Using Google Search Console to inform your search strategy
When it comes to making the most of your online presence and appearing for the correct key terms and to the correct audience, there are numerous tools that you can use to inform your strategy. Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the most useful free tools and, in this blog, we’ll let you know how to get the most out of the platform and use it to boost your performance
What is Google Search Console
Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps businesses monitor and maintain their site’s presence in search results. Launched officially in May 2015 to replace Google Webmaster Tools, the platform was again updated in January 2018 and is one of the primary ways in which developers and SEOs monitor performance.
As well as being free to use, Search Console does not require registration and sites will be included in Google’s search results regardless. However investing time in the platform can help a business to understand how Google views their site and optimise its performance in search results.
Who should use Google Search Console
When Google renamed Webmaster Tools to the GSC, they did so with the aim of being more inclusive. It was thought that the vast majority of those using the service to improve or monitor performance weren’t in fact ‘webmasters’ and therefore, it was seen perhaps as a little too technical and needed to be more accessible.
Under the new format, Google said that the platform was for “Anyone with a website! From generalist to specialist, from newbie to advanced, Search Console can help.”
They then broke down their target audience into five subsections for the types of people that should be using GSC and what each group could expect from using it. Their five groups are identified as:
- A business owner who delegates – Even if you don’t think you know how to use Search Console, you should be aware of it and become familiar with the basics. You might hire your webmaster or a marketing specialist to help you set up your website with Search Console. In that case, you can work with that person to ensure you have access and control to all of the reports for your website. In addition, it’s a good idea to learn all you can about how your site is performing in search results so you can make important business decisions about your site.
- SEO specialist or marketer – As someone focused on online marketing, Search Console will help to analyse your performance on Google Search, optimise your ranking, and make informed decisions about the appearance of your site’s search results. You can use the information in Search Console to influence technical decisions for the website and do sophisticated marketing analysis in conjunction with other Google tools like Analytics, Google Trends, and AdWords.
- Site Administrator – As a site admin, you care about the healthy operation of your site. Search Console lets you easily monitor and in some cases resolve server errors, site load issues, and security issues like hacking and malware. You can also use it to ensure any site maintenance or adjustments you make happen smoothly with respect to search performance.
- Web Developer – If you are creating the actual markup and/or code for your site, Search Console helps you monitor and resolve common issues with markup, such as errors in structured data.
- App Developer – If you own an app, you want to see how mobile users find your app using Google Search. Search Console can help you integrate your app seamlessly with the website world.
What are the benefits of using Google Search Console
The main benefits of using the GSC are to monitor performance in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and to discover how Google and others see your site.
One of the most important benefits is that you are able to make sure that your site is fully optimised, and that Google can access all of you content. This is vital as it makes sure you are getting the most out of the keyword rich text and that your site is displaying to the correct audience. You are also able to check when new content has been crawled and remove the content that is dated, or you no longer wish to rank for. Google also states that you are able to:
- Create and monitor content that delivers visually engaging search results
- Maintain your site with minimal disruption to search performance
- Monitor and resolve malware or spam issues so your site stays clean
In terms of visibility, GSC can be used in a number of ways. It can help brands understand exactly which queries caused their site to be displayed in the SERPs and which queries display the site more frequently. This gives the business owner the perfect opportunity to see where they’re strong and where to concentrate future strategies.
Search Console can also highlight if you are gaining the maximum exposure for your most basic details. You can use the platform to see if your product prices, company contact info, or events are highlighted in rich search results.
Two of the biggest things that Google look for when they are planning to crawl and rank a site for a certain queries are links and optimisation. The search engine wants to see who is linking to your site and the authority that the site has relating to these links. If you are being linked to by highly relevant sites and your site is optimised to answer the query then you are far more likely to appear higher in SERPs.
In terms of optimisation one of the top priorities is the need for speed and for sites to be fully optimised for mobile. Since searches on mobile overtook desktop there has been a higher focus on using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). This Google-backed project was designed as an open standard for any publisher to have pages load quickly on mobile devices.
When launched, Google said:
By creating open technical standards to boost page speed and streamlining ads (e.g., no interstitials, no pop-ups), the hope is that the ecosystem can build a faster, more engaging mobile web that will benefit everyone.
Aside from AMP pages being quicker and the fact that page load and site speed are official ranking factors, part of the reason for using the GSC to see if you are fully optimised is that you want to offer a good user experience (UX).
If a page fails to load, or if there are errors of poorly optimised images then there is a good chance, that the person using the site will exit the page, or not return at all.
One of the most important sections of GSC is the “Enhancements” section. This section is incredibly useful for understanding how their website is currently setup and how it display on SERPs.
Here you have some of the reports crucial to the present and future of your performance in search. Not only do you have the Mobile Usability report which should have played an important part of your strategy since the mobile friendly update of a couple of years ago, but also the ‘Unparsable structured data’ report which will help you to properly implement your structured data strategy and, in terms of the future of search, the Core Web Vitals report – elements of which will be a part of Google’s algorithm as an acknowledged ranking factor.
What to do with new content
Content is an important factor when it comes getting your website into SERPs. After all, it’s the information that Google ‘reads’ to determine what your site is about, what information your pages contain and whether or not you are relevant to a given query.
Something that many brands forget is that this content should grow, expand and update as your business does the same. If you have new products or services you want to promote, or if you have news and updates that will be relevant for your audience, it is vital that you upload it to the site.
Using GSC is the fastest and cheapest way to run an M.O.T on your site, you can give it a full health check and make sure that you are not experiencing a higher than normal level of errors. You are also able to look at weekly and monthly patterns in terms of traffic. If you are receiving peak traffic at 15.00 on a Friday for example, ask what the reason for this is. Have you sent an email, has a promotion gone live, are you pushing content which is keyword rich, or are you using social media to drive traffic through newsjacking or similar techniques?
The answer to these questions and the traffic information that you gather from your GSC dashboard, can assist in the development of future strategies.
The next stage is to update your sitemap and tell Google which of your pages that you want to be crawled and which pages not to crawl using robots.txt or noindex tags.
Fresh content can take anything from a few hours to a a couple of weeks to be indexed, but you should check back on GSC regularly to see if the pages and posts are starting to be picked up. If so, you will notice a rise in the number of pages that your site currently has indexed for. The severity or steadiness of the rise will correlate with the amount of content that you have uploaded.
The beauty of having access to this kind of monitoring, is that it works both ways. We also use GSC to help remove a huge number of pages from the index for another client. This was done due to a change in the focus of the business, and a more targeted strategy. You can track progress both up and down to monitor the success of your activity.
In the Web Tools section of GSC, one of the first things that you come to is the Ad Experience Report. This is designed to identify ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards, a set of ad experiences the industry has identified as being highly annoying to users.
The final, and perhaps best part of using the GSC to aid your search strategy is that it teaches best practice in the form of a checklist. The GSC offers numerous additional tools and by utilising these you are putting your site in the best possible position.
The other tools and resources that you can access through the GSC and which can assist your online performance are:
Google My Business – This service allows you to make sure your business looks great on Google Search, Maps and Google+ and what’s more it’s free. This is the perfect place for you to include all of the important information your customers might look for such as email address, contact details, reviews, opening times and a map.
Google Merchant Center – This is especially useful if you are a retail site or you have an ecommerce based model as it offers you a place to upload your product data to Google and make it available to Google Product Search.
PageSpeed Insights – You can use PageSpeed Insights to find out how to make your web pages fast on all devices. This optimisation can be the difference between a high position on the SERPs and digital obscurity.
After the initial results come back you can look at what changes can be made and the recommendations and optimisations that you can perform. Checking these things off will almost certainly lead to an improvement in performance and visibility. Here’s a section of an example report:
Google Analytics – The ultimate tool for the office ‘stato’ Google Analytics is essential if you are to measure behaviour across websites, apps, and devices. If you can get a grasp on GA then you are sure to make better, data-driven decisions.
GSC is one of those platforms that any marketer, businessperson or developer worth his salt will be using. The insights are powerful and by creating a strategy based on them you are sure to see positive, prolonged progress.