How to Check Your Keyword Rankings Before Making SEO Changes

By Andy Crestodina

Ever wonder, “What keywords do I rank for?” It’s a great question with surprising answers. You probably rank for hundreds if not thousands of keyword phrases you didn’t know about. Some will be highly relevant and useful for driving qualified traffic to your website. Others, not so much. But which keywords will actually generate the best search results from your optimization efforts?

Read on to find out.

Step-by-step method for checking your keyword rankings

This post explains step-by-step how to find which keyword rankings affect your search results using Google Analytics and Google Search Console. We’ve also added a list of tools at the bottom for checking how your competitors rank.

But before we get into the how-to details, let’s consider a specific reason to check the keyword ranking of specific pages. This is very important because it can help us avoid big SEO mistakes.

Note: Skip down past these first short sections to get to the rank checking instructions and tools.

The two biggest SEO opportunities on your site

There are two main ways to find and optimize for “low-hanging fruit” keywords. These are phrases that can be quickly optimized to improve your search performance.

Here is how to find them:

  1. Find pages that rank high on page two of search results and improve them
  2. Find pages with high search impressions, but low clickthrough rates

We’ve written about this (and made a video showing how to do it) on this blog: Read How to Improve Your Rankings Fast for instructions. It’s amazing how quickly you can rank higher using this technique.

But we didn’t go into detail on one important aspect. There’s risk involved.

How optimizing pages can sometimes hurt your search results

Although you may be optimizing a page for one keyphrase, you may be DE-optimizing the page for a different phrase. The page may already rank high for a different phrase. Or it may rank for a more popular phrase.

Changing a page to make it more relevant for one keyphrase may make it less relevant for another.

If the page ranks for one phrase, it probably ranks for many. That’s because Google is a semantic search engine. It does an excellent job of understanding the true meaning of the query and the intent of the visitor. It’s not just matching words to keyphrases.

In the old days, a page would rank for a phrase or two. But today, pages are viewed as relevant to a broader topic, not just one specific keyphrase. A page is more likely to rank for dozens of keyphrases. Some may be very powerful at pulling in visitors. Others, less so.

Here’s what happens…

You find a great SEO opportunity, and you rush to optimize the page. You move the keyword phrase to the front of the title tag. You rewrite your header. You reorder words in the body text. But did you just make the page less relevant for an even better keyword phrase?

Here’s an example. A quick check of the Search Query report in Google Analytics shows that this site ranks #9 for the keyword “content audit template” in search results. That’s a page one ranking, but there’s room for improvement, right?

Screenshot of a google search engine results tracking tool showing rankings and stats for various search queries.

Before we start changing the page, let’s slow down and make sure we don’t hurt another hidden ranking. So next, let’s find all of the keyword phrases that the page ranks for.

How can I find all the keyword phrases that my page ranks for?

Here’s the step-by-step process for finding every keyphrase that a specific web page ranks for using Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

1. Find the page that’s ranking for your keyword in Google Search Console

First we need to pinpoint the page ranking for our keyword, “content audit template.” Log into Google Search Console and select Search Results to view your organic search data.

Screenshot of google search console's "performance on search results" page showing graphs for total clicks, total impressions, average ctr, and average position.

By default, Search Console shows the last 30 days’ worth of search data for your site. Open up the time filter a bit to see more data. I recommend going for a full 12-month view:

Screenshot of a digital interface showing date range filters with the "last 12 months" option selected.

Next, open the Query filter and search for your exact target keyword (“content audit template”):

Screenshot of a search interface with a dropdown menu set to "exact query" and a text box filled with "content audit template," with an "apply" button.

Toggle over to the Pages tab and find the ranking page. Then click on it.

Screenshot of a web analytics dashboard showing data for total clicks, total impressions, average click-through rate (ctr), and average position, with graphs and date filters.

2. Review the other keyword rankings for that page

Now we’ve found the exact page that’s ranking for that term. But we want to see if there are any better keyword opportunities for that page. Let’s look at all the other phrases that it’s ranking for and getting traffic from. Remove the Query filter (click the little x) and toggle back over to the Queries tab.

Screenshot of google search console's performance tab showing a line graph for "total clicks" and "total impressions" on search queries over a two-month period.

Now you’re looking at some very valuable information. This is a list of all the keyphrases this page ranks for. In the example below, you can see the page ranks for hundreds of search terms. You can export up to 1,000 queries straight from Search Console to review the data in Excel or Google Sheets.

Screenshot of a web analytics dashboard displaying search queries, countries, devices, search appearances, and impressions for various website audit-related topics.

You may be happy to see just how many phrases a page is ranking for in search results. However, many of these will be very low rankings so don’t get too excited. Many keywords will be on pages 2, 3, 4+ of Google, and you’re not winning clicks if you’re way down there.

3. Sort the report by “Clicks” to see what’s working best for that page

Finally, let’s take a look at the keywords that are actually working best for this page by sorting the data by Clicks.

Screenshot of a webpage analytics dashboard showing top search queries and their corresponding clicks and impressions, highlighting key statistics for the query "how to audit website content.

Here’s the list of what’s actually working for this page. Clicks are Impressions multiplied by the Clickthrough Rate. If there are clicks, things are working well. The top keyphrase (“website content audit”) is what the page is actually best optimized for.

In this example, the phrase we were ready to start targeting (“content audit template”) isn’t as high on the list in terms of clicks.

Disaster averted

Optimizing for one keyphrase could have DE-optimized for the others. If we had increased the frequency and prominence of one phrase, we may have decreased the frequency and prominence of others.

Guidelines for optimizing pages with keyphrases that already rank

Here are guidelines to follow before optimizing an existing page. First, check to see all the phrases the page is ranking for and getting traffic from.

If the page wasn’t getting traffic from much of anything…

Go ahead and refocus the page on the newly discovered phrase using basic on-page SEO best practices.

  • Put the phrase at the beginning of the title
  • Use the phrase once in the header
  • Use the phrase in the meta description
  • Confirm that the phrase is used several times in the body text
  • Make it a truly great page for the topic, by adding answers, details, quotes, statistics, examples, images, video, etc

If the page was already getting good traffic from other popular and valuable phrases…

Don’t shift the keyphrase focus or you’ll risk losing that traffic. But there are still ways you can build up relevance for the phrase using semantic SEO.

  1. Use the phrase in subheads and in body text
  2. Consider adding the phrase to the meta description, but don’t remove instances of the other phrases.
  3. Make sure the page truly covers that aspect of your topic.

So look both ways before you cross the phrase. The key is to know what’s already working. Actually, there are many ways to find this out. Let’s share a few more.

3 ways to check rankings of your competitors’ pages!

If you enjoyed finding your own rankings, you’ll love seeing the rankings of your competitors.

There are several tools that do this well. All of the tools below have free versions, which give you some data, and paid versions which give you more.

They also offer much more than the features listed here.

1. SEMrush

Semrush is probably the best known keyword research tool. It has tons of data here including the keyword, the search intent, ranking position, search volume (popularity), estimated share of traffic and the trend over time. This report is very easy to export.

Screenshot of semrush dashboard displaying analytics for a website, showing organic search results, traffic graph, and various keyword statistics.

For this website, Semrush found 17,200 ranking phrases. The top ten are viewable without a paid account.

4. SpyFu

Another very popular rank checking service, SpyFu shows keywords, rankings, volume (popularity), difficulty, cost per click and paid advertising equivalents, showing the presumed value of each rank. Little colored arrows make it easy to see the change in rank over time.

Screenshot of an seo tool interface displaying keyword analytics for a website, including rankings, search volumes, and cpc values.

For this website, SpyFu found 44,218 ranking phrases. The top five are viewable without a paid account.

5. SimilarWeb

SimilarWeb is another powerful competitive analysis tool. They’re most famous for the accuracy of their traffic estimators (see that analysis here) but they also have a nice tool that shows who ranks for what phrases. It emphasizes percentage of traffic share over specific ranking numbers, which isn’t quite as fun. But it lets you select date ranges and location. That’s smart.

Screenshot of an seo keyword analysis tool displaying data on organic traffic, keyword positions, and search volumes for various keywords.

For this website, SimilarWeb found 6,115 ranking phrases. The top five are viewable without a paid account.

Measure Twice. Rank Once.

So many ways to check your rankings! Check the rank of your specific pages before you adjust content for keyphrase and topic targeting. Check the rank of competitor sites before you adjust your content strategy or create a sitemap for your new site.

Knowledge is power. Use your new powers for good, not evil. Happy rankings!

There is more where this came from…

The best articles from this blog are available all in one place – our book. Now on it’s 6th edition.

Content Chemistry, The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing, is packed with practical tips, real-world examples, and expert insights. A must-read for anyone looking to build a content strategy that drives real business impact. Check out the reviews on Amazon.

Buy now direct $29.95