18 | Search Console Basics with Andrew Cock-Starkey

Alina Ghost

I mention Search Console plenty of times throughout the podcast so it’s about time that a whole episode was dedicated on how to set it up, the basics and (slightly) advanced intricacies of the tool as well.

This episode is ideal for SMEs, In-house SEOers and consultants.  

Andrew Cock-Starkey

Andrew starts bluntly, Search Console (SC) is not Google Analytics (GA) as it is often mistaken. GA used to show data that shows you what your site was visible for but this was removed years ago so SC is a way that helps you turn those ‘not provided’ into useful data. It’s a good way to see what your customers are looking for and how they are finding your site.

I personally use SC daily and enjoy looking at site speed, crawler budget, keyword visibility, clicks, device splits etc.

Getting Search Console Set Up

Andrew stresses that SC doesn’t work historically, so important to get this set up with your site as soon as possible! It also takes 48 hours to show data, which means you need to give it 2 days from set up to see anything.

SC is a good way to check the health of your site, for example to check manual penalty messages or why you lost traffic in a particular period. It even gives you a notification for mobile first indexing of your site.

Mobile first indexing is when Google looks at mobile before desktop which used to be the other way around. Andrew says imagine Google as a person. They used to look at your site using a laptop, now they’re looking at it using a mobile phone. If it doesn’t work the same or there is content then it’s important to know that mobile is primary because this might look ‘shifty’.

Add the tracking code to a website. I recommend adding a plugin that helps you add code to your site, if you have Yoast then here’s an article that walks you through how to do this step by step.

WORDPRESS PLUGIN recommendation: Yoast plugin for WordPress.

Andrew says that it’s even easier if you already have Google Analytics because the tracking will already be in place and you’ll simply need to go through some authentication. So, it can already be a few clicks away. Andrew wrote an article about how to get set up on Search Console so be sure to have a read!

Monitor Performance

  • How many searches you’re appearing in
  • How many clicks you’re getting when you do appear in search
  • Health check – check your site ‘heart monitor’
  • Monitor on a regular basis
  • Filtering system,
  • Historical data of 16 months for year on year comparisons (used to be 90 days)
  • Seasonality trends

The new Search Console offers a version that’s modern and easy to navigate around and allows for more information and different filtering systems. Many years ago, it was called Webmaster Tools. Google is going through a rebranding operation to make it user friendly and the new beta version where more data is given, it’s a clearer and useful for those less technical. It shows actionable data to make your site better.

Google Data Studio

Integrating SC with Data Studio has been recommended to me a number of times and Andrew does the same. It’s free for your data exchange and uses an API to pull the information from Search Console. It’s a visualisation and reporting tool that’s similar to Tableau or Adobe analyst.

Hook it up with GA & SC and don’t be scared of it as it’s not very technical once you get to use it. You’ll be able to see trends and line graphs that make meaningful data. Also, it works well with other Google things, such as Google sheets. Mainly though, it allows you to blend data to see whether the weather for example has an effect on sales!

Search Console Actions

Andrews biggest recommendation is use filters to look at the data in more granular level. You’ll be able to create subsets of information dependant on the one area of your site, using the page URL strands. For example, you’ll be able to look at one area in isolation, such as your blog or 1 category or product range. You’ll be able to monitor and report on pages where content changes and show the impact on visibility as well as traffic. Listen to my episode on Return on Investment for more information on this.

Another action the tool is good for is for surfacing errors, showcasing your pages that don’t exist (404) or are redirecting incorrectly (302). These are quick wins and deserve attention, it’s simply a tool that helps you take care of these and makes your job easier.

Search Console puts bad SEOs out of the job, it’s there to help you with the 101 SEO tasks

Start with the red errors, then take a look at the orange one and then you’ll be able to spot the differences between those quickly. Andrew went to Brighton SEO (Sept 2018) and saw a talk where someone shared that Search Console helped them find an issue with the site. Google was indexing 4m+ URLs instead of 12k! That’s a massive difference as Google was picking up different variations of the URLs including parameters. SC helps check those fundamental things that might have broken!

Tidying up the site is exactly what it does and makes Google’s life easier so that they know what content you have so that they can surface it in the search results.

Recently, at Amara, we noticed that Search Console was picking up pages that were meant to be noindex, nofollow. I knew that crawlers shouldn’t be picking these pages up if that was the case so how was it that it was showing up? Turns out, after a major change to the site (international migration) we added a piece of code to our robots.txt file that told crawlers to index that page. The tool therefore allowed me to find the issue and fix it. It’s a great way to simply double check everything on the site is working as expected.

Use the URL inspection tool. It lays out what information Google have about that particular page; when it was last crawled, where is it picking it up from, where is it linked from such as a sitemap or external link etc. It helps you pin down and expose information quickly. At Amara we’ve started indexing filter pages. Merch changed stuff on the site and need to keep on top of it in case categories and facets get moved around/changed or removed etc. We ended up with two of the same filters, one indexed and the other not but the latter was linked from the category page whilst the other disappeared off of the navigation. Search Console allows us to spot these in a better way and tell us where it might be linked from if we use that URL inspection tool.

So after batch up content in chunks and only looking at those areas such as ‘product’ or ‘blog’ via filtering the data, you can start being clever with time periods and comparisons for clicks, devices. Businesses usually look at month on month or year on year comparisons if not both.

Did you know you can also exclude your brand name to see how you perform for generic keywords or vice versa to check for your branding/company name growth as well?

Example: Andrew’s client said they saw a lower average position after he did some work on their website. Using Search Console, they were able to identify that actually the position average dropped because they started ranking for many more search terms, thus lowering the average but the scope increased.

Google experiments with things, so Andrew’s SC article started ranking highly and he saw a lot of traffic but it wasn’t traffic that stuck. In the end SC allows you to look into this in a more granular level, looking at clicks and performance of individual pages.

Opportunities via Filtering

Marginal gains that make a big difference!

  • Business priorities, section our categories (subsets)
  • Quick wins, difference between page 2 and top 10, then a big leap from top 10 to conversion zone of top 3 – Look at pages that are on page 2 to move up. Make a few changes, update meta data, external links and add internal linking to nudge it into the top rankings for more traffic.
  • Self-gratification of seeing performance increase from your edits will give you the motivation to do more.
  • This allows you to win those battles and show return on investment. Make case studies using the tool.
  • Perfect for AB testing for SEO changes – helps revert back if something didn’t work and do more of if it does.
  • Find content that already does well for you. Add subscription to newsletter or something provides leads for the business. Episode 16, Deepak walks us through how he does exactly this.

Be reactive today and gain traffic that is meaningful to you and your website; use Search Console!

Music credit: I Dunno (Grapes of Wrath Mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/56346 Ft: Jlang, 4nsic, grapes.

Tags: google analytics keyword rankings search console search engine optimisation search engines seo

Categories: SEO podcast

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1 comment

  • Thanks for the opportunity to chat to you and your audience Alina! It was great fun and I could have rattled on for hours (GSC is a bit of a hobby-horse of mine!).

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