Supercharge your SEO with Google Search Console
Much as I love Google Analytics, it does have its limitations, and can’t tell you absolutely everything about your online performance. Happily, there’s a whole host of other tools and services you can use to fill in the gaps. Take search engine optimization, for example – although you’ll see “organic search” listed as one of your traffic channels in your reports, Analytics is mostly designed to tell you how those organic search visitors interact with your site. It won’t automatically tell you the keywords that brought users there in the first place, or how easy you were to find in search results. Step forward, Google Search Console.
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is super quick to set up, and fills in all the pieces of the SEO puzzle that Google Analytics is missing: you can see the top search queries driving visitors to your site, your average position in search results for a particular keyword, and your highest ranking website pages. Plus you’ll automatically be notified if there are problems with your site: if Google’s little SEO robots can’t index your site (or worse, if you get yourself blacklisted for using dodgy SEO techniques) you’ll receive a message in Search Console to let you know.
How to Set up Google Search Console
I almost feel silly writing this, because Search Console is just so easy to set up. Although remembering the many, many times I have somehow managed to miss the obvious when learning a new tool, I'm sure someone out there will find this useful! So first, head on over to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/and sign in with your Google account (ideally the same one you use for Google Analytics).
Now enter your website address in the box provided, and click the “Add Property” button. You’ll then be asked to verify ownership of your website, before you can receive any data about it. There are several ways to do this: by default you’ll see the HTML file upload method, which requires you to download a simple HTML file and upload to your website. However an even simpler way to verify your ownership is via your Google Analytics account (and if you don’t have that set up yet, what are you waiting for?). Simply click the “Alternate Methods” tab (shown above), select the “Google Analytics” option, and hit “Verify”. See? Told you it was easy!
OPTIMISING YOUR GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE ACCOUNT
Ok, ok, so there’s a few more steps we have to take to make sure we’re collecting all the information we can. Firstly, you’ll want to go back and repeat the previous steps for all versions of your URL, so that when you’re done you have at least two properties:
- http://www.example.com and
- http://example.com (without the “www” part).
If you’re using an SSL, you’ll also want to add the https:// versions too, so you end up with four properties for your website. If that seems a little unmanageable, don’t worry – we’ll be telling Google which one is our preferred version in the very next step.
Open up the property you want Google to show in search results, click the gear icon in the top right, and select “Site Settings”. There you’ll have the option which version of your domain you’d like Google to show in search results, so we only have to check data for one of your properties in future.
LINK YOUR SEARCH CONSOLE ACCOUNT TO GOOGLE ANALYTICS
Finally, although the SEO data in Google Analytics shouldn’t be considered a replacement for your Search Console data, it does offer an extra layer of information. So let’s make sure the two accounts are linked: go to your Google Analytics admin, and select the property you want to connect your Search Console data to. If you’re not sure where to find this, check out my getting started with Google Analytics guide. Now, under “Product Linking”, choose “All Products”, then scroll to the very bottom of the page to find the option for Search Console.
If you’ve already linked your Google Analytics property to one in Search Console it will be displayed here, but chances are if you’re reading this guide, it currently says “none”. Click the “edit” button to be taken to a list of all your properties in Search Console. Select the “preferred version” of your domain that we specified earlier, even if it doesn’t match the way your URL looks in Google Analytics. Otherwise you won’t see any SEO data in your Google Analytics account, since Google is sending all your search traffic to that preferred domain now.
And that’s it! As always, check both accounts after a few days to make sure you’re collecting data ok – if you notice discrepancies between your Search Console and Google Analytics data, that’s perfectly normal, as they each report slightly differently on your SEO performance. However, if you’re not seeing any data at all, give me a shout, you may have made a mistake during setup or be looking at the wrong report.
Ready to branch out on your own? You’ll find useful information relating to this and other reports in a free PDF guide to Google Analytics, which you can access right here.