A Complete Guide To Google Search Console
Any webmaster or marketer alike has likely heard of Google Search Console (GSC), not least due to its wide variety of tools that can help to enhance and manage a site’s presence on Google. Originally called Google Webmaster Tools, the new version was renamed in 2015 in order to be more inclusive of the SEOs, marketing professionals, business owners, designers and app developers that would also use the programme in order to manage websites.
Since then, Google Search Console has become a standard part of website management, offering valuable information on everything from mobile device performance, to how many people are visiting your website. If you’re just getting started with Google Search Console or want to find out more about what tools it has on offer, we’re exploring Google’s website management platform in more detail, here.
What Is Google Search Console?
Over the years, Google Search Console has changed before our very eyes, and it’s likely that, should you be reading this a few years into the future, there’ll be plenty of new tools available to play with. Currently, however, the most recent version of Search Console was announced in January 2018 and has offered new analytics, data and, of course, the aforementioned new tools that come about with each major update.
At its basis, however, Google Search Console is a suite of tools and analytical data that can provide a deeper insight into how any one website is performing. This expansive set of features offers marketers and webmasters alike the opportunity to delve deeper into everything from traffic volumes, to how many of your website’s pages are indexed. You can find out about what kind of traffic your website is attracting, any potential errors that Google picks up, what people are looking for within your website and, of course, what makes people stay or revisit your site.
How Do I Set Up Google Search Console?
To set up Google Search Console, you’ll first need a standard Google account; you can use a personal email, a professional email or create a fresh account. From here, you’ll need to add a website to the console in order to prove your ownership of the website and verify the URL itself to ensure that everything is in check.
To do this, you’ll need to do the following:
- Open Google Search Console
- Click on ‘Search Property’ in the top left corner, then ‘Add Property’ at the bottom of the dropdown.
- Enter your URL into the box that appears, to create a connection. Add all prefixes (e.g. https:// or www.)
Once the website has been connected to the account, Google will need to verify your ownership before you can access the full range of features. You can complete property verification in one of the following ways:
HTML File Upload – This process requires you to download a file from Search Console, which will then be uploaded onto your website. Each file is unique and is tied to a user and as a result, requires the file to stay in place. Removal of the file will result in the removal of verification.
HTML Tag – You can add a <meta> tag to a specified page on your website in order to complete verification. The Search Console will provide you with the HTML and after pasting this into your website’s coding, it will then search for this on your website. Providing it is found in the right location, your site will be verified.
DNS Record – To verify via DNS record, you’ll need to log into your relevant domain login – e.g. your hosting website – and add a new TXT record to your account. Google will automatically locate its presence and verify this on Search Console.
Google Analytics Tracking Code – If you currently use Google Analytics, you can utilise the tracking code given to your site on there in order to verify your ownership of the site. You’ll need to put the code within the coding of your page, within the <head> section of your site, only.
Google Tag Manager Verification Code – If you utilise Google Tag Manager, you can use the container snippet code in order to verify Search Console. You’ll need to be able to view, edit and manage container-level permissions, as you’ll have to paste the code into the <body> section of the HTML.
What Features Are There On Google Search Console?
There are four central ‘areas’ within Search Console, each of which houses a number of different features that can benefit the visibility of your website:
What Can I Find In ‘Search Appearance’?
The search appearance tools on Google Search Console allow you to test everything from your structured data, to your mobile-based pages. It’s the section that will inform you of any errors and give the highest satisfaction when there are no errors listed. The tools and reports under Search Appearance are as follows:
Structured data is one of the most difficult things to get right on any website. Time and time again, we can spend hours implementing different elements and yet the page still won’t appear in the SERPs. Thankfully, the structured data report on Google Search Console provides us with a quick, easy and simple to understand report that lists any errors that might be found across our websites. By locating and fixing these errors, you can more effectively improve user experience, ultimately reducing bounce rates and potentially improving click-through rates and conversions in the future.
When we embark on any search query, we’re seeing more and more featured snippets and carousel-related information than ever before. One such result comes in the form of Rich Cards. These are essentially ‘cards’ of information above the main search results, most commonly seen for recipes, movies, jobs and courses. The Rich Cards tool on Google Search Console will give you the chance to create and get reports on any Rich Cards from your website.
The Data Highlighter tool gives you the opportunity to build structured data right from Search Console, without the need to implement it directly to your website or have a web developer do it for you. Instead, you can highlight elements of your pages that are linked to one another – such as images and captions – and Google will structure the relevant data during the crawls for you.
The HTML improvements report can provide a clear overview of any and all errors in your HTML and metadata. In other words, those page titles that are too long or the meta descriptions that are missing can all be picked up in this report, allowing you to go in and amend them as you need.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Mobile browsing has become the main focus of Google’s search engine results. Mobile-First Indexing has led all search-savvy businesses to update their mobile pages to suit new requirements, and the Accelerated Mobile Pages tool is working to provide them with a full report of impressions and overall performance so you can adjust your AMPs accordingly.
What Can I Find In ‘Search Traffic’?
SEOs, in particular, can find everything they need right in the search traffic section of the suite. These reports and analytics can offer a valuable insight into the top performing pages, information about internal and external links and offers a platform through which you can submit disavow files. Here are some of the most notable tools:
Previously known as ‘Search Analytics’, the Performance report offers a summary of how your website is appearing in the search results. This was previously over a 7, 28 or 90-day period, however, it’s now possible to see reports spanning over 16-months. By keeping track of keyword positions, impressions and more, you can pick up content opportunities and adjust your marketing efforts accordingly.
There are a number of metrics you can track, including the total clicks, total impressions, average CTR and average position. Within this, you can go on to filter the results by queries, pages, countries, devices and search appearance. The new version of Google Search Console also offers the ability to filter results by job listings, rich results, AMP pages and non-rich AMP results.
Links To Your Site
Backlinks are a valuable tool for your website. They work as a way for Google to find new pages, they manage your reputation online, the drive traffic to your site and they help to improve the trust flow across your entire site. For this reason, the ‘Links to Your Site’ report on GSC offers the perfect opportunity to see which sites are linking to you and to disavow any with poor trust flow or a negative effect on your reputation.
Internal linking seems to be a standard part of any website building or content management process, and GSC has made it easier to evaluate the best ways in which to match internal linking to the architecture of our websites. Internal linking can put a higher value on certain webpages, so if you’re linking consistently to one particular page, Google will likely see this page as one of the leading sources on the site. The internal linking report helps you to see just how many times you link to a particular page and adjust the linking structure accordingly.
Manual Actions are something that no webmaster ever wants to see. If you have a manual action listed on Search Console, you’ll need to submit for reconsideration and ensure that whatever the issue was, is fixed. Some of the leading causes of manual actions are:
- User-generated spam
- Spammy free host
- Structured data issues
- Unnatural links to or from your site
- Content with no added value
- Cloaking or sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or keyword stuffing
- AMP content mismatch
- Sneaky mobile redirects
Each of these can result in penalties, which may see your ranking drop considerably, if not taken off of the index completely. The Manual Actions section of GSC allows you to manage and request a review on these pages, providing all issues are resolved.
If your website is designed to reach internationally, it’s likely you have hreflang tags across your site. If this is the case, the International Targeting tool can offer easy management of the success of these tags. The tool will scan each one, offering a report of any and all errors that need to be amended to ensure you get the most out of your international reach.
With mobile-first indexing currently leading the way on Google’s SERPs, the mobile usability report has become one of the most important additions to Google Search Console. The report is formed by scanning the mobile version of your website, giving you a list of any and all design or development issues that may be reducing the usability of your website.
Some of the common issues that this tool can pick up on include incompatible plugins, content that’s wider than the screen, text that is too small to read, clickable elements that are too close together, and ‘viewport not set’. After fixing these issues, you can request Google to crawl your site again.
What Can I Find In ‘Google Index’?
If you’re looking to track how your content is performing in Google search, the Google Index area of GSC offers you full management and data-rich reports of your position within the index. Some of the key tools include:
Previously listed as ‘Index Status,’ the newly-named Index coverage has offered insights into the URLs that Google has indexed in the past 12 months. You can also see all of the pages that have been indexed, those which aren’t indexed or are waiting to be indexed, and those that aren’t included in your sitemap and a list of potential crawl or indexing errors that Google’s bots may have faced.
This tool also enables you to discover cases of index bloat – an effect that comes about when Google indexes any pages within your site that you don’t want or need indexed in the SERPs. By taking a look at the URLs indexed (you can do this with a site:[insert URL] search), you can determine which pages need a noindex tag installed, or a disallow submitted.
If your website is undergoing a refresh, you find a lot of duplicate or thin content on your website, or there are simply pages on your website that you don’t want Google to index just yet, the Remove URLs tool allows a simple way to temporarily remove the pages from the SERPs. This removal will continue for up to 90 days, giving you the opportunity to fix issues, spruce up the pages and more.
What Can I Find In ‘Crawl’?
Crawl errors can stop your page being indexed correctly, and so the crawl-related tools on Google Search Console offer an invaluable insight into exactly how Google is looking at your site, where it’s coming into problems and how you can go about fixing these issues.
The Crawl Errors report does precisely what the name suggests – it offers you a report of all of the errors found during a crawl of your website in two different sections: Site Errors, and URL Errors.
Google will crawl both your desktop and mobiles sites, offering you insights into different errors that may be found, including server errors, ‘Not Found’ errors, access denied and soft 404s. Giving a quick clean-up of your site from time to time can help to keep it running at its optimum level, and the crawl errors tool ensures you can fix any missing or broken links and redirected pages before they can cause issues for your website.
The Crawl Stats tool on GSC forms a report telling you how often Google is crawling your site. If it’s showing a fast crawl rate, you can rest assured that the bots are trailing through your sites quickly and that there may be very few, if any errors there. Major dips and spikes in this chart, however, could indicate problems. The three charts included in Crawl Stats are:
- Pages Crawled Per Day
- Kilobytes Downloaded Per Day
- Time Spent Downloading A Page
URL Inspection Tool
The URL Inspection Tool is another that’s had a freshen up as of late – previously known as the Fetch As Google tool, this newly designed update offers you the chance to see just how Google is looking at your site and how it’s rendered. By entering your URL in the search bar, Google will formulate a report that allows you to see whether the URL is indexed, as well as the opportunity to fetch and render to see how your site is appearing. With the results, you can determine whether to update an old webpage, launch new sections of your website, update mobile design and more.
Introducing Robots.txt files into your site has to be done correctly, or you risk disastrous effects on the web pages. Certain mistakes can result in low, or no traffic, a lack of indexing and more, and so the Robots.txt tester has opened up a new way for webmasters to determine whether the fault is coming from here. You can find out what’s blocking the crawlers from certain elements of your site and adjust your coding to allow access.
Sitemaps are a mostly hidden, but invaluable part of your website. It offers a way for Google to move around your site, to submit new pages to be indexed and even the slightest change can affect how the search engine is viewing your website. The sitemaps report will give you any and all information regarding potential errors or warnings, so you can go in and work out just where things might be going wrong.
From this tool, you can also submit a new sitemap that may contain new pages, through which Google can then go in and crawl each of the listed pages.
The URL Parameters tool is a valuable asset to any webmaster looking to fix issues with duplicate content concerns, or who have a particularly large website. By setting instructions for how you want Google to treat certain parameters on your website, you can prevent them from declaring pages duplicate when they aren’t and ultimately, better manage your crawl budget.
When it comes to Google Search Console, the value it offers to SEOs, webmasters and digital marketers alike is unrivalled. This simple suite of tools provides easy access to a range of reports and tools designed to make managing and tracking your website a more streamlined, detailed and informed process.
For more information about Google Search Console and how it can help your website, or to find out how we can help you manage your website and SEO strategy, simply get in touch with a member of our team on 0800 088 6000.