Google Search Console, previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, is an essential part of the SEO toolkit and provides an ever-increasing wealth of insights, diagnostics and performance stats for your website.
Many of the basic use cases for Search Console can be found in the Google Developers documentation. But there are also many more advanced features that some users (particularly those who have only started using it recently), may not be aware of. So, we’re going to talk you through it…
Hidden away in the ‘Settings’ menu, you can understand in more detail how Googlebot has been accessing your website over the past 90 days:
It’s here that you can see the number of crawl requests, bytes downloaded, and average response time, broken down by:
- Hosts – the different subdomains on your site that have received crawl activity
- Response code – such as ‘200 OK’, ‘404 Not Found’, ‘301 Moved Permanently’
- File type – HTML, CSS, JS and images being the most common
- Purpose – refresh or discovery, i.e., whether the content was recrawled, or found for the first time
- Googlebot type – smartphone, desktop or image bot.
Having access to this data allows for much deeper diagnostic work on your website, by knowing what content Googlebot is accessing, where it’s spending a lot of time (and perhaps wasting), and whether it’s regularly surfacing error pages.
Change of address
This is another bit of functionality that is tucked away under ‘Settings’, this allows you to report to Google when your site content has been moved to a new location, on a different domain. In other words, a full domain migration.
The tool is fairly intuitive with a two-step process. Firstly, you are advised to implement 301 Moved Permanently redirects from your old site to the new one. And secondly, to inform Google of the move by selecting a new domain property from the drop-down list.
You must have the new website set up as a property in Search Console before starting the process; otherwise, you’ll be prompted to add it at this stage.
This is one of the legacy tools that is yet to be migrated into the new version of Search Console, which launched in January 2018. However, for any websites with an international presence (which are utilising hreflang and/or country targeting), this is an essential report.
It can be found under the ‘legacy tools and reports’ menu and you’ll know you are in the right place when the user interface gets particularly “pre-2018”!
The blue button directing you back to the new version of Search Console is a hint, too. Here, you can view the hreflang implementation on your site and whether Google has identified any issues with this.
Common issues include:
- No return tags – all hreflang tags should be bi-directional, (i.e., one points to another; the tag must be returned)
- Unknown language code – all language codes must comply with the ISO 639-1 two-letter classification.
You can also set a specific country to target your website if it resides on a global TLD (top-level domain), such as .com, .org or .net. You should only do this if you want to send an explicit signal to Google. For instance, if your content should only be available to users in one country and not any others. Otherwise, you should leave this blank.
Search results – Country filter
The ‘search results’ report is probably the most used feature of Search Console. However, there are ways in which you can refine the data you’re analysing to gain more valuable insights. More specifically, utilising the ‘country’ dimension.
By default, you see performance data from all countries. But this can skew important insights that you’ll want to gain from this. Also, if you are looking at the property of a site that primarily targets (or operates in) a specific country, then you really want to isolate this.
In the following example, this company primarily operates in the UK, but also wants to target US visitors. Although a lot of impressions are being served from India. This will pull down the overall click-through rate, which might then lead the user to think that performance is worse than it actually is.
Applying a filter to include ‘United Kingdom’ or exclude ‘India’ will add more reliability to the data.
Search results – Device filter
Another helpful filter in the ‘search results’ report is ‘Device’. This allows you to understand whether your site has problems performing across either mobile or desktop devices.
Often, the ranking performance for these should be fairly similar if your site is responsive, as the content is the same (as long as you have no mobile usability issues).
Also, breaking out the data by device, like with the country mentioned previously, can give you a more accurate view of how your site is performing, especially if good performance across one device type is being pulled down by another.
In this example, we can see that the site has a fairly balanced split of impressions, suggesting that there’s not too much focus from users on using one device or another to search. But the average position across desktop rankings is significantly poorer, implying that there’s either more elements on the desktop SERP (such as images, videos and news), or something technically wrong with the site.