Join us as we take a look at Google Search Console and three of its handiest features:
- Data Highlighting
- Content Keywords Report
- Links to Your Site
What is Google Search Console?
If you’re going to market your website as effectively as possible via Google search, everything you do must be informed by data-driven insights, and supported by the right search marketing tools. You’re going to want to know how Google is interpreting your site, you’ll want to find out which other websites are linking to your own, and you’ll need to have a good degree of control over how your site is represented in Google search result listings.
Google Search Console brings together all of these possibilities together in one clean and simple interface, alongside lots of other tools and features designed to make your site more Google-friendly.
Once you are logged into Google Search Console and verified as the owner (or an administrator) of the relevant website(s), spend half an hour or so thoroughly exploring all the menu items listed in the left-hand column, under the heading ‘Search Console’. You’ll soon gain a good understanding of most of the sections featured, which are as follows:
- Dashboard – highlights new messages from Google, error alerts and your latest search traffic figures
- Messages – archives alerts, guidance and other correspondence from Google (also delivered to your email address)
- Search Appearance – a selection of tools designed to help you visualise and optimise the appearance of your web page listings in search results. This section includes the Data Highlighter tool, which we will discuss in detail later in the article
- Search Traffic – your key search performance metrics, including Search Analytics and reporting on external Links to your Site
- Google Index – this section hosts a variety of features, including indexing reports and a list of the keywords Google associates with your website
- Crawl – covers some of the more technical aspects of your website’s relationship with Google, including statistics on pages crawled by Google’s search algorithm and URL parameter settings
- Security Issues – flags up any security issues relating to your site
- Other resources – full of useful resources for webmasters who have the time and ambition to use them
Search Console is Google’s attempt to compile – on their own turf and on their own terms – all of the search marketing tools and reports a digital marketer could desire. The reality is that no Google product is ever likely to offer all the details a professional search marketer would track using an app like Raven or ahrefs (we’re thinking of SERP rankings and inbound link authority scores in particular) – but nonetheless, Google Search Console can fulfil a major role in your search marketing efforts.
We’ve chosen to highlight three of the Console’s best tools, which will help you to refine and report upon your work.
The data highlighter exists to make structuring website data possible for all webmasters – even those who don’t know how to add Microdata Markup to their site’s HTML.
The term structured data refers, in this context, to data which Google’s algorithm would process differently to regular content when compiling search listings. Qualifying information categories include concert dates, review details and recipes. The screenshots below will give you an idea of how structured data manifests in live Google search results.
[SS: concert dates] [SS: review stars] [SS: recipe]
Before Data Highlighter, webmasters had to edit html on their sites in order to highlight structured data for Google to present in special ways. Now we can achieve the same result by tagging structured data using Data Highlighter.
Open up Data Highlighter in Google Search Console. Once you’ve taken a look around, click the ‘Start Highlighting’ link, enter your URL, and select the type of content you would like to tag (e.g. Articles, Local Business, Events). Now click ‘Okay’ to open up the Data Highlighter.
You will now be confronted with an entirely new interface, complete with your own webpage display loaded in the main panel. You will be able to highlight content on the page simply by left-clicking and dragging over it; when you let go, the Data Highlighter tool will display various tagging options for you to choose from. Before you jump right in and tag your structured data, click the gear icon towards the top-right of the screen and read the ‘Help’ and ‘Tips & Tricks’ sections, to give yourself a good grounding in the basics of the tool. In practice, this tool will help you to present appropriate content optimally in Google search results.
Google is clearly placing an increasingly heavy focus on structured data. Over recent years we have seen regular increases in the proportion of Google search results delivered in presentational formats based on structured data – and many anticipate an escalation of the trend.
Get on top of tagging structured data on your website now and you’ll be just about ahead of the curve; wait around and you will face increasingly stiff competition in getting your structured data content to the top of the SERP rankings.
The Content Keywords report may not be as flash or future-facing as the Data Highlighter tool, but it still has an important role to play in helping you understand how Google perceives your website.
This simple-yet-effective report gives you a strong indication as to what Google thinks your website is about, based on the keywords you’ve included in the website’s content and metadata.
Click the ‘Content Keywords’ menu item in the Google Index section to find a list of the keywords Google has found on your site, accompanied by bar graphics indicating their relative perceived significance.
By clicking on a keyword, you can access more details, including the number of times the keyword was found, semantic variations on the keyword which contributed to that figure, and the top-ranking pages of your site where the word was found. You’ll also notice the option to show more keywords (in batches of 20) by clicking the button at the bottom of the list.
You can download all details from your Content Keywords report in a single CSV file, by clicking ‘Download this table’.
Using the Content Keywords tool
The Content Keywords tool is useful primarily because it provides you with the means to compare Google’s impression of your website with your own intentions regarding your content and search marketing strategy.
You may be surprised at the content keywords which Google registers as the most used – and most significant – on your website. If this is the case, you should consider refreshing your content or products, with a renewed focus on your original target keywords.
Alternatively, you might consider tweaking your business’ online focus. For example, if a jeweller thinks of herself as a diamond specialist, but ‘gold’ emerges as her most significant keyword, she might consider creating and optimising a new landing page with a focus on her gold products, to make the most of the high significance score for that keyword on her site.
Another interesting aspect of the Content Keywords tool is the inclusion of variants for each applicable keyword. By studying the variants listed with your keywords, you can discover which words relating to your business are considered by Google to be effectively synonymous with each other. This can help you to streamline your SEO keywords plan – there’s no point trying to attract traffic for bunnies to one page and traffic for rabbits to another if Google reads them as the same word; instead you could target both words using either rabbits or bunnies on a single page, and focus the other page on a different keyword altogether.
We would always recommend downloading the CSV version of your Content Keywords report and opening it up in Excel. This way you’ll find it far easier to search for keywords, compare occurrence volume figures in one place, and perform all the Excel wizardry of which you are capable!
Links to Your Site
Inbound links are one of the key factors Google assesses to determine the authority and quality of your website. The higher the quality of the third party websites linking to yours, the greater the benefit to your search rankings is likely to be.
Google Search Console’s Links to Your Site report (under Search Traffic) doesn’t tell you how good your inbound links are, but it does give you plenty of other useful details.
Click ‘Links to Your Site’ and you’ll see a list of the domains linking to your site, figures for your most linked content, plus a section on ‘How your data is linked’ – click ‘More’ under this section to bring up a table showing the anchor text most commonly used to link to your content.
This report gets really interesting when you click the ‘More’ button under ‘Who Links the Most’. Do so and you’ll find a complete table of domains which Google has logged as linking to your website, plus buttons allowing you to download CSV files listing the exact pages within those domains which contain the links to your website.
Using the Links to Your Site report
There are plenty of tools out there that can tell you which websites are linking to your own. The important distinguishing feature here is that the Links to Your Site tool tells you in definitive terms which inbound links to your site have been registered and assessed by Google. You can use this information in a number of ways.
For one thing, it’s a great tool for checking links to your site are being registered as they should be. If a site posted a link to yours a few weeks ago and the new listing still hasn’t shown up in the ‘Download latest links’ section of your report, consider contacting the third party webmaster to ensure the link has not been assigned a “nofollow” value.
The ‘Download latest links’ feature is also an extremely useful aid in estimating the SEO value added by each new link acquired. Note the dates on which each link was discovered, and compare them with changes in your search traffic (in Search Analytics) over the same timeframe. This is a great way to see which links are helping you – and which may be doing more harm than good. You can disavow any harmful backlinks to your site using Google Webmaster Tools.
On more of a basic level, the Links to Your Site report is a great way to discover new mentions of your website online. By checking out each link as is logged by Google you can place yourself in an ideal position to follow up PR opportunities, respond constructively to criticisms posted online, and offer thanks where thanks are due.