If you’re interested in optimizing your website for search, there are a lot of tools out there to help you improve your online visibility. That being said, Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the most powerful SEO tools you can use to improve your organic reach. Not to be confused with Google Analytics, which tracks how visitors behave on your website, GSC monitors how your site communicates with search engines and provides valuable insights to measure and inform changes in your SEO strategy.
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console (GSC) is a platform — for anyone with a website — that provides users with crucial details to better understand and monitor how their site is performing in Google search. If you’re trying to optimize content for organic search, Google Search Console is the place to evaluate how well you’re doing. This single platform allows site owners to view referring domains, mobile-site performance, search results, and highest-traffic pages and queries.
Why Do You Need Google Search Console?
Understanding how your site performs on search and how to improve that performance is a vital part of increasing your online visibility.
You can use Google Search Console to achieve two overarching goals:
- Improve your website’s SEO (and subsequently, its organic traffic).
- Gather essential marketing data (that you need to start tracking ASAP if you aren’t already!)
When you dive into the information and insights provided in Google Search Console, you’ll learn things like which pages are getting the most (and least) traffic, or be able to take action when a once-popular piece of content seems to take a nose-dive in search rankings.
Need another reason to love it? Google Search Console lets you see where your website needs maintenance work, from crawl errors that need to be fixed to keywords that aren’t pulling in traffic. It also alerts you about security issues and indexing problems — which can adversely affect your search rankings. If you like being “in the know,” Google Search Console will be a game-changer.
Who Should Use Search Console?
Anyone with a website should have a basic understanding of Google Search Console. Whether you’re just starting out, or already deep in the SEO trenches, GSC can help you get a leg up.
It has useful features for:
- Business Owners: Even if you won’t be using Search Console yourself, familiarize yourself with the basics — knowing what features are available in Google Search Console will help you understand how the business can leverage its information to gain visibility.
- SEO Specialists: Search Console helps you monitor website traffic, watch search rankings, and make informed decisions about improving your site’s technical performance. Use the Search Console data to prioritize technical improvements and conduct analyses in conjunction with other SEO tools.
- Site Administrators: As someone tasked with keeping your website in healthy operation, you need Search Console in your toolbox. It lets you monitor and resolve server errors, site load issues, and security issues like hacking and malware. You can also use it to perform site maintenance and make backend adjustments.
- Web Developers: Tasked with creating the markup and/or code for your site? Search Console helps monitor and resolve common issues such as errors in structured data.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
Now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of setting it up.
Before we get started, you’ll need to create an account. Then, use these Google Search Console best practices to guide you through the process:
Step #1: Add Your Site
- Sign into Google with your business account.
- Go to Google Webmaster Tools.
- Select “add property” (from the dropdown menu in the top left corner of the dashboard).
- Add the URL exactly as it appears in the browser bar of your site. If you support multiple protocols (http:// and https://), or multiple domains (example.com, m.example.com, and www.example.com), make sure to add each as a separate entity.
Note: Search Console begins collecting data as soon as your site is added.
Step #2: Verify Your Site
Adding a property won’t give you access until you verify that you own it. Here’s how:
- Click the “manage property” tab for the property you added in step #1.
- Select “verify property” from the dropdown menu and choose one of the recommended verification methods (HTML file upload, domain name provider, HTML tag, GA tracking code, or GTM container snippet). This will vary depending on the site you’re verifying.
Step #3: Integrate Search Console With Google Analytics
Analytics provides traffic and conversion data; Search Console provides a look at the search factors behind the data. Linking the two is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a big boost in reporting.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find the “admin panel” at the bottom left of your Google Analytics dashboard.
- Click into the “Property Settings.”
- Scroll down to “Search Console Settings,” and you’ll see your website’s URL. This confirms the website is verified and you have permission to make changes.
- In the dropdown under “Search Console,” select the reporting view where you want to see data.
- Click “Save,” and you’re ready to go!
Step #4: Submit Your Sitemap
Like all maps, sitemaps provide direction — in this case, pointing search engines and web crawlers toward important information about how your site is organized and the type of content available there.
Submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console makes Google’s job easier by giving it the necessary info to crawl your site efficiently.
While there is no penalty for not submitting a sitemap, there’s no harm in submitting one — especially if your site fits in any of these categories:
- It’s very new.
- Not many other sites are linking to it.
- It’s very large.
- Your site has multiple pages that aren’t linked to in your navigation.
All that said, you need to have a sitemap to submit one. If you aren’t sure if you already have a site map, make your way to yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml; if you’ve got a sitemap, this is where you’ll find it.
To submit the URL to GSC, follow these steps:
- Click on the “Sitemap” tab in the Google Search Console
- Enter your new sitemap URL.
- Click “submit,” and — just like that — you’re ready to roll!
Want to learn more about sitemaps? Head over to this article that includes sitemap examples for an in-depth discussion of what they are (and some more details about why you need one for SEO).
The Basic Features of the Google Search Console
Looking for important metrics about how your site performs in Google Search results? You’ll find those here. GSC provides a broad overview of performance, and you can drill down into the nitty-gritty details wherever you want.
Use the information you find here to improve your site’s search performance and get organic traffic from Google.
At the Top of the Performance Report
- Total Clicks — the number of times searchers click your link from SERPs.
- Total Impressions — generated each time one of your links appears in search results.
- Average Click-through Rate — clicks divided by impressions multiplied by 100.
- Average Position — the mean ranking of your page for a specific query.
Under the Queries Tab
- Top Search Queries — the queries people use to find your site pages.
Under the Pages Tab
- Most Visited Pages — sort pages by clicks and impressions to find top-performing pages.
Interested in how your traffic has changed over time? Want to learn which queries are made using mobile devices? Curious about which pages have the highest and lowest CTR rates from Google? The moment you set up your account, Google Search Console starts serving up data about how your site is performing in search results and makes it available to view in 16-month increments. The insights you gain from GSC will provide measurable feedback on the efficacy of your SEO strategy.
Index Coverage Report
Errors happen. But letting them sit on your site will have long-term negative effects on your search performance. So it’s critical to find and fix errors as efficiently as possible.
The index coverage report reveals three important pieces of information about Google’s ability to serve your pages in search results.
- The number of pages on your site that Google indexed since its last update.
- The number of pages on your site that Google isn’t indexing.
- Errors that Google’s crawl bots encountered when trying to index your site.
Regularly checking this report will help you keep a finger on the pulse of your site’s SEO health. Got a redirect that goes nowhere? Are there broken bits of code or page errors that you need to address? This tab lets you check the error in more detail and figure out what specific URLs are affected.
An important distinction between Google Analytics and Google Search Console is that while Analytics is simply a platform that provides insights, Search Console is a platform that is designed so you can communicate directly to Google.
Think you’ve fixed a reported error? Google Search Console can help you validate it.
A few more things to look for when checking coverage reports:
- When you’re creating new content for your site, you should see the number of indexed pages increasing steadily. That means your new pages are being found so Google can serve them in response to search queries.
- Beware sudden drops in traffic! This might mean Google is having trouble accessing your website. If something is blocking Google — either robots.txt changes or a server that’s down — the issue needs immediate attention.
- Sudden, unexpected spikes in traffic could be a red flag for issues with duplicate content automatically-generated pages, or being hacked. (Learn more about using canonical tags for duplicate content.)
Checking for these potential problems, and resolving issues quickly, is key. The last thing you want is for unaddressed technical issues to send poor quality signals to Google.
Core Web Vitals Report
Having a firm grip on how users experience your site has always been important, but with the upcoming release of Google’s 2021 algorithm update, it’s more important than ever. The Core Web Vitals report is the motherlode of information for improving your site’s technical performance.
Search Console breaks these insights down to include:
- Speed: The new speed report indicates how fast your site loads on both mobile and desktop. It also shows which pages have issues with load time.
- AMP: If you’ve set up Accelerated Mobile Pages on your site, check for errors here. This section lets you see valid AMPs on your site as well as those with warnings and errors. See an issue? Click on it to view the affected URLs and, like in the Index Coverage tab validate any fixes to inform Google that the issues have been addressed.
- Rich Results: Got structured data on your site? It’s a good idea to check out the enhancements reports in Search Console. This tab is where insights and improvements that could lead to rich results are collected. The evolving list includes:
- Site links
- Search boxes
Google Search Console makes maintenance easy. From day-to-day, Google will email you about any unusual events — from indications your site has been hacked to problems encountered when crawling or indexing your pages.
Every month, take a look at your Search Console dashboard. This is the quickest way to take the overall temperature of your site. Finally, to keep your finger on the pulse of how your site behaves in Google Search, check back when you make important site changes (this includes adding new content, adding new properties, changing your site’s domain name, or removing a page from search results).
10 Ways to Use Google Search Console
Ready to stand out from your competitors in search? Learning how to use Google Search Console to full effect is a step in the right direction.
Use these 10 Google Search Console tips to work smarter, not harder:
- Monitor traffic. Use GSC to identify your highest (and lowest) ranking pages. This should give you a better understanding of what makes customers stop and linger or skip your content.
- Identify highest-traffic queries. High-ranking content contains lessons you can apply to optimize your lesser-performing pages. Plus, you’ll want to double down on your most visited pages by optimizing them to convert visitors into customers.
- Evaluate title tags. Page titles are an integral part of SEO. Weak click-through rates might indicate that your title tag needs to be better optimized for search and more enticing to searchers.
- Find & fix security issues. Use GSC to find and fix errors fast — before customers encounter them or before they impact your site’s quality signals. Under “Security & Manual Actions” near the bottom of the left navigation, click “Security Issues” to see if there’s anything you need to address. By default, GSC ranks errors by severity, frequency, and whether they’ve been addressed.
- Monitor CTR & impressions. Any change in your click-through rate is worth noting. If your CTR drops but impressions rise, you might be ranking for more keywords without enticing searchers to follow your links. If the opposite happens, you might be ranking for fewer keywords but resonating with searchers on those queries. As you create quality content and optimize existing pages, impressions should go up. If both these numbers increase, BINGO! You’ve nailed it.
- Learn about backlinks. Quality backlinks signal to Google that your content is reliable and practical. Therefore, the total number of backlinks pointing to your site is valuable information. That being said, more is not necessarily better. One link from a highly regarded site is more valuable than several from a poorly regarded one. Under “Legacy tools and reports” on the left navigation, click on “Links” to see which other sites are linking to your pages.
- Target mobile useability issues. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, visitors will leave. Quickly. It’s that simple. GSC gives you the chance to troubleshoot issues — like too-wide content or clickable elements too close together — to improve the mobile-friendliness of your site.
- Check for broken links: Broken links make for a lousy user experience. The GSC Coverage Report provides the status of URLs from internal pages, external pages, and your sitemap. One caveat: Although Google Search Console is a great way to determine whether or not there are broken links, it doesn’t provide source information. That means you’ll have to use another tool to pinpoint exactly where the broken links are coming from. (I recommend Screaming Frog.)
- Master “Fetch as Google”: This tool allows you to input, evaluate, and should you choose, submit a URL to the Google index for a fresh crawl. Why? To check for everything from connectivity and basic errors to redirects and security issues with your website.
- Manage owners, users & permissions: Every GSC property needs an owner who can grant permissions to other users, each of whom has different rights and capabilities. There are two types of permissions: full permission gives the user access to all Search Console data and the ability to add users; restricted permission allows the user to view data but not add new users.
Recent Updates to Google Search Console
Like any good tool, GSC is constantly evolving to serve site-owners and searchers better.
Here’s a quick timeline of new Google Search Console changes during 2020:
January 2021 – Google News Performance Report
Google launched its news performance report to help publishers understand consumer behavior on Google news for Android and iOS devices.
August 2020 – Google AMP Supports Signed Exchange
Google’s “signed exchange” solution allows publishers to use their own URLs for AMP pages. The AMP enhancement report within the new Google console helps site owners identify issues with signed exchange.
June 2020 – Core Web Vitals Announced
Starting in 2021, web vitals will become part of Google’s ranking algorithm, joining the list of 200+ signals used to rank pages on SERPs.
May 2020 – Guides Recipes on Google Assistant Update
Support for Guided Recipes in this new Google Search Console allows cooking website owners to instantly validate their markup for individual recipes and discover any issues with their site’s available recipes.
February 2020 – Better Data Export
Rather than just allowing specific table view exports, this search console new update allows users to download entire Search Console reports, making it much easier to read and store data for future reference.
February 2020 – Change of Address Feature
Updates to this feature provide further insights about whether or not an address change has been successful and allow redirect validation directly in the console.
In a Nutshell
You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so dig into Google Search Console! Understanding your site’s baseline performance is the first step to making improvements that will bring customers (and sales) right to your doorstep. Need support with technical SEO? We can help!