Although analytics and reporting may sound the same, they aren’t. Dive into the difference between the two to learn which one you need.
Reporting | Sep 24
Elise Dopson on August 17, 2020 (last modified on May 26, 2021) • 25 minute read
Do you really know how key pages on your website are performing in SERPs?
You’re publishing new content weekly, and have an SEO to-do list as long as your arm. But when you’re placing so much time, effort, and money into SEO strategy, you need to keep a close eye on your strategy to see whether it’s paying off.
The only problem: You’ve also got tons of SEO tools at your disposal.
According to G2, there are 200+ tools. Most of them are paid. Each shows its own data set; a bunch of different metrics unique to each tool. How do you know which to rely on?
Luckily, there’s one tool that can handle website tracking for you: Google Search Console. And, it’s free.
We wanted to find out how marketers are using Google Search Console to track their website performance. So, we polled them and asked for their best tips. They said:
Before we dive in, “you should never focus your attention on only one of the metrics as it could be really misleading,” according to GloboOutdoors‘s Simeon K.
The most popular metric to track in Google Search Console is clicks:
However, Simeon thinks: “It is far better to look at the combination of impressions, CTR and average positions. Clicks are irrelevant in this situation as they are a result KPI of CTR and impressions.
A high number of impressions and excellent average position could occur for a webpage if you rate well for certain keywords, but you don’t match search intent. It could lead you to the wrong impression that it is performing very well.”
“But, your CTR will definitely suffer. Sooner or later, you will lose your positions so it is not sustainable,” Simeon adds.
Editor’s Note: Track the most popular Google Search Console metrics using this free template
When using Google Search Console to track your website, Adam Smartschan of Altitude Marketing advises to “follow the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.”
“GSC has a TON of metrics, and it’s easy to get sucked into the minutia. (e.g., ‘We had 17 impressions for ‘marketing agency’ in Switzerland last Thursday!’).”
“Instead, track a few bellwether terms and metrics. Know your ‘big five’ search terms–the ones that are highly relevant to your business and are likely to drive leads. Those obscure long-tails from old blog posts are great, but they’re a means to an end–driving your bellwethers higher.”
Smartschan continues: “A quick glance at these every morning lets you know how you’re tracking in general. Likewise, know your core click and impression metrics, and track the long-term trend line.”
“Day-to-day fluctuations are normal; month-over-month is what you’re really looking for.”
Petri‘s Tasia Duske adds: “Focus on the big picture as much as you do on the little ones. There is so much data in Google Search Console that it is easy to get lost in very nuanced decision making. Are you optimized enough? How could you increase impressions by 10%? These decisions are important for your business, and so is looking at the big picture.”
“At least once per month consider how you are approaching your content strategy and how the data informs it.”
Editor’s note: Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of data available to you? Get straight to your most important metrics, and cut the noise, with our Google Analytics SEO dashboard. It pulls data from your account without having to manually go through and find it:
“To make the most of Google Search Console data, it’s best to export the data for analysis in another tool like Excel or Google Data Studio,” says SoftwarePundit‘s Bruce Hogan.
“You can easily export the data from Google Search Console into a document that has distinct pages that cut the data by specific queries, pages, countries, and devices.”
“Plugging this data into another tool ensures it will be saved and allows you to do more sophisticated analyses that what’s possible in Google Search Console,” Hogan explains.
That’s why Daniel Young of TwistFox recommends to “utilize Google Data Studio’s ability to blend data so you can cross-reference positions with on-site metrics from Google Analytics. This gives you a much deeper insight into performance.”
Meg Casebolt of Casebolt Creative agrees: “Import your GSC data into a Google Data Studio dashboard so you can quickly see performance trends (like a % change in CTR or position) over a specific time period.”
“I habitually add a URL query to the primary website field within GMB, then use Google Search Console to see what keywords searchers are using to find and click on my local results,” says Tony Mastri of MARION Marketing Agency.
“By using the ‘Exact URL’ page filter in GSC, you can differentiate standard organic clicks to a page vs. local organic clicks to a page. This provides granular search term information that can be used to advance local SEO efforts.”
Brendan Tully of The Search Engine Shop explains: “The SERPs are really hyper-localized these days and we see massive variations in rankings and traffic down to city and even town-level data.
Keywords that you assume you rank well for country-wide may actually be ranking quite poorly (or quite well) at a city or town level if there are local competitors targeting the same terms. In other words, pay attention to the geographic filters in GSC.”
Plus, Tully says it’s worth “integrating GSC into Google Analytics as this can often help refine data that is affected by location in a much more granular fashion.”
“One tip for using Google Search Console to track SERPs would be to keep an eye on the countries tab that shows your results,” says Anjana Wickramaratne of Active Digi Solutions.
“Some people only care about the search queries that they rank for, but in reality, the countries that they rank for are much valuable as well. By monitoring the countries in your SERPs, you are able to adjust your future SEO strategies to target the countries that you want.”
Finn Hayden of Capital Cooling recommends to “look at devices within the performance report. Most businesses forget that the majority of their traffic is likely to be coming from mobile devices and that their mobile rankings will likely differ from their desktop rankings.”
“Within the performance report in Search Console, there is a ‘devices’ section where you can see which devices are driving the most traffic to your site.”
Hayden explains: “You can pull out some great reports from here that will really help show you if your SEO work is effective. For example, you should see a gradual increase in mobile traffic if your SEO is working.”
According to Elijah-Blue Vieau of The Influence Agency, “a great place to start tracking how your site is ranking is to open the Performance report, view by Pages (URL), then click the filter button and use include/exclude to view certain sections of your website like /blog/ or /services/.”
“From there, you can drill down and view CTR, Clicks, and more across different devices and regions. Having data across sets of pages can be really useful when it comes time for reporting.”
Abdul Rehman shares how they do this at VPNRanks: “We have been using Google Search Console for a number of metrics but the one tip to use it would be to focus closely on the user queries of your blogs. Those queries will help you master the intent of a keyword and refine your blog to rank a lot better.”
“Once the page is in top 10, then try to focus more on the CTR by experimenting with the title and meta,” Rehman adds.
Candour‘s Kiera Lavington recommends “identifying potential keyword cannibalization issues using the ‘Performance’ report by filtering to a target term using the ‘Query’ filter, viewing the pages which rank for this term and then filtering to compare the top 2 pages (by impressions) using ‘Compare’ in the pages filter.”
By using the ‘Impressions’ or ‘Average Position’ tab you can see where pages dropped in and out of Google’s search results for the target term.”
“This will not be conclusive in identifying a cannibalization issue but will set you on your way if you can spot instances where one of the pages starting to rank causes the other page to drop,” Lavington continues.
“With further exploration, you can determine whether this is a cannibalization issue or not.”
“Every few months, I reassess my keyword ranking targets by comparing the keywords that I track on a daily basis in Ahrefs with the keywords that I show up in my Google Search Console report,” says Adam Jernigan of The Home Blog.
“This allows me to see which keywords I’ve unintentionally gained traction for so I can focus more efforts around optimizing for those themes, and less effort on themes that I’ve been struggling to gain traction for.”
Beekeeper‘s Alexandra Zamolo adds: “It’s important to always keep track of your keywords. If they aren’t ranking, then you’re going to need to pivot and select new keywords, or ensure that your original keywords are properly placed for SEO.”
“One Google Search Console feature that adds significant value is the ‘Coverage’ tab,” Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions explains.
“From Coverage, you can identify and track any errors that may impact your search rank, site-wide, or for specific pages. It will identify things like server errors, ‘noindexed’ pages, crawl issues, and URLs not found – among others. You can re-mediate issues and re-index to notify Google that the issues have been resolved.”
“Then in the ‘Performance’ tab, track how many clicks and impressions each individual page you’ve fixed gains after optimizations.”
Similarly, Obaid Khan of Planet Content says: “I always use the index status to check which URLs are indexed by Google, which of them are blocked, and which of them have been removed.
If a page isn’t indexed or blocked (by my robots.txt file), I can find out why, correct any errors, and make improvements that help generate better results.”
Biztech‘s Dhaval Panara summarizes: “My primary purpose of using Google search console to get website errors, security issues, and indexing problems that may affect the website’s search rankings.”
It can take a few days for Google to find your URL. During that time, you’re refreshing your Search Console data to check any immediate impact. But there isn’t any; Google doesn’t know your content exists yet.
Brian Barwig of Integrate Digital Marketing shares how to work around this: “After publishing a new post or updating an old post, be sure to resubmit the URL via the URL Inspection Tool in GSC. If you don’t, Google may not notice the changes for some time. Better to get the URL re-indexed as quickly as possible.”
“This will encourage Google’s crawler to review and index your content faster, so you can get organic traffic sooner,” Marcio Santos of nerddigital adds.
“Use this when you have a new page/post or when you’ve made an update to an existing post,” Santos explains how:
Similarly, Russell Michelson of Bead the Change recommends adding a sitemap: “Uses Yoast SEO to generate a sitemap and submit it into GSC. Sitemaps make it much easier for your site to be crawled, and effectively index your content.”
Voro‘s Tomas Hoyos says you should “make sure to select the canonical domain you prefer within Google Search Console.”
“In other words, you should specify whether you prefer ‘www’ in front of your domain name (e.g., www.voro.com), or not (e.g., voro.com).”
“f you don’t do this, Google might view at the www and non-www versions of your domain as distinct, which means that you will divide credit for clicks, page views, backlinks, and engagement between two domains. This will hurt your SEO,” Hoyos explains.
“We always pay close attention to the CTR of our top keywords and pages,” says Sanitycheck‘s Nick Swan. “From our internal data, we have seen that when we consistently drive up our CTR our rankings improve over time.
“We update title tag and meta descriptions each month and run tests to see if our new copy can improve our CTR. Just like we would test ad copy in Google Ads, it is critical to be running organic search snippet tests as well.”
Swan adds: “This tactic helped us grow our overall traffic by 30% so far in Q1 2020.”
BretzMedia‘s Sam Bretzmann explains: “When you are in Search Console, click on Performance, and then filter the Queries list by Impressions.
If you have a query that is getting a lot of impressions, but few to no clicks, this is most likely a keyword that you are close to breaking through on and just need a little more optimization.
This could mean beefing up the article a bit or trying to optimize the title and meta tags. This is a quick way that you can get an idea of some posts to optimize that could lead to more traffic to your site.”
“One tip to use Google Search Console to track your website in SERPs is to monitor which keywords have a higher click-through rate and optimize around those,” Eden Chai of Generation Marketing explains.
“Let’s say you’re optimizing your website around 2 different keywords, you may find that one of them has a much higher click-through rate which can result in more clicks. This keyword can be more favorable for you even if it has a lower search volume than others.”
That’s why Lynn Hericks of Intuitive Digital recommends to “optimize and expand old blogs on your site by using keywords that are already working!”
In the Performance section of Google Search Console, filter your queries by page to see what terms a blog already ranks for—find relevant keywords that rank on average in positions 8-20 (terms that you weren’t necessarily targeting directly but your content still shows up for).”
“Now go back to edit your blog post and specifically use those terms to expand content for a rankings boost!” Hericks explains.
Most of our experts publish new content on their websites at least once a week. That’s a lot of content to keep an eye on in Search Console:
However, Maxburst‘s Andrew Ruditser adds: “Knowing what keywords you rank for will help you optimize your site to rank even higher by matching your content to that targeted keyword. You can also track those that have a low CTR that you wish to rank higher for. Knowing what keywords that have a low CTR, will help you improve them.”
Camilo Atkinson of blimpp agrees: “If you have pages on the first and second positions, that is fantastic!”
“Now, for those pages on the 3rd position or below, you can find optimization opportunities by clicking on the query and then heading over to the Pages Tab. This will show you the web page that is ranking.”
Check if you can optimize that page by building new links, expanding the content, or improving the CTR by tweaking the meta title and description,” Atkinson summarizes.
*Editor’s note: It can be tricky to monitor the SEO impact after you’ve updated a piece of content. But our Blog Post Performance After SEO Update dashboard does the job for you. It’ll show exactly how your performance improves after updating it:
“Google Search Console can be used to spot upcoming trends,” says DealNews‘ Gennady Lager.
“Let’s say you recently created a new category of products or wrote a new article, you can use the Search Results performance report, filtered down to the most recent dates to see where new organic search traffic is landing. You can also look at impressions, CTR, and average ranking to predict where traffic will soon be seen.”
Lager continues: “This level of detailed information will allow you to audit that page’s keyword targeting, review the copy, improve internal navigation, and kick your link building into high-gear to take advantage of a new, trending landing page.”
Matthew Alexander adds: “Since GSC doesn’t record all clicks from a specific query or page, sorting by Impressions and using critical thinking, I can identify what questions people might have about a specific service that I offer, and use their queries to improve that content through FAQs, CTAs, and more.”
TJ Kelly explains how they do this at RaySecur, Inc:
Kelly explains: “You can now sort by Impressions, for both Last 3 Months and Previous 3 Months, to see which queries are driving more (or less) SERP impressions for a given page.”
“The key is to find Queries that appear high on the Impressions list for Last 3 Months, but did NOT generate as many impressions on Previous 3 Months—that may indicate the page ranking for new Queries, or that these new Queries are gaining search volume, and would, therefore, represent new traffic opportunities.”
“Bonus points if you export the report to a spreadsheet and calculate the change, then sort by change value. This shows the biggest movers (up or down) over time,” Kelly continues.
“Combine this insight with your Click numbers to see if the increased Impressions are translating to more clicks/traffic—an indication that your ranking is improving or maintaining—or, if Impressions went up but Clicks did not, your positions may be falling.”
“One good thing to always keep in mind is to compare your results against your biggest competitors,” according to Mailbird‘s Andrea Loubier.
“If they are ranking above you in searches, then see which tactics they may be implementing that you currently aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with drawing a little inspiration from another company and then adding your own unique touch.”
“Click to lead conversion is a big focus for Christensen Recycling,” says Ken Christensen.
“Since most of the leads generated from our site will be from search to site to phone call, that is the model that we pay the most attention to. This ultimately leads to better content creation and focus on the needs of the end-user, while making the call to action (of calling us) even more prominent.”
Most of the tips we’ve mentioned so far are in relation to the metrics you see inside the performance report of your Google Search Console account.
However, WikiLawn‘s Dan Bailey says: “In terms of position on SERPs, we primarily use the backlink tools to examine which sites are linking to us and how much traffic those sites are bringing in.”
“My best tip here is to compile that data in a spreadsheet not just with the total number of links, but the domains those links are coming from.”
“Then search for sites that are similar to the ones already linking to yours,” Bailey continues. “Research their SERP position and if they’re decently indexed (and it’s appropriate to do so), see if you can write a guest post for their blog or be included in their resources page.”
“The best way to utilize Google Search Console is to find out if there are existing site links that Google thinks is relevant to the main query,” according to Seriously Smoked‘s Jeremi Owens.
“Sitelinks are an excellent addition to your result in SERPs because it gives options to your visitors to visit more in-depth web pages without the need to navigate through your homepage. If you don’t see any site links, it is best to continue adding relevant content until your site reaches a critical mass for Google’s algorithm to pick up.”
“The one tip I recommend is to use GSC to find pages that need internal linking,” says WPBeginner‘s Faizan Ali. “To find pages that need internal linking, click more under the top linked pages and then click on the internal links.”
Ali continues: “There are two main advantages of internal linking:
“In order to find internal linking opportunities try this search operator ‘site:yourdomain.com ‘keyword you want to internal link,'” Ali explains.
“If you have a very new website, it may be getting almost no traffic yet, but you can still monitor the progress of your website by looking at the impressions in Google Search Console,” writes Paul Matthews of Match Maker Advisor.
“If the impressions are continually going up, this means that more and more keywords are at least starting to show up in the SERPs which should translate into clicks and traffic down the road.”
Matthews adds: “If the impressions have plateaued out, and you still have almost no traffic, that means that you to do something else to kick start your site.”
“An important metric to look at when opening Google Search Console is web performance over a specific period of time,” says Stanford Mead of Summit Home Buyers, LLC.
“We like to monitor our websites ‘average position’ in the SERPs on a monthly basis. This data indicates whether our SEO efforts are working or not. If our average position is on the rise, it means that our SEO efforts are working. If our average position is trending down, then it’s time to reevaluate SEO strategies.”
Vulpe Mihaita says the team at SEO Atlantic “check the last 7 days of each landing page that we’re targeting to see if the number of clicks/impressions rise. You will get an accurate average of position on a timeframe like that.”
Benson SEO‘s Grace Schlickman explains: “Remember to use the date comparison for queries, a keyword could have a great CTR, but an even higher CTR the month prior which indicates there could actually be some work to do.”
“Overall, the search results performance report gives you a great indication of the health of your website and where to start when improvements need to be made.”
Digital Debut‘s Deniz Doganay adds: “I really like to use the performance section to compare yearly quarter vs. quarter.
There are quite a few insights you can gather from this. Some being, checking rankings positions currently vs before, as well as clicks and impressions. It also gives you a good idea of your click-through rate.”
“Sure, you might have much better rankings now and higher impressions but may notice that your CTR is a lot lower,” Doganay continues. “You then may need to work on your CTA’s or your meta title/descriptions or may even look into what you are doing on other channels to capitalize on these missed opportunities.”
It’s something the team at Pigtail Pals also does, according to Jesse C: “We also make a point check which keywords and pages are getting a high number of impressions but a low number of clicks and then work to increase the rank for those pages/keywords.”
That’s why Frootful Marketing‘s Sean Dudayev says: “What this will do is leave the third column for you that tells you the ‘difference.’ You can then toggle this to see which pages have gained the most visitors, and which pages have lost the most visitors.
“Based on tactics you’ve been using, this tells you what’s working and what’s not and which pages are seeing the biggest changes in the SERP’s.”
Regardless of how often you’re comparing Google Search Console data, Ashley Sterling of The Loop Marketing things you should “review it more than you think you should.”
“Being aware of your audience and how they’re using your site will create a domino effect that directly impacts your strategy. Be on top of how and why site visitors are on your site, where they leave, how to answer their questions, and close the funnel.”
The majority of companies have one person managing their SEO activity:
That can be tricky when it comes to using Google Search Console data to share with your team in SEO reporting meetings.
Jeffery Reiff of Reiff Law Firm explains how they work around this: “With the help of our marketing partners, we carefully look over the search query report at the end of every month with one thing in mind: what queries are we getting a high number of impressions from, but very few clicks?”
“These high-volume, low CTR searches indicate that while we have a page ranking for those phrases, it isn’t relevant–and we need to write a hyper-focused page for those queries. It goes beyond getting a page ranking–we use Search Console to make sure we have the correct page ranking.”
Editor’s note: Looking for an easier way to share data with your team? We’ve got a bunch of Google Search Console templates for you to build on. It’ll pull your chosen metrics from your account, and show them on one screen. The goal? To make SEO data easier for your team to digest:
Earlier, we mentioned that one of the best ways to use Google Search Console to track your website is to pull data from it but display it using another tool (like Data Studio.)
For a similar reason, Sam Maley of Bailey & Associates advises to “never use overall average position as a KPI.
When measuring average keyword position, Google looks at the top 1000 places in the SERPs. This means that if you gain new keywords, but you only rank very low (say in 300th place for example) your overall average position will drop rather than go up.”
“If you do look at the average position as a KPI, make sure you do it keyword-by-keyword,” Maley explains.
“Even then I would argue that it is not a particularly important metric, considering the discrepancy on click-through rate between keywords. This discrepancy is only increasing now Google provides us with richer information in the SERPs themselves.”
William Chin of Pickfu.com adds: “What you should focus on is what are your organic click drivers (for most websites it’s usually the first thirty queries in Search Console) and optimize for the pages that rank for those queries.”
However, Chin adds: “A small caveat is extremely high impression counts. Usually, I love to filter by impressions to see what pages are getting seen but not clicked on. Whether it’s the case that the content is not relevant (Title-tag, Meta), or your SERP listing doesn’t stand out – both are in the realm of SEO and should be triaged immediately!”
Rianna Susco of Squeeze Marketing agrees: “One tip for using GSC is to understand its limitations and don’t expect it to be a platform it isn’t. GSC is great for tracking positions the website was found on SERPs by keyword each day/week/month.”
“Understanding user engagements on SERPs with the website is key. GSC will not, however, be particularly helpful with understanding what users to after leaving the SERP.”
“Much more in-depth tracking is required for deeper analysis of user engagement with the website. GSC is excellent for search rankings and we haven’t found a more accurate tool, free or paid,” Susco adds.
As you can see, the opportunities you’ll get from having Google Search Console installed on your website are second to none.
It’s a totally free way to track your website’s performance, share data with your team, and monitor the progress of your content in a search engine. Why wouldn’t you add it to your tool stack?
Reporting | Sep 24
Reporting | Sep 23