So, you’ve launched a website and want to check its Google position. Congrats! It’s like having a newborn – you are excited but daunted by all the tasks you must do to keep it alive and thriving. Been there, done that – we know what it is like.
This article provides an overview of how to make the best of the data from Google’s powerful and free tools available to all website owners.
Why organic rankings?
Shouldn’t I just pay for some ads to float it to the top as soon as possible?
This should be only a short-term plan because ads can get expensive quickly. In the long term, businesses are better off focusing on SEO. SEO is more sustainable and affordable than ads. Authoritativeness and trustworthiness are SEO’s added values.
How does Google rank my website?
Imagine a turbo-charged omniscient librarian with millions of robotic minions that track what you are doing every second. That is the scary role Google plays in our online universe.
Once you claim your spot in this universe, i.e., creating a website, your spot is targeted by Googlebots. Googlebots are web crawlers that crawl around your website, read everything that can be read, and report to the omniscient librarian – Google. Then, Google logs it into the index. If your website ticks all the boxes, it will rise in organic ranking.
What does it mean to tick all the boxes?
To put it simply, the criteria include a multitude of qualities grouped into two main categories:
- Off-page SEO: what people can’t see but googlebots can, telling them how your website is attractive.
- On-page SEO: what people can see, including content, user experience, design, etc.
Organic ranking optimization involves doing both off-page and on-page SEO diligently. Google tools are best for off-page SEO but also affect certain on-page decisions, such as the typeface and image sizes.
Though sometimes unreliable, googlebots are the reason you get seen and ranked. Making Google see your website for what it is (not some misunderstood version) is crucial to high rankings.
This article is all about how to work well with Google to improve your web page rankings. Higher rankings mean more visitors.
Higher rankings give you more online visibility. It means more people see your pages when they search; when they see them, they may click. The result is potentially more clicks to the websites, meaning more visitors.
A lot of trust can be put into Google’s homegrown tools because what is better to rank in Google than using its tools to do it?
Let’s lay a firm foundation for your website with the following tools:
- Google Business Profile
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
- Google Tag Manager
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Looker Studio
We go through each of the tools below.
Google Business Profile (GBP)
Are you a business with a physical address? Are you a restaurant, a retailer, or a local service provider?
If yes, your GBP (formerly Google My Business) helps people find you on Google Maps.
Benefits of having a Google Business Profile
Most of us have looked up a place on Google Maps for directions. Google Maps is also where you can access your GBP.
Make sure your profile has accurate and updated information about your business. It will help you prevent several problems, such as:
- Correct address: people do not get lost looking for you. They can better navigate traffic and find parking spaces. Out-of-town visitors can also bookmark you for trip planning. Especially when your location is in an alley or on a small road.
- Correct business name: people do not mistake you for someone else, especially if you have multiple branches or copycats.
- Correct opening hours: people know when to visit. Especially useful during festive seasons – let customers know you are open and their only choice.
- Correct phone number: people can reach you right where they find you on the map. They do not have to look around for ways to contact you.
- Correct web address: People can get authoritative information about your business, not from social media or word of mouth.
- Photos: people can get a feel of who you are. Many decide to visit just by the appealing photos of the vibe and the menu.
- Reviews: another strong factor that attracts customers. You can respond to reviews so customers know you are responsive and earnest for improvement.
Your business information in GBP should be updated regularly, as Google recommends. Publish on your GBP once per week, such as uploading new photos to The Latest section. To benefit from an online visibility boost, update daily.
On the other hand, a lack of updates over a long time may get you labeled as ‘Permanently closed’.
Google Search Console (GSC)
Use this tool as soon as your website is live. It is a great assistant for monitoring your site’s overall health.
Check with it regularly. You should check it daily when doing major SEO technical work. Meanwhile, emails about unusual events will be sent to you.
Why do we have to do this?
The non-technical answer:
Google is like a VIP guest with connections to over a billion users per month, and Google is willing to introduce you when they think you deserve it.
Getting your website onto GSC is like getting your foot in the door. For all the trouble of doing the tasks below, you gain crucial information about your website that only Google has and get in the loop with a global network. These are the tasks that will contribute to better organic rankings:
– Verify site ownership
– Submit sitemap
– Analyze Core Web Vitals
– Evaluate mobile friendliness
– Check online enhancements (logos, breadcrumbs, FAQs, etc.)
– Disavow toxic backlinks.
The technical answer:
Google web crawlers are not perfect – they often miss or misread websites. GSC makes up for that. You should proactively ensure Google indexes your fantastic website the way it deserves.
Here’s what to do with GSC for a new website.
Verify site ownership
GSC calls your website ‘property’. If you have multiple websites, you can add them as ‘properties’ to the same GSC account.
Think of GSC as the figurative government agency that keeps your house deeds. Only homeowners have the deeds. Likewise, you have to verify your site ownership with GSC to access information about your site that only site owners are allowed to see. You can only see information about places you own.
For competitor analysis, you will need paid tools like Ahrefs of SEMRush.
As an owner, you can make life-or-death decisions that affect your site’s fortune on Google. This authority will enable you to influence your organic rankings.
– Verify your ownership using different methods. It is to ensure your properties are indeed yours.
– Never have only one verified site owner to avoid losing that single access.
Is the effort worth it? Totally, since you will have access to unique information about your site, claiming full authority over how your site appears in Google.
Submit a sitemap
Whether your website is small or big, a sitemap is always recommended.
A prominent website with over 500+ pages and rich media content would be a symbolic mansion in the world of websites. For Google to navigate your site well, you need to supply a sitemap.
See the specific reasons for a sitemap.
URL Inspection Tool (a.k.a. Index Checker Tool)
It is a valuable tool to check if Google indexes your web pages accurately. Using the URL Inspection Tool is like looking into a Google mirror version of your pages. If the web pages are not indexed, they will not appear on SERPs.
Besides, the tool provides extra information about how your web pages look on Google SERPs, such as its structured data or video appearance.
Optimize your website for mobile
Use the Mobile Usability Report to know how mobile-friendly your web pages are.
Why is being mobile-friendly important?
There are two main ways to access your website:
– mobile (phones, tablets)
– desktop (computer, laptop)
Websites were initially built to be desktop-friendly, but to adapt to changing times; they were optimized to be mobile-friendly and, later on, mobile-first. Now, a higher calling is asked: they should be mobile-only.
Why mobile-only? Two main considerations:
– It is believed Google will not see any content appearing only on the desktop version (although marketers are not sure about this)
– The number of mobile users is accelerating faster than desktop users.
It is best to develop the mobile version of your website first and then create the desktop version. It ensures the latter does not have ‘desktop-specific’ content that search engines may miss.
Doing so, your website should have these qualities:
– It loads fast and beautifully on mobile devices.
– Content fits into the small mobile screens and works as designed.
Do implement changes such as:
– Texts and layouts are adjustable to smaller screens, but font size must be at least 16 pixels.
– Less typing, more tapping.
– Hamburger-styled navigational menus suitable for mobile devices.
– Enough space between the clickable areas.
– No content that is only visible on desktop and not on mobile.
Core Web Vitals (CWV)
These metrics indicate the performance of all indexable URLs on your website, sorted into desktop and mobile versions. Some of the CWVs include:
– Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
– First Input Delay (FID)
– Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
The tool reports if your URLs need improvements or not. When they do, GSC suggests a few modifications. Checking the CWV after major website fixes have been made is helpful.
Note that a URL that works fine for desktops may need to improve for mobile.
Google Analytics (GA)
Google Analytics Universal stopped operating on July 1st, 2023. All GA users must switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a new way to collect and analyze website data.
What is it?
Google’s data collection and reports on your website’s users. The main GA report provides data on the following:
– Visitors’ engagement or behaviors (most important)
– Website audience demographics
– Sources of website traffic
– Visitors’ devices
What is it for?
It collects and analyzes your visitors’ data so you know what to improve to reach the coveted top 10 positions.
Who is it for?
Website owners who want to measure and analyze website data to create SEO strategies.
Moreover, online ad campaigns benefit a great deal from Google Analytics. It is the best way to track their progress, such as traffic volume from all advertising sources. It enables us to follow up on the online users’ journey flow until completion, such as making a purchase.
Is GA easy to use?
It takes a bit of a learning curve for non-techies, but Google has free online courses for beginners to pros.
You also have to get comfortable with telling stories from data.
How to set it up?
- Create a GA account
- Manually attach the GA trackers to your website, if you can code or have a developer OR
- Use Google Tag Manager to install GA if you need more confidence about coding.
How does it work?
The tracking code that you attach to your web pages will collect info on your visitors, including:
– On what browser?
– Mobile or desktop?
– Their language
– Their device’s operating system
– Where they come from: via search, social media, links, etc.
– Their locations: countries, regions
Why do we need Google Analytics?
The website traffic reports offer insights into website performance. The insights help you improve the user experience on your website, aiming to speak to the hearts and minds of users at every point in their journey with you.
Google Analytics is good enough for simple tracking. For more sophisticated monitoring, use Google Tag Manager.
Google Tag Manager (GTM)
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that helps website owners and marketers install trackers anywhere on a website. It can help you install Google Analytics.
These trackers will be recorded and reported on Google Analytics. By doing so, you can visualize data on website activities.
We can track absolutely anything with Google Tag Manager:
- A scroll
- A video interaction
- A contact form
- A click on a specific button from a specific page
Why do we have to track with GTM?
Marketers running campaigns want to know how much traffic is brought to the website by the ads they run. For example, if we run a Google ads search (keywords) so people can click on our landing page URL, we want to track how those users interact with our website:
– Do they click on the ‘Sign Up’ button?
– Do they scroll down and then leave the page?
– Do they use the CTA at the top of the page or the one in the middle, next to an intro video?
Google Tag Manager allows us to track all of this. It is a precious tool.
Common terms in GTM
These are the code snippets to be placed on each web page, allowing you to add, delete, or modify the tags on those pages. It saves you from manually editing the page codes.
When users visit your site, container snippets trigger the tags that will send customized user data to Tag Manager. You can customize which data you want to gather.
One container per website domain per account, typically.
The container includes the tags and triggers, determining when the tag ‘fires’ or collects data.
Website activities to be measured and collected by GTM.
The particular user event that would trigger your tag to ‘fire’ or collect certain specified data. For example, you can set up a trigger for when a customer makes a successful purchase from your site.
Understanding these terms help you customize your tags to track what you want them to do.
See a demo on how to set up your first tag.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is a free tool to do keyword research and improve our rankings for them.
It can be accessed from your Google Ads Manager with a simple Gmail account. In Google Ads Manager, go to Tools > Planning < Keyword Planner.
This tool helps you identify the best keyword opportunities for your website:
- Type any keyword
- Set your language and country
- See the monthly search volume the keyword gets (how many people search for the keyword in a month). The tool also provides variations of the keyword.
- Also, check other keyword metrics: competition, ad costs, impression, etc.
Google Keyword Planner helps marketers choose the keywords to optimize and rank. Ideally, we aim for keywords with:
- High search volume
- Low competitiveness
- High relevance
- High search intent
The perfect combination does not exist. Your best choices should meet 3 out of 4 criteria.
To identify the best keywords to rank for, you can also use other tools:
- Google Search
- People Also Search feature on Google Search
These tools are the best alternatives when we need access to paid tools like Ahrefs or Semrush.
Google Looker Studio
Use this visualization tool to build dashboards of ranking positions. A dashboard shows your keywords, URLs, and current and previous Google positions. It also analyzes this data, enabling you to optimize better.
Note that the Looker Studio only reports the ranking data of your website URLS and keywords from Google; it does not help them rank better.
Looker Studio is an excellent help in showcasing visualized data of online ad campaigns. Sourcing the data directly from the ad accounts on Google, Facebook, and other platforms, allows marketers to create visual displays to share with their stakeholders.
Looker Studio is a solution to several problems that campaign managers face. Ad accounts tend to get cluttered, making it hard to find specific information. In addition, some ad accounts have just one type of access – editing. So those who only need to view can also edit, exposing the campaign to the risk of getting modified by mistake.
In short, Looker Studio’s main advantage is its beautiful visuals – we can control what we share, keeping the campaign intact while displaying its evolution in accessible data visualization.
Make the best of Google tools for a decent SEO strategy
Free tools can be something other than basic. The six Google tools above are feature-rich, solid, and accessible for beginners. With them, you can get started immediately by tracking your website data. The relatively reliable data from these tools can inform a decent SEO strategy that improves your organic rankings.