Google Webmaster Tools: Search Traffic

Google Webmaster Tools: Search TrafficFollowing Thijs’ article on Search Appearance in Google Webmaster Tools, I wanted to talk to you today about the second section: Search Traffic. Although the common thread is search traffic, the subsection deal with a lot of different topics like search queries and links.

In this article, we will explain all that can be found in these subsections.

Search Queries

Ever since Google started using SSL back in 2011, us webmasters find that annoying ‘keyword not provided’ in our Google Analytics stats. Google created an ‘alternative’ in an “aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools.” I’m under the impression this isn’t limited to the top 1,000 anymore (see screenshot below, which shows 9,142 queries) and it’s up to 90 days if I am not mistaken.

Google Webmaster Tools: Search Queries

Google Webmaster Tools: Search Queries


The interesting thing is that if we click the ‘With Change’ button right above the bottom table, we can actually see how traffic changed, and perhaps more importantly, how clicks from Google to the pages listed at ‘Query’ changed over time. Depending on the time span you select in the upper right corner, you could actually use this to test meta descriptions and titles.

Note that a number of things can also be found in Google Analytics, but these results can be filtered on Image search, Mobile search, Image search and Video search. But also on location, which will come in handy for people targeting domestic or specific markets abroad. The mobile filter, with more and more traffic being from mobile devices, is of course very interesting to keep a keen eye on – what are these specific people looking for? And are these pages optimized for mobile?

Right below the title in that screenshot (Search Queries), we find a second tab, “Top Pages”. It is similar, but instead of the search keyword, this page shows the URLs of your most visited pages. Always ask yourself if the pages that top that list are also the pages you want to rank for. If not, it could be necessary to get back to the drawing board and create a new site structure around these pages. That way you can leverage the rankings of these pages for the rest of your website. As mentioned, there is overlap with Google Analytics. The main difference is the absence of ‘keyword not provided’ ;-)

Links to Your Site

This section in Google Webmaster Tools provides what the title says: information on links to your website. It’s divided into three sections:

Google Webmaster Tools: Links to Your Site

Google Webmaster Tools: Links to Your Site


It’s a logical threesome: which websites links our content, what content is linked the most and what anchor / link texts are used the most.

Interesting to see Pinterest bringing in the most traffic, right. For our regular readers: yes, we used this example in our Social marketing post as well. But now Tumblr has even gone above Google traffic. In this case, social is the new Google.

For this site, it’s clear that the domain name is used the most as an anchor text, which is quite common. The second one is a general ‘visit site’, but in the top 25 of Anchor texts, 17 of the first 25 were along the lines of ‘the 50 best’, ’15 healthy ..’ and lists like that. For this specific site, that really seems to work and of course we would encourage them to create more lists like that. See for yourself what anchors are often used, it will probably give you a general idea of what kind of posts work / should be written for your website.

Of course this is also emphasized by the most linked content.

Google Webmaster Tools: Linked pages

Google Webmaster Tools: Linked pages


This is also interesting: 30K+ links from 43 domains, that probably means some ‘site wide’ links (links on every page of a website). In that case, it might pay to do some further investigating in tools like MajesticSEO or OpenLinkProfiler (of course there are more tools like that). Find the side wide links and see if you can improve that backlink, for instance by being linked in articles as well, instead of just in a sidebar. That will improve the quality of the link (not the traffic, per se).

Internal Links

On a lot of (WordPress) sites, most internal links will go to tag and (product) category pages. That seems to make sense. This section tells you if I am right about this. In one of the projects we worked on, we found this:

Google Webmaster Tools: Internal Links

Google Webmaster Tools: Internal Links


Everything about it is odd :) Why is that one tag page getting excessive internal links? This might be the case when you have just started tagging your products and this is the first category you have used for this. That should mean this list looks a lot different in a few weeks.

The second odd thing is that Google tells us a .htm page is linked from 76 pages. Luckily, Google Webmaster Tools allows you to find that page using the search bar at the top of this page. It will tell you what pages link to it (you can also click the blue link in the table, by the way):

Google Webmaster Tools: Links to a specific page

Google Webmaster Tools: Links to a specific page


Somewhere on that site, there seems to be a remainder of an old site (current pages don’t have that .htm extension). The page at hand actually returns a 404 page, unfortunately, so this is something that should be looked into. Another reason to make sure to check Google Webmaster Tools on a regular basis.

Manual Actions

Let’s hope this section is totally empty for you. The best message here is “No manual webspam actions found.”. Google uses this section in Google Webmaster Tools to tell you what ‘penalties’ your website has received from the friendly people at Google. This isn’t a bad thing. In our ongoing quest for better websites (did I mention our site reviews in this post already?), the quality of a website is very important. The goal of a website should always be to serve the visitor the best information or products in the best possible way, and preferably Google should be one of these visitors. The visitor comes first. If you find a manual webspam action here, Google found something that doesn’t serve your visitor. There are a number of flavors:

  • Unnatural links
    Make sure from and to your site are valuable, not just for SEO. Preferably your links come from and link to related content that is valuable for your readers. Another unnatural link is a link that is from a detected link network.
  • Hacked
    A message stating your site’s probably hacked by a third party. Google might label your site as compromised or lower your rankings.
  • Hidden redirects
    Links to for instance affiliate sites that you have hidden using a redirect (f.i. cloaking) Cloaking and ‘sneaky’ redirects are a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Thin content
    If your website is flooded by low quality content, for instance duplicate content or pages with little to no text, Google will value your website lower.
  • Hidden text
    Back in the days this worked very well: white text on a white background, stuffed with keywords you wanted to rank for. Well, Google got smarter and will find that text. Again: write for your visitor, not for Google.
  • Plain Spam
    Again, you’re not following Google’s guidelines. Automatically generated content, scraped content and aggressive cloaking could be the reason Google considers your website pure spam.
  • Spammy freehosts
    If the majority of the sites that are on the same server as yours are considered spammy, the entire server might be blacklisted. And yes, your site might non-intentionally suffer from this as well. Make sure to choose the right hosting company.
  • Spammy structured markup
    If you use rich snippets for too many irrelevant elements on a page, or mark up content that is hidden to the visitor, that might be considered spammy. Mark up what’s necessary, and not everything is necessary.

All these things are unnatural optimization or a sign of low quality. Luckily Google provides information on recommended actions via Webmaster Tools. However, these might be lengthy processes and take some hard work from your site. But hey, you were impatient and wanted that quick win.

In conclusion: prevent any messages from turning up in this Manual Actions section.

International Targeting

If you are running an international company, chances are your website is available in multiple languages. Although there is more than one way to this, the best way is to set up different sites per top-level domain and link these websites using a hreflang tag. Alternatives would be telling Google this via a sitemap or your HTTP headers. In this section, Google Webmaster Tools tells you if the implementation is correct.

Besides that, and often overlooked, you can actually select a geographical target audience here, on the second tab Country:

Google Webmaster Tools: International Targeting

Google Webmaster Tools: International Targeting


If your business solely focuses on one country, why not tell Google that, right?

Mobile Usability

I could go on and on about Mobile Usability / User Experience. Mobile traffic is really important for a lot of websites and Google does a nice job emphasizing that to us webmasters. In Google PageSpeed Insights, there is a mobile UX section, as there is in Google Webmaster Tools:

Google Webmaster Tools: Mobile Usability

Google Webmaster Tools: Mobile Usability


Webmaster Tools won’t only tell you what is wrong, but also on how many and which pages these errors occur (just click the double arrow on the right next to the error).

In my opinion, most mobile errors that are highlighted here can be fixed with just a tad bit of knowledge of CSS.

Want to know more about Google Webmaster Tools?

As mentioned, we’ll be going over Webmaster Tools in a series of articles. This is only article number two, so please stay tuned and visit our website frequently to find out all there is to know.

If you have any additions to this section of Google Webmaster Tools, like alternative ways to look at this data, or combine it with other reports in Google Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics, we are very much looking forward to your thoughts. Any insightful additions might be used in future posts, of course! Thanks in advance.

This post first appeared as Google Webmaster Tools: Search Traffic on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!