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What does this Google Webmaster Tools data mean?

July 29, 2010 8 Comments

I am the first to admit when I don't know something. Alright, I'm not. I probably try to cover up it. But instead of claiming that there is something wrong with something (eg the google keywords tool), I'm going to ask who can explain this data to me.

Here's a screenshot showing "impressions" for my blog - that's the number of times my blog appeared in search results for any queries - from June 18 to July 18. The data is what Google shows you in its Webmaster Tools service.

As you can see, I was trundling along at nearly 50,000 a day, nearly wholly driven by people searching for "Youtube UK" and my post on the demographics of UK Youtube users appearing in position 6 to 10. Then the number of impressions falls off a cliff:

Impression data, June to July

Impression data, June to July

Staring at specific days, here's June 20th. As you can see my bog appeared in position 6 to 10 of Google's results 40,500 times that day for a search on "Youtube UK".

Data for June 20

Data for June 20

Now on July 12th, it only appears 260 times in that position.

Data for July 12

Data for July 12

If we use Google Insights, we can see that there hasn't been a significant fall in searches.

Searches for "Youtube UK"

Searches for "Youtube UK"

So what explains the wierd data ...? If the searches for that term haven't collapsed, why have the impressions?

I don't really care - I get no benefit from it. I just want to know what the hell's going in ...!


So one of the reasons for the graphs above is that the second one is for "you tube uk" and not "youtube uk". Oops. So here's the correct data for "youtube uk" on July 12":

July 12 correct data

July 12 correct data

Here's the overall data for 21 June to 26 July:

Overall data - 21 June to 26 July - high, low, high again

Overall data - 21 June to 26 July - high, low, high again

And here's the data for 26 July:

Youtube UK searches - I'm back ...

Youtube UK searches - I'm back ...

Who knows what all this means - the search volumes haven't gone anywhere. But in the middle, I stopped appearing for the thousands of "youtube uk" search term and then I came back again. Odd.

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  • Andy Beard says:

    Welcome to the rabbit hole

    I have been discussing stuff like this in private with people for over 18 months.

    I bet you didn't see a significant increase in traffic though Google have to have some wiggle room.
    You may have seen a decrease in traffic on other terms

    In a webinar I did for a private member site 8 months ago I called this "Pinocchio SEO" with the suggestion that 99% of what you read about how SEO works isn't actually correct.

    • I did a small increase in traffic for the term when I first published the post, but I think that was just part of Google bumping a fresh blog post up in the results to see if got any interest. I don't know what people are searching for when they search for "youtube uk" (presumably some UK version of the site?) so I wasn't surprised at the very low CTRs I was getting given my result had demographic in its title (not that I looked into it that much as I wasn't that bothered about it as a search terms).

      The collapse in the WMT graph hasn't changed the traffic level much - but the CTR was so low that's not surprising.

      What's so surprising is that the WMT data seems to be junk. I was in position 6-10 for the whole period - but impressions collapsed from 40,000 a day to under 1,000, even though search volumes for the term didn't change.

      The other alternative is that the data is accurate - after the date of the change, I was in position 6-10 for 2.5% of the time, and not shown at all the under 97.5% of the time. This would make the graph accurate - but it's not behaviour I've noticed before (I could see some logic to it - low CTR Google decides my page isn't relevant so stops showing it most of the time - but shows it a few times, just in case). Er, I've never heard anyone say Google works like that though!!

    • rishil says:

      I love the term "Pinocchio SEO" Andy! (p.s please come back to twitter!)

      @malcolm - personally I have given up trying to really make sense of Google supplied data apart from analytics - its highly unreliable and unrealitic in my opinion. I just stick to gut feel...

  • Gareth says:

    I agree with @rishil here, it's just Google giving random nonsense data. Just like it does with its keyword tools.

  • Jim Banks says:

    Average position went from 7.0 to 9.9 and that might have thrown you off the cliff of the first page while they experimented with other universal search gizmos or something and as we know anything off the first page is a waste of time.

    Someone else got your impressions I am guessing.

    Results are much more real time since Caffeine, so to see that swing so quickly is not that unusual.

  • Ahem, someone just pointed out that there's a space in the second "youtube uk". If I look at the data for the 12 July for "youtube uk" (which is what the first graph is), it's:
    Position in search results
    2nd page 170
    3rd page + 28
    So that would explain it - the page has just vanished from the results.

    But that makes little sense as I still see it top of page 2 with personalised search turned off.

    I am going for a lie down.

  • I saw it at the bottom of page 1. I was told by an online editor of my acquaintance that Google search depends on a host of things, not least of which is browsing history – so you can look for the same thing with the same search string on different machines and the results will fluctuate quite a bit.

  • So now you know what does that mean to you and how do you feel about the massive increase in Google's WMT 'Links to your Site' Data?

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