seo research

How to do SEO research

This data was originally featured in the July 13, 2022 newsletter found here:

In this week’s Data Diaries, let’s dig beneath the surface of a recent SEO news story. Not too long ago, the folks at AHREFS dropped a bombshell of sorts on the SEO community by showcasing that Google Search Console suppressed up to 46% of search queries. The implication of this story is that we may have a lot more search volume and search topics to work with than Google is telling us about. Let’s walk through how to do SEO research.

Naturally, reading such a headline, we asked ourselves the simple question: is that true? There’s only one way to find out: by checking our own data. As a forewarning, what we’re about to show is our data and therefore applies only to us. Do not interpret it to be a big, grand finding that applies to everyone.

First, we downloaded our keyword data from our AHREFS account for the Trust Insights site (we’re a paying customer). AHREFS data defaults to a 60 day window, with 30 days compared to the prior 30 days.

Next, using Google’s Search Console API, we downloaded our site data for the last 60 days to match AHREFS’ data range.

Now, at this point, you could do a series of VLOOKUPs in Excel if you wanted to match the two; we used R because we can do SQL-like table joins to isolate data quickly and easily. Let’s start by looking at the big picture. For the Trust Insights website, our total keyword universe, the total number of keywords for which we show any impressions or volume at all is 9,946 keywords.

Of that 9,946, how many keywords show up for our website in both tools?

Combined data

We see 745 keywords in both tools, with traffic anywhere from 12 to 50 clicks. Bear in mind AHREFS’ volume is materially different from Google Search Console; it shows the total number of searches for that term on any website, whereas Google Search Console shows the number of times our website appeared for that search term. They’re not apples to apples.

Let’s next look at AHREFS. What do the keywords look like for AHREFS-only queries, keywords that AHREFS is detecting but Google Search Console is not?

AHREFS only data

AHREFS shows a potential volume of 46,000 searches and 36 clicks. The total number of terms AHREFS shows that aren’t in Google Search Console? 524. So, 524 / 9,946 is 5.3%; for our version of the study, we would say AHREFS detected 5.3% of our total keywords that Google Search Console missed, representing 36 clicks.

Let’s look at the inverse. What does Google Search Console detect that AHREFS does not?

Search Console only data

Google Search Console detects 8,677 keywords with a volume of 12,507 searches and 30 clicks. 8,677 / 9,924 is 87%; for our version of the study, we would say Google Search Console detected 87% of the total keywords that AHREFS missed, representing 30 clicks.

Here’s the most important part: what ARE the keywords that Search Console or AHREFS might be missing out on? Let’s take a look at the top 20 in each. First, AHREFS:

AHREFS top 20 keywords

These terms are… not exactly what we want to be known for. In fact, out of 20, only 2 of them are really relevant, the hashtag analytics for Instagram and the IBM CodeNet term. The rest appears to be noise.

What about Search Console?

Search Console top 20 keywords

Many more of these terms are relevant to what Trust Insights wants to be known for.

So what? What do we take away from all this? On the surface, the AHREFS study seems to indicate that Google may be suppressing valuable content, and looking only at the numbers, you could understand that interpretation. However, when we look at the actual keywords AHREFS is detecting that Google isn’t… it’s pretty clear we’re not missing out on anything major. If Google is suppressing garbage for the most part, I think it’s safe to say it’s a feature, not a bug – and a welcome feature at that.

Methodology: Trust Insights extracted data about the domain from AHREFS and Google Search Console. The timeframe of the data is May 13 – July 12, 2022. The date of study is July 13, 2022. Trust Insights is the sole sponsor of the study and neither gave nor received compensation for data used, beyond applicable service fees to software vendors, and declares no competing interests.

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