Webmaster Search Console has become a significant reporting influence for reviewing the performance of a site from the perspective of search traffic.
As Webmaster became the go-to tool for search performance, Google learned that some report updates were necessary to appeal to analysts who wanted more nuanced yet less technical information about their site.
In response to that need, Google created Search Analytics, an update of the search queries report in Webmaster. Search Analytics introduces a few new options that increase the accuracy of search traffic analysis.
(Update: Google today announced a significant update to Webmaster Tools — a name change from Webmaster Tools to Search Console. The change is meant to better align the tool to user expectations regarding how to better share content online. From Google’s blog post on the announcement:
“We have all kinds of Webmaster Tools fans: hobbyists, small business owners, SEO experts, marketers, programmers, designers, app developers, and, of course, webmasters as well. What you all share is a desire to make your work available online, and to make it findable through Google Search.”
10 years is a long lifespan for anything to be online. That timespan, according to Google, is exactly how long Webmaster Tools has been available. Within that timespan the notion of a webmaster has changed from being a technical gatekeeper to an internet persona that can be adopted from almost anyone with interest and some aptitude.
In fact the change reflects an extension of a number of efforts from Google collectively help people become more informed about using internet properties. We’ll certainly learn more about Search Console as Google releases details in the months ahead.)
What It Offers
Search Analytics is meant to help analysts discover performance details for a site against Google queries. It does this through updating the metrics so that better performance comparisons over time can be measured easily.
The metrics for comparison are pretty basic. Search analytics captures the following metrics:
- Clicks from search queries that lead to site visits
- Impressions, which represent the number of links to a site that appear in a query
- CTR, which is calculated as clicks divided by impressions
- Average top query result, indicating where a site ranks on a search query. This is calculated as the average of the top positions. The Google site explains the calculation behind this metric in the following way: If a given site has three query results -- positions 2, 4 and 6, for example -- the position 2 would be the topmost position. If a second query returned results at positions 3, 5 and 9, the average top query position would be an average of the two top most positions (in this case 2 and 3; the average top query result is (2 + 3)/2 = 2.5)
These metrics appear as a table with a timeline graph that can display a singular metrics or each metric side by side. Users can choose a table with the following dimension groups:
- Queried Keyword
- Type of search query conducted (web, image, or video)
- The country from which the searches originate
- The site page the appears in a query
- By Date
- By Device
Each dimension group also has a filter that lets users compare metrics between two sets of a given dimension. The filter choices vary by dimension group, but overall the filters display either a comparison of each dimension or a single dimension in a timeline graph.
For example, analysts can select data filtered by date groups and compare clicks between the current week and the previous week.
The end result is more specific options for determining what search queries are driving visits to a site. This contrasts against what the Google Analytics search traffic reports provide, a “not provided” label for search visits associated with SSL-encrypted Google property. The label masked keywords for maintaining visitor privacy, but it also limited drill-down analysis of search traffic in the process. This feature was heavily criticized among analytic practitioners.
Despite addressing limitations in Google Analytics, Webmaster Search Analytics comes with a few limitations of its own.
Differing dimensions cannot be compared easily against each other within the interface, so users cannot view mobile by country, for example. And while mobile device selection is a nod to the blossoming mobile search behavior, no drill-down dimensions appear for local search.
Users should note how Search Analytics calculates its clicks and impression for each filter or group, as selecting some settings can impact metrics.
One additional footnote about Search Analytics: Despite plans to replace Search Queries reports, Google intends for both search analytics and search queries to coexist for a short time.
An explanatory post on the Google Webmasters site states that the Search Queries report will be discontinued after a few months.
Overall, the improvements to Webmaster gained from Search Analytics will permit better assessment of site performance in search queries. Those assessments can only lead to better development of a SEO strategy and ultimately, better acquisition of customers.