Google Search Console is a web service by Google that lets you see the indexing and performance of your websites and webpages on Google search.
At a high level, the search console is a powerful tool to confirm that your website is ranking and that Google can access your website.
You can check and set the crawl rate and view statistics about where your traffic is landing and where you are acquiring traffic from.
The console, like many other web dev tools, is robust and powerful. If you are building your first website you should take time to understand it, play around with it, and learn to leverage it.
This tutorial walks you through the basics of this tool, and can be a useful guide to help you save time when learning which metrics matter for your site’s performance and how you can leverage this data to build better products.
I have lived in the search console for the past six months because I built a website and I care deeply about how people find the content that I write.
Prior to my experience building this site, I was not a regular user of the Search Console. I had to learn about this tool, including what it could do to help me better understand my users and their intent when landing on my website.
I have learned three important lessons about the Search Console’s Performance section and want to pass those lessons on to you.
Lesson #1: Know the source of your traffic: Search vs Discover
Google gives you two ways to see how people are reaching your website through Search: via Search results or via Discover.
“Discover” (previously known as Google Feed) is a personalized content feed created by Google that proactively serves relevant content to users. You can’t nominate your content for Discover. If Google thinks that your website is relevant to users, Google will show it to people.
The other type of performance metric, and one that is seemingly far larger, is “Search results”. Search results shows a webmaster four vital pieces of information:
- Total clicks
- Total impressions
- Average CTR (Click Thru Rate)
- Average Position
Discover provides the same information with the exception of Average Position because there are no relative ranking positions within this metric.
When learning to use the Search Console, spend time looking at traffic through the lens of Search and Discover. If you do not see Discover traffic, that means your content has not yet been shown via Discover to users.
When starting a website or blog, you will want users to find your content. Search and discover are the two organic ways that people will do so. Know how many people find you via each.
Lesson #2: Study your average position
When I first started using the Search Console I was amazed (and happy) that I was getting any traffic at all! Over time, your clicks will increase if you are publishing relevant and useful content.
As more people find your website and the site gets more impressions, clicks will go up.
You might be tempted to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. Not so fast!
Each page that you publish on your website is eligible to appear on Google search if you want that page to be crawled and indexed.
Some of your pages will perform very well (that is, they'll land on the first page of Google) and others will land further down (like on the 12th page where nobody will see them).
Over time you will want to monitor and track your average position and find ways to increase your average position by producing higher quality and more relevant content that benefits readers.
Here is a simple strategy to see your average position over time: create articles of similar length, quality, and usefulness to readers.
Then, come back over the ensuing weeks and months and see which ones are starting to rank and what their relative positions are. This strategy is deployed by review sites, thought leadership posts, and even online coding schools.
When I started my first website my average position was around 60. That means that 59 other websites showed up before mine.
Today, that average position is 26.8. Clearly I have a long way to go but it's a step in the right direction. Be aware of this metric and spend time tracking it.
Lesson #3: Impressions are the top of the funnel
Regardless of the type of website you have - blog, educational, e-commerce, recreational - you will want traffic.
Traffic is just another way of saying unique visitors. Depending on what your website has to offer, you might value certain types of traffic more than others: by region, country, age of users, device operating system, and so on.
But as you focus in on clicks and performance, it all starts with impressions. An impression is counted each time your webpage is shown on a search result page.
In other words, impressions are the top of the funnel. You will need to grow impressions first in order to grow all other metrics.
A word of caution that I have discovered the hard way. If your website is on the lower part of the search results, an impression might count even if the user doesn’t scroll all the way down.
In other words, the way Google counts an impression is seemingly slightly different from how a person might count it. In layperson's terms (that is, not technology) an impression is when you actually see something.
In Google’s terms, an impression is when your website is on a results page and the user sees the results page. In short, scrolling doesn’t seem to impact impression counts.
Bringing It All Together: Know How Your Users Reach Your Website To Build Better Products
If you want to build a product, you always need to know how your users learned about your product and what they value most. Builders start with the customer and work backwards.
Google’s Search Console is a terrific tool to understand one aspect of the user journey to better align your product, your messaging, and your value-prop with the needs of your clients.
You can use the Performance section of the Search Console to obsess over customers and how they reach you.
Google makes it easy to test this in real time so that your feedback loop is minimal: you can review the crawled page automatically or promagically.
Growing SaaS, a company that notes that SEO is one of the core user acquisition strategies for companies, also convincingly argues that if you don't know where, what, how, or why to measure traffic, you will be missing guidance as to what to build and for whom.
If you build any product - a website, a mobile app, or a tool for Enterprises - you need to know how people hear about your product and reach you.
Imagine if you built a newsletter but had no idea how your email list grew over time or what your subscribers valued most? Sounds crazy, right? That is akin to building a site and not mastering the Search Console.
Certainly this would be a suboptimal situation for any coder or creator.
Builders are never done learning.
The Search Console gives you data and visual guidance on ways to improve your website and customer acquisition. By being curious about new possibilities and acting to explore them, you can do a better job building.
And Google reinforces this by helping guide you along the way. These green circles and checks confirm that the site has live pages and that are properly indexed. It's always a nice plus when the visual design helps the builders :)
Builders not only index on what is going well - and how to improve these trends - but what is not working so that they can course correct. Google’s search console, like other online tools, helps users see broken links and error pages, pages that need improvements, and site speed.
If you were looking at hundreds of pieces of paper in a book - or bulk emails - or thousands of indexed web pages, you need to leverage a tool to understand the data in front of you.
The Search Console is just that.
It is free to use and fast to deploy. It is important to use and critical to master - your product and users will be better served if you leverage it.