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A Closer Look At Google Search Console
Using Google’s Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) well can help you improve the overall performance of your website. It’s an essential part of any SEO‘s toolbox and best of all, it’s still free. It’s certainly not something you should have on your tools of ‘good to have’. Instead it should be on your list of tools of ‘must have’. Why? Because, in addition to providing a wealth of free diagnosis tools and data to provide insights into your site’s performance in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), Google Search Console is where Google sends webmasters and site owners / brands messages about the status of their website URLs (pages). If you suspect there is a problem with your site you should check in here first (if Google has not already sent you a message via Google Search Console to the recipients on their notification list), because you can often diagnose issues much more easily once you’ve checked here.
You can navigate to the messages section of Google Search Console by logging into the old version of their interface and looking on the left hand side once you’ve accessed the site in the property list which you want to explore.
A whole range of messages are sent from Google via Google Search Console, with content as simple as ‘Improve the search presence of [yourdomain.com] when you first add a site to the suite, right the way through to messages if your site receives a manual action (penalty) for unnatural link building, or God-forbid, a pure spam penalty notification. If your site is not yet in the mobile-first index you’ll also receive a notification when it is moved across to mobile-first. You’ll also receive notifications if you update the disavow file, or link your domain to a Google Analytics property. There’s a whole range of other notifications too and far too many to mention here. Safe to say, it’s worth checking there and getting yourself notified should any messages be added.
NB: As of June 2019 the messages section had not been ported over to Google’s new Search Console interface and no indication had been provided as to whether the feature would be moved across in the future.
Features, tools and parts of Google Search Console
There is a whole range of features and metrics in Google Search Console to help you improve your SEO strategy and tactics.
If you’re new to GSC some of these features may seem a little alien to you, but there is nothing difficult about them and you will soon see the benefits of delving deeper.
These are just a few of the many features and tools available in the suite.
Structured data highlighter
The structured data highlighter makes semantic markup like Schema easier to manage on your website. Pages using Schema have been found to perform up to four times better in search results, yet websites have been very slow to adopt the semantic markup library – which gives you a large window of opportunity to get ahead early. It’s important to note too that structured data has been around for a very long time. The term ‘linked data’ was first coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and he was talking about early predecessors of structured data many years ago. It’s only in recent years that structured data has been popularised, and the now much-easier methods of implementation provided in tools has certainly sped up the uptake of this type of data markup to turn strings into things.
You’ll find the structured data highlighter in Google Search Console in the old version of the suite of tools. It’s not yet been moved over to Google’s new search console interface and Google have not yet confirmed nor denied whether they will be porting this across at all.
In the old Google Search Console navigate to ‘Search Appearance > Data Highlighter’
You can find HTML Improvement under the Search Appearance section in GSC, where you will find a number of tools to debug and optimise your web code. You can track down duplicate links, missing title tags and optimise meta descriptions – as well as any non-indexable content you may have on your site. One thing you should note here however is that ‘duplicate meta descriptions’ and ‘duplicate page titles’ are not something you should shriek in horror at. It’s perfectly normal to have some pages with similar meta titles and meta descriptions,particularly if your site is an ecommerce site or a catalogue or classifieds site. There are only so many different titles and meta descriptions you can have for very similar products and you should actually just describe what is on the page itself clearly. If you run a job site, there’s also going to be a lot of cross over between page titles and meta-descriptions, and this is not a bad thing. Treat this section more as a notification section and an area to explore further, but certainly not one of warning or penalty.
Reorder your sitelinks in SERPS – UPDATE BELOW
NB: THIS FEATURE IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE (UPDATED DEC 3RD 2017) – If Google decides your website is just what users are looking for, it sometimes displays sitelinks underneath your listing. You can’t choose whether Google shows these links, but you can change the order if you think a reshuffle can improve your click through rate. You can do this under the Search Appearance section by clicking on the Sitelinks options and choosing to demote a link to move it down the list.
Fetch as Google
Fetch as Google lets you see how the search engine sees and reads your website, with insights into server response, crawl request time, HTML code and visible content. This not only helps you pinpoint any issues Google has with crawling your site and any odd behaviour in your search presence – but it’s an essential tool should your site get hacked.
Fetch as Google – now in colour
Fetch as Google is an incredibly useful option in Google Search Console that allows you see how Googlebots view your web pages. This means you can troubleshoot your site to better optimise performance, submit pages for indexing when you make drastic changes to content and track down any pages causing problems if your site gets hacked by malware.
Essentially, you are looking at an SEO debugging tool that helps you single out core issues with content and HTML markup. Google just made this process a whole lot easier too – by adding colour-coded markup to the Fetch as Google feature. This may not sound like much, but anyone who works with code will tell you how much easier it is to spot markup errors when HTML is display in colour-coded syntax.
Google has started sending notifications to webmasters who redirect mobile users to the homepage of their website instead of taking them to the page they are looking for. This generally happens when there is a mobile version of a website and the default action is to redirect any URLs of that site to the homepage for mobile devices. Which means smartphone users can click on a blog post or service page via Google – only to be redirected to the ‘mobile-friendly’ homepage.
This is very bad from a user experience perspective and you should keep well away from redirecting users, unless it is completely necessary. Redirecting to a mobile version of the same page users are looking for is acceptable – although separate mobile sites come with their own list of pros and cons you need to consider.
Why you need to be using Google Search Console
If you take your SEO and online marketing strategy seriously, you should already be using Google Search Console. If that’s not the case then now is the time to start and there are a number of features that you can use right away to help improve the performance of your website – for both users and search engines.
For starters you get access to author stats, which gives you insights into how your blog posts and published content are performing. You can also control the crawl rate to determine how often Googlebots crawl your site, use the structured data highlighter to make Schema markup easier and better optimise your HTML.
This is just a small list of the features available and we’ll be taking a closer look at how to use Google Search Console to improve your website very shortly.
There’s plenty more in Google Search Console
This is just a small collection of the features at your disposal under Google Search Console and the more time you spend on familiarising yourself with the platform, the more you’ll wonder how you ever got by without out it.
There are a number of tutorials, guides and articles out there to help you get more from Google Search Console and this is one of those platforms you can never know too well. So read up, experiment as much as you can and don’t forget to get in touch if you need a helping hand.
Bertey is a boutique digital marketing agency with a love for organic search (and in particular technical SEO). We don’t dilute our efforts by working with a large number of clients, and provide a granular service with attention to detail. If you have experienced problems with SEO on your site, get in touch and we will take a look with a view to providing you with an initial mini technical SEO audit free of charge.