Google Search Console Reliability: Webmaster Tools on Trial
Posted by rjonesx.
There are a handful of data sources relied upon by nearly every search engine optimizer. Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) has perhaps become the most ubiquitous. There are simply some things you can do with GSC, like disavowing links, that cannot be accomplished anywhere else, so we are in some ways forced to rely upon it. But, like all sources of knowledge, we must put it to the test to determine its trustworthiness — can we stake our craft on its recommendations? Let’s see if we can pull back the curtain on GSC data and determine, once and for all, how skeptical we should be of the data it provides.
Testing data sources
Before we dive in, I think it is worth having a quick discussion about how we might address this problem. There are basically two concepts that I want to introduce for the sake of this analysis: internal validity and external validity.
Internal validity refers to whether the data accurately represents what Google knows about your site.
External validity refers to whether the data accurately represents the web.
These two concepts are extremely important for our discussion. Depending upon the problem we are addressing as SEOs, we may care more about one or another. For example, let’s assume that page speed was an incredibly important ranking factor and we wanted to help a customer. We would likely be concerned with the internal validity of GSC’s “time spent downloading a page” metric because, regardless of what happens to a real user, if Google thinks the page is slow, we will lose rankings. We would rely on this metric insofar as we were confident it represented what Google believes about the customer’s site. On the other hand, if we are trying to prevent Google from finding bad links, we would be concerned about the external validity of the “links to your site” section because, while Google might already know about some bad links, we want to make sure there aren’t any others that Google could stumble upon. Thus, depending on how well GSC’s sample links comprehensively describe the links across the web, we might reject that metric and use a combination of other sources (like Open Site Explorer, Majestic, and Ahrefs) which will give us greater coverage.
The point of this exercise is simply to say that we can judge GSC’s data from multiple perspectives, and it is important to tease these out so we know when it is reasonable to rely upon GSC.
GSC Section 1: HTML Improvements
Of the many useful features in GSC, Google provides a list of some common HTML errors it discovered in the course of crawling your site. This section, located at Search Appearance > HTML Improvements, lists off several potential errors including Duplicate Titles, Duplicate Descriptions, and other actionable recommendations. Fortunately, this first example gives us an opportunity to outline methods for testing both the internal and external validity of the data. As you can see in the screenshot below, GSC …read more
Source:: Moz Blog