Help the Podcast
Hey folks, Scott Austin here.
Today, I'm going to open this podcast episode a little differently. And that is by reading a review that the podcast recently got from Dan. Here's what Dan has to say about the podcast:
"The Shopify Solutions Podcast is simply the best of its kind.
On my perspective, I own an online shop, TheGameSteward.com, and I’ve listened to a lot of industry podcasts looking for valuable insights for making my business successful. I have not (at least to date) ever engaged Scott’s services.
Every episode of The Shopify Solutions Podcast contains not just one, but multiple valuable insights into creating a successful online shop.
The episodes are also wonderfully free of jargon and opaque self-promotion. Scott Austin let’s his demonstrable expertise and valuable insights speak to what he can do for you. That is a perfect calling card to those who can recognize its value.
If any other Shopify service agencies or would be industry podcasters are reading this, listen carefully to what Scott Austin has done here."
So two things here. First, thank you Dan for your very kind words. They are much appreciated. Second, if you have not left a review of the podcast, please do where ever you get your podcasts from. It helps this podcast get found by others that could also benefit from the content and I enjoy hearing your feedback.
Ok, on to our topic this week. And that is Google Search Console. I'll walk you through getting it set-up and how to use it to troubleshoot your site. Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google to help you get the most from Google SEO. This service has existed for quite a while but used to be called Webmaster Tools. Today's Search Console is an essential, though optional, tool in understanding your store's relationship with the Google index. So, even though its optional, here's why I recommend you use Google Search Console:
- Let Google know that your site exists. To get your site indexed in Google, Google needs to know that your site exists. Search Console is the quickest and most direct way for you to establish and maintain the connection between Google and your store.
- Get useful organic search data in Google Analytics. Google Analytics knows all sorts of useful information on how visitors are using your store. By connecting Search Console to Google Analytics, Analytics will get a new feed of data that would otherwise be unavailable. And that data is how your site fares on Google search. What pages gets ranked for which keywords, position in the results, and click-through data. All of this helps make you much smarter in your SEO efforts.
- Ensuring that your site is optimized for Google organic search. Search console provides a number of dashboards and reports that will help you optimize your store's indexing into Google Search.
- Getting notified when there are new issues on your site that can affect SEO. Search Console will proactively message you when new issues arise so can take action on resolving them.
As with anything, there's a set-up process for Search Console. It doesn't take a ton of work, but each of the steps need to be done to correctly to ensure your store gets the most out of SEO. Here's how to get setup for a Shopify store.
- To get started, you'll need to create an account. For whatever reason, Google requires a separate account set-up process for Search Console, Google Analytics and Adwords. But be sure to use the same Google account as used for Google Analytics and Adwords so that they can be connected. You can create an account at search.google.com. One user account can be connected to multiple of what Google calls properties. Think of properties as different websites or URLs. SpacelySprockets.com and CogswellsCogs.com would be different properties. And you'll need Admin access to both Search Console and Google Analytics.
Now for the next steps, we'll need to create properties in Search Console for our store and any other sites we want to manage. So let me explain the two different types of properties in Search Console:
- The first is a Domain listing. This will track all instances and usages of your domain. For example, for my agency, the domain would be JadePuma.com.
- The second is a URL prefix. This is for a specific URL under the Domain. It will include things like https: and www. One domain listing can have many URL listings.
- Step 2 of our setup is to create a domain listing. You'll need to verify with Google that you own this domain. And the only way that verification is allowed for a domain is through a DNS entry. And this is the most technical step of the setup process which is why some stores will skip this step and go straight to creating URL listings. But verifying through DNS is well worth the effort and will make things much easier downstream. Now creating a DNS entry is not that difficult and Google provides lots of documentation on how to do this. And if you are using one of the top domain registrars like GoDaddy, then the process is even easier as Google as simplified the process with those providers.
- Create any needed URL listings. You'll want to create a Search Console for every URL used by your Shopify store and any other sites you may have operating under the domain. And only a URL listing can be connected to a Google Analytics account.
- To start create properties for all URLs used for Shopify. If you are doing URL redirection in Shopify to a main domain, then only that URL needs to be added. For my agency, I added https://jadepuma.com. If you are not doing URL redirection in Shopify, than you need to add all domains that the store resolves to. That may include various URLs for supporting different country languages and currencies. Now Google recommends that create at least 4 URL listings for a site. That would be both the http and https versions. And both the will www and not with www subdomains. But this feels like dated advice these days. I recommend that you just add the actual URLs that your store is resolving to.
- Then, add any URLs under your domain for non-Shopify sites for things like blogs, forums and other services. Many Shopify stores don't operate anything under their domain outside of their Shopify store, so they'll be able to skip this step.
- Submit your store's Site Map. Shopify creates a sitemap for all Shopify stores. In fact, Shopify makes multiple sitemaps, but you'll only need to add the main sitemap. The filename for the sitemap is sitemap.xml and it's in the root of the store. So the full URL for my agency's sitemap is https://jadepuma.com/sitemap.xml. To add that to Search Console, go to the appropriate URL listing for your store. In the left menu, there's a link for Sitemaps. Just add sitemap.xml.
- Connect to Google Analytics. This is best done by going to Google Analytics and doing the setup from there. If you get stuck, I've got a video on how to do it that I'll link to in the show notes. Also remember, that Google Analytics can only link to a URL property in Search Console. It can't connect to a domain property.
So, you now have Search Console up and running. It should be connected to your Shopify store and Google Analytics. It will take some time for Google to crawl your site and index your pages. You can track the progress of that in Search Console. But that can happen over weeks, so it's not too exciting to watch in real-time.
The first report you'll want to look at is Coverage, which you can access in the left navigation. The Coverage report shows you the status of page indexing of your store in Google. You want Google to find every page in your Shopify store. And here, page means the many different Shopify types of products, collections, articles and Shopify pages.
In the Coverage report, you'll usually see a large number of excluded pages. It's typical that this Excluded number is much larger than the Valid pages count. This is normal and the way a Shopify store should behave. Here's why. Let's look at a product in your store. Let's say the product title is Product A and that the product URL is https://acme.com/products/product-a. Let's also assume that product is a part of three different collections. So, Shopify will make three more URLs for that product. The first one will go like this https://acme.com/collections/collection-1/products/product-a. So your store shows the same product under 4 separate URLs. We only want Google to index one of these four URLs so we are not competing against ourselves. So Shopify, well technically your theme, added some code to each of the 4 product URLs. The code tells Google which of the 4 URLs to use as the canonical URL that Google should index. So it's usually OK if your coverage report has far more Excluded pages than Valid pages.
Now that Search Console is setup and showing you the status of indexing of the store, the next use of the service is in identifying and resolving issues. What I'm going to do now is walk through the main dashboards and reports in Search Console. I'll let you know the common warnings that I see with my client's accounts and let you know how I respond to each. Now, as you've heard me say repeatedly, I only use the Turbo and Flex themes by Out of the Sandbox. And both of these themes have really good structured data which is what Google is looking for when indexing. So, if you are using a lower quality theme, you may have a completely different set of warnings.
Warnings come in two different classes, Errors, which get shown as red, and Valid with warnings, which get shown as yellow. In general, Yellow warnings don't need to be resolved while Red errors do. But that's just a general guideline.
Here are common errors for the Coverage report
- Submitted URL not found (404)
- Go ahead and check this using the Console's tools. But its usually not much of a problem. The cause is usually that a page gets removed from the store. But Google's most recent read of the sitemap still includes a reference to that page that will go away the next time Google reads the sitemap. Google may only re-read the sitemap every few weeks. Waiting on this error usually allows it to go away.
- Submitted URL has crawl issue
- This is a very generic error message. You'll need to troubleshoot the issue to determine its cause.
- Submitted URL seems to be a Soft 404
- This is usually caused by an Empty collection. It can be ignored if the empty collection is desired. Or the empty collection can be turned off in Shopify.
- Submitted URL marked 'noindex'
- If you see this, you've probably hired an SEO expert or are using an SEO app in which case, you should rely on them.
- Indexed, though blocked by robots.txt
- You do not need to worry about this warning. It's for pages like Checkout, Account, Cart, Login, and Policies that Shopify is telling Google to ignore through the robots.txt file generated by Shopify but that Google is indexing anyways.
- Server error (5xx)
- Check to see what page this is. A Shopify page will rarely get a 500 error, which is a server error. If it does happen, its probably an Internet hiccup that will go away. Or it could be caused by an errant app.
In the Core Web Vitals reports, messages fall under these two buckets:
- LCP issue. LCP stands for Largest Contentful Paint. This is one of many metrics that can be used to determine page speed. Status is green if under 2.5 sec. Yellow if between 2.5 and 4 sec. Red if over 4 sec. If you are getting a warning, then Google is concerned about the page load time of the page. Go ahead and verify on your side what the performance of the page is. If the page is taking too long to load, go ahead and resolve. That's a full topic some of which I covered in a previous episode on site performance that I'll link to in the show notes.
In the Mobile Usability report I usually see these types:
- Text to small to read
- Clickable elements too close together
- Content wider than screen
And when I see them, I usually see them together. The typical cause is some CSS on the page that is forcing an object's width to be greater than the width of the screen. This can happen on images, videos, tables and other HTML elements.
In the Products report is where you'll get the most warnings that you can ignore. Warning typically fall into one of these buckets:
- A warning about a missing field that doesn't exist in Shopify. For example, the warning could say 'Missing field "priceValidUntil".' And that's because Google allows for price valid until data, but the Shopify product data does not include that. So that warning can be completely ignored.
- A warning about a missing field that you are not using. For example, the warning could say 'Missing field "sku".' Now Shopify allows for a product to have a SKU. But if you are not using SKUs then it won't apply to you. So with these warnings, you can ignore them if you are not using the data. But you should look into issue when you are using the data type.
- And the last issue I commonly see with products is if the structured data provided about the product isn't appropriately associated with the structured data provided by a reviews app. It's usually a relative easy fix of ensure that the product and review structured data html are both in a common parent DIV.
In the Unparsable structured data report, the most common type I'll seed is 'Parsing error: Missing ',' or '}'. This typically means that something has gone wrong with the theme's structured data code or an app is serving malformed structured data. This issue will need a someone who technical and comfortable with HTML/CSS to troubleshoot and resolve.
So that's an overview of how to get Search Console set up and the basics of how to use it. There's a lot more depth to the tool than I've covered here. If you are an SEO expert than you probably already know all about what Search Console can do for you. But here's my advice if you are small Shopify store (think 1 to 5 people). Don't spend too much time digging into Search Console. Definitively get it setup and connected to your store and Google Analytics. Then, once its setup, let it do its thing. Only engage with it if you getting warning or errors. And remember not every one of them needs to be resolved. Some warnings are just that, warnings.
Thanks for listening.