In mid August I noticed huge drops in brand term impressions showing in Webmaster Tools, but hardly any change in brand term click through volumes in Google Analytics.
What was going on?
Impressions have dropped by 66% !
The first thought was some sort of penalty for the brands had been applied, perhaps a Panda related change meaning that the brand no longer appeared in search results? However the number of clicks remains unchanged.
Furthermore, even though the volume of impressions had dropped by around 66% for brand terms, other organic search terms were completely unaffected.
If this was Panda, it was a ‘brand keyword selective’ Panda and that didn’t make any sense at all. From studying other sites, the affect of the Panda update has been seen to help or support known brands with very few exceptions. So any Panda related penalty would have dropped impressions for all keywords, not just brand terms.
Digging deeper…the date of this recorded impression drop was 16th / 17th August 2011.
This coincides precisely with the date that the enlarged sitelinks were released in the UK.
Before the expanded sitelinks were introduced, a typical brand search may return up to 7 entries in organic search results in Google. [Typical brands results showed up to 4 URL entries, however on occasion some dominant brands were able to claim 7 spots in the 1st page]
Since 17th August, a brand search gets just ONE slot in SERPs with MANY sitelinks beneath (up to 8 or 12 for dominant brands). The single entry is counted as an impression in GWT, and the individual sitelinks beneath are not included in the impression count. The total number of impressions recorded for a brand term search is therefore much reduced.
A drop of 50% means that the brand previously had two entries in the SERPs, where now it has just one.
A drop of 75% would mean that where the brand previously claimed four entries in SERPs, it now just has one.
So for a typical brand search, I’d expect GWT to be reporting drops of 50 – 86% for brand term impressions, but similar levels of click throughs and a higher reported average CTR.
Exclude ‘brand’ terms when examining impression data spanning the date of this change in GWT. Brand search usually accounts for a significant % of traffic, so changes to sitelinks will skew your analysis. This is especially true if you are looking for GWT impression uplifts following SEO efforts… don’t let the Google’s modification to brand term impression drop spoil your analysis!