Using Google Search Console
Killing it at SEO requires that you use a lot of different tools.
There’s SEO software, apps, analytics, and so on.
But in my opinion, one of the most helpful tools, pound for pound, is Google Search Console.
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools or GWT, Google Search Console is the name of the “free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results.”
It’s powerful, it’s potent, and it gives you a behind-the-scenes snapshot of how your site is performing on multiple levels.
More importantly, it provides you with insight into what needs your attention so you can optimize your site more fully.
Here’s a screenshot of why you would want to use Google Search Console, according to Google:
As you can see, it can be used for a plethora of different purposes and offers some tremendous benefits.
But in order to fully capitalize on this free tool, you need to know which features to use and how to use them.
In this guide, I’m going to highlight some of the key features I’ve found most helpful in optimizing my websites for Google Search and explain how you can use them as well.
Let’s dive in.
The initial setup
Before you can use Google Search Console, you’ll first need to verify ownership of your domain.
This is a pretty straightforward process.
Once you’re set up, you’ll see a dashboard on the left side of the screen that looks like this:
Needless to say, there is an extensive list of features.
But what I do want to cover in this post is some of the core features most critical to your overall SEO.
This section can be accessed by clicking on “Search Appearance” and then “HTML Improvements.”
Google will then scan your site and “detect any potential issues with content on your pages, including duplicate, missing or problematic title tags or meta descriptions.”
If there are any content issues with your site, you’ll definitely want to know about them and promptly find a resolution.
For instance, you may need to tweak your meta descriptions to ensure they’re the optimal length (roughly 160 characters).
This section can be accessed by clicking on “Search Traffic” and then “Search Analytics.”
It will provide you with a wealth of information about the performance of your content.
For instance, you can determine what your most popular queries are, which devices people are searching with, which countries your traffic is coming from, and so on.
One of the first things you’ll want to look at is the number of clicks per keyword.
This will show you how a certain keyword ranks in search results and its number of clicks.
Analyzing this data will quickly let you know which keywords are bringing the most traffic and which have had only marginal results.
This is obviously beneficial for determining which type of content is resonating the most with your audience.
I also recommend taking a look at the number of impressions per keyword.
This will let you know what percentage of people are actually clicking on each keyword.
If you notice that a keyword is getting a high volume of impressions but only minimal clicks, this could indicate that the title of your content needs some tweaking because it’s not interesting enough to motivate users to check it out.
Links to your site
As you probably already know, the links that point to your site play a major role in the value (or lack thereof) that Google gives your site.
Get plenty of links from authoritative, relevant websites, and it’s going to help your SEO tremendously.
On the other hand, getting links from sketchy, irrelevant sites is going to have the opposite effect and hurt your rankings.
While there are several paid tools that will analyze your site’s link profile, Google Search Console is a really nice alternative.
I’ve found it to be quite sufficient, and it’s free.
Just click on “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site.”
You’ll instantly see a lot of helpful information, including:
- Total links
- Who links the most
- Your most linked content
- How your data is linked
Knowing this information is important for two main reasons.
First, you’ll know which sites are linking to you. If you’re getting links from sketchy, spammy sites, you’ll probably want to disavow those links.
Second, you’ll know which reputable, relevant sites are linking to you. If you find that a high profile publication is featuring your content, this could lead to future opportunities.
Next, I recommend seeing what your site’s index status is like.
This can be found by clicking on “Google Index” and “Index Status.” Then click on the “Advanced” button at the top.
You’ll see a graph that looks like this:
Why is this helpful?
This feature will give you a rundown of how many total pages are indexed as well as how many have been blocked by robots or have been removed.
If there’s a particular page you want to be indexed that isn’t, you can look into it and see what went wrong.
More specifically, I suggest looking at your robots.txt file or your sitemap to determine exactly what the problem is.
You obviously don’t want integral pages of your website to escape Google’s notice. This can hurt your rankings.
But by checking the index status, you should be able to get everything to where it needs to be.
One thing that can be detrimental to your SEO is if you have crawl errors such as:
- 404 errors
- Server errors
- A URL pointing to a nonexistent page
This can not only hurt your site’s ability to climb the search rankings but also diminish the user experience and make you look unprofessional.
I find it irritating when I get hit with the dreaded 404 error while exploring content.
But you can identify any such problems by clicking on “Crawl Error” under the “Crawl” section.
Google Search Console will then show you what (if anything) is wrong and will display both site and URL errors.
If you spot any errors, click on them for a more detailed description. You’ll then want to diagnose any problem areas and correct them.
I really like this feature because it saves me time from having to manually look over my site for issues and ensures that I can provide my audience with a positive browsing experience.
Fetch as Google
Let’s say you just made some significant changes to your website and you want Google to index these updates ASAP so that the changes will appear in search results quicker.
You can expedite the process by using the “Fetch as Google” feature under the “Crawl” section.
A box will appear that looks like this:
What you’ll want to do is type in the URL you want Google to fetch.
If this is only a single page, you’ll want to type in http://yourwebsite.com/category
If it’s a large scale, site-wide update, you’ll want to leave the box blank.
Then click the “Fetch and Render” button. If you only update a page or two, this should be completed quickly.
But if there are a lot of changes, it’s probably going to take a few minutes.
Once it’s finished, click on the “Submit to Index” option at the bottom.
The final step is to choose between one of two options.
There’s “Crawl Only This URL” and “Crawl This URL and its Direct Links.”
Choose the first option if you only want to index a single page. Choose the second option if you want Google to index your entire site.
After you’ve completed this final step, you’re all done. At this point, Google will send its spiders/bots to crawl the updated sections of your website, and the changes will appear in search results fairly quickly (usually a couple of days or so).
This is really helpful because it increases the odds of new content ranking well in a shorter period of time than it would otherwise.