Last time we began digging into all the tools and reports available in Google Search Console. We discussed how to add your site to Search Console, then how to get going with query reports. There are so many more ways Search Console can help you with your SEO campaign! We’ll touch on many of them here; and provide details on some of the most useful data.
Check Your Messages from Google
The first thing you’ll want to look for is if Google has sent you any messages. Those will be listed for your review in Search Console, and you will also get an email, should Google have a message for you. Often these are regarding particular errors that Google has found, that may need your attention.
Next, you’ll want to focus on the HTML Improvements section. It tells you about duplicate, long or short meta descriptions; and missing, duplicate, long, short or non-informative HTML titles. This is very important information you can use immediately to bolster your site’s SEO campaign. Use these insights to create more clickworthy HTML titles and meta descriptions to drive traffic from SERPs (search engine results pages) to your site.
How to Use the Error Reports in Search Console
There are several types of errors you can potentially discover within Search Console. You’ll want to expand the navigation at the left side of your Search Console dashboard (this is the old Search Console view I am referring to).
One of the errors that needs your attention is the 500 error. There are varieties of these; they usually mean the site has been down or still is. Check this out right away!
Dealing with 404 Errors
A traditional 404 error means a page cannot be found when a URL is asked for. If you have any of these errors cropping up in Search Console, it may mean a number of things. One may be that you have launched a new website and have not redirected your old URLs to newer pages. Or it could mean that sites linked to your site incorrectly; and then you’d want to know that, so you could contact them and tell them to fix these links with the proper URLs. Also, what could be happening is some issues with internal linking. Say, for example, you wrote a blog post and linked to a page on your website. Later you may decide to take down that web page that you linked to (perhaps the product you sold on that page is now unavailable). The result is now you have a broken link, and your user will get a 404 error when clicking on it. This type of 404 error is really important to fix, as it affects the user experience on your website!
What needs to be noted is that 404s don’t harm you in the search engines in any way; they won’t impact your rankings. You want to monitor your 404 errors, though (once a week or so), in case something comes up that you would like to address, and you can fix it, and mark it as fixed in Search Console. One other issue can generate a lot of 404s: if your site is hacked. And if that’s the case, you have a rather large issue on your hands that will need your attention, if you hadn’t already figured out that the site was compromised.
You can clear out 404s you either have actually fixed, or don’t care about, by marking them as fixed in Search Console, and then that will leave you with only the 404 errors that you want to investigate further.
How to Identify & Fix Soft 404 Errors
Sometimes you may get what is called a ‘soft 404.’ This is Google’s way of telling you that it thinks a page is a 404 page, but the server has returned a 200 code (in other words, this code indicates that the status of the page is OK, when it really is not). This doesn’t make sense, and these errors can harm your site in organic search.
The reason you want to fix soft 404 errors is that you don’t want Google (and users) to keep thinking there is a page at a certain URL (could be a page you took down or some misconfiguration of some sort). Google allows only a certain ‘crawl budget’ (time spent crawling your website). You definitely want it crawling real pages, instead of trying to figure out what’s going on with pages that don’t exist or have very thin content (category pages in WordPress with no content, for example).
To summarize: If the content the soft 404 is referring to is gone with no good, new page to replace it, then be sure the URL displays an actual ‘hard’ 404 message. If you have a new page you want users to see when accessing the URL that is currently causing the 404, then redirect that URL to the new page URL, using a 301 redirect.
And There’s So Much More You Can Do…
- With Search Console you can delve into your internal and external links that Google has discovered. Be aware that these lists may not constitute your entire link portfolio; you may wish to use a tool like Majestic SEO or Ahrefs to do in-depth link analysis. The Search Console reports can provide some useful information on how external sites are linking, and give a report on your internal links.
- You can also check for mobile usability issues that Google has identified. This is important, especially now, as Google is shifting to its mobile-first index. With the ubiquity of smart devices and tablets, it’s vital that your site provides an excellent user experience on mobile. Go through any of the mobile findings; such as site speed issues, image caching problems, etc. and test the fixes you apply one at a time. There are plugins that can help with this, if you have a WordPress site.
Here are three really useful tools within Search Console:
Easily accessible in the new Search Console, the URL inspection tool gives you a quick view of any URL on your site that you input; allowing you to see if it is indexed and the last time it was crawled. You can dig deeper into that report and look at additional URLs, if you wish.
Via the old Search Console view you can access the Data Highlighter. It offers an easier way to create structured data so Google will show it in search results; i.e.; hours, events, menus, etc. You can simply highlight info on your site and Google will see it as structured data that can be displayed in rich snippets.
Get to know the Fetch as Google tool and see your site as Google sees it. This is particularly useful if you’ve fixed some errors and you want to view the page(s) again as Google will see them. Learn more from Google, here.
Whew! That’s a lot of information; and a great way to summarize it is:
Take a look at Search Console at least once per week. It can tell you what phrases people use to find your site. It can alert you to errors and issues that can have a big impact on your SEO campaign.
It’s great to learn about Search Console, but you don’t have to tackle it alone! Let the experts at Engine-ius Marketing help you get the most from all the data insights! Don’t miss opportunities to outperform your competitors! We can leverage Search Console for you – contact us to get started today!