GSC vs GKP: Comparing Search Volumes for 72k Keywords [A Study by Ahrefs]

GSC vs GKP Comparing Search Volumes

The two main sources for Keyword search volume information which are directly via Google: Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Keyword Planner (GKP). We decided to contrast the numbers of both and to see how closely they are in line.

GSC is widely regarded as to be the “single source of fact” for precise keyword information since it provides you with the exact amount of instances your website was featured in the search results of Google for a particular search term.

If your website consistently ranks on the top webpage of Google for a specific search term, the number of views for that query in GSC will accurately reflect the volume of searches (in the majority of instances).

GSC vs GKP Comparing Search Volumes 2

As for GKP, its search volume data is known to be a lot less precise. Mainly because:

  • It groups keywords with similar meaning.
  • It rounds search volumes into buckets.

However, the majority of SEO professionals are very happy with the volume of searches they receive from GKP and believe that they are be reliable.

So we decided to do an experiment and see the way that search volume from GKP are compared to “single reliable source” also known as GSC.

Comparing search volumes between GSC and GKP

For this test we collected 72,635 random keywords from the 1K-10K search volume range. Then , we compared the amount of “impressions” in GSC with the volume of searches taken from GKP (for that same month).).

The first thing we discovered is that GKP nearly always underestimates “true” volumes of searches:

Bar chart showing 91.45% of search volumes in GKP are overestimates

But the actual question is by how much? After all, if it only over-estimates search volumes slightly, then what’s the big deal?

Here’s the answer:

Bar chart where GKP drastically overestimates search volumes 54.28% of the time, is roughly accurate 45.22% of the time

The majority of search volumes on GKP (54.28 percent) are overestimations, whereas only a little less than half (45.22 percent) are approximately exact (i.e. that they are off the GSC “impressions” to less than 50 percent).

For those SEO enthusiasts here’s a more precise overview on how GSC data compares with GKP data:

Bart chart showing big search volume difference between GKP and GSC

Quite a discrepancy, right?

So why shouldn’t us dig a bit deeper & investigate the true causes of such a stark differentiation in search volumes between GKP and GSC?

GKP groups keywords with similar meaning (and makes mistakes)

According to our GSC data, the keyword “ahrefs” got 25,436 impressions in June (in the U.S.):

GSC data on Ahrefs' total impressions

But if we look at the data from GKP for the same month, it shows a search volume of 33,100:

GKP data on Ahrefs' total search volume

This means that the “GKP/GSC” ratio for this keyword is 1.3x. Not too bad, but not much accurate either.

So what is causing this discrepancy?

Apparently, the GKP search volume for the keyword “ahrefs” includes the search volumes of all its mis-spellings that we can observe in our GSC:

  • ahref (2,826 impressions)
  • hrefs (906 impressions)
  • aherfs (435 impressions)
  • arefs (267 impressions)
  • a hrefs (224 impressions)
  • aherf (185 impressions)
  • ahrfs (100 impressions)
  • etc

We know this because GKP groups them together (and shows the same search volume that it shows for “ahrefs”):

List of misspellings of "Ahrefs" grouped together

If a keyword’s volume is the reason for spelling mistakes, it’s not an issue is it? In reality, it could actually be very useful.

There are situations where GKP has a tendency to group things which should not be. It can also be misleading to us SEOs.

For instance, the term “chusky” has an average search volume of 550k across the U.S. GKP thinks that it’s a misspelling for “husky” due to the fact that these two terms are being put together:

"Chusky" and "husky" grouped together

If you take a look at the results of searches for the term “chusky,” you’ll instantly find that it’s not just an incorrect spelling. Instead, it’s a distinctive dog breed, which means that it has an individual number of searches to its own.

Pictures of chusky dogs

Same story with these four keywords: “red room,” “red rose,” “red rock,” and “red robin”:

"Red room,” “red rose,” “red rock,” and “red robin” grouped together

GKP treats them as one, but you don’t even have to verify the search results to recognize that these things are not the same.

A few more examples:

  • american banks & bank of america
  • mosquito bites & mosquito bits
  • book a driver & drive book

In truth they are not common. These kinds of “false groups” aren’t very uncommon, but they could cause you to have a lot of trouble when you come across one.

One of the most frequent (and annoying) is the fact that GKP doesn’t display distinct volume of searches for search queries that are closely related variations.

GSC vs GKP Comparing Search Volumes 3

For instance the following search terms are combined in GKP but there is no way to determine the individual search volumes of each:

  • pc games free download
  • free pc games download
  • free games download for pc
  • download free games for pc
  • free pc game downloads
  • download pc games free
  • free games to download for pc
Variations of "free pc games downloads" grouped together

It is a “grouping” matter is being addressed by each SEO tool that draws its data on search volume from GKP (and the majority of them do).

However, here at Ahrefs we mix keywords from multiple sources (including several years of click-stream data from the past). This lets us “un-group” searches and display the unique search volume for every variation:

Table where Ahrefs provides distinct search volumes for each query unlike SEMrush

Understanding the unique the volume of search for each search term prevents the risk of underestimating the totality of a topic’s potential for search traffic when you sum the keyword search volumes for all the keywords within a group.

In addition knowing the most well-known ways people express their queries will assist you in changing the content of your website in line with the current trends and help you come up with an appealing title for your page.

As you can see that the “grouping” feature of GKP is a bit of a hassle for SEOs. But we should be able to blame GKP for hiding specific volume of searches from us.

GKP serves as a device designed for marketers not SEOs. This grouping of similar keywords can actually be beneficial for the advertisers.

GSC shows local impressions for search queries with local intent

According to GKP, the keyword “golf courses” has an impressive average monthly search volume of one million in the U.S.:

Data showing keyword "golf course" has average monthly search volume of 1 million

But here’s the important thing. Depending on the geographical location of where you’re searching from, you’ll see diversified pages ranking for this keyword:

  • If you search from Rochester, you’ll see a page from visitrochester.com at #2.
  • If you search from Bakersfield, you’ll see a page from visitbakersfield.com at #1.
Top 5 pages in Rochester and Bakersfield, respectively

So, the owners of both websites will receive a different amount of monthly views for the term “golf golf courses” within their GSC.

This is because every website performs well with this phrase just in a certain area.

Only the proprietor of the largest website, such as golflink.com (which seems to have pages ranked on “golf courses” across every possible location) is likely to see the number of visits that are close to 100,000 that GKP provides us with.

These “regional” keywords have led to the largest discrepancy ( 4x+) between GKP and GSC numbers. This is evident in the graph above.

“Impressions” in GSC are sometimes inflated by bot traffic

Let’s discuss those very rare situations in which GSC displays more searches than GKP.

We believe it is due to bot traffic. Based on John Mueller, not all of the bot impressions are being filtered by GSC:

GSC vs GKP Comparing Search Volumes 1

What is “bot traffic?””

That’s a good thing, because it’s any kind of script or program that performs automated search results in Google.

The “bots” I’m sure you’ve heard of include rank trackers which perform automated searches on Google to track how your site ranks.

Another more sinister example are bots that create fraudulent clicks for Google ads in order to put pressure on their rivals.

Anyhow, according to our study, GSC data seems artificially inflated in only 0.5% of cases. So it’s unlikely that you will suffer much from bots polluting your GSC reports.

How does Ahrefs’ search volume data stack up?

I’m sure some of you are wondering how Ahrefs’ search volume data compares.

Well, let’s plot “Ahrefs/GSC” ratios right next to “GKP/GSC” ratios from the previous graph:

Bar chart showing Ahrefs is more accurate than GKP

It appears Ahrefs has “roughly exact” figures for 60% of the cases, compared to. 45percent percent of the instances for GKP.

This is mainly due the fact that we are able to “un-group” groups of similar keywords and provide distinct searches for each of them.

So if you’ve ever wondered what the reason is for why the search volume in Ahrefs aren’t the same like those found in GKP You now know it’s because of the design.

Final thoughts

I hope that you enjoyed this study of research and that it has given you an understanding of why these numbers for GSC as well as GKP differ, and most important, why they differ.