Okay, I’ll be honest; SEO is complicated and Google’s search algorithms are probably more fickle than even the most stubborn canine (no disrespect to Cesar Millan). But understanding exactly what’s going on in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will make the practice of optimizing for search engines all the more intuitive!
Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) provides a variety of metrics that delve into how users see and interact with your site’s listings in the SERPs. While there are a number of different SEO tools available in Search Console, for now we’ll be looking specifically at Search Analytics which is available under the Search Traffic dropdown in the sidebar. Here you’ll find a simple interface that displays a few key metrics; clicks, impressions, CTR, and position. These metrics can drive tons of insights about your content and you may be wondering exactly how to use webmaster tools for SEO, but first we need to understand exactly what each of its metrics mean.
- Clicks - Probably the most straightforward measurement of the bunch, this metric represents the number of times your site’s listing in the SERPs was clicked on. Simple as that!
- Impressions - “First impressions are everything” rings just as true in the world of SEO as it does on a first date or at a job interview. Impressions in organic search stand for the number of times your site appeared as a result for a search (you’ll need an attractive title and description to generate a click!).
- CTR (Click-Through Rate) - CTR is a measurement of clicks per impression; basically, a success rate where clicks are the goal and impressions are attempts.
- Avg. Position - On the surface, position may seem like a pretty simple measurement of an individual page’s rank in the search engine results. Google, however, personalizes the results they serve based on a number of factors from user location to previous search history and more. This means that there are no absolute ranking values for any given pages or keywords. The “Avg. Position” metric in Search Console is an average of the position your site actually showed up at for users in real searches.
Using Google Search Console Data for SEO
Phew! Now that we have an idea of what each of these metrics mean, it’s time to use them to improve our search presence. As you can tell from the way the Search Analytics tool is laid out, what’s really important here is the relationships between these metrics. There’s an endless number of ways the data available in Search Console can be used and interpreted, so feel free to get creative. But for starters, here are a few common correlations to look out for as well as how to fix them:
High Impressions, Low CTR
Under the “Pages” filter, sort by impressions and look for pages that have a high number of impressions but a low click-through rate (usually anything significantly under 1%). A page with high impressions but low CTR means that the page listing is getting exposure in the search engine results but failing to generate clicks and engagement.
Action: Take a look at your page’s meta title and description and consider changing it to something that will encourage users to click more.
Does optimizing for search engines seem confusing?
Good Position, Low Impressions
If you have a page that is ranking highly for all of the queries that show up in Search Console but is getting a low amount of impressions, this is indicative that the targeted keywords themselves have little to no volume.
Action: Retarget the page’s content and meta data to focus on higher-volume keywords.
High Impressions, Bad Position
Striking a balance between keyword search volume and competition is important. Especially for smaller or newer sites, there are some keywords that will simply be out of reach. A page that is getting a high number of impressions even though it is ranking on the 3rd page of results or worse is probably targeting keywords that are a bit out of reach.
Action: Look for long-tail keyword opportunities to build sub-pages that will generate more internal links and increase your site’s authority on the subject at hand.
Even a basic understanding of how the Search Analytics tool in Google Search Console works can help in everything from optimizing existing pages to coming up with content ideas for creating new ones. Keep up to speed with how your site pages are performing after publishing (don't forget to learn Google Analytics!), make changes accordingly, and continue to build up new content. Before you know it, you'll be a “SERP whisperer” in your own right!*
*Primetime reality show not included