Everything I’ll talk about in this post are things I’ve figured out over the years, and things that made my process smoother once I understood.

If you’re using a tool like Bright Local (or Semrush) to track a keyword list’s movement month to month, having the right priorities avoids distraction from inconsequential data.

That means knowing which bits of data aren’t where most of the value is actually gained, but it’s also understanding how the way a given report shows data can actually be misleading. (And what you should focus on instead.)

Ok, so enough setup. Here goes.

“Keyword Movement” Totals Don’t Give A Real Picture Of What’s Happening With Your List.

In Bright Local particularly, it will begin an exported ranking report showing the total amount of ranks that went up or down, but there are 3 major things to keep in mind that end up making this information unimportant.

  1. Some degree of minor fluctuation is just a fact of being in search results. That means you can sometimes lose one or two ranks on a few keywords, especially earlier on, as you add new material and shift the focus of the site. Usually on keywords you’re tracking but not yet optimizing for, so they’re mostly irrelevant. Losing one or two ranks is often little more than one of your competitors did something strong that month, and when someone goes up someone else must go down. It’s not a sign that you’ve done something wrong (most of the time).
  2. If say 4 keywords take a -2 hit each, that totals a -8 total movement score and looks alarming at a glance. But quite often, that exists alongside a case where a good handful of valuable keywords have shifted up significantly — even as much as 12 ranks per keyword. That shows me that Google likes what it’s seeing, that the page and blog content I’m feeding it is building legitimacy and trust.
  3. Bright Local doesn’t count “new” rankings on the gains, even though that’s definitely a gain. It only counts a keyword that already had some rankings and went up, which is another way these totals give an unfairly negative picture.
Ranking report showing gains and new keyword traction

I care a hell of a lot more which keywords are going UP, and by how much.

Unless I see a pattern of consistent loss month after month on certain keywords, I never distract myself with minor down shifts.

Sometimes I put keywords into a ranking report that I know I’ll eventually want to target and I’m curious where we rank now, but I don’t focus content around them for a few months. I don’t care if some of those words go down slightly one month if the words I’m actually targeting are shooting up big numbers.

Early on, a lot of these gains are from keywords with no rankings at all. When we begin optimizing for them they shoot up significantly each month for several months, eventually slowing down and settling somewhere on page one. Sometimes straight into the top 5.

Ranking report showing totals for gains and losses without context

If I got distracted by the report’s initial “up X and down Y!” summary, I find that I’d frequently get an unfairly negative view of what’s happening. A bunch of small losses on words we aren’t targeting are irrelevant.

Unless words you are actively optimizing for are losing rank, pay little attention.

Years back I thought that all losses were noteworthy, and ended up investing a lot of energy trying to “fix” things that took away from things I could’ve been doing to double down on what was working.

What should drive how you’re gauging the success of your campaign is only whether Google is rewarding your specific efforts.

When that’s happening, lean into it.

Whether you’re an SEO pro doing this for clients or you’re the business owner doing it yourself, this rationale will inform a valuable part of your strategy.

Interpreting The Data & Sharing With Clients

As my years in this field went on, it became increasingly clear to me how much of what separates weak SEO from strong SEO is being able to observe the nuance that evolves a reasonable strategy into a keen one.

Here’s a piece of advice I was given several years back that’s helped me present data, create expectations, and keep myself focused so I deliver:

Ranking reports are mostly for you, not the client.

You have to show a client something to assure them their money is being well spent, right? Sure, but if you’ve set realistic expectations the client already knows it’s going to take 3-6 months to feasibly see an ROI.

We’re not hiding anything from our clients by not showing them every piece of data. They’re busy and their time is valuable, and they’re paying you to make a plan and execute on it.

Should we show a client a total with insignificant losses and risk them getting worried about the campaign — when that same report actually shows very reassuring gains in our highest priority searches?

(Sometimes I will show a full report with that, but I’ll annotate it.)

The most important reason you run ranking reports throughout the month is to verify things you are doing are working, and to observe the general trend of topics and attention from Google your site is getting. Test and measure.

You can stay nimble and adjust strategy mid-month if needed. These reports are for you to refine your strategy FIRST. Reporting to your client second.

When I shifted my mindset to “show my clients as little as possible while still presenting a truthful picture,” everything became more efficient.

Sure, if I see big enough gains partway through a month I may send that to the client and explain how that plays into our strategy. When it’s clear those gains were due to a specific piece of content we created, I’ll draw attention to that.

It’s a good morale boost and keeps that client engaged with what I’m doing.

But it’s a brief email with a simple screenshot — not a full report.

I had a weird guilt about this earlier in my career, as if not showing them literally everything I’m seeing is not being transparent. Or worse, that holding anything aside was dishonest.

But I started to realize that what they’re really paying me for is discernment — the kind of strategy I would not have been able to do as artfully 10 years ago — I then realized that also meant they’re trusting me to interpret the data for them.

I don’t evade questions or withhold my honest assessment when asked. But I know what I view as important and what I don’t in the campaign, and I mostly report on the narrative of our action plan.

If we’re plateauing and need to shift strategy, I’ll explain the rationale and the new plan. If we’re winning and need to lean into it, I show them why.

The other benefit I’ve seen to sending updates throughout the month is it takes pressure off a monthly review meeting to go over as many data points, because my client already knows how we’re trending.

More of that conversation can then be about the next moves. The better and more in-depth a chat I can have with someone about the plan, the punchier my execution becomes.