In October 2011, Google made a significant change that affected search engine optimization. To improve security, Google updated its SSL and encrypted search queries. The result since then is much less information about the searcher's organic keywords, the blue links they clicked on and the subsequent landing pages. In analyzes, the keyword indicated "(not included)."
Search Optimizer broke out. How can we know which keywords to focus on? What keywords made a profit? Our anger turned to conspiracy because Google transmitted similar keyword data to advertisers, suggesting that if you want data, you have to buy Google ads.
How can we know which keywords to focus on?
The months after that update were tough. SEO needed to explain to its managers and clients why new organic search campaigns took longer because the targeted keywords were not available. Instead, we looked at ranking data collected by third-party tools – which Google, by the way, has always discouraged because of the scraping methods used to get this information – and organic traffic and conversion metrics. We had to solve the correlation between the missing intermediate component: the keywords that generated traffic and conversions.
But several years ago, Google's webmaster tools (now called Search Console) began to add results reports – giving search optimizers some organic data. Later the reports became more robust. Then the proportion of keyword data increased. Google even created an API to get hundreds of thousands of keyword statistics. (I addressed this API in a Moz post.)
The search console now has more than enough data to return us to the heyday of natural keyword data. But many companies are not aware of it. I use the Search Console report frequently, more than Google Analytics and my rank tracker.
I explain the data from Search Console in this article.
Google Search Console is a free portal to help webmasters understand how their sites appear on Google.com. (If you are not part of Search Console, follow Google's instructions for creating and verifying.)
To the left of your Search Console account are links to reports and tools, including sitemap, mobile usability and more. But for this post, click on "Overview" (or for some users, "Performance"), which produces a report called "Performance."
Once there, click "Open Report" for "Search Results" for more information.
By clicking on the colored boxes you can add layers of data to this report.
Clicking on the date range can also provide more analysis data – as shown in the following video.
To dig even further, click on the sub-tabs for "Questions", "Pages", "Countries" and so on.
The resulting report is extremely powerful. By first selecting the page to be reviewed, you can then click on "Questions" and see the keywords that drive traffic to it. In addition, you can see the average ranking position, the clicks that Google recorded, the impressions on your page and the clickthrough rate. And data can be exported.
When you focus on specific products or content pages, the Search Results "Performance" report is very useful. Some of the keywords you are targeting. But others that you have probably never heard of or know that you rank for.
You can find a term with high visibility, high conversion rate and an average rank of 15. This is page 2 of Google search results. Now, with this insight, you can start pushing to page 1 with some targeted optimization.
Conversely, you may find that your target keywords rank well but have low clicks. You can improve clicks by updating your title tags and meta descriptions to stand more on the results page.
This report is one of my favorite sources for keyword research. Dig deep to find previously unknown keywords. Export data and attach with estimated search volume (which you can get from Keyword Planner, Ahrefs and other SEO tools). You can see the large volumes that Google associates with your site. Now it's time to target them with organic search campaigns.
The good old days
I have been doing SEO since the 1990s. I have used many related tools. No one is as useful as this free Search Console report. Take a few minutes to get used to the interface. Our data is back, as in the old days.