Google Search Console: The Best FREE SEO Tool
What is Google search console?
If you’re not using Google Search Console, you are yet to unlock your sites full ranking potential. Google search console (GSC), is a “free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results”. Whilst you don’t have to exclusively sign up to GSC for your site to be ranked in the search results, doing so can help you understand how Google views your site and carry out optimisation to better improve your website overall.
What can I use GSC for?
You can use GSC for many different things including checking the backlinks to your site, ensuring your AMP pages are working correctly and checking to see how many 404 errors your site has. There are of course several other important reports that you can look at in GSC which will help you understand how Google is viewing your site and how it is performing. This post will break down the most helpful things that GSC can do and how they can aid your SEO efforts!
HTML Improvements – Discover Quick Wins
The HTML improvement reports display any errors you may have with your Meta Data. This is a great report for quickly identifying pages with duplicate title tags or descriptions that are too short. The report provides a glimpse into how Google is seeing your content and what it thinks of your metadata. Fixing the 3 errors which appear in this section of GSC is easy:
- Duplicate Metadata: GSC provides a detailed list of each of the pages which contain a duplicate title tag or meta description. Simply find the page in your website CMS and change the metadata to be unique (You might want to do some keyword research so the metadata is optimised)
- Long or Short: Again, GSC provides a list of each page which has either a long or short title tag or meta description. You can then navigate to the page in your CMS and make the necessary changes.
- Missing: Any page that is missing Metadata will be flagged by Google in this section. Find the page in your CMS and add the necessary metadata.
Accelerate Mobile Pages – Speed, Speed, Speed!
AMP is a project from Google designed to make incredibly fast mobile pages. In most cases, an AMP strips down the unnecessary HTML and only loads the bare bones of the page. Implementing AMP is a simple yet effective way to improve the mobile user experience of your site so if you haven’t done it yet go do it, I’ll wait. If you need a hand implementing AMP this guide from Search engine land is perfect.
Great now we can move on. Now that you have implemented your AMP markup you can use the Accelerated mobile pages report in GSC to check for any errors and fix them! You can also use the AMP Test Tool if you’re making considerable changes to your AMP mark up.
Search Analytics – Discover how People are Finding Your Site
The search analytics report in GSC will display a 7, 28 or 90-day summary of your website’s appearance in the search results. The data can be broken down by several different filters including queries, pages, countries, device, search type and search appearance.
These reports are an excellent way to get an overview of your site’s performance over a set period. It can be used to identify pages with a low click-through rate, top performing pages, the number of clicks per keyword and the number of impressions per keyword.
The search analytics reports are also great for getting an outline of the keywords people are using to find your site and to identify the branded vs non-branded ratio.
Links to your Site – Find out Which Sites are Sharing the Love
The links to your site report shows you what websites are currently linking to you. Simple as that. It is a useful report when checking your link profile and for finding which website links the most. To carry out a link audit, you will use some of this data to identify abnormal/irrelevant sites that link to you. You can then fill out a disavow file and submit this to google so they ignore these links.
The links to your site report will also give you an overview of your most linked content. This is great for identifying successful content and highlighting posts/pages that may not be doing so well.
Mobile Usability Report
The Mobile Usability report in GSC outlines any development or design issues your site may have with mobile and gives you the ability to troubleshoot them directly. Some of the common errors that appear in this section include:
- Viewport Not Configured – Ensure your pages have the meta viewport tag to automatically adjust the dimensions of the page based on the device.
- Content Wider than Screen – Ensure the content on the page doesn’t require horizontal scrolling.
- Clickable elements too close – Ensure your buttons and links are not too close together so a user can easily press them.
Manual Actions – Have you been penalized?
If you have obtained a manual penalty, the penalty will be listed in this section. Let’s hope you never have to use this section ey? If you do, just give us a call and we will give you a hand!
Crawl Errors – Find the Broken Pages
The crawl error report in GSC tells you what pages are currently broken on your website. The report is split into 2 sections. Site Errors and URL Errors.
The site errors section outlines errors from your whole website including DNS errors, Server connectivity errors and robots.txt errors.
The URL errors section shows errors encountered when Google bot has crawled your website. Some standard errors that are likely to appear in this section include:
Server Errors – These usually occur when your site is experiencing too much traffic (yes this can be a terrible thing!). To sort this out you will have to conduct a bit of detective work and find out if it’s a connection issue or a timeout issue.
Soft 404 Error – This error means your HTTP response code does not return a 404. In order to fix this, you will need to 301 redirect the offending page to a new one.
404 Errors – This is the most common type of error you will see in this report. A 404 error occurs when you delete or un-publish a page, move it etc. Luckily, 404 errors do not directly impact your rankings, however, they can affect the overall user experience of your site and that’s what really matters right? To fix these errors simply 301 the offending page to a relevant one.
Fetch as Google – Good Boy Google
This is one of my favourite tools that GSC offers. It allows you to directly see how Google views your website and test how Google Renders your site. Fetching as Google will simply show the HTTP response that Google is receiving whilst Fetch and Render will show you how your page looks in a particular browser.
Fetch as Google is ideal for discovering dynamically generated content that may be hidden and as we all know Google hates that stuff. So, if you find that after using your tool you site doesn’t render correctly you may need to rethink how your site generates its content.
This tool is also great for requesting indexing from Google to pick up the latest changes or improvements you have made to your site. You can choose to request indexing just for a single URL or request indexing for a URL and all its direct links. The power of this tool is not to be underestimated.
Robots.Txt Tester – Not as Cool as it Sounds
The robots.txt tester tool in GSC allows you to identify which URLs your robots text file is currently blocking Googlebot from crawling. To make sure your robots text file is not blocking important URLs simply head on over to the testing tool and enter the important URL. If it’s all okay you should see something like this:
If a page is blocked, however, you will see a red “Blocked”
Sitemaps – Give Google the Map to Your Site
The sitemap report in GSC is where you should have submitted your sitemap to Google so Googlebot understands your website and how it’s structured. The report housed here shares insights into what’s occurring on your website and outlines any errors/warnings that are found in your sitemap.
Keep a close eye on these errors and warnings and dig deeper into them to find the cause and corresponding fix.
GSC is an essential tool for any SEO professional or SEO campaign no matter the size. It houses a plethora of reports and tools (of which this guide mentions only a few) which can provide opportunities and insights to improve your websites rankings and overall quality.
Rumour has it there is a significant update on the horizon for GSC which may contain more tools and reports (and more than likely a new UI) for us to explore and utilize but until then this guide should give you more than enough information to become a search console pro!