Analyze Google Ranking History for Any Keyword
In this article, we are going to discuss the position history feature available for all of the Ahrefs “Advanced plan” customers.
Let’s dive right in.
Where can you find the position history graph?
And a massive difference here is that Rank Tracker’s position history graph only shows you the ranking history from the time you add the keyword to your project, while our other tools will show you the position history for years!
Now, there are different ways to extract actionable insights from each tool and their respective ranking history graphs.
Ranking history in Keywords Explorer
First is in Keywords Explorer. Just type in a keyword phrase you want to analyze and scroll down a touch to the SERP position history graph.
You’ll see the history of the current top 5 ranking pages.
The main use case for this graph inside Keywords Explorer is to analyze SERP volatility. So are the ranking pages stable or are they jumping in and out of the top 5,10 or even top 100 pages?
So you can see that for the search query, “keyword research,” the top ranking results are quite stable. This tells us a few things.
The search intent for this term is very clear.
Looking at the top 10 results, you can see that almost all of the top ten ranking pages are “how-tos” or some sort of guide.
And the other two results are Google Keyword Planner and another tool from serps.com.
The main one that stands out is from Keyword Planner.
They have up to 75X more unique websites linking to their page than the others, yet they still rank below.
So we would take this as an indication that a tool may not be the best way to serve a searcher’s intent, but they still rank because of the sheer amount of quality links.
The position history graph adds a nice extra layer of data to the SERP results so you can know with confidence which way to attack your target keyword.
So that might be in the form of a how-to guide, a list post, a product page, category page, or a tool.
The second thing you can do with this graph is to get an idea of ranking velocity. So if we uncheck the results except for our post on keyword research, you’ll see that it popped in and out of the SERPs for months, before we started to get any kind of consistent rankings.
You can see it took about 10 months to rank in the top 5 for this keyword phrase.
And this is a great way to find out how long it might take you to rank and also see which dates are worth analyzing on your competitors’ pages.
Just click on the caret, and go to the overview page.
Next, we’ll click on “All time” to see the full history since the big jumps in rankings were over a year ago and scroll down to the New and Lost referring domains graph.
And you’ll see that there was a sudden spike in links in April 2017.
So you can go to the new backlinks report, select the custom dates for April 2017, and deconstruct your competitors’ link building strategies.
Common things you’ll find are guest posting campaigns, outreach campaigns, consolidating content with 301 redirects, PBNs, or sometimes you’ll see negative SEO attacks.
We’ll get into some takeaways from this in a bit, but let’s look at the keyword “football,” which will show us a completely different kind of result.
Football has a few definitions. In the northwest, people think of this.
While in the east, people think of this.
Scrolling down to the position history graph for the US search results, you’ll see that the SERPs have been super volatile. And this tells us that the search intent isn’t exactly 100% clear.
Even though most people in the US call this game, “soccer,” we can’t generalize that term to every person searching from the United States.
And here’s an interesting point to this graph.
If we switch off all of the pages except the one from ESPN, which is related to European football, or soccer, you’ll see that the page appeared out of nowhere. And this is likely due to increased search queries because of the World Cup.
If we look at the graph for search results in the UK, then you’ll see that the search intent seems to be more clear. All of these pages are news related category pages.
With stable position history graphs like in the keyword research example, you can expect it to be tough to penetrate the top ranking results. You’ll need to continually build and earn high-quality links to get there which might take years.
But a huge pro to this is if you do, you’ll likely be able to retain that spot for the longer term.
Now with highly volatile SERPs, it can be easier to get a top ranking result without many backlinks.
Look at the US SERPs for the keyword, “football.” You’ll see that a couple of the pages barely have any referring domains.
But retaining that ranking is unpredictable.
And this is why understanding search intent is so important.
With this data, you can approach keywords and topics with some kind of confidence because you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into. So weigh out your options and take things from there.
What does Ranking history have to do with Site Explorer?
First, you’ll need to enter in a URL, prefix, or a domain into Site Explorer. So we’ll do a prefix search for ahrefs.com/blog/.
And then we’ll go to the organic keywords report to see all of the keywords that our blog ranks for.
To open up the position history graph, just click on the icon beside any of the keywords, and you’ll see all of the pages on your target website that have ranked for this term in the top 100 search results over the set time period.
So the first way we can use this is to identify keyword cannibalization issues.
Keyword cannibalization is when a website unintentionally targets the same keywords across multiple posts or pages.
Usually, the result is that none of the pages rank particularly well. So in general, after you find cannibalization issues, you can start consolidating the content and redirect lower performing pages to the higher performing ones.
We know that our post on broken link building had a bit of a cannibalization issue before. So if you look at the history, you'll see that we have one URL that's broken link building, and the other in the lighter blue, which is a broken link building method.
So if you have this issue, you can copy the URLs, then go to the batch analysis tool.
Next, paste in the URLs and look at the traffic, as well as the referring domains column. And you can see that this one is clearly the winner.
And we actually added a 301 redirect on December 7, 2017, and you can see a slight increase in organic traffic.
And then we rewrote the guide in April 2018 and it’s had much better traffic growth plus a number one ranking for our target keyword, broken link building.
Another way that some of our agency users have used this graph is to simply take a screenshot and send it to their clients to show them how bad their keyword cannibalization issues are.
We can only imagine that it helps in converting customers as the issue is so clear on this graph and it makes you look like a pro who knows what they’re doing.
But hey, not all keyword cannibalization issues are really issues at all. In general, if you’re consistently seeing a page from the same domain rank in positions 1 and 2 for a long period of time, then it could be a good thing.
The most common way that we’ve seen this is through branded queries.
For example, if we look up the history on the keyword “Zappos shoes,” then you can see that multiple pages from Zappos have consistently ranked high in Google search for different categories like women’s, men’s and kids’.
In fact, our very own Tim Soulo was teasing Moz about their keyword cannibalization issue on the search query, “keyword difficulty.”
Your competitors’ rankings side-by-side with yours
Another awesome feature is that you can add your competitors on this graph, so you can get really cool insights on how different pages from different websites have performed against each other.
So we’ll look at the graph for “long tail keywords” and add a couple of our organic search competitors like Backlinko and Moz.
Next, we’ll clean up the graph by just showing the best ranking page from each site.
And since we’ve all been in the top 20 for a while, we’ll narrow our graph down to that view.
From here, you can start analyzing the pattern in SERP rankings across these different pages.
If you’re comparing 3 similar pages, you might find that they have related patterns when they move up and down.
So a few things that come to mind is that it could be a search intent issue if you see all of the pages dropping on the same days, new competitors penetrating the SERPs, or possibly even algorithmic updates, dare we say those words.
Or if you see one of your competitors skyrocketing to the top, then you’re able to go back and look at their links from specific dates to analyze what they did to climb the rankings.
That might be a new link building campaign, consolidating content, updating their content or a number of other reasons.
There are a ton of ways to use ranking history, whether that’s for your own website or to provide visual reports for your clients. And adding this layer of data to your keyword research, competitor analysis, and technical SEO tasks are only going to give you an edge over your competition.
And we’ve only briefly covered a few of the techniques.
So, we’d love to hear how you use this graph, or if you haven’t used them yet, which technique you’ll be trying first.
So give these research methods a shot, get results, and we’ll see you in the next lesson.