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stethoscope seo method

The SEO Stethoscope Method

The SEO Stethoscope Method

For the past few years, I’ve been monitoring keyword growth at a topical level rather than measuring individual keywords one by one.

This post will show you exactly how I do this. It will also provide you with a free Google sheet tool you can use to recreate this for yourself or your clients.

What is the stethoscope method?

It is a method of combining Google Search Console API search query data with a Google Sheet Calculator tool to give you topical monthly averages.  I have been calling this process the “stethoscope method” of measuring SEO growth.  My teammates know this method as being a core part of our weekly site health reporting.

The basic idea here is to learn topically which keyword categories are working for you versus the ones that are not.

Why call it The Stethoscope Method?

I chose the stethoscope name because you are essentially measuring the vital signs of your organic search efforts just as a physician would if they were running through your annual checkup.

This method tells you if you are “Hot or Cold.”

We are now in a machine learning search environment that is designed to give searchers exactly what they want.  When this method shows that you are growing in a certain topical area, it is reinforcing that you are providing searchers with quality results they actually want to read.  With that in mind, I see the current state of SEO as being a lot like the “Hot or Cold” game we used to play when we were kids.

You know the game.  It is the game where “Hot” meant you were close to finding a hidden object, and then “cold” meant you were nowhere near the object.  In a machine learning search environment, that is constantly calibrating based on user data, SEO is looking more like a large game of checking to see if you are “hot or cold.”

The stethoscope method is designed to give you clues about where you are getting warmer with your search efforts so that you know to keep going with them.

You now have access to more data!

Recently the Search Analytics API added 16 months of back data for us to pull from when previously there were only 90 days!

That is incredible news, and it pushed me to want to share this method for how I’ve been monitoring all of that data with all of my SEO friends.

What does this actually measure?

It measures the four search analytic KPIs you would find if you were to log into the Google Search Console and filter for many topics simultaneously in one dashboard view.

The four metrics in GSC are:

1. Clicks
2. Impressions
3. Click Through Rate (CTR)
4. Average Position

…Then I added one more in.  I added the Count of keywords that contain the topic (or seed term).

So that includes –

5. Keyword Count

Here is the end result of what the stethoscope method might look like.

The keyword filter is in blue and right below it there are sparklines charting out the five metrics for all of the search queries that contain the blue filtered keyword.

It essentially gives you the highest level view for all of the search queries you care to monitor.  The log scrolls down for another 50 filtered keyword phrases.

Here is how to set up the stethoscope method for yourself.

  • Open the KW-CALC worksheet and overwrite the blue “Kw Example 1” etc cells that are in column H with seed keywords that you care about.  You don’t need to fill out all 50 slots.  Any slot that is left blank will calculate or average the total.  I added a total column at the top, so by all means, use all 50 spots if you can.

    Here is a helpful tip for this step:
    If you are working on a website that you do not have enough working history with to know what a large collection of filter keywords to use, use a keyword density tool on a screen that has a lot of the site’s keyword data.  I used the user interface of Google Search Console’s Search Analytics.  I sorted it by the search queries we’ve been earning clicks for over the past 90 days, expanded the visible count at the bottom of the screen, and used the keyword density tool inside of SEOquake.  You can always do something similar using the organic keywords found in SEMrush or Ahrefs. SEOquake lets you export the density of the page to excel, so it’s as simple as picking the top 50 keywords you want to track going forward.


  • Add the Search Analytics Add On  by clicking Add-ons (at the top) then Get Add-ons and then Search for “Search Analytics.”  From there click the +Free button next to “Search Analytics for Sheet” and it will add it to your Google sheet.


  • Next, open the KW-Dump worksheet and Click on Add-ons (at the top) then click Search Analytics for Sheets and then click Open Sidebar.

Note: If you really are just adding the Search Analytics with Sheets for the first time, you will need to authorize it with the account your Google Search Console is synced to during this step.  If that is the case, you will see a similar screen here that you will have to give permissions by clicking the allow button.

  • If you had to allow the permissions, then you have to go back to the previous step and Click on Add-ons (at the top) then click Search Analytics for Sheets and then click Open Sidebar one more time.
  • Now let’s pull in your data!  Set up your sidebar like this:


  • After you click the Request Data button, please wait for data to be requested.
  • Open the KW-CALC worksheet and then  Copy the values in column C.

    I find that it is easiest to copy the entire column by clicking the column’s letter C and then clicking ctrl + c (or right-clicking to go to copy).

  • Open the Stethoscope worksheet and delete the example data in columns D through G.  Here is where we are going to fill out the log with your site’s data.

  • Highlight Column D and then right-click and click the Paste special menu then click “Paste values only.

    This will paste the data that you copied previously from the calculator sheet. The reason we are pasting the value is that the calculator worksheet is filled with formulas to calculate your filtered keyword against the entire list of Search Analytics data that the API pulled in. We want to log the result of the calculation and not the formula itself.

  • Change the date in row one to correspond with the data you pulled in from the Search Analytics for Sheets sidebar.  I recommend using the 1st if you’re pulling in monthly data.  The format used in the sheet works well if you type your dates like 4/1/2018.  It works out to be MM/DD/YYYY.

  • From there rinse and repeat the process monthly to build out your stethoscope log!

Let’s close this out.

I hope this tutorial gives you ideas that I have not even thought of.

Remember, this method is a reminder that when you are scorching “hot,” you should keep going!  The opposite end of that statement is true too.  When you’re “cold” or gaining no momentum, it might be time to rethink your strategy for that topic.  This method will give you insight like that, so have fun with it.

It is also worth noting that I am sure this can be automated with a scheduling trigger or script.  I am sure all the copying and pasting can be eliminated so that it runs in the background.  If you can help us make that happen, by all means, please help me improve this method!

We’re in this giant game of “hot or cold” together, so this is our method now!

Connect with me over on Linkedin and shoot me a message if this helped you or if it inspired a new idea for you.

    About The Author

    Steve Weber has been marketing online since 2005. He has managed SEO programs for Calvin Klein, Reef, Jansport, Nature Made, Fanatics, and many (many) more other brands ranging across all sizes and verticals.

    Steve was a licensed stock stockbroker who adapted his learning of portfolio theory into an effective approach to search engine optimization.  Steve’s SEO strategies emphasize focus, priority, and discipline in a manner that will take your organic traffic levels to new heights.

    Steve is currently working on the 91st week of his digital marketing certification quest. In his quest he earns or renews a digital marketing certification each week. You can follow along with the certification quest here.

    When Steve is not optimizing the web, he is a musician, marathon runner, and board sports enthusiast.

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