Guide to Google Analytics and Google Search Console Integration
In May 2016, Google upgraded the integration between Google Analytics and Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
Search Console integration has existed in Google Analytics since late 2011. However the Search Engine Optimization report only let us to see query, impression and click data from Search Console from the Google Analytics interface. There was no way to combine that information with Google Analytics data.
Now with the upgraded integration, Search Console and Google Analytics data can be viewed side-by-side, giving us some visibility into what keywords are leading to what behavior on the site.
This guide will discuss how to connect Search Console and Google Analytics and how to use and interpret these new reports.
What is Google Search Console?
Previously known as “Google Webmaster Tools”, Google Search Console is a free service provided by Google that allows webmasters to see information about how Google is indexing and displaying their sites in the search results.
The Search Analytics report shows which queries returned which pages from your site, how many times those results were seen and how many times they were clicked on.
Setting Up Google Search Console
In order to get access to Google Search Console, you have to verify that you own your site or “property” with Google.
A property in Google can be a domain, a subdomain or a particular path of a site. Depending on which URL you verify, you will get different levels of access to a site’s data.
Verifying http://www.example.com verifies the http version of the entire www subdomain. If you support both www and non-www versions of the site (which you shouldn’t – this is a big SEO no no! Pick one and redirect to it), you would need to add both example.com and www.example.com separately.
You can also set a preferred domain (www or non-www) under “Site Settings”, though you typically need to verify ownership of both the www and non-www versions.
Verifying http://www.example.com/username/ verifies the /username directory. This means you would have access to data for all content starting with that path. For example www.example.com/username/about-me would be included, but www.example.com/another/ would not.
If you support both http and https versions of your site you will need to add them both separately.
There are a range of ways you can verify ownership. Search Console typically states their “preferred” method as DNS, as it’s not tied to your site’s code or hosting. However it’s not uncommon (especially in large organizations) for DNS records to be tightly controlled within the IT department. Some of the other verification methods are often easier to execute.
If you’re reading this article it’s likely that you already have Google Analytics set up on your site. You can verify site ownership using your Google Analytics account provided that:
- You have “edit” permissions to your Google Analytics account
- Your Google Analytics snippet is the asynchronous version and placed in the <head> tag (many developers still place it incorrectly at the bottom of the page, which was best practice for the old synchronous snippet, but not the new asynchronous version)
Google Analytics must be installed directly and not via a tag manager. If you are using Google Tag Manager you should verify ownership using your container tag and not Google Analytics (see below).
Google Tag Manager
Verifying ownership via Tag Manager works essentially the same way as Google Analytics. The container snippet must be installed on the page and you must have “manage” permissions for the site’s Tag Manager container.
HTML file upload
You can also verify ownership by uploading an HTML file that contains a verification code.
After downloading this file you need to upload it to your site so that it is accessible directly from the root.
Remember not to remove this file as verification is rechecked periodically.
The HTML tag method is a useful option for some content management systems that let you add custom meta tags. For instance, there are many SEO plugins in WordPress that let you add the verification tag to your site.
Note that Search Console forces you to copy the entire tag, even if your CMS or plugin requests only the verification code found in the “content” parameter. In this case, paste the entire tag into a text editor and then copy the content parameter to insert into the CMS field.
DNS verification is the preferred method as it isn’t dependent on your website, hosting or another dependency to implement. It’s essentially highest level of ownership you can have for a website.
Search console provides customized instructions for multiple domain name providers (as most people aren’t familiar with manipulating DNS records), but every one is achieving the same thing – adding a TXT record to your DNS records that will look something like this:
If you have access to your DNS, you should use this method. It is far less likely you will lose access due to an error (like your site being down or a snippet accidentally being deleted). If you don’t have direct access, make nice with your IT department and see if they can do it for you.
You can also verify with one of the other methods and then come back and reverify with DNS once the record is added.
Connecting Google Analytics and Google Search Console
Once you have both Google Analytics and Google Search Console set up, you can link the two services.
In Google Analytics, go to the Admin Tab
Select the target analytics account and property
Click Property Settings
Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click Adjust Search Console
If you already have an association set up, you will see it listed here. To add or change the association, click the Edit link.
You will be taken to a page within Search Console that gives you a list of your properties. Check the radio button next to the property you want to link to Google Analytics. Remember you may have multiple versions of your site (www and non-www for instance), but you will want to select the primary version of the site. If you’re unsure, go to Search Console and check the Search Analytics report for each property. Select the property with more data (queries, impressions, clicks, etc) in this report.
Click Save. A confirmation dialog will appear asking whether you want to Add association. Click OK.
Now head back to Google Analytics and you can access the Search Console reports under the Acquisition Tab.
Using the Google Analytics Search Console Report
Search Console integration provides four reports within Google Analytics.
The Landing Page, Countries and Devices reports merge the Search Console dimensions Impressions, Clicks, CTR and Average Position with the Google Analytics dimensions Sessions, Bounce Rate, Pages/Session and the Conversion metrics of Goal Completions, Goal Value and Goal Conversion Rate for either all or specific goals.
The Queries report provides direct access to Search Console query data.
Landing Page Report
The Landing Page report joins Search Console and Google Analytics data by landing page.
The Search Console data represents the aggregate Impressions, Clicks, and Position data across all the keywords for a particular page.
If we click on one of the landing pages, we will be taken to a detail view which will show us all of the keyword-level data for that particular page:
We get this oddly shaped table because the Google Analytics data is only available at the landing page level. It is, however, helpful to have this data as a reference when looking at the query-level data.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to attribute website behavior to individual queries, but if our landing pages are sufficiently targeted, we can get a sense of themes and intents that drove that traffic, and how that traffic as a whole performed.
Similarly, the Countries report gives Search Console and Google Analytics data joined by the country of the visitor.
Clicking on any country will take you the Landing Page view, but now focused on traffic just from that country.
The Devices report joins Search Console and Google Analytics data by the Device Category of the user – either desktop, mobile or tablet.
Clicking on a particular Device Category will take you to a Landing Page view showing the top landing pages filtered by the selected device.
The query report gives an overall list of all search queries with Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Average Position. It does not provide any Google Analytics data as visits are not tracked at the keyword level.
Why do Search Console clicks and GA sessions not match up?
One of the first things you will probably notice about your Search Console reports is that the number of clicks from Search Console don’t match the number of sessions from Google Analytics.
There are several reasons for this inconsistency which we will discuss, but it is firstly important to remember that data from various tools almost never line up exactly. Different tools use different measurement, sampling, filtering and data processing. This doesn’t mean that any of them are “wrong”, they are just measuring slightly differently.
Note: many of the explanations that exist online for this were written before the new integration and might make mention of issues like Search Console reporting traffic to PDFs and images that don’t show up in Google Analytics. In the case of the Search Console report within Google Analytics though (with the exception of the Queries report), we are only matching Search Console data with their counterpart dimensions in Google Analytics, so many of these common explanations don’t apply.
Here I focus on the most likely explanations for discrepancies seen within Google Analytics and Search Console integrated data.
Sessions vs Clicks
Sessions and clicks are very different metrics.
Search Console Clicks is fairly straightforward. It is the number of people who click on a search result to come to your site. Google Analytics Sessions on the other hand are visits tracked by the GA snippet, which might be a single page view or several page views and events that occur within the session timeout limit of each other.
If the GA snippet doesn’t fire or the user leaves before this happens, a session might not be counted. Conversely, sessions may be over-counted if the session timeout is set too low or there is high incidence of behavior like keeping tabs open and coming back to them (often coupled with event tracking – more on this later).
Filters and Bots
Search Console and Google Analytics both (GA optionally) try to filter out bots. But these filters are different and may skew numbers one way or another.
Google Analytics assigns source attribution based on the last non-direct visit. So if someone comes to your site from Google and then returns multiple times via a bookmark, by typing in the URL, or via untagged email or app links (for instance, visits to untagged links on Facebook via the mobile app which opens a new browser window that to Google Analytics looks like a direct visit), these will all have source attributed to Google.
Clicks Higher than Sessions
Most likely people are leaving before analytics is firing.
Make sure that your GA snippet is in the <head> of the page (not the footer!!) and if you’re using a non-standard way of implementing analytics like Google Tag Manager, make sure you test it thoroughly to see if it’s firing as soon as the page is loaded.
Even a delay of a second or two can cause a big discrepancy on pages with a high bounce rate – which slower pages tend to have already.
Sessions Higher than Clicks
Most likely the session count is being updated. While Search Console isn’t perfect, if you have a significantly higher number of sessions appear from Google/Organic in GA than you do clicks in Search Console, the problem is probably on the analytics side.
In my experience this is most often caused by the session timeout setting.
Sessions encompass all page views or events that are within, by default, 30 minutes of each other.
So if I go to example.com at 1:05pm and navigate to example.com/about/ at 1:10pm, that’s still one session, but if I leave the page open in a tab and go have lunch, then come back at 2pm and click on example.com/contact-us/, that will be a new session.
This is important, because some types of content can dramatically increase your Session count. For instance, our free rank checker tool is the kind of content that might be left open in a tab for a long time. Users come back to the page long after they first opened it to use the tool again. Because we track interaction with the tool with GA events, we end up with an inflated session count from that page (we use some other analytics tools and multiple GA profiles to adjust for this).
Integrating Google Search Console to Google Analytics provides a convenient way to view SERP performance data with web analytics. And while it shouldn’t be your only source of ranking and SEO performance data, it does give a baseline level of information that all SEOs and web masters will find useful.