Google has worked tirelessly for decades to secure its position as the ultimate authority on all things internet. Consumers and businesses alike rely on Google to find what they're looking for and to be found. This is a job that Google takes seriously. The search engine optimization standard they have meticulously created is designed to force people to play fair - lest they are ousted entirely.
Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, is a suite of tools designed to help websites adhere to Google's rules and maximize their visibility to potential visitors and customers. Although Search Console may seem overwhelming in its complexities and its amount of features, it's easy for both beginners and advanced users to capitalize on the success that this tool will ultimately help to facilitate.
What is Google Search Console?
The best way to manage anything is to have access to comprehensive information at all times. Google Search Console is designed to provide detailed information about your website. The dashboard provides you with everything you need to measure your current success, and the data necessary to leverage your strategy for greater success in the future.
Google Search Console is designed to provide website owners with an open line of communication with Google. Since SEO is a process that never really ends, Google Search Console provides website owners with the necessary data and real-time info to continue to shape their SEO strategy for the evolving digital world.
Why Use Search Console?
Technically, there are other methods by which you can achieve the same goals. The operative word here is "technically". Since Google has long since established itself as the authority on traffic, data, and search engines, to forego Search Console would be a foolish move. While it is true that Google has something of a monopoly over the web, they've also made it easy to adhere to their methods by offering tools like Search Console to website owners. Without Search Console, it can be virtually impossible to determine where you stand with Google or if you've done a sufficient job adhering to their criteria.
So why use Search Console? The simple answer is that you can't afford not to.
How to Set Up Search Console
Setting up Google Search Console is a relatively straightforward process. Begin by logging in to the business account associated with your website and visiting the Google Search Console page. From there, you will have the option to "Add a property." This means you're declaring ownership of a website. Select "website" from the drop-down menu of property options, and enter the full URL of your homepage. If your website supports both HTTP and HTTPS, be sure to list both. Then, click continue. It only takes a few seconds, and the process is very straightforward. Many website owners, even those who wouldn't consider themselves to be tech-savvy, have no problem completing the setup on their own.
How to Verify your site in Google Search Console
After you've set up Google Search Console, the next step is to verify your website. Google adds verification measures to assure that no one else can create a Search Console account and claim to own someone else's website. The verification process is designed to prove that the person setting up Search Console has access to the back end of the site in question, and Google gives users a few options to complete the verification process.
Verification can be completed with an HTML tag, an HTML upload, a GTM container, or a GA Tracking code. Google provides the code. You simply paste it onto the pages of your website that you intend to track or monitor through Google Search Console. Google will tell you exactly where to place the code or upload associated with your preferred verification method. These codes should always go on the main page of your website or within your website's directory. You also have the option of adding special code for analytics to landing pages and areas of your websites where you intend to convert visitors to customers, and this option comes into play when you integrate Google Search Console with Google Analytics.
If you encounter errors attempting to set up Google Search Console, the most likely culprit is misplaced codes. Be sure to follow Google's instructions for verification to the letter. If one verification method isn't working for you, try an alternative. If all else fails, you can also verify your website by logging in to your domain name provider's website and manually establishing ownership.
How Can I Connect Search Console to Google Analytics?
Once you have completed the verification process through Google Search Console, you have the option of connecting Search Console with Google Analytics. Google's suite of analytics tools is inherently invaluable. These tools allow you to monitor things like real-time traffic, keyword performance, referral sources, the physical locations of your visitors, and on which areas of your website visitors tend to spend the most time.
Begin by logging in to the Google Analytics account associated with your website. Click the cog icon on your dashboard to open up your admin tools, and select "Property Settings". Under Property Settings, you will see Search Console and its options, Select "Adjust Search Console" and then "Add ". From there, you will be redirected to Google Search Console. Select the website you would like to add by ticking the button next to the domain name. Click save, and then confirm your selection.
Head back over to Google Analytics and refresh your Search Console settings page. If you haven't encountered any errors, you should see that the two tools have successfully synced up when you check the "enabled views" drop-down menu.
When Analytics and Search Console are connected, you will be able to view Search Console data through the Analytics interface. Under the Acquisition tab, click on "Search Console." You'll be able to view reports and data regarding what countries your visitors are from, what landing pages they're reaching, the devices they're using to browse your website, and the queries (or keywords) they used to find your website.
Search Console Metrics: What are Impressions, Average Position, and Queries?
In order to make the use of Search Console, you'll need to understand the metrics it provides. Search Console will give you data regarding impressions, average position, and queries.
Impressions refer to the amount of times a URL from your domain was organically viewed in search engine results. Impressions don't count paid placement or Google Ads - these metrics are measured separately through Google's paid services, as users are typically charged per click. These are indicative of natural performance. You'll always want to monitor how impressions correlate to clicks. If you're getting a lot of impressions without a lot of clicks, you have two options. The first option is to change the snippet or the way that particular URL appears in search results. The second is to improve optimization to help your website rank higher in the results, as most users are prone to click on one of the very first results they see.
The average position refers to your average position on Google's search engine results page or SERP. This correlates to a wide variety of keywords and URLs, rather than just one specific instance. The higher your average position, the better your overall search engine optimization standing. It's easy to be skewed by average position. You may rank in first place for a handful of keywords or queries, and rank in 20th for other less important keywords or queries that aren't intended to drive the majority of your traffic. Don't feel disheartened or allow yourself to become of the mind that your search engine optimization isn't working just because your average doesn't seem to be what you'd prefer. It's generally far more useful to focus on specific keywords that will work better for your business and optimize selectively.
Queries are more or less in reference to keyword data. Google calls its search terms "queries," and queries are keyword rich questions that people are seeking answers for via Google search. If you want to understand how well your keywords are performing, your queries data will provide valuable information. It's important to note the queries will always correlate to impressions, no matter where those impressions are. If your page winds up on the sixth page of search engine results, this low rank will also provide query data. Remember to use this information in conjunction with your impression and average position data to put the full picture together.
How to Add a Sitemap to Search Console
Google needs your sitemap to fully index all the information on your website. Although Google is smart enough to find most of the information on its own, the process will take a lot longer if you fail to submit that sitemap. Numerous tools exist, many of them for free, that will allow you to build your sitemap automatically. Once you have that sitemap, you should submit it to Google via the Search Console.
Open Search Console and select your website on the side menu. The option for sitemaps will appear. Then, enter the URL for your sitemap under "add a new sitemap." Usually, these extensions end in ".xml". Then click "submit". Google will handle it from there.
Finding Coverage Issues in Search Console
When Google Search Console was still known as Google Webmaster Tools, it was a little lighter on features. Since the upgrade fully rolled out, Google has added a feature that detects coverage issues and notifies site owners of gaps that need to be filled. Search Console will automatically seek out index coverage issues. This usually means problems with your sitemap, bad redirects, 404 errors, or indexing problems for the pages on your website. Google will tell you exactly what the problem is, and the fix will always depend on the issue.
There are a few common causes for coverage issues in Search Console. The first is that your robots.txt file may be preventing Google from fully accessing your website. Removing the old one and replacing it with a new one is likely to rectify that error. The second most likely culprit is that your sitemap is inaccurate or outdated, which may happen following major site updates. Generating and uploading a new sitemap is the simplest solution.
Incorrect metatags, particularly those of the "nofollow" variety, are likely to cause errors with coverage. Remove or amend "nofollow" with "dofollow" tags to improve your coverage. If Google encounters errors fetching pages for any other reason, these URLs can be manually submitted to Google's "Fetch" tool in search console. This method takes a little longer, and it may be worthwhile to try replacing your robots.txt file and your sitemap before you put the time and effort into submitting URLs piece by piece.
Should You Disavow Links in Search Console?
Disavowing links is more important than most people realize. Google uses links from other websites to determine the trustworthiness of a particular website. If a lot of high quality, trustworthy, and reputable websites link to yours, Google will use the context of those links to determine your credibility. Every website needs these high-quality backlinks to obtain a decent ranking on the search engine results page. You want as many of these links as you can possibly get, and you should be on a continuing quest to amass them the right way.
In the same way that great links add to your reputation, bad links may diminish that reputation. There are two ways to come about these bad links. Some people, in a desperate bid to optimize their websites for higher Google ranking, will purchase backlinks from seedy websites that exist for no other purpose than to falsely inflate other websites. Google catches on to these websites very quickly and promptly regards them as harmful. Website owners who are caught engaging in these shady "pay for links" schemes are often penalized by Google, and failing to comply on a consistent basis can result in a website's complete removal from Google's search engine.
Even if you play by the rules all the time, these shady websites can still wind up with links to you. Even if you aren't the one who had them placed there, the effect will still be the same. This can happen when competitors run something called a negative SEO campaign against you. People who don't play fair may arrange to have your link placed on these websites knowing that Google will penalize you for it, leaving you to deal with the consequences. If you're finding that Google is sending you notices about things you haven't done, you should immediately inform them that you believe you're the target of a negative SEO attack.
The best way to stay on top of things is to disavow links that you don't want to count towards your SEO. If you're finding links to your site on other sites that appear untrustworthy, don't let it slide. Over time, these links can result in cumulative damage to your SEO score. Disavow them through Google Search Console.
If you believe your site is being harmed by untrustworthy links, you can select those links via Google's Disavow Links tool within Search Console and manually disavow them. If you have more than a few links you'd like to disavow, you'll also want to gather those links and contact Google to make them formally aware that you weren't involved in the placement of those toxic links. Being thorough will help to prevent any problems you may encounter in the future.
How Accurate is the Performance Data in Search Console?
The accuracy of the performance data displayed by Google Search Console is often a subject of debate. Many SEO experts disagree with its accuracy, but Google is steadfast in its position that its data is among the most accurate data that can be made available to a website owner. There is no shortage of SEO data tools that can be used to track the performance data of websites, and these tools will not always agree. Results largely depend on the methods of testing and the kind of data being sought. Some tools may show you performing significantly better or worse than what Google is telling you. At the end of the day, Google is always going to win out.
Since Google is in the ultimate position of power and control when it comes to helping people find what they're looking for on the internet, it's best to base your strategy on the data you're getting from Google. A lot of Google's processes are proprietary and somewhat mysterious, and they keep things this way for a reason. The less website owners know about the details, the harder it will be for people to unethically game the system to achieve ranking positions they didn't actually earn. These little trade secrets are the reason that much of Google's data and algorithms are difficult to replicate. It's virtually impossible to achieve the same results without a clear understanding of the methods that were used to achieve them.
Experts in the SEO field who have attempted to reverse engineer Google's methods have weighed their performance data findings against those presented by Google Search Console, and they often find that the results are close enough to regard Google's data as trustworthy. The performance data displayed by Google Search Console is undoubtedly imperfect, but it's the best data that many website owners will have to work with. Overall, expect some discrepancies but don't allow those potential discrepancies to completely overhaul your SEO strategy.
Test, Fetch and Render - What They Are and What They're For
Some of the tools contained within Google Search Console may not be inherently intuitive to figure out. Among those tools are test, fetch, and render. The test tools will help you optimize a variety of aspects of your website, including mobile-friendliness. Since more than half of all internet browsing traffic comes from smartphones, testing your website for mobile-friendliness is of the utmost importance. Google will tell you what your load speeds are and advise you of any code or elements on your website that lack mobile compatibility. The URL inspection tool will check for structured data errors, indexing errors, and AMP errors. The feedback you receive from these tools will help you maximize the SEO efficiency of your website.
The URL inspection tool used to be called "Fetch as Google," and you may still see the term "Fetch" used throughout Google search console. The actual fetching feature is an option that occurs when you use the URL inspection tool. Fetch and Render, the button next to the fetch button, is essentially the same process. The only difference is that it's fetching the page and rendering it for a specific view, like mobile. For the most comprehensive data, use Fetch and Render.
If you inspect a URL and make changes to the page you're inspecting; you can request a new fetch of that page. This means that Google will crawl the page again, updating its records with new information that you've inserted and recognizing errors that have been fixed. If you want to improve loading times or keyword saturation on a particular page, you should do so as soon as you discover the areas that require improvement. Google will eventually crawl the page to obtain updated records, but you don't have to wait. Requesting a manual crawl immediately will keep their records as up to date as possible.
When you use Google's Fetch and Render tool, you'll be presented with a status message at the end of the analysis. The best status is "Complete." This means that Google was able to successfully access everything it needed without encountering any issues. If you've tested and the message reads as partial, redirected, not found, not authorized, or any variants of unreachable will indicate that some aspect of the page is broken. Refer to the error message for complete details of what went wrong. This will point you towards the right course of action and allow you to fix the error. Mend the error Google finds. Once it's fixed, the URL should be tested again to ensure your fix was successful.
Top Tips: 10 Great Things You Can Do in Google Search Console
Google Search Console will provide you with a wealth of information. Merely having this information is not enough. Once you know how to leverage it, you'll begin to see real results.
1. See What Keywords Visitors Use to Find You
Rather than attempting to alter the way people find you, try to capitalize on the foundation that already exists. If people are successfully reaching your website by utilizing specific keywords, prioritize those keywords in your SEO strategy. You can find this information under the search analytics tab. Perhaps the most valuable insights you'll obtain from this experience is that you've accidentally optimized for something you thought to be unimportant, but the results show that it's working out wonderfully for you.
2. Check Out Visitor Locations
Visitor location data is highly important for eCommerce based websites. You might find that you're getting a substantial amount of traffic from a country you don't normally ship to. If the demand is great, you can use this data to plan the logistics for international shipping and expand your customer base exponentially. You can also use this data to determine if it's worthwhile to have your website professionally translated into a different language. If 20% of your traffic is coming from France, you might want to create a French version.
3. Determine Your Most Popular Pages
Being able to see which pages of your website are most popular will help you to develop a content strategy that plays solely on your successes. Websites need a lot of content to be viewed as useful by Google, and this content also serves as one of the best marketing tools you can possibly have. If pages with a certain type of content are performing exceedingly well, you should consider creating more of that content for other areas of your website. The best way to succeed is undoubtedly to give people what they want.
4. Keeping Your Website Secure
A secure website is highly important, particularly if you're storing any personal data about a user and allowing them to purchase things through your website. Google uses website security as an important factor in SEO ranking, with less secure websites falling to the bottom of the search engine results page. Always check the Security Issues tab on the left side menu. Google will alert you if it perceives any flaws that may jeopardize your visitors or leave you susceptible to attacks by malicious entities.
5. See Who Links to You
You should always be aware of how many high-quality websites are linking to you. You want to constantly increase that number. Google Search Console will allow you to see who links to you, and this information is invaluable for creating a winning backlink strategy. Knowing the kind of websites that are likely to link to you can help you effectively pitch content or make arrangements with similar websites for legitimate and trustworthy backlinks.
6. Improving Your Schema Markup
Schema, also known as Structured Data, is the language that Google uses to determine the context of your website. Every meaningful page on your website should contain adequate schema information. Google will use it to determine whether or not a searcher's desired information can be found on a specific page. Optimizing your schema data can improve the snippets searchers will see. Attractive images and powerful text within that snippet will make people more compelled to give you a click.
7. Hide URLs from Search
You may not want searchers to find every area of your website. If you have pages designed for A/B conversion testing or if you're trying out a new layout, it's best not to allow people to inadvertently stumble upon them. People wandering in from an undesired source can skew testing data. If they discover an incomplete page, it may give them a negative first impression of your website. You don't want that either.
Google Search Console will allow you to temporarily hide a URL from search results for up to 90 days. Remember to delete these pages when you're done with them, or to complete them before they're relisted on the search engine results page.
8. Optimize Your Visibility in Certain Countries
Say you're a travel agency, and it's your goal to get people to depart from the United States and vacation in France. Targeting users in France won't be much help. You cannot effectively serve people outside of the United States, so attempting to draw traffic from every corner of the world may not be in your best interest. Google Search Console has an International Targeting feature, listed underneath the search traffic tab. Simply select the countries you're looking to target.
9. Measure Your Improvement
The goal is to constantly grow. You want to use the data you receive to fortify your website and see greater success. Google will provide performance reports across all time. This makes it easy to compare your current standing to your standing 90 days ago. In just a few clicks, you can see how well any improvements you've made or changes to your strategy have paid off. It's a breeze to measure consistent increases in performance.
10. Speed Up Your Website
People are very impatient. They want answers to their questions immediately, and if your page is taking too long to load, they're going to click the back arrow and head straight for your competitor. Google uses page speed as a ranking factor. You can have the most useful website in the world, but if it's slow, you'll see a demotion in your average position for your load times.
Under the Enhancements tab, Google will report data about page speed. If you see anything that's alarmingly slow, you'll know what you need to fix. Plugins, widgets, large images, and bulky old code can weigh down a page. You might want to do a little spring cleaning on pages that are struggling to load in a timely manner.
Google Search Console is an absolute necessity for anyone seeking a successful website. Without the data and integration provided by Google Search Console, you won't stand a fighting chance against your competitors. Although there may be a bit of a learning curve, Search Console's features will quickly become easy for beginners to master as they poke around through the interface.