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How to get good keywords from GWT

Warning! Google’s Webmaster Tools might not be as reliable as you thought! As seasoned SEOs, you’re probably well aware of that, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about it does it?

This article is about how to get good keywords from GWT, which is naturally a good idea! Google is still the target we all want to bullseye, so we have to take note of what scraps of information filter down to us. It helps enormously if we can pinpoint the things that are a waste of time before we invest our precious time in them and hopefully this article will help you get there.

This experiment used GWT’s API to extract a number of keywords for a particular site and compared them against the keywords extracted from GWT using a Python script. The results were different enough for all the SEOs I know to sit up and really listen!

A broad figure: using the API, we retrieved 128 keyword suggestions. Of these, 6 were rated relevant to the website for a hit rate of just under 5%. Less than 1 in 20 suggestions, apparently based upon data, were of any use to practical SEO. This result does not bode well for those relying blindly upon Google’s data.

In comparison, we modified Google’s Python script to download GWT Search Query data. This script didn’t use keyword suggestions but rather provided n-grams based upon what people searched for that was provided by the site. Curiously, we found slightly more suggestions (133 in total) but far more relevant ones – 51 in total for a hit rate of over 38%. 

Why this jump from less than 5% to almost 40% using the “same” data? That’s a much longer story and we’re not sure how it ends yet. As soon as we do, we’ll be posting. For now though, it seems that using our Python script to get keyword suggestions is a better option.

Final notes: Yes this was just one site and the plural of anecdote is not data so we tried with 3 client’s sites by taking the 50 best placed keywords (greatest number of impressions) from our Python script and the highest search volumes from GWT’s API.

These results imply that GWT is good for keyword suggestions but not if you use the standard Google Webmaster Tools API.

In a later blog post we’ll also explain how you can modify Google’s Python Script to download more specific search query, impressions and ranking data. In the future, we’ll pull some of this data automatically into our platform for you.

We only checked through 50 because frankly, we’re up to our eyes in creating some cool things like a keyword suggestion tool, localised SEO tools, natural language processing things, page level optimisation, and how you can tell if a link is relevant or not to your site. All this SEO goodness takes time to make.

We’d be ecstatic if you’d help and send us your data to confirm, deny or even confuse the issue more. We’re not a massive corporate like Google so we don’t have the resources to do cool research without the help of interested folk like yourselves. If you’re in, contact us here.

3 Comments

  • @Alan

    Although I appreciate that identifying the most important keywords to target is one of the primary exercise a good SEO should do, from your article it appears you don’t know what GWT is all about.

    Google Webmaster Tools is not a forecasting tool nor a tool it can be used to pick up keyword suggestions at all.

    What is available it the Optimization > “Content Keywords” panel is infact the results of the keywords Google inferred from your site after the crawling process.
    The more a keywords is used the more you can see the significance bar increasing, thus giving you a sense of what Google understand of your site and giving you chance of further optimization.

    Hence, you cannot use the panel for any “keyword suggestions” whatsoever rather than take action is a particular keyword you were after is not there.

    Perhaps you may be interested in reading John Mu answer here http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/webmasters/ybXOdSdijhg which cover the topic and similarly take the time to read through the official GWT documentation to better understand what’s the numbers you are dealing with. Guide is here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96568

    With regards the different results you got from the API and the Python script I cannot really say anything at present as I don’t see the script, but it sounds odd to me.

    • I think the point Alan is making is that the official Google Webmaster Tools Data API is not very useful and the list of keywords they provide in their official API is not nearly as useful for keyword research as the list of keywords you can get if you modify Google’s Python script to download Search Query keywords from your GWT account directly.

      You can use the Google Webmaster Tools Data API to:

      View a list of sites in your account
      Add and remove sites from your account
      Verify site ownership
      Modify site settings
      Retrieve a list of the keywords Google has found on your site
      Submit and delete Sitemaps
      Manage messages sent to your account by Google via the Message Center in Webmaster Tools
      Retrieve a list of issues Google discovered while crawling your site

      https://developers.google.com/webmaster-tools/docs/2.0/developers_guide

      But if you want to get more useful keywords from Google Webmaster Tools then you should use Google’s Python script to download your search query data (until such time as Google adds it to its official API).

      http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2011_12_01_archive.html

  • My critic first:
    the article says keyword data fetched from the GWT API are not good for keyword suggestions…

    …but misses the point that keywords feed (ref. https://developers.google.com/webmaster-tools/docs/2.0/reference#Feeds_keywords ) is the API equivalent of “GWT->Optimization->Content keywords”, which merely is a list of words encountered during the crawling process (ref. http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35255 )
    It’s not meant as a keyword suggestion tools (they are single-words already present in the pages), but more a quick way to check in case your site were hacked.
    The ratios calculated for the GWT API can be anything, depending on how targeted (or keyword stuffed) site content is.

    The article itself in turn points exactly to GWT as a good source of keywords data, via the TopQueries report – which actually shows keyphrases used by searchers – so it’s not even correct to imply the article points out GWT data is not reliable.

    Secondly:
    I find interesting trying to build a keyword suggestion tools using GWT data. Unfortunately, reported data is too little (233 suggestions) to understand the tool goodness; it should imho also fetched across various sites from different industries. I understand sorting the hits is probably a manual process for you now, but could at least be assisted by a dictionary-based tool.

    Regards

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Anna

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