Using Google Search Console to Improve Your SEO

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When you work in digital marketing it’s hard not wish you could talk to Google. Wouldn’t that be nice? Imagine being able to ask questions and get feedback about your site.
Ok, so there’s no direct line to get in touch with Google’s algorithm, at least in part because bots are notoriously bad on the phone. But we do have Search Console. It’s not a helpline but it can facilitate some communication with Google.
In another post we talked about using Search Console for SEO analysis and reporting. But in addition to using the information in Search Console to make strategic decisions, you can actually use the interface to make immediate tactical changes.
In this post we’ll cover some of the features available in Google Search Console (GSC) that will help you influence how Google understands your site and improve your understanding of how Google is seeing your site.

 

Google Search Console for SEO

 

Search Traffic

In the Search traffic section, besides the analytics and intelligence you can gather, you can also take action and look for actionable insights.

International Targeting

The world got a bit smaller when the Internet cracked open access to the global market for businesses everywhere. If you’re using a website to target other countries or audiences that speak other languages, you can use the “International Targeting” section of SC to help you do it better. Using the Language tab, you can check that the page level markup on your translated pages includes the hreflang attribute and that it is implemented properly.

You can also use the Country tab to set target geographical locations. You can use this with TLDs (top level domains), subdomains and directories. However, each subdomain or directory will need its own SC profile to set a specific target country. Finally, if you are using the same content to target multiple countries, you can choose “unlisted” to target multiple countries.

 

International Search Targeting

 

Mobile Usability

Most websites are taking a mobile-first mentality in anticipation of the mobile-first index that Google has promised is on the horizon. To help with that, Google provides a “Mobile Usability” section in SC. The information you can review there will provide a sense of any issues that may be undermining Google’s perception of a user’s mobile experience on your site. These reports will identify pages that have issues, like clickable elements that are too close together; content that is wider than the standard mobile screen size, mobile incompatible ports and more. With this information you can work on pages, or even sections, of the site that have weaknesses. Making these changes can improve both your user experience and your chances of ranking more prominently.

 

Mobile Usability

 

Crawl

In the crawl section of SC, you can find and alter details about how Google finds and crawls your content.

Crawl Errors

Under “Crawl Errors” you will find a list of the 404 errors Google has found on your site. It’s important to know that 404 errors are a normal part of a website’s life and they are not inherently a bad or troublesome issue that will negatively affect your positioning in search. However, there are a few cases where this is something you’ll want to address.

If important pages are returning a 404 error, it may mean that something went wrong and needs to be fixed. If pages that users can access via links are broken, those should be addressed to avoid a negative user experience. Also, if broken pages have incoming back links or internal links, those could be redirected or updated, respectively, to restore link equity and consistency.

In some cases, Google will report 404s to pages that aren’t real. For example Google may be trying to crawl a URL that doesn’t exist. Google may simply have extracted this URL from code like JavaScript. It may also be extrapolating nonexistent pages from relative URLs. In these cases, the Crawl report can help you find these instances to change how your Javascript is handled or implement absolute URLs rather than relative.

 

404 Errors in Google Search Console Crawl

 

Sitemaps

There are many different kinds of sitemaps, and SC primarily deals with XML, text and RSS sitemaps. In the “Sitemaps” section of SC, you can upload sitemaps to help Google find and read them.

Additionally, sitemap extensions for media types like images, videos and news can be specified here. You can also use sitemaps to help support international targeting by uploading sitemaps that include hreflang annotations and point to the canonical URLs for each language in your sitemap file.

Adding sitemaps to GSC may not be mandatory, but it can help improve Google’s access to deeper content on your site and its understanding of your content update frequency and page importance. While you can also link to sitemaps from a robots.txt, using SC allows you to get important feedback on your sitemaps including errors, warnings and discrepancies between the number of pages submitted and the number of pages indexed.

 

Submit SItemaps to Google Search Console

 

Search Appearance

The Search Appearance section helps you study and change the way your site’s pages appear in search results.

HTML Improvements

Your search engine snippet is often the first impression a user has of your site, so it is important to best foot forward. Under HTML improvements, you can evaluate specific aspects of your site that Google uses when showing your pages in search results. The focus here is on title tags and meta descriptions. Identifying where these elements are duplicated can help you focus on which ones need to be customized to provide additional context for a page’s relevance. However, pages like the paginated results of a blog category my not mandate unique title tags. Looking at the length of title tags and meta descriptions can help you revise and optimize how they appear in front of users to improve your messaging.

 

HTML Improvements using Google Search Console

 

Structured Markup/Data Highlighter

Structured markup isn’t new, but most people are still not fully utilizing it. Search engines like Google use structured data to better interpret, filter, rank and display pages based on user intent and the information the pages contain. Search Console can make it a bit easier to start using structured markup or expand on what you have.

 

Structured Mark Up and Google Search Console

 

In the Structured Markup section of SC you can review if and how your site is using structured markup. Using this section, you can also uncover any warnings or errors that may exist with your current implementation.

 

Data Highlighter and Google Search Console

 

In the Data Highlighter section you can actually set up structured data without having to edit the HTML. This can be particularly useful for those with limited access to a site’s back end. Putting the effort into this adjustment can turn your normal result into a rich snippet that will help Google identify the information on your pages and improve the way it appears to users in search results.

Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot, but this is just the beginning of the ways that you can use Search Console for better SEO. If organic traffic matters to you (and of course it does!), then Search Console should be a frequent destination as an invaluable channel for communication and taking action, It’s worth taking a deeper dive into all of its features, but for immediate action items, these sections are a great place to start. SEO is a never-ending practice that requires frequent and repeated analysis and improvements. While Google may not supply any silver bullets, at least with Search Console, you have some excellent tools to work with.

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