Want to know what is one of the best FREE TOOLS to grow your website? Google Search Console! Read on to discover how to use Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic in 2021.
If you have a blog, you probably want more traffic… am I right? Growing your blog traffic is a pretty good way to grow your blogging business and with it your income.
But what is the most effective way of growing your blog traffic? Over the years I’ve been blogging I’ve tried it all: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Email Marketing… you name it! Want to know what has been the most effective AND least time consuming way I have discovered to grow my blogs?
Three little words: Search Engine Optimization
Search engine Optimization (SEO), is the fastest, easiest, most rewarding and least labour intensive way to grow a blog.
And want to know what one of the best tools for SEO is? That also happens to be free? Yep, Google Search Console.
Now let’s take a step back here. If you are new to SEO, this article is probably not the best one for you to start with – I first recommend you take a look at my Beginner’s guide to SEO where you will find everything you need to know about what SEO is and how to use it to grow your website traffic.
But if you are already up to speed and ready to take your SEO to the next level then this article is for YOU!!
Read on to discover how to use Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic in 2021 (and find out how you can get your hands on my FREE Google Search Console Tracker!).
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console (GSC) is the new version of what used to be known as Google Webmaster Tools. It’s recently been completely revamped and had a lovely makeover to make it look much more like it belongs in the 21st century. The new version is also much more user friendly.
Google Search Console is a free tool which helps you track the performance of your website on Google and which, in turn, helps you fine-tune your SEO strategy and grow your blog traffic.
“Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but Search Console helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.”
You can use GSC to find out how often your website appears in Google’s search results and which pages on your site are the most popular. You can find out which search queries show results from your site and what percentage of searchers click through to your blog for those queries.
You can also use GSC to confirm that Google can find and crawl your site, to submit your sitemap, to fix indexing problems and to request indexing of new or updated content.
Getting Started with Google Search Console
If you haven’t already added your website (in all 4 versions) to Google Search Console, please follow these steps first. If these steps fail, please check Google’s official directions here for the most up to date instructions.
How to add your blog to Google Search Console
First you need to sign in to GSC, using your usual Google account. You will be prompted to ADD A PROPERTY.
Alternatively, if you already have a Google Search Console account, click on your website URL in the top left-hand corner and select ADD A PROPERTY.
You need to add all 4 variations of your website:
Each time, it will ask you to verify your website. Select the HTML tag option and copy the code.
Paste this code into the Yoast SEO plugin in GENERAL => WEBMASTER TOOLS and in the GOOGLE VERIFICATION CODE section and save changes. (You only need to paste the code in for the first variation.)
Now go back to the Google search console and click VERIFY. If everything is OK, you’ll get a success message and GSC will start collecting data for your website.
You will need to repeat these steps for each of the 4 variations of your URL.
How to add your sitemap to Google search console
Now you are ready to add your sitemap.
- On your Search Console home page, select your website URL (any 1 of the 4 versions) from the drop-down box in the left-hand corner.
- In the left sidebar, click SITEMAPS
- Enter sitemap_index.xml into the text box that appears (preceded by the URL of your website).
- Click SUBMIT
- Refresh the page and you should now see your sitemap
- Repeat for each of the 4 variations of your URL
What information can you find on Google Search Console?
Once you have set up your account in GSC, you should see a screen like this…
In the top left you will see your site’s URL. If you have more than one website, this is where you can toggle between your websites.
Down the left-hand side you will see a menu of options. Each of these options gives you different information about your site…
Does exactly what it says and gives you a brief overview of the main sections of GSC.
This section shows you what pages and what keywords your website ranks for in Google. This is the section I will be focusing on in this article. It has loads of amazing features that enable you to massively improve your SEO, and consequently grow your traffic very quickly.
This section allows you to look at one particular URL on your website and see whether it is indexed by Google, whether it is mobile friendly and whether the URL has any warnings. You can also request the page be re-indexed if you have updated or changed the page in any way. (Note: this is not strictly necessary as Google finds updated pages pretty quickly, but it can sometimes speed up the process.)
This section shows how many pages from your website are in Google’s index, how many pages aren’t (e.g. if you have no-indexed pages on your website – for example, tag archive pages or photos) and if there are any errors and warnings about issues preventing Google indexing your pages properly.
This is where you add your sitemap. You need to add a sitemap for all 4 variations of your website. See the ‘How to add your sitemap to Google search console’ section above for further details on how to do this.
This is where you can check to see if your website has any usability problems on mobile devices.
You will only have this section if your blog features recipes. This section will show you if your recipe cards have any missing fields – for example ‘video’, ‘keywords’, ‘nutrition’ etc. In an ideal world you should have no missing fields. In reality you may find the majority of your recipe posts fall in the ‘valid with warnings’ section – simply click on the ‘valid with warnings’ button at the top and scroll down, you will be able to see at a glance what fields are missing. Click on any of these to see which posts are missing that field.
You better hope this section is empty! This is where Google tells you about any manual actions – these are penalties Google gives you if it thinks you have been using underhand tactics to artificially boost your search engine rankings.
If a site has a manual action, some or all of that site will not be shown in Google search results.
To find out more about what Google might penalise you for, read the Quality Guidelines section of Google’s article on Webmaster Guidelines.
This section shows you your top external and internal inks as well as your top linking sites and top linking anchor text.
You can spend hours looking at all these sections and worrying about it. Don’t! Of course, it’s good to give everything a quick check to make sure nothing looks amiss, but assuming it doesn’t, focus your time on how you can actually use Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic.
Using Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic is a large topic, but for the purposes of this article I am just going to focus on the ‘performance’ section of Google Search Console.
How to monitor your blog’s performance in Google Search Console
Before you start improving your SEO, it’s a good idea to use the information in GSC to monitor how well your efforts are working. I suggest tracking the following metrics, which can all be found in the PERFORMANCE section in the left-hand menu. (Click Average CTR and Average Position to toggle them on)
1. Total Impressions
Above the graph you should see a number for Total Impressions. This is the number of times a user saw your link in search results.
In the screen grab above I have this set for 12 months, but you can use the drop down menu to change the date range – I suggest looking at the 12 months, 3 months and 1 month results to get an accurate picture of how things are going.
2. Total Clicks
This is the number of times a user clicked through to your site.
3. Average CTR (Click Through Rate)
This is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click. Or in other words Total Clicks divided by Total Impressions, expressed as a percentage.
4. Average Position
This is the average position in search results for your site. The lower the number, the higher your page appears in results – on average.
**IMPORTANT** don’t worry too much about this metric – it’s accurate, but just because it gets bigger doesn’t necessarily mean your site is performing worse. In fact, it’s often the opposite – if a post or page starts ranking for additional keywords, average position usually increases because, unless you’re ranking for the exact same position or better as your existing keywords, your “average” will get bigger…but overall your traffic will be higher.
5. Top 10 posts/pages for Impressions, Clicks, CTR and Position
Go down to just below the graph and click PAGES, then sort for Impressions, Clicks, CTR and Position (click on the column headings to sort), noting down which are your most popular results each time.
6. Number of search queries you rank number 1 for (and top 3 and top 10)
Go down to just below the graph and click QUERIES. Then sort by Position. Count how many queries you rank at number 1? Top 3? And top 10? If you are doing your SEO right this should definitely improve over time!
7. Total number of search queries you rank for
Go down to just below the graph and click QUERIES. Then scroll right to the bottom. The number in the bottom right will be the total number of search queries you rank for (at any position).
Ideally you should record these numbers on a spreadsheet and monitor them once a month to see how your SEO efforts are paying off and to spot new trends and opportunities.
Google Search Console Tracker Spreadsheet
Wish someone would create the perfect spreadsheet for you to track these metrics? Your wish is my command! Click below to download my Google Search Console Tracker Spreadsheet. Fill this in once a month to track your SEO progress.
How can you use Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic
Tracking the numbers is a great first start but the real fun is using the information GSC give you to actually improve your SEO and grow your website traffic! Start to get very excited peeps because this is going to BLOW YOUR MIND!!
1. Optimize results that don’t get clicks
The data that you can get in GSC can easily show you which search queries lead to lots of search impressions for your website, but not many clicks – i.e. high impressions/low CTR.
This information is DYNAMITE as it tells you which posts to focus on improving – by improving posts with high impressions and low CTRs you can potentially unlock thousands of extra clicks without much extra work!
Go to PERFORMANCE in the left-hand menu. Make sure total clicks, total impressions, average CTR and average position are all on (click to make them coloured, not white).
Select the QUERIES option immediately below the graph. Then sort by impressions (highest at the top) by clicking on the column heading.
Eyeball the results and jot down any that have low CTRs. (You can record them on my ready-made spreadsheet if you’ve already downloaded it!)
Next, flip into Google in an incognito screen and type in one of these queries. Look at your entry in the search results and try to be objective – ask yourself why people are not clicking through to your website.
Look at your blog post (or page) title, meta description, photo (if applicable) and your competition. What can you do to make your search result be the one that gets picked?
You should also go into the post itself to see how the blog post can be improved upon. Use my articles on How to write the perfect blog post and How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to grow your blog to help you with this.
Repeat with the other high impression/low CTR queries you found.
Focusing on these high impression/low CTR results is a sure-fire way to increase your blog traffic – much more effective than just optimising posts at random!
2. Optimize results that are nearly on page 1
Did you know that 75% of Google searchers do not look beyond page 1 in the search results? By optimizing posts which just fall off into page 2, you can hopefully move them on to page 1 – resulting in a much greater number of impressions and clicks!
Again, select QUERIES but this time sort by POSITION (#1 at the top). Scroll down until you get to results that are at position 9, 10 and 11. Note down these queries.
Again, flip into Google – in an incognito screen – and type in one of these queries.
Find your entry in the search results. Most likely it’s on page 2.
Focus on optimising your SEO for these ‘just fallen off page 1’ results – again using my articles on How to write the perfect blog post and How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to grow your blog to help you with this.
Repeat with the other ‘just fallen off page 1’ queries you found.
Focusing on these ‘top of page 2’ results should nudge them over into page 1 and result in much greater impressions and clicks! You should also eyeball how the post looks in Google’s search results and improve the title and meta description etc. to maximise your click-throughs.
3. Find keywords you rank for, but don’t have a post for
This is one of my favourite SEO hacks!
Again, select QUERIES and sort by POSITION with #1 at the top.
Look down the list at the queries (think of them as keywords) that you rank highly for. Do you have a post optimised for each of these high ranking keywords? I’ll bet you somewhere in this list you have some keywords you rank for but no sensible corresponding page or post!
Note these down on your spreadsheet together with the search volumes. Rank them in order of search volumes (largest at the top). Now use this information to either optimise an existing post for these keywords OR write a whole new post optimised for the keyword.
For example, when I look down my results (for my food blog Easy Peasy Foodie), I see that I am ranked #3 for the query ‘salmon fishcakes without potato’. I have a salmon fishcakes recipe WITH potato, but I don’t have one WITHOUT potato ANYWHERE on my site! Given I already rank at number 3 for a pretty bad search result (anyone who wants salmon fishcakes WITHOUT potato is not going to be very happy about landing on my current WITH potato recipe). There is A LOT of potential to do well with a ‘salmon fishcakes without potato’ recipe on my food blog!
I’m even more excited by this result as I notice that out the results above me in Google currently, only one has ‘no potato’ in the title (and doesn’t mention salmon) and two don’t have any structured data (stars/calories/times etc.)
I’m pretty confident if I created a well optimised ‘salmon fishcakes without potato’ recipe on my site it would rank top 3!
Each individual post might not be a huge number of pageviews but together the numbers start to add up. AND you know you have a REALLY good chance of ranking highly for these search terms.
I must add one small caveat to this – only create content that is right for YOUR BLOG – it might be that you find you rank quite well for a search term that you don’t have a blog post about, but it isn’t right for your site. In this case don’t write a blog post just because you think you might rank! Your first priority must be to write content that is right for your site!
4. Find keywords you rank well for, but the corresponding post is old and needs updating
You can also look at these same keywords to identify posts to improve. If you see a query that ranks highly but relates to an old/out-of-date/not well optimised post, you can bet your bottom dollar that improving upon that post will lead to greater traffic!
Again, make a list in your Google Search Console Tracker Spreadsheet of queries which you rank well for, but where you know that the corresponding post needs updating. Concentrate particularly on queries with high search volumes.
5. Improving your internal link structure
Another way to use Google Search Console to grow your blog traffic is to use it to improve your internal link structure.
Look at your Google Search Console Tracker Spreadsheet (see ‘Monitoring your blog’s performance in GSC’) and look at the lists you made of your top 10 posts by impressions, clicks, CTR and position.
These are your ‘high authority pages’ with a lot of good link juice!
By linking FROM these high authority posts to some of your posts with good potential (e.g. your posts which just fall onto page 2, your posts which rank well but need updating, your posts with high impressions but low CTRs, your new posts created to match a keyword you rank highly for but didn’t have any content…) you are going to be giving these posts a massive nudge in the right direction.
But do make sure that it is a genuinely helpful/logical link!
For example, if I link from my ‘salmon fishcakes WITH potato’ recipe to my new ‘salmon fishcakes WITHOUT potato’ recipe – that’s a really good idea. People looking for salmon fishcakes are going to be interested in other types of salmon fishcakes. However, a link from my post about lamb ragu would make less sense. Always make sure the link is genuinely helpful to you reader and not JUST for SEO or this technique will not help you in the long run.
6. Identify those pages that don’t get any visits/impressions
This time, select PAGES and sort by CLICKS with the lowest number of clicks at the top. Note down your worst performing pages. Repeat, but this time sort by IMPRESSIONS and again note down your worst performing pages
Use these 2 views to identify pages that you either need to delete (and possibly 301 redirect to something relevant), or update/optimise.
Deleting and/or improving poorly performing content will help your site perform better in search results overall and so increase your blog’s traffic .
A quick note on this. There are two types of content that you are very likely to find here. One is tag archives, the other is photos.
You should do one of two things with tag archives. IDEALLY you should optimise every tag archive (a tag archive looks like this: www.yourwebsite/tag/tagname. For example, www.easypeasyfoodie.com/tag/curry.) In other words, you need to get a green bullet in Yoast for every tag archive. And you should minimise the number of tags you have too.
Back in the real world many of us have far too many tags (from all those years of not knowing how to use them!) Happily, there is a simple fix! Head over to my post on setting up the Yoast SEO plugin correctly and follow the steps to NO-INDEX your tags. Google will no longer index your tags and your overall SEO score will improve (and with it your average position and traffic!)
This caused a lot of bloggers a big headache a few months ago! Every photo on your websites has its own URL. If you have the Yoast plugin set up correctly your photo URLs should automatically redirect to the post/page URL and not be indexed. HOWEVER if your Yoast plugin is not set up correctly, Google may be indexing those pages, which will in turn be dragging down your overall SEO.
Again, thankfully there is a quick fix. Go into your Yoast SEO plugin and go to SEARCH APPEARANCE => MEDIA => MEDIA AND ATTACHMENT URLs and set ‘Redirect attachment URLs to the attachment itself?’ to YES. It will take a bit of time for these photo URLs to drop out of Google’s index, but once they do you should find your traffic levels start to improve – again because you are not having lots of poor quality (in Google’s eyes) content dragging down your SEO.
7. Improving the performance of individual blog posts and pages
One of the most awesome features of GSC is that you can look at one individual blog post and find out what search queries are leading to that blog post and where you rank for each query.
Go to PAGES and sort by IMPRESSIONS. Look across at position and initially work on pages which are getting high impressions, but which fall outside the top 3 for position (60% of all organic clicks goes to the top 3 organic search results, so getting your results into the top 3 can really make a difference to your traffic).
Click on the first URL you get to, which falls outside the top 3.
Now click on QUERIES.
Here you will get all the queries that your URL ranks for. Look at this list of queries (again think of them as keywords), sort by IMPRESSION and see if you could add a few of the keywords with the biggest impressions into your post (naturally of course!).
Alternatively, you may feel one of those keywords warrants a whole separate blog post of its own (especially if the keyword you rank for is not really relevant to the original blog post.)
This should enable you to rank higher for those keywords you weren’t specifically optimising for before and thus push your page up in the search ranking for more queries, therefore bringing you more traffic overall.
You can do this for any URL – so this is also a great technique to use to improve the rankings of those ‘posts with potential’ that we identified earlier!
8. Find ‘unicorn content’ and further improve on it
Isn’t ‘unicorn content’ just the best name? It basically means your best performing content – in this case the content with high impressions and high CTRs.
Go to PAGES and sort initially by clicks. These are the pages that are performing best in search results.
You should definitely focus on your top 10 (or even better 20) performing pages in Google and see if you can further improve upon them in any way (using my posts on How to write the perfect blog post and How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to grow your blog to help you).
You should also check to see if you can add any additional keywords to your post (by following the steps in point 7)
For example, one of my best performing pages on Easy Peasy Foodie is my Super Simple Macaroni Cheese, but I notice that a lot of the queries that I rank for are for ‘mac and cheese’ – I could go back in and see if I can add mac and cheese into the text (naturally of course!) I also notice that I now rank for ‘quick macaroni cheese’, yet this keyword does not appear on my recipe post. It would be an easy thing to add to my post and hopefully I would rank higher for this keyword too.
Possibly the best free SEO tool you didn’t already know about?
Hopefully I have managed to convince you that Google Search Console is totally awesome and well worth spending some time on. I definitely think this free tool one of SEO’s best kept secrets. And, when used properly it can help you massively grow your organic traffic – often without taking up too much of your time.
And don’t forget to download my FREE Google Search Console Tracker spreadsheet to help you take advantage of all GSC has to offer and track your progress!
Want to know more about SEO?
If you’ve enjoyed this post you may like to read more about search engine optimization. Here are some of my most popular posts on this topic…
- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- How to do keyword research for bloggers
- How to use cornerstone content to increase blog traffic
- FREE DIY SEO AUDIT
I’d love to help if you have any questions about this topic. Let me know in the comments below or over in my Productive Blogging Community.
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