Thinking about kicking off your keyword research? It's usually seen as the first step for any SEO strategy.
Before you go any further, there’s one very important question you need to ask first: what keywords do I rank for?
Checking what keywords your website’s pages currently rank on Google and other search engines is the most essential first step in your SEO strategy.
Does your site already rank for keywords your customers are searching for?
Or is it missing the mark completely?
Are there keywords you hadn't realised you were ranking for that could bring even more traffic?
You need to know current keyword rankings to get a firm understanding of the site’s strengths and weaknesses. This will help you or your SEO gurus lay down a roadmap for optimization.
If you fail to identify the keywords you rank for, you could be wasting your digital marketing budget on bringing the wrong people to your site and trying to convert visitors who will never become customers.
Here's the thing...
You might think you know which keywords your website ranks for. Maybe you can name five target keywords correctly.
But in our experience, there will always be some surprises. And it's these surprises that bring the most opportunities for success.
Finding the keywords your website ranks for is easier than you might think.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the helpful tools and steps to find out what keywords your website ranks for and plan your next move.
We break down:
What is a keyword?
Why knowing what keywords you rank for is important for SEO
How to find what keywords you rank for on Google
How to use keyword ranking to get more traffic
Ready to discover what keywords you rank for?
Before we dive in, let’s go back to basics.
What is a keyword?
A keyword is a word, phrase or question that users type into search engines, like Google, when they want to find information. A keyword is also known as a “search term” or “search query”.
For example, a user might type in the keyword “SEO for marketers” or “SEO agency”. The search engine then uses an algorithm to scan billions of websites and pinpoint the web pages that provide the most informative and relevant answer to that search query.
This is how you earn your search engine rankings.
Why knowing what keywords you rank for is important for SEO
When you know what keywords are sending you the most organic traffic from search engines, you’ll learn about your site’s overall performance on search engines as well as the performance of specific pages and content.
This is very valuable data.
If you’ve already done some search optimisation, you can see if your efforts are going well or not by comparing your target keywords (the ones you want to rank for) with the actual keywords your site is ranking for.
If your site’s top keyword matches your targeted keyword, your strategies are on track. If they don’t match, it’s time to get to work on improving your keyword research and organic search tactics.
For website owners and marketers, here are some more reasons why knowing your keyword rank is critical to your site’s success:
1. Understand traffic highs and lows
Have you ever noticed how sometimes your site is pulling in lots of visitors, then suddenly it drops off?
Your site’s organic traffic volume can be impacted by multiple factors, and you can only understand these if you check your keyword rankings.
2. Grab opportunities to rank higher
Let’s face it, Google doesn’t stand still for long. Search engine results pages change all the time with Google constantly trying to find new ways to improve the user experience. One way to keep on top of the changes and how they impact your site is to track keyword rankings.
Not only can this help you keep ahead of the curve, but it can also reveal keywords that are not getting any clicks and show you new keyword opportunities to outrank the competition, such as a keyword rank with a high search volume.
3. Stay on top of the competition.
Speaking of competition, you can keep track of keyword ranking and data on your website to also see what your competitors are up to. See how competitors are ranking for the same keywords you’re targeting, and whether there is a specific keyword they’re targeting and you’re not (but probably should be).
By watching keyword ranking patterns and data, you can see whether your competitors made changes to their web pages that are helping their ranking, and you can make changes to your own site to rank higher.
It's all right there in the ranking data.
4. Target relevant keywords.
Only by knowing what keywords your web pages rank for can you refine your search engine optimization strategy. Use this keyword rank knowledge to remove irrelevant keywords that don’t result in high keyword ranking for that specific page.
Then, use relevant keywords to create new hyper-targeted content that will be relevant to your user's search intent.
How to find what keywords you rank for on Google
Finding keyword rank data for your website is as easy as using an SEO tool. There's a multitude of rank tracking tools you can use to find your search engine rankings. Here are a few of our favourites:
SEMRush is one of the most popular SEO and keyword research tools out there, and for good reason. It gives you an SEO toolbox with everything you’ll need to see where your site ranks, keep track of keywords, and use this information to optimize your site.
One of the top features is the organic research tool that can show keyword rankings for any domain name.
Think of it as a keyword rank checker.
The best part is it will automatically fetch results for all URLs for your domain name. You don’t have to insert each page manually (phew!) to see the keyword rankings.
Here’s what to do:
Enter the domain name you want to look up to see the keywords. SEMRush will then gather tons of data about that domain.
Click on the Organic Research tab to view a list of all keywords your website is ranking for.
Image source: SEMrush
Now you can sort this data depending on what you want to see. List the results by average position, URL, traffic, and so on.
Need to share the data with colleagues?
Export the results to a CSV file.
If you want to track specific keywords to see how they perform, SEMRush lets you do that too. They show up on your dashboard, so you can instantly see their performance and analytics, and keep track of the data.
Now for the really sneaky part:
SEMRush lets you do the same for ANY domain name. So you can enter your competitors' domain names to see which keywords they are ranking for.
The great thing about SEMRush compared to some other paid tools is that it is also brilliant for helping you to find the best keywords to target when you’re ready to start your search engine optimization strategy. It allows you to conduct really comprehensive keyword research if you want to determine which are the best ones to target.
2. Google Search Console
Google Search Console is another crowd favorite when it comes to finding out what people are searching on Google to find your website.
If you’re wondering why you can’t use Google Analytics for keyword search, unfortunately Google Analytics doesn’t offer search term data anymore.
But fear not – you can use Google Search Console instead.
Google Search Console is a free online marketing tool offered by Google that allows you to track and view your site’s performance in Google search results. It gathers all the data you need in one place.
Using Google Search Console, you can see your top-ranking web pages and find the terms that bring the most traffic. The tracking data is extremely comprehensive - it can be overwhelming until you know what you're looking for, so stick with us.
It also helps you fix crawl issues, which help improve your ranking.
Start by making sure your account is set up.
Head over to the welcome page and log in using your Google credentials.
You will be asked to enter your web address in one of two boxes – a Domain Property or a URL Prefix Property.
Next, you’ll need to verify that you are the owner of the website.
You’ll need to wait at least a few weeks to have enough data for Google to show your keyword ranking.
Sign into Google Search Console and navigate to Performance from the menu on the left.
This shows all the keywords your site ranks for in Google, including total clicks, impressions, average CTR, and position for each Google keyword.
Image source: Woorank
There are five tabs you can select here depending on what you want to know:
Queries: See a list of keywords your content is currently ranking for
Pages: Review how pages and posts on your site are performing on Google
Countries: See how your site is performing by country
Devices: Find out what device people use to access your site
Search appearance: See whether your structured data appears in the search results
For the purposes of what you want to know right now, scroll down to the Queries tab.
This shows the top keywords that people use to find your site.
Image source: SurfsidePPC
Now, if you want to know what search queries a specific page ranks for, go to the Pages tab and click on a specific page you want to see data for. Then select Queries again.
How can you use this data?
Let’s say you want to see all of your keywords that are ranking on page 2 of Google, but are getting more than 40 clicks each month.
This shows each Google keyword working for you – you’re getting traffic –but your competition is doing a better job of ranking for them.
If you do some optimization to your web pages that target these keywords and get your pages ranking on page 1, you can win more traffic.
Search Console is a powerful tool, so take some time to play around and see what’s possible beyond keyword rank tracking:
§ Track how your site is performing for a specific Google keyword
§ View keywords and phrases that individual pages are ranking for
§ Compare search results over time and see if your keyword ranking is improving or worsening.
One thing to note is that, unlike SEMRush and other paid tools, Google Search Console does not let you track a specific keyword on an ongoing basis.
You’ll simply find a list of all keywords and search phrases that your site is currently displayed for in organic search.
The next paid tool that is popular for finding out keywords is Ahrefs. This tool is particularly easy to use as a rank tracker, making it popular for search marketing.
Enter your website domain name in the search box, and it shows you an organized report with graphs and charts.
Under the organic keywords report you’ll see all your keyword rankings. Check against each keyword to see its search volume, ranking positions, and more analytics.
Image source: Ahrefs
Not only can you see keyword rankings for any site or page, you can also see historical rankings for any keyword – all the way back to 2015.
Why would you need to see historical rankings?
It helps you to:
Check if rankings and positions have improved or worsened on a search engine over months and years
See how competitors' rankings are progressing (or not!)
Find keyword cannibalization issues, which is where multiple pages rank for the same keyword.
Another great feature is that Ahrefs lets you compare your site's rankings for any keyword against up to five competitors’ sites.
For every keyword you're tracking, on Ahrefs you can see:
Visibility – Estimated percentage of all clicks from tracked keywords to your site.
Traffic – Estimated total organic traffic from all your tracked keywords combined
Average position – Average ranking positions across all tracked keywords
SERP features – Number of owned and tracked SERP features for your keywords
Positions – Rises and falls in rankings across all tracked keywords
That's a lot of analytics!
You can even find more competitors in the Competing Domains report in Site Explorer.
Type in a known competitor, and the tool will suggest other related sites based on the number of the overlapping keywords they rank for on Google.
Image source: Ahrefs
4. Moz Keyword Explorer
Another digital marketing tool you can use to find ranking keywords for your site or competitors' sites is Moz Keyword Explorer.
Simply type in your website URL into Keyword Explorer and select the country where your audience is based.
Click Analyze to see top-ranking keywords.
Click Ranking Keywords on the left to see all the keywords your site is ranking for, along with Difficulty and Monthly Search Volume.
Then, add each competitor to see how you rank for keywords against other sites in your niche.
Image source: Moz
How to use keyword rankings to get more traffic
Now that you have learned how to find out keyword ranking for your site, how do you use this data to improve your positions?
Find surprise keywords
During your research, you might find some surprise keywords that you had no idea you were ranking for.
Now, if these keywords have significant search volumes, you should see if you can create content to improve ranking for those keywords as well – after all, you know they work!
Rank for long-tail keywords
If you know what you already rank for, you can use this knowledge to target long-tail keywords, knowing you've secured a spot in the search results with the main phrase.
A typical long-tail keyword has three properties:
Made up of three or more words
Has lower search volume but also typically lower competition
Is more specific, meaning it has higher engagement and conversion rates
Content and pages that already rank well for a primary keyword can also rank for a long-tail keyword to drive more traffic.
Roughly 8% of searches are phrased as a question (Moz)
For example, rather than attempting to rank another page for the keyword "coffee machine," you can now target long-tail keywords like "pod coffee machine" or "stainless steel coffee machine."
Improve keyword ranking for page 2 keywords
See which pages are ranking well for keywords and work out a strategy to optimize them and rank even better.
In Google Search Console, look into the data for phrases that already rank in Google, but could use improvement.
To do this, use an Advanced Filter to find only the keyword for which your site is ranking well, but not too high.
In the Advanced Filter, set the Average Position to “Greater than 10” and click Apply.
A page that ranks greater than 10 is high on page 2, assuming there are 10 organic search listings on page one.
You’re essentially asking Google Search Console: which keywords do I rank for on page 2?
Here’s the thing: no one wants to rank on page two. Not for any keyword!
75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines. (Junto)
But if you’re high on page two, you’re close to page one. This is the low hanging fruit of keywords!
Next, go through the data report to find the most relevant phrases. In other words, the keyword most related to your site or products and services.
You will definitely see some strange, irrelevant keywords, but that’s completely normal. Just ignore them and keep looking for a keyword that is relevant.
Look for buyer-related phrases that include:
Question marks – these people are researching a problem but don’t know how to solve it yet.
Dollar Signs – these are keywords by users who know how they want to solve their problem and are ready to spend money.
These are the keywords worth chasing. Look at how you can use SEO to improve your keyword ranking for these phrases.
Rank higher for keywords
What’s one of the easiest and most common ways to drive more traffic to your site?
Rank better for the keywords for which you already rank.
We’ve already told you how to get the low-hanging fruit that rank on page two, but there’s another opportunity:
Push keywords from position 4-10 up to the top 3 on page 1.
Fact: the first 5 organic results in the SERPs account for 67.6% of ALL clicks (Zero Limit Web).
The top position is exponentially more valuable than the second position, and so on.
The #1 result in Google gets around 32% of all clicks (Backlinko).
This means the return on investment from moving a keyword from position #2 to #1 on page 1 is higher than moving a keyword from position #3 to #2, which is higher than position #4 to #3, etc.
This is no easy task though.
The higher you want to rank, the more boxes you need to tick for Google.
Your content must be even more relevant and informative for users, your site must be more authoritative, and you must deliver a better user experience.
But if you can get it right, the rewards are exceptional.
Find opportunities to win more traffic
Check the keywords you are already ranking for that have high impressions but a low number of clicks.
A keyword with a high number of impressions and a low number of clicks may indicate that there is a huge traffic potential, but you are not ranking high enough to attract people, or you were ranking for a short period of time and not anymore.
Typically, these will be keywords you rank for on page 2 or beyond.
In Google Search Console, you simply sort the results by the number of impressions.
Look for keywords that could be relevant for your pages but have low number of clicks. Then, analyze the keywords to see whether they are worth your time and effort ranking for – consider the search volume and difficulty (whether your competitors are also trying to rank for them).
Find new keyword opportunities
Use what you know about your website ranking to identify keyword gaps. In other words, look for keywords related to the ones you already rank for, or go even deeper into the SERPs to find keywords with potential.
Again, Google Search Console makes it easy to find new keywords to rank for. Use the filter in the Performance report to narrow down the data and find the keywords you already rank for on page 2 or 3. Set the filter to Position “Smaller than” 30.
You’ll find the keywords with the highest potential.
Image source: Mangools
Should you use SEO tools for keyword research?
We’ve mentioned three paid tools in this article: SEMRush, Ahrefs and Moz. But do you really need a specific tool as a rank checker?
In our opinion, YES.
Having a rank checker tool is essential if you’re serious about your SEO investment. It’s the only way to make sure that you’re focusing on the right things and making an impact.
Using tools can actually save you time and money, but giving you the data to ensure you aren’t wasting effort on tactics that don’t bring returns.
At the same time, Google Search Console is a great tool to start your rank tracking and incredibly useful in showing you how your site is currently performing. But there are limitations compared to paid tools and plugins– it only shows you Google results (obviously!).
Now you know how to find out what keywords your site is ranking for, you can choose your tool and start revealing those valuable insights.
It’s what you do next that’s incredibly important. Failing to action this data as part of your SEO strategy would be a huge mistake. This is your chance to find high-reward opportunities to rank higher and drive organic traffic that is most likely to convert. And that is the whole point of search engine optimization.
If you’re not sure what to do next, don’t worry – our experts are here to help. We can do it all for you with a FREE SEO audit and 6-month game plan.
For eligible businesses, we will provide a 50+ page audit covering SEO, PPC, Facebook and more. So you can see how your site is tracking on Google as well as social media and paid advertising, including the opportunities to win more traffic and conversions. Best of all, we’ll provide you with a 6-month game plan to get the results you really want. It’s completely free with no obligation!