Most of the time it appears that Google Search Console (GSC) plays the younger sibling to the more popular Google Analytics (GA). Everywhere you look, GA is played up as the go-to source for analytics information for anyone on a quest to improve their rankings in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).
There is no debating that Google Analytics has a lot to offer — it’s an insanely powerful platform that contains a massive amount of data. Unfortunately, all that shock and awe distracts people and prevents them from spending a little quality time with Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster Tools).
It just so happens that GSC has a lot to offer. True, there isn’t as much information available as there is in Google Analytics. And it has a distinct lack of flash with no fancy chart or real-time data. But if you choose to ignore GSC, you’re doing so at your own peril.
In this post we going explain how you can quickly get set-up with Google Search Console. We’ll also cover the different pieces of data and some of the tools available to help improve how your website performs in Google’s index.
Why is Google Search Console Important?
If you’re interested in maintaining a competitive placement in the SERPs, Google Search Console is something you want to spend time reviewing on a regular basis.
There seems to be a common misconception the SEO is dead. While that might be true in the sense that gaming search engines is no longer an advisable strategy, Google makes it very clear that there are still many specific steps you can take to improve how your site is indexed and ranked.
GSC provides all kinds of information in regards to your sites performance for specific search queries. What many people don’t realize is that it also contains a variety of information about your site that indicates the overall indexability.
Potentially most importantly, is the fact the GSC provides a direct line of communication between yourself and Google. Any issues that arise in regards to your website can be posted directly within the console for you to read. This allows you to take immediate action to remedy any problems.
How to Start Using Google Search Console
Getting set up with GSC is relatively simple. Once you’re logged in, just click on the “ADD A PROPERTY” button. You’ll be asked to enter your domain name and then select a method of verification. The preferred method involves uploading an HTML file to your site but the alternate methods are just as effective (and easier). For example, adding a Meta tag can usually be done via your theme dashboard — the image below shows where the tag would go if you’re using Divi from Elegant themes.
With your verification method selected, all that’s left to do is click verify. If you see a green checkmark and a success message, you’re ready to go.
It’s a good idea to set up Google Search Console as soon as possible because it can take quite a while to populate with data. Sometimes it can take as little as a week and other times you might have a 2-week delay. As you’re waiting for Google to crawl and index your site and eventually pass those results through to GSC, it’s a good idea to check every few days for any new messages.
Understanding the Different Sections of Google Search Console
There is actually a lot of information contained within GSC — more that what we can expect to cover in this article alone. But we’ve still got plenty of time to provide a detailed overview. That way you’ll know which areas you should be focusing on.
Let’s get started!
The Search Console is broken down into 6 main categories:
- Search Appearance
- Search Traffic
- Google index
- Security Issues
Anytime Google has information that they need to communicate in regards to your website, it’ll show up here. Although many of these messages can be automatic notifications, you also find information regarding manual penalties or actions as well. Obviously, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on this section.
The information you’ll find in Search Appearance is specifically related to how your website appears in Google’s search results.
- Structured Data – Structured data is is vitally important to eCommerce sites as well as sites that provide reviews, recipes or listings or ratings. In fact, if your website contains any structured data, you’ll want to keep an eye on this section for any errors that need fixing.
- Data Highlighter – Provides an easy way to tag relevant data elements on a specific page. For example, a small business could tag their address and contact information.
- HTML Improvements – Missing, duplicate, long and short title tags that need fixing will show up here along with any issues related to meta descriptions.
- Sitelinks – If you website is displays in the SERPs with sitelinks, this tool will allow you to demote specific URLs.
- Accelerated Mobile Pages – If your website uses Accelerated Mobile Pages, you’ll find any relevant errors here. AMPs are a relatively new addition to GSC and you can learn more about their application here.
Regardless of what kind of website you’re running, the information contained in the search traffic section is something you should pay close attention to.
Search Analytics is one of the most important sections of GSC. Here you can sort and filter the information that indicates how well your site is performing in the search results. You have the ability to view clicks, impressions, click-through rate and average position details for each query.
This data can also be filtered based on queries, pages, countries, devices, search type and dates. This allows you to develop a very detailed plan for improving your search performance.
Other important information contained within the Search Traffic tab includes:
- Links to Your Site – Displays a summary of backlinks and anchor text.
- Internal Links – Provides a ranked summary of pages and the number of internal links. More important pages should have more internal links directed towards that page.
- Manual Actions – With any luck, this section will always be empty. If your site has been impacted by a manual action, you’ll find the details here and in the message center.
- International Targeting – It a good idea to indicate to Google in which country customers should be able to find you.
- Mobile Usability – We all understand the importance of a mobile-friendly website but just in case you’ve forgotten something, Google will post any mobile issues here for you to review.
Here you’ll find all kinds of data about how well your website is being indexed by Google, broken down into 3 main categories:
- Index Status – Ever wonder how many pages of you website Google has actually indexed? You’ll find that exact information here along with an indication of how many pages are either intentionally or unintentionally blocked by robots.
- Content Keywords – This report might seem unimportant but it provides an excellent way to tell how Google is interpreting the content on your website. Consider the primary keywords you’re targeting and compare this list the results in your Search Analytics report. This section can also indicate whether your website may have been hacked. If you notice unusual or suspicious keywords, take some time to dig a little further into the results.
- Blocked Resources – If any resources on you site are blocked from access by Google, they’ll show up here. Remember, if Google can’t crawl your site properly, there is good chance it won’t be indexed.
- Remove URLs – Finally, if Google has indexed a page that you’d rather not have in the search results, you’ll be able to temporarily remove the page from the SERPs, giving you time to delete the page or move it to draft mode.
You want your website to be as friendly as possible towards Googlebot — the little creature responsible for crawling your website and sending its findings back to Google. GSC provides a variety of tools to help you make sure you site is well optimized and easy to crawl.
- Crawl Errors – Any recent crawl errors from that last 90 days will show up here. Below the chart is a list view of your top 1000 errors (hopefully you don’t have anywhere close to that many). When an error shows up in the list, determine the cause, fix it and mark the item as fixed. If Google detects the same error, it will reappear in the list and you’ll have to take a closer look.
- Crawl Stats – Simple enough. Your crawl stats provide a graphical representation of the Googlebot activity on your website.
- Fetch as Google – This tool allows you to test individual pages and submit them for indexing. If you add a new page and don’t want to wait for Google to find it on its own, using the fetch tool is a good way to speed up the process.
- Robots.txt Tester – It’s a good idea to test your robots.txt file to make sure there are no errors present or that you’re not unintentionally blocking robots from crawling your website.
- Sitemaps – If you’re using a plugin like Yoast SEO to generate sitemaps, you can test and submit them to Google using this tool. It’s a two-step process. You’ll have to enter the sitemap URL to test and then enter it again in order to submit.
If Google detects that your site may be have been hacked, for example with malware, you’ll find more details here. It’s important to keep in mind that this report is not foolproof. I’ve seen more than one case where a WordPress website has been the victim of a pharma hack and there was absolutely no indication of the issue within GSC.
Use this section as a potential warning system, not the final authority.
This post should have provided you with a brief introduction to the Google Search Console. Hopefully, you’ve come away with a better understanding of how GSC can be used to your advantage.
There are several powerful tools build into this console and if you’re serious about improving the indexability and ranking of your website, spending some time to become more familiar with them is definitely a good idea.
If you currently use Google Search Console on a regular basis, we’d love to hear how you feel it benefits your presence on Google.