I’ve often called Google Search Console my “desert island” SEO tool, meaning if I were stuck on a deserted island, I’d pick Google Search Console over just about anything else.
Take that, life raft.
Seriously though. If you want to know how your SEO strategy is paying off, get insight into what Google thinks about your website, or gather data on what you should do next, then Google Search Console is the tool for you.
Google Search Console throws a lot of data at you though, and for 99% of the reports most people look at the data they are seeing is one of three metrics:
What do these metrics mean, and how do you factor them into your SEO strategy? We’ll dive into that and more in this article.
Google Search Console is a free tool by Google that allows you to track how your website performs in search results.
To use Google Search Console, you need to first verify a website (what GSC refers to as a ‘property’) which will then give you access to data on how your site is performing. Google tracks these metrics for you:
And allows you to view these metrics over time, as well as broken down by keyword, page, or even device (mobile vs desktop for example). You can export data into spreadsheets, or integrate with a software application to view and create reports (like you can do in Centori).
Google Search Console also allows you to see which of your pages Google has crawled and is showing in Google search results (and if any are excluded) as well as a host of technical errors Google may run into when crawling your site.
Like I said, it’s a great tool that packs a ton of great functionality into a simple (and free) package.
Oh and Centori integrates with it to give you these super easy-to-use pre-built dashboards.
About those metrics though… what are they?
What do they mean and how do you use them for your SEO strategy? Let’ go through them one by one.
Google defines impressions as such:
The number of times any URL from your site appeared in search results viewed by a user, not including paid Google Ads search impressions.
Some people make a mistake when it comes to impressions by thinking it is the number of times their website has been seen in Google search results, but that is not quite the case.
If you rank 10th on Google that puts you at the bottom of page 1, whether or not someone scrolls down all the way, you will earn an impression for ranking 10th. As far as Google Search Console is concerned, ranking 10th is just as good as 1st, as they will earn the same number of impressions.
I like to track impressions to measure what I refer to as ‘search visibility’.
The more often you appear in search results, the better your chances of being clicked are. Search impressions are a ‘leading indicator’ in that regard, for newer websites it will take time to get substantial traffic from Google, however you can quickly build up a solid base of search impressions.
The longer your content appears in search results, the more authority you will build. That will lead to ranking higher, earning clicks, and building up a steady stream of organic traffic.
Clicks are a bit more straightforward. They measure how many clicks you are getting from Google search results (excluding any clicks on ads).
Frustratingly enough, clicks may not perfectly match up with the data you see in Google Analytics. Seeing as Google owns both products, it’s confusing as to why there would be a discrepancy. However, it’s usually not particularly much, and I try not to worry too much about it.
Being seen in search results is great, but being clicked on is even better.
I like to measure clicks to gauge how effective an SEO strategy is at converting visibility into traffic. You can also measure the click-through rate (CTR) to spot opportunities to convert high-ranking pages into more traffic if any pages are earning many impressions but not many clicks.
From experience, you can rank on page 2, or even 3, and still earn clicks (despite what people say about page 1 or bust). About rank tracking though, let’s get to the next metric.
Position is another crucial metric to track for your SEO strategy. Google defines average position as such:
The average ranking of your website URLs for the query or queries. For example, if your site's URL appeared at position 3 for one query and position 7 for another query, the average position would be 5 ((3+7)/2).
Position correlates to rank, when you view your position in Google Search Console it shows an average for that period.
For example, our ‘average position’ for the past 90 days for ‘SEO coach’ is 20.84, our current rank is 3.
You can see that there is some discrepancy here, though if I shorten the period to the last 14 days it improves slightly.
Position may not be 100% accurate, but it is a handy reference to track your rank (and it’s free, rather than spending $100+/month on a rank tracker).
I use impressions and clicks more as a metric than position, at the end of the day, rank is a vanity metric—what matters more is traffic and conversions. Still, I use position in addition to impressions to provide more context.
Say there’s a big swing in impressions - did position change? If so, that could be the cause, but if not, then it could just be a sign of seasonality.
It’s also nice having a benchmark of where you stand on Google. The Centori software platform updates your rank for keywords every week using position as a guide, allowing you to view your rank, track changes in rank, and a rank distribution for your saved keywords.
Oh, and because we pull from Google Search Console we do this for free (as in, we don’t charge you more for more keywords, our plans start at a small-biz friendly price of $39/month though).
The metric you choose to track depends on your goal. No metric is perfect, and often multiple can be combined depending on where you are trying to go.
Here are a few ways I use Google Search Console metrics to report on my SEO strategy.
If I’m working on a brand-new website, expecting traffic or ranking for key terms will take a back seat to just getting visible in search results.
For new websites, my goal is to publish content as quickly and consistently as possible to answer the questions my audience is asking. To track how effective this is, I’ll make sure Google is indexing this content and then track how often it appears in search results.
As time goes on, I’ll track position as well to see if I can improve the position of my content, and then clicks once I am ranking consistently.
Whenever I publish new content for an SEO strategy, I measure impressions and clicks in tandem with metrics from Google Analytics.
First off, is the content appearing in search result? Is it getting clicked on? When people land on the website, what do they do? Are they converting or purchasing, or just bouncing off?
When you publish new content, do so intentionally. Each piece of content should serve a purpose on your website and support your larger business goals.
One of my favorite things Centori does is allow you to measure performance for a subset of keywords. You can build a keyword list in Centori and view your Google Search Console performance just for that list and compare it to a different list.
This allows me to create keyword lists by topic, keyword modifier, or persona and compare one against the other to see which facet of my SEO strategy is performing best. Ultimately I’ll see which subset of keywords I rank for better, are seen for more often, and bring in the most clicks.
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