3 reasons why you should never use Google Search Console for SEO (but always use its API data)

In this Google Search Console review, you will discover three important shortcomings of the online version of Google Search Console and learn how surprisingly easy it is to overcome them with the right tool.

Google Search Console Review

Google Search Console review

Without any doubt, Google Search Console is an indispensable tool in any webmaster’s arsenal. No wonder Google named it Webmaster Tools, at first (only to rename it to Search Console, later).

For one, it’s the only direct communication channel (if you can call it that) we have to Google. Whenever Google identifies a problem with your site, you will get a message in the Search Console.

Inside the Search Console, you can also see if Google understands your structured data, see if there are errors in your rich cards, which pages are indexed, which pages return crawl errors, and much, much more.

But, perhaps the most valuable part of Google Search Console is the Search Analytics section, because it is the only official source of Google ranking data.

Out of all the Google tools and sources, only Search Console gives you detailed information about the search queries your website is ranking for (without hiding anything behind “not provided”), the web pages that are ranking, what positions they are ranking in, how many impressions and clicks they get, etc. You can see view this information broken down by 200 countries, 3 search types, 3 device types, etc.

But…

Google Search Console has some serious issues that make seriously impact its value to SEO professionals.

Mystery totals

First, there is this…

Google Search Console Review: Mystery Totals

See the totals above the chart? Cool, eh?!

You are probably thinking that providing totals for clicks, impressions, CTR and average positions, is extremely useful, because it offers a big picture view of the data you are browsing, right?

Well, wrong!

The problem is, the actual data in the data set (below the chart) doesn’t match the totals. In other words, the numbers don’t add up!

You can easily check this for yourself.

Simply download the data by clicking on the Download button, open the data in Excel or other spreadsheet program and then calculate the sum of all the clicks. You get a number that is totally different from the reported total. Sometimes, the difference can be as much as 30% or more.

Google Search Console Review: Totals Excel

In our example, the total showed 934 clicks. Yet, the Excel export counted only 582 clicks.

The Google Search Console API reports the same 582 clicks when aggregating by property:

Google Search Console Review: API by property

It reports 607 clicks when aggregating by page:

Google Search Console Review: API by page

Without further complicating things by discussing the difference between aggregating data by property and by page, let’s just continue with 582 number of clicks.

So, 934 minus 582 is 352 clicks that Google doesn’t report. Where did the 352 clicks (more than a third of the reported total) disappear? Why is there a difference, in the first place? And, which number should you trust (if any)?

Btw, no information obtained via the API, mentions the 934 total.

We asked about this during the official Google Webmasters office hours about it and we also opened a thread in the Google Webmaster Forums. Their response was:

“Very rare queries are not shown in these results to protect the privacy of the user making the query.”

Their support documentation says the same thing:

“To protect user privacy, Search Analytics doesn’t show all data. For example, we might not track some queries that are made a very small number of times or those that contain personal or sensitive information.”

If true, it means Google is arbitrarily removing certain search queries from the reported data without providing any supporting information. If false, this is a bug that Google knows about and refuses to fix.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear: you cannot trust the totals shown in Google Search Console. Instead, you should always work with the detailed data set.

And, as you will see later… ideally, this data is obtained via the Google Search Console API.

Limit of 1000 rows

Now, imagine you manage a very popular website that is getting thousands of visitors per day. Or, that you want to check all search queries your site ranked for during the past one month.

If the total number of search queries is more than 1000, you are out of luck and your data will be skewed.

Google Search Console will show you only 1000 rows per request.

“This table holds a maximum of 1,000 rows; additional data is truncated for space reasons.”

Downloading the data will not help. The spreadsheet will be “truncated for space reasons”, too.

There is a workaround that involves filtering your data query by day, country, landing page, etc. — basically, cutting up the entire data set into smaller chunks, while hoping the total for each part will be less than 1000 rows of data — then downloading each separate data set and combining all downloads in one Excel sheet.

However, there is a much easier way: pulling data via the Google Search Console API.

The Google Search Console API raises the limit of data rows per request to 5000. So, you are able to retrieve up to 5 times more data via the API. Furthermore, you are able to repeat requests 200 per minute.

Take a look how we take advantage of this in Search Console Helper:

The online version of Google Search Console reports 20,653 total clicks for the same page as in previous example, only this time, it’s over the period of 1 month.

Google Search Console Review: 1000 rows limit

Since we already know that this total is not supported by the actual provided data, let’s download the data and open it in a spreadsheet.

Google Search Console Review: 1000 rows Excel

The sum of all clicks over the 1000 rows is 13,691.

Now, let’s check first what data is available via the Google Search Console API, with the same limit of 1000 rows.

Google Search Console Review: 1000 rows API

That’s 13,692 total clicks when aggregating by property. That’s a difference of only 1 click, which is practically the same.

By upping the limit to 5000 rows, however, we get the full data set for this page:

Google Search Console Review: 5000 rows API

That’s 13,725 clicks in 3,399 rows of data. There is no question that this is the full data set.

The lesson here is: always use the Google Search Console API when querying data for your properties, in order to avoid your data tables being truncated.

(Not) matching queries to pages

The issue I’m going to talk about now, drives me nuts more than anything.

In the online version of Google Search Console, you can view either…

1. All pages that match a certain query filter:

Google Search Console Review: Queries Filter

Or…

2. All search queries that match a certain page filter:

Google Search Console Review: Pages Filter

Why don’t you see queries matched to URLs, without the need to set filters and click X number of times, I ask?

Especially, since the Google Search Console API does report matching data. Just take a look at what you get with Search Console Helper:

Google Search Console Review: Matching Queries to Pages

That’s a total of 13,800 clicks in 4,658 rows of data. And, each row shows a query matched to a landing page.

Query data matched to landing page data (or, rather, the lack thereof) is another reason why you should stay away from the online version of Google Search Console. Instead, use Search Console Helper or similar tool that pulls data straight from the Google Search Console API.

90 days of data only

My last problem with Google Search Console is that it shows you data for up to 90 days, only.

So, if you want to do a year-on-year or season-on-season comparisons, you simply can’t.

Search Console Helper, on the other hand, allows you to store locally all retrieved data and to work with it, regardless of the time period.

See, for example, how easy it is to view the last (almost) 6 months of data for the website we featured in the above examples:

Google Search Console Review: Historical Data

Conclusion

There are 3 things you should take from this:

  1. Don’t trust the totals shown in the online version of Google Search Console. Always work with the detailed data set.
  2. Use the Google Search Console API to retrieve full data set for your web properties and to get query data matched to landing page data.
  3. Use Search Console Helper that uses the Google Search Console API to retrieve data, plus allows you to store historical data without any time limit.

1 thought on “3 reasons why you should never use Google Search Console for SEO (but always use its API data)

  1. what about the fact the if you have a search phrase tracked by an seo ranking tool (meaning some sort of boot connected to google api) and you follow the rank on daily basis, that will add up to the total impressions GSC will report for that search phrase.
    That is you yourself by using external auto tracking tools make GSC show a larger number of real (human searchers) impressions for that keywords. While for large search volume search phrases thus might not be meaningful, for the low volume search phrases (10,20,30,50) this can give 3,4 times the number of impressions than the real search volume. because the rank checking boots are counted as impression on each query they make to google, while they are filtered out when google calculates the search volume in the key words planner.
    Any input on that? and how to fix this issue in GSC?

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