If you are building products, you want to know how people are using the products, how they're hearing about what you are building, and ultimately how they reach you. The Search Console plays an important role in helping you track and measure these operational metrics.

The Console is free to use. You just have to prove to Google that you own a website. Then Google will give you access to this treasure trove of search data.

I am going to walk you through the Google Search Console’s core features and describe each in plain English. I hope this helps you leverage it so you can measure the data points that matter the most to your product.

Google Search Console: Features and Core Functionality

The Google Search Console is a web service by Google which allows webmasters to check indexing status and optimize visibility of their websites. Below is a screenshot of the main part of the Search Console so that you can see a visual layout.

The main tabs on the Google Search Console interface

There are five different areas of search performance that the Console enables you to to quickly see and dive deeper into. These 5 areas are:

  1. Queries
  2. Pages
  3. Countries
  4. Search Appearance
  5. Dates

I want to provide an outline of each. I will then explain how the performance and rendering of your website in each field will tell you a story about your website’s traffic and user experience.

How to Use Queries in Google Search Console

Builders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit data frequently. Before diving deeper into the Console, a builder will want to know what people are typing into Google.com to reach the landing page or website.

In other words, what are the specific phrases, words, or queries that people are typing in when looking for content pertaining to your page? What is the search intent?

The Console enables builders to see the exact queries that users are entering in order to reach your website. Information pertaining to queries is hugely important as it enables you to see what people are actually typing into their search engine before reaching your page.

Knowing what people are searching for is a great guide for allocating resources or optimizing your pages for what people want to learn about.

How to Use Pages in Google Search Console

Pages is the section of the Console that enables you to see which of your pages are ranking, the number of clicks each page gets, and the total impressions that page has earned. By default, Google lists your most trafficked pages first.

If you don’t know which pages are receiving the most traffic you won’t know how people are finding out about your website. Pages in particular can be revealing as you might think that your website is about topic X but most people are finding out about you by landing on page Y.

When I first built a work from home website, I wanted to build an all purpose site for helping people work from home.

Much to my surprise, the pages that were ranking best, including quad monitor stands and red office chair, struck me as somewhat esoteric.

Nevertheless, that is what people wanted to read about and where they were spending their time. Without the pages section of the Console I could not have gleaned that insight.

You can also use The Console to compare your site’s performance across different devices and operating systems. If you wanted to learn whether or not specific pages are more relevant to users on their mobile or on their desktop, there is data for that.

It would be interesting to discover if you have a lot of users coming from Gmail via their desktop app, for example, and then to see if they spend more time on the page than gmail users who are on their phones.

How to Use Countries in Google Search Console

This section will matter most to people who expect and want to drive traffic from different geographies. If you are an education-based website, for example, you might want users from all over who can access your content.

Where people are coming from can influence the language of the pages you show or help you better interact with your users. If you are a website that sells a physical product, you might value traffic from places you can actually ship to.

The countries tab is useful to confirm your hypothesis that your traffic comes from certain locales.

How to Use Search Appearance on Google Search Console

Some of your traffic will come from standard queries, other sources of traffic will come from video, or Google's "Accelerated Mobile Pages," more commonly known as AMP. The appearance tab captures how Google classifies the appearance of your content.

This tab is the least important in my perspective, because you likely won’t change your behavior as a result of what you see here.

However, if you are practicing agile product development and want to iterate and see how each change impacts search results, this tab will be a helpful guide.

How to Use Dates in Google Search Console

The last tab is the most self explanatory and pertains to time.

You can track your organic search results by day or see trends by zooming out to monthly, quarterly, or annual performance. In general, it is helpful to take a long term perspective on search performance, as anything you do to improve your website will most likely take many days or weeks for Google to index.

Google is looking for websites that are performant, useful to users, fast, responsive, and well structured. If your website affords users these benefits – and drives user engagement over time – your traffic will likely increase and the dates tab will help you see this visually.

Conclusion: Leverage the Search Console to Build Better Products

The Google Search Console is a powerful and necessary tool to review, leverage, and explore core operating metrics for your website. The Console will help you understand how users hear about your site in organic search and which pages they visit on your domain.

By measuring these data points you can improve your website by enhancing individual pages, improving the quality of your search appearance, and seeing how you are improving over time.

Google provides access to the console at no additional cost so that you can build and scale without paying per query.

The console is very powerful and it's a useful tool to leverage when building and deploying any site on the public internet.