Google Search Console is a critical SEO tool. As SEOs, we all crave organic traffic for our websites. To SEOs, there is no better experience than witnessing our site at the top of Google for an important keyword, and this can make a big difference to just about any company’s bottom line. Unluckily, for most businesses, ranking at the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) proves to be fantasy rather than reality unless they take the appropriate steps with a professional SEO practitioner.
In the field of SEO, there are no guarantees. No one can guarantee top rankings in the SERPs unless they own Google and have full access to Google’s algorithm. No third-party can. Nonetheless, there are still fundamentals to follow to help you align all your ducks in a row so you are in a position to achieve higher rankings. One of those includes following an ingrained procedure and using GSC properly to analyze and fix issues as they occur. Before they result in a cumulative negative impact. Being proactive rather than reactive in this regard does have its benefits.
For example, if you don’t do the right keyword research, and work on finding the topics that are valuable to your users, you are shooting in the dark. If your data doesn’t support higher traffic growth, not to mention higher rankings, you could be leaving money on the table. If you don’t do topic research mapped to keywords, you won’t know which topics to write about that people are actually reading. And, if you don’t use Google Search Console properly, you won’t understand how Google sees your site and how you can adjust as needed.
One of the critical elements of a successful SEO implementation strategy is the correct use of Google Search Console. This is an essential tool for assessing how Google sees your website according to several categories of information including overall rankings, traffic, impressions, and clicks, crawling issues, indexing issues, and more.
What is GSC – Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google that lets you keep track of your website’s performance and can help you identify places where you can improve your overall SEO. Through GSC, you can enhance the interaction of your website by improving your understanding of your link profile, submitting sitemaps, and repairing technical issues. You can access it by going to https://www.google.com/webmasters and logging in.
Why Do You Have to Use GSC?
GSC plays a role in displaying the performance of your website and how to improve certain aspects of it. From on-page optimization, keyword cannibalization, keyword research, and identifying weaknesses in your backlink profile, critical issues that Google sees are all here.
Thankfully, you do not need to spend the whole day in GSC to see the value in it. By just taking a few minutes every morning, you can improve your site’s SEO and develop a strategy for enhancing your site’s SERP performance. Below are essential steps within GSC to begin your SEO on the right foot.
Optimization of CTR On Pages with Lots of Traffic, but Very Low CTR
Ranking number 1 or 2 for a keyword offers you the potential to receive many clicks and impressions, but it does not guarantee a specific CTR (or click-through rate). With the use of similar performance information, you can tweak the pages that are ranking well, but not obtaining the click-through rates they should be.
To do this, click on performance. Click on Average Position, then sort results by positions, and untoggle Total Impressions. Here, you can observe the keywords that are not receiving a high amount of clicks.
Examine these pages in-depth to identify problems that may be impacting CTR. Making adjustments from here (such as better, well-written page titles and meta descriptions on underperforming pages) can help enhance your click-through rates.
Discover Content With the Most Links, and Write More
Backlinks are among the major factors used for ranking websites in Google’s algorithms. They are a signal that Google uses to assess your site’s authority and popularity. The reasoning behind this is that if you write incredible content, other people are going link back to it. Thus, having a healthy link profile that does not look manipulative is critical. Link earning is one of the most valuable white hat link acquisition methods you can use that will not violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, SEO and Content Architect Britney Muller over on the Moz blog has an excellent video and write up on modern link building in 2020.
Using Google Search Console, you can identify the types of content that are attracting superior links so you can work on improving or writing more of that content. You don’t have to write content exactly like it or content that’s too similar. But, as an indicator, it gives you an idea about what people like.
If you go to the left sidebar and click on links, you can see the number of sites linking to a page and the number of links. You will be able to see external links, top linking sites, and top linked pages. You will also see top anchor text used on these links.
By examining which types of content are most common among these backlinks, this can offer you insight into where to concentrate your content writing efforts next. This may be a small sample of your site depending on the number of backlinks available in this section of the tool. Cross-checking with Google Analytics to assess pages receiving traffic is recommended.
Achieve Higher Rankings for Under-Performing Keywords
Quite often in SEO, you hear people talking about wanting to be on page 1 of the SERPs. Page 1 is better than page 2, but most people whose full-time job is not SEO (or they have no interest in SEO) likely do not look beyond the first two pages of results anyway. They are generally impatient, and if the query does not satisfy their intent, they will simply move on to the next one. Because they mostly realize that digging into deeper search results yields lesser returns for what they are looking for. According to this study from Lily Ray of Path Interactive, approximately 60% of searchers click on a result on the first page. Less than 20% of users click to the second, third, or fourth page.
Using Google Search Console, you can check for the keywords that your website ranks OK for, though they may not be in the top pages, and work on ways to increase your website’s ranking.
From the Google Search Console dashboard, click on performance, and pin for the average position and make sure that Total Clicks is ticked. You will be able to see that the higher your ranking, the better your clicks are usually going to be. We are looking for keywords where you are ranking better, but not hitting the best positions that improve your click-through rate. To do this, we will filter just to see the keywords where we rank in the top 10.
Looking for keywords where you are not ranking in at least the top 3, you get potential keyword opportunities. It may take a tweak to a title or some more links to the page, or even more content, and you can begin to rank in the top 3 for these keywords and receive more clicks to your website. But be warned: it’s no longer the days of seeing significant changes from a simple change. Instead, improvement in SEO is the result of overall higher-quality cumulative changes, and results are realized more from these types of changes over time.
Fix Problems with Your Sitemaps
In order for Google to rank your website, it must know what your website is about, its website structure, and how it can be crawled. To be crawled, it must first be indexed. Google performs these two processes in several ways, such as through XML sitemaps. In the absence of a good website architecture and internal links, a sitemap can help Google find pages on your site, assuming that they are included.
Google Search Console highlights the issues you might be experiencing with your sitemaps and offers you information on how to fix them. You can identify any mistakes you are seeing with your sitemaps and the excluded pages by choosing coverage from the sidebar.
While you scroll down, you will be able to see details of the issues and the number of pages that are being affected. Click on the type of error to check which individual pages have errors.
Now that you have uncovered these issues and the pages that are being affected, you can proceed with fixing them. If you are not an experienced SEO, you can Google the issue, and then you will get a description of what is wrong and how to fix it. As an inexperienced SEO, results will be mixed until you can get a handle on your own SEO processes.
Determine Your Mobile Keywords
In recent years, mobile searches have grown exponentially according to these statistics from Search Engine Journal, with over 80% of people using a smartphone. Because of this, it’s important to focus on mobile keywords and give them at least some priority in your SEO efforts. If a site has a significant amount of mobile traffic, it makes sense to make mobile traffic a priority. But, this should be analyzed at the site level.
Google Search Console offers you the tools necessary for choosing devices within the performance section of the tool.
To do this, click on Devices. Then, select the device you want to check, click queries again to see the performance of the keyword of that page for that device. This lets you compare your target keyword performance for tablet, mobile, and desktop and understand which ones you need to focus on. By testing tweaks to pages using these options, you can assess the effectiveness of changes that will be best for your site moving forward.
Understand Linking Priorities
It is not just external backlinks that assist Google in understanding your website: internal links also play a significant role.
Getting back to the links page in Google Search Console, you can choose internal links to identify which pages are acquiring most of your links. This is useful for looking for orphaned pages that can be brought into the overall website architecture. For example, if a page on your site is not linked, it likely will not appear in these pages. Then you know you need to work on the internal linking of this page. Using a combination of tools like SEMRush and Screaming Frog will help identify multiple aspects of this issue.
If you have vital pages that are not acquiring internal links, then this offers you a greater chance to begin an internal linking strategy by telling Google they are critical pages on your website.
However, if you realize that a page is orphaned and also not quite valuable, you can do away with it and streamline your website, or you can combine these pages with non-orphaned pages and make them stronger. This strategy works well on sites that are oversaturated with underperforming pages that are not part of the overall website architecture.
Find Out if a Page Needs to be Indexed
For a page to be presented in the SERPs, it needs to be indexed first. For a webpage to get indexed, it must be crawled. You can see the pages that Google Search Console has indexed and why some pages have been indexed inappropriately. Under the heading Index > Coverage > All Known Pages > toggle valid with warnings and excluded, you can assess the current indexing status of your site and what you may need to improve from here.
When you click on coverage, you will notice that some pages have been excluded, letting you make changes and then ask the page to be indexed.
You can ask for reindexing by using the URL inspection tool, entering your URL, and clicking on “request indexing”. This is the equivalent of Google’s old Fetch as Googlebot under a new name.
To get a more detailed report on the page, you have to scroll down further for the detailed information, and once you have fixed the problem, just proceed with requesting indexing. But, just a reminder – this is not an instant process.
Pinpoint Security Problems
If the security of your website has deteriorated, then you want to regain control as quickly as you can. GSC should be your very first stop if this occurs. If someone has hacked your website, you will get a notification in the tab of security issues in your Google Search Console. Under Security & Manual Actions > Security Issues, and GSC will list any potential security issues you have.
The notification will inform you if you have been hacked with malware or spam, letting you proceed to fix the issue. From here, you can call your hosting provider who will be capable of helping you do away with the threat. Unless, of course, you have the ability to do so on your own.
Conduct the Optimization of Pages Losing Organic Traffic
The fact that a page is receiving organic traffic today does not mean that it is going to keep doing so in the future. GSC provides you with the necessary tools to identify which pages are losing organic traffic so that you can make changes where needed.
To perform this analysis, click on Performance > click on “+ New”, click on “query,” enter the query you would like to see data about, click on “apply,” then click on “pages”. This will give you pages that are showing up in Google for a specific query. You can use this data to conduct strategic optimization of your pages that are actually showing up.
By conducting optimization in this manner, you can enhance your site’s ranking on a strategic basis. You can keep track of your traffic over time and make adjustments as needed to keep up with the ever-changing demands of search.
Optimize Meta Descriptions and Page Titles On Low-Click Pages
It is easy to get held up in vanity metrics, particularly as your Search Engine Optimization efforts begin to develop. Nevertheless, maintaining an improvement mindset with a target on advancement can help you keep moving in a more positive direction.
For instance, checking pages with high numbers of impressions but low click-through rates. You possibly already rank these pages well, but people are not clicking on your site- which is the entire point of ranking in search.
Take a few minutes to review your site’s meta description, title tag, and other SEO elements of these pages such as your headings and on-page content. To improve your SEO, you can adjust the Metadata in your SEO plugin and get the job done. Improving the click-through rate of your pages will also help you drive more targeted visitors to your site.
Compare Existing Rankings to On-Site Content
Nearly everyone who has ever worked in SEO for over a few months has witnessed an “accidental ranking,” where a page gets a lot of traffic for a second-tier concept that you did not initially plan for. There is almost always some disparity between what you plan to rank for and what you actually rank for unless you’re a seasoned SEO.
In most situations, this is an excellent opportunity to improve that SEO. Check for pages that are ranking semi-OK that were not part of the initial plan, and optimize those pages according to what they rank for. Because great content is valuable and relevant, you should make a few changes to address the content’s value and relevance on your site. This could be anything from a few heading changes to an overall rewrite and addition of new content if needed.
It all depends on what your ongoing competition is doing to achieve higher rankings than your own.
Cumulative Changes Over Time is the Goal
Your overall goal is to make changes over time holistically. No longer is it the case that a tweak here and there will result in massive overall improvement overnight. While a tweak may result in a position or two jumps, you should not let your expectations get beyond that. Google is more about expertise, authority, and trust these days. Overall factors including your site’s overall reputation, your site’s architecture, it’s internal linking, the quality of its content, and more are things Google looks at when evaluating where your site should rank.
Also, correlation is not causation. Just because one change happened and results in improvement on one site does not mean that it will always result in the same change every time. That is, unless it is confirmed through testing. Too many different factors play into a site’s rankings to predict this every time. But, you can use your own testing data to make changes based on competitor analysis and assessing how to achieve what they have already done.
And, above all else – don’t give up!