A Comprehensive Guide on How and Why to Use Google Search Console
Update: 1/23/18 – Google significantly updated the look and reporting in Search Console. The reports now go back a full 12 months and allow 6-month comparison similar to Google Analytics reports.
Here’s a look at the new reporting
We do strange things for love, and when you love your business you find yourself making all sorts of little weird changes to your website to boost that Google Search ranking slightly higher. The thing is, in a world where search results are customized for each individual user, it’s sometimes tricky to tell whether or not your efforts are really paying off. Luckily, Google provides you with a powerful tool you can use to take a look at your rankings, track keyword performance, and spot content that has the best chance of making it to page one. It’s called the Google Search Console.
Getting Started with Google Search Console
The first step towards accessing the powerful tools at your disposal through Google Search Console is to verify your domain. Basically, Google wants to make sure that you are indeed the owner of your website. There are a few ways to do it, so just go through the steps and you’ll be up and running in no time.
The next step is to dig into what properties you list using “Add Property,” and how you organize them. It might seem granular, but it’s worth it to go through and list any and all versions of your domain: http://yourdomain.com, http://www.yourdomain.com, https://yourdomain.com, and https://www.yourdomain.com. If you have any subdomains that you want to be able to play around with, you also should add those here (and any variations), so things like http://blog.yourdomain.com for your blog, or http://www.yourdomain.com/es if you have a Spanish-language version of your site, for example.
If this is starting to look like a lot of domains to handle, you’re right, and Google has made a tool to help you. If you click “Create a Set” you can group your domains into “Property Sets.” This can help you segment off particular areas of your website to see how they’re performing as a group, like all your inventory listings, for example.
Digging Into the Search Analytics Report
Since the main reason we’re here is to find out what’s going on with search and our website, let’s get down to brass tacks and crack open the Search Analytics Report. Immediately, you’ll notice there are a bunch of different ways to view this data. Google presents you with filters for Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position, and then you can separate the data out further with an array of options to view by queries, pages, countries, devices, search type, and time range. It’s important to note that Search Console only shows the last 90 days of searches, so it’s all about recent trends.
So, that’s a lot of options, but what can all this data tell you? The great thing about Google Search Console is that it shows you the actual search queries that lead someone to click through onto your site. That means you can see what’s working, and what’s not.
Understanding the Numbers
You also have a few different stats you need to understand. “Clicks” shows the number of clicks to your website per search query, but keep in mind it doesn’t account for everything— you’ll quickly notice your clicks per query don’t add up to the total clicks number it gives you.
“Impressions” is the number of times your website came up on Google results. This might include a lot of times when you came up for a weird search query (like if someone is looking for a client you have listed on your website) or showed up on the 8th page, which might as well be not at all. Still, you should understand these numbers as your site’s potential to broaden its reach.
There’s also “CTR”: click-through rate. This number tells you what percentage of impressions resulted in a click through. Remember, there are a ton of different ways that your website can make an impression without necessarily being relevant, so a low number isn’t necessarily that bad.
Finally, there’s “Position.” This number shows you where your website appears in an average user’s search engine results page (SERP). We’re talking about organic results, so shopping, images, videos, etc., but not AdWords. There are 10 results per page, so any number below 10 means you’re on the front page and doing pretty well.
Putting the Data to Use
The first thing you want to do with all this information is take a look at how customers are actually finding your website. Using the Search Query Report, you can find out what people are searching that gets you on a SERP, and then use that data to make a plan for how to do that better.
You might be surprised by how you’re popping up on the radar. Use these search terms to guide content generation that will help you perform stronger in the future. Maybe consider reworking the titling of key pages so that they index stronger and score a higher position. We all have a lot more to do than sit around and think up content all day, so working backwards is hugely helpful because it lets your prospects tell you what they want to see.
Targeting Search Queries
The Search Console also helps you sort through search terms to figure out which have high CTR and which have room for improvement. Some terms are just going to be irrelevant, but anything with an unusually high CTR is a promising possibility for generating traffic and business. Terms with low CTR probably need some help, either because the listing is bad or the term is competitive.
Figure out what queries you’re interested in, and then crack open a fresh incognito tab (so you get a more average Google experience) and search these terms. Look at your listing and see what’s going on. How does it read? How do the other listings on the page look? What can you do to stand out? Finally, what does Google think the searcher is looking for based on what’s on the SERP?
Taking a Look at Landing Pages
One of the most powerful things that you can do in Search Console is to break out queries by landing page. This helps you look at specific parts of your website to see how people are finding them and how you can give them a boost. If the terms don’t seem all that relevant but have a high CTR, then you may have discovered a new angle to optimize for. If on the other hand, the terms are general, then you need to do some work on how to land it more firmly in a niche or work your SEO tactics to help give it a boost.
Use Google Search Console Reports
Search Console also gives you a series of reports that can help you to catch obvious errors in your site that will help it perform better. Browse through Search Appearance HTML Improvements to help you sort out your tags and meta descriptions. In Search Traffic, there are Manual Actions, which tells you if you’re doing something that’s against Google’s rules and might be negatively impacting your presence. There’s also Mobile Usability, which lets you know which pages might have issues on mobile like clickable elements being placed too close together. Finally, there are some options under Crawl that are helpful. Use Crawl Errors and Site Map to help you understand if your site is speaking robot effectively.
Hit the Road Running
There’s a lot to take in, and the data is constantly updating since it tracks the last 90 days of search performance, but Google Search Console is a powerful tool you should be using to help you improve your search performance and make the tweaks you need. Looking at the right data can help you understand how prospects are finding you, where you need to do better or make more content, and how to get started. Take advantage of the robust dashboard and check in with Search Console whenever you’re looking at ways to make your website perform at its peak.