The best things in life are free. Well, not quite. Joking aside, Google Search Console (GSC) is free and provides tons of actionable SEO insights. So, you want to invest time in learning how to use Google Search Console.
As with Google Analytics, if you don’t know what you’re looking for or what data is important, you’ll struggle to get the maximum value from the software. It can be overwhelming at the start and requires some guidance to know what to look for.
If you haven’t used it before or want to learn how to use Google Search Console better, this article will help you massively. Let’s see how this free software can help booster your SEO results!
Why use Google Search Console?
Data is at the heart of every successful SEO strategy. You don’t need a truckload of data to make good decisions, but you need some. As a free tool, Google Search Console allows you access to tons of data, which can help you skyrocket your SEO results.
Many make two mistakes when trying to use Google Search Console.
The first is not understanding what data is essential and what’s not. You can easily see if your website has issues or a red flag. View basic keyword data, some of your internal links, and a few websites that link to you. All of this data is very helpful.
Many also assume the data is accurate or complete. Search Console shows you a snapshot of the data Google holds about your website. So, you also need to learn to interpret the data.
Setting up an account
If you’re yet to create an account, Google has a guide to getting started. You can create a property that includes an entire domain (example.com) or a property limited to a single branch (example.com/clothing/).
Once you’re set up, the tools will start to collect data. It might take the software a few weeks to compile enough data for you to be able to draw actionable insights. So, you should get Google Search Console set up now if you don’t already have it.
With an account set up, it’s time to dive into the tools. We’ll work down the menu bar on the far left and cover each tool in depth.
The performance report contains tons of information. So much so that it can be overwhelming. And as it shows you averages, the data can be slightly misleading if not viewed through the right lens.
Instead of giving you 101 tips on how to use the performance report to maximize your search visibility, I’ll focus on the handful of ways I use this report.
You can easily see what keywords have an average rank of 1. While not fresh data, it can help you identify trends and opportunities. As you can select a wide time range, you can easily see how your target keywords perform over time.
View ranking keywords
As you can filter results by URL, you can take a holistic view of the keywords a page is ranking for.
Finding better-matched keywords
Not every page you create will rank for its target keyword. That’s ok. It’s your job as an SEO pro to find a low difficulty keyword that better matches that page and re-optimize it.
Simply filter results by URL and sort by position. If you’re ranking higher for a related keyword than your target, you should change your page to focus on this new keyword. Doing this should give your page in boost.
While keyword cannibalization is rare, if you’ve covered a topic in-depth, you’ll want to use Google Search Console to see if you have found a new opportunity or one you’ve already covered.
With new sites, I scroll to the bottom of the performance report and look at the number of keywords Google ranks the website for. As I add content and internal links, I expect Google to increase this number.
Granted, this is a crude metric but helpful to keep motivation up in the first few months when you’re working hard on a new website and see little movement!
URL Inspection tool
Before a page can start ranking for keywords, it needs to be found, crawled, and indexed. And this is where the URL inspection tool comes in. Instead of guessing where in the process your page is, you can see using this tool.
What makes this tool so powerful is that you can tell Google to index a page. So, if you’ve updated one recently, you can alert Google or if they haven’t found it yet, you can tell the big G that it should visit your latest page.
But that’s not all. Using the tool, you can fetch a live version of the page, allowing you to see if Google can find it and how it looks in their eyes. You don’t want to sleep on the URL inspection tool!
The URL inspection tool is fantastic for quickly gathering data on a single page. But it’s not ideal if you have to check multiple pages fast. Thankfully, we have the coverage report.
As the Google spiders crawl your website, it collects a ton of data, from links that lead nowhere (404), new pages, redirects, server errors, and more. Think of this report as the helicopter view. You can see specific errors, but you can quickly see how Google views your website.
Most people wrongly, look at the excluded tab and have a panic attack. Not so fast. Just because Google finds a page, doesn’t mean you want it to be indexed. You might exclude category and other low-value pages using the meta no-robots tag, but Google will still find them.
Instead of having a meltdown, use this report to check for 404 errors, server issues, and other easy-to-fix problems. Start with these as a healthy website is one that is regularly maintained.
You can also check how many pages are indexed using the valid tab and compare this number in your sitemap. Google won’t index 100% of your pages, so anything over 95% is great. If Google has indexed below 90% of the pages in your sitemap, you have an issue that needs sorting asap.
The primary way Google will crawl your website is using the sitemap. So you must add yours. When you have, Google will crawl it periodically to see what new pages you’ve added, so you don’t have to ask Google to recrawl it.
Again, the number of pages in your sitemap should be close to the number of pages Google has indexed shown by the coverage report, or you have a big problem.
The majority of CMS, such as WordPress (using an SEO plug-in), Wix, and Shopify automatically create a sitemap that’s updated every time you add a new page. If you’re using a custom-coded HTML/CSS website, you should manually rebuild your sitemap every time you add a new page.
It’s best practice to list your sitemap’s location in your robots.txt file.
I’ve been doing SEO long enough now to remember the original Google Search Console. When version 2 was released, they did away with the removal tool, and for no good reason. So it was a relief when this feature returned.
Before deleting a page, you should add a 301 redirect to ensure the user doesn’t end up on a 404 page. Next, use this removal tool to tell Google that the page has gone. Google will remove the page from its index but will still crawl the page to ensure it has been deleted.
I use the removal tool to ensure I’m not wasting my crawl budget and that Google is directed to new pages and away from ones that are no longer there.
Page experience and Core Web Vitals
I never look at these two tabs. It’s not that my websites have a perfect page experience or that I don’t care about Web Core Vitals, but I don’t think this is the best source of this information.
If you’re looking to speed your website up, I’d advise using the average of PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix. Looking at one tool will lull you into a false sense of security. Also, as Google Search Console pulls data from PageSpeed Insights, why not go direct?!
Outside work, you might rarely use a laptop or PC to browse the web, instead opting for your phone. So, if you’re website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’ll be missing out on sales. I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised just how many sites in 2022 don’t correctly display on mobile.
Thankfully Google Search Console has a solution. Not only will the tool show you if your website is mobile-friendly, but it will also continually scan your site looking for mobile errors.
Using this report, you can see if you have text that’s too small to read, clickable elements that are too close together, or content that is wider than the screen. With this information, you can either fix your website or know what exactly to say to your website developer for them to solve.
When it finds new errors, you’ll get an email from Google notifying you.
Hopefully, you never get a manual action and only ever have to deal with algorithm updates. But it’s worth understanding what manual actions are and how to avoid them. Start by looking at this report to see if Google has slapped your website with one.
As the name suggests, manual actions are where a Google team member has looked at your website and decided to punish it for spammy behavior. It could be thin content, hacked website, spammy content, a large amount of unnatural looking backlinks, or keyword stuffing.
So long as you’re building a website for the long term and avoiding shady techniques, you should be fine and never receive an email informing you of a manual action. If you do, you’ll need to seek specialist help.
While not the most up-to-date data, the links report is helpful. Again, it only shows a fraction of the data Google holds about your website. You can quickly see a list of your backlink and what pages are getting the love.
You can also view pages that have the most internal links and the pages that link to them. Use the internal links report to look for orphan pages, then go build some links!
Again as a snapshot, this report is great. However, I’d recommend using SEO Powersuite’s Website Auditor to optimize internal links and their backlink database (free online tool) to fully understand who is currently linking to you.
That’s how to use Google Search Console to improve your SEO results
Learning how to use Google Search Console doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Most feel overwhelmed when looking at Google Search Console as they don’t have a clear idea of what data to collect and what to ignore.
By getting this far, you have more clarity on the tools and how to find actionable insights to improve your SEO efforts. So, go experiment with Google Search Console and see how this free tool can dramatically change your business’s website.
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