There are a lot of ways to check how your website’s doing these days. The most common one people use is probably Google Analytics. Google Analytics is definitely a great tool for monitoring your site. However, since the ‘not provided’ development, it’s become pretty hard to monitor your SEO efforts. And unfortunately, most tools that can monitor your SEO efforts come at a costly price. Today I’ll be highlighting one of the free tools; Google Search Console.
This is actually the first post in a series on Google Search Console. We’ll be going over every major menu item in Google Search Console, starting with Search Appearance.
What is Google Search Console?
Before going into Google Search Console, you might be wondering, what is it in the first place? Google themselves explain it the following way in their meta description of Google Search Console:
“Google Search Console provides you with detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google.”
This is definitely true, but it’s leaving out quite a lot of other things. Google Search Console looks at a lot more than ‘just’ your pages’ visibility on Google. It looks at everything that’s causing that visibility, such as backlinks, crawling (errors), robots.txt, sitemaps, etc. And on top of that, Google Search Console actually still shows you quite some search query data.
On the 20th of May 2015, Google announced that the name Google Webmaster Tools did not cover the user base of the tool anymore. Only a part of the user base could indeed be called ‘webmaster’. For that reason, Google renamed the tool Google Search Console (GSC)
Other posts in this series
The Search Appearance menu item gives you a lot of insight into just that: what your website appears like in the search results. You can actually click the ‘i’ for more information on the search appearance:
You can select every part of a search result to get more information on that specific part and how to influence how it looks.
Under Structured Data you’ll find a number of all the pages that have some kind of structured data attached to them, such as schema.org or RDFa. Structured data means you give certain elements on a page a sort of label, such as ‘Product‘. This will make it clear to the big search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) that there’s a product on this page. On top of that, you can add things such as ratings or prices of your product that might also show up in the search results. We recommend to add schema.org data using JSON-LD.
If any pages on your site don’t have the structured data set up right, Google Search Console will give you a red line named “Items with Errors”. GSC automatically sorts by the number of “Items with Errors”, so the most important faults will be on top. To view what specific pages have these errors, just click one of the lines in the table. This will take you to a list of all the specific pages that have errors with the Data Type you selected. You’ll probably be able to create a nice list of to-do’s for your site, just based on these URLs.
Sometimes Google tries to answer the user’s question right in the search result pages. It does that by presenting the user with so-called Rich Card. That could be a recipe, restaurant listing with a rating, or even a product result that has just that bit of extra information on availability or pricing. These are just examples.
If your website is set up the right way, it’s using structured data to set up these rich cards. In Google Search Console, under Search Appearance, you’ll find any and all errors Google has found in the data you provided for this. That is if Google has detected any rich card structured data on your site. These errors are divided into three levels:
- The top level lists a sum of errors or recommendations. These are conveniently grouped by card type and you can click a row for more details.
- A second level in the report gives you a list of all the critical (errors in required fields) and non-critical errors for a selected card type. Again, you will find more details after clicking a row.
There are three kinds of statuses here: Invalid (critical, fix now), Enhanceable (nice to fix) and Fully-Enhanced (job well done).
- The third level allows you to view all pages with cards of a selected type affected by the selected rule. After clicking a row, you’ll find a suggested fix.
The Data Highlighter actually makes fixing the issues you’ve found in the Structured Data section a lot easier. For instance, choose one of the URLs that had a faulty Structured Data setup and tell GSC what kind of information you want to highlight:
This will bring you to a live view of that page and you’ll be able to select any element on the page. By selecting an element you’ll be given a choice of what you want to highlight that specific element for. For example, for an Article, you’ll be given these markups to add to the corresponding element on the page:
This makes adding Structured Data, for Google at least, really as easy as a few clicks.
This page is really straight forward. This basically checks all your website’s meta descriptions, title tags, and content that wasn’t indexable. If Google Search Console finds meta descriptions that are too long, too short or duplicate, it will show a number of pages higher than 0, and the link will become clickable:
The same goes for missing, duplicate, too long, too short or non-informative title tags and for any content that GSC thought was non-indexable. Clicking the linked word will take you to a list of meta descriptions or page titles that are faulty. You’ll be able to find on which pages exactly this is happening. Some more to-do’s to add to that list! If you find writing decent meta descriptions hard, read this post to learn how!
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, is a way to make your pages easier accessible on mobile devices. Note that for AMP to work properly, you need to create matching, valid AMP pages with the right schema.org markup. And you need to make sure these AMP pages are properly linked. We have written a number of articles on the subject:
Go read these. While it might seem like you need to set up a second website, there are obviously tools that will help you keep up with the possibilities and future development of AMP.
In Google Search Console you will find a debug report for your AMP pages. Google set up this report as the first layer of information about your AMP pages: there is more to come in this report. The current report provides a quick overview of your AMP errors, which you can analyze per specific error type and URL. It will help you find the most common AMP issues on your website, so you can fix these.
Optimize your search appearance!
So you see there’s a lot you can do about what your search results in Google look like and a lot to optimize to make it more clear for Google. Optimizing your search appearance might only have a minor impact on your ranking, but it will definitely increase the click-through rate from Google. And that’s worth a little effort!
What do you think? Do you have experience using Google Search Console like this? Or do you have some additional tips? Let us know in the comments!