Google Search Console, previously Google Webmaster Tools, is a free tool that allows webmasters to access a large amount of information about how Google understands your website and tracks key site performance metrics that are not available elsewhere. To put it simply, Google Search Console is a webmaster’s direct line of communication with the search engine.
While not created specifically for SEOs, there tons of ways you can leverage this platform’s information to identify potential site improvements, make educated marketing decisions, and improve your site’s organic visibility.
How to Get It and How to Get Verified
Getting Google Search Console set up for your site is quite simple. Google has conveniently created a simple guide to walk through the process of setting up and verifying Search Console that explains the process much better than I ever could. Instead of droning on about the multiple verification methods, let’s jump into the best ways for you to leverage Google Search Console in your organic search marketing efforts.
Two notes before we begin:
1. I recommend that you create profiles for all version of your website, including all secure/non-secure or www/non-www possibilities. While one will be the preferred version, collecting data on the actual live site, it’s important for us to monitor the performance of all other variation to identify any potential technical issues immediately.
2. On January 8th, 2018, Google released a new version of Google Search Console. While the new version may be more aesthetically pleasing, I still prefer the old version for certain tactics. You can easily switch between views from a link in the bottom left. Some images may look different and will be labeled as to which version of Search Console was used in the process.
The Top 6 Ways to Use Google Search Console in Your SEO Efforts
1. Keyword Performance Analysis
If you’ve ever tried to find organic search keyword data in Google Analytics, I’m sure you’ve run into the (not provided) pit of death. This lack of keyword traffic data makes it difficult to full show impact of SEO efforts at that fine of a level.
Luckily, Google Search Console provides more extensive keyword data in the “Performance” section. Here you can adjust timelines, incorporate filters, and change search types to dig deeper into the data. While it may not be real-time visitor data, looking at clicks and impressions of targeted keywords over time can be a good indicator of the success of a particular tactic, keyword, landing page, device, or location.
2. Indexation Analysis + Crawl Errors Identification
Search Console provides extensive data about Google’s indexation of your site’s pages. Indexation means that the pages are available to appear in search results. It is recommended to submit your XML Sitemap(s) in this area to provide a direct path for indexation to the search engine, as well as to track performance to ensure it is functioning properly.
The “Index” section of Google Search Console can help you:
– Identify crawl errors such as 404 Not Found pages, 500 level errors, or pages included in the XML Sitemap that are blocked by the Robots.txt that need to be resolved or redirected.
– Review indexation metrics to ensure the correct pages are being included in search results as well as to identify any unwanted pages that should be blocked a Robots level or disallowed through canonical tags.
– Monitor for any sudden changes that could be the sign of bigger issues such as server overloading, crawling issues, or site configuration problems.
3. Fetch as Google
In the old version of Google Search Console, Fetch as Google is a useful tool to test how Google crawls or renders any URL on your site. Using the URL box, you can submit any URL on site to be tested. Google will send a robot to crawl the page and return information concerning their understanding or ability to visit a page.
Additionally, after testing a particular page, you can submit the URL to request indexing in Google’s SERP. This tactic is particularly useful when launching new pages on a website to confirm their functionality as well as to encourage Google to begin showing it in search results.
Each test will return a code that will dictate next steps, the most important to know are:
– Partial: Google was able to crawl part of the site with no issues, however, experienced some errors of certain parts. Clicking into the test can give you more information about what resources could be potentially blocked, as well as a comparison of what Google sees versus what a user sees on page.
– Not found/Not Authorized: Google can contact the site. However, they can’t find the page that was submitted, or the page is currently being blocked.
– Blocked: The robots.txt file has blocked Google from reaching the page successfully.
– Unreachable/Temporarily Unreachable: Google was able to contact the server, however, for some reason, the page was not reachable which could be a server timeout issue.
– Error: Google was prevented from fetching the page, could be a sign of 404 error issues.
4. Mobile Analysis
As we all know, Google has continued to give preference and rankings boosts to mobile-friendly websites. Most recently we’ve seen this in effect with the shift to the Mobile-First Index.
Additionally, we’ve seen the rise of AMP pages to provide optimal user experience with lightning fast load times. Luckily, Google Search Console is the perfect tool to diagnose your site’s mobile optimization.
There are two particular locations to leverage to identify any technical issues and focus on mobile indexation:
– Mobile Usability: This section shows any errors specific to mobile experience that could prevent the site or a particular page from being considered “mobile-friendly” such as clickable elements being too close together, content wider than the screen, text too small to read, or viewport not set.
– AMP: This report will only be available if you are currently leveraging AMP. It provides deeper information into the potential errors and warnings as well as the success of any AMP pages.
5. Rich Snippet Optimization
At this point, schema mark-up is a tactic that should be leveraged by all websites. Schema is a fantastic way to provide key information in a search engine friendly format to help earn to earn rich snippets in the SERPs. The tactic is, arguably, essential for e-commerce websites to earn price, availability, and review stars for product pages in the search results.
Using the old version of search console, webmasters can analyze the success or errors of all schema mark-up incorporated throughout the site. Additionally, in the performance section mentioned earlier, webmasters can review the clicks and impressions for rich results in the search appearance section. These two locations together can help you address any technical concerns while reporting on the growth of clicks and impressions from those rich results.
6. Page Equity Sharing
“Content is king” is a cliché often heard in SEO. While its true that high-quality, original content gets rewarded in organic search, technical efficiency, and page equity sharing are essential to have a well-rounded SEO plan. We’ve talked about how to use Google Search Console for technical evaluation in the earlier points, so we’ll finish off showing location of page equity information in the platform.
Page equity, sometimes called “Link Juice,” is the idea that each URL on site has a value of things like relevance, authority, trust, quality of content, accessibility, and links.
Equity can be shared within your own site through internal linking, and it can be shared with other sites through external links. This is the reason you often hear SEOs talk about earning more backlinks or adding more internal links to particular pages. It’s to improve the overall page equity and to improve each page’s ability to rank.
In the “Links” section of the new version of Google Search Console, webmasters can review metrics to analyze both external and internal links.
From an external link point of view, you can discover pages that may benefit from earning more external links, identify any spammy backlinks to disavow, and review anchor text to target more keywords. To improve internal links, webmasters can review the number of links pointing to a particular page to identify pages that are in need of more internal links to help boost page equity and rankings.
Now you’re ready to take full advantage of Google Search Console for your organic search marketing needs. These six uses will help you identify any technical issues, garner deeper keyword data, monitor site performance, and ensure you are following Google’s best practices.
Incorporate routine reviews of data, leverage the various checks outlined above, and act on any findings to improve your site’s organic visibility through Google Search Console.
Want to learn more about Google’s tools and how you can leverage them to improve your site’s SEO? For more tips, check out our blog post, How To Boost Your SEO With Google’s New Image Referral URL.