How to Interpret Ranks As Reported by Google Webmaster Tools

Being an SEO is also about a lot of patience and persistence. I mean, checking ranks over and over again on various search engines and recording them on spreadsheets, tracking them on a historical basis.. all these need a lot of patience, right?

Anyways, what I wanted to discuss today was the idea of reporting and interpreting ranks on Google’s own Webmaster Tools platform. I love Webmaster’s Tools for various reasons and one of the top reasons is the fact that, it credits my websites for ranks against keywords that are.. well, actually not existing.

And I’m not trying to say its a bad thing or anything, its just that I found it interesting.

Because all those sophisticated tools that you use for rank tracking can fail, but Google Webmasters Tool stands a class apart by one, reporting keywords that you don’t rank in a real world scenario and two, by reporting keywords that you’ll not find providing traffic on any other analytics platform.

Let me try and sound a little more positive here.

The point is, Google Webmaster Tools does great job of reporting search queries but its a little different from how your rank tools would report data.

For instance, GWT will report a particular keyword at Average Position 8 while you might not find your site on Position 8 for that keyword on Google. This doesn’t mean that GWT is wrong.


Here’s why. (My own hypothesis. Could be wrong, could be right.)

1. Google Webmaster Tools reports the average ranking when your site appears in search results, not your overall rank.

Proof: GWT Help

The Search Queries page provides information about Google Web Search queries that have returned pages from your site.

2. Personalization and other parameters might not have been considered while reporting.

So, when it says rank no.8, it does not mean average of all SERPs  across all regions, domains, and personalized results. It only means the average top position of your website for those queries in which your site showed up.

Source: GWT Help

To calculate average position, we take into account the top ranking URL from your site your site for a particular query. For example, if Jane’s query returns your site as the #1 and #2 result, and David’s query returns your site in positions #2 and #7, your average top position would be 1.5.

3. Sample data is limited and/or contains personalized results.

I’m assuming that when Google says average position 8, it means average position in X number of impressions and X number of clicks.

Proof: In the above screenshot, note how Google says that this site has an average position of 8.0 for the keyword “google images”. Well, this site doesn’t rank for that keyword on Google, at least not in the first two pages.

So, how did this happen?

Dig further.

If you look at the Impressions and Clicks data, it shows that there were only less than 10 of each. So, I’m assuming that the average position here means in 9 impressions, and that too on a personalized search result “probably”.

I’ve seen this trend for most of other keywords too, which are generally broad search terms.


So, the idea is that, average positions mentioned in GWT against search queries, are based on fewer samples and doesn’t come from a “global” scenario. It is only a sample data collected from personalized SERPs. And “search queries” does not necessarily mean “keywords”.

So when Google reports your site as Avg. Position 2 for a search query “Google”, that does not mean that your site ranks number two for the keyword Google. It only means that your site showed up X number of times for a search query which was related to or contained the word “Google” and your site showed up against that search query – on a personalized search result page – at an average position of 2.

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Mani Karthik

I can talk about Marketing and SEO all day long. Passionate about blogging, SEO & Online marketing. Perpetual learner.

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