Astute searchers have increasingly noted Google SERPs adding images next to regular organic listings, especially in mobile search. Here are a couple examples:
I want an image next to my Google results, too!
Business image thumbnails like these are one example of what Google calls SERP enhancements. It’s important to remember that Google will do what they want to do. Nothing will guarantee an image with your listing, but you can do a few things to nudge Google toward that goal.
1. Check your Google My Business listing
Add several good images to your GMB listing, and don’t forget to add a profile photo and logo. Google sometimes uses data and assets from biz listings to enhance other, related listings. Give them something good to work with.
2. Use link tags and Open Graph meta tags to suggest a thumbnail image
Meta tags let you share information about your page with other sites. Link tags allow you to define interrelationships between assets. Various social networks use this markup to auto-set images when you share a URL, and maybe Google will use it as a signal for what image to slot next to your organic SERP listing. You can do it with either or both of these snippets:
Google Custom Search allows you to adapt and configure Google for searching your own site, and the image thumbnail syntax for it is concise. Does Google use it or ignore it for regular SERPs? We don’t know. But it’s easy, so it’s another option. There are two different markup options:
Or put a PageMap DataObject in the area. …Don’t know what the latter is? Just do the meta tag!
4. Use structured data to get an image next to your listing
This section should have been the lead, but it’s more dense, and I didn’t want to scare you off. Structured data, specifically, using bits of microdata or tags defined by schema.org, is arguably the best way to help Google understand your intentions. So why not tell them about image-enhanced SERP options with it? I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about syntax and best practices here. It’s easy to find plenty of resources about microdata best practices and schema implementation if you use a little Google-fu.
I will highlight these points:
Google likes it in JSON-LD, but Microdata or RDFa will work for big-G, in a pinch.
Name images sensibly. (img1.jpg = nonsense. [something-descriptive].jpg = sensible)
Size images appropriately. Don’t upload huge images (dimensions or file size) unless you have a good reason. Definitely take dimensions into consideration when you’re specifying a potential SERP thumbnail enhancement. E.g. don’t make them smaller than 160p x 90p or larger than 1920×1080. Oh, and don’t use images with weird (long or tall) aspect ratios. Stick close to square, or typical TV/film aspect ratios of the past and present, at least when you’re thinking about SERP thumbnails.
Make Google’s indexing job easier, and they’ll (likely) make your SEO life easier, eventually.
None of the above methods are guaranteed to work, but they’re about as good as it gets. If Google doesn’t love your site for some reason, you might not get an image next to your listings. Oh, and if you do get your image next to some SERP listings but not others, don’t be surprised; that’s exactly what will happen, if you’re lucky.
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 vendor 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.
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, RankRanger, 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.
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.
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 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’)
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. Rankinityand 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 still in bed with Rankinity, and after digging into the honorable mentions, below, I’m left with RankWatch in second place.
Because I want to go with two vendors simultaneously, and one of my first picks didn’t pan out, I spent more time digging into RankWatch, WebCEO, SE Ranking, and SEO Rank Monitor to find a replacement. As of this editing (a month after publication) I still haven’t signed with RankWatch, but I will, soon. If they don’t pan out, I’ll update yet again.
Thanks for reading. While I can’t answer specific questions about specific rank-checking candidates, I’m happy to opine on more general bits. 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.)
I pre-paid for a couple years of AWR and they gave me a full refund. While the last bit of road to the end was unnecessarily bumpy, at least they ended the relationship with class.
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 for that vendor. 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:
Advanced Web Ranking Cloud
SEO Rank Monitor
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. His vote goes to Aronofsky’s un-nominated “mother!” – Best allegorical thriller, EVAR!
That SEO and usability don’t flourish in a vacuum has been on my mind lately. Sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum. If there’s nobody to hear your pearls of SEO wisdom do they make a sound? The sound of silence sends no sales. Four cases of constructive complaining follow.
Case #1 – Hire Experts + Stop Listening = Profit? No!
I helped grow a startup e-retailer from nothing to three million in annual sales. The company sold to new owners who kept me on for SEO services but took away my keys to the site because they wanted to do all web work in-house. No problem- I work this way (via intermediary) sometimes. Though I’d informed them of redesign best practices, they chose to ignore it all; the hasty series of redesigns and half-rebrands erased years of SEO and usability progress. I spent a few months frantically trying to implement remedial measures but they heeded nothing I said or sent. We parted ways less than a year after the company switched hands. In a few short months they went from hero to zero in Google. Why would you spend good money on a company and then tank it? Conversely, the people who sold the company hired me to do SEO and usability work for a new endeavor. Its sales are growing. SEO and usability are processes, not events; they don’t exist in a vacuum.
Case #2 – Second Verse, Similar to the First, But Better Outcome!
The chart to the right shows long-term cycles of a different SEO effort, underfunded and unfortunately not paired with a good usability effort. The company rakes in millions every year and would hugely benefit from doubling, tripling or quadrupling their SEO spend. I tell them this every year and sometimes spend time cobbling together metrics to back it up. …Which led to a smart realignment of the campaign scope a few years ago. The effort went from about 10% funding to 25% funding, but we’re still overreaching the budget. Part of the problem is the size of the company; they’re huge. Big boats don’t turn on a dime. A properly funded campaign would smooth out those valleys, and the peaks would be, literally, off the charts.
Because of a third-party payment solution, this client is also unable to give me ideal, actionable analytics data tying actual sales to each keyword. I’m left measuring the ranking of SERP listings, a comparatively bush-league measure of success. I’m also sometimes unable to appropriately geo-target longer tail search phrases (usually a good tactic in underfunded efforts) because most of the campaign consists of more competitive generic keywords. (They have their reasons, but it’s still frustrating. Good thing I like a challenge, and complaining!) I have neither budget nor latitude to increase the usability of landing pages so some of the most trafficked pages on the site lack a cohesive design with calls to action and good user direction. Though I know it’s not true, sometimes this client’s actions tell me they’re happier with countless second and third SERP rankings instead of focusing on the first SERP. My voice is necessarily muddled by the relative vacuum, but it’s getting better all the time and I’m still able to do some good work. I am optimistic.
Google SEO vs Bing and Yahoo SEO
This other graph for the same client, though only tenuously related, needed a place to live in the blogosphere. Many of the campaign’s most broad metrics have been sluggish, flat or even slowly tanking over the past year because they cover all three major search engines as a whole. The chart at right (click it for a larger version) shows that SERP listings have been tanking in Bing and Yahoo, while Google’s doing alright. My SEO work will often please Google more than Bing and Yahoo, and this account exhibits the extreme of that trend. Because Google is responsible for the vast majority of searches performed in the US, I’ve never wasted much effort focusing on the other search engines. So while I likely won’t get more budget to play with, I have a Q1 2013 plan to address some of the issues. Ping me in six months if you want an update.
Case #3 – SEO & Usability Are Processes, Not Events.
There’s a reason SEO practitioners display results in charts with various metrics in one axis and time in the other; SEO is a process, not an event. This next tale bit of complaining deals with the one-night stand of SEO gigs. It’s my first one and I feel dirty – too ashamed to post a picture because a filthy picture is worth a thousand guilty words. Because of stipulations tied to the funding of this project I was informed that I had to complete all SEO work and training in one month. I interjected, “But….” Nope. One month. I could not get keys to the server so I sent over a long list of Drupal modules essential for SEO like nodewords, xml sitemap, seo-friendly urls, etc. After a month I was still left with a CMS that wouldn’t even allow me to insert title tags or descriptions. It’s been over three months and I’m just now getting close to the finish line. It would have been a huge payday for one month’s work, but I knew better. It’s still a decent payout for a third of a year, so I’m happy. I’ve educated and empowered the client enough to ensure continued SEO success in the future.
Case #4 – SEO & Usability Success!
Most of my clients do listen, especially those I hand pick (vs. clients from agencies.) Case in point, to compliment SEO efforts I’ve really been leaning on A/B/X testing and Google Experiments. I try to convey that people should not be making decisions about design, SEO, brand, etc. when we can actually measure our audience and do what works best for them. After all isn’t that what any organization wants? The results (and data) speak for themselves.
If you have a very usable site with poor SEO, people won’t find your site. If I use SEO to build your audience, but your website sucks, you’re not going to get as much bang for your SEO buck. Usability is the science of making things not suck. SEO makes search robots happy. Usability makes people happy. The marriage of the two equals high ROI. This last image (above) shows how one little four week experiment caused visitors to be twice as likely to convert into customers. It cost very little to run that experiment and it paid for itself in one day. The rest is gravy. That it’s difficult to convince companies to invest in SEO and usability never ceases to amaze me, but I won’t stop trying (or complaining.) Thanks for reading.
Dan Dreifort makes money for companies and reads. If people paid him to read more he might stop helping companies make so much money. He’s currently proofreading (and loving) a book called When the Biomass Hits The Wind Turbine. It’s available in self-published form from Amazon for a few more months before its re-released and becomes all famous and stuff on the Daily Show and whatever awful show Oprah’s doing these days.