By Ammar Haider

Google provides ‘real’ search query data in Google Webmaster Tools, providing richer data for analysing your site’s SEO.

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Overview

SEO is a bit of a roller coaster industry. One day you’re plodding along happily optimising a page and then BAM! Out comes a Google algorithm change that turns your world upside down. As you can see from Google’s algorithm change history, this has been happening quite often. Combine this with the terrifying advent of the (not provided) keyword and you get a sense that people involved in SEO have had a bit of a rough time. Not only are they having to deal with Google constantly moving the goal posts but their data is also being taken away from them.

This is where we started to shift uncomfortably in our bean bags. Being lovers of data, the organic search keywords report used to be a gold mine providing many an insight into a website’s usability and performance, especially for something like persona analysis (as covered here by Olly here).

Enter the search queries report in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT): the only remaining source of data on what users search for before coming to your website. Just a couple of weeks ago Google decided to enhance this data from being heavily rounded to its raw, unadulterated form, much to the pleasant surprise of all.

The data

Analysis of search query data in GWT boils down to the following:

  • Optimising your site’s appearance in search to increase clicks and hence, your traffic.
  • Unearth keyword opportunities for future SEO activity.

I’ll be going through some analysis you can run to achieve the above, but first let’s define some key GWT terminology:

Query: The words typed into Google search that returned pages from your site.
Page: The page in your site that was returned in a search result.
Impressions: The number of times pages from your site appeared in search results.
Clicks: The number of times a user clicked your site's listing in search results for a particular query.
CTR (clickthrough rate): The percentage of impressions that resulted in a click to your site.

Essential prep

Before you start looking at using the search query data, we highly recommend that you have an idea of what keywords are important to your site by doing some keyword research, this will be important when deciding on which queries to prioritise.

Clickthrough rate optimisation

Once you’re setup and in GWT, follow the below steps:-

Sort by low CTR to uncover any missed opportunities, i.e. queries with high impressions and low CTR. These are queries that your website frequently shows up in search results for, but where your listing isn’t clicked as much as you would like.

Note: Make sure you apply a filter to include queries with 10+ impressions / clicks. Instructions on filtering here.

Start by clicking into the queries that are most important to you, i.e. those that you feel your website is useful for. This will reveal the pages on your site that users were offered in return for their query.

Open up a private or incognito browser window, perform the search query and look for your website’s listing. Would you have clicked on your listing? Is there any way you would improve this listing? Google uses the page title and description to generate a search result listing.

Bear in mind that the ‘Avg. position’ of your site’s listing will also be a big factor in the % of people who click on the result. So if your site has a high average position for a query, i.e. not in the top 5, you should look to do some traditional SEO in order to bump your position up.

Focus your efforts

If you have already done your keyword research and have a list of keywords you would like to rank for, you can compare this to the top query list in Webmaster tools. This will allow you to see which keywords you aren’t getting any visibility for (impressions) and so need to commence a fresh SEO campaign.

Conclusion

Even with the more detailed search query data, GWT is still no replacement for the all but dead organic keyword data in Google Analytics: there still isn’t a robust method of linking the query data to the user’s experience on the website. We’re keeping our ears to the ground regarding any changes to the GWT API which may allow us to integrate search query data with Google Analytics data.

All in all though, SEOs in particular will breathe a big sigh of relief at finally getting some reliable data to help them with their day-to-day efforts.

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