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Google Webmaster Tools – What’s it good for? (Part 1) [Guest Post]

alex-petrovic —  December 29, 2011
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This is a guest post from Alex Petrovic,  the Advanced SEO strategist and Link building team leader at the  Dejan SEO company in Australia. This is the first of two posts from Alex, one published this year and the next in January. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.


Each time I ask for a show of hands of those who actively use Google Webmaster Tools it’s around 10% of the auditorium. It always leaves me puzzled as there is so much good information in there and many choose not to make use of it. This article is for those who ignore Google’s own data about their website and seek help everywhere else. But if you think I am writing only for beginners, then you’re wrong.

Rankings & Search Queries

Your site on the web > Search queries
At first this section looks fairly straightforward but most folks miss one important piece of data that no other tool will be able to provide: Impressions.

Impressions

What’s the big deal? Well for starters this piece of data tells you how many times you have appeared in SERPs on any given search phrase. This is different from your search volumes from Google Keyword Tool as it gives you personalised volume statistics. For example if you are on page two, the number of impressions will be much lower than if you were on page one and although the numbers are rounded this still represents a valuable piece of data you can work with later on.

 

Did you know?

Impressions number represents a sum of all impressions for all website assets which have appeared in search results for that phrase including pages, documents and images. Webmasters typically think of a single page in this context which is wrong.

Default setting in Google Webmaster Tools is inclusive of all types of search, geographic regions and impression/click quantities. Use filters at the top to get cleaner and more usable data. For example, you can focus only on web results (excluding image and mobile search) within a specific geographic region. This will set the ranking and impression data to a more familiar configuration.

Tip: Default date range is typically set to a full month. Click on the start date and track back some five days to get extra data for your reports.

 

Click to Enlarge

Change (Impressions)

Change in impressions can be used as a handy alert and help you discover opportunities or fix problems with your content.

For example an old page might receive a renewed amount of organic search due to a recent event and there is an opportunity to touch up old content to suit your new audience. Another scenario is where you can see a big impression jump due to a phrase suddenly appearing in the top ten results of Google. Definitely a good sign and a signal you’re doing something right.

On the other hand if your impressions suddenly drop, it may be a case for investigation. Check to see if your content/URL is still there and in good shape.

Tip: A great way to find new linkable assets within your site is to set the search query parameters to image search and identify images which appeared the most in results. They may be in demand and could score you a few links if utilised in the right way.

Clicks

This is the easier value to figure out. Again don’t forget that clicks are distributed across all ranking assets (including multiple ranking pages). The big deal about this piece of data is that it works nicely with impressions giving you the idea of your average click through rate (CTR) for different positions.

Note: All three values (Impressions, Clicks & CTR) have their own Change value which is handy for interpreting your websites performance including user behaviour. If your impressions remain high and your CTR is dropping you may need to do some work on your title and meta description.

Average Position

It takes a bit of getting used to not seeing absolute ranking positions, but once you get over the initial discomfort, this will be your favourite figure to work with.

What’s so awesome about the average position value is that once you combine it with impression, click and CTR data you can start creating scenarios and modelling your phrase potential. This comes in very handy if you have limited resources (time, money, content) and cannot focus on all aspects/pages/phrases on your website.

Here’s what to do. Figure out your average CTR for each position on your website and then apply the traffic data to different ranking scenarios. The phrases that bring the best return are the ones you should work on.

Click to Enlarge

Tip: Add your goal conversion rate and value into the mix and voila! Voila what? Well you get to find out how much more money you will make if you focus on this or that. Now, how awesome is that?

Top Pages

Click away from “Top Queries” and switch to “Top Pages”. This section kind of works the opposite way the other tab does, it shows the URL and all the phrases it ranks for, including all relevant supporting data such as position, CTR, clicks and impressions. Should I even begin to describe how useful this section is? In case it doesn’t click straight away I have one two words for you: LINKABLE ASSETS.

When I am stuck for content or linkbait ideas I always visit this section. The question I ask myself is “What are the most visited pages on my website?” and “Can I create some more?”.

Tip: Most pages in Google Webmaster Tools have an export link at the bottom. Retrieve data once per month and store it for future reference and comparison. Google wipes data older than some forty days or so.


Do you have any other tips to add? What do you find Google Webmaster Tools to be most useful for?

alex-petrovic

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4 responses to Google Webmaster Tools – What’s it good for? (Part 1) [Guest Post]

  1. Hello Alex! Great post that resumes some of the main goof functions of Google Webmasters Tools. I absolutely agree with you that all the SEOs should use the tool to get data directly from Google :)

    Just wanted to comment a couple of things:

    The first is that in Google Analytics, which now integrates this information, we can see data for 3 months instead of the 5 weeks limit in GWT.

    The second: we must be very careful with the “average position” and “impressions” number, as each impression of your a page from your website counts on those numbers and they can get a bit weird (for example in brand searches, where you can get more than one result from the same brand domain) http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters/thread?tid=3f401efc54ca0a76&hl=en

    In my case, I’m getting average positions of 5,6,7.. for brand keywords where 70/80% of the results are pages from our domain.

    It causes problems too if you get results on pages 2,3… and they get impressions.

    Thanks for posting!

  2. Hi Christian (and everyone else), Google has now changed the way they calculate average positions from all ranking assets to the top ranking asset. We write more about that here: http://dejanseo.com.au/update-of-top-search-queries-in-gwt/

  3. Hey Alex
    This is a very informative post… However I was looking at the clicks and was wondering are these clicks combined with ppc or they are just organic clicks? thank you

  4. “Figure out your average CTR for each position on your website and then apply the traffic data to different ranking scenarios. The phrases that bring the best return are the ones you should work on.”

    In a perfect world, sure. This would be an incredible practice.

    Unfortunately there are too many other factors to consider, and the data just isn’t accurate yet.

    Even with exact match, Adwords keyword research data and GWT data hardly ever match up.

    Adwords PPC campaign manager impression data and GWT impressions rarely match, even when you have #1 position in organic and paid.

    CTR for each query/page title/meta description/url combination will always vary.

    Clicks in GWT again rarely, if ever match organic traffic (Google) in analytics for the same keyword…

    It’s a nice idea, but let’s call it what it is (until GWT becomes more accurate).