If you haven’t done Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) before, it can seem quite daunting knowing where to start. Terms like keyword density, indexing and bounce rate can all sound rather alien.
Considering Google makes up 92.06% of the search engine market share worldwide, understanding how they work and what they want is unquestionably the best place to start.
Google wants you to create an exciting, dynamic and engaging website experience for your audience. Therefore, they aim to provide you with the tools to do this. Whether you are a Google geek or SEO novice, Google has a plethora of tools available to you. In this post, I will outline 8 useful tools from Google that are essential for the SEO beginner.
Google Search processes 40,000 search queries every second and over 3.5 billion per day. It is fast, free and easy to use – hence a great place to start for any SEO novice.
By typing in your company name, products or search terms that you want to rank for, you can see how your site looks on the Search Engines Results Page (SERP). Ask yourself some simple SEO questions as you study the SERP.
- Is your title tag and meta description the correct length and structured accordingly?
- Is the keyword you are targeting present?
- Is it enticing to the customer?
You can also see where your competitors are ranking, what articles and websites are coming up for the search terms you are targeting, and what gaps there might be that you can fill with your content.
The Google Instant function of Google Search can be used as a basic keyword research tool, giving you common long-tail searches. Here, we can see some of the most popular keywords concerning women’s shoes.
The Incognito function of Google Search is also a useful tool for the SEO beginner.
Google Search works on intuitive learning and will tailor your search results based on your previous searches. It aims to provide you with the answer you require as quickly as possible. This is great for the user experience, but for someone new to SEO it distorts rankings and gives you an unrealistic picture of where you will be ranking.
Using Google Search whilst in Incognito mode will leave out any of this customised search data Google has stored, showing you where you really rank on a results page for a keyword.
Simply put, Analytics is the most popular and comprehensive website analytics tool and is essential for your digital marketing strategy. It gives you tracking on almost every bit of data concerning your website, dividing it into Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour and Conversions.
Real-Time: Monitors users currently on your site.
With Real-Time reports, you can see how many visitors are on your site, which pages they are interacting with, and website traffic metrics such as location and channel.
Real-Time reports are fantastic for monitoring campaigns that you have set up, such as email marketing, social media posts, or content you have produced. It gives you great insight into how users are reacting to your digital marketing strategy in real-time.
Audience: Demographics of your users.
The audience reports give you metrics on your website visitors. The reports tell you where they are located, what their interests are, who they are, their language and device, amongst many other aspects.
Compare this data with your desired target audience and you can understand if you are bringing the appropriate traffic to your site. If you are not bringing in high-value customers i.e. those likely to convert, then you need to analyse why and alter your digital marketing strategy accordingly. For example, if your site sells cosmetics and the majority of your traffic is men aged 65+, then you are not driving high-value customers to your site.
Acquisition: How traffic/users arrived on your site.
By analysing the basic data in these reports, you can see what your most popular channels are, whether you are relying too much on traffic from a particular channel and if you are spending money on paid search without the results.
Behaviour: What the users do when they interact with your site.
- Average time spent on page
- Page views
- Unique page views
- Bounce rate
- Behaviour flow
These reports allow you to analyse how your website’s content performs, how users move through your site and whether the users are performing as you intend. By understanding this data, you can tailor your digital marketing strategy depending on what content is successful, which pages on your site are popular and which are not.
Conversions: How users convert on your website.
- Goals: Something you have set up to measure e.g. completion of email sign up form
- Ecommerce: How well specific products sell
- Multichannel Flow: How the conversion is reached amongst other reports
- Attribution: % report of what channels contributed to the conversion
Here we can see the Goals Overview Report:
Ultimately, Google Analytics gives you lots and lots of data to help you understand your website’s performance. However, it is important to be selective, as processing too much data as a beginner can be detrimental to your website. Pick out basic metrics on where your traffic is coming from, which content is popular and how people convert on your website.
Analytics can also be integrated with other Google tools such as Google AdWords and Google Search Console to help you connect your data and construct your strategy.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a variety of tools that Google has grouped together to help you monitor website performance in the Google Search Index. Put simply Search Console’s primary function is being your go-to resource for understanding your site’s technical SEO.
A more in-depth look at Google Search Console can be found here. However, I would like to highlight a few of the useful metrics Search Console gives the SEO amateur.
- Pages Indexed: Your website won’t show up on Google’s SERPs by users unless it is indexed by Google. Search Console tells you how many of your pages are being indexed; if only 80% of your site is indexed then 20% of your site is invisible to Google.
- Pages Crawled per Day: How many pages have been crawled for the last 90 days. Similar to indexing, making sure your pages can be crawled helps Google see that your site has relevant information to users. For a deeper look at how to improve your crawl budget, my colleague Mark has written a piece you can find here.
- Crawl Errors: How many pages Google is having issues with crawling.
- Duplicate Titles and Descriptions: Duplicate content is bad for SEO. If multiple pages have duplicate content, then Google will often view those pages as the same. This will reduce your ability to rank well for your targeted keywords. Search Console checks if there are duplicate titles and descriptions on your site and compiles it into a report for you.
There are many more features and metrics to be found in Search Console such as basic search analytics, so it is definitely worth spending some time looking through them to see how Search Console can help you with your website’s SEO.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is part of Google AdWords, and it lets users research and analyse lists of keywords for use in PPC campaigns.
As part of the Google AdWords advertising platform, it is designed as a tool to improve your paid search campaigns. However, it is still a very effective tool for those carrying out SEO.
You can research the following with Google Keyword Planner:
- Keyword ideas based on a phrase or product category
- Search volume trends for keywords or groups of keywords
- Average monthly search volume for keywords
Here, I have entered the search terms “football shirts”:
We can see metrics for average monthly searches, competition and search volume trends.
By obtaining these metrics you can understand what the most popular search terms are. You can then optimise your pages and content accordingly to target these keywords, thus driving more traffic to your website.
A note of caution: Keyword Planner must be used in conjunction with other keyword research tools. Unless you meet the minimum spend threshold on your AdWords account, the search volume statistics will be throttled and shown in broad ranges such as 100k – 1M. Therefore, as the tool is so heavily orientated towards paid search, it should not be your only source of keyword data.
Some keyword research tools that I find very effective are Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Semrush’s Keyword Analytics tool. They give you monthly search volume, keyword difficulty and even suggest similar keywords you should consider targeting.
Google Alerts is an automated content detection service that helps you manage your online presence. Essentially, Google will send you daily emails alerting you if the search terms you have set are appearing online. These search terms can be anything from a person’s name to a business or product name. Google will notify you if other sites are quoting you, linking to you, or even complaining about you.
It is incredibly easy to use and takes no maintenance at all. Simply input the search terms you wish to create an alert about and Google will do the rest.
You can refine your search terms by using
- Quotes (“”): Specific words or phrases
- (Site:): To be notified of new content on specific sites of high value
- Minus Sign (-): Negative keywords
Google Alerts is particularly useful for the SEO beginner because you will be notified of brand mentions. Brand mentions are a great way to gain quick wins for link building. If your company is being mentioned online but you are not linked to, there is an opportunity for you to expand your link profile.
Contact the website, publication or person and ask them to insert a link to your site. A diverse link profile will boost the domain authority of your site and increase your search engine rankings across a broad range of terms.
Google Trends is an online search tool that shows how often specific keywords, phrases and subjects have been entered into Google and how that has changed over time.
It is easy to navigate and extremely versatile. You can compare up to five search terms at a single time with the results being displayed in Google’s “Search Volume Index” graph.
Each search term can then be filtered within four parameters:
- Type of Search: Web Search, Image Search, News Search, Google Shopping, YouTube Search
- Location: Worldwide and Specific Country Search
- Time Period: Past hour, day, 7 days, 30 days, 12 months, 5 years, and customised date ranges
- Categories: Arts and Entertainment, Autos and Vehicles, Beauty and Fitness, Books and Literature, Business and Industrial, Computers and Electronics, Finance, Food and Drink and Games
For example, if I wanted to see the interest for smart home assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, I would enter the search terms “home assistant”; Past 5 years; Computers and Electronics.
Here, we can see this very basic search demonstrates the rise in popularity of smart home assistants. From having low interest from 2013 through until 2016, there has been a steady rise in how often consumers are searching for “home assistant”. As a marketer, you could use this information to help build your strategy. If this trend continues as expected, you could invest in these products and optimise your pages to target “home assistant”.
If used correctly, Google Trends allows you to see what keywords are trending and when. This is an invaluable tool for marketers who want to understand their audience better and what products and services they are interested in. This example shows the UK interest in different sports over the past 5 years.
Here we see “football” has much higher relative search terms than the other sports, only dropping when there is a summer break. We also see that interest in “rugby” peaked during the 2015 Rugby World Cup and “tennis” peaks every year during the 2-week period of Wimbledon.
Analysing this data assists you with content ideation. For the best SEO results, you need to be producing quality content – content is still king. By having this data, you can run your campaigns based on historical trends, seasonal spikes and upcoming events.
Google Trends will show you a relative interest in your search terms over time. However, since it does not show you actual search numbers, it is best used in combination with Google’s other tools, such as Keyword Planner.
In November 2016 Google announced the mobile first index; this means that Google’s separate mobile index will become the primary source for all its search queries. Therefore, if you want to rank in SERPs it is paramount that you make sure your site is mobile-friendly. Simply input your site’s URL into the mobile-friendly test and Google will tell you if your site is mobile-friendly.
Here we can see that this page is not mobile-friendly or optimised for mobile. Google will indicate to you what needs to be fixed and additional learning resources and links to fix these issues so your site is mobile-friendly.
Google PageSpeed Insights
Google PageSpeed Insights should not be treated as the be-all and end-all to understanding your site’s page speed. However, it is useful for a beginner and still a great tool to understand the performance of your website and how to improve it.
In particular, the most recent update now shows you “real world” user speed experience. Before the update, the data Google showed you would be what the Googlebot sees when running the tool. Now it lets you view the user experience and page speed in real time.
Simply input the URL of the site you want to run the test for and Google will tell you if the site speed is slow, average or fast on both mobile and desktop. It gives you two separate metrics:
- First Contentful Paint (FCP): When a user sees a visual response from the webpage
- DCL (DOM Content Loaded): When full page has been loaded
PageSpeed Insights then offers suggestions on how you can speed up the loading time of your pages, such as reducing the size of your image files.
Another feature of the tool outlines what has already been done to optimise the URL you have entered, and this is useful when analysing a competitor’s pages. You can understand what techniques they have used to improve their page speed and assess whether you can make those changes to your site.
Google uses site speed and therefore page speed as one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. This confirms that with poor page load time, your rankings on SERPs will suffer.
In addition, page speed is crucial for user experience. Google’s global data shows that 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes more than three seconds to load. Therefore, as an SEO beginner, one of your more pressing tasks is to improve page load speed and Page Speed Insights is Google’s go-to tool for this.
As you gain experience, there are many more Google Tools that you can incorporate into your digital strategies such as Google Tag Manager, Google Optimise, Structured Data Testing Tool, Google Data Studio and Surveys. With so many tools out there, you run the risk of information overload. By starting with these trusted Google tools that are easy to use and free, you can save yourself money and more importantly time.
I hope you have found this blog useful and good luck taking your first steps into the digital marketing world!