For those in SEO, Google Search Console tools, previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, are an essential part of the organic search toolkit. Not only do they provide an ever-increasing wealth of insights and diagnostics options, but they offer a great way to track the performance stats for your website.
Many of the basic use cases for how to use Search Console can be found in the Google Developers documentation. However, there are also many more advanced features that some users, particularly those who have only started using it recently and desire Google Search Console help, may not be aware of.
So, with that in mind, we’re going to talk you through how to use Google Search Console and make use of the suite of Google Search Console tools for your business.
What does Google Search Console do?
When you strip away all the tech jargon that surrounds many SEO tools, understanding Google Search Console is actually quite simple.
At its most fundamental level, Google Search Console is a free tool that allows you to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence within Google Search Rankings.
Google Search Console tools allow you to implement a variety of necessary SEO strategies, including:
- Site crawls
- Search traffic data
These are just the basic tools, and there is much more that Google Search Console can help with.
Making use of Google Search Console’s crawl stats
Ensuring Google can locate and crawl your site is a vital part of SEO, as is being able to read the stats of these crawls once they’re completed. When learning how to use Search Console, the crawl stats are one of the first things you should find.
Fortunately, the crawl stats are fairly easy to find. Hidden away in the ‘Settings’ menu, you’ll be able to instantly spot the most recent crawl data, and see how Googlebot has been accessing your website over the past 90 days:
It’s here that you’ll be able to see the number of crawl requests, bytes downloaded, and average response time, all broken down by the following:
- Hosts – the different subdomains on your site that have received crawl activity.
- Response code – such as ‘200 OK’, ‘404 Not Found’, ‘and 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, etc…
Having access to this data within Google Search Console tools 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 even wasting it, and whether it’s regularly surfacing error pages.
Updating a change of web address
Another useful bit of functionality you should know about when learning how to use Search Console is the ability to update Google as to where your website has moved.
This is another one of Google Search Console tools that is tucked away under ‘Settings’, and easily allows you to report to Google when your site content has been moved to a new location or onto a different domain. In other words, you can quickly update Google if you’ve performed a full domain migration.
As Google Search Console tools go, this one is fairly intuitive thanks to its simple two-step process:
- Firstly, you are advised to implement 301 Moved Permanently redirects from your old site to the new one.
- Secondly, inform Google of the move by selecting a new domain property from the drop-down list.
It’s important to note that 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.
Set up your international targeting
Out of all Google Search Console tools. 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 (those which are utilising hreflang and/or country targeting), this is an essential report to know about.
This tool can be found under the ‘legacy tools and reports’ menu, and you’ll know you’re 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 tend to 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.
Setting up search results by country filter
The ‘search results’ report is probably the most used feature of Search Console, and one of the key ways in which Google Search Console can help your SEO strategy.
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 to target specific areas.
By default, you’ll see performance data from all countries, but this can skew important insights that you’ll want to gain. Also, if you’re looking at the property of a site that primarily targets or operates in a specific country, then you’ll really want to isolate this.
In the following example, this company primarily operates in the UK, but also wants to target US visitors. However, 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 thinking that performance is worse than it actually is.
Using Google Search Console tools to apply a filter that includes ‘United Kingdom’ or excludes ‘India’ will therefore add more reliability to the data.
Setting up search results via a device filter
Lastly, another helpful filter provided by Google Search Console tools, located in the ‘Search Results’ report, is ‘Device’. This filter 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 should be the same on all devices; provided you have no mobile usability issues.
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 overall, 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. But the average position across desktop rankings is significantly poorer, implying that there are either more elements on the desktop SERP, such as images, videos, and news, or something technically wrong with the site.
With these tips in mind, you hopefully have a good understanding of what Google Search Console does, and how to implement Google Search Console tools into your SEO strategy.
Of course, there’s much more to talk about with Search Console on an advanced level, much of which can be found in the official Google documentation. If you found this blog insightful, you can find plenty more like it over in the c3 blog.
SEO has always been a key focus here at connective3. All of our organic content and digital PR is designed to work hand-in-hand with our SEO knowledge to maximise rankings and enable our client’s websites to perform at their best.