Whether you’re a seasoned SEO pro or a relative newcomer to the subject, Google Search Console can provide insights and enable actions that will help you get more organic traffic via web searches. In this article, we’re going to outline our seven favourite features of Google Search Console, and how to use them. Our aim is for you to leave with both an enhanced understanding of the tool, and the ability to immediately implement some actions to the benefit of your search presence.
Some of these tools do require technical knowledge of how your website functions and is coded, so if you don’t understand any of what this article covers or feel unsure please do get expert help and guidance from someone who knows your site well before making use of any of these tools.
Get your site linked up to Google Search Console and follow us step-by-step as we explore this powerful toolkit.
Search Console’s Search Analytics reports provide a comprehensive range of key insights into your website’s search performance on Google. In the menu to the left-hand side of the Search Console view, go to ‘Search Traffic’, then ‘Search Analytics’.
Once you have Search Analytics loaded up, you will be presented with an array of options on how to view your search traffic data. To give just a few examples, you can sort your site’s pages by highest/lowest click-through rate; you can see how your search traffic has changed over time, and you can see which keywords have been driving that traffic.
Along the top of the Search Analytics graph, you will see check boxes for Clicks, Impressions, CTR and Position. You can select all four at once to gain a simultaneous overview of these four key metrics over time, which helps you pick out the correlation between rises and falls in each metric. For example – Your position is up but your clicks have plateaued. This suggests you need to work on your CTR.
You will have noticed in the report example above a dramatic change following the ‘Note’ line. When Google makes changes to their reporting they add these notes in. If you click on the word note you get an explanation. In this instance the explanation was “14th August – An incremental improvement in Google’s logging system now provides better accounting for results in lower positions. This change might cause an increase in impressions, but also a decrease in average positions. This change only affects Search Console reporting, not your actual performance on Google Search.” So understanding that we dont need to worry that our overall position appears to have dropped dramatically since that event. Handy to know.
The Search Analytics report also lets you drill-down and filter your data by Queries, Countries, Devices, Pages and Search Type. Just click on the element you want to drill down into. These filters can provide all sorts of insights into your search performance – you can find them discussed in greater detail in our article on Search Console reports in Google Analytics.
The data highlighter is a fantastically usable and intuitive tool that enables you to add structured data (data that tells Google what your content is and how it should be treated) to your site. You may already have structured data within your site which would have been sorted out by your brilliant web developers, in which case this tool won’t be of so much use. You can check by visiting the Structured Data menu item for a full report on how much of it is on your site. Structured data is a relatively new addition to web page coding so unless your site has been recently developed and built it may well not contain any structured data mark up. If that is the case this tool can help you. It’s definitely not a replacement for well implemented structured data within your websites raw code, but it will help you to get started if you want to start playing with structured data on your site.
In Search Console, click ‘Search Appearance’, then ‘Data Highlighter’. Click the ‘Start Highlighting’ button. You are now given the option to highlight pages from your site as any of the following:
· Local Businesses
· Software Applications
· TV episodes
Depending on which content type you choose, you will be able to tag appropriate details in your content, e.g. opening hours and cuisine type for restaurants; title and publication date for articles.
Let’s take highlighting structured data in an article for example. Enter the URL of one of your website’s blog articles and select the option to ‘Tag this page and others like it’. (If you don’t have any articles on your site, select a different content type and go through the equivalent steps.)
You can now enter the data highlighter view, in which the page you have specified is rendered. In this view, you can click on your article title, author and date published. This will activate a pop-up menu, which you can use to tell Google what the item you have clicked is by selecting the appropriate menu item.
The tags you can add are limited to the information that is actually displayed on the web page. So for example, if your page doesn’t expose an author or a publication date when it displays in a web browser, then you won’t be able to mark up those elements.
Once you’re done tagging the page, Data Highlighter will automatically detect similar pages on your site, allowing you to apply the equivalent tags to all of them at once, as a Page Set. To verify the auto-tagging, Data Highlighter will at this point ask you to check around 5 random pages from the set. You can add additional pages if you want to, and this is a good idea if you use a variety of different page template layouts for a particular page type. If you’re happy that the tags have been applied correctly, click ‘Publish’.
Using this tool to highlight structured data can provide a boost to your on-site SEO, primarily because it helps Google understand what’s on your site. Google has been consistently increasing the importance of behavioural cues like dwell time and goal completion as ranking factors – which means that the more you do to help Google serve your content to just the right searchers, the better your content will perform, and by extension, the better your rankings will become.
Below is an example of how Google marked up an event page we used data highlighter to enhance. As you can see the page listing in Google now has the event date, name and venue added underneath its entry as an additional line in the results page listing for a search on Target Internet Training ( see arrows below). Previous to us adding this markup the page didn’t appear in the results pages so making use of this tool can really help to get your content listed and noticed.
No matter how fastidious the webmaster, there will always be a few things about a website which – from a search engine’s perspective – can be improved upon. The HTML improvements tool points handily points out the issues with your site and provides suggestions on how to fix them.
Go to ‘Search Appearance’, then ‘HTML Improvements’ to find a list of HTML issues on your site. These will include title problems, meta description problems and non-indexable content problems (and it would be perfectly normal for your site to have all three).
All the factors shown here can negatively impact your search rankings in one way or another. Duplicate title tags or meta descriptions may result in lower rankings, and non-indexable content is theoretically ineligible to rank whatsoever. As far as content title and meta description length is concerned – go too long and you may adversely affect click-through rate; go too short and you’ll be missing out on a chance to give Google and searchers a detailed first impression of your site. Depending on your ability you may need to get help in fixing some of the issues this tool highlights, but however you go about fixing things, it helps to know the issues are there so you can get them fixed.
The Remove URLs feature lets you hide certain URLs from Google’s search results temporarily. It can come in particularly handy for hiding popular content that’s skewing Google’s impression of your site in the wrong direction or for removing content that is still listed high up for a particular search but which is no longer relevant.
The process to remove a URL is quick. After opening the tool, click ‘Temporarily Hide’, and then type in the ‘relative path’ of the image, page or directory you wish to remove. You should use exactly the same URL that’s associated with the relevant content in Google search results. Be careful with this tool. It is powerful. For example, if you were to just leave the ‘relative path’ field empty you can end up temporarily hiding your entire website! It is best to stick with individual pages rather than pointing to directories unless you are sure you want to hide an entire directory of content.
There’s no shame in passing this task onto a more technically skilled team member if you feel you need clarification. Always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to what is and isn’t included in Google’s index. Take a look at this Google Webmasters guide if you would like a more detailed look at the ‘Remove URLs’ feature.
The Remove URLs tool only removes your requested URLs for a period of around 90 days – a suitable amount of time for you to assess whether this was the right course of action and to ensure permanent redirects are set up or to ensure the content you don’t want to be indexed is added to your robots.txt file as an exclusion. You can undo a removal request by clicking the ‘Reinclude’ button which you’ll find next to successful requests listed in ‘Remove URLs’.
The Fetch as Google feature has two important functions:
1. It shows you how Google renders your published pages – so you can see your site exactly as Google sees it.
2. It allows you to submit pages for rapid indexing.
Let’s start with the Fetch as Google function. In the Search Console menu, go to ‘Crawl’, then ‘Fetch as Google’. You will now be shown a URL field, which is blank by default. Leave it blank if you want Google to fetch your homepage, or if you want to crawl another page, enter its URL slug.
At this point you can choose between two options: ‘Fetch’, or ‘Fetch and render’. The former shows your page’s code as Google sees it, while the latter renders the code as Google sees it, so you can explore it visually. Our recommendation is to use ‘Fetch and render’ – but if you’re fluent in code, you may prefer to simply ‘Fetch’ the code.
You can see all your processing/successful ‘fetch’ and ‘fetch and render’ requests listed on the Fetch as Google page, with status symbols to indicate whether each request is ready to view. Click on a Completed request to access it.
To the left is shown how Google would “see” the page; to the right is how a normal search visitor would see it. Being able to make this comparison can be a big help if you’re trying to work out why a seemingly perfect page is failing to rank – it may look very different in Google’s eyes.
In the top-right corner, you will see a button marked ‘Request Indexing’. You can use this button if you’ve made content changes and urgently want Google to re-evaluate its content. If you’ve updated the whole site, render your homepage and select the ‘Crawl URL & Direct Links’ option; or if you’ve updated just one page, render the appropriate page and select ‘Crawl Only This URL’. You get a limited number of crawl requests per month, so we recommend you use this feature sparingly.
Submitting your sitemap to Google will help your site get indexed quicker – which can help create valuable web traffic momentum as you launch a new site.
Your first step in using this tool, if you see no sitemap information has been set up, is to get hold of a link to your websites XML sitemap. First, ask your developer or search your CMS. If both come up blank, you can easily create one using a free online XML sitemap tool but bear in mind that any manually created site maps can quickly become out of date and need recompiling and resubmitting regularly to ensure your site content is regularly visible to google. Also, bear in mind that automated site map creators also rely on being able to crawl all of your pages and any blocks to that crawling process can result in pages getting missed. For this reason, it is well worth automating your sitemap creation within your CMS so that as soon as new pages are created they are added to the sitemap.
In Search Console->Sitemaps, click the ‘Add/Test Sitemap’ button (top-right) and paste in your sitemap link. XML, RSS, Text or Google Sites are all supported on Google Search Console (we would generally recommend XML).
Once you’ve pasted in your sitemap link, click ‘Test’ to initiate a sitemap test, then click to ‘View test results’. If no errors are found then you can proceed. Click the ‘Add/Test Sitemap’ button once again, paste in the same url you ran the test on and then ‘Submit’ to send your sitemap to Google.
Now refresh the page to see the submitted sitemap, and check the ‘Issues’ section towards the bottom-right to see if there’s anything wrong with it. If not, you can consider the job done – Google now has your sitemap and will likely index any new content added to your site quicker.
You should now have received a message – which you can view by clicking ‘Messages’ in the menu on the left-hand side – with a title along the lines of: “Improve the search presence of [your URL]”. Open it to bring up a list of useful tips on how to further improve your site’s search presence using Search Console. You may already have carried out some of the suggested actions, but it’s worth taking a look, just in case.
Google Search Console is just one of many tools we can use to improve our SEO (you can learn about some others in this month’s digital marketing e-learning modules.
Another essential tool is the website data suite Google Analytics, which tells you – on a demographic level – about who is visiting your website and what they are doing when they get there.
Analytics and Search Console accounts can be linked up, allowing you to view four key reports from Search Console within Google Analytics. These cover Landing pages, Devices, Queries and Countries.
You can find out what these reports are and how to use them in our article on SEO reports in Google Analytics
One of the benefits of linking your Search Console and Analytics accounts is being able to view and interpret all your most important website data within a single, easy-to-use interface.
As Google’s search algorithm has improved over the years, good SEO has become less about manipulating search results and more about communicating your website’s purpose to Google. You can use the Search Console features discussed in this article to do exactly that.