What Exactly Should I Use Google Search Console For?
Many of my life science clients have Google Search Console (GSC) set up, but few realise what it does and how it can be used to improve SEO efforts.
SEO is one of many channels that can be effective as part of a life science digital marketing strategy, so understanding how it works is crucial!
In this post, I am going to provide a top-level summary of the features and tools within Google Search Console that make it so valuable to digital marketers.
What Exactly Does Google Search Console Do?
Almost all of the clients I have worked with are aware of Google Search Console and its capabilities, although they are not always sure what it does specifically.
Google describes Search Console as “tools and reports to help you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues and make your site shine in Google Search results”
It does this through the following:
- Optimise your content with Search Analytics
- Get your content on Google
- Get alerts on issues and fix your site
- Understand how Google Search sees your pages
Of which we are going to investigate further in this blog post.
However, first things first; you want to make sure you have it set up!
How To Set Up Search Console
If you are unsure if you have Google Search Console set up, try and log in here.
If you don’t have it, use the same link to create a Search Console account.
Search Console Layout
When you access Google Search Console, you will notice the following layout.
A quick note: the visuals of Google Search Console were updated at the end of 2021, yet the features are still the same.
I am now going to cover each of the tabs from the left hand menu, featuring what they do and how to use them. In addition, I am going to investigate some of the ‘hidden’ features of Google Search Console that aren’t always obvious to access.
The Overview tab is simply as it sounds.
It features top-level dashboards and links to the ‘Performance’, ‘Coverage’, ‘Experience’ and ‘Enhancement’ tabs (see below). A recent addition – shown at the top of the screen – is the Search Console Insights tab, which gives additional insights into content performance.
The Performance graph is probably the most commonly used feature of Google Search Console.
This provides insights into organic performance of your website; featuring clicks, impressions, CTR and average position.
With this, you can measure the above performance of keywords and URLs – to show you how well your content creation efforts are performing – or investigate the performance of a website across countries or particular devices.
The Performance tab lets you filter by search type – web, image, video and news, as well as look at data from anytime within the last 16 months.
Data from these various reports to tell on a page-by-page and keyword-by-keyword basis what is doing well, and what is not doing so well.
The URL inspection tab is not a report in itself, but a shortcut to the search bar at the top of the page.
Enter a URL from your domain, and you will be shown the status of the URL within Google including any enhancements.
This also allows you to perform a live test on pages, and submit a request for indexing if you wish to inform Google about a change or update in the page.
The Coverage tab highlights all known URLs and their status within Google SERPs, including the following statuses:
- Valid With Warnings
This report is very useful for understanding the issues that Google has with pages, how to go about fixing them and ensuring URLs are showing in search results as expected.
The Sitemap tool allows you to submit your websites sitemap to ensure that Google knows of all URLs that you want it to find. If you have a large website, it is possible to add multiple sitemaps here. It will look like something below:
If you click on the grey barchart icon – right hand side – this will also let you investigate the discovered URLs using the Coverage tab that we’ve just covered.
The Removals tool is a relatively new addition to Search Console, which gives webmasters the ability to temporarily block URLs from appearing in the SERPs or you wish to inform Google that you have removed sensitive content from a URL.
You should be aware of what the tool can and cannot do and the circumstances that you should use it. You can find out more about the Removals tool here.
The Page Experience tab is the overview page showing how many pages have ‘good page experience’.
This is linked to the next two Page Experience tabs listed below – Core Web Vitals and Mobile Usability – which are also linked to from the Page Experience overview page.
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are a new set of usability metrics introduced by Google to measure page experience of your website users.
They consist of three metrics – LCP (largest contentful paint), CLS (cumulative layout shift) and FID (first input delay) which are all scored on a three point scale, on both desktop and mobile.
Similarly to the Coverage tab we’ve already covered, URLs are ranked as ‘Good’, ‘Needs Improvement’ or ‘Poor’, with specific details of issue(s) detailed when clicking on the ‘open report’ button in the top right of the respective graph.
The Mobile Usability report gives an overview performance of how your website ranks purely on mobile devices. URLs will be ranked as ‘Valid’ unless the is an issue, where they are ranked in red as ‘Error’. The details for each error are listed in the details below.
The next section – Enhancements – refers to URLs that have Rich Results. Rich Results are markup that makes your URLs appear with additional features within the SERPs.
Examples of Rich Results can include the following:
- Sitelink Searchbox
As you implement the structured data necessary for Rich Results, you will see different sub-tabs appear underneath the Enhancements section of Google Search Console.
But, just because they appear in the menu, doesn’t mean that they are valid and implemented correctly. Click on any of the enhancements and you will see how you are doing – as demonstrated below:
Security & Manual Actions
Next up is the ‘Security & Manual Actions’ section.
This refers to any issues that you have associated with security, or a manual action is where a human reviewer at Google has concluded that one of your pages do not follow Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
For most websites, a simple ‘No Issues Detected’ message will appear when you click on either. However, if you have a penalty or a security issue, you should act on this as a matter of urgency if you don’t want your SEO to suffer!
Legacy Tools & Reports
This sections refers to four additional tools that were part of the previous Google Search Console tool, and that SEOs and webmasters still had a use for. When you click on any of these, they open up in a new tab with the old Search Console appearance.
The links sections provides a wealth of information about internal links and external links.
External links – often referred to as backlinks – are links where others site link to your website, whereas internal links tell you what pages are receiving the most links from other URLs on your domain.
Using the external links list, it is possible to spot who is linking to yIou and to what page. This can be useful for finding online partners and measuring any link building you are performing. But it can also be used to find any unwanted or spammy backlinks – that might be harming your SEO.
The list of internal links is useful for understanding how your website URLs are linked to one another. Generally speaking, extensive internal linking benefits search engine crawlers, resulting in ‘better’ SEO. Use this list to find opportunities for pages you wish to improve, and add some internal links!
As it sounds, the settings section provides general information around ownership, permissions and user associations. But in addition to that, there is some very useful information once your open the ‘Crawl Stats’ report.
Here you can find a wealth of technical information, such as how many crawl requests Google has made of your website, the response times, the file types it has crawled and information in relation to URL response codes.
This information offers plenty of opportunities for optimising your website from a technical SEO perspective.
How Can I Learn More About Google Search Console?
The best way to learn the capabilities of Google Search Console is to simply spend time learning and observing the data.
There is little you can do ‘wrong’ as you cannot delete or alter data. However, you should be careful about submitting or making any requests if you do not know what you are doing!
Need Help Resolving SEO Issues Using GSC?
If you are looking for additional hands-on training with Google Search Console for yourself or your team, then I can offer training on a case-by-case basis.
If you are looking for help resolving an SEO or technical SEO issue for your life science business, then please get in touch to discuss individual requirements, and I will be happy to discuss it with you further!