Google made the day of SEOs everywhere on May 6th, 2015 when it announced that it launched the Search Analytics Report.
For years, we’ve grown accustomed to optimizing our landing pages with [not provided] keyword data.
That appears to have (somewhat) come to an end. At least for now, this data is again at our disposal, only in a different format.
How to Use the “Search Analytics” Report in Google Search Console
Google launched an extensive guide showing how to use the Search Analytics report. For that reason, I won’t break down each and every feature, but I do think it’s important to understand what’s particularly useful for SEO. Here’s a short list:
Specific Keywords for More Pages
The previous Search Queries report only showed us the keywords driving impressions and clicks for a selection of “Top Pages” as it were. In the Search Analytics report, you’ll find that many more of your ranking pages will show keyword data (some sites may show keyword data for all pages).
Compare Metrics & Show Variances
The previous Search Queries report only allowed us to show basic metrics (clicks, impressions, CTR and average ranking position) “with change” as it were. In the Search Analytics report, you’ll find that you can compare specific date ranges and see specific metric variances/differences (i.e. – the difference in clicks for specific keywords when comparing two time periods). When assessing the impact of algorithm updates, this is very useful.
See Metrics for Tablets
In the previous Search Queries report, we only had the ability to segment by desktop and mobile search data. In the Search Analytics report we can see the data for tablets as well, which will become increasingly important now that Google has announced that they will no longer show non-mobile-friendly websites in its mobile search results.
Already, these are some very useful features. Oddly, they are very similar to the control that we had in Google Analytics before Google decided not to show us keyword data any longer (due to user privacy). Hmm. This point aside, it’s also great to see the data appear more accurate (per Google), although there are still some accuracy issues with the initial rollout (as Michael Cottam points out).
Improving Your On-page Optimization with the Search Analytics Report
Now for the good stuff. What I love about the Search Analytics report is that I can extract ranking keywords for many more pages than the previous “Top Pages” section of the old Search Queries report. This means that, similar to back in the day with Google Analytics, you can speed up your keyword targeting and on-page optimization efforts by using more accurate “page level” data (similar to how many SEOs use the “Organic Keywords” report of the SEMRush tool).
What this really means is that you are empowered with great data to go back and re-optimize your website pages. If you subscribe to the “double down” approach in marketing (see lesson #8 from Facebook in this Buffer post), then you’ll instantly see how valuable this is.
Disclaimer: This works best if you have good, deep content on your web page(s). Thin content most likely isn’t ranking well due to the lack of depth/value that it adds to Google’s index, and thus, you most likely won’t see much keyword data. Also, this keyword data will only show you the keywords that you currently rank for, but that’s okay…because you’ll almost always find opportunities to improve upon your previous optimization efforts.
Step 1: Filter “Pages” to Show a Specific Page to Re-Optimize
In this example, I’m going to re-optimize the Guitar Amps directory page on my guitar blog, Six String Soul. As you can see in the screenshot, below, I’ve filtered the “Pages” section to show data for only this page.
Step 2: Set Your Date Range to 90 Days
We want to get the most keyword data that we can, so it’s best to maximize the date range per below.
Step 3: Click the Radio Button to Show Queries Data
The actual data that we want to look at is the queries (keywords) data. So, ensure that you have the “Queries” radio button selected per below. I also like to get the most data that I can, so I select all four of the following: Clicks, Impressions, CTR and Position per below.
Step 4: Review Your Data & Download (Export) a CSV File
Your work in Google Search Console is nearly complete. You now have your data on display, and you can use this real-world keyword data to go optimize your web page by using more exact keyword phrases within the metadata, body content, and internal links. However, if you would prefer to work with Google’s estimated search volume data (from Keyword Planner), then you can also download a CSV file of the data (per below) in preparation for running it through Keyword Planner. If you choose this route, continue onward to steps 5 and 6 below. If you prefer to work with the Google Search Console data, skip down to step 7 below.
Step 5 (Optional): Copy all Keywords & Run Through Google’s Keyword Planner Tool
If you’ve optionally chosen to export the keyword data from Google Search Console, you can now run them through Keyword Planner to get Google’s estimated search volume metrics. Now that you’ve got your data in a CSV spreadsheet, you can easily copy the entire column of keywords.
Pro Tip: the first cell and then pressing the “Shift+Command+Down Arrow” keys to select all keywords in the column (handy trick!).
Then, paste the keywords into Keyword Planner, specifically the “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas” section. Also, be sure to select “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms,” otherwise your resulting keywords will only be loosely (broadly) related.
Step 6 (Optional): Sort Keywords by Search Volume (in Keyword Planner) & Review
Now that we’ve entered keywords into the Keyword Planner Tool, it’s time to sort them and clean them up. First, I like to sort by search volume. Next, I like to use the “Negative Keywords” and “Keywords to Include” tools to help refine the resulting data. Sometimes the queries from Google Search Console aren’t exactly related to your page. You can see that I’ve done this below.
Step 7: Review & Refine Your Keyword Usage
Whether you chose to use the data from within Google Search Console or run the keywords through Keyword Planner, you can now make use of the keyword data by re-optimizing your page. How? Well, you can better target the most relevant (and highest searched) keywords that Google is reporting for your page. I won’t go into exactly how to do this for each element of your page, however here are some key places to consider using your keywords:
- Page Title – still has an impact on what keywords you rank for
- H1 Title – Similar to the Page Title (metadata), the on-page title (typically H1) is another clear, top-level signal to search engines what your page is about
- Body Content – Use your keywords in subtitles and paragraph text, from top to bottom, in order to make it clear what your page is about. Don’t overdo it, and there’s no magic number. Just sprinkle them in here and there if it makes sense.
- Internal Links – Are you linking to this page from other pages on your site? You should be, and you should consider (if you have the bandwidth) editing the anchor link text for those internal links to more closely match the keywords that you’re ranking for and which you want to improve your ranking for.
- Meta Description – While this is typically not a ranking factor, consider that your keywords will be boldfaced in the meta description for your page if they match the keywords entered by the user. This can make your SERP listing stand out, increase CTR and increase the likelihood that Google improves your ranking as a result.
- Image Alt Tags – Don’t get me started. Ever since Google changed Image Search to not send initial user clicks directly to source web pages (where Google pulled the image from), we’ve seen traffic from Google Image Search. Google says it good for users. Bullshit. I tend to think that optimizing image alt tags may create a liability for over-optimization considering Google’s Panda algorithm, so optimize at your discretion.
Remember, use the keywords naturally, without over-optimizing. That’s critically important. Never force keyword usage or sacrifice readability, because this will actually hurt your ranking potential in search engines due to a number of factors (worsened engagement signals…which Google will notice, inflated keyword density…which Google will notice, etc).
Whew! That was a lot. Hopefully this method of re-optimizing your website using Google Search Console’s Search Analytics report will give you the data you need to increase your web traffic, and ultimately your revenue, leads or whatever your business goals are. Some of you may argue that exact match keyword targeting is becoming less important (especially after
Some of you may argue that exact match keyword targeting is becoming less important (especially after Rand Fishkin released his Cracking the SEO Code for 2015 mozinar), and I mostly agree that this is where Google is heading (and partially is now). However, I’m still seeing it have an impact…especially in situations where you’re able to make unoptimized/unclear content more clearly inline with how users are searching.
Remember that with great power comes great responsibility, so don’t abuse the keyword data and over-optimize your pages. Make smart decisions, continue focusing on the user and let the data be your guide. If you have any further suggestions, please leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading.