Google Search Console: How to find your best performing keywords

As a business owner, the best five words that you can hear in your business are: I found you on Google.

There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that somebody out there is searching for the services or products that you provide, and they go to Google and they find you and they reach out and they contact you. There’s no better high than that!

But if that’s happened to you, you may have followed up with the person and said, “Oh, that’s great! What did you search for?” And they don’t remember, so you can’t replicate that success.

Maybe you’ve also gone to Google Analytics thinking, “I wonder if Google will tell me exactly what that person looked for.”And unfortunately, you got one of those dreaded (not provided) results in your Google Analytics.

Good news! Google has a free toolto tell you every single search term that people are looking for and clicking through to your website!

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console is Google’s secret weapon for helping you with your SEO — both the technical stuff (like how fast your page loads, mobile usability, and any errors) and also the content stuff (like which keywords you’re showing up for in which position).

It used to be called Google Webmaster Tools, but in 2015 they pulled the search data out of Analytics (for greater privacy), merged it with Webmaster Tools, then renamed it Search Console.

What’s the difference between Google Analytics & Google Search Console?

Think of Google Analytics as Stepbrothers: Google Analytics is the Will Ferrell character that everybody knows; Google Search Console is the underrated John C. Reilly character.

Ok, here’s the more accurate answer:

  • Google Analytics starts tracking the moment somebody arrives on your website, and tells you everything about their demographics and on-site behavior, like: where they came from, what pages they visited, how long they spent on the site, what device they’re using, what country they logged in from, etc.
  • Google Search Console tells you **two things:
    1. How Google traffic found you, like: what they searched for, what position you were in for that query, what % of people who searched for that clicked on your site, what pages they landed on, what devices they were using, etc.
    2. How your website’s technical SEO is performing, like: sitemaps, mobile usability, page load speeds … basically any errors on the page that could penalize your page rank

How do I set up Google Search Console?

Go to https://search.google.com/search-console, and in the upper left corner click “Add Property.”

There are two ways you can add a property: URL Prefix or Domain.

Adding a URL prefix to GSC

Every website has at least 4 URL prefixes; for this website, they are:

  • http://loveatfirstsearch.com
  • https://loveatfirstsearch.com
  • http://www.loveatfirstsearch.com
  • https://www.loveatfirstsearch.com
    … and then if I had my blog or shop on a subdomain, that would be two more URL prefixes, like:
  • https://blog.loveatfirstsearch.com

Ideally, most of your traffic would be going to one of these (in my case: https://love …) but sometimes you get some stragglers that sneak into the other ones if they’re not set-up correctly, so if you only plan on using URL prefixes, you might need to check 4+ different accounts.

To set up a URL prefix, log-in to your Google Search Console and click “Add Property,” then type the URL prefix you want into the box. Then you’ll have a choice of 5 ways to verify that you do, in fact, own that website:

I think the easiest way is through your Google Analytics account. If you have this installed correctly (in the <head> of your site) and you have Editor access, make sure you’re logged into the same Google account, then click on that choice and it should verify pretty easily.

Other options are that you can add a line of code to your website’s homepage, upload an HTML file, or use a tool like Google Tag Manager.

But what if you don’t want to need to check 4 different URL prefixes? Or if you have multiple subdomains and want all your search data to live in one place? Then you need to verify as a Domain Property.

Adding a Domain Property to Google Search Console

Verifying your domain prefix is relatively painless, and much more thorough than URL prefixes … but you have to go to the place where you bought your domain to do it. That may or may not be the same place where your website is hosted! So if you bought your domain on GoDaddy or CheapDomains, then directed it to Squarespace or your WordPress hosting, go to the original place where you bought it!

After you click “Add Property,” type in the domain you want to verify and you’ll see a screen like this:

Copy that line of code, then go to wherever your domain lives, and paste that code into your DNS settings as a TXT configuration. I use Google Domains for my domain hoarding purchasing, so this is what it looks like for me (DNS on the left sidebar, scroll to the bottom for “custom resource records”) but yours could look totally different, so if you need to, Google for a more accurate tutorial of your domain provider:

Ok, now that the techical part is over … what can we DO with this Search Console thingamabob?

What can Google Search Console Performance Report tell me?

Google Search Console is a treasure trove of information, but like all good treasure, it comes at a cost … there is SO MUCH DATA that it can be totally overwhelming at first. So in this post, we’re just gonna look at the Performance Report.

The Performance Report (the top line graph on your dashboard and second option on your sidebar, as of early 2021) will tell you four things:

  1. CLICKS: how many people have clicked from Google to your website, either for a specific query or to a specific page
  2. IMPRESSION: the number of people who saw your website show up in their search results
  3. CLICK-THROUGH RATE (CTR): The formula here is clicks/impressions. If 1000 people saw your website show up in their search results and 100 people clicked on it, you have a 10% click-through rate. The click through rate can be a really helpful metric when you’re trying to figure out if there are any things that you’re showing up for but people just aren’t clicking on it.
  4. AVERAGE POSITION: Where your website showed up on Google for every single search query, averaged over a specific time (the default is 3 months but you can change this up to 16 months in the filters above the boxes) — your position fluctuates regularly, so even if you Google yourself today and see that your #1, don’t be surprised or depressed if you don’t hold the same spot tomorrow, Google is always testing things out! We’re look at trends, not snapshots.

Real life example: Case study for ArtBizSuccess

So today we’re going to be looking at the Google Search Console of my client Alyson who runs ArtBizSuccess, she’s an art career coach so she helps artists to sell their work.

Here are the default filters at the top:

The search type is web — if you have a particularly image heavy website, or you have lots of videos or news, you can actually just look at the search results in Google for that information — and our default setting is the last three months. You can go back in time up to 16 months, or you can just look at one day, one week, something along those lines, but we’ll stick with the default settings for this one.

The first thing you’ll see on the page is a line graph:

This chart shows number of clicks that are coming to Allison’s website, every single day over this three month period. And because she works primarily with artists and other businesses, we see more people clicking on Monday through Friday and fewer people clicking on the weekends, we see a drop during the holidays, because that’s pretty typical people aren’t looking for business resources over the holidays.

The default settings are the blue & purple boxes (clicks and impressions), and you can click the white boxes to the right of those to get more information, both on the line graph and in the data below. (I know, they don’t look like boxes, but they are!)

The line graph can show you general trends, but where it can get really interesting is if you scroll down and look at all the different keywords that you’re showing up for:

Branded search terms

The first thing that Alyson shows up for is her name, that’s pretty common. If you have an uncommon name like Alyson does, that the first result that you’re going to see is typically your name, and then probably your business is going to show up in the top five here too.

Now take a look at Allison’s impressions: 392 people searched for “alyson stanfield,” 201 of those went to her website. Therefore, her click-through rate (CTR) = 201/392 = 55.5%.

And for Alyson’s business name, Art Biz Success, she also has a high CTR: 149/184 = 76.1%

It’s pretty typical to have a high click through rate for your name, or your business name or anything related to your brand. Because those people already know who Alyson is and what her business is. We’re almost never going to see 100% here because we have other places that we live around the internet. So maybe people went and looked her name and then found her on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn instead of going to her website. So it’s totally okay, if you have a not 100% click through rate for your branded search terms, but your brand terms should be higher than more educational posts from people who aren’t already familiar with your work.

Educational & informational search terms

The other thing that we’ll see here is that there are informational queries: 1,013 different people over this three month period looked for “exhibition proposal.” It’s a really great keyword for Alyson, because these are artists who would be looking for a term like exhibition proposal, and about 17.5% of them clicked through on her website, her blog posts specifically about how to write a proposal for an exhibition.

But that’s not the only keyword about that topic; people are also searching for terms like “how to write an exhibition proposal” and “exhibition proposal example” — sometimes keywords can be counted differently but the searchers are really using different words to search for the same topic! I call these keyword clusters: you can show up for different search terms for the same intention.

I notice when reviewing these that Alyson’s click through rate for “how to write an exhibition proposal” (33.7%) is almost twice that of “exhibition proposal” (17.5%) … so either she’s ranking better for that search term, or because she’s more specific about what she offers there that she’s giving people a guide for how to write that exhibition proposal, more people are likely to click on it.

(Typically the closer your SEO title, aka the part that shows up on the search engine results page, is to a person’s exact search, the more likely they are to click.)

Finding your exact search page rank for every keyword

So you may wonder, “Okay, but Meg, where did she show up in the search results? Is that part of it, too?” Yes, it is, well done you!

That information is the orange number in the fourth column, the Average Position. Again this is our average position that you showed up in the search results for this query over this time period … so for “exhibition proposal” Alyson is listed as 1.5, meaning that she probably is fluctuating beween the first or the second spot. But for “how to write an exhibition proposal” she’s in position 1.2, which is probably why she has twice as many click throughs.

And then for “exhibition proposal example,” Alyson has a much lower click through rate (13.2%), because she’s showing up fourth so whoever shows up in the first, second, or third spot is probably more likely to get that traffic.

Finding every keyword for a specific page

Ok, I know I want to make some adjustments to this post about exhibition proposals, but to decide what changes to make, I want to find every keyword for that page, not just the top 3 that show up in Alyson’s first 10 results.

So on the bar between the line graph and the list of keywords, I’m gonna click on the word “Pages” so I can see all the pages that have shown up in Google search results, organized by how many clicks they’ve gotten. (You can also sort this by Impressions or CTR if you’re curious, just click on the column headers and the little arrow will point down there to show which column it’s sorting by.)

In this view, I can see Alyson’s best performing pages in search results:

When we were looking at keywords, those 3 keyword related to “exhibition proposal” added up to about 400 clicks … but look at this number, we can see that that page had 2,771 clicks from Google from 324 keywords. Whoa!

Here’s how I found that number: I clicked on that page, which created a filter, so that until I remove it, all the information that I see in ALL these tabs will ONLY be for that page:

After setting up that page filter, I can click back into the Queries tab and now the ONLY keywords I’ll see here are the ones that somebody has searched and seen the exhibition proposal blog post in their search results:

And now we can see the full variations of all the keywords people are looking for, like, “art exhibition proposal,” “art gallery proposal,” “writing an exhibition proposal,” “gallery proposal,” etc. Some of these don’t even include the term exhibition or proposal but she’s still getting traffic for them!

Ok, what can I DO with this data?

If I were advising Alyson about what to do with this information, I would point out, “Okay well we’re doing really well for “how to write an exhibition proposal” but then when i see words like “example” or “template,” there’s a lower click through rate & position,” so I would advise her to update her blog post & SEO title to give specific examples and maybe even provide a free downloadable template as a lead magnet.

If you want to learn more about how to update old blog posts for SEO, pop over there to get even more tips about how to use Google Search Console data.

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