SEO Myth: Why Do Keyword Impressions Surpass Search Volume?

Last Updated: 3 Jun, 2023

You may have spent countless hours drilling down into Google Keyword Planner and SEO tools, but then you encounter a conundrum. The impressions for your targeted keyword are bafflingly higher than the search volume. Is there a deeper reason behind this phenomenon? Let’s unravel this seeming contradiction and debunk some common keyword research myths.

How Can Impressions Be Higher Than Search Volume?

Search volume is the number of times users have searched for a specific keyword in a given time frame. So, logically, it stands to reason that the number of impressions, or the number of times your ad is shown, should be equal to or less than the search volume, right? Not quite.

Consider this: In January, your keyword tool showed a search volume 1,000 for “Samgyeopsal” (a popular Korean BBQ dish) in South Korea. However, your website garnered 1,500 impressions for the same keyword. How’s that possible?

The Estimation vs. Fluctuation of Real-Time Searches

In fact, the search volume you see in your favorite keyword tool is an estimation based on data from the past. The numbers we get are approximations, rounded off to the nearest hundred or thousand.

This disparity occurs because actual searches can fluctuate greatly, especially with trending topics or seasonal variations. A Korean drama featuring Samgyeopsal might have aired, causing a surge in related searches. The keyword tool, however, remains oblivious to this sudden interest. The estimated search volume doesn’t match real-time fluctuations, resulting in higher impressions.

Third-Party Tools vs. Google Search Console

The distinction between the data sources is essential when interpreting keyword metrics. SEO researchers often use third-party tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to gauge search volume. These tools provide an approximate averaged number based on their data and algorithms. This aggregation smooths out short-term fluctuations and trends, offering a more stable but less accurate real-time view.

On the other hand, Google Search Console (GSC), a free tool by Google, provides data on impressions, which signifies how many times your site has appeared in search results. It’s also crucial to note that GSC shows global impressions by default, meaning your site’s visibility across all locations. If you do not apply a filter for a specific country’s data, your impressions could naturally surpass the estimated search volume for that particular nation. This is a potential and often overlooked reason why impressions can outstrip search volume in your analytics.

An Example of Discrepancies in Keyword Data

Google Search Console Impressions SEO Myth: Why Do Keyword Impressions Surpass Search Volume?

Let’s consider this example: An UX design company based in New York, tracking the keyword “web3 design agency,” observes a total of 442 impressions as reported by Google Search Console (GSC) using its default setting. This figure reflects the global interest in this keyword.

However, if they decide to fine-tune their data analysis by setting the country filter to the United States, the impression count in GSC takes a dive, clocking in at 52. It’s evident now that the initially high impression count was inflated by global data.

Meanwhile, the average monthly search volume for the same keyword tells a different story. Google Keyword Planner estimates it at 30, while SEMrush pegs it at 50. This discrepancy between impression counts and search volume illustrates how geographical filtering and data source variance can impact your keyword analysis.

Data SourceGlobalUnited States
Google Search Console Impressions44252
Google Keyword Planner Search Volume17030
SEMrush Search Volume23050

As demonstrated in the table above, a significant cause of the data disparity is the distinction between global and specific country settings in Google Search Console (GSC). Many users may refer to the GSC Performance Report without applying geographical filters. This approach naturally presents a global view, often leading to stronger impression counts compared to specific country data.

Thus, it’s vital to consider this global versus specific country dynamic when interpreting these metrics to gain a more accurate and insightful understanding of your keyword performance.

The Impact of Personalized Search Results

With the advent of AI and machine learning, search engines have become incredibly proficient at personalizing search results based on individual user behavior, location, device, and more. The same keyword search by two different users may yield different results.

Let’s consider an example: You run a K-Pop merchandise store in Bangkok and optimize for the keyword “latest BTS album.” A BTS fan from Seoul searching this keyword might see different results than a fan from Tokyo due to personalization factors such as browsing history, language, and location. Thus, your website might register higher impressions, even if the reported search volume isn’t as high.

The Google Perspective: John Mueller’s Insights

John Mueller, the Senior Search Analyst at Google, has voiced his insights on this perplexing matter: “The impressions are the impressions your site received in search. It’s not necessarily all the impressions shown to all users. It’s not the search volume.”

He further stated, “All tools guess & simplify search volume, so the numbers you see in search volume tools will always be wrong.” This underscores a crucial point. Both search volume and impressions are approximations. Keyword tools try to simplify a complex, fluctuating matrix of search data, whereas GSC counts only the impressions your site received, not all the impressions shown to users.

How Can You Leverage High Impressions and Low Search Volume?

How do we pivot this apparent conundrum of high impressions versus low search volume into a strategic advantage for your SEO game plan? The trick lies in diving beneath the surface, teasing user intent and competition apart.

To start with, unravel user intent. What exactly is the searcher pursuing? Let’s assume you run a Taiwanese boba tea shop. You notice that the keyword “Bubble tea near me” has a low search volume but unusually high impressions. This divergence indicates that users search with a transactional intent—they’re looking to purchase, not just browse.

Next, evaluate your competition. A keyword with low search volume that’s racking up high impressions could signify that the keyword isn’t heavily competed for. Leveraging the right SEO techniques, you can improve your ranking and carve out a larger share of the impression pie.

Lastly, make the most of long-tail keywords. These keywords are typically characterized by lower search volumes due to their specificity, but they often signal a user nearer to making a purchase. When you notice high impressions for these long-tail keywords, it’s akin to striking gold. These are opportunities to attract high-intent users and serve your business goals more effectively.

Conclusion: Beyond Simplified Numbers

When impressions exceed search volume, it’s not a blunder but a reminder of the complexity and dynamism of SEO. You can look beyond simplified numbers and delve into a more nuanced understanding of search behavior. By considering multiple data sources, geographical factors, personalization, and expert insights, you can use this paradox to enhance your SEO strategy.

In essence, keyword research isn’t a paint-by-numbers task. It’s an intricate art requiring meticulous interpretation and adaptation to evolving search trends and user intent. Are you ready to decode this art and stay ahead in the SEO game?

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