Google Search Console: The Latest Version and 10 Things You Should Be Looking At
If you only have time to look at one SEO tool for your website then don’t forget Google Search Console. Google has been rolling out changes recently and are constantly improving the usefulness of this sometimes overlooked website report. It is not just for webmasters (hence the name change from Google Webmaster Tools in 2015) but for all SEO and digital marketing team members and management. And best of all it is free!
Having a Google Search Console account for your website is imperative. It is your opportunity to communicate directly with Google, where it is estimated that 70%+ of website searches start from. It is also the best place to start to get an accurate picture of not only how your website performs in search but any technical issues that could be affecting its visibility. Plus Google will email you when there is a problem or an opportunity – which means you can sleep a little better at night!
There is only one small complication – there is a BETA version of search console that is being rolled out throughout the coming year so you will need to look at a combination of reports from both the old and new versions to get the complete picture – until Google has finalised and migrated all reports.
Here are the top 10 reports you should be looking at to maximise the performance of your website in search:
What to look at in the new Google Search Console:
1. Performance report
This is one of the most improved reports in the new search console. The main difference is that you can now see more historical data with access to 16 months’ worth of search statistics – a big improvement on the 3 months in the old report. This will enable you to get a bigger picture of search trends and make year on year comparisons.
This tool is still the best place to get an overview of the how your site is performing in Google search. You can get data on number of impressions, number of clicks, click through rate and ranking position and drill down into more detail if needs be with the option to break down the data by query, page, country, and device. All the data can be exported into spreadsheets enabling you to update any in-house reporting templates easily.
2. Indexing report
The other area Google has really improved is the indexing report. In the old search console, you could only see the total number of pages being indexed and blocked. It gave no indication of the number of pages that weren’t being indexed because of issues. In the new report, you can get a full breakdown of the number of pages with errors, warnings and excluded pages and more importantly the reasons for these exclusions.
Here you can see the number of pages that have errors that need fixing – clicking on any item will give you a full list of the actual URLs affected, date detected and a validate fix option where you can tell Google to re-crawl the page after you have fixed the issue.
It is important to remember that the excluded chart contains pages that are intentionally and unintentionally excluded from the Google index. For instance, in the example above there are 7,341 pages being redirected and 7,325 pages with a correct canonical tag – these are the pages you have told Google you don’t want them to use. But other exclusion errors might need to be checked and amended – like ‘Google chose different canonical’ and ‘duplicate page without canonical tag’. If you have lots of pages in the ‘crawled – currently not indexed’ or ‘discovered – currently not indexed’ sections you might be able to identify content issues such as low quality or duplicate content. All in all, there is a lot more to go on than previously. If the correct pages on your site are not listed in the valid section then they are not in the index and they will simply never be shown for a search query – even if it is relevant!
3. URL inspection tool
This is still be rolled out so is not available to everyone on the new search console at the moment – but in future, you will be able to check crawl, index status and appearance data for any particular URL on your site directly from the Google index.
And if the page is not in the index you will be told why! No more hunting around various technical SEO checking tools and inspecting page source codes…
And then back to the old search console for…
4. Crawl errors
The crawl errors report is still a great place to go for a full list of URLs that have experienced errors when crawled by the desktop and mobile google bots – including server errors, 404s, soft 404s, and access denied. It is also useful to look at the number of each of these errors over time to monitor any fixes implemented.
This tool allows you to tell Google where your sitemap is and then check for issues that may be affecting indexing. Eventually most of its usefulness will be replaced by the new indexing report but for now, you need to be comfortable with the ratio of a number of web pages submitted to indexed – if it is not very high there should be issues and warnings listed that need to be fixed.
6. Robot.txt tester
An easy place to find and look at the robots.txt file associated with your site. Any site URL can be entered to see if it is currently affected by the instructions on the file. Any errors will also be immediately flagged up.
7. HTML improvements
This handy tool in the Search Appearance section gives you a breakdown of how many issues there are with your meta titles and descriptions, which you can then fix. The missing and duplicate title tags are particularly detrimental for SEO and meta description issues might be adversely affecting click-through rates from the SERPs.
8. Mobile usability
For a quick site-wide check on which of your pages might have display issues on mobile then this is a good place to start. If errors are listed here Google will then point you in the right direction of what you can do next.
9. Security and spam
Google will flag up any issues they have with your site in the Manual Actions and Security Issues sections of search console. Hopefully, you won’t have any messages from Google here but if you do they will also give you advice on how to fix the issues and how to get the pages re-crawled after the fix.
10. Messages from Google…
If you don’t have a search console account google can’t communicate with you about your site. Once you have added your website be prepared for a lot of messages but rest assured that you will be immediately notified of any issues that may be adversely affecting your site.
At first glance, Google Search Console can appear to be overwhelming and a bit too techy for everyone involved in a website’s performance – marketing, SEO, designers, owners and web developers. It appears that Google is aware of these issues and is working on developing a suite of reports that are more useful and easier for everyone to use.
Fundamentally search console is a free service direct from the industry giant that gives you a great deal of information about your website and the people who visit it. You can use it to find out how many people visit your site, how they find it, which pages are the most popular and now make historical comparisons. It will also enable you to find and fix website errors, submit a sitemap, and create and check a robots.txt file – even without much technical know-how.
If there is anything else we can help you with – or any errors that you don’t know how to fix – get in touch with the experts at Varn today.