There's plenty to learn from a domain’s ranking history. When it's your own domain, you can see where issues lie. But you're not tied to just your own domain. Check out competitors, because sites that consistently climb in the rankings could be excellent examples of great content you could mimic.

You can use SpyFu Ranking History to find a site's past rankings using the steps below.

  1. Choose a domain

  2. Open Ranking History

  3. Set your date range

  4. Choose a keyword sort or segment

  5. Adjust the chart metrics

  6. Review "Topics"

  7. Adjust your keywords with filters

  8. Learn from the keyword details

  9. Save or export your results

If you need guidance on finding Keyword Ranking History, try this guide instead.

Start with a Domain

Compare its rankings across any two points in time

STEP 1 CHOOSE A DOMAIN

The first step is to enter a domain into the search bar. This can be your own domain or a competitor's domain. (This isn't Google Search Console. You've got access to any domain that we search.)

You have some benefits to going with either option:

Your own domain

You can see all of your rankings from one point to another, and you can narrow your scope to sets of keywords (like a category or topic).

Competitor's domain

Many of our other tools show you a competitor's best keywords; this is no exception. We created Ranking History to complement the other parts of your research. You can use it to get the story behind a competitor's ranking: if they just landed on the first page after an upswing in rankings, that's as important to know as it would be if they dropped to the 8th position after sitting at the top for months.

Of course for any of those options you can see rankings over time, letting you compare performance before and after any actions you've taken.

STEP 2 OPEN RANKING HISTORY

With the domain chosen, go to Ranking History.

Choose SEO Research and click the Ranking History tab.

STEP 3 SET YOUR DATE RANGE

You have the opportunity to compare rankings from two different points in time. Setting a custom range lets you find issues that arose after a Google update. Or, it shows how you gained clicks to the page after you took on a project.

We default to "Over the Last Year," but the drop down gives you some preset time span shortcuts and a custom option.

FAST TRACK METHOD

At this point, you could use the chart as it is. The default settings give you a clear look at the site's traffic from SERPs over the past year.

Below the chart, you have the details broken down by keywords, and this should help you spot any issues in your rankings to investigate further. Similarly, you can drill into details from your competitors, including the page that ranked for each search.

However, we recommend these additional settings to get more out of the tool's full capabilities.

STEP 4: CHOOSE YOUR KEYWORD SORT

The default sort of Most Valuable Keywords is a solid place to start. It includes the domain's full keyword list but prioritizes those that bring in more clicks.

Switch to any of the options for your more focused projects.

For example, if you want to move in on areas where your competitor has slipped, enter their domain into the search bar and select "Biggest Rank Losses" or "Biggest Click Losses." Remember that click loss can come from other factors like a drop in searches, but rank slippage is more likely.

If you're taking time to protect some of your older content that had been performing well, switch to "Keywords that fell off the first page." This will look at keywords where your domain moved from a top 10 position to something between 11-15 during the time span you set.

We have a full list of detailed explanations of each selection here.

STEP 5 ADJUST THE CHART

We show "Organic Clicks" as the default metric tracked in this chart. High rankings are important, but the ultimate goal is to get clicks from them.(Specifically, you want clicks from relevant searches.)

You do have two other options to adjust what is tracked in the chart:

  • Organic Keywords: the number of keywords that the domain ranked for

  • Average Position: the position the domain held, averaged across all of its keywords

You can also turn on markers to show you (on the timeline) where Google added updates to its algorithm. These are helpful in lining up a ranking hit with a Google update.

Major Algorithm Updates are the notable ones that tend to reverberate across the industry. For most businesses, these are the updates more likely to affect your SEO.

Google Search Quality Updates are more recognized as penalty updates to domains that use questionable link practices and shady techniques to manipulate their rankings.

Freshness Updates are regularly used by Google to keep search results relevant and up-to-date.

New Feature or Enhancement Update refers to any improvements or additions to Google Search properties like its SERP features and Local Search.

You can find expanded details on these Google algorithm categories here.

STEP 6: MEASURE THE PERFORMANCE OF TOPICS

By now, you've selected a keyword sort and a date range. Combined, those two parameters will determine which keywords we show below the chart. (In other words, the keywords with the biggest gains in Spring 2021 will be a different set of keywords that lost ranks in June 2019.)

To make those organic keywords more manageable, we sort them into Topics.

In this tool, the purpose of Topics is to help you see how a collection of similar keywords has been performing. For craft store michaels.com, the topic "canvas" includes millions of canvas-related keywords. When we drill into the "blank canvas" topic, we can see the performance of keywords like blank art canvas, cheap blank canvas, and blank paint canvas all pulling together.

One piece of content can rank for multiple related terms. And a few related pieces of content might help you with a few tightly connected terms. Seeing multiple keywords rolled into topics gives you the ability to spot the bigger picture instead of being focused on one keyword at a time.

STEP 7: FILTER EVEN FURTHER

It's the last step in set-up, but not the least important.

You can narrow and target the keywords in this list even further. The chart itself isn't the central part of our Ranking History feature. It's just a tool to help you find opportunities in your own domain or to learn from a competitors' changes. That's why you should still have control over which keywords you want to see when looking at past rankings.

We have a full list of the filters explained on this page, but here are some highlights of available options.

Include/Exclude Keywords

This filter updates the results so that they include keywords that match the term you typed (include) or they show a mixture of results without any that match the term that you typed (exclude).

It acts like a phrase-match filter, so when I type "Italian food" as an included keyword for opentable.com, my results will include keywords like "Italian food delivery" and "best Italian food near me."

You can work with a combination of these keyword filters. As soon as you choose a second include filter or a second exclude filter, the "AND/OR" option appears between them. Click it to toggle its meaning.

  • Include "breakfast" + exclude "to go."

  • Include "anniversary" OR include "birthday"

  • Exclude "free" AND exclude "promo"

End Rank and End Rank Change

Everything that you filter also depends on the time frame that you set. If you chose January 2021 to June 2021, the "end rank" will be the keyword's position as of June 2021. When you update the date range to "over the last year," that end rank will jump to the most recent date.

Knowing that makes it much easier to understand "end rank change."

If your date range is January 2021 to June 2021, and you ranked 6th for a keyword in January, 2nd in June, then your end rank change is +4.

We mentioned before that the keyword sort in Step 4 has an option to see "keywords that lost ranks," but you could use this end rank change filter to tighten your focus. Instead of seeing all keywords where you dropped your position, you could specifically single out those where you dropped more than 5 spots but less than 10.

The end rank change metric is valuable to show you the overall direction that the domain took in its ranking, but to get a truer sense of how much those ranks affected your business, turn to the SEO Click metric.

SEO Clicks and SEO Click Change

Let's carry the same example forward. You are comparing clicks that the domain earned in January 2021 to clicks that it earned in June 2021. The SEO Click Change filter can let you zero in on a competitor's most effective SEO efforts--work that has gotten them a certain amount of clicks over a particular timespan.

STEP 8: LEARN FROM THE KEYWORD DETAILS

Your keyword details reflect the customization and updates you made in all of the above steps. This is where you can discover outliers, highlights, and opportunities to drill into further.

Here are some things to look for.

The Summary at the Top

The summary will change with every update to filters and keyword segments. Use it as a gut check on "total keywords" especially when you're filtering include and exclude keyword combinations.

The details across the top like Clicks (change) and Average Rank (change) should help you measure the domain's overall direction of this set of terms during the time span. That way you can recognize that you saw a gain of 1300 clicks from one point to the other. Not that you earned 1300 clicks during this time, but that your SEO work improved to a point that you started getting 1300 more clicks than what you had.

Ranks Change and Clicks Change

We touched on this in Step 7. These color-coded changes are signals toward bigger challenges and opportunities to look into further by keyword or by topic. By "look into," that could mean a few things.

Lost ranks can come from different directions, internal and external. For either your own content or a competitor's contempt there are some actions to take--and of course, questions to ask.

Internally, something on the page could have changed. Externally, you have other pages vying for the same position you are. Could they be improving their content to target your standing?

Here are some ideas:

Workflow for Lost Ranks: Internal Checklist

  • Make sure you don't have any technical issues (robots.txt)

  • Ask if you changed your content around that time

  • Don't know or can't remember? Go to WaybackMachine at http://web.archive.org/

  • Ask if you added things to the page that are not content related but that Google might see as issues: spammy ads, unusual formatting/new theme

  • Are you having sitewide issues that are hurting your rankings/authority? Look at Google Search Console for specific issues they've flagged.

  • Did you lose external links?

  • Did you remove content that had internal links to this piece?

Workflow for Lost Ranks: External Checklist

  • Was there an algorithm update? Our chart on this page helps show actual timing. If dips in your rankings match up to Google events, go to Google Search Console to figure out what you have to do to get back in good graces.

  • Look at the SERP. Any new SERP features that Google added can pull from clicks on the page. (This is especially relevant for lost clicks and works best when you are looking at more recent ranking drops.)

  • Did new content start outranking you? Look at the Ranking History of the keyword to find if surging competitors edged you out.

In some cases Google is changing how it views the entire site--a result of something like a Core Web Vitals update. These are only a small part of learning why rankings dropped, and all of these should be taken into consideration.

With lost clicks, also consider changes at the keyword level. Check for any search volume losses on the keyword itself. Consider the SERP. Could there be new SERP features that are pulling clicks from the rest of the organic results? Or maybe new ads doing the same?

URL Dropdown

This is another opportunity for you to take action. Click the down arrow to open more details about how the domain ranked, including the page that earned the ranking.

Focusing on the URL that ranked is key to taking action with this tool.

We've listed its average position (during the time span you set) and its first appearance within the top 50 results for this keyword search. (Newer rankings as of 2021 might have been Top 100 results.)

When a URL saw a big shift in rank or clicks--whether up or down--learning WHY might rely on going to the content itself. You can compare it against Google updates (mentioned in Step 5) first, and with your own content, you can use these points to show you what to drill into further in your Google Search Console. Even then, seeing the content itself before and after the shift could clue you into what changes are responsible.

This is where the Wayback Machine is helpful. We've included an on-page link to this 3rd-party tool that can often help you spot changes in the content. Look for formatting updates, chunks of new copy, and even completely refreshed pieces.

STEP 9: SAVE AND EXPORT

Keyword Exports

As you find keyword rankings you'd like to investigate further, you have some options to help you keep track of them.

The "Add" button in every keyword row will save the keyword to our built-in project manager. You can set up a special project for every domain you work with, and inside those projects you can create Groups to sort your keywords. (Think of these like folders.) Not only can you return to those Groups anytime while you're on SpyFu, we will watch for your rankings on these more often--giving you weekly performance updates as long as these are saved in a project.

Data Exports

All of these rankings, clicks, and changes are valuable for even further visualization and tracking. You can download the details into spreadsheets for offline use. (Though if you need this on a large scale, you might consider the SpyFu API for help.)

Visual Export

This tool is helpful for discovery (opportunities to drill into, highlighting strengths/weaknesses of your competitors), and the expandable chart makes it useful in client reporting, too. The storytelling aspect of the tool lets you show clients (and potential clients) growth in traffic thanks to the work you did on their projects.

More specifically, the customizability of this report's filters, topics and date ranges let you put your absolute best foot forward before making the final presentation to your client.

Find the export options button in the upper right and export the chart to a PDF.

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