Google offers two free tools to help you track your SEO efforts. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two indispensable sources of search information.
By using these two tools together, you will get a more accurate view of how Google sees your site. You can see which pages on your website are the most popular, and what keywords are driving traffic to your website.
Each of these tools will require you to install a little bit of tracking code, or verify that you own the website.
Google Analytics asks you to install a small piece of tracking code on the bottom of each page. Using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you can do this quickly, and the Google Analytics code will be on all future pages that you publish.
With Google Search Console, you can either verify your site ownership by uploading a small file to your site, or by adding a text record to your domain name records.
By linking Google Search Console and Google Analytics together, you have access to more keyword information than if you were using just one or the other by itself.
If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your site, you should do so right away. There is no charge for this service.
Google Analytics will not make you rank any differently by installing it on your website. But it can give you information about how people are finding your website, and what they are looking for when they click your search result.
Here are some of the things Google Analytics can tell you about your site visitors:
- Where people are visiting from: filter by country state, or city.
- What type of browser or device people are visiting your site with.
- Demographic information.
- Percentage of new versus returning visitors.
- How long people are staying on your site.
- The pages each visitor views, and the path they took through your website.
- Specific landing pages people are entering your site on.
- Pages people are exiting your site on.
- Percentage of people that leave after viewing only one page (bounce rate).
- How many people are coming to your site through social media, and the social platforms they came from.
You can also combine two metrics at once with Google Analytics to find the most valuable pages on your website.
If you want to be able to look at data over time, and analyze patterns, install Google Analytics on your website.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) offers parallel and supplementary information to Google Analytics.
If you have a business website, you should verify accounts for both tools on your site. Be sure to link your Search Console property to the corresponding Google Analytics property.
Here’s a few key areas I pay attention to in Google Search Console.
Google will help you out by showing you areas that need to be cleaned up to improve your SEO. More often than not, this will be duplicate title tags or duplicate meta descriptions. You’ll find this section under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements.
Ideally, each page on your website will have a unique title tag and meta description. We’ll talk more about that in a future installment of this series.
Pay attention to mobile usability, as these are becoming extremely important to search rank. Sites that are not mobile-friendly or user-friendly are being increasingly downgraded in search results.
You can locate this page in Search Console under Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.
You can find this page in Google Search Console under Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
If you have the corresponding Google Analytics and Google Search Console properties associated with each other, you can get additional information in Search Console. By hooking the two together, you can see what people are searching for, and other metrics like click through rate and average position in search. If you are using Google Analytics alone, much of the keyword information is hidden, or shows up as “not listed”. Be sure to associate the two properties to one another.
Links to Your Site
One more useful area in Google Search Console is Links to Your Site. This is found under Search Traffic > Links to Your Site.
Here you will see all the websites linking to your site that Google has discovered so far. This is useful, because it tells you how weak or strong your back link profile is.
If there are only a couple of sites linking to you, you need more! When you have hundreds or thousands of sites linking to you, then it’s likely you have a robust back link profile.
If you don’t have tons of back links to your website yet, remember that quality counts more than quantity.
Links from a trusted source, like a news story, are more highly prized than a directory or comment link. Sites that are topically similar to your website have more relevance than links from random sites.
Remember that back links are like votes for your site. They tell Google that your site is relevant — otherwise people wouldn’t be linking to it. You want back links from as many different domains is possible, especially if they are related to your business. Random links from unrelated sites may be ignored, or even harmful to your back link profile.
One more thing to look at in Google Search Console is crawl errors and 404s. This section is located under Crawl > Crawl Errors.
Crawl errors occur when Google follows a link to your website, and couldn’t find that page. Sometimes people will link to the wrong page, or there are outdated links to an old version of a page. When the URL or web address of your page changes, you should use a 301 redirect to point people to the new URL for that page.
It is common for old back links to keep reappearing in this section. Googlebot remembers links for several years, and will periodically go back and try and re-crawl those URLs to see if they still work.
Google indexes pages by following links on the internet. Google Search Console lets you submit XML sitemaps of your site for future crawling. You will find this page under Crawl > Sitemaps.
If you have a WordPress site, you can use Yoast SEO to generate XML sitemaps automatically. Submit your sitemaps, and whenever you publish a new page, Google will automatically crawl it.
Submit New URL
There is a little known feature in Search Console called Submit New URL. This allows you to submit any page on the internet to be crawled.
If I find a page that is linking to one of my sites, I want Google to know about it. Googlebot may take a long time to find such URLs on their own. Remember that Googlebot follows links, so if there aren’t a lot of links to a page, it’s less likely that it will be discovered right away. So if somebody’s linking to your site, you can use the Submit URL feature to get it indexed.
A Few Words on Bing Webmaster Tools
It’s worth mentioning that Bing Webmaster Tools also exists. Every business should have their website on Bing Webmaster Tools as well. The reason we’re focusing so much on Google in this article is because Google is about 63% of the search market in the United States (October 2016). Microsoft sites (Bing) accounts for about 22% of search traffic, Yahoo 11.7%, Ask and AOL about 1% each (October 2016).
You should register your site with Bing Webmaster Tools and submit an XML sitemap for Bingbot to crawl. The ranking system for Bing and AOL is different from Google, so you may rank differently on those search engines than you do on Google.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console are free tools that will help you track your SEO progress. If you haven’t installed those on your website already, do so now.
Installing these tools won’t make you rank any higher by themselves. It will take a lot of hard work on your SEO to accomplish that. But gathering information is an important early step in figuring out how you can improve your SEO.
More Posts in this Series
- What Is SEO? Part 1
- Know Your End Goal, Part 2
- Know Your Customers, Part 3
- Keyword Research, Part 4
- Google Analytics & Google Search Console, Part 5
- Content Planning for Your Website, Part 6
- Website Content Audits, Part 7
- 301 Redirects, Part 8
- Part 9: Back Links
- The Title Tag, Part 10
- The Meta Description and Its Role In SEO, Part 11
- SEO Friendly URLs, Part 12