GWT Search Queries

by Christopher Wendels on oktober 11, 2010

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This post dives into the “Your site on the web” section of the Google Webmaster Tools report. More specifically I have a bone to pick with the “Search Queries” section. For those of you who are not familiar with it Google has produced a section where you are shown some statistics for your website and how you are ranking.

I have omitted the queries column which is displayed to the left of the impressions. No need to see that really.

At first glance though, this table looks awesome. No need for any pesky web ranking tools – you have all the stats you need right there in your WMT account. Or do you?

The Test and The Issue
I didn’t really like what I was seeing. The numbers didn’t seem to make sense, nor did they line up with web ranking reports or even the keyword analysis in Google Analytics. What I did was take a website with virtually zero traffic and no presence in the SERPs. I then reworked the homepage and optimized it for a relatively unique keyword and set about spamming Google searches.

I searched for two different variants of that keyword somewhere around 200-300 times each. This is what Google came up with in the Webmaster Tools Search Queries report:

Impressions for the day I tested (the big spike in the graph): 2,900

Wait. What?

At most there should have been around 600 more impressions for that site than the average <100 impressions per day. I accept rounding issues and so on and so forth, but seriously. 480% inflated? Isn’t that a little bit heavy? I decided to do some more digging.

I took a site I work with that gets a fair amount of traffic. I picked a period to compare and dug out web ranking reports, analytics keyword reports and AWStats traffic reports. I took all those numbers and compared them to the Search Queries report in Webmaster Tools. It took forever. The examples are crappy since I would have to cut out the keywords and URLs and replace them with [blue widget], but I’ll give you the rundown of my findings. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Impressions: For any keyword in the Top 10 the impressions line up with the numbers in the AdWords Keyword Tool.

Clicks: This was the most accurate number, and correlated nicely with the GA keyword report. The more clicks the more inaccurate the numbers became though.

CTR (click-through rate): Well, Google does do math right. The numbers are as accurate as clikcs/impressions*100 rounded to a full percent.

Avg. Position: This number is interesting. It usually does display sort of what a well set up web ranking report would show you. Take personalized search into the equation. If your average position is higher than your web ranking report you are probably showing up in loyal user searches. If your average position is lower the reverse is true. However, I would not put any faith into it.

Change: The changes sometimes make sense and sometimes they don’t. It depends on the period you select, but again Google knows how to do math. If the numbers are off the mark, then that means that the data from either the selected or “previous” period is off.

My Conclusion
The Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries report is a great addition to an advanced SEO-Toolkit portfolio. It is one tool among many, but blindly hopping on the Google bandwagon is not something I would recommend.