When does it make sense to track a large quantity of keywords? When does it make sense to focus on a few smaller groups of keywords?
If 100 SEOs were given the same site and same budget to work their SEO magic, you may have dozens of different answers to how many keywords they will be tracking with their keyword rank checker tool.
We put together a study asking SEOs the following 3 questions regarding keyword position tracking:
- When performing keyword research for each of your clients, how many keywords do you track in your rank checking tools?
- Would you run more if you could? If so, why?
- What’s the main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords?
Ultimately, if you are wanting to track hundreds or thousands of more keywords, Nozzle can help you do that with customized scheduling options without breaking the bank.
After collecting all of the data, we have found some interesting information. There are so many approaches to the keyword tracking strategy and it is not as straight-forward as a specific number of keywords per client or per website. From tracking a certain amount of keywords per page to tracking hundreds of keywords per company, we have found that it is context dependent upon multiple factors that we will uncover in the next coming paragraphs.
“I track keywords for all of my clients. However, I do not report on keyword rankings for any of my clients. The amount of keywords fluctuates depending on the size of the site and the number of pages we are actively optimizing against our SEO campaign. I have smaller clients (100-page sites) where we actively track ~50 keywords. I have another client with over 1M pages where we track over 250 keywords. I mentioned earlier that I do not report out on keywords. We use keyword rankings strictly to help build a narrative around organic search performance. If traffic has spiked, we can regularly attribute it to a subset of keywords that have gained in rankings. The inverse is true too. If we see a decrease in organic traffic to a second of page we often refer to the keywords that have decreased in rankings. This allows us to talk about keywords at a macro level and not get pigeonholed by a single keyword going “up or down” a position or two.”
“In my experience with keyword tracking, it’s better to focus on a group of primary keywords instead of trying to track all the various keywords a page could rank for. I typically track a primary keyword for each service page on a website. Currently, for Check City, I am tracking 20 focus keywords with each keyword representing a main service page or a large blog article. The main benefit of focusing on a limited number of main keywords is you are able to put efficient resources and time needed into those high volume, more competitive terms. I have also found that once you rank for one of these key terms for a page, all the keywords you are targeting for that page move up in the ranking as well. Focus your energy on the main larger keywords and the rest will follow.”
“These questions are context-dependent. For example, some pages have a singular focus which house limited information. In this case, most of the time three or four words should be targeted per page. However, if I am working on a site which had blog posts and multiple product offerings as a targeted landing page, around 22 is the average keyword. Search engines prioritize content visitors want to see, not overly optimized sites which focus on overloading keywords. Running more keywords would be a requirement if the site ranks high on key-word because of an extensive backlink profile and domain rating. However, this should be reserved for websites with the very highest rankings. In other cases, this would be unnecessary.”
Keyword tracking, like all things in SEO, is not a “one size fits-all.” The number of keywords we track for a client depends entirely on what stage the account is in. If it is a new client, we may set up an initial keyword list of 200-500 terms. This allows us to create a solid baseline to measure ourselves against going forward. As an account evolves, our keyword tracking list may expand to more than 1,000 terms as we get more ingrained in their business and we see opportunities to optimize around more terms. While tracking tens of thousands of keywords sounds like a good idea in theory, we’ve found that it is not necessary and actually creates more problems. We only track the terms that we and our clients believe are critical to success – those that will drive a business impact. Tracking more keywords than you need only muddies the waters and creates confusion. Successful keyword tracking is a balancing act. It’s about tracking the keywords that drive the biggest impact while not giving into the temptation to track every term that anyone ever used to land on your website.”
“I have seen, over the past 12-18 months, more and more clients wanting to go for quality rather than quantity. Instead of having to read huge reports with a seemingly never-ending list of tracked keywords, they want to see their top 10-20 search terms that are most important to them. It is easier to see where they are ranking for those terms and what the fluctuations have been.”
“Our general rule is this: Up to 3 keywords per page/service line. So if there is a homepage and 10 service pages we track 33 keywords. We also track some keywords related to key blog posts but these tend to be just 1 keyword per post. For large ecommerce sites this might start getting into triple figures. In this case we try to group keywords into categories (or service lines) and then provide an average ranking graph over time as well as Google Search Console Impressions graph. We find these graphs help to give a good overview of how well categories are performing without getting too hung up in tiny keyword movements. We also try not to have too many variations of a keyword. For example, if I’m an SEO agency in Cambridge, we’ll just track “SEO cambridge” rather than “SEO services cambridge”, “SEO specialist cambridge” or “SEO consulting cambridge”, as the chances are if you’re performing well for “SEO cambridge” you’re probably performing well for other related keywords too. This is just a general rule of thumb though and sometimes there are more keywords needed for one service page and sometimes none at all needed for another. It’s good to have guidelines but we have to be a bit flexible too.”
Cary Haun, Technical SEO Specialist at Twelve Three Media states:
“The Name of the Game is Generalized Contingency. When performing keyword research for a client, I will customarily track approximately 50 keywords per targeted location. If I were to run more, it would be because the focus of the business demands it. The more products and/or services, the more keywords (obviously). But, the limit of keywords per product/service is kept very small and the keywords themselves are very generalized. A tight budget of generalized keywords per client will also leave plenty of room for outliers, seasonal attention, etc. The intention behind initial, stringent research of these seemingly basic terms is in order to encompass any/all myriad topics and subject matter that could be addressed with them. Also, when tracking across multiple client sites that are using the same or similarly chosen keywords, the general landscape of the vertical itself can be monitored. “The main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords in this way is a relatively simple ‘less is more’ strategy. The more research that goes into the boilerplate keyword list now, the less I will need to worry about contingencies later. Selecting high-level, generalized keywords/queries is not an easy grab bag. What it will allow for, however, is a broad spectrum of potential content.”
“As an in-house SEO for a tech startup, I prefer to limit the number of keywords I track. It’s far too easy to get carried away and track every keyword that I’d LIKE to win, but these aren’t always ones that I’m actively targeting or care much about. There are an infinite number of long-tails out there, but it’s important to ask yourself, “Do I really care? Is this just adding mental noise?” Obviously, the number of tracked keywords will vary wildly by company or site. For my company, Guidebook, I generally track about 50 keywords that are core to my business. I sort these into buckets (by business unit) to make analysis more manageable. Over time, I add roughly 1 focus keyword and 3 long-tails for each new piece of content I post. But at any given time, I really only care about a fraction of these — maybe 50% of the total. And for my side project, Zenmaster Wellness, the numbers get cut down even further. As a blog, I don’t have as many “core keywords” to my business. Rather, I might have 1-5 keywords for each incremental post that I publish. So again: only around 30-50 keywords that are top-of-mind. In my experience, I don’t think I’ll ever utilize the max number of tracking credits that rank tracking tools allow me. Focus on what really, truly matters to the success of your business.”
“Generally, our clients are tracking at least 500 keywords, and our larger clients are tracking between 1000-1500 keywords. Our keyword lists are usually around 750-2000 keywords, but we almost always are using tools to track less than the total number of keywords. In most cases, we would choose to be tracking a larger number of keywords for better data, and simplicity of managing keywords. Unfortunately, most keyword tracking tools have tiered pricing, and more keywords = higher costs. Oftentimes, these higher costs to track more keywords are not worth the additional value you get from doing so. This is the case because most keywords can be combined into what we consider keyword groups. A group for us indicates that 1 page should be able to rank for all of the keywords within that group. So theoretically, if you have a group of 5, 10, or even 100 keywords, you don’t necessarily need to track all of them to get a good idea of how your client, or your site, is performing for that keyword group. We therefore won’t necessarily track every keyword in a group, because the tracking would be redundant.”
“Keyword tracking depends on the amount of organic traffic you are targeting. Let’s say you are focusing on a keyword that also has multiple long-tail keywords with lower difficulty as compared to your primary keyword. If you incorporate those long-tail keywords within your content, then you can also rank for those keywords which would bring additional traffic to your content, However, you do not need to track those keywords as they will be dependent on your primary keyword ranking. This way each content piece will have a primary keyword-focused approach, while you will try to incorporate as many long-tail keywords as your content can allow without damaging its quality. This is why long content pieces (2500+) generate good traffic as they can incorporate multiple keywords.”
“At Launch Site Boost, the number of keywords we track for a client depends on what level package of ours they have. We have 3 packages, which basically differ based on the amount of SEO work needed to reach the client’s desired goals for their website’s organic success. Package 1: Initiate Launch – €995 per month – Usually Local Businesses – 25 Tracked Keywords with 1 Competitor Tracked for those same Keywords. Package 2: Engage Boosters – €1,995 per month – Usually Lead Generation – 50 Tracked Keywords with 3 Competitors Tracked for those same Keywords. Package 3: Maximum Performance – €2,995 per month – Usually eCommerce – 100 Tracked Keywords with 5 Competitors Tracked for those same Keywords. We find that the above has always been more than suitable for the level of reporting that the client requires.“
“The number of keywords used for tracking depends on the number of pages and the topics or keywords targeted on those pages. For example, an e-commerce website would have targeted keywords as per their categories and products. Tracking 1-2 keywords per page can be a good start. Secondly, finding out competitor keywords helps. Most of the clients want to beat their competitors for keywords they are ranking for. Hence, it is recommended to optimize for and track competitor keywords that have high search volume. Would you run more if you could? If so, why? Yes, definitely. One of the goals is to increase the client’s search engine visibility and if we can do it by tracking and ranking pages for more keywords, why not? What’s the main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords? Volume. The main reason to rank for keywords is to get traffic. If we track keywords which have 0 search volume and those keywords get no traffic whatsoever, then there is no point in tracking those keywords.”
Kevin Geary, CEO at Digital Gravy:
“We typically track dozens of keywords per page. They’re not all unique keywords, though. For example, you’ll automatically track 2 keywords for every actual keyword when you track mobile vs desktop ranking. So, if there are 5 keywords you want to track, you’re really tracking 10 in the software. When you throw in location-based keywords, you’re expanding that out even further.. We often track “keyword” in specific locations as well as the literal “keyword + location” variations. The remaining keywords we are tracking are typically similar phrases of the primary keyword that also have solid volume. By the time we’re done setting up primary keyword tracking, primary keyword + location variation tracking, and related phrase tracking for a typical page, we’re probably at 10-12 keywords. Then expanding that out into mobile/desktop puts us at 20-24 keywords tracked per page. It’s not uncommon for us to track a hundred keywords for a relatively small website and into the thousands for an e-commerce site. Would you run more if you could? We don’t really need to track more keywords in terms of volume. What we would like is more granular local keyword tracking. What’s the main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords? The only real limitation is cost. For large sites, the clients are willing to pay so we haven’t been limited in terms of what we want to track.”
Tom Shivers, President at Capture Commerce:
“I do SEO for an agency and work mostly with ecommerce stores. I track targeted keywords every month for each client which vary in number, but typically I like to track around 200 keywords per client, sometimes as many as 1000 keywords. I’ve used Serpstat to do rank tracking which is adequate as long as I don’t go over the limit. Their base plan allows 15000 position checks per month and includes desktop and mobile. What’s nice is I can track competitors for the same keywords without impacting my monthly limits. So, on average I like to track 200 keywords per client. If I tracked every keyword every day, that would be approximately 6000 position checks per month. That plan only works if I have less than 3 clients, so when I have more clients, I can either upgrade my plan or track every keyword less frequently. Pros and cons to either option.”
“We start off with 10 unique keywords on a normal basis. If the budget is higher, we’ll do more, if lower then less. We feel 10 is enough to make a huge difference, while still being reasonable to manage. Because we’re going to have to create content and drive backlinks to boost these keyword rankings, going after 50, for example, makes less sense. Now once we dominate the 10, we’ll move onto another five or 10 and keep going! So you can go after every relevant keyword, just not all at once. The game of organic traffic is a marathon anyway.”
Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager atMoriarty’s Gem Art says:
“I am an in-house SEO for my family’s jewelry business. We have a physical location, but our online ecommerce shop now does about 45% of our revenue each year. We track two sets of keywords. One set is what I call my “trigger” keywords. These are our top keywords bringing in a majority of our traffic. This list sits at 15 keywords, which make up 40% of our traffic.. If anything happens with sales/traffic, I always check to see if any major shifts happened here. The second set is the rest of the main keywords that Google Search Console reports as keywords bringing us in any sort of traffic. The bottom 60%. Both of these sets are tracked through SEMRush and nightly reports are sent to me for each set. All in all, we track about 200 keywords total. This is still a lot, and I feel anymore would just be too overwhelming to track easily.”
“Being a Digital Marketer majorly working as an SEO/SEM expert, Keyword Research is one of the most important parts of your strategy as keyword research shows the direction of your target audience plus the niche of the topic. We usually focus on 1 primary keyword for the landing pages while there is no such count requirement of the secondary keywords but I guess 5,6 secondary keywords are more than enough for optimized white hat SEO content. While researching for a trending topic for the blog, we usually focus on 2,3 keywords with one being a primary keyword Overall, 10 keywords are more than enough for the initial research just to set the direction of the content. Long-tail keywords are a very important part of your SEO practices. If you wish to rank against your competitors, keep your campaigns and content extremely relevant, and guarantee your content is effective, long-tail keywords are crucial. Overall, 10 keywords are more than enough for the initial research just to set the direction of the content.”
Andrew Taylor, Director and Founder at Net Lawman states:
“We generally have one, with a few bi-products that do not exceed 5 target terms. I like to ensure that we cover our bases a little bit and bring about 2-3 keywords (all of a similar theme) for certain content.
The main reason we limit the number of keywords and only work with bi-products of the same concept is more because we don’t want to crowd the content or crowd our own focus as well. Keeping things simple is perhaps the best way to ensure that you’re staying focused for your customers.”
“We’ll typically start by tracking the main keywords we are targeting around a given keyword cluster on any given topic. Then, as the campaign progresses, we’ll keep track in Google Analytics of any additional keywords that are starting to progress up the rankings. If there are sufficient searches, and the user intent aligns with our goals, then we will add it to the list of tracked keywords and optimize our landing page content accordingly. If we need to add more then we will and will add as many as necessary to our tracking. The main qualification is that the user intent matches our target outcome for the page engagement and that there are sufficient monthly search volumes for it to warrant tracking. The main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords is to ensure you can see the wood for the trees and don’t get side-tracked by keywords with minuscule search numbers. The main reason to limit to a core set of keywords is to ensure you can adapt the campaign as it develops to maximize your ROI.”
“I only select 4 keywords for any client or my company blog, 1 primary and 3 secondary keywords. Because as we know that we can get the insights of our targeted page in Ahrefs but for making this process simple I prefer to track only 4 – 5 keywords that are highly targeted for the niche. I wouldn’t run more if I could because there is a high chance that those keyword’s intent is already covered in my selected 4 – 5 keywords. But If I am going for one on one meeting with a client then I show the complete data to clients that your page is ranking with multiple keywords with your targeted keywords. The main reason for limiting the number of tracked keywords is due to the keyword tracking tools not providing unlimited tracking features, and I work with maximum 10 clients at a time so I have to track multiple website’s keywords that’s why I think this is a bad idea to track all the keywords in your tracking tools, just track few most important and targeted keywords and you are good to go.”
“We usually track between 20 and 50 keywords per client depending on size and budget, and more for larger clients. We’d like to track more with cost being the limiting factor because we are actively tracking hundreds of client campaigns. I believe that tracking more than you’re specifically targeting is good practice as regular SEO work on a website tends to give an overall uplift to the rest of the website, and we deserve some credit for that, and it gives us good news to pass on to the client when checking in with them.”
“This depends on the type of campaign, and the size of the website which has an impact in the number of keywords the website can effectively rank for. We usually conduct research using different tools and the information provided by the client, and then end up tracking the top 25% most valuable keywords with our own rank tracking system. Then we use big data tools to check trends for all the potential keywords, e.g. SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc.… The main reason to limit the number of tracking keywords is efficiency and costs, tracking keywords can be costly and we need to focus on the most important keywords that we can track with the campaign budget in mind.”
“I rarely track more than 300 keyword for any small client. The number of keywords I track tends to be quite limited. I use it to show overall trends, rather than detailed reporting. Due to the long tail nature of so many searches, tracking every combination can eat up tracking budgets quickly and lead to too much noise and little insight into actions to take. Ultimately keyword tracking doesn’t show the full picture, so if I want to give a client real insight into the value of the keywords then I use Search Console to produce reports based on clicks, rather than ranking which can easily become a vanity metric (e.g. being #1 for low volume terms). Typically keywords have been mapped to content, I’ll start tracking the top 2 or 3 high volume terms for each URL. Much more than this can just lead to too much noise. Every 3 months or so this keyword map and content is then reviewed for optimizations.”
Lauren Amor, Organic Search Specialist at Tandem Interactive says:
“Regarding how many keywords I track at a time, I would say around 20-30, at the most. This number depends on the number of organic landing pages you’re working on and how many keywords you’ve decided to use in your content per page. When it comes to how many keywords I use per page, I try not to overcrowd my content with more than four keywords. Having too many keywords in one page can not only make the content sound unnatural or forced, but it can also hurt your page’s rankings and increase the risk of being penalized by search engines. Writers should also consider that each page only has one meta description and one title tag. However, these rules aren’t set in stone and may vary depending on the site’s backlinks, domain authority, and age.”
“When performing keyword research for one of my clients at Tandem Buzz, a digital marketing agency in Fort Lauderdale, I like to track on average about 25 keywords. Using SEMrush as one of my favorite keyword ranking tools, I will choose about 3-6 client keywords to include in my copy. We limit the number of keywords to 25 giving us the opportunity to rank for different variations of the same keyword as well as include in our copy keywords that may be falling short in position or maybe doing well that I wish to maintain.
With 25 client keywords to choose from you are given the chance to go between a number of different variations of keywords to not only cover more ground but challenge yourself to continuously improve the others. In SEO we are told that it is a continuous effort, by choosing 25 keywords you are constantly going to be trying to improve the ranking and position of at least 4 keywords. So the method behind our madness is: There is always room to rank higher in SEO!”
“Being an agency, we’re tracking keywords for multiple clients at a time. This can result in tracking thousands of keywords at any given time. However, in recent years, we’ve gravitated away from using keywords as a primary reporting metric. Instead, we focus much more on metrics that directly contribute to the bottom line, such as leads and revenue. We still track keywords, but taking this approach has streamlined our keyword tracking process and made it much more manageable. While we used to track multiple head and long-tail keywords, now we mostly focus on the keywords that are most valuable to the client (which typically amounts to dozens of keywords per client as opposed to hundreds). While we still track rankings to report wins to the client, our main reason is to help us gauge the overall visibility of the site (for instance, seeing where we stand against competition, helping determine if we’ve been hit by an algo update, etc.).”
“We’ve recently changed our more traditional keyword tracking formula for our clients. In the past, we would basically track 10 keywords total, those being the highest volume keywords that the client had requested. We’ve recently changed that to tracking 5 keyword clusters. The difference in this tracking method is we count variations of a single keyword as the same cluster, allowing us to give a much more accurate report on keyword growth for our clients. Generally, the main keyword in a cluster makes up 1/3 – 1/2 of the total traffic for that group, meaning that the less obvious variations can sometimes represent the same level of traffic, so they should be reported on. Of course, larger clients with larger campaigns will have more keywords tracked. But, the reason we try to keep the number of keywords limited is because clients will generally focus on irrelevant keywords and harm their own campaign in the process. For example, a client might decide they want a keyword like, “best apartments in the US” which is completely out of reach for their company. While their other keywords are growing and bringing them new traffic, they may continually fixate on that larger keyword that is well outside of their grasp. This fixation could hinder efforts and drain resources that could be used to capture more realistic keywords in the meantime.”
“We usually ask the client to provide us with up to 7 keywords each in a gold, silver, and bronze category, so 21 total. Keep in mind that these are just top level keywords. After we’ve spent a few months optimizing for these keywords, there is an opportunity to target long tail keywords that may have less search volume, but do have significant opportunity due to less competition. Blog posts and backlinks to articles focusing on long tail keywords work wonders for less competitive keywords. You can’t possibly take all of the keywords that the site ranks in the top 100 for and try to optimize all of them. You would make little progress and wouldn’t get any sleep. Moreover, clients tend to be impatient when it comes to SEO so looking to optimize a smaller number allows them and us to zero in on those that we have the best chance to move up in the SERPs.”
“I’d like to keep between 4-6 for each page, sometimes a couple of more. However I don’t like to use too many tags because it gets crowded and google will have a hard time knowing what your site is about. It’s like choosing a color palette where you choose a few colors that go well with each other. When you add hundreds of colors to your brand, then it loses its identity and becomes confusing. I like using that analogy for tags because in this case less is more. When you choose a keyword like “business contract”, the page will also rank for a variation of that like “contract for business” or “contract of business”, so the 4 or 5 keywords you added becomes more. Once we start seeing some results of those tags, then we can add new ones if necessary.”
“I’ve worked in-house at several ecommerce businesses, and been personally responsible for the search channel. We typically end up using 500 keywords for rank tracking. There are two primary reasons – 1) this is sufficient for most websites, and 2) this is the number of keywords that comes with standard plans from keyword research tools. If it was free, we would certainly track more keywords. However, unless you’re managing a massive website with tens of millions of visitors per month, there’s diminishing margin return on tracking each keyword over a few hundred. In comparison, it’s more important to pick the right types of keywords, tag them, and properly upload them into a good keyword monitoring tool.”