Google Search Console vs Google Analytics (2017 Edition)

Russ Jones at Moz recently came out with an article around the reliability of Google Search Console data – listing examples of where they had tested some of the platform’s features versus what they saw as the realities. It’s a really interesting read, and it poses the question whether SEOs should even be using the data from Search Console if we aren’t getting the correct information from the tool in question. I am an extensive user of Google Search Console, but also use other tools to validate the work that I do, so reading Russ’ article really does pose many questions.

However, in this article, I am purely going to focus on the aspect around the reliability of Google Search Analytics data – the part of the tool that provides web owners with what I consider to be highly valuable keyword data. I am going to keep things really simple, and will compare Google Analytics session data with Google Search Console click data.

Comparing Sessions and Clicks

If we take Google’s article on comparing AdWords data with Analytics data, then comparing these two metrics, Sessions and Clicks, they will never match 100%, as the two metrics are calculated differently. And that’s just from an AdWords click and Google Search Analytics click comparison, not an Google Organic Click perspective. I think it is safe to assume that PPC Clicks and Organic Clicks might be measured similarly in nature, but perhaps there might be more filtering in PPC to remove fraudulent clicks etc. Either way, comparing Search Analytics Clicks to Google Analytics Sessions, should show a fairly close correlation between the two data sets.

In short:

  • Google Analytics Sessions data records when a user enters a site, but the browser must first download the Google Analytics JavaScript file, then that must be interpreted by the browser. A session also lasts for 30 minutes, so if a user does a search, lands on a site, then does the same search again, and lands on the same page, then that counts as 1 session.
  • Google Search Console records a click whenever a click is conducted on a listing in the search results – pretty straight forward. Unlike sessions, there are no 30 minute timers, and a Click is classifed as multiple clicks, if even from the same person. From this, you’d expect any data in Google Search Analytics to be higher than Google Analytics.

Source: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7042828#click

Examples of high correlations

First comparison – a relatively low volume page: 

I decided to pick and compare a page with a low click count, as Russ mentioned that in their tests, they did analysis that looked at a small website, and what they did was they got people to search for a random term from which they had created a page to support a random query that they had invented.

In this instance, I’ve picked a page that gets on average 70 clicks per day. You can see from the example below that the traffic trend matches quite closely the number of clicks and sessions – even when using different metrics:

GSC v GA example 1 Google Search Console vs Google Analytics (2017 Edition)

Date range for the above: 1st of January, 2017 – 29th of January, 2017

If we take a look at the overall figures for the month from organic search, Google Analytics reported 2,067 Sessions and Google Search Analytics had reported 2,043 Clicks – a difference of only 24. If we trust the Google Analytics data, I’d say that the Google Search Analytics data is pretty accurate.

ClicksSessionsDifference
GSC vs GA2,043

2,067
24

Second comparison – a large volume page: 

So this page is much larger than the page listed above, and gets on average around 600 clicks per day according to Google Search Analytics. However, as you can see in the graph below, the discrepancies between the two data sets are much, much larger.

GSC v GA example 3 1 Google Search Console vs Google Analytics (2017 Edition)Date range for the above: 1st of January, 2017 – 29th of January, 2017

The differences in this instance are much, much larger, but still, the data follows a similar trend to the Google Analytics sessions. It could be the case that with the metrics being vastly different and with the bigger data pool for this page that any differences are amplified. Or it could be that the limitation with Google Search Console is the fact that we only get the top 1,000 keywords within the platform. Outside of the top 1,000 adds keywords, the additional Clicks could be made up to see the missing data/gap we are seeing in the above?

Conclusions

So it appears in one case, for a low volume page, I am able to get an almost perfect correlation and match with  Clicks and Sessions, with the GA and GSC data, whilst with the larger volume page, the correlation is still high in terms of the trend matching, but there is a vast gap between GSC Clicks and GA Sessions data, but there maybe completely legitimate reasons for this.

Whether Google are filtering out large amounts of data might be where things are causing issues with the data, but that clearly wasn’t a problem with the first example, but there appeared to be issues with the second example.

In terms of Impressions, I’ve yet to work on this, but I may take what PPC Impressions we receive for a branded term and compare that with what we see in Google Search Console. Stay tuned!

Author: Jonathan Jones

I first first started creating websites back in 2005. This led me to creating a free web hosting business in 2007, which still exists today. I ventured into creating types of websites such as blogs and forums using Wordpress, vBulletin, Invision Power Board, Drupal and Joomla. I've since worked on some of the leading brands in the UK finance sector, in the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) field, and now work for MoneySuperMarket, the #1 price comparison website in the UK. Social: Google+ and Twitter.

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