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Google Search Console tutorial: How to perform gap analysis to boost your SEO

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 20 Mar, 2020
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Learn how to estimate your share of search for different keywords using Google Search Console, and how to perform a gap analysis to find your SEO gaps

Making better use of organic search has become particularly important in the 2020 pandemic where many businesses don't have the budget available to put into Google Ads or social ads. The gap analysis technique we will explain in this article is powerful in identifying new opportunities to increase organic traffic.

Since search engines first became popular, search engine marketing has offered a fantastic way for businesses to grow awareness and sales as people search for their products and services. What better point in time to reach your target audience if they have a defined need?

This recent marketing channel benchmark from search analysis service Brightedge shows that across different B2B sectors, both organic and paid search are major traffic drivers.

Given the potential of organic search to drive new business at low cost, being able to benchmark how effective your SEO is against your competitors is essential to get a baseline from which to improve.

While marketers have and still do use rank position checking tools like Moz, SEMRush and RankRanger to show the ranking positions for the keywords they are targeting, what you really want to know is how many visits (and so potential sales) you are attracting to your site. This can then be shown as a share of the total demand for products and services based on the consumer intent, i.e. the type and number of searches by those looking for new products and services. The Google Ads Keyword Planner is great for gaining an idea of the number of searches for different keywords, but it doesn’t help you readily compare to the number of actual visits you’re receiving to your site. This is where you need an SEO gap analysis.

What is an SEO gap analysis?

I would define the purpose of a gap analysis as:

An SEO gap analysis helps you review your market share of consumer searches for products and services you offer by comparing the number of searches performed for the keywords you are targeting against the number of visitors you get to your site for these keywords through natural search in the organic search engine listings”.

Where there is high demand for products or searches indicated by the number of searches, but you have a relatively low share of visits to your site from search this is a ‘gap’ that you need to understand and review techniques to improve the number of SEO visits.

Going way back, I first talked about this approach when I wrote the first edition of the Econsultancy SEO Best practice guide in 2006, explaining that it was helpful to perform an analysis of demand or intent for different keyphrases compared to how many visits and conversions SEO was delivering for these phrases.

The challenge of gap analysis since 2014

Back in 2014 Google introduced 'secure search' leading to the growth in Not Provided Keywords in analytics where over 90% of the search terms entered by searchers became unknown. However, Google has since provided a new tool to help SEO analysis within the Google Search Console.

I still speak to marketers who still believe that because of 'Not provided', you can't report on the search queries people use to reach your website, but you can, the data is right there in Google Search Console and Google Analytics if you have connected the two.

How to perform a gap analysis using Google Search Console

Gavin Llewellyn has explained the insight this gives for SEO in his tutorial. Gavin also described the process, but I’ll give a quick summary here to help members who have downloaded our SEO gap analysis template which makes it quicker and easier for gap analysis if you’re not an Excel whizz!

Step 1. Check you have access to the Google Search Console data in your Google Analytics

Visit the Search Engine Optimization, Queries menu under the Acquisition menu options as shown below. If you see this message you need to associate Google Analytics with Google Search Console.

Step 2. Access and export the queries data into Excel format

Use the Export menu to create a spreadsheet .xls import when viewing the keyword queries, this screengrab shows a summary of our keywords related to our race planning framework.

Step 3. Import the Excel data into the spreadsheet you are using for gap analysis

You will want to paste the entire worksheet labeled “Dataset1” by Google Analytics on export into your spreadsheet.

Step 4. Perform an “exact match” gap analysis

This involves comparing the actual number of visits to your site for different keywords you are targeting (column B) against the total number of searches (impressions) measured as an exact match (column C). Conditional formatting enables you to quickly review where there is an opportunity to improve position (column E) or clickthrough rate (share of search in column F).


Step 5. Perform a “keyword includes” gap analysis

I also recommend that a gap analysis can involve a review of individual keywords you are attracting visits across a series of key phrases. I think this is powerful since you can quickly analyze how good your visibility is for head terms (such as product categories) or long-tail search terms (such as reviews or detailed product features) you are targeting as shown in this example for different products:

Warning - remember the data limitations

As Gavin notes, although the Google Search Console has been criticized in the past, I believe that the data should be used since some of the restrictions have been lifted. We find the search volumes are accurate relative to each other based on the volume of visits to the landing pages which see. It is the relative difference in search terms that are most useful when completing a gap analysis.

I hope you find this article prompts you to perform a gap analysis or ask your SEO provider about it. If you know your way around Excel it’s quick to create and I know many agencies and consultants have their owns versions. Please let us know in the comments if you have any questions or observations based on how you tackle gap analyses! Our spreadsheet is available for download by members here.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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