The Google Search team have been busy making big changes to Google Search Console (GSC), an essential free tool for webmasters to monitor how their website is performing within Google Search. An essential part of any SEO toolkit, Google had began rolling out a brand new version of Search Console in the past few weeks. It should now be live for everyone, although it’s still very much in Beta. As part of our SEO services for hotels, we at Travel Tripper use Google Search Console extensively, so we wanted to share our findings on what has changed.
A work in progress
So far, it seems best to consider this as a completely revamped version of GSC—there’s a range of new insightful features that have been announced, but as of writing there’s not a whole lot of new features publicly available.
Google said that the old version of GSC will remain live (which you can find via this link) and should be used in tandem with the newer version, while they continue to roll out new features. In short, the newest version isn’t the final product, and the old version will still be required for the bulk of SEO work.
John Mueller, Webmaster Trends analyst at Google is very publicly looking to SEO specialists to provide feedback and assistance to their team with regard how they use GSC currently, and what additional features they’d like to see. To us (at least on the surface) Google appear willing to take direct feedback from their users and listen to their suggestions, so this “more open” relationship with the webmaster community may indicate that the latest version will be more flexible in its offering.
What would you like to see changed or different in a manual actions report in the new Search Console? What would make it easier for you to spot & fix issues there? https://t.co/mbaXIceXeR
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) February 14, 2018
The Index Coverage Report
The new Index coverage report is so far receiving rave reviews from SEO experts, and from the Google Search community forums it’s clear that this was a feature many webmasters had been requesting for a while. The new Index coverage report now shows much more specific data regarding the index status of your website’s pages. Whereas the old version of GSC would simply tell you when crawl errors occurred and on which pages (when Google’s search crawler couldn’t successfully crawl a page), the new version gives far more insight into why, whether it was due to the page being redirected elsewhere, a 404 page error, soft-404s, the existence of “noindex” tags, and so on.
On top of this new feature, it now seems that Google is sending out more Search Console alerts via email, informing webmasters of potential issues as they’re detected. This is again hugely useful as it allows you to keep on top of issues before they start negatively impacting search performance for your hotel.
For SEO specialists and webmasters in general, having this level of insight really helps to pinpoint any technical issues which may be hindering your website’s organic search performance. With the addition of these features in the Index coverage report, Google’s really making things much simpler for webmasters to fix any problems—which ultimately benefits Google as they get a better understanding of the website, hopefully leading to better search results.
Search performance data
The other outstanding feature in the new version of Search Console, and one that is sure to delight many SEO marketers (and probably hoteliers too!) is the ability to obtain search performance data for the past 16 months. This is a huge increase on the previous limit that had been set in GSC of 90 days. Unless you were regularly backing-up data from GSC, this meant that you only had reliable organic search performance data for 3 months. Pushing this to 16 months means it’s now much easier to check your website’s historic organic search performance, hopefully leading to more insightful data analysis and planning.
For hotels in particular this piece of news is of huge importance. In an industry where organic search traffic is so dependent upon seasonality, finally there’s now an easy way to review organic search traffic year over year.
As of now this 16-month data period is only visible within Search Console, but it’s likely that soon this data will also be visible within Google Analytics, should you have the two Google products linked. This will enable far easier reporting for SEO specialists, and it would also make things much easier for any PPC specialists too. Having more organic search data, specifically the actual search queries used to find the hotel’s website, is going to be really insightful across the board.
Sitemaps in the new Search Console
The last feature worth making note of is the new Sitemap section. It’s clear that Google is putting more emphasis on XML sitemaps, which are files specifically created for search engines that list all the content on a site that you want indexed, including pages, blog posts, images and video.
Although Google often denies that sitemaps directly help with search rankings, they definitely do help to speed up the indexing of your content within Google. They can also be a very helpful diagnosis tool, helping to understand why particular sitemap content may not get indexed correctly.
Within the new Sitemap section the options are pretty much the same as with the older version of GSC, except for now you have more insight into indexing problems, as mentioned earlier in this piece. Now it seems that by breaking up your XML sitemaps by specific content, creating a Parent > Child format, you may find it easier to manage the indexing of your website content.
For a hotel’s website this could mean creating an XML sitemap for your main content (key pages like the homepage, rooms and offers pages) and then having child-sitemaps for specific types of content, such as different room types, attraction pages, offers pages, blog posts, and so on, with a structure like below:
You may also want to split up sitemaps by language, an important additional step if you’re looking to optimise your hotel for international search markets.
The verdict on the new Google Search Console
To conclude, although as of writing there aren’t a huge amount of new features available within the latest version of Google Search Console, it’s clear that the new features which have been unveiled are of great value to SEO marketers and webmasters. Combined with the additional 16 months historic search data, this makes the newest version already a vital asset, although you must still continue using the old version of Search Console, at least in the meanwhile.
For hotels it’s essential that their digital marketing team or agency keep on top of the new features and tools available within Search Console, to ensure they’re staying ahead of the game when it comes to finding additional SEO opportunities, which can help to drive direct bookings through their hotel’s website.