Are there any risks in using a Google SERP tracking service? I mean in terms of possible penalisation for the tracked site? Probably not, but since Google seems to be getting terribly touchy about many things, I thought I'd ask.
When a SERP checker is run, it usually doesn't tell Google what site it's looking for. It just does the search, returns the first 10 or so pages, then the SERP script looks for your site in the list of sites returned.
All Google would know is the terms being searched for. I SUPPOSE Google could figure out what site the SERP checks by process of elimination. Example:
A search for "baked goods" returns: mysite.com yoursite.com stackexchange.com
A search for "cupcakes" returns: mysite.com yoursite.com
A search for "bread" returns: stackexchange.com yoursite.com
Since your site.com shows up on all the lists, perhaps it's the one that belongs to the person checking SERPs. But, it would be highly speculative on Google's part. Furthermore, your site may not show up for the targeted keywords... so that rules out THAT method.
It's a valid question, though, but I don't think Google cares about SERP checks. I gather they really care about their search results so they focus more manpower on their algorithm to weed out junk sites than monitoring individual sites.
If you choose to use unauthorized rank checking programs (what's wrong with Google Webmaster Tools?) you are violating the Google Terms of Service:
At the very least, expect the rank checker's results to be unreliable - remember, Google offers personalized search (which your rank checker will not factor in).