Get Started With Search Console

Search engines can provide Internet marketers, search optimizers and webmasters with a wealth of information about their digital properties (both websites and mobile applications).

Since the majority of organic/natural traffic will come from Google (with estimates hovering around 70 percent of all traffic), let's look at Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools), the company's official resource for providing search performance data. Bing also has a solution which provides similar - although not identical - functionality.

Google, however, is the predominant provider of organic website traffic, however, it is vital that marketers start with Search Console. The free resource helps SEO professionals (or anyone concerned with or interested in ranking on Google's search engine) monitor and maintain their website (or app's) presence in the Google Search results. Sounds simple enough, right? Sort of.

While there is no guarantee whatsoever that using the system will improve a website's ranking or position, it can provide valuable information that can make it possible to understand how Google perceives a website, even going as far as offering guidance so that performance in the search results can be optimized and improved.

There are many reasons to use Search Console, and all Web professionals should become familiar with its use and capabilities (as well as its limitations), so let's take a closer look at what it can be used for and how to use it for a website or mobile application.

Search Console makes it possible to monitor a site's performance in the Google search results. Ultimately, that means Google provides some indication that the content made available is actually accessible, offers an opportunity to submit new content for crawling content (as well as removing content) and highlight information that may disrupt the Web experience. The system can even monitor and help webmasters and SEOs resolve malware and spam issues, to ensure an optimal experience for users.

Remember that a great deal of search engine optimization work relates to removing the barriers that keep search engines and their users from accessing the content. Accessibility is not all SEOs need to be concerned with, and for them, Search Console provides a range of useful information as well. Search Console offers, for instance, information that will enable SEO professionals to understand how Google and consumers see their websites on the search results pages like displaying the queries used when a website appeared in the search results, and how much traffic those queries brought.

Search Console even shows how content is shown on the search results (see the section on rich snippets and microdata), as well as (and perhaps most importantly) which sites are linking - and, of course, lots of other helpful data. The beauty of Search Console is that it can be (and should be) used by a variety of personnel within an enterprise in order to track performance. Business owners, for example, might need to authorize different individuals with administrative access, while search marketers can use the platform to keep tabs on the volume of traffic resulting from a particular keyword or phrase.

There are still other roles in an organization that would benefit from access to Search Console. Developers, for example, will benefit from the information provided about the use of structured data and issues with markup. While there are many features of Google Search Console that are a fundamental aspect of digital optimization in general, there are always new developments. Let's take a look at some of the most recent features and functionality integrated over the past few months in the platform.

+ Rich Result Filter: Search engine results pages are becoming "richer" in the sense they're providing end-users far more information about their query directly on the results page. Google has long supported markup that enables SEOs to showcase their content but tracking the performance of these initiatives in terms of impressions on the results pages has been difficult. Essentially, how many times do a Web page's rich result listings get shown to those conducting a query? It's now possible to know, as Google added a "Rich Result" filter in the Google Search Console's "Search Analytics" report. Webmasters can now click on "Search Appearance" and select "Rich Cards" to filter the Google impressions and clicks received specifically for rich cards, rich snippets and other rich results within results.

+ Use for Link Prospecting: Buried within the Google Webmaster Console is a feature that shows the links that Google considers as it determines the rank or position of a website. To access, search marketing professionals need to visit Webmaster Console, navigate to the website profile they are building links for, and select "Links To Your Site" from the "Search Traffic" option on the dashboard (in the panel on the left-hand side) to check it out. What search marketers will find are all of the links that Google knows about and uses to determine ranking for different keywords and phrases. Consider these links (which SEOs/webmasters can view or download) as the starting point in link prospecting (and digital acquisition) efforts. 

+ Analyze AMP Pages: Google's Search Console now has an AMP testing tool that uses Google's live Web-search infrastructure to analyze the AMP property with the real Googlebot. The tool tests the validity of the AMP markup and structured data it finds on the page. When issues are found, SEOs can click them to reveal details. For pages that are deemed valid by AMP standards, Google may then provide a link to a live preview of how the page might appear in Google's search results.

+ Security and SSL: Google is sending messages through Search Console about making sure websites' login capabilities are served over HTTPS on Chrome. As of Jan. 2017, version 56 and later of the Chrome browser have begun marking up pages that collect passwords (or credit card details) as "Not Secure" unless the pages are served over HTTPS. Google is notifying webmaster about specific URLS that include input fields for passwords or credit card details that will trigger the new Chrome warning (although the list is far from exhaustive), and is suggesting that webmasters review them so action can be taken to protect users' data.

The warnings/notifications are just the first step in Google's long-term plan to mark all pages served over the non-encrypted HTTP protocol as "Not Secure."

Obviously, this is but the briefest of introductions to Google's Search Console, but it will prove to be an important first step for those with a new or renewed interest in obtaining more traffic from the Web's most popular search engine.