Introduction: a happy entrepreneur, until...
You are the proud owner of a country-based business, with a well polished company web site which – of course –
ranks first on your local country Google page (e.g. www.google.co.uk if you are based in UK) when googling for your company name.
So far, so good.
Then you find out that Google Webmaster Tools reports search query impressions and average top ranking position
Sounds great, but... wait a minute!
Why it doesn't report position #1 for your company name?
It's supposed to be there at the top, you know it for sure!
Before finding your scapegoat, take a deep breath, relax, and go ahead reading.
What the report and graph really say
When viewed 'as is', the average keyword position reported by Google Webmaster Tools doesn't actually match with what you – and your customers – see on Google results page.
Without proper filtering, GWT reports:
- an average among the impressions your site actually received in organic searches, not the ranking it would have if queried: no queries, no impressions, no data.
- an average among the impressions received world wide; what you see in your country ranking first, in others might not appear at all.
- An average among all the Big G results pages: Google Search (the one you normally see from your desktop when googling), Google Images, YouTube... if your company name is queried half of the time on Google Images, where it ranks #10, reported ranking would be 5
- An average among the impressions received over a timespan of a month; if a keyword were ranking 10th at the start of the period, and experienced a linear increase up to the first position, the reported ranking would be 5
To make average positions match as much as possible what you see in Google Search, take care of the following steps:
Step 1: avoid personalized search results
To make a fair comparison, you should use the &pws=0 parameter to query Google results, to avoid personalized search results.
While keeping geo-targeting into account, the parameter prevent the results page from being influenced by you search and click history.
Step 2: Filter by Search type
Traffic from other result pages (e.g. Image Search) can add up a lot. Cut that "rumor" out by applying a filter on the Search type, changing the value from its default "All" to "Web":
Step 3: Filter by Nation
If you are a country based company, better take into account only the impressions from your country.
Some keywords might be used with different different meanings in other countries, polluting the averages.
To play it safe, apply a filter on the Location, changing the value from its default "All locations" to your country (e.g. "United Kingdom"):
Step 4: Restrict dates range
If the number of local impressions on a daily basis is sufficient to appear on GWT results, restrict to the minimum most recent interval (unfortunately query data are available only with a two days delay), to better approximate today ranking on Google SERP.
Step 5: And then, filter by desired keyphrase
There is not an “exact match” option, you have to make do with the “include” filter and ignore all rows but the exact match one.
Happy End: ranking report now states what you expected
Now the “avg. position” column should report a good approximation with what you see in the SERP, with your company name ranking supposedly #1
Notice how the number of impressions halved, and the Click-Through-Rate jumped up.
If you linked your GWT account with your Analytics account, you can leverage Analytics powerful reporting features applied to organic search results, as described in How to track keyword ranking in GA.
Conclusion, Takeaways, and personal notes
Checking the company name ranking on Google Webmaster Tools query report can give you a hint on which filters to apply to check the ranking of any strategic keyphrase.
If you are a SEO consultant or an Agency, it is important to have a super-partes impartial tool to certify the correct keyword ranking gained, as seen by you client's potential customers.
Google Webmaster Tools could be that tool: it's easy to understand, and gives the client a real measure of the success of a SEO campaign in terms of ranking and targeted traffic gains, as it also reports for each keyword the approximated number of impressions and clicks.
If you are the client of a SEO agency, I suggest to impose GWT as the tool to detect keyword ranking: it cannot be faked, and data is provided directly from Google, who has the big picture. Of course provided you are in a country were Google is the absolute dominator of the search market; e.g. in United Kingdom it has today about 92% of the market share (source: StatCounter.com).
I think a greater openness would benefit both the client and the agency/consultant, and would help building a better trust in the SEO community in general.
Will you start doing it with your SEO clients?
How to Track Keyword Ranking with Google Analytics