Making sure your website is optimised for conversions is one of the best ways to spend money on it. This ensures that you have a website that runs smoothly and can convert traffic into leads and customers and is crucial to business success. But it isn’t the easiest thing to do – conversions don’t just happen spontaneously
The good news is that there are free tools provided by Google that can help to spot problems with your site and take steps to fix them. At the centre of this is the Google Search Console - a free tool that lets you see what Google thinks of your website and provides information how to improve it.
We often find a wealth of data and information about our websites but lack the information on how to use this and what to do next. But these steps are crucial to keep people coming to the site and to make money from that traffic. This means optimisation should be at the forefront of what you do.
Experts use Search Console all of the time to fix sites. It provides data that is more advanced than Google Analytics, but you still need to know how to use the information. So here are some expert tips to use the information provided on Search Console to improve your site
What is Google Search Console?
Let’s introduce Google’s Search Console to start with. This is a free tool designed to let you monitor and maintain your site’s organic search presence. This means it is a best friend to anyone looking to optimise their website and have a good standing with Google – which is basically anyone that has a website!
The idea of using Search Console is that you can see what is working well and what isn’t so good about your site and take steps to resolve issues. It is designed to let you ensure Google can see your content, watch out for spam issues to keep your site nice and clean and even help submit new content that is ready to be crawled. You can also use it to remove old content that is no longer a part of your website.
Search Console lets business owners, SEO experts, site administrators, web developers and anyone who runs a website view a wealth of information, free of charge. This includes information like:
It is easy to set up the Search Console by going to the site and entering your website URL into the bar. Hit ‘add a property’ to confirm it. You can then verify your website and link it to your Google email account. This means you are ready to start the basics.
Using Search Console
Start with the console dashboard on the left-hand side of the screen and here you will find a list of options. This is the main menu for the site and from here you can check for a wide range of specific and general things such as:
- Crawl data such as 404 errors
Each section will tell you the information unique to your site and also give you some great ideas about how to improve your site performance.
The main downside of it is that it lacks actionable insights and how to fix the problems it tells you about. The aim of the tool is to let you know about the problems, not to tell you how to fix them.
In order to get the most from the site, you need to learn the different sections and what the information within them means to you. Once you have learned the basics and know how to navigate around, you are ready to start making real use of it.
Traffic driving queries
Perhaps top of most people’s list of uses for Search Console is to find out the queries that drive traffic to your website.
We can get some information from Google Analytics, but it is very sparse.
Pull up Analytics and go to behavioural reports then keywords and you will likely see informative terms like ‘not set’ and ‘not provided’ – bet they aren’t any of your keywords!
This is because Analytics doesn’t tell us what terms people have used to find our website.
So we have no idea what keywords are working, and which need reassessing. Traffic is simply hidden behind general terms.
However, with Google Search Console, you can find more information on keywords and data surrounding them.
This includes things like clicks, impressions, click through rate and even the position for certain pages and keywords. This data is gold-dust to help you make decisions going forward or even to change specific pages on your site based on the information.
Finding the information
To start, open up Search Console and go to the ‘Search Analytics’ report under ‘Search Traffic’. Before you get too lost in all the information, there are a couple of key metrics to concentrate on – clicks, impressions, CTR and position. These are the ones that determine what sends traffic to your site.
Next, look at what you want to analyse in the report. Most experts recommend starting with the ‘Queries’ section. This lets you see all of the keywords that are sending traffic to your site. And unlike GA, there are no vague terms hiding the information – instead you will get a list of the very keywords people have arrived at your site has used.
This is valuable data that you can’t get anywhere else. Some paid SEO tools can’t even tell you the information contained here. And it is more than just the keyword itself – it is that crucial data about the keyword including the clicks, impressions, CTR and position.
Armed with this data, you are in a position to see what keywords work best for your site.
You can also use it to help make informed decisions about the future content you are including on your site. Look for search data, consider new articles relating to that topic and add them to your editorial calendar.
And because Google loves us to be in-depth on topics both in terms of the length of content and the clusters around a subject, this will help the site continue to improve its overall ranking in search engine results. More organic traffic means more potential conversions.
Another very useful aspect of Search Console is the ability to see the best backlinks to your site. This is because it contains a diverse report that looks at the sites linking to you most often. It also gives you the chance to further increase backlinks and boost your site every further.
Backlinks are a massive aspect of SEO and are crucial when it comes to improving your search results ranking. Organic results depend on backlinks and according to Backlinko’s study of some 1 million SERPs, the top ranking content has the most backlinks.
Total external backlinks are a massive ranking factor with the top tanking content on any particular page having in the region of 35,000 backlinks. But that not all – the number of referring websites for backlinks also play a big part. Diverse backlinks are important, meaning you need to be referred to by different sites, not just lots of referrals from one site.
The links need to be high quality from sites with high domain authority – low ranking, low DA sites won’t have a significant effect on your SEO ranking overall. The higher the DA, or Trust Flow, the bigger the boost your site received. This makes backlinks the best friend of SEO and you need to carefully monitor them.
With the information you get from Search Console you can monitor those links and leverage them to get more links. To find the data, go to ‘links to your site’ on the search traffic report section. Here you can see the best links to your site and which sites link to you the most often. If the majority of your links come from a single site, you can start concentrating on getting links from other sites.
You can also see the most linked to content in the report and under ‘more’ you can see ‘who links the most’ to find a master list of every site that has linked to you. You can even download these to a handy spreadsheet for further efforts.
If a site is already giving you a backlink, reach out to them to see if they would like to do a link exchange. Something simple as:
Hi (website owner) I wanted to say thanks for linking to my latest article. I also linked to your article X because it was great, and my audience would also love it. I also published a post recently on ‘x’ which contains some of the same topics as your post on ‘x’. Would you check it out and if you think it would be worth it for your audience, considering linking to it? Thanks!
Backlinks are such an important part of your SEO strategy that it is definitely worth using the Search Console to do some research on yours and use it to help you get out there and create some more.
Improve HTML on the site
Site speed is another Google obsession and if you have ever used a tool like Google’s Page Speed Insights, you will know there are loads of little things that can slow down your site. It can be big images, heavy page elements, coding issues and even sloppy HTML.
These problems are common and even the biggest sites can suffer from issues.
Take this site for example. A large change to the page and code structure paid off dividends for the website performance.
Site speed is a Google obsession for good reason. A study in 2016 found that faster site load time means a lower bounce rate. So to keep people on your website for longer and ensure they see more of your great content and products, you need to have a quick website. This is why the top ranking websites on search engine pages are the ones that load the quickest – faster loading content means better organic results.
However, knowing this fact and being able to do something about it are two different things. This is where Search Console can help as it offers an HTML Improvements report. In this, you will find a list of problems affecting your site including duplicate meta descriptions, short meta descriptions, duplicate title tags and other things that slow down the site too.
Under each option, you can download a list of these problems to find the exact page or post being referenced. This handy CSV file can be used to tick off the problems.
You can also use a plugin like Yoast to help you manage the issues – just go to the post or page, fix the problem and make sure you get the green light from the plugin
Most of these problems are easy to fix and don’t require any coding. Give it a few days then recheck the Search Console to see if they have gone and the site has improved.
See what pages are indexed
When you have done work to improve your site, you may need to check out how many pages are indexed by your site and this is something else you can find out within the Search Console.
Go to Index Status under the Google Index and here you will see a simple graph to see how many links are indexed and how many are blocked by robots.
You can easily compare this with the total number of posts and pages on your website and let you know if any of them potentially don’t show up on search engines.
Sometimes there might be pages you don’t want to appear in results and you can also remove them here.
If there are problems, the robots.txt file on your sitemap is the place to check for issues. You can also check for specific problems with a URL on Search Console.
Fetch and render to do URL tests
The fetch and render tool let you test how Google crawls and scans your website. Fetch can help determine if the crawlers can see your pages, render them and identify any scripts or images that might block their progress. It is vital that crawlers can access all part of your site in order to index it and that you solve any problems quickly.
In fact, if a website is having trouble ranking, this can often be a cause. Crawling is one of the best tools for error spotting and can be seen under the ‘Fetch as Google’ report under the Crawl section.
Enter the URL you want to have checked and a few minutes later, you will get a report on the results. It will tell you any factors on a page that Google won’t scan. If the problems are ‘low’ in severity, then don’t worry too much about them – look for the most serious ones.
You can also see how Google sees your content as opposed to how a person would see it. This is helpful to see anything that Googlebot isn’t scanning and then find out why. Because if the bot can’t see it, it can’t rank you for it. Any elements that don’t show up need to be examined and fixed.
Create and monitor Rich Cards and AMP
Rich Cards were released back in 2016 and are a new way to display content that appeals to the visual desire of searchers. Rich Cards can also help improve engagement and drive more traffic to your site – they are the new format of Rich Snippets.
To see them in action, do a basic Google search for something and you will see a rich card at the top with an image and detailed information about the topic – all without the need to click a link. Rich Snippets showed an image while Rich Cards make the image more prominent.
You can also see if you can show Rich Cards from your website through the section on Search Console dedicated to it – called Rich Cards, unsurprisingly. Rich Cards will often appear at the top of search results as well as the link showing in the normal way on the list of results. And the Rich Card isn’t always from the very first link on the list.
Rich snippets have become somewhat saturated and hard to rank for, but Rich Cards are still being ignored by many, so you have a chance to rank for them. You need to use the Google AMP plugin for WordPress to do this as you can then create cards and AMP pages – featured news stories, for example, are usually AMP optimised.
AMP also helps with speed, CTR and conversions. One company did a study that found an 83% increase in mobile conversions and transactions when using AMP and Rich Cards. There was also a 68% increase in conversions and a 52% increase in booked revenue.
Search Console also provides a way to monitor AMP pages through the Search Appearance section. Use the plugin to search for your blog post and create a mobile-friendly version of it. Then use Search Console to check how it is working.
Spot mobile issues
Making sure your site is optimised for mobile can be time-consuming and tricky – ensuring everything works on mobile as well as on the desktop. But it is also crucial for success as the number of searches from mobile has now overtaken those from the desktop. What was once the wave of the future is now the standard practice.
So you need a website that works on mobile with few errors and Search Console can again help with this. It spots problems that most analytics programs miss.
Head to ‘mobile usability’ under search traffic to see if there are any problems on your site. These might be clickable elements, text or content. You can then change them to make them mobile friendly because let’s face it, Google is heading towards being mobile-focused, so we need to all do the same.
Submit pages to improve rankings
Finally, you can use Search Console to index every new blog post. This might seem strange but if Google doesn’t or can’t index your page, then no-one is going to see it.
Plus when you update content or add new content, you should re-index the page.
You can do this through the home page – add the new or updated URL and ‘submit request’ to have Google recrawl the page.
Optimising your website is crucial and we all dream of having a site that converts well. But this doesn’t happen by accident and Search Console is one of the best tools to help you achieve this – especially considering it is free to use. You need to learn the ins and outs of the platform and where to concentrate your efforts but once you do, you will see the benefits.
Use data to optimise content, check your backlink profile and find errors on your site.
Check your indexed pages and check how your site can be crawled by bots. Add Rich Cards and Google AMP then watch the reaction and finally make sure everything works on mobile.
Do all of this and you will be on your way to a well-optimised site.
I'm Paul Gordon an SEO freelancer who has spent the last 16 years helping businesses expand and grow through effective SEO strategies.