As a rule, I like Google Webmaster Tools and I love Google Analytics.

My love of Google Analytics (GA) has been tempered somewhat by the (not provided) debacle, but that isn’t strictly GA’s fault as it can’t analyse data that is simply not there. We have Google’s search team to thank for that one…

There is a school of thought that you shouldn’t really care about keyword data and should look at landing page performance rather than get too bogged down in keywords. Whilst I can see some logic in that, and have never liked keyword ranking reports, I still find it very frustrating that it is so difficult to really understand what terms are being used in organic search to find your content.

Personally, I think it is important to be able to analyse the quality of traffic for different terms. By recognising which content appeals to your users and those terms deliver the most engaged visitors, you can ensure that you provide content that is appealling to your target audience. If Google wants to improve the internet for us all, why take away this data?

One possible solution to the problem is the ‘search queries’ report that is available within Google Webmaster Tools:

search queries report google webmaster tools

I had hoped that this will help us monitor the performance of individual keywords, but I can’t deny that I have some serious concerns regarding the accuracy of the data.

This morning, I was having a look at the report for the website and noticed some figures that are fairly radically different to my expecations. As an inbound marketing agency, I was particularly interested to see how we are performing for that term (and associated variants).

As the stats below show, Google Webmaster Tools is suggesting that we perform much better (in terms of impressions and average rank) for ‘inbound marketing’ than we are for ‘inbound marketing agency’:

inbound marketing agency rankings

I would be very happy if we ranked so well for ‘inbound marketing’, but I have never seen any evidence of this.

In my own limited testing, I have found that we have much better visibility for the longer ‘inbound marketing agency’ term, which directly contradicts what Google Webmaster Tools is telling us.

Not only does the ranking data feel wrong, the click data is even more baffling. Is it logical that a term with far more impressions and a vastly superior average rank would attract zero clicks whilst the term with fewer views and near invisibility has accumulated clicks (albeit only 3)?

I accept that the ranking data is showing average rank and this could hide some fairly extreme variation, but I simply do not believe that any of the values shown in this report is very accurate.

Unfortunately, this can only encourage the use of other 3rd party tools to track rankings. In my eyes, this is a spectacular own goal for Google as they don’t like rank checking software.

I still genuinely believe that rank reports pale into insignificance when compared to looking at actual traffic, but keyword ranking is a natural barometer to measure the success of digital marketing activity and I suspect that most SEO agencies across the globe are judged, to some degree, on keyword rankings…

I would love to hear your thoughts / experiences. How accurate do you find the search queries report? Please feel free to share your views below.