Last Updated Oct 26, 2021
Learn How to Do a Website Audit with Search Console
Are you curious about doing your own website SEO audit but feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the tools available?
Are you aware of Google Search Console… the free resource for webmasters, provided by Google? (Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools)
Want to learn more about using Google Search Console (GSC) as a primary free SEO audit tool?
If so, then please read on. I’ve done an SEO audit on a live website using GSC below. Lots of screenshots and discussion here.
Tip: Use the yellow ‘Article Contents’ navigation box below to jump to specific sections.
Note for photographers and other visual artists: this post uses my live photography website as the example site for SEO audit review. This SEO audit is applicable to all websites, but I’ve included some topics and tips that are of specific interest for photography websites and other image-centric websites.
I also include a few affiliate links below for SEO PowerSuite software, which I personally do use and recommend. I may earn a referral commission, at no additional cost to buyers, for purchases made via these links.
Introduction to Google Search Console
GSC – Your Best Free SEO Tool
I’ve been using Google Search Console very regularly for a few years now, and I wanted to share a detailed post that walks through how I use it for doing website SEO audits. Google Search Console is one of several free Google SEO tools that I use on an almost daily basis.
There are *many* tools available to all of us for doing website SEO audits. Some are free and others are paid.
Google Search Console is the most important of the free SEO tools available.
If you only use one free tool for doing an SEO audit of your website, Google Search Console should be the one.
If you are also interested in other SEO software options, then see this post on affordable SEO tools. It highlights several good options that won’t break the bank account.
To augment your work with Search Console, also see this intro to several of the best paid SEO audit tools available. GSC is great for SEO audits, but the paid tools include important audit features that aren’t available in GSC.
Other related posts include this one on SEO reporting and this post on good SEO content optimization solutions.
Finally, this summary of SEO tools pricing may also be helpful.
Now let’s move on…
Example SEO Audit with Google Search Console
Let’s use Google Search Console to perform an example SEO audit on a real website.
For a target site, I’m going to use my own photography website and blog:
I’ll be using this site for this post and others to follow, to discuss various aspects of SEO and related tools. Sometimes I’ll refer to it simply as my ‘Photoworks’ or travel photo website.
While it is a travel photography focused website, it’s otherwise very similar to many small business websites. It’s built on WordPress, uses several common WP plugins, and has both pages and posts with on-page SEO opportunities and a variety of backlinks from other websites.
Essentially all of what I walk through below in GSC is completely applicable to a typical business website.
A Small WordPress Website with SEO Issues
David Kamm Photoworks is a WordPress website that I first built several years ago. I honestly haven’t spent much time on it recently, but I do collect analytics from it using both Google Analytics and Google Search Console. I also want to continue improving it in terms of content and SEO.
As we’ll see below, my photo website does have SEO problems and related issues to explore further. So in that sense, it’s like a lot of other websites and provides a decent teaching example as an SEO audit target.
This post also provides a working example of photography SEO for any serious photographers or other visual artists who may be interested in doing SEO for their own websites.
I include some thoughts specific to photography SEO near the end of this post.
Google Search Console and SEO Audit Tools
Google Search Console is the primary free SEO tool for analyzing the status and ranking of a website in the eyes of the Google search engine.
While it is a very Google-centric tool, many of the issues and potential improvements detected here will benefit a website’s performance and visibility with other search engines as well.
So, GSC is an excellent starting point for doing SEO analysis for your website(s).
Adding Paid SEO Tools
Here are a few that are often helpful, in addition to Google Search Console. Some of these are completely free or have a free starter option before committing to a paid version.
SEO PowerSuite (I use the Enterprise level of this tool suite for my own work as well as client SEO projects. There is a ‘free-forever’ starter version available.)
Keywords Everywhere (This is a paid-only keyword research tool now, as of October 2019.)
Ubersuggest (This formerly free resource is also now a paid tool, as of early 2020.)
Technical SEO Audit with Google Search Console
GSC Features and Core Reports
First, let’s look at the main analysis and reporting areas within Search Console.
The screenshot below captures the left-side menu. I’ll briefly describe each main area below, then we’ll dive deeper, using my website as the audit target.
This report provides a quick look at several core GSC reports, including search performance, Google index coverage, user experience, and search enhancements.
This is probably the most-used area of Google Search Console. It provides great insights into how your pages and posts are performing in Google search. Core GSC metrics here include organic search clicks and impressions, click-through rate, and ranking positions.
This feature lets you discover what Google knows about specific site URLs.
This area shows your site’s index coverage status, including any errors and warnings. Includes sections for coverage, sitemaps, and content removal requests.
How users experience your web pages has become increasingly important to Google rankings, especially with the introduction of Core Web Vitals metrics in 2021. Page Experience and Mobile Usability reports are also available here. Note: Some smaller websites may not have enough data for GSC to show anything here. This may change over time as these reports and metrics mature.
Various search enhancements may show up for your site here. In my case, I have breadcrumbs and sitelinks searchbox data to review.
Security and Manual Actions
Two small but important reports are available here.
Legacy tools and reports
This area provides links to older (‘legacy’) sections of Google Search Console that are still available today.
This area lets you see what Google knows about your internal and external (incoming) links.
There are a number of GSC settings here for your verified property regarding ownership, users and permissions, Google crawler type assigned, etc.
There is also a useful ‘crawl stats’ report that is somewhat buried here. See more on that below.
Now let’s move forward and look at each area in more detail. I’ll call out any observations for my website that I think are interesting and noteworthy in each area.
It’s a good way to take a quick look at the Performance, Coverage, Experience, and Enhancements areas.
Pay particular attention to any red ‘error’ indicators. Click on any of the blue ‘Open Report’ links to look more closely at each reporting area.
For my photo website, I’m in pretty good shape but there is a Mobile Usability error to look into.
And of course, everyone probably wants more clicks, as shown in the blue line in the Performance area.
Search Console Insights
Also, be sure to check out the Search Console Insights link at the top of the overview report.
Introduced in 2021, this is a new report with simplified and more user friendly search metrics. It’s great for more casual users of GSC data.
As I mentioned above, this area is the most used aspect of Google Search Console for SEO purposes, since it reports on ranking performance for web pages and user queries.
It also provides data filtering and date range comparison features that are really useful for more advanced SEO analysis.
Since this is a big area to review, I cover it in much more detail in this post on using Google Search Console for rank tracking. I’ve moved all the Performance reporting detail into that post.
This is an important SEO audit area since it tells you how Google is indexing your entire site.
Hopefully, you’ll see lots of green (‘Valid’) here and little or no red or orange indicators for ‘Errors’ and ‘Valid with warnings’ issues.
For my site, I see nothing out of the ordinary here. Everything looks ‘green and good’ to me.
Click on any of the rows in the Details table to learn more in each sub-area there.
Also note the almost-hidden ‘filter’ icon in the upper right of the Details area. Add any filtering settings here, if needed.
The ‘Validation’ column is useful if you’ve fixed something and asked GSC to validate your changes.
Use the GSC Sitemaps tool to review your submitted sitemap(s) status and enter a new sitemap if you don’t have one showing here.
My XML sitemap files are automatically generated and updated by the Yoast SEO plugin.
I can see here that my website is in good shape regarding sitemaps, with 94 discovered URLs and read status = Success.
The Experience reports provide data on a number of user experience metrics for your site.
As of this review, Google does not yet have enough field usage data on my site to provide the Page Experience report.
Core Web Vitals
The same is currently true for the Core Web Vitals report in Search Console.
I use a number of tools to analyze Core Web Vitals in place of GSC data. They are:
- Google’s own free PageSpeed Insights tool
- GTmetrix – another great free page speed testing resource
- SEO PowerSuite – which now includes automated Core Web Vitals testing and reporting in the WebSite Auditor tool
Google is increasingly looking at all things mobile as it decides how to rank website pages. Google’s migration to ‘mobile-first’ crawling and indexing is part of this.
Scoring well for ‘mobile friendly’ is no longer just a nice option for website owners who want to maximize their site’s SEO performance.
My photography website is doing fine overall in terms of mobile usability. Only one current error to look into.
I am not really surprised by this since my site’s theme (GeneratePress) and pagebuilder (Elementor) are both great for developing mobile-friendly, ‘responsive’ websites that adapt automatically to different screen sizes and aspect ratios.
Transient Mobile Usability Errors
For my sites, the three mobile usability errors showing above often get flagged together for a very small number of pages, and then go away together some time later without any corrective action on my part. It may be that subsequent crawls by Google no longer see the issues. So perhaps a temporary ‘false positive’ on these errors?
In any case, you’ll want to check here for any persistent mobile usability issues, fix them as needed, and request GSC to validate your fixes.
I have what Google Search Console calls ‘enhancements’ related to Breadcrumbs and Sitelinks search box visibility in search results.
In the Google search engine results page (the SERP), my pages will often have sitelinks highlighted that point to specific sections of a longer blog post. This gives me a little extra visibility and real estate in Google search, hopefully boosting CTR a bit.
Security and Manual Actions
These are two small but important reporting areas in Google Search Console. You definitely want to see ‘No issues detected’ in both of these.
If Google does flag something negative in these areas for your site, your GSC admin(s) should get an email about it. But *only* if you have GSC set up for your site!
That’s another reason why all serious websites should have Google Search Console in place and actively managed.
I can quickly see below that my site is in good shape regarding security issues and manual actions.
Legacy Tools and Reports
Over the last few years, Google has steadily migrated forward from the older Search Console reports and user interface to what we see today as shown in the examples above.
The remaining ‘legacy’ tools and reports are shown below. They include International targeting and language options, GSC Messages, URL parameters, and Web Tools, which are now mostly just related to advertising. Click on any of these to open them in new tabs.
Of these, it makes sense to check your international targeting settings to make sure those are correct.
Links (and Backlink Analysis)
Google Search Console provides tools for doing basic link analysis, including internal linking and links from other websites, also known as backlinks or external links.
GSC by itself doesn’t look at backlink quality or referring page/domain strength the way the better pro SEO tools do, but it’s still helpful for taking an initial look at your website’s link profile.
Here’s an example from my photography website. We have information in four areas: External links (‘backlinks’), Internal links, Top linking sites, and Top linking text (‘anchor text’).
The left side is all about external links. The right side is just internal link data.
To see full details in any of these areas, simply click on the ‘More >’ option at lower right corner of each list.
Social Site Backlinks
For my Photoworks website in general, the great majority of incoming links are from Pinterest.com and other country-specific Pinterest domains.
I initially shared many photos via my own Pinterest account, and they basically got picked up and ‘re-pinned’ from there.
Others have shared on Pinterest directly from my website images. I have a WordPress plugin enabled that encourages easy sharing to Pinterest and other social networks.
It’s probably obvious, but I would say that having simple and prominent sharing options in place is essential for any websites related to photography or other visual arts.
GSC Link Report Insights
Some questions you can answer with Google Search Console’s link analysis tools include:
- Which external sites are linking to my web pages, and how?
- Are there any backlinking sites that look suspicious… and should I consider disavowing these backlinks?
- Have I added enough internal links pointing to my most important pages or posts?
So, Google Search Console plays an important role in understanding your website’s ‘link profile’ and ‘backlink profile’. It should be part of your SEO audit process and toolkit.
Other Backlink Analysis Tools
Still, many SEO practitioners find it useful and even necessary to add other tools for more advanced link and backlink analysis.
Some of the more notable ones include:
The GSC settings details are worth reviewing to make sure you’ve got the correct ownership, users and permissions, etc., in place.
What is most interesting to me is that GSC has ‘hidden’ a helpful Crawl stats report inside the Settings area. In my opinion, Google should simply move this report into the Index reporting section.
Here is the Crawl stats report for my photo website.
Check for Crawl Issues
Mostly what I want to see here is regular crawl visits from Googlebot, with lots of ‘OK’ (200) responses, no server errors (500-level errors), few 404 errors (page not found), and reasonably low response times.
I want to know that Google’s various bots/crawlers are able to read the website with no major issues.
Clicking through on the ‘Host status’ line gives me more helpful info. As of this audit snapshot, my site had no major server/host access problems in the prior 90 days.
SEO Rank Tracking and Keyword Analysis
Google Search Console is sometimes overlooked and underutilized as a free rank tracking tool and keyword analysis resource.
These are major aspects of using Google Search Console. Instead of covering them within this post, I’ve moved those topics into this post on using GSC as a rank tracking tool.
Please check it out for much more in that area.
Other SEO Rank Tracking Software
I also use Rank Tracker from SEO PowerSuite as an SEO rank tracking and keyword research tool. It’s a good complement to the SEO audit capabilities of Google Search Console.
I’ve paid for the enterprise version of SEO PowerSuite (all modules) and I do use them regularly for my own sites and for client SEO work.
Using Google Analytics and Search Console Together
Google Analytics with Google Search Console: Better Together
Most people who use Google Search Console probably also use Google Analytics on a regular basis.
The two tools should be connected in order to generate the most comprehensive SEO insights. These include much better organic keyword analysis and how search users interact with the website beyond the initial click and landing page.
The standard Google Analytics report below shows website user activity broken down into the default channel grouping. This includes organic search, social, direct, and referral channels.
We can see here that organic search activity is driving most of the traffic to my travel photography website. Next in line is the social channel, dominated in this case by traffic from different Pinterest domains.
So, the Google Analytics report below shows us how organic search performs as a traffic generator, relative to other standard traffic sources.
The next screenshot shows search keyword data provided by clicking through on the organic search line in the Default Channel Grouping above.
As usual in this Google Analytics report, the vast majority of keywords fall into the familiar ‘(not provided)’ line. One of the reasons for connecting Google Analytics and Google Search Console is to reveal more of these actual keywords and connect them with other useful GA metrics.
As we can see above, a few other keywords (or keyphrases) may be visible here, in addition to the (not provided) line.
To answer the question in keyword line 4 above: Yes, there definitely *are* iguanas in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. Lots of them!
Note: The two standard Google Analytics reports above do not require any connection to Google Search Console. That comes next.
Google Search Console Data in Google Analytics
The screenshot below shows a report made possible by connecting Google Analytics with Google Search Console.
In this case, we see landing page data along with other standard metrics pulled in from Google Search Console: impressions, clicks, CTR, and average position.
Next to these GSC metrics are other standard Google Analytics metrics: sessions, bounce rate, pages per session, etc. Conversion metrics are also included to the right of the Behavior metrics.
These may be interesting if specific conversion goals have been established in Google Analytics. (Note that I have not done this yet for my Photoworks site.)
What is interesting here is that the sessions metric (139) looks OK, but the impressions and clicks metrics do not look correct. It makes no sense to me that these landing pages would show no impressions or clicks while still showing positive sessions numbers.
This is something I will need to look into further. It appears I may have some kind of data integrity or data connection issue to sort out here.
This data integrity issue appears again in the screenshot below, where we see only three impressions showing in the Google Search Console data. At least the number of impressions (3) shown below is consistent with the earlier report.
To debug this issue, I will first go back into Google Search Console for my Photoworks site and see what clues I can find there.
It turns out that my Google Analytics for this site was still connected to the http version of my Photoworks website. That’s why we see the very low numbers for impressions, etc., recorded in Google Search Console. GSC is simply no longer collecting any search metrics for my non-https website.
So, I deleted that original GA-GSC association and replaced it with a GA association to the https version of my site. I had already established the https property in Google Search Console in April 2018, when I cut the Photoworks website over to https. But I had apparently forgotten to update this association.
(That original problem from 2018 has been resolved for a few years now.)
To check your own Google Analytics connection to a web property in Search Console:
Go to Admin >> Property Settings >> Search Console in GA, then verify the settings there or update the association, if needed.
This section has offered a quick look at how Google Search Console integrates with Google Analytics, although with some data issues that I cleared up.
When things are working correctly here, you will be able to view the search performance metrics available in Google Search Console in the context of useful Google Analytics visitor metrics.
Photography SEO Considerations
SEO Tips for Image-Heavy Websites
Since I’m using a photography-centric website as the test site for this post, I want to offer a few observations that may be helpful for other photographers and visual artists who use websites to promote their works and services.
These tips may be helpful for many business-focused websites as well.
Thin Pages with Limited Text
Photography websites and other visual arts sites may often have pages that are heavy on visual content but light on text. They may only have brief gallery introductions, then image titles and (maybe) image captions.
When Google crawls and ranks these pages, Google may view them as ‘thin-content’ pages and demote them accordingly as web results. Google may index and rank the images themselves quite differently under ‘image’ results (vs. web results). Be sure to check your Search Console performance reports for image results as well as web results.
To counter the thin-content issue for website pages, visual artists should add further descriptive text that weaves in appropriate and sufficient main keywords, keyword variants, long-tail keywords, and latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords.
For WordPress users, the Yoast SEO plugin will be a big help here.
The LSI Keyword Generator may also be very helpful.
Optimize the Main Image SEO Elements
Like any other website owner with serious SEO intentions, photographers and visual artists should be certain to maximize the easy opportunities for SEO improvements.
These include Title and Meta Description settings for each page and post, and the metadata that should always be added to each image on the page or inside a gallery… most notably the image alt text.
Note: The page or post title is separate from any image titles.
Also, the image filenames should be keyword targeted. This is not a huge SEO factor for Google, but can certainly help support other SEO elements.
Part of my personal SEO workflow for WordPress is to change the names of image files *before* I upload them to the WordPress media library.
From: img3761.jpg (or the filename assigned by the camera)
I often retain a numeric value in image filenames to help me quickly identify the original source image as numbered by my DSLR camera or smartphone.
Image Sizing and Compression
Using correct image sizes and compression are important for most websites, and even more so for image-centric photography and visual arts websites.
These sites often have image-heavy pages, with visual content dominating the task of rendering the full page in the browser. We need to pay attention to pixel sizes (height and width), image file sizing (KB), etc.
For page speed reasons, including positive user experience and SEO rankings, it’s important for these highly visual sites to leverage proper image sizing and effective compression that reduces page loading times while still keeping image quality acceptable.
My image compression tool of choice is ShortPixel. I can easily compress single images on-the-fly as needed, or bulk optimize them in my WordPress Media Library using a ShortPixel API key.
ShortPixel’s ‘Glossy’ optimization setting is ideal for high-quality photos. I get very good compression ratios without sacrificing visible image quality.
Images for Social Sharing
Also, for sharing images to social photo sites like Flickr, 500px, etc., be sure to maintain the largest and best quality image on your own website. Only post or share smaller and lower quality images to social sites.
Why? Because this helps Google determine that your hosted image, not a shared version of it, should be ranked higher in Google image searches.
Is your photography website or other visual arts website mobile friendly?
Are you *sure* it is? Do you have any Mobile Usability issues flagged in Google Search Console?
(See the GSC Mobile Usability discussion further above.)
How does it look on the most popular iPhones and Android phones?
Do your image galleries perform well on mobile phones and tablets, without major formatting or display issues?
Do your social sharing features still work great for mobile users?
Have you tested your website’s main pages and posts using several of the free mobile-friendly test tools from Google and others?
Google is very focused on the mobile experience these days, for obvious reasons. They include mobile-friendliness factors in their search ranking algorithm, so we want to pay attention to this area as well.
With better SEO comes better search visibility and improved website visitor traffic. That’s the good news and the main objective of this exercise, of course.
But… with increased image visibility comes the much higher odds that some of your hard work will get ‘ripped off’ for use elsewhere.
I’ve seen many of my images get re-used on other personal blogs. Most don’t ask my permission, while a few do. Some don’t ask permission but then voluntarily include a link back to my website.
I don’t spend much time trying to track all of this down and enforce copyright issues. But, if I ever find a *commercial* entity trying to make money off of my images, then that may change quickly!
For professional photographers, professional visual artists, and others who make a living off their visual works online, there are a couple of good ‘reverse image search’ tools that may be very helpful.
Of course, you can always slap a prominent ‘© Copyright Jane Smith, 20xx’ watermark across your images online. The pros and cons of this approach have been well covered in various photography forums.
There’s no single simple answer or approach when it comes to image copyright protection.
SEO Audits with GSC - Conclusion and Next Steps
This post provided a basic introduction and walk-through for conducting an SEO audit using Google Search Console. I hope it has been helpful for you.
Secondarily, I hope that some serious photographers and visual artists find this post and learn something useful from it for doing image-centric SEO.
Google Search Console is Your Best Free SEO Audit Tool
As I mentioned in the introduction, I view Google Search Console as the one free SEO tool that all serious webmasters and content marketers should become really good at using.
It is great for SEO audit purposes, as used above. It’s very helpful for doing website health checkups as well.
There are many other tools available for SEO audits. Some are free, but many carry an ongoing cost commitment. Google Search Console is the first free one to get started with.
More SEO Insights to Come
I continue to learn more about SEO and SEO audits as I work with Google Search Console on my iBeam and David Kamm Photoworks websites.
I will continue to use my Photoworks site as a ‘learning lab’ and teaching tool as I move forward in this area.
Comments and Feedback
I’ll wrap up here with just a few questions for you.
- Was this information helpful?
- What else would you like to know about Google Search Console and SEO?
- What other SEO tools do you use for SEO audits and other SEO tasks?
- If you’re a photographer or other visual artist with a website, how do you currently handle SEO?
Add your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing with your social networks, too.