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Why Google Search Console's Queries Don't Equal the Total Clicks

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

This one's been coming up regularly in sessions over the last month so I thought I'd cover it here too. You may notice that in Google Search Console's Performance tab that queries don't equal the total amount of clicks. I've seen this number be up to 60% of total clicks tracked.

This can be very frustrating when trying to understand which queries are actually driving traffic to your website.

I unpack this a little below, showing examples of where it becomes apparent and what you can do about it to still read your data with confidence.

Where does this happen?

Filtering by Query

A good way to view this is when filtering search results by query. When filtering results by query (e.g. brand vs intent), you will notice a significant drop of total clicks reported.

In the below example you can see that total clicks are 26.4k.

Clicks with query containing the brand term ('buy vegan') are 87.

Clicks without the brand term ('buy vegan') are 11.2k.

Now, the last time I checked 87 + 11.2k does not equal 26.4k.

This means that there are essentially 26.4-11.2-0.087 = 15.1k clicks where we don't have the actual search query used. That's a lot of clicks with no data!

Page vs Search Query Reporting

Another area where this discrepancy is clear is when looking at the total number of clicks for a page vs the search term it commands traffic for.

In this instance, let's look at the term 'vegan lollies' and the page it drives traffic to.

We have a page that has driven 1,061 clicks. The search queries that Google has captured have accounted for 761 of the queries.

That means there's a gap of 300 queries which aren't captured by Google - another big loss of data!

Why is this happening?

Anonymous Queries are the reason.

When looking at your reports, Google doesn't show the query used when the search is considered an "anonymous query". These are queries that contain "personal or sensitive info".

Anonymous queries are also any long-tail queries (one that contains many words) with not many instances made in the time period.

These are not included in the report as the instance is usually only 1, meaning that the long tail query was only searched once ever.

Given this, it is expected that basically all non-tracked queries are non-brand, as it is unlikely your brand name will be used in a query that is long-tail or contains personal or sensitive information.

What can you do about it?
  1. Use the Page tab. This is where you can see the number of clicks each page has received. Google doesn't exclude any clicks when looking at the page tab, as it is able to collect total clicks here. This will give you data on the number of clicks each page has received, which will give you an indication into search intent as you will know what your page is about and hence the likely keywords used. However, it won't tell you the total list of search queries used.

  2. Assume anonymous queries are non-brand. To get a true idea of the number of queries that are brand vs non-brand, you will want to compare the total number of clicks compared to the total number of clicks from queries containing your brand name. This is because you can relatively safely assume that most anonymous queries (personal, sensitive, or long-tail) are not for your brand and more likely are an intent query. So, get the total number of brand queries and minus it from the total number of intent queries.

  3. Lean in to comparisons. As the number of anonymous queries don't tend to fluctuate much over time, you can assume that the data you are looking at (query, page, filters, etc.) are relevant for each time period. By looking at this you can still use something like brand / non-brand filtering together with comparison periods to get an understanding of any lift or drop in performance.

And there you have it! While it's a bit of a limiter on using Google Search Console effectively, there are still multiple ways you can view the data to provie

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