So if you want to check ranks 1-40 (four SERPs) for a keyword in a single search engine, that’s four “keywords”.

Rankinity, as hinted earlier, charges per kw-se combo, with pricing for each pair delivering 10 SERPs.

Some charge only once for a keyword-se combo, regardless of the number of projects in which it appears while others will count each project-keyword-se instance as a separate “keyword”.

Some rank trackers, like SerpBook essentially charge extra for competitor rankings. (“keywords”=kw*SE*s) while other rank trackers will gather ranking data for several sites/urls, for the same keyword, without counting it as extra “keywords”.

Those are just a few examples. The myriad definitions of the “keyword” pricing unit are beyond my tired brains’ abilities to concisely summarize. Sorry!  The takeaway is: Make sure you know what their “keyword” is, and how it differs from other vendors you’re considering.

Plan Pricing Break Points – Important Future Thought

Some companies, like SEMRush and Web CEO limit how many projects you can have. Add your 6th project and you have to jump from the former’s $99 “pro” plan to the $199 “guru” plan, (or the latter’s identically modeled “Startup” and “Corporate” plans,) even if you weren’t close to the other price-resource-unit limits of your subscribed service level.

Other rankers charge more to add additional “users”.  …I’m telling you, it’s complicated.

Which Search Ranker / Reporting Solution did I choose?

As I hinted before, I originally picked two. Rankinity and SerpBook. But then I learned SerpBook counts each competitor as an individual set of keywords, and that priced them out of the top spot, and maybe even out of honorable mention. BUT they’re still a great option if you don’t want to track much (or any) competitor data. Alas, they’re not a good match for me, because I like to keep an eye on the competition. …I often find it actionable.

Using Rankinity to check once a month is a great value, and I’m still waiting for them to finish importing my data. They said it’ll be a few more days.

But I’m optimistic. …And I’m willing to pay a little extra for the elbow grease that might be required to massage my data into place.

The Proof is in the Pudding

That’s an old proverb dating back to the 1300s meaning: You can only say something is worthwhile after you’ve tested it. As of this writing, I tested what I thought was a top finisher enough to know they’re not a great match for me. I’m now digging into the honorable mentions, below. If anything changes after that, I’ll update this post accordingly.

Honorable Mentions

Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I’m spending a little time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking,  and maybe SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. I’ll let you know which I pick.

Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on many things. Please use the comments section, or if you’re feeling shy, send me an email or something. The rest of this blog post is me kvetching about AWR, and the aforementioned list of competitors. Good luck!

Regarding Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been unable to run reports without zany errors for over a month now. AWR wasted countless hours of my time denying the problem was theirs. They blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to a different batch of proxies. Nope. AWR still blamed my proxy provider. So I switched to another proxy vendor and dedicated proxies. No dice. AWR said those proxies too were to blame for my continued problems. So I switched to a different batch of IPs. Same problem. (Shoutout to Trusted Proxies. They helped me troubleshoot and were always quick to respond.)

I gathered and presented evidence to the contrary over and over again but Advanced Web Ranking denied any responsibility. At one point, they went nine days without responding to an email or trouble ticket, of which I sent MANY.

So, needless to say, I’d already decided to move on by the time they picked up conversation again. Then a few short days later,  on January 31st, AWR apologized and they sent a mea culpa. They’re unable to fix the problem. (Even though competing desktop rank tracker “Rank Tracker” doesn’t suffer from the same problem. …I tested.)

Anyhow, I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR. I plan to ask for a prorated refund. If I don’t receive it, I’ll be sure to spend some quality time dragging the AWR name around, more. AWR, the company and the software let me down repeatedly over the years, and I have a little trove of notes to myself saying, “Maybe blog about this letdown?”

List of SEO Rank Trackers Compared Herein

Note re: crappy data: When I started this task, I didn’t know I’d write this blog post, so I didn’t preserve my data at first. If I determined a candidate was far from the mark, I just deleted their row from the spreadsheet. When I’d whittled down to a couple dozen, I realized I should stop doing that! (#destructive) However, I’m not made of time, so later, as I determined a vendor wasn’t a good match for me, I stopped gathering data. The more I whittled the list down, I kept adding more criteria. So, when I mention a list of vendors lacking a particular trait in the criteria sections above, it definitely doesn’t imply all other vendors DO support it.

Here are the twenty-four I compared:

Authority Labs
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
Microsite Masters
Rank Ranger
Rank Tracker
SE Ranking
SEO Rank Monitor
Tiny Ranker


Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. He’s trying to find more people with whom to make music in San Diego. Dan also likes food and film. He just ate some ice cream and he’s seen five of the nine 2018 Best Picture nominees, so far.

Wordtracker KEI Fail, Wordtracker Alternatives & SEO News

7 Sep
Wordtracker keywords

Wordtracker keywords (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

I recently reluctantly renewed my subscription to Wordtracker, a keyword research tool and database. Why was I so reluctant? (And why am I considering asking for a refund?)

Wordtracker provides poor documentation and regularly switches the formulas they use for data they offer without notifying its customers.

Wordtracker Changes the Meaning of “Searches”

In 2009 Wordtracker completely changed the way they calculate the data they provide under the column labeled “Searches”. How they get away with redefining “searches” is beyond me. I contributed to a Wordtracker support discussion about this problem, but somebody else summed it up better. “The fact that a so-called provider of data like Wordtracker does not clearly and expressly explain two critical factors relating to their data is appalling.”

One day “searches” means one thing. The next day it means something else. I got no apology from Wordtracker. I had to eat crow and throw out a few mea culpas to my clients when I realized that Wordtracker had pulled the rug out from under me. Boo. But it gets worse.

Wordtracker Changes KEI Formula

New Wordtracker KEI Formula Sucks

My $329/yr subscription just expired so I renewed. It had been a while since I used the service and Wordtracker neglected to tell me that since the last time I’d used their service they changed the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) formula. I thought I was buying one thing and Wordtracker delivered another.

KEI used to be a great metric to find low hanging fruit or “keyword gems in the rough” if you will. But the metric is now useless for that. Click the image above for a larger version. You can see that the most generic, high traffic, high competition phrases now have the highest “KEI” – and yes, “KEI” should always appear in quotes from now on until… well, maybe forever.

Though they offer great verbiage about what an improvement it is, Wordtracker’s new “KEI” borders on meaningless. Surely somebody at Wordtracker should know that when you combine data inconsistencies with poor communication and terrible documentation, usability will suffer. Apparently the usability and branding experts at Wordtracker haven’t been speaking up.

Comparison of KEI Formulas

Wondering how to determine KEI? Me too.

Typically KEI is the the ratio of the square of the searches upon a particular keyword in a day divided by the number of websites that are listed for that keyword. For example, a keyword that has 100 searches a day and for which Google shows 5000 websites would have a KEI of 2. (100 * 100 / 5000)
– web1marketing.com

So they’re saying: KEI = (daily searches)^2 / Search Engine (SE) listings

Suppose the number of searches for a keyword is 486 per month and Google displays 214,234 results for that keyword. Then the ratio between the popularity and competitiveness for that keyword is 486 divided by 214,234. In this case, the KEI 0.002.

For that one, the formula is: KEI = monthly searches / SE listings

Suppose the number of searches for a keyword is 821 per day and Google displays 224,234 results (pages) for that keyword. Then the ratio between the popularity and competitiveness for that keyword is: 224,234 divided by 821. In this case, the KEI is 273.

And those jokers say that: KEI = daily searches / SE listings

Those are the first three definitions I found. I’ll bet there are more. Clearly the jury’s out on KEI. But while contradiction abounds, there’s a common thread in defining KEI. It has always related to the quantity of searches and the number of search engine listings.

So what’s the new Wordtracker definition for KEI?

Maybe we should start with the old Wordtracker definition of KEI

KEI compares the Count result with the number of Competing Web pages

Yep. That seems to be in line with what everybody else says about KEI. In case you were wondering, “count” is,  “The number of times the search phrase has been used in Wordtracker’s partner search engines.” And “competing” means, “The number of Web pages the search engine says it has in its index that match the search phrase.” So more specifically the old Wordtracker formula for KEI was

KEI = (daily searches)^2 / Search Engine (SE) listings

Here’s the new Wordtracker KEI definition

KEI = (Searches ^ 2) / In Anchor

Is that searches per day? Per month? Who knows? The only other information Wordtracker provides on its data results pages about its new KEI equation is

KEI compares the number of times a keyword has been searched for with competition (the number of pages that contain the exact keyword phrase within at least one of its incoming links, known as ‘All in Anchor’).

Does the “In Anchor” include only external pages? Or will a page with an internal “In Anchor” link make the cut too? Tough to say. Wordtracker regularly defines things their own way. While I’ll not poo poo innovation, I take umbrage with my data providers when they skirt industry norms. If Google defines a metric a certain way, clearly it is beneficial to follow the leader. Note to Wordtracker: Don’t confuse your users by regularly creating new definitions for established industry terms. Your poor usability is a disservice to your paying customers.

In Anchor And Title IAAT

Wordtracker founder and CTO Mike Mindel says

‘In Anchor and Title’ is a count of the number of pages for which the keyword appears in both the title tag and the anchor text of at least one backlink to the page (not domain).

Understandably this metric is used to help identify serious competitors. But Google measures parts of this metric differently. Back to Mike Mindel

There are two reasons why [Wordtracker] and Google show different numbers of links for seemingly similar searches. The first is that the [Wordtracker] In Anchor metric shows a count of external anchor text (from other websites), whereas Google includes internal anchor text as well (from within a website).

Google search market share

Google Market Share – Image from Wikipedia

‹rant› If internal In Anchor links are good enough for Google they should be a sufficient metric for Wordtracker.  Wordtracker tries to sell you on why its better to use their more specific metric, but aren’t all search engine optimizers essentially trying to play Google’s game?! Why wouldn’t Wordtracker emulate Google metrics as much as possible? Clearly they’re meaningful. Something more specific isn’t always better. Furthermore, why would you use the same terminology to discuss two separate things? ‹/rant›

Wordtracker’s Mr. Midel goes on to say,

The second reason is that Google’s AllInAnchor returns broad matches by default (the words mcdonalds, nutrition, and facts in any order), whereas Wordtracker uses the In Anchor phrase match count (mcdonalds nutrition facts somewhere within the anchor text).

(See previous ‹rant› .) Mike Mindel continues,

I hope you can see now that bigger numbers clearly do not mean better numbers.

Well, Mike, I hope you can see now that I’m not sold on your new (bigger) KEIs being better than the older, smaller KEI figures. And doesn’t Wordtracker try to sell us on bigger numbers being better? (See next paragraph.) Now I’m confused(er).

Back to Low Hanging Fruit

This new KEI formula doesn’t do much to help SEOs find keyword phrases with low competition and reasonably high traffic. It’s more tailored to high traffic phrases. Mark Nunney of Wordtracker says,

“KEI squares Searches because otherwise if both Searches and Competition (whatever metric is used for this) go up at the same rate then the KEI value remains the same and that will not take into account the increased opportunity that more Searches offers.”

I don’t know… I always thought that popularity proved only popularity itself. (Think: MC Hammer.) I also always thought that KEI was to represent some notion of ROI. Big returns aren’t valuable if the investment doesn’t make sense. Even my largest clients benefit from low hanging fruit and the small investments required to conquer them. Just because one has the deep pockets necessary to go after high traffic keywords doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective path. Mull it over. Easy pickings are more valuable to me than the garbage these new Wordtracker metrics provide.

Wordtracker Alternatives

I wrote an email to Wordtracker explaining that I want a refund. But I haven’t sent it yet. I looked for wordtracker replacements. There are a few that are too expensive for me to even consider. (We’re talking $1000 per client per year.) But I found a few tools that provide good data. They are:




I’ve also heard decent things about marketsamurai.com/ but I haven’t tried them yet, so no endorsement or link out.

The sad truth is that I think I might get enough value from Wordtracker to warrant sticking with it. After all, I can dump all of the data to CSV and make my own versions of KEI to get the data I want. That’s nice, but that’s not the point.

Wordtracker sucks. They keep changing the definitions without notifying customers which causes Wordtracker’s usability to suffer. I am searching for Wordtracker alternatives. Let me know when you find a good one. I’m willing to pay for a wordtracker replacement.

Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and usability for companies large and small. He whines a lot on this blog. Sorry.
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