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Why do Google Analytics and Search Console report different results?

Posted on May 11, 2020

 

When it comes to measuring traffic coming into a website, there are many tools and metrics that can be used, with two of the more popular services being Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

It would be easy to suggest that as these tools are both owned and operated by Google that they would report the same data, or at least be in the same ball park. Well, you would be wrong. They’re often worlds apart with their figures. There are many discrepancies between the two tools, even when it comes to reporting on the same metric.

But why? Why are Google Analytics and Google Console often so far apart with their reports on how many people are visiting your website? There is more than one answer, as you might expect, with some factors affecting one more than the other.

Below we will look at some of the reasons why the number of Clicks in Search Console do not match the number of Sessions within Analytics.

Attribution

As an example, let’s say someone finds a website through a Google search and then visits another four times after bookmarking the site or directly typing in its website address. As Google uses ‘last non-direct attribution’ in assigning traffic to a source, it would record all five of these visits to Google.

A big win for Google there.

However, Search Console would only attribute one of these visits to Google, the initial click from the Google search. That’s Google Analytics claiming five, whereas Google Search Console says just one.

As you can imagine, this can cause a dramatic difference in the number of sessions reported in Analytics versus the number of clicks recorded in Search Console, but why does it do this? Why is it giving is such vastly different data?

They are different metrics by definition. The metric ‘clicks’ is defined as the number of clicks recorded from Google’s search results pages that took the user to your website. This means someone has searched on Google, seen your website in the results and ‘clicked’ on it.

A ‘session’ is a visit that has been initiated by the user, counted from when the page loads the Analytics JavaScript code, which needs to be placed on the page in order to be counted. Every time someone returns and loads the page afresh, a new session is recorded. This means Google Analytics would always be higher in sessions than Google Search Console would show in clicks, right?

Wrong.

Non-HTML pages or files, such as PDFs or images, are not counted within the data in Google Analytics, but are counted as clicks in Search Console. This means Google Search Console may report higher numbers of clicks.

Additionally, users that click through to a website from Google’s search results page but then immediately leave the website for whatever reason before the JavaScript Analytics code can be loaded will not be counted by Analytics, as its code would be unable to track them. If the code takes longer to load, then there’s more chance of Analytics missing counting the session – yet Google Search Console will have counted the click.

Session timeouts

Session timeouts can also inflate the number of sessions in Analytics when compared with clicks reported in Search Console. Analytics ends a session and begins a new one after half an hour of inactivity before resumption, at midnight or if the user comes to the site from one campaign, leaves and is brought back from a different campaign.

This means anyone spending any significant amount of time on your website, burning the midnight oil or clicking around different results pages will record multiple sessions in Google Analytics. The same person will be counted many times.

Datasets

Another thing to consider is when you are comparing Analytics and Search Console data, is whether you are looking at the same data.

Search Console displays click counts for three search types – web, video and image. Web is always selected by default. This means that if your site receives plenty of image traffic then the number of clicks on the default screen for web traffic will be low in comparison to Analytics’ organic traffic data.

In order to have a more accurate comparison of overall organic traffic within Search Console, you would need to select clicks from all three types together. Additionally, if you have any filters applied within Analytics then this can see some traffic being filtered out that would otherwise be recorded in Search Console.

It is obvious to think that both Analytics and Search Console are reporting on traffic coming through to the same pages, when in reality, they may not be. As we have already highlighted, Analytics doesn’t report activity from non-HTML pages such as Word documents, images and PDFs whereas Search Console will.

What’s in a name?

It is also worth noting that there are differences between the two tools when it comes to hostnames. Analytics will show pages from all hostnames and subdomains with the JavaScript code on it. Search Console will only show one specific subdomain for each account. So if you have multiple subdomains, you should make sure you are matching the hostnames between the two platforms.

This also affects your secure and non-secure domains!

A Search Console account only holds data from one version of protocol. i.e. http or https. If your site has both and you want to look at the traffic coming to both versions of the site within Search Console, then you will need to check both accounts and add them up to get the entire number of clicks to the site.

To sum up, there are many reasons why the data between the two platforms may differ. We’ve only looked at some of these reasons in this article. Despite their discrepancies, both give interesting and helpful insights as to where your traffic has come from, what it’s doing when it gets to your website and what you need to do to make it convert.

If you have a question about what you’re seeing in Google Analytics compared with Google Search Console, please get in touch or post it in the comments below. We’d love to help.

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