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. Do be aware Google can get confused just like the rest of us.
HOW COULD GOOGLE GET CONFUSED… IT’S GOOGLE?
The answer is typically conflicting information.
One issue we run into a lot with business websites 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 this was an issue as soon as we reviewed the website, and we used data from Google Search Console to verify that inconsistency. Let me explain.
When searching “dispensary near me” on the client’s phone in their service area, they didn’t show up. This was because of how they branded their business and their on-page copy choices were confusing Google. Using Search Console’s data, we were able to see that Google didn’t understand they were a dispensary, instead, Google was trying to figure out if they were either a grocery store or an apparel-store.
We were able to figure that out by looking at the queries both their brand and site were getting both impressions and ranking for. A massive issue for potential customers, there’s a big difference between food, clothes, and cannabis-related products.
With a few small tweaks to their site copy, we got them back on track by using more relevant keywords, reducing Google’s confusion, and ultimately getting them to rank for queries that they should have been showing up for all along.
There are several ways to tell Google what you offer, and the simplest is with the words you use. While you want to stand out from the competition, you want to make sure the basics of your business are easily digestible. Take a “see pizza, get pizza” approach, preventing potential confusion for Google and customers alike.
Local businesses have the opportunity to go one step further in seeing what Google thinks about them by checking their Google My Business query statistics.
USING GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE DATA TO IMPROVE SEO
Knowing how Google views and ranks your site is crucial to effectively utilize your own 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 pages to generate more traffic and cater to their needs, increasing your chances of closing a sale in the long run.
Let’s take a look at some of Google Search Console’s most useful features for optimizing your website.
MONITOR AVERAGE PAGE POSITIONS
One critical metric offered in the performance report is the Average Position 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 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 may need 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)…”
Google search is a solution-based tool, their only goal is to direct people to the most relevant piece of content that’s the most likely to solve their problem. Your performance in resolving users problems is a substantial ranking factor.
“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.”
Just as the first quote goes over solving the problem, here with the second quote we’re focusing on showing people “hey, we are that solution”. You can see how well your individual landing pages are performing query to query, keyword by keyword, using Search Console. Allowing you to get a leg up over your competition.
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 keywords, you can start to improve your website’s relevance and authority on specific topics. Improving your rankings in a more focused, streamlined, and manageable way. Leading to more clicks, allowing for an additional layer of optimization to really maximize your rankings.
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.
SUBMITTING YOUR WEBSITE’S SITEMAP TO GOOGLE
The best way to advertise your business is by sharing what you have to offer and why you differ from the competition. While in person this can be done over the phone, with a face-to-face conversation, or maybe a simple sign, online things work a bit differently.
While Google is getting better at understanding language each and every day they still heavily rely on the core structure, or skeleton, of your website, to understand you and what makes you different. This is done with sitemaps.
Sitemaps are a flow chart Google uses to understand not only all the different pages and posts on your site but even what points where and how things group together.
It is best practice to keep an up-to-date sitemap at all times. 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. We’ve got a video explaining the process of submitting a sitemap to Google below.
USING GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE FOR KEYWORD RESEARCH
The performance report in Google Search Console offers tangible data on the queries driving actual clicks to your site. A “query” is a keyword, or string of words, that users search for in Google. This report shows statistics on the queries your site is currently ranking for.
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, heading tags, descriptions, image alt-text, and URL slugs makes it easier for crawlers to understand your page, improving your rankings in these searches. Using Google Search Console for keyword research allows you to make informed, intentional changes.
HOW TO USE GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE FOR LOCAL KEYWORD RESEARCH
Local search queries are different from national-level queries. National-level queries generally share informational content on broad topics, while local-level search revolves around directions, services, and immediate needs.
For those that run a local business, it’s best to target local first, then start branching out once you’ve got a foothold in the rankings. Providing your future content, that helps a wider less targeted audience, it’s best chance for success.
Google Search Console shows you both national and local level keywords. One way you can improve your local search performance is by diving into your Search Console Performance Report.
Narrow your queries down by using terms like “near me” or your town, city, or county.
For even better results, pair your Search Console data with your Google My Business rankings reports to see what keywords are driving the most traffic to your site. Providing ample data for you to pivot your site’s copy or upcoming content to capitalize on your current and long-term goals.
Resolving Issues Found In Google Search Console
URL INSPECTION TOOL
The URL Inspection Tool in Search Console 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 leave you with a “fail” when it comes to optimization, hurting your rankings.
You may have noticed over the past couple of years Google has been pushing “mobile friendly” quite heavily. When you consider the fact that 83% of the global population has a smartphone, it’s hard to fault Google’s insistence.
With mobile in mind, Google has started using something called “mobile-first indexing”.
That’s where 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, all of which directly impacts how well your website ranks. Ultimately affecting your business’s sales and visibility. The good news is, Google shares all the mobile-related issues they’ve found with your site in one place, Google Search Console.
You’ll find all of Google’s Mobile Usability issues under the Mobile Usability tab in your Google Search Console. There may find a list of potential issues, such as:
- Uses incompatible plugins
- Viewport not set
- Viewport not set to “device-width”
- Content wider than screen
- Text too small to read
- Clickable elements too close together
While all of this may seem daunting at first, Google helps explain each of the issues along with sharing simple solutions and the best practices on their Mobile Usability Report Support Guide.
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.
Google’s bots view backlinks as a form of “social proof”. Allowing third-parties input to verify the value of these pages relative to other indexed sites. Better backlinks typically lead to higher rankings.
Using the Link Report for Internal Linking
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 fraction of the overall pages, and if they do not link to other pages on your site – that authority becomes bottlenecked on one page.
Think of it like a garden. The water from the spigot flows freely from the spigot to your garden, but if there’s no way to spread out the water, the water pools up in one spot. Internal links and external links work in a similar fashion:
- External links would be the water coming from your property.
- The plants in that garden would be the individual pages/posts on your website.
- While internal links are the irrigation system throughout the garden.
Thankfully the process of preventing this is straightforward, and the sooner you start the easier it’ll be. In order to prevent those external links from pooling up in a handful of spots, we want to aim for 3 internal links to each page/post. I would also promote ensuring you have at least 3 internal links FROM each post.
If this is done correctly, every page/post will have at least 3 other pieces of content pointing at them, spreading that water out through the garden, and helping water all the plants.
If you have the premium version of Yoast SEO on your site, their plugin helps streamline this process by making suggestions. Helping you save time on this process.
If you don’t have Yoast SEO, or don’t want to pay for premium, another way you can do this is by searching in WordPress’s page/post search box. WordPress allows you to not only look up titles, but look for content with specific words or sentences in them. Helping speed things up, saving you more time.