Google Search Console is an incredibly powerful tool whose strength is still relatively unknown to the general public. This has to change. In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the reports Google Search Console has to offer and equip you with the skills you need to optimise your website.
Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the better (free) SEO tools. Where Google Analytics provides insight into user statistics on websites, GSC gives insight into a website’s statistics in the search engine (Google). This data is particularly interesting because it gives insights into the search terms that find your website or the average position of a certain keyword. GSC also delivers insights into the performance of your website in the search engine. For example, by identifying pages that have error messages or pages that cannot be indexed. In short: Google search console is a free SEO tool that you can use to monitor, improve and manage your website.
Once your property has been verified, you can get started. When you click through to the Google Search Console dashboard, you will see an overview on the left with a range of functions. This provides you with insights into the search behaviour of users, which pages contain errors, but also which pages have the most external links. Below we’ll explain the 5 most important reports, and how you can use them to optimise your website.
We are constantly surprised to find that many of our clients are not using Google Search Console. Although all of the functions might not be interesting or relevant to your business, it’s our view that every digital marketer should find at least the performance report function interesting. In the 'Performance' tab of Google Search Console you can view all keywords that find your website over the last 16 months. This report has four options that can be checked: clicks, impressions, CTR and position.
'Total clicks' are clicks on search results that take a searcher to a website. Remember that it’s a click from a searcher that turns them into a visitor.
The number of impressions is always higher than the number of clicks. This is the frequency at which the search result of your website is shown in the search engine. It is important to remember that an impression is counted when the search result is not visible, but appears on the page. We also say that a search result is ‘below the fold’, this means that there is no impression if your search result is on page 2, and the searcher has not visited page 2.
CTR stands for Click Through Rate. This is the rate at which searchers click through to your website. This number is obtained when you divide the clicks by the number of impressions and multiply that by 100.
A high CTR indicates that more people are clicking through on a search result. It indicates that the search result matches the search intent and that the search result is likely to rank high on the first page of Google.
The position is based on the average position over the selected period of a particular keyword or URL. Because there can be a lot of fluctuation in positions, the average position is a reliable number to refer to. This allows you to see whether something is really happening, or whether there is a fluctuation.
Besides the fact that these four options can be checked, there are 7 data views that can be selected to focus your analysis.
Searches – For which keywords is my website visible
Pages – Which pages are visible in the search engine
Countries – From which countries does the organic visit originate
Devices – On which devices is my website viewed
Search format – How do pages with structured data compare
Date – choose the period for which you want to see the data
Each of the above data views can be filtered or compared. You can carry out some really interesting analyses with this, here are some of our favourites.
By selecting a keyword or filtering on a particular search query, you can see which pages this search query displays. Begin by selecting a keyword within the searches, now only data for this keyword is displayed. When you navigate to the 'pages' tab, you will see the pages that are shown for that particular search. If you see several pages with the same purport, that means that there is internal competition for a certain keyword. This is called keyword cannibalisation and to restore your website’s ranking, appropriate action should be taken.
The difference between the rankings of mobile and desktop devices can be analysed by carrying out a comparison of mobile and desktop. There are always some differences. If there is a lot of divergence between certain keywords or certain URLs, it can't hurt to do some extra research.
This is actually the reverse variant of keyword cannibalisation. When we filter on a page, we get the data for that particular page. In the first ‘searches’ tab we can see the searches for that particular page. This gives us valuable insights into the search intent of the searcher. There are often combinations that we can use to further optimise our page.
Once you've created a new page, you'll want to share it with the world as soon as you can. There’s nothing more annoying than having to wait for Google to include your new page in the index because you are curious how this page will perform in the search engine. You can speed the process up by submitting pages to Google. This requests Google to index a specific page. You can do this in the URL Inspection tool in the old Webmasters, better known as 'Fetch as Google'.
Alongside submitting your page to Google, you can also see how Google sees your page by entering the relevant URL in the search bar at the top of Google Search Console. Google then retrieves the status of your page and by analysing the data that has been retrieved you can see if your page is currently indexed or not. If your page is currently not found in Google's index, you will see the following: 'URL not indexed by Google'. To ensure that Google does index your page, you can request indexing. Click on 'Request indexing' on the right to submit the new page to the index.
By clicking on 'View crawled page' on the left, you can get more information about how Google and a user sees a page. This is particularly valuable because it gives you insights into what Google can see. When you block certain stylesheets within your robots.txt file, what Google sees will differ from what a visitor sees.
Submitting your page for indexation and understanding how Google sees your page is only the start, you can also find more information in the URL Inspection tool:
Ease of use on mobile devices
This gives you even more information about your page.
The Google Search Console Coverage Report contains 4 functionalities: errors (valid with a warning), valid and excluded. This report gives you insight into which pages contain errors. If you haven’t got expensive crawl software at your disposal, the coverage report in the Google Search Console is your go-to report for tracing broken pages, among other things.
Crawl errors are pages that Google has found that return errors. Often these are pages that no longer work or pages that display the 404 error. This provides quick insight into the number of error messages and whether they have increased significantly in recent days. It is important that this report is checked regularly and issues are resolved as quickly as possible. A website with multiple error messages will give Google the impression that the site is poorly maintained. When Google concludes that this website gives bad user experiences to searchers, Google assigns competing websites a higher position in the search results than a website that displays many error messages.
The 'valid with warning' tab shows messages where the page is indexed, but any problems have been detected. For example, this might be pages that are included in the index, but are currently blocked in the robots.txt. Again, it is important that any problems or warnings are resolved.
'Valid' shows all issue free pages currently indexed by Google. This tab gives an indication of how many pages of your website Google found and included in the index and any pages that are not currently in the sitemap. Click on this and see if the sitemap needs to be updated.
Under the tab 'excluded' you can see which pages are not currently indexed by Google. This may be sections of the website that are blocked in the robots.txt file, but also URLs with a canonical tag. It's always a good idea to dig into this data to check if any important pages are currently being excluded from the index.
Most online marketers understand that Google uses mobile-first indexing. This means Google mainly looks at and indexes the mobile version of your website and errors related to mobile usability are reported here. Even though your website receives most of the traffic from desktop, it is still important to regularly check this report for errors and problems. There are a number of errors that we see regularly:
Text too small to read
Viewport is not set
Clickable elements are too close together
Problem with LCP
The URLs that contain the errors are found within Google Search Console. There is often a pattern in these errors. For example, look at point 1. This can often be easily remedied by adjusting the font size in the CSS class for mobile devices. Pages that contain problems with LCP (also called Largest Contentful Paint) or CLS (which stands for Cumulative Layout Shift) are often related to several factors. Look for solutions with your web developer to optimise the mobile site user experience.
Google Search Console contains a report about links to your website which gives you a better idea about the internal links within your website, but also about external links that your site receives. The report contains several sections:
Most linked pages (external)
Sites with the most links to your site
Text with the most links to your page
Most linked pages (internal)
This report gives you insights into whether your highest priority pages receive sufficient internal links. If your analysis reveals that this is not yet the case, view the options for including the relevant page in the main menu or footer.
In the link report you can also see which pages receive the most external backlinks from other websites. By placing internal links from these pages to other important pages within the website, you can ensure that the authority value of your site is properly distributed. You can also find out what kind of anchor text (also called link text) is used to refer to a page on your site. Do you see a lot of branded anchor texts here or descriptive anchor texts?
All in all, Google Search Console is an incredible source of information that you can use to optimise your website. Use this free tool and try to monitor the above reports regularly.
We hope these insights will help you to optimise your website. If you can't figure it out yourself or have any questions contact us, we'll be happy to help.
Karianne uses her knowledge of the world’s most important algorithm to ensure companies big and small remain visible. Besides bringing a healthy mix of SEO and Google Analytics expertise to the table, she maintains a personal, human touch in an otherwise digital business.