Beware automated reports from Search Analytics data

Beware automated reports from Search Analytics data

Hot Spring, PNG

Like most professionals, I make extensive use of automated reporting. Life is too short to waste it repeatedly pulling numbers from here and there and manipulating them manually. However those reports are for me, not my clients. I may sometimes extract some charts or tables and include them in my report to my client. But I never automate sending reports to my clients.

Automated bearer of good news

One of the nice things about these reports is they can quickly compare, say, last month with the month before. You can see at a glance that your client’s site has changed its Average Position (ranking) from 100 to 5.

Naturally you’d like to share that success with your client. So you might be tempted to immediately forward the report to your client.

But is it really time to party?

The dangers of automated reports

Whenever I see very good (or bad!) news in an automated report, I always dig deep until I understand what is really going on. Until then, I won’t report to the client. After all, understanding what’s really happening and what to do about it is what they’re paying me for.

In the case of a big change in ranking, the first thing I look at is the number of Impressions. Often that will point me in the right direction.

In the cases where the website’s position has moved from something like 100 to 5, the Impressions have sometimes dropped from say 10,000 to 30; the status has definitely changed, but the change is not obviously for the better.

So is it good news?

Now I need to dig further. I start by looking at the search terms the website is no longer being suggested for, what the competitors have been doing, and sources such as Google Trends and Analytics (if the impressions did generate clicks).

The causes I’ve found in the past are varied. The more common include:

  • the relevant search terms have suddenly lost popularity, according to Google Trends

  • the search terms the website used to be displayed for were not relevant, and Google is now displaying the website for relevant searches only

  • something on the website is seriously broken, and Google is no longer indexing all pages

What could have happened

If this automated report was shared with my client immediately, the client is likely to have seen the position improvement and celebrated. Until traffic and sales or website leads dropped off, at which point I would have had some explaining to do.

Good thing I didn’t immediately share the report.

What did happen

When the problem was related to Google’s access to the website, this gave us early warning and we were able to get the issue fixed quickly.

When the change was associated with a major change in Google’s understanding of the website, first we celebrated, then we got back to work. Being displayed a small number of times for the right searches can be the first step to being displayed a large number of times for the right searches. Both options are better than being displayed a large number of times for completely irrelevant searches. So the change showed we were heading in the right direction, but still had a way to go. I give an example of this in How a drop in Google Ranking can be good.

I haven’t found a way to increase the popularity of specific search terms, though I imagine a client with a big enough budget could do so. So far, drops in impressions caused by a lack of searches has usually been season-based. The obvious solution has been to continue what we were doing anyway: increasing the range of relevant search terms the website ranks for, but with a stronger focus on non-seasonal (or "other-seasonal") terms.

Author: Anne Jessel

Categories: rankingsearch-consolesearch-analyticsgoogleseo