Google Search Console is a powerful tool in the world of digital marketing when it comes to keyword research and SEO. The hyper-detailed tools and reports that Google Search Console can provide allow an in-depth look at your site’s search traffic and page performance. Tracking data like page clicks, impressions, and keyword ranking data, Search Console will enable you to map out how users find you and what they are looking for/at once they are on your site. Knowing and observing these metrics over-time allows you to identify and address specific SEO concerns. You may also improve your keyword rankings to attract a larger audience of potential customers.
By “optimizing” your site/ pages, we are talking about carefully maintaining your site’s elements to ensure that it is as user-friendly as possible. If you read our previous blog on building a successful sales funnel, you may recall that any minor speed-bump along your users’ conversion journey is a chance for them to drop out of your funnel. AKA a lost sale for you.
We also know that the top of the sales funnel is the stage where you are trying to attract your prospective customers’ attention. But how can you ensure your site is seen at all amongst your competitors online?
Using Google Search Console for Keyword Research allows you to plan & execute an informed approach.
How Google Ranks and Indexes Websites
To serve up the best, most relevant search results, Google utilizes “crawler” bots to determine how pages rank in a given search. Essentially, these crawl bots deep-scan new and updated web pages to determine their strength, quality, and content.
The crawl bots assess many of the same elements you will have already considered when designing your sales funnel, such as:
- Having a secure & accessible site
- Page loading speed
- Quality & relevance of page content
- Genuine, useful backlinks
- User experience
The easier you can make it for the crawl bots to understand your site, product, services, and content- the more likely the algorithm will assign a higher-ranking score in a relevant search.
How Could Google Get Confused… It’s Google?
The answer is… if you don’t give them the correct information.
One issue we run into a lot is branding that confuses bots. For example, we worked with a cannabis dispensary, who, for branding purposes, used the word “chapter” instead of “dispensary.” They also described themselves as a “lifestyle brand that promotes holistic wellness,” and their name was far from what you’d expect of a dispensary. We knew that this was an issue as soon as we reviewed the website, and we used data from Google Search Console to prove it.
When they searched “dispensary near me” on their phone, the client knew they didn’t appear in the listing. Using Search Console’s data, we were able to show them that they DID show up for grocery-store AND apparel-store related searches. With a few small tweaks to their site copy, we got them back into more relevant keyword queries that they should have been showing up all along.
There are several ways to tell Google what you offer, and the simplest is with the words you use. Without hiring an SEO agency, it’s the only way.
Using Google Search Console Data To Improve SEO
Knowing how Google views and ranks your site is crucial to effectively utilizing the Google Search Console data. What you can ultimately piece together here is user intent. If you can identify why users visit your site, you can optimize your landing page to generate more traffic and cater to these needs and increase your chances of closing a sale.
Let’s take a look at some of Google Search Console’s most useful features for optimizing your website;
Using Google Search Console for Keyword Research
Google Search Console’s performance report offers valuable SEO data pieces such as the queries driving your site’s most clicks. A Query is the keyword or string-of-words that users search for in Google. This report shows you which specific search queries are driving the most traffic to your site. It also allows you to see which page (or pages) users land on from each query.
Query rankings are one of Search Console’s most valuable reports as they allow you a direct insight into user intention, as mentioned above. Knowing the exact terms people are searching for will enable you to optimize relevant pages to meet these queries. The better the match, the higher your site will rank for that specific query. In addition, you may find your pages ranking for queries that aren’t even specifically mentioned on your page – and can craft more specific content to fit these areas.
Not to mention, understanding the searcher’s intention allows you to optimize the landing page to move them through the funnel!
Including these query terms in relevant product names, descriptions, image alt-text, and URL slugs makes it easier for crawlers to understand what your page is about, improving your rankings in these searches. Using Google Search Console for keyword research allows you to make informed, intentional changes.
Monitor Page Positions
Another critical metric offered in the performance report is the Average Position or the average of your ranking positions for every keyword your entire site ranks for. While this number alone doesn’t tell us much, working down to look at your average ranking positions for specific keywords and page URL’s tells us a lot.
Although 1st position is always the goal, it may not always be realistic. Typically you will see most sites follow the 80/20 rule, with 80% of the traffic coming from 20% of the pages. Once you establish your top-performing pages and keyword queries, you can use it as a benchmark. Using this data, you can identify which pages and keywords are underperforming on your site and optimize them to rank higher.
While Average Position is not the be-all-end-all metric to track, it is the most useful for monitoring your optimizations’ effectiveness in real-time. After you’ve made your changes, you should hopefully see improvements in this ranking within a few weeks.
Using this strategy, you can test out optimization techniques to determine what works best for your site and visitors.
Understand User Interactions
Aside from tracking Average Position, G.S.C. also tracks user movement and interaction on your site and pages. As we’ve seen a few times, any indication of user intent or behavior is valuable information.
Some of the other key metrics you will see are;
TOTAL CLICKS: The number of clicks on your website URLs from a Google Search results page
TOTAL IMPRESSIONS: The number of times any URL from your site appeared in search results viewed by a user
AVERAGE CLICK-THROUGH-RATE (CTR): Click-through rate, calculated as Clicks / Impressions * 100
CTR is an interesting data point as it requires a little bit of interpretation. If you find that specific queries garner a high amount of impressions but a low amount of clicks, then your CTR will be lower, and your page needs optimizations. Visitors are essentially not seeing what they are looking for in your offer and skipping over you.
To put the matter another way, when Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, was asked about the importance of CTR he confirmed that;
“It doesn’t really matter how often you show up. It matters how often you get clicked on and then how often you … convert those to whatever you really want (sales, purchases, subscriptions)… Do spend some time looking at your title, your URL, and your snippet that Google generates, and see if you can find ways to improve that and make it better for users because then they’re more likely to click. You’ll get more visitors, you’ll get a better return on your investment.”
URL Inspection Tool
The URL Inspection Tool in G.S.C. is a diagnostic tool that allows you to see how crawl bots view and render your website. This tool will crawl your pages and provide you a report that shows whether your site is indexed and any issues with the page. It is handy for weeding out any potentially “invisible” errors or inefficiencies on a page that will require your attention.
The report identifies issues such as crawl errors (i.e., Google can’t access a page on your site), manual actions (i.e., Google has penalized your site due to a violation of one of their quality guidelines). It also evaluates the mobile-friendliness and speed of your site – which are both extremely important for search rankings. Failing in mobile-friendliness or having a speed time over 4 seconds could both prevent a well-optimized page (in terms of written copy) from ranking well.
If you have an updated sitemap that you keep for your site, you can submit that sitemap in Google Search Console to make it easier and quicker for Google to crawl your pages and to keep about new pages you’ve published for indexing. There are also tools (depending on what CMS you use) that can automatically submit sitemaps when you make changes.
“I always check all 2,300+ of my blog posts and web pages to make sure that they’re mobile-friendly,” says Mike Schiemer of Bootstrap Business. “Google checks to make sure that the pages are responsive and quick to load, and that all elements fit on the page and fonts aren’t too small to read on mobile.”
“Google Search Console provides you with a list of the specific mobile-unfriendly pages and what needs to be corrected. This ensures that your webpages are providing a better mobile experience for visitors—and that they end up ranking higher in search.”
Google Search Console’s “Links Report” is a handy tool to see what other external websites are linking to yours. It also breaks down which pages get linked to most often and which pages have the most backlinks.
While this may seem like a pure vanity metric, it is worth keeping in mind and working towards expanding. The more quality links there are pointing to your site, the better Google can recognize your site content’s authority and strength. The crawl bots view such backlinks as a form of “social proof” or a way of verifying the value of these pages relative to other indexed sites. Better backlinks equal higher rankings.
One simple pro-tip that we use this report for is to distribute authority throughout a site. Often, the bulk of the links on a site point at a small % of the overall pages, and if they do not link to other pages on your site – that authority becomes bottlenecked on one page. But you can distribute the authority by internal linking to other related posts/pages on your site, and this will pass that authority on and spread it across your site.
Google Search Console Best Practices
If it’s not apparent by this point, Google Search Console provides a deep pool of data that you can use to keep your site up-to-date and optimized. If you’re wondering how you could keep track of such a vast amount of data while using Google Search Console for keyword research and local SEO, the answer is you should not. With so much minute detail provided, it would be easy to get lost down a rabbit hole of numbers, dates, and percentages. It is too easy to spend more time interpreting data than actually taking action.
The key to using Google Search Console for SEO and Keyword Research is to identify the most critical queries, rankings, and other metrics that you want to track over time. By focusing on specific query keywords and rankings, you can start to work on your upgrades in a more manageable, focused way. Within no time, you should be able to start seeing your rankings and CTR steadily climb with some thoughtful optimizations.
While using Google Search Console for keyword research daily may help you track small fluctuations in the short term, the data will generally be more useful and informative over a couple of weeks or even month-to-month. The data helps provide insight into site-traffic and user interactions, but it does not predict this behavior. As you make small adjustments and corrections to your site/pages, it will take time to gather a new data set as users begin to interact with the changes you made.