How to Track Rank for Google Top Stories

Where does a news publisher rank within Google’s mobile Top Stories news carousel? Is the outlet’s article the first card Google shows or the 15th? Tracking rank within Google’s mobile News Box is not easy, but it is well worth it. If you’re an SEO who is working with a news publisher, tracking rank within Google’s mobile Top Stories carousel can really set you apart. But as I said, it’s not easy, and as opposed to perhaps organic results, it is anything other than straightforward. Allow me then to show you how to best track mobile Top Stories rankings using our Google rank tracker so that you don’t waste time making the same mistakes I did when I first started tracking rank within Google’s news carousel. 

News Arrows

Step 1 –  Selecting the Right Keywords to Track Top Stories Rank 

Picking the right keywords is always a tough question. Many of us rely on tools, like our very own Keyword Finder, to determine the strength of a keyword. Here, when tracking news related keywords in order to see Top Stories rankings, you can throw that paradigm right out the window. Tracking Top Stories rank is hard because the keywords are transient. Meaning, what’s a *** keyword one day is old news the next, literally. Historical search volumes are simply not going to help you if you hope to track keywords for time sensitive and evolving news stories. 

Take for example the keyword alabama election. Run the keyword through our Keyword Finder and you’ll find 21 results for the term, with the exact match keyword running a search volume of a paltry 210. Not exactly a powerful keyword I would pay much attention to on an ordinary day.

Keyword Finder Results for Alabama Election

Keyword Finder shows that the term ‘alabama election’ has a seemingly limited reach with a search volume of just 210

You’ll notice however that on September 28th, a day after I began tracking the keyword, and The NY Times, CBS News, The Washington Post, and CNN all show a top 10 mobile News Box ranking. Why are these major outlets optimizing for such an outlandish keyword? Simple, because two days earlier the State of Alabama held a special primary election to fill a vacant Senate seat. My obvious point here is, keyword relevancy is much more transient when tracking Top Stories and as such far more laborious.

Alabama Election Top Stories Rankings

Major news outlets all rank in the top 10 within the Top Stories carousel for the keyword ‘alabama election’ as of September 28, 2017

Top Stories Keyword Tips 

With the limited window Top Stories keywords have, allow me to offer you some tips about selecting the right keywords when tracking rank within the news carousel on mobile. 

1) Stay Current: If you’re going to track news topics that change from day-to-day, it’s best to be well informed. Knowing the nuances of a topic can make all of the difference in adequately tracking a publisher’s News Box ranking for a given news story. 

A perfect example would be the NFL national anthem fiasco which revolved around players not standing for the national anthem (and at the time of the writing of this article, is currently ongoing). I originally tracked the keywords players kneel and nfl protest and that was it. However, after doing some research on the story (social media is a great place for this) I saw that the reaction of a large part of the NFL’s fan-base, who began boycotting the league, was a major part of the story. As such, I began tracking nfl boycott as well. Had I not, I would have missed out on a broad angle of the news story along with all of the rankings on the part of the sites I was tracking. Meaning, my rank tracking for this news story would not have been comprehensive. 

Current News Top Stories Rank Tracking

Top Stories carousel ranking for an inclusive set of keywords related to a single news story

2) Be Specific: Generic keywords (i.e. breaking news or current news) don’t do well when it comes to tracking Top Stories rank. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, regarding Google’s fight against fake news, Google has a hard time with these keywords when it comes to news results (understanding how Google goes about placing an article within the News Box is a must before embarking on tracking Top Stories rank). Often, rather regularly, Google places all sorts of obscure news outlets within such carousels (i.e. local news outlets, etc.). Just to prove my point, here are the rankings for the aforementioned keywords among some of the top news publishers in the world (hint you’ll notice there are no rankings): 

Generic Keyword No Top Stories Rank

Two generic news keywords do not produce rankings for top news media outlets 

The same is true using niche specific keywords that are generic within the niche. That is, within a certain niche of news content, there exist keywords that don’t reflect a specific story, but are common topics or genres within the niche. While these keywords may produce carousels that include more mainstream sites, they are generally speaking quite weak. Take for example the keyword political news. The web is filled with political news each day, however only one of the major news publishers I tracked ranks for the keyword. How could it possibly be that The NY Times or CNN does not rank for a keyword as broad and as relevant as political news

Political News Top Stories Rank

Only one of the top news outlets tracked ranked for the generic niche specific keyword “political news”

While I can’t get into all of Google’s News Box inadequacies here (for more see the link inserted earlier), I can point out that Google’s carousel contains but four cards. Despite the abundance of political news, despite the fact that most sites have a specific tab marked “Politics” on them, Google only shows four results from just three sources within the carousel.

Limited Top Stories Carousel

The Top Stories carousel for the keyword ‘political news’ only contains 4 cards 

The point here is, generic news keywords, whether universal or niche specific, are weak when tracking rank in the Top Stories carousel. Simply, don’t waste your time here. 

3) Update Your Keywords Constantly: There is only one way to stay on top of Top Stories rank and that is to update your keywords constantly. Yes, it is a lot more work than tracking traditional keywords within organic rankings, but there is no other way around it. Adding new keywords (and perhaps archiving old ones) is the only way to get an accurate picture of how a publisher is performing within the Top Stories carousel. The keywords you may be currently tracking will fizzle out, and much faster than they would within organic results.

For example, for the keyword hurricane harvey CBS News, CNN, and The Washington Post show relatively consistent rankings during the first half of October 2017 on desktop (though The Washington Post to a lesser extent). 

Desktop Organic Rank - Hurricane Harvey

Consistent desktop organic rankings for the keyword ‘hurricane harvey’ between October 2, 2017 and October 15, 2017

Now take a look at their Top Stories rankings on mobile. First off, no serious ranking takes place until circa October 5th. Even then, the ranking period for the keyword is over by October 9th for CBS News and October 11th for The Washington Post. By the time October 13th rolls around, CNN is already in and out of the rankings. 

Top Stories Carousel Rank - Hurricane Harvey

Top Stories carousel rankings show less consistency when compared to desktop organic rankings 

The point is very clear, News Box rank tracking is far more volatile and requires moving on to new topics (and as such keywords) on a regular basis. 

Step 2 – Which News Domains Should I Track? 

Here’s another area where tracking News Box carousel rankings is a bit more complicated than organic rank tracking. The diversity of topics covered by news publishers, the simply astounding number of high-quality publishers, and Google’s unique preferences, make choosing the right domains to track all the more complex. 

Top Stories Domain Tracking Tips: 

1) Run Multiple Campaigns: I made the mistake of thinking that major publishers like The New York Times will do well across the board. How wrong I was. The Times does not do well with entertainment keywords despite it having an Arts section on its site. Keep in mind, the keywords I used were selected because of their relevance relative to the dates being reported on, i.e. they represented “*** topics.”

Let’s take one of the keywords and see which sites did well in the News Box. For the keyword khloe kardashian pregnant on October 16th the top 10 Top Stories results were: 

Entertainment Top Stories Results

The top 10 stories within the mobile News Box carousel for an entertainment keyword is comprised mainly of niche specific news outlets 

Notice a near total absence of top news publishers. Instead, what you see are some of the bigger sites that specifically focus on entertainment news (i.e. People Magazine, US Magazine, Life and Style etc.). 

The moral of the story is that the news media industry is too broad to focus on all of its categories simultaneously. The best approach is to research the top news publishers within a specific news segment (more on that below) and create a unique campaign to track Top Stories rank for that segment, with the campaign including not only category specific keywords, but category specific domains as well. 

2) Be Familiar with the Top Performing Sites: I’m a news-junkie, and since I wasn’t doing anything fancy like tracking an outlying news niche, I figured I had it all handled. I was quite wrong. Since we’re here to glean wisdom from my mistakes, don’t make assumptions.

How to go about correcting, or hopefully avoiding this mistake altogether is where it gets tricky. The traditional methods of researching a competitor won’t work here, for the most part. Yes, a news outlet’s authority and whatnot are a factor, but it’s not as simple as that. First off, even the most generic of keywords have what I call a “news nuance.” That is, even keywords that you would think are straightforward, explicit, and unambiguous exist within a certain context, whether it be social, political, cultural, etc. As a result, a seemingly straightforward keyword may take on new and nuanced meaning within the title of a news article. 

Take the following instance. I originally created the campaign I’ve been highlighting here to track the 2016 US Presidential election. As such, I have some very broad and at the time essential keywords such as clintonhillary, democrat, republican, etc. Flash forward a year and these keywords still bring up a News Box, yet the political slant associated with these keywords (both to the right and to the left) make their way into the news carousel more often than previously. As a result, sites like Townhall, Breitbart, and Slate show within the Top Stories feature, while sites like CBS News or The NY Times, do not, or not as prominently. Thus, the traditional metrics we might use to determine which domains we should track are not typical, as the biggest and most authoritative news sites may not offer the stiffest carousel competition for a keyword. 

I’ll give you one final example, The New York Post. For those of you who are not from New York, The Post is not exactly the most authoritative paper in the world. It has a clear political slant to the right and is more famous for its “Page Six” gossip than its authoritative political reporting. I have fond memories of the paper sitting on my grandmother’s table each Friday waiting for me to leaf through the sports section. Nostalgia aside, it is not a news source I would expect to see in the News Box on a regular basis. Yet it does, more often than you would think. Take the New York Daily News, another site I did not track, yet it shows up in the News Box frequently, and in instances when the coveted New York Times does not. All I can say is that their SEO must be very good and that Google’s methods of choosing what goes into a News Box are not as sophisticated as you might assume (and as I already mentioned these methods are very important to consider). 

NY Post Top Stories Ranking

The NY Post ranks higher than CNN & CBS News within the Top Stories carousel for the keyword ‘tax reform’, a major news story at the time of this article’s writing


So what do you do? How do you know which sites to track alongside your primary domain? The best way to see which news outlets are offering the stiffest News Box competition for your keywords is to actually see which sites make it to the news carousel frequently, and which do not. Using the SERP Snapshot within our Rank Tracker Dashboard (as shown in the above image), you can see the actual sites that made it to the News Box in order of rank, each and every day.

My advice to you, especially if you are tracking a specific news niche, is to become extensively familiar with this feature so as to become extensively familiar with who is generally ranking in the News Box and who is not. Otherwise, you will end up wasting your time and tracking sites that perform inconsistently at best and that may be an organic competitor but are not a News Box threat. 


Step 3 – Track Overall Top Stories Performance 


To properly analyze your Top Stories proficiency you need to look at your overall performance. This is the hardest part. How are supposed to track a site’s overall Top Stories performance if your keywords are constantly changing to keep up with the times?

Tracking your Top Stories rank over a given period of time is not going to get you very far since many of your keywords will undoubtedly be yesterday’s news, which is not exactly a recipe for long term tracking success. Think about it, at any given moment a large portion of your keywords may be irrelevant with the news cycle having passed them by. These keywords, if still in the News Box carousel, will surely be ranking poorly (as they should be) and will skew your long-term rank analysis.  

If you only want to track your overall Top Stories carousel performance at a given moment, then the best way is via the Website Rank Distribution report which will show you how many keywords you have in a given rank position or range (i.e. position 1, 2, 3, 4-10, etc.). It’s when you want to track your Top Stories rank over an extended period of time that things become a bit trickier. 

Top Stories Website Rank Distribution

A one day breakdown of the number of keywords each tracked domain holds per rank position/range of rank positions with ‘NR” signifying unranked keywords

Fret not, I have two options for you that both make use of our Insight Graph: 

1) Track Top Stories Average Rank: Using the Insight Graph you can track the average rank of all of your keywords on a per domain basis over a custom **** range. To work around those keywords that have fallen in the rankings, or completely out of the news carousel, you can custom set a rank threshold. Meaning, the average rank will not include any keywords that rank beyond the position you have custom set.

Average Rank Threshold Setting

Using the Rank Threshold settings enables accurate Top Stories rank reporting over an extended period of time

This is very important as it is often the case that a keyword does not become entirely irrelevant, but only less so. Meaning, you can track a keyword, have it rank well in the news carousel, only to have it pushed down the ranking as the story evolves and includes new subtopics.

Take the keyword north korea threat. I added the keyword circa the end of September 2017 as the story had re-entered the news. At the time, Fox News ranked #7 in the mobile news carousel. As of the writing of this article, Fox News stands at #20, seemingly only because the story has since evolved. If you look at the mobile News Box three weeks later (October 16th), you’ll notice stories related to the North Korean threat in relation to Australia.

Update Top Stories Carousel Results

Meaning, Google still shows the Fox News result, however it has since been pushed down in favor of those articles that include the most recent subtopic (i.e. Australia vis a vis North Korea). Having the ability to set a custom average rank threshold can thus help you take a more accurate performance picture. In this scenario, setting a custom threshold is the only way to show average rank statistics that paint a genuine performance picture.     

2) Measure Extended Keyword Position Stats: While the aforementioned Website Rank Distribution report will tell you how many keywords you have in which position (or range of positions) on a per day basis, you can utilize the Insight Graph to do the same, but over an extended period of time.

Overall Top Stories Rank Tracking

A comparison of the average Top Stories rank and number of keywords each domain holds between the positions of 1-10 within the news carousel

By engaging this option you can track your overall performance while avoiding the issue of including keywords that are no longer current/relevant. In order to do so, simply select an appropriate Count Type (i.e. selecting Positions 1-10 will avoid the inclusion of irrelevant keywords that have been pushed further down the carousel’s rankings). To see how you stack up against the competition, simply create metrics for the same Count Type but for the other domains you are tracking. 


Get the Scoop by Tracking Top Stories Carousel Rank 

While I hate to be the bearer of bad news (in that tracking rank within the Top Stories carousel is hard), I’m happy to break the good news that you now can actually can do so! In fact, setting yourself up to track Top Stories rank is the easy part. Simply create a Rank Ranger campaign, head into the campaign settings, set a mobile search engine for yourself, click on Advance Settings and instead of filling the circle to track organic rank, click on Top Stories. In the words of the great football coach and announcer, John Madden… “Boom!”

Top Stories Rank Tracking Settings

Setting up Top Stories tracking within Rank Ranger’s software in 6 easy steps 

While we can control how easy it is to use Rank Ranger’s software, we have no say in how complicated going about tracking rank for the Top Stories carousel is in reality, and it is complicated. Sure, you’ve been tracking rank and setting up campaigns for a long time now, but don’t be like me and think that just because you’ve got organic rank tracking down pat that this the same ballgame.

If I could offer one piece of advice in setting up a Top Stories campaign, it would be to think it through and adjust as you go along. Think seriously about what keywords you want to track, how the news cycle will play out when it comes to those keywords, how those keywords may be interpreted and used by publishers, and how you can isolate your real competitors. After that, adjust, adjust, and adjust because you will get it at least slightly wrong. Tracking rank within the Top Stories carousel is just one of those things where there will always be an element of hit or miss. Be prepared to take it as it comes!

If you need any help, have any questions, or just need a shoulder to cry on as you go about tracking the Top Stories news carousel, I’m here for you. Just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I’ll come Tweeting. 

About The Author

Shay Harel

Shay Harel is the CEO of Rank Ranger, an innovative and comprehensive SEO & digital marketing Saas platform. In addition to overseeing company growth, Shay can be found tapping away on his keyboard developing new and unique SEO data reports.

When not hard at work helping guide the SEO industry, Shay enjoys spending time with his family, strumming his guitar, exploring exotic places, and indulging in fine wine from his growing collection.

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