How Much of Google Search Console Can You Trust?

- June 28, 2019

We often receive questions from our clients about how they should use Google Search Console (GSC) and how accurate the data is. Given how common these questions are, we thought it would be good to share our general perspective in a blog post.

For example, here are some of the most common questions we receive related to GSC:

  • What should we use GSC for?
  • Can we report to stakeholders using the data in GSC?
  • Are clicks and impressions in GSC the same thing as Google Ads clicks and impressions?
  • Can I use the ranking data from GSC as my source of truth for keyword rankings?
  • Does the data in GSC cover 100% of what’s happening in Google search?

Ultimately, GSC is a valuable tool within your broader digital marketing toolbox, especially when it comes to technical SEO, keyword research, and content strategy. It can also be a good source of data to analyze for directional analysis or to use as one data point within a broader landscape of data sources. However, we do not recommend using GSC data, especially the “Performance” data, as a precise data source or as the end-all-be-all source of data for performance reporting. Likewise, we do not recommend using the Performance data as the only source to make high consequence decisions.

In this post, we cover what Google Search Console is, a brief history on issues that the tool has experienced, data integrity considerations, and recommended use cases.

What is Google Search Console?

GSC is a free tool provided by Google to help site owners, webmasters, and SEOs understand how their site is being seen by Googles crawlers and how it is being seen in search results by users. It provides a limited set of tools and data that can be used for SEO analysis and debugging and it is only available to verified site administrators (so you can’t view GSC data for a site you don’t control).

A Brief History of Google Search Console Issues

GSC has a long history of bugs, data discrepancies, delays, and issues. When these issues arise, they are often not corrected immediately, and can persist for days, weeks, or even longer. This is because GSC is a free tool that does not generate any revenue for Google directly or indirectly. Therefore, it makes sense that it is a lower priority to the company when it comes to dedicating engineering resources for improvements and fixes. However, it can be frustrating and problematic if you are relying on the data for consequential decisions or reporting to key stakeholders.

Here is one recent example of Google confirming issues with GSC data, where there was a 10 day delay in data being reported via the platform.

You can find a full list of data anomalies that impact GSC on their page for Data anomalies in Search Console.

GSC Data Integrity and Uses

By now, you may be asking yourself if GSC data should be used at all. The answer is an unequivocal YES! However, it’s critical that you use it in the right cases, for the right purposes, and with a full understanding of what the data means and how it is collected.

For example, Google has an entire help article dedicated to the explanation of impressions, position values, and click data from GSC. This page has 3,976 words at the time of this blog post publication. I bet you thought the definitions of impression, position, and click would be a lot simpler than that!

There is also the consideration that Google has changed how they measure some of these metrics over time, so their definitions of metrics may change in the future, as they note:

Without going through all of the detail for how Google makes these calculations, a few of the most important macro considerations here are that:

  • Data is not calculated in the same way (and will not match 1:1) as other platforms such as Google Ads, Google Analytics, or your rank tracking tool. So, you shouldn’t mix or compare these data sets directly.
  • Data can change over time and Google can change how they calculate metrics, so be sure that you know if Google made a change during your analysis window by reviewing their data anomalies page.
  • There is more to the data than meets the eye, so be sure that you have a full understanding of how your data is calculated before reporting on it to someone else.

Below, we’ve outlined a few good and bad use cases for the data that you can find in GSC:

Examples of Good Use Cases for GSC Data

  • Researching keywords actively being used by searchers to find your content
  • Researching the types of keywords used to find existing content, to identify areas of opportunity for content expansion, refinement, and/or updates
  • Identifying pages that are trending up or down in their performance (such as impressions, rankings, clicks, or click-through-rate (CTR), and conducting further analysis of those pages to identify if something is actionable
  • Analyzing the different types of rich results your pages are generating and how they’re directionally performing in each type of result using the “Search Appearance” section within “Performance”
  • Conducting technical SEO checkups on Google’s indexing of your site, identifying red flags that should be reviewed in further detail

Examples of Bad Use Cases for GSC Data

  • Reporting to your board of directors on total impressions, clicks, CTR, or average position for the past quarter (Google could change how they measure this in the future!)
  • Comparing clicks from GSC to sessions in Google Analytics (they are not calculated in the same way!)
  • Comparing average position from GSC to rankings from a third-party rank tracking tool (They are not calculated in the same way!)
  • Using impressions, clicks, CTR, or average position data as the only data source for high consequence decisions, like page consolidation or removal.

Conclusion

Google Search Console is a great tool, and it is 100% free. There are many great uses for the tool, but it’s critical that you avoid using it in a way that it is not meant for or is not capable of being used for. It’s also critical that you have a strong understanding of how GSC calculates the data you are seeing, before making any impactful decisions using the data. If you need any help analyzing the data in your Google Search Console account, and more importantly, learning when and what actionable changes you can make based on the data, please reach out to us at info@morevisibility.com.

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