Google Webmaster Tools is a great service and helps organic search marketers understand the world of Google. We all know that Google could be better but so could a lot of things, so we have to learn to live with the issues Google gives us. This service is now more important than ever because of a major update from Google.
In 2013 Google brought in secure search. This made all search activity encrypted except for clicks on ads. Google said it had been done to give users extra security but this was questionable as if you paid for ads this information would be accessible.
Secure search meant you could no longer use Google Analytics or 3rd party software to see organic keyphrases that people were using to find your site in Google. This had a massive impact on the organic search marketing world. But it was still possible to see what keyphrases people were using through search ads or Webmaster Tools.
The aim of this study is not to place one tool in higher regard than another or to state that one is superior. The reality of the situation is that Google shields us from a lot of data that will go unnoticed due to the limitations inflicted on these tools by Google’s policies. Our aim here is to see just how much data is available to us in Webmaster Tools in comparison to other popular tools such as GA, Moz and MajesticSEO.
The study is limited to only 32 websites that we have access to. If you would like to anonymously contribute data to the study then please use this public Google Spreadsheet.
Throughout the article, Google Analytics will be abbreviated to GA, Webmaster Tools to WT and Majestic SEO to MS for ease.
Also, WT measures clicks and GA measures visits, so to avoid any confusion caused by the differences in names I will refer to both of them as traffic.
Organic Search Traffic
Firstly, I compared the Google organic search traffic of Google Analytics (GA) and Webmaster Tools (WT). I used the same date range but was limited to the last 3 months because of WT.
How often did each tool provide the most traffic?
Firstly, I looked at how often each tool showed the larger amount of traffic for each domain. 60% of the time WT showed a greater amount of traffic than GA. So if you checked 100 sites, 60 of them would have more data in WT and 40 of them would show more data on GA.
This isn’t a great difference and could change either way by reviewing more GA & WT accounts.
What is the % Difference in Traffic?
I then looked at the total amount of traffic each tool was showing for each domain. On average WT showed 50% more traffic than GA . E.g. on average if a site in GA had 10,000 visits then WT would have 15,000 clicks. This shows more of a divide between the tools.
I found that when WT showed the larger amount of traffic it was on average 75% more but when GA showed the larger amount of traffic it was only 18.42% more.
So even though there wasn’t much difference in the previous analysis between WT & GA, you can see in the second analysis that when WT does show a larger amount of traffic it is by a much higher margin.
The set of data that WT provides is ‘Links to your site’. I wanted to compare this with well known link checking tools. The two I selected were MajesticSEO (MS) and Open Site Explorer (Moz).
How often did each tool provide the most referring domains?
I reviewed each site in WT, MS & Moz to see how often each tool provided the most referring domains.
You can see that 86% of the time MS provided the most referring domains for any domain. 14% of the time WT provided the most referring domains and 0% of the time Moz provided the most referring domains.
There isn’t any surprise with MS outperforming the rest, but with WT outperforming Moz, I decided to compare just these two tools to see the difference.
With this report 93% of the time WT provided more referring domains compared with Moz.
What is the % Difference in referring domains?
In the previous experiment MS clearly provides the most referring domains more often and WT provides more referring domains more often than Moz but what is the % difference. e.g. how many more referring domains do they provide.
This graph shows the % difference in the number of referring domains for MS & Moz compared with WT.
It was frustrating when Google encrypted organic search phrases and I didn’t fully understand the reasons behind it. But we have still got Webmaster tools, which has proven that it can provide a broad range of organic search data.
Organic Search Traffic
In conclusion, I think it is fair to say that WT offers us an extensive range of data, often beating Google Analytics in terms of traffic data provided. However, this is not to say that Analytics is made redundant by WT greater spread.
There are a number of reasons as to why WT provides us with a varying amount of traffic:
1) WT tracks clicks not visits, which means slow loading times or faulty loading pages may mean a declining amount of visits in GA.
3) Does not aggregate all data and low search volume phrases don’t show exact figures.
Whilst the research data generally favors WT in terms of sheer quantity of data, what I have not measured is the value. GA has a huge amount of functionality and we haven’t looked at exact keyword traffic.
I have only reviewed the number of referring domains, this could be broken down in a lot more detail to see the quality of results which could be another study in itself. The main purpose of this study was to see how much data we are getting from WT so I have tried to keep to that.
MS is a very detailed link reporting tool and I didn’t think WT would provide as much data but it still has come out strong compared with Moz which is a lot more basic. I would always recommend using MS when reviewing external links but you can’t ignore what WT is telling you as this is coming straight from Google.
During the study I only had access to a limited spread of 35 sites worth of data. For a greater insight into just how much data WT provides us, it is necessary to gather a larger sample of data. To achieve this, I have created a public Google spreadsheet where you can contribute your data and help me to provide a more accurate depiction of WT’s uses. All of the data would remain anonymous and you don’t have to supply domain names.