Wildcard Friday – Update to Top Search Queries Data in Google Webmaster Tools

By Joe


Today we’ll be covering a recent update Google announced to the Top Queries section of Webmaster Tools, where they’ll be making an effort to make the Average Position reported more accurate over time. On today’s presentation, I’ll also be comparing Google’s data with our own data to see if there are any differences.

To find the Top Queries area in Webmaster Tools, click the link on the left side titled “Your Site on the Web”. Once you’ve clicked this, you should see the menu expand where you can click on “Search Queries” to find the data.

With the top queries window open, you should see something similar to what is showing on this slide, where you’ll have a list of top keywords going down the left hand column and other metrics to the right. The metrics are estimates that Google provides which include impressions, clicks, click-through rate, and average position (which is highlighted on the screen).

You can set the time period of the data to whatever you’d like. For the purpose of this experiment, I’ve set it to a time span of 4 weeks.

To see exactly how accurate Google’s top query report currently is, I took a sample list of the top 7 keywords for a site. Using Webmaster Tool’s average rank over the period of 4 weeks, I recorded what was reported by Google compared to what the actual average was over the same time span. It’s important to note that exact rank can never truly be accurate basedon many variables including location, however our in-house metrics use various data centers throughout the country to capture data, which helps ensure as much accuracy as possible.

As you can see, 3 of the 7 were fairly accurate, being within one position or less than the actual average rank. This is pretty impressive.

However, looking at some of the other keywords, the difference between Google’s average and the actual average was a little wider, being greater than 1 position while still being less than 3 positions. Although this may seem fairly close, it’s important to keep in mind that in an example like Keyword 3, where Google reports it at 4.6 and the actual is 1.7, it is a big difference in terms of CTR, and having a more accurate average would be more helpful. Even more troubling is Keyword 7, where Google reports and average of 13, while the actual average was around 2…a huge difference in being on Page 2 versus the 2nd position on Page 1 of search results. Having inaccurate data like this can cause good keywords to be overlooked or vice versa, which can also lead to bad SEO decision making.

Overall, we’re very pleased with Google’s decision to make a continued effort to improve the accuracy of their Webmaster Tools data. It’s important to note that the update to provide more accurate average has just recently rolled out, so it may be the case that if we were to do the same experiment a month from now, we’d find more averages within 1 position or less of the actual average.