18 Feb 2011

Keyword Research in Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools Keyword Research

For webmasters trying to rank in Google organic results, it can often feel like you are all on your own with little help and guidance. There are the published Google guidelines and of course the great amounts of SEO blogs where writers can share their knowledge and opinions, but other than that companies and website owners are mostly on their own.

It can be a fine line between optimizing your site correctly, and doing something that you thought would be OK but ultimately Google didn’t like and penalized you for.

Fortunately, there is one medium for communication where webmasters can view data on their website, as seen by Google, and receive notifications to any possible issues on their site. This area is Google Webmaster Tools, and if you are reading this and haven’t yet set up and verified your site, I suggest you go and do this immediately. I’ll wait.

With that now set up, you can see lots of data on your website from links to crawling errors and site performance, but what I am most interested in for this blog post is keywords. There are a couple of areas in Webmaster Tools that can help with your keyword research and onsite optimization, both of which can be found under “Your site on the web” on the left hand navigation.
Google Webmaster Tools Navigation


The first of these sections is aptly named “keywords” and shows you the keywords that Google thinks are important to your website based on the content of your pages.

The first page of data you are shown isn’t necessarily the most accurate; the first term for Vertical Measures is “market”, but you can click down to greater detail for related terms such as “marketing” which is more relevant to our site.

So how can this report help you? Well using this information you can see the words that are repeated most on your website, and how this correlates with the terms you are targeting with SEO. If your most important keyword is hard to find on your site, then you might wish to think about rewriting your website content to make it more prevalent (without keyword stuffing).

Looking at verticalmeasures.com we can see the following top 10 list of words on the site. Obviously market/marketing is important for our business, as is building/link building and SEO. However, more important from this list is what isn’t listed, for example our content marketing or local search services don’t crack the top 20, so we could rewrite our important pages accordingly.

Google Webmaster Tools Top Keywords

You can then drill down this information to see which pages are using these keywords the most, and check that these pages are those you are targeting with that keyword, and again rewrite your content accordingly if it isn’t.

This tool could also prove useful for ensuring that you are using other related terms suitably throughout your website. By checking that other related terms, such as synonyms or related products, are also being used various times on your pages you can ensure that you can rank for other searches and long tail queries.

Search Queries

The other area in Webmaster Tools that can help you find and target keywords is the “Search queries” report. On this report you can see the keywords that Google is returning your website for in search results (impressions) and when these searches are actually resulting in visitors to your site (clicks).

Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries

This data is worth evaluating in closer detail to see exactly what it is telling you, and how this should be used. Firstly we can see that almost all of the impressions for “Google Images” took place on one day, when we were ranking on the second page, as shown below:

Google Webmaster Tools Search Positions

If we use the AdWords tool to try and see the approximate search volume of this keyword, we can see the following data for broad, phrase and exact matches:

Google Webmaster Tools AdWords

Reducing this figures to a single day, this still leaves us on broad match with either 111,666 a day or 50,000 local, or 91,000 queries on phrase and exact or 40,000 local. Either way these figures differ greatly from those in Webmaster Tools, so it is possible that they are in fact more accurate. However, that does not mean that we were necessarily exposed to 60,000 searchers yet received less than 10 visits. If we use SEOBooks approximation that only 10% of searchers look at second page, it is likely that this figure is closer to 6,000 impressions (in reality given the search term itself, I suspect it is far fewer than this).

The bottom line for website owners is that this impression number is likely to be far higher than reality, unless you are ranking in the top three positions, and even then the AdWords Keyword tool is known to be inaccurate.

However, the piece of data that you can verify in Analytics is the clicks you get from various keywords.  Looking at our own data for these keywords these numbers appear to be mostly accurate, with Webmaster Tools reporting 150 clicks and Analytics reporting 144 visits. I was also able to look at the position Webmaster Tools gives for a keyword in the SERPs with a separate ranking tool where the information was again validated, so we know that this too is accurate.

So knowing this information, what can a website owner learn from this report and how can they change their keyword strategy accordingly? Firstly, this report can be useful for highlighting keywords that you are already ranking for without targeting, and you can then focus on these more directly for better rankings.

You can also look at these reports to see those keywords with low click though rates to troubleshoot any potential issues (without trusting the impressions figure too greatly). This information can then help you understand the intent behind certain keywords, what they are looking for, and how you can better attract clicks once you are ranking, for example by tweaking your Page Title and meta description.


This is just a small amount of the information that is available in Webmaster Tools, and I highly recommend that every business owner use the information Google gives you as much as possible. It is the one area where the Almighty G gives you some kind of feedback, and by combining it with other tools you can find mistakes your website is making, and fix them to achieve improved results.

In addition, following several announcements by Google over the past month regarding Webmaster Tools it in an area that I believe they are focusing on at the moment and expect to grow in functionality and information available – use it wisely.


  • Greg Taylor Feb 18, 2011

    Great post. This is one of the must tools I use before we create any piece of content. It’s amazing how you can improve your visibility by slightly tweaking your keywords.

  • Kristoffer Feb 18, 2011

    Great tip about checking the words Google deems your site to be relevant for.

    As an add-on to that. You can also check what your competitors are ranking for if you want more keywords to target.

    Just go to Google and type in your broad niche keyword and take note of the top 10 URLs.

    Then run those through Google Keyword Tool. Instead of checking typing the address in the “Keyword” box. Type it in the “Website” box.

    After performing your search, you will usually get 100 keywords for each competitor. If you want even more, you can click the “More like these” tab and get another 100.

    Yours truly,


  • Ruth @ SEO Forward Feb 18, 2011

    Insightful post on keyword research in webmaster tools, usually if a site has a position within the SERPs they should always look at how they can maximise current content instead of creating additional or duplicate content with the same information. I will def bookmark this great information I did a brief post comparing keyword research to Lady Ga Ga

  • tony Oct 13, 2011

    In the past, I always ignore the keywords information in GWT and still pay a little attention on Search Queries. OK, now I think I should change my keywords strategy. thanks.