Google Search Console is a great rank tracking tool.
In fact, even though I use a paid rank tracker, I still start my rank tracking journey with Search Console. The reason is it gives me an inside scoop into how Google understands my blog posts which is difficult to see when using a paid rank tracking tool.
Using this data I’ll make my first optimizations and then move over to my paid rank tracker for a more detailed analysis.
In this post, I’ll show you how to use Google Search Console to improve your rankings. I’ll also get into its limitations as a rank tracker. To do this, I’ll be showing you some reports in Rank Ranger’s rank tracking platform.
It’s important to note that I’ll not be covering the Search Console basics. In other words, I assume you already know how to set up your account. Also, I’ll not be getting into the various reports such as Coverage, Core Web Vitals, etc.
The reason is I want to specifically focus on content strategy in this post.
And, on with the show…
TIER ONE RANK TRACKING – WHAT IS GOOGLE SEEING?
Once I’ve published some content, promoted the heck out of it, and let it sit for a while, the first place I look is Google Search Console.
When you publish new content on the web, it takes time for Google to figure out where to place it on the SERPs. Google will test it out in various SERPs in various positions.
What I’ve noticed over the years is your post won’t always end up on the target SERP. Surprises do happen. Sometimes Google simply can’t make heads or tails of your content.
When this happens, your content might find itself ranking on page four of some very strange SERPs.
A quick glance at Search Console will reveal:
- If Google understands what your content is about
- Which SERPs your content is currently displayed on
To do this, enter the URL into the Page filter and go to the Queries tab.
Take a look at the queries.
If the keywords make sense for your post, you know that Google understands your post. The next step is to get your content to the top.
If, on the other hand, the keywords are somewhat bizarre or have nothing to do with what you’ve written, that means Google has no idea what you’ve written about.
For instance, in the screenshot below, Search Console is showing data for a blog post about situational awareness.
Now I have to admit that ‘kryptonite leveling kit’ is a fascinating keyword, guaranteed to make Superman run with his tail between his legs.
The problem is, it has absolutely nothing to do with situational awareness. In fact, almost none of these keywords do.
As you can see, none of the search terms make any sense for the article. When I saw this a few months ago, I knew there was work to be done.
After looking at the article, I realized that the target keyword wasn’t clear to me. And if it isn’t clear to me, it certainly isn’t clear to Google.
To do this I covered the basics by:
- Changing the basic metadata (title tag and meta description)
- Making sure the topic was crystal clear in the introduction
- Including the keyword at the top of the article
Here are the keywords for the same article, tracked over the last three months. All of the keywords now make perfect sense for the article.
As you can see, Google now understands what the article is about. This means the article is showing up on the right SERPs.
This is my rank tracking first pass. Once your article is ranking for the right terms, you want to make sure that your article gets to the top of Google.
To do this, look for terms that are ranking on page two.
IMPROVE YOUR PAGE TWO RANKINGS
Now that Google is ranking your pages on the right SERPs your work has just begun. If you’ve done a good job of your on-page SEO and your content promotion, your page should rank towards the top of Google.
In order to improve your rankings, your next low-hanging fruit strategy is to find page two rankings. Now, at this point I usually move over to my paid rank tracker, however, you can also do this using Search Console.
First, make sure that you click Average Position.
Next, make sure you’re viewing your page by entering the URL into the Page filter.
Once there, click on Queries and you’ll see a list of queries with a Position column.
Click on Position at the top of the Position column. This will order your queries from the highest position to the lowest.
Now scroll down until you see positions that are higher than 10, but not higher than 20. These are your page two queries. Your goal is to get your URL to show up on page one for these queries.
Generally, you can do this by answering these queries in the body of your blog post. To do this, look for a keyword that:
- Your URL ranks on page two
- Represents a user query that could be thoroughly answered by your content
So, if we go back to the blog post about situational awareness and look in Search Console we easily find keywords that are ranking on page two that make sense to be added to the post.
As you can see in the screenshot above, ‘situational awareness activities’ has an average ranking position of 16.1. This means it’s ranking towards the middle of page two.
Also, answering this query in the blog post makes perfect sense as the post deals with situational awareness in a general way. Adding activities and exercises seems like a natural next step.
At this stage, it’s important to confirm that the term gets enough search volume to justify spending the time to write a new subsection for the article.
You can get this data from your keyword research tool.
Before writing anything, you must know how Google understands the term so that you can write an answer that Google sees as a good answer to the query.
To do that, you’ll need to do some SERP analysis.
To do this, type the query into Google and see what’s ranking at the top. Usually by reading the top three or four posts will give you a good indication of what Google expects to see in an answer to this query.
Now, you could consider your SERP analysis done at this point, however, it pays to qualify this a bit more.
The reason is often the top spots in Google are not the best ones. They could in theory appear at the top of the SERP when you make the search, only to drop dramatically the next day. This often happens when there are SERP fluctuations, which do occur from time to time.
Also, often the SERP itself is unstable, resulting in URLs rising and falling constantly. Sometimes nothing will rank at the top of the SERP for more than a few days.
Now, unfortunately, Search Console won’t give you this data. Instead, I’ll be showing you how to do this analysis with the Rank Ranger rank tracking software. If you don’t have access to our tool you can skip this step (or sign up for a free trial).
What we need at this stage is a visual graph that can demonstrate any SERP fluctuations over time. By looking at this you’ll easily be able to see which URLs are stable and which ones are volatile.
The stable ones are generally the ones that Google considers to be great content. The volatile ones might be in the top spots momentarily only to be dropped at a later date. When this happens you know that Google does not consider them to be great content.
To get this data, look at the Rank Ranger SEO Monitor.
In the screenshot above, you’ll see 30 days of SERP rankings for the query ‘free poker online’. You’ll notice that the top four positions are relatively stable.
Yes, there are fluctuations, but on average the URLs are stable.
On the other hand, if you look at the URLs below position four, you see a much more volatile landscape.
What this indicates is Google is not happy with the URLs ranking below position four. This causes Google to test and retest different URLs resulting in a chaotic SERP.
It makes no sense to include these URLs in your content analysis.
Once you understand what URLs are consistently ranking at the top of Google, you can improve your content which should help your content rankings to improve for those target searches.
IMPROVING YOUR CONTENT
At this point, you should have some search terms that, with a slight push, you could rank on page one. You should also understand what top-ranking content should look like based on the top-ranking URLs in Google that are stable.
The next step is to include similar content in your post. Although this is the process that I use, it’s important to make sure that you are not just ‘SEOing’ your content.
In other words, use the top-ranking content as a guide. However, don’t just rewrite their content in your own words. Instead, use their content to see what points to add. Make sure to expand on it and make it better than what’s currently ranking.
Also, make sure that whatever you add will enhance your content. It has to make sense in the context of what you have already written. If it doesn’t, it will provide a bad user experience, which could hurt your rankings.
Another way to use Search Console to improve your SEO is to increase your click-through rates.
IMPROVING YOUR CTR
Use Search Console to improve your click-through rates by looking for pages that are ranking at the top of Google and that get a large number of impressions but have a low click-through rate.
In the screenshot above, the bottom query got 4648 impressions over a period of three months. What is interesting is the URL is ranked in position one but only has a 0.5% click-through rate.
What could possibly be causing the low click-through rate?
In all likelihood, there is something attracting more attention than your number one listing. This could either mean there are SERP features pushing the listing below the fold or there are Google Ads that are attracting attention away from the organic results.
If I were using a paid rank tracker, I could immediately see if there are SERP features ranking on the SERP. However, Search Console won’t tell you this. Instead, you will have to type the term into Google and take a look for yourself.
SERP Features Pushing Your URL Below-the-Fold
As you can see in the screenshot below, which is showing the Google SERP for the term ‘architectural software’, the Featured Snippet is gigantic, taking attention away from the organic result below it.
In a case like this, your best bet would be to try to win the Featured Snippet.
If you do decide to go after the Featured Snippet, it pays to first analyze how competitive it is because going after a snippet that is too competitive could end up wasting your time.
I’ll show you how to assess a Featured Snippet using the Rank Ranger SERP Feature Monitor.
SERP Feature Monitor
Whenever you go after any SERP feature you can use the SERP Feature Monitor to give you a detailed analysis of the feature’s competitiveness.
So for instance, in the screenshot below, you’ll see the SERP Feature monitor showing you a relatively uncompetitive Featured Snippet.
As you can see, there are two URLs competing for the Featured Snippet spot. However, neither one featured for a significant amount of time over a 30 day period.
You can see this by looking at the Period Visibility. The top one has a Period Visibility of 36.67% while the one beneath it has a Period Visibility of 26.67%. This means neither of them was visible for a substantial amount of time over the period of 30 days.
When you see a SERP feature that doesn’t display the URLs for a substantial amount of time, you know that Google hasn’t found the best content for the Featured Snippet and would easily replace it if something better came along.
Now, getting into the exact strategy to win a Featured Snippet isn’t the topic of this post, however, if you’re interested in finding out how, take a look at the Hands-On Guide to Winning Featured Snippets.
We’ve examined how to improve your click-through rate when there are SERP features above your URL, but what if there are Google Ads?
Google Ads Taking Attention Away From Your URL
As I mentioned above, sometimes your URL’s CTR is low due to Google Ads drawing attention away from your URL.
In the screenshot above, I typed the term ‘architectural software’ into Google.
It’s important to note that this is the exact same term that I showed you in the previous example. The reason this screenshot is showing ads while the previous one didn’t is for the second one, I specifically looked at the results that are showing in the United States while for the first one I made the search outside of the United States. I used I Search From to do this.
Looking at the screenshot, you’ll notice that not even the Featured Snippet is above the fold due to the ads that appear on the SERP.
In a situation like this, you have very little chance of increasing your click-through rate in a substantial way.
However, with everything in SEO, it really depends.
You should first ask yourself, is the content country-specific? If not, you might still get substantial traffic.
You see, people running Google Ads only target countries where they expect to make the most money. This means the ads are not likely to show up in all countries.
Ranking your content on the same SERP in countries where the ads are not showing should result in an increase in average click-through rates.
What’s more, since ads are being shown for this term, you know that the term has commercial intent. This means you might still be able to make sales. In a case like this, it might make sense to optimize for the Featured Snippet in the hopes that your content will rank at the top of Google in different countries.
To see what countries your content is ranking in, click on the Countries tab.
If you see that your content ranks globally, it might make sense to try to increase the click-through rate by optimizing for the Featured Snippet.
However, if you feel that ranking your URL in other countries is not worth the time or effort, your only chance of stealing attention away from the ads is to create your own ads or to rank on a different SERP.
Now that you know how I use Search Console to improve my rankings, I want to point out one of the areas that I feel Search Console is lacking in.
KEYWORD GAIN & LOSS REPORTING
Where Search Console really shines as a rank tracking tool is it tells you exactly which SERPs your content is showing on. This takes out all of the guesswork. However, it’s also in this area where I feel it’s lacking.
Let me explain.
If you’re trying to improve your content and to do that you decide to add subtopics to your blog posts, you should expect to see new keywords that your content is ranking on.
When this happens, Search Console will present all the queries your content is ranking for without telling you which ones are new. This means when you make a change to your content you really have no idea if the change really made an impact.
It’s almost impossible to remember from month to month which exact queries your content showed up for.
To solve this, the team at Rank Ranger created the Search Console Gain & Loss report. The report will present Search Console data showing you what queries are new and which ones were lost.
This is super important data as you must effectively see if your efforts are increasing the number of queries your URLs are showing up for.