Google’s search ranking algorithms sure keep us on our toes, but the complexity is just part of the fun! Why won’t Google just tell us what to do to improve our position? Google Search Console (formally Google Webmaster Tools, as of May 20) might be the closest we’ll get to Google whispering the secret to successful search in our ear.
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console offers insight into how Googlebots view your site, how it appears in search results, and how your audience interacts with those search results.
It’s a looking glass into your search efforts and helps you monitor, optimize, and maintain your website. (You’ll notice some overlap if you currently use Google Analytics. For example, you’ll see a breakdown of your most popular landing pages in both tools, but Google Search Console takes it a step further to show your placement in search results for specific keywords.)
The Search Console dashboard is a quick look into your site’s current status, and the left navigation offers a deep dive into search appearance, search traffic, Google Index, crawl status, and security issues.
Instead of listing all the functionality bundled into Google Search Console, we’ll focus on two main assets: is your website performing at an optimum level? Are your SEO efforts paying off?
Google Search Console measures website performance
Google Search Console monitors your site’s health and performance to ensure you maximize your website investment. It offers granular insight into the complex inner-workings of how Google sees and experiences your website, but also actionable fixes that a non-technical person can understand and correct.
For example, Under Crawl, you can check Googlebot’s crawl activity for the last 90 days. Among many other features, you can check and correct URL errors across desktops, mobile, and featured phones.
Under Search Appearance, the HTML Improvements tab calls out corrections for your site’s user experience and performance. Correcting duplicate meta descriptions, for example, is usually a quick and immediate issue you can resolve.
You can also improve overall search results by controlling some of the information users see. This is just the tip of useful resources to explore in Search Console.
Google Search Console helps measure SEO success
Search Console is the best way to shake Google until you get SEO answers!
Under Search Analytics, Search Console spells out the most popular search queries driving people to your site and the search results generating clicks. (Search Console’s ability to deliver search queries is especially important, in light of Google Analytics’ change to SSL and ‘keyword not provided’ in metrics).
This section provides rich SEO information:
• Queries: the keywords people type into a browser to find your site or that returns your site in search results
• Pages: your landing pages people visit from organic search
• Countries: countries where the search originates
• Search Type: filters search results in Google Images, Video, or Web search
• Devices: breaks down results by desktop, mobile, and tablet
For each set of data you can measure clicks, impressions, click-through rate, and search position.
These factors tell you if you’re reaching enough people and if they’re clicking (aka, is it working?), so you can develop a more successful search strategy around topics resonating with your audience. (If the site pages you deem most important aren’t listed under your Top Pages, you have work to do.)
Understanding popular search queries can also help you develop audience personas and fresh content ideas to target users with specific questions.
Similarly, under Links To Your Site, Search Console quantifies sources linking the most frequently to your site and the specific content that is getting the most traction.
You can even check for mobile usability issues under Search Traffic, a huge factor in light of Mobilegeddon.
Setting up Google Search Console
Sign up for free at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/. First, add your website’s URL in the property field. You’ll then have to verify that you own your website. There are many verification options, but we’ve found the Alternate Method: HTML tag option to be easiest.
1. Click the Html Meta Tag
2. Copy the provided meta tag and paste it into your site’s home page in the <head> section, before the first <body> section.
3. Click Verify.
(Don’t remove the meta tag, even after verification succeeds.)
Unlike duking it out in the search competition, setting up Google Search Console is easy!
Linking your Google Search Console + Google Analytics account
We highly recommend linking your Search Console account with your Google Analytics account for a 360 view of your site performance and activity. To do so:
1. From the Search Console homepage, select Manage Site
2. Select “Google Analytics Property.”
3. Choose your website property. Click save.
You’re halfway there! Now you need to make sure all that rich data is accessible in your analytics account.
1. In Google Analytics, go to Acquisition – Search Engine Optimization – Queries. Select “Set up Webmaster Tools data sharing.”
2. Review and modify settings to meet your needs.
3. Scroll down to Webmaster Tools Settings at the bottom of the page, click the edit link, and select your website.
4. Hit save.
Enjoy the best of both worlds: a wealth of information about your website and site visitors in one place.
Google Search Console is your search ally
Brands should monitor data on Google Analytics, AdWords, and other search tools to make cautious tweaks and changes reflective of consistent trends, instead of rushing to modify at the slightest traffic peak or valley. Used in concert with other search tools, Google Search Console offers a holistic view of actions to take today to improve your site and search results.