While you research a website's ranking, it helps to see how it's made progress over time. While you might have the ability to look up your own site's past rankings via Google's tools, you will need a third-party tool to see another website's ranking history.
The Ranking History feature lets you go back in time to check any site's ranking and how those rankings changed month to month (or across many months, years, you get the idea). This is a helpful competitive action, but it's also helpful when you're taking on a new client. Because before you can improve the SEO of any site, you have to understand where it’s been.
Let's jump right in.
- 1. How to Find Website Ranking History
- 2. Track their History on Any Keyword
- 3. Check Website Ranking AND Keyword Ranking History
- 4. Use URLs to Discover the Very Content That Ranked
- 5. How Google Updates Tie Into it
- 6. It's not Always Google's Fault
- 7. Tracking Website Ranking History for a New Client
1. How to Find Website Ranking History
The feature is built-in to SpyFu searches, so it's very easy to find. Type a domain into the search bar on SpyFu. This will open the results page for that domain; that page is an overview that connects you to many different options. Scroll down to "Organic Ranking History" in the list of options on the page.
You can also start directly from the Ranking History page. You can bookmark the link or find it in the tab right under "SEO Research."
2. Track their history on any organic keyword
We've built in a convenient starting point, but you can see the website's ranking on any keyword they've ranked for in the past. We start with the domain's top 10 keywords. It's one of 5 preset groups that you might want to track. This "top 10" rating is based on how much traffic the keywords get and how many clicks they get from those searches.
Change the keywords
You can add/remove keywords or switch to a different pre-set group (like keywords the domain lost rankings on this past month) at any time. There are 10 spots for keywords, so if you add one, be sure to remove one first to open up the slot.
You can get a whole new set of keywords (for this domain) with pre-set filters at the bottom of the chart. These groups include keywords that help you take action based on recent changes.
- Default: Keyword searches that send the most traffic to this domain.
- Fell From Top 10: Keywords that ranked on page one last month but have since slipped down.
- New Keywords: Searches that this domain did not appear on before
- Gained Ranks: The domain rose up to a better position for these keyword searches
- Lost Ranks: The domain dropped its position on these keywords
3. Check website ranking and keyword ranking history
You have options, and both serve a different purpose.
You can check a website's past rankings, you search a keyword's history (of the domains that ranked for it), and you can research other domains/URL.
We've been tracking SERPs (search engine results pages) for millions of keywords over the past 13+ years. That has also given us results for millions of websites that rank for those keywords. When you search a keyword or a domain, you can see specific ranking history plotted against every major update that Google has made to its algorithm.
Here's what you can see with each one.
Website Ranking History
As shown above in item #2, you can check any website's rankings. This is a helpful competitive strategy. It's also useful for researching a potential new client or checking your own website's past rankings over time.
Keyword Ranking History
This flips the results entirely. When you entered a website, it showed you the keywords that site ranked for--and those positions over time. When you enter a keyword into the search bar, you can see the different domains that ranked for it (along with the URL of the page that showed up in the results). More on that in the next section.
Just like with the website search, a keyword's ranking history results include preset filters. These let you jump from groups like "Top 10 Domains" to "Domains with the Biggest Losses" to review their ranking patterns as a group.
If you start with a keyword, we'll give you the top 10 ranking domains, and you get the same flexibility to switch to add other domains to the chart.
The chart shows how those domain's have ranked over time. You can switch them out with other domains to compare their rankings on the same chart.
4. Use URLs to Discover the Very Content That Ranked
Keyword searches let you check the past rankings of a page (URL).
When you search ranking history by a keyword, it lists the domains that ranked but also includes the URL details for each one. This narrows down the exact page from a domain so you know what content is earning the ranking.
Sometimes a domain ranks for the same keyword with different pieces of content. This comparison lets you see which content is better at helping the domain get more people to the site through search results.
For example, here's the keyword "first time homebuyer" over the past year. Investopedia seems to have sprung out of the blue this past April and dominated from there.
Both Investopedia and Nerdwallet have multiple URLs ranking on the first page for this search. This breakdown lets you see which pages they are.
Expand the listing on the side, and you can see that two of Nerdwallet's articles are ranking:
This is helpful when you look for points about the article to find out what is working well. You can emulate them when you have a stronger sense of what's on the page instead of just saying "nerdwallet.com ranks for this search."
Another idea is to use individual URLs to compare common-themed products when pages take a hard Google hit. (Think different JCPenney sections on its clothing-related keywords.)
5. How Google Updates Tie Into It
Website ranking History guides users through the effects of Google’s changes so there’s a better chance of decoding where things went wrong.
If your traffic dumped hard one month in spite of your ongoing ads and usual efforts, maybe you have Google to thank for it. (*Shakes fist* GOOGLE!)
But because you’re smart, you don’t just wither in frustration. You search out what you can learn. That’s where we can help.
SpyFu goes deep into website ranking history
This fills a long-time void in organic keyword research and site improvement that only SpyFu was poised to offer: We've been consistently gathering ranking data every month for more than 13 years.
But this is more than a glimpse into past rankings. Ranking History guides users through the effects of Google’s changes so there’s a better chance of decoding where things went wrong.
The Google Algorithm Updates in the chart mark the changes (large and small) alongside your ranking history. We built it into the Ranking History tool so you can match it to your domain’s performance on a keyword within any window of time over the last 10 years.
At any point where you see your rankings take a turn, look for correlating adjustments that Google made to its formula.
In this example for a search on “wood flooring,” armstrong.com consistently ranked on the first page for most of 2016 and 2017. They weren't without their dips, though.
The entire field took a hit from the Penguin update but rebounded quickly. (Gray oval)
After another update in October, Armstrong.com dropped again, but they seem to have climbed back up to hold a steady top 10 position. You can see a marker next to both drops showing you where Google made its updates.
Our updates include these kinds of milestones and events
Google’s major algorithm changes: These are significant updates that alter the way search results are ranked. Think Panda and Penguin, Google’s 2012 “over-optimization” update.
Search Quality updates: Google’s penalizing of domains that over-optimize and experiment with “black hat” tactics.
- JCPenney.com’s volatile rankings are a good example of a site hit by search quality updates. They’re more frequent than major algorithm changes.
- Parked domain bug: This S.Q. update mistakenly penalized many sites. Its aim was to take down parked domains, those that lack content and run mostly ads.
Freshness updates: Search ranking changes in this category take new events and hot topics into account.
New feature/enhancements: Any improvements or additions to Google’s methods, improved social signals recognition, and the Knowledge Graph fall into this group.
This is like having an open-book test against Google’s mysterious updates. Instead of worrying about a past update, you can know for sure how it affected you relative to other changes in Google’s ranking system. It doesn’t bring back the traffic you lost, but knowing that an update tanked your rankings just points to areas you can improve.
6. Granted, it's not always Google's fault
Rankings fall for other reasons. It's just as valuable to know if Google's updates have tanked your rankings as it is to know if a competitor outperformed you.
Gut check it.
When you search a keyword, the results show you which domains ranked for that term over time. Above, we have Armstrong.com, FloorAndDecor.com, and LumberLiquidators.com for example. You can also type in a domain that isn't on the chart like MohawkFlooring.com. While they might not be in the top 10 consistently, you can track their ranking pattern against the Page One sites.
That often helps you see industry trends and how they ripple through smaller sites.
Similarly, if you search your own domain and see that your site went down consistently on different keywords, that hints that something about your SEO was off. If your rankings on a similar keyword stayed steady, there might be a competitor who has edged you out instead of the big king Google.
7. Tracking website ranking history for a new client
Other rank tracking tools require registration so they know what to track, That leaves new customers stuck waiting for a ramp-up process before they can start. However, website ranking history is very inclusive. Even if you hadn’t been actively tracking a client's rankings in the past, you get the same insights as if you had been keeping tabs on them from the start. Imagine the competitive advantage you have when you can pitch a potential new client, already knowing where their site or their competitor sites dominated a keyword group or stumbled in a niche.
If a competitor is outranking you on a keyword, this helps you dig up answers. Find out if they rank well consistently across most keywords or if this one’s a fluke. It helps to get a better sense of what you are up against and keeps you from following their lead without better evidence.
Speaking of evidence, we back up every ranking claim with a screenshot of the original SERP, so there’s never a question about what ranked where. We prefer to specialize in answers. Years of answers can reveal plenty to help an SEO gain a competitive edge.