Playing Around With Google Webmaster Tools Click Data

I spent an hour or so today playing with the data available via the Google Webmaster Tools “Top Search Queries” report. As you probably know, Google launched an enhancement to the functionality to include impressions and clicks, making a click through rate calculation vaguely possible. The tool was well received by many, albeit rather cautiously. I thought it might be fun to look at the data and draw some charts with Excel Pivot Tables, trying to answer questions like “how far do the click numbers in Webmaster Tools agree with my own figures?”.

Jars in a laboratory

Image credit: Hey Paul

A Word to the wise

This post isn’t designed to come to any conclusions on the quality of the data, and I’ll make my usual recommendation now: you should always perform your own analysis, on your own sites to come to your own conclusions. There are some limitations to the numbers I’ve used, the most glaringly obvious being that Google Keyword Tool data is currently exporting values for March 2010. The Google Webmaster data can only export data from mid March to Mid April. That’s probably going to impact the numbers somewhat. The other item to be aware of is this – the ranking position data does not survive the export process, meaning that if you’re not careful you could be comparing impressions data for a keyword on page 2, not page 1. Be aware!

Methodology

I had quite a lot of fun collecting all the numbers for my data. In summary, I decided it might be wise to be able to narrow my values down to a specific region and compare the accuracy of the values to something more global. So all of the Google Webmaster Tools data used was either “United States” (my largest traffic generating region) or “Global”. I filtered the values down to “Web”. I’m still yet to decide if that was the right move, but that’s the point of this study! Google Analytics Google search engine visits by keyword and region was exported, following this I used both Google Keyword Tools (Beta and External) to get what (US) and global search volume data I could.

The data columns in my master Excel spreadsheet table looks like this:

  • Keyword
  • Country/Territory
  • Visits
  • GWMT US Impressions
  • GWMT US Clicks
  • GWMT All Impressions
  • GWMT All Clicks
  • GKWT Local
  • GKWT Global
  • GKWTbeta Local
  • GKWTbeta Global

Here’s a little screen grab of master data table:

Small Excel Spreadsheet Snippet

The results

This chart shows a comparison of total visits from the United States, via Google.com to the number of clicks reported by Google Webmaster Tools. The region is set to “US” in Webmaster Tools, selecting “Web” as the preferred source of click data. (Click to enlarge the chart)

US Clicks to SEOgadget

The comparison data reveals variances between a minimum of 3% and a maximum of 55% on keyphrases bringing between 1236 and 31 visits over this period. What I found quite interesting was that the error didn’t increase or decrease proportionally to the volume of the query, it just seemed to be random. I’d love to see the variances on a higher volume query set. Some terms such as “html 5 examples” were very close (3%), and the average difference across the top 20 terms was 20%.

Our next chart compares the click data provided by Google and the analytics visits from Google, globally (Click to enlarge)

The range of variance between terms that drove traffic to SEOgadget globally, and the global impression figures is much larger. Variances between -163% and 75% were observed on the top 42 keywords. Certain keywords were vastly different, “how to install ubuntu” presented a -163% difference with Google Webmaster Tools wildly overestimating or underestimating the number of clicks received. Wow. The range of difference in the global data set makes the data particulary unreliable in my opinion.

Next, I took a look at a small range of keywords and compared the impressions data for page 1 rankings to Google’s Keyword Tool and the Beta tool.

impressions US data

The difference is rather clear. Google Webmaster impressions data is significantly lower than the values reported by the keyword tools. I’m actually of the opinion that the impressions data from Webmaster tools is better than the keyword tools data – certainly the CTR% make a lot more sense coming from the Webmaster Tools platform. If you’ve ever tried to calculate click through rates from the keyword tool data, you’ll know what I mean.

If I had more time, there are a few things I’d like to get to the bottom of with this data, in particular working on larger query volumes and more regions to see if certain geo locations offer more convincing figures than others. Remember there’s also a need to recheck these figures against a complete month in the Google Keyword Tool, although I’m not entirely convinced the percentage differences by keyword would be all that different.

Issues aside, it felt that the data fits with the analytics figures when you’re investigating clicks and impressions by region, but be prepared for a variance of anything between 3 and 55%, possibly more.



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13 thoughts on “Playing Around With Google Webmaster Tools Click Data

  1. If anyone would like the actual data – give me a shout via the contact form.

  2. Superb analysis there, there’d definitely food for thought.

    It always puzzles me how different data from different Google sources can be though. And I’ve never come up with a decent explanation.

  3. Nate says:

    Nice post, yet again.

    Did you use phrase match on the Google keyword tool? Didn’t see that mentioned in the methodology. The variance figures don’t really indicate any pattern that can reliably be applied to keyword data to ascertain real impression numbers, which is a shame. Still, interesting hour well spent!

    So more confusion from Google. Their Misinformation division is doing well!

  4. Hi Nate – the keyword tool data’s based on exact match. Genuinely I think that if you have a page 1 ranking for a term, the WMT data is better than the KWT data. Getting reliable search volumes is hard at the best of times though!

  5. How is it possible that google webmasters reports far less visits than google analytics?

    And: KWT reports of 100,000+ expected views in one month, while WMT gives only 4,000.

    Is Google messing up the numbers?

  6. Nate,

    That was a good call, I was gonna question that too. I wonder whether Google includes local / social impressions in Google webmaster tools. Although, that would not be applicable for your keyword set.

    Also, is google using data from just Google.com in webmaster tools, or all of them? Does each country have their own webmaster tools site?

    Also, there have been a ton of studies about CTR’s in organic vs. CTR’s in paid. I would love to put together some real life analysis based on the Google data. (Although with the current accuracy issues, I’m not sure if I would trust Google. You’d probably have to start with a search query report from Google to tabulate actual paid search data.)

    We could then give some solid numbers for the question of ROI on doing PPC and SEO on the same keyword, and if 1+1=3 or 2.5 etc., and build some cool attribution models on that.

    We could top that with some brand analysis as well. (Turn off PPC, see how CTR’s, CPA’s and total conversions change for branded terms. Give a different, real target CPA for brand terms.)

    Thanks for putting this together, it’s gotten my thoughts running!

  7. One of the most important thing to make real dreaming about 1st position of google is diversity of link sources, and all backlinks of course should to be do follow. I invite you to see my post, I hope you will find interesting too.

  8. Neil Walker says:

    Hi Richard, hope you enjoyed SASCON, while on the panel I talked with you about Organic Click through rates well I’ve now published the data from the 2710 keywords I downloaded and made a nice excel sheet of CTR, Google Position and query length and using a pivot table :) put it together, finally published the blog post, like to hear any comments:

    http://www.seomad.com/SEOBlog/google-organic-click-through-rate-ctr.html

    Cheers

    Neil

  9. Nice work Neil – duly shared: http://twitter.com/richardbaxter/statuses/13794437336

    Loved your SAScon deck – no doubt we’ll be speaking again soon!

  10. Moot says:

    You are comparing GWT versus GKWT, which I find interesting. Are you saying that GKWT figures are even remotely trustworthy? I find that I need to treat GKWT data with a huge bucket of salt. Thus the comparison above only proves that GWT figures are lower than rubbish, and it means neither good nor bad. If the quality of the benchmark (in this case is GKWT) cannot be determined, the comparison ends up being inconclusive.

  11. Tom Wigley says:

    Hey Richard, brilliant post, really interesting as I am just about to undertake a similar task on a much larger scale aggregating a lot of WMT data. I do have a few concerns however, I was initially considering just adding up the impressions for the first page for each term, and comparing them to the GKT data, however, adding up like this makes a couple of assumptions. 1 – That the site had a listing consistently on the front page for the last 30 days. 2 – That you only had 1 page on the front page. Even if you just had 2 listings on the front page that would double the impressions, and with listings moving around so much how do you know that your site was there for the entire time?

    Feedback appreciated

  12. I’m looking at our UK-based web site, and rather underwhelmed by GWT’s Click data. All the top 10 search queries on the dashboard are showing <10 clicks. Take the top one "fiori musicali" (most of our customers look for our name). This shows 590 impressions in the period July 2 to August 20. We are ranked #1 on Google for this phrase, and our site statistics show (over all search engines) 234 click throughs for this phrase, and 144 for August to date (to August 23). Say, 200 for the period covered by Google. Now Google represents 88% – 91% of our search engine driven traffic. So say 90% x 200 = 180 clicks. This compares with <10 reported by GWT. The GWT click data is just wrong in our case.

  13. Re-posted with the correct link – sorry!

    I’m looking at our UK-based web site, and rather underwhelmed by GWT’s Click data. All the top 10 search queries on the dashboard are showing <10 clicks. Take the top one "fiori musicali" (most of our customers look for our name). This shows 590 impressions in the period July 2 to August 20. We are ranked #1 on Google for this phrase, and our site statistics show (over all search engines) 234 click throughs for this phrase, and 144 for August to date (to August 23). Say, 200 for the period covered by Google. Now Google represents 88% – 91% of our search engine driven traffic. So say 90% x 200 = 180 clicks. This compares with <10 reported by GWT. The GWT click data is just wrong in our case.

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