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Google Search Console Query Data Drop Explained

Those who spend a lot of time (or really any time) in Google Search Console's Performance reporting probably noticed a big, scary drop in impressions, clicks and CTR starting on August 19. This big drop appears when users filter data to exclude queries.

Graph excluding queries in Google Search Console showing drop in clicks

Thankfully, this is just the result of Google changing the way they track and report data in Search Console.

What is Going on?

It turns out that when Google shows tracks queries in Google Search Console, it doesn't necessarily show all of the queries that resulted in impressions or clicks for a page. According to their Search Console Help, they don't track queries that contain sensitive information:

To protect user privacy, Search Analytics doesn't show all data. For example, we might not track some queries that are made a very small number of times or those that contain personal or sensitive information.

These queries are known as "anonymous queries".

According to Googler John Mueller, the text for these queries aren't sent to Search Console, but the data for them is:

They've always been filtered. In the past, we added the number of the "unknown" (filtered / anonymized queries) to the "known" (queries known not to match the text). You can get similar by taking "total" minus "matching", but IMO that's a bad workaround, it's not more accurate.

— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) August 29, 2018

So even though Google wasn't displaying the actual queries in Search Console, they were still including the impressions and clicks for these queries in the total numbers displayed in the Performance report. They also included this data in the total numbers displayed when you filtered your data to exclude queries containing certain text.

What Changed?

On August 19, Google stopped showing the data for anonymous queries in the totals for filtered graphs. The reasoning behind this actually makes good sense: since they don't know what text is in the query, they don't know if it should be excluded or not. So the data wasn't necessarily accurate.

So for those who saw big, sudden drops in impressions and clicks, fear not! Your overall rankings and traffic haven't been affected. The only thing that's different is the way Google is filtering the data they show you.

So while it's annoying to have to go through, you haven't been hit with a penalty or another algorithm update.

How is the SEO Industry Responding?

Well, the issue was so confusing that Google had to take the steps of explaining what's going on via the Google Webmasters Twitter account.

The response has been"¦ mixed to say the least:

and ruined my day

— wolfisharp (@robinfishley) August 29, 2018

You've made a mess out of it! That's what you've done! 😩

— Ryan Murton (@ryan_murton) August 29, 2018

What are your thoughts on the change in Google Search Console? Have you experienced any issues with your data reporting? Let us know in the comments!

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