It seems like Google is constantly adding functionality in Google Search Console (GSC), the tool webmasters use to make sure Google is properly indexing their sites and troubleshoot issues. More and more it has been a vital tool, but one question has always nagged us: can you trust the data that it provides?
When you setup GSC and start seeing data for your site you’ll notice immediately that a lot of numbers are rounded off and don’t seem to jive with Google Analytics. That’s because GSC and GA almost always use different calculations to provide similar data. Yesterday there was an excellent post on the Moz blog by Russ Jones that outlined in detail what data can be trusted in GSC and what you should take with a grain of salt. While I encourage you to read the entire post for more context, here are some of the key takeaways:
GSC: HTML Improvements Section
Although some useful data can be found here, it should be assessed with the understanding that it may be out of date. For example, if you’ve setup a 301 redirect, GSC may still display duplicate content warnings for the old page. More alarming is that even if Google has crawled your site and found the changes, cached them, and listed them in the live index, they aren’t updated/removed from the HTML improvements section. We’ve seen this ourselves many times and have learned to double check everything listed there manually.
GSC: Index Status Section
The number of pages listed here turned out to be fairly accurate, at least compared to site:site.com search results. Our experience validates this as well. The numbers never match but they are usually close, especially on smaller sites where it’s easier to check the total number of links.
GSC: Internal Links Sections
This section, which tells you how many times pages are linked to from within your site, is a great way to determine what you think is important. Google also uses this as a ranking factor. If the numbers you see here don’t match your internal crawl data, then you’re probably missing some links to your important content.
Google does not start at your home page and crawl your site in the same way that your standard site crawlers do (like the one included in Moz Pro). Googlebot approaches your site via a combination of external links, internal links, sitemaps, redirects, etc. that can give a very different picture. In fact, we found several examples where a full site crawl unearthed hundreds of internal links that Googlebot had missed. Navigational pages, like category pages in the blog, were crawled less frequently, so certain pages didn’t accumulate nearly as many links in GSC as one would have expected having looked only at a traditional crawl.
GSC: Links to Your Site
This section shows the external links that Google knows about. We’ve always found Google to be on the low end compared to other tools, and the data here matches our own findings. That’s probably because Google keeps their database fresh so old/broken links won’t appear there.
GSC: Search Analytics
Remember when you could see all of the keyword traffic you’d received in a simple Google Analytics report? Oh, how we all long for those days. For a time the “not provided” data was truly that. Then GSC added the Search Analytics section and gave us back a piece of our data, but only just. The problem with that data is that it has never matched up with anything, and often feels just plain wrong. The blog goes into some detail about this:
Imagine you add new content and your keyword starts at position 80, then moves to 70, then 60, and eventually to #1. Now, imagine you create a different piece of content and it sits at position 40, never wavering. GSC will report both as having an average position of 40. The first, though, will receive considerable traffic for the time that it is in position 1, and the latter will never receive any. GSC’s averaging method based on impression data obscures the underlying features too much to provide relevant projections. Until something changes explicitly in Google’s method for collecting rank data for GSC, it will not be sufficient for getting at the truth of your site’s current position.
While you can’t trust the click numbers in Search Analytics, but you can trust that they represent an accurate proportion of traffic from organic searches.
GSC Is Only One Tool You Should Be Using
The big takeaway from this is that you shouldn’t rely solely on Google Search Console for guidance and data. It’s a valuable tool, and becoming more integral to our work all the time, but it’s one that must be double checked and tested against to get a holistic view of your properties.
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