Tracking the performance of your website is critical. Accurate analysis of how your site is doing informs so many of your day-to-day activities. It helps you learn what is working with your SEO. It allows you to pinpoint technical issues with your site’s content. It even helps you to shape your overall marketing efforts.
There are loads of tools out there to help you track site performance, and the Google Search Console is one of the best. It can help site owners and webmasters on a variety of levels from monitoring changes in overall site visitors over time to pinpointing a specific issue that has caused a decrease in traffic to a post.
Using Search Console can seem a little confusing at first. If you are new to it, the amount of information it provides can be overwhelming. That is why this guide is here. It is going to tell you everything you need to know about Google’s handy free tool and how you can use it with confidence.
The guide will touch on:
What Google Search Console is.
How to set it up and add it to your website.
How to access Search Console’s different reports.
What those reports can tell you and why they are useful.
What Is Google Search Console?
Let me start by saying, Google offers a broad portfolio of tools. Many can be invaluable to site owners, webmasters, and marketers. There are simple and straightforward ones like Gmail and Google Drive. At the other end of the spectrum, there are tools like Analytics and Ads. They offer more specific and comprehensive support.
Google Search Console is a free Google tool, which the company claims is for everyone. They say that it can be useful to business owners, SEO specialists, administrators, and developers alike. The wide-ranging utility stems from the array of different features it includes. We will look at these later on.
What Is the Search Console for?
In a nutshell, it is there to help you to understand how Google sees your website. It allows you to track and monitor your site’s presence in Google search results. It offers insights into how Google views your site, which can help you improve site performance in any number of different ways.
You don’t have to use Search Console to get your site to rank well on Google. The tool does, however, make a lot of things related to improving a site’s ranking much easier:
Tracking Vital Site Data — Search Console helps you analyze your site’s performance in Google searches. You can see how often your pages appear in searches, as well as which queries return results for your pages and how often.
Optimizing Content — The tool makes it easy to ID issues with different pages or pieces of content. You can quickly troubleshoot and solve these issues. Then, you can ask Google to re-index content through the same platform.
Reacting to Indexing Problems — Alerts from Search Console let you respond to indexing, spam, or other site issues in short order. You can nip the problems in the bud before they start damaging website performance.
Enhancing Your Site — The platform makes it easy to introduce new elements to your site and ensure they are functioning correctly. Examples of such elements include accelerated mobile pages (AMP) and structured data. The former is vital to mobile usability. The latter can help you get featured snippets or rich results on Google.
How the Search Console can be used to help you in all these areas will be covered later. You will also see how three different reports can give you the insights you need to boost site performance. I will also explain how you can apply the knowledge you gained to achieve all the above.
Before any of that, you need to know how to start using the tool. That means learning how to get Search Console to begin tracking your site. To do this, you need to verify that you are the site owner and connect Google Search Console with your website.
How to Add Google Search Console to Your Website
There are several steps involved in getting Search Console up and running. Each one will be explained in detail below. The entire process, though, is pretty straightforward and can be summarized as follows:
Register for or log in to a Google account.
Head to the Google Search Console homepage.
Add a ‘property’ to be tracked by the tool. This can be an entire domain or a specific URL.
Verify that you are the owner of the domain or URL in question.
Start tracking site performance with Search Console.
Register or Log in to a Google Account
There is a good chance that you already have a Google Account. You might use it for Gmail or for organizing and sharing documents through Google Drive. If so, you need to log in to it before looking to set up Google Search Console. If you don’t have an account, you will have to set one up. Fortunately, it is quick, free, and easy to do so. Now you are ready to start the Search Console setup process.
Setting Up Search Console & Adding a Property
When you are logged in to your Google account, head to the Search Console homepage. Assuming you have not set up the tool before, you will see the following:
The page asks you to select a property type. What that means, at a basic level, is to tell Google what type of site, page, or entity you want them to track data for. Your choices are between a ‘Domain Property’ or a ‘URL Prefix Property’. The difference between these properties is easy to understand and important to know.
Domain Property — You select a domain property when you want Google to track all URLs across all subdomains of a website. That will encompass subdomains beginning with ‘m.’, ‘www.’, and any other option you can imagine. These properties also cover multiple protocols. This includes HTTPS, HTTP, FTP etc.
URL Prefix Property — A URL prefix property is lower level. Choose this option and Google will only track data for the single, specific URL you specify. That means the URL with the exact protocol and subdomain you enter. For example, you might enter htttp://website.com. If you do, https://website.com won’t be included in Google’s tracking. Nor will http://www.website.com or any other permutation.
The type of property you want depends on your circumstances. If you only need to track a specific URL, a URL prefix property will suit you fine. That choice is also suitable if you want to track data for your various URLs separately. Should that be the case, you may want to set up a domain property to cover them all together.
A domain property is the usual choice for a business looking to track a commercial website. If you use the domain property option, it is still possible to separately collect information concerning subdomains or protocols. You can do this by adding a page filter to the Performance Report within Search Console. There will be more on that and other reports a little later.
Verifying Your Property
Google won’t let just anyone track site data for any domain or URL. You have to prove to the search engine that you are the site owner, or at the very least, that you have their permission to track their website. The way you do that is by verifying your property.
You don’t have to verify your property as soon as you add it for Google Search Console to work. The tool will start tracking data as soon as you add the property. You won’t be able to view it, however, until you do verify you are involved in managing the site.
Once you have added a property, the tool will prompt you to verify it via DNS. This is Search Console’s preferred verification method. It is also your only option for checking a Domain level property.
The prompt will look something like this:
As you can see, the Search Console provides you with a TXT record to add to your domain name provider. Where and how to add the record will differ according to your provider. You can find the exact steps for each provider here. Follow those steps and then click ‘Verify’ in Search Console, and your property is verified.
There are a couple of common errors that can occur when verifying via this method. First, you might get the message ‘Your verification record was not found’. Receiving this method often means you have been too quick for Google. It can take a few minutes after you add the TXT record for it to be visible to Google. Wait for a beat and try clicking ‘Verify’ again. In the vast majority of cases, it will work ok the second time around.
The other common message you may receive can read ‘Your verification record did not match’. This usually happens when you have mistyped the text or copy, or pasted the text incorrectly. Go back and check and make sure you have added the exact TXT record provided by Google. What you add to your domain name provider documentation must match exactly.
If you have chosen to add a URL prefix property, you can verify it in a handful of other ways.
The different ways you can verify a URL prefix property are as follows:
HTML File Upload — You can verify the ownership of the URL by adding a given HTML file to your site. Choose the ‘HTML File Upload’ option when prompted. Search Console will then provide you with the relevant file. It will be tied to you as a specific user of the tool. You can then follow the onscreen instructions to verify.
HTML Tag — You can add a <meta> tag to the HTML of a specific page, rather than a full HTML file. Once again, Search Console will provide the tag when you choose this as a verification option. Instructions about how and where to add it will also be provided.
Google Analytics Tracking Code — This is an option for those who use Google Analytics. You can verify a Search Console property by adding your Analytics tracking code to a page’s code. The code should be added to the <head> section of your page. If it is added to the <body> section, the verification won’t work. Full step-by-step instructions are once again provided as you work through the process.
Google Tag Manager Container Snippet — You can also verify a URL prefix property with existing GTM container snippet code. Search Console will take you through the process. In short, you must add the <noscript> portion of the Google Tag Manager code to a page. It must come immediately after the opening <body> tag of the page. You can’t have a data layer or anything else besides between the snippet and the <body> tag.
If the URL you want to track is hosted by Google (a Google Sites or Blogger page), you don’t need to do anything to verify it. The URL should be added to your Search Console and verified automatically. Assuming you used the same Google account to set up the page in question.
With verification complete, you can start analyzing Search Console data for your property. Google will continue to check verification from time to time. If it can no longer be confirmed, your permissions on the property will expire, often after a short grace period. That means that you have to keep any TXT record or code snippet that you used to verify it permanently in place.
You are now almost ready to start learning about the insights which using Search Console can deliver. There is just one more thing to discuss before covering that.
Users, Owners, and Permissions
For each Search Console property, there are two roles. These are ‘Owner’ and ‘User,’
Each role has different capabilities and rights. You can find a brief overview of them both below:
Owner — An owner of a property has full control over it in Search Console. Owners can be either ‘Verified’ or ‘Delegated’. They can view all data and use all features, edit settings, and add or remove other users.
A verified owner is someone who completed the verification process as detailed above. Delegated owners have been granted ownership rights by the verified owner. If a verified owner’s verification becomes invalid, the delegated owner will also lose access to the property.
User — Users have fewer rights when it comes to Search Console than owners. A ‘Full User’ can view all data for a property but perform only a few admin tasks. A ‘Restricted User’ has simplified rights to view most of the data for a property.
It is worth taking a minute to think about the permissions different people in your organization need. You don’t want to give full ownership permissions to everyone. A lower-level employee might mistakenly change a critical setting. You may need some of your staff to have those permissions, so you don’t have to do all the management of the property yourself.
Features of Google Search Console
Once you are set up and verified with Search Console, you are ready to start exploring the tool's many features. There is a range of different reports you can access. They are designed to provide varying insights into your site. Below, you will find a brief rundown of what you can find within each report.
There are a few other things you need to know before we start.
Search Console reports include one dimension and four metrics specific to Google search. You may not have come across these elsewhere. Some, though, are similar to what you may be familiar with for PPC advertising.
The dimension in question is 'Queries'. When Search Console refers to 'Queries', it means phrases searchers type into Google. Specifically, those phrases they searched for before visiting your site. The four Search Console specific metrics are as follows:
Clicks — In the context of Google Search Console, the clicks metric relates to the behavior of Google searchers. It represents the number of times searchers click one of your pages after a search for a particular query.
Impressions — The number of times a page from your site appears on a Google SERP. This can be an overall figure for the page or the number of impressions it gets for a particular query.
Click-Through Rate (CTR) — The percentage of searchers that see an impression of one of your pages, and then go on to click it. For example, a page may have ten impressions and one click. In that case, the CTR would be 10%.
Average Position — This is where, on a SERP, your content appears for different search queries. For instance, does it achieve the valuable position one for a query? Or is it not even on the first page?
Now the terminology of Search Console out of the way, so let's look at the tool's main reports.
The Overview Report is the simplest of Google Search Console’s reports. It is the one that you will see when you first open up the tool. As the name suggests, it gives a brief overview of the different information you will find within the tool.
That overview will feature graphs of total clicks for pages and the number of pages indexed by Google. What is most useful, the report displays your site's manual actions and security issues; these are problems with your website, as viewed by Google. They are the things you need to get fixed as quickly as possible.
Within the Performance Report, you can group the available data in different ways. For example, you can view results by URL, by device, and by country. This information will help you understand how your site is performing on Google. You can track any unexpected changes in ranking. You can also analyze search queries people are using, valuable keyword research you can use to improve your site performance.
The Index Coverage Report is the one that you are likely to find most useful on a day-to-day basis, especially if you often add new content to your website. This report is where you can see the index status for all the pages on your site.
No webpage can rank on Google unless Google has indexed it. The Index Coverage report is where you can see any pages that aren’t indexed. It is also where you will learn why Google isn’t indexing them. The report can help you monitor and troubleshoot indexing issues.
It is possible to submit a sitemap for your site to Google through Search Console. You don't have to, but it can help the search engine to understand and therefore crawl your site. Submitting a sitemap is particularly useful in a few circumstances:
If your site is very large — in this case, sitemaps can help Google's crawlers locate new pages as they go live.
If your site's new, your pages won't have many backlinks, and a sitemap can help make your content discoverable to Google.
If some of your pages don't have many internal links, it can be tough for Google to find them without a sitemap.
The Index Sitemaps Report is where you can track the sitemaps you have submitted to Google. It shows you sitemaps statistics, like how many URLs from the sitemap Google has indexed. It also displays any errors Google encountered when processing your sitemap.
The Enhancements section of Search Console is where you can manage structured data on a site. Structured data is what you can add to your website to get rich results on Google for particular pages. Structured data will only appear if Google can read the information.
Any issues Google encounters with structured data are displayed in the Enhancements section. This is where you will learn of a problem, be able to diagnose it, and have the opportunity to resolve it. Search Console can report on issues encountered with the following types of meta-data:
Sitelinks Search box
Mobile Usability Report
It is critical for modern websites to cater to visitors using different devices. Mobile devices generated over half of all web traffic in 2018. That percentage is only likely to keep rising. The Mobile Usability Report helps you assess how mobile-friendly your site is.
The Mobile Usability Report will review up to 1000 of your URLs. It will tell you which of them Google recognizes as mobile-friendly based on its standards. If you have any problems with your pages, the errors will be flagged up on the report. Clicking on one of those errors shows you which individual pages need your attention.
The AMP Report is closely linked with the Mobile Usability Report. AMP pages are a big part of making your site as mobile-friendly as possible. The AMP Report on Search Console is where you can get data on how your AMP pages are performing.
The report tells you how many AMP pages Google has indexed for your site. It also helps you identify those pages which Google can’t index properly. When such problems arise, the reason Google couldn’t index your page is displayed. That makes it quick and easy to resolve any issue.
Manual Actions Report
Manual actions against your site are displayed through the Overview Report. The Manual Actions Report is where you will find additional details of any manual action against your site and suggestions on how to resolve the issue.
When you have the details of any manual actions, you can then set about fixing the problems that caused them. Once you have resolved the issue, you need to head back to the Search Console Manual Actions report. It is from there that you can request that Google review your site once again and check the fixes you have performed.
Link-building is a big part of SEO. Ensuring your site has a healthy link profile is vital to impressing Google. What you want are relevant links from high authority sites. The Search Console Links Report is where you can keep track of your links profile. The report provides a selection of different insights into your site’s links.
It shows you which sites link to yours and what text the links use. It also provides you with an overview of the internal link structure of your site. Those insights help in a couple of ways. First, they allow you to track any spammy links you receive. Second, it also enables you to evaluate your internal linking structure and the anchor text you use.
When Google says that Search Console is a tool for everyone, they are not kidding. The search analytics platform delivers actionable data that can prove vital in an array of different areas.
Some reports are critical to web developers who are looking to build an SEO optimized site. Others are ideal for SEO pros hoping to boost a website’s SERP rankings. The more basic features of the tool are perfect for busy site owners, simply hoping to keep their sites ticking over.
This guide should have shown you what you can get out of using Search Console, as well as taking you through the simple process of setting up the tool and getting started. All that is left now is for you to start tracking data and boosting your site’s performance.
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