I’m constantly asked questions from clients and friends about the best way to track organic search metrics. Most people think that getting data from Google Analytics is the only source worth looking at.
However, when I introduce them to Google Search Console (GSC), their mind is blown.
Google Search Console helps Marketing teams track the performance of websites with views into the impression and click traffic for keywords and webpages. In my opinion, it’s the go-to tool to see how existing and new content is performing and ranking.
Not only does GSC helps us to see what’s working and what needs improvement, but it also reveals technical issues that may be hindering website ranking in the SERPs and decreasing search traffic.
So in this in-depth post, I’m going to share everything you need to know about this powerful, free tool so that you can use it confidently to build and scale your SEO strategy.
What is Google Search Console and What Does it Do?
Google Search Console is one of the free Google Webmaster Tools, along with Google Analytics, that provides business owners, content marketers, SEO specialists, and web developers insight into how Google views and ranks a website.
The tool provides a dashboard that allows you to:
Optimize Content on Your Website
GSC also indicates many of the issues that can occur with pages or content so you can troubleshoot to resolve them and help your content rank better. For example, GSC might indicate that a particular page isn’t being indexed, which can hinder your SEO.
Optimize the Technical Aspects of Your Website
GSC can help you implement and test new technical components to ensure that they are functioning as expected. For example, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) which optimizes content for mobile browsing and helps web pages to load faster on mobile devices.
React to Red Flags
Aside from indexing usability issues, Google Search Console will also give you alerts to other potential threats such as spam and other site discrepancies so you can address them quickly and avoid diminishing ranking for your site.
Track Performance Data
Best of all, Google Search Console gives you an analysis of your site’s performance so you can see how often your content is appearing in searches, as well as the search queries that return results that include pages from your site.
How to Use Google Search Console
So now that you know what this awesome tool can do, let’s jump into how you can use it to launch and scale your SEO strategy.
1. Install Google Search Console
Step 1: Register for a Google account or log in to an existing Google Search Console account.
Step 2: Enter a property type, either a domain or a URL prefix.
If you choose ‘Domain’ this means you’d like GSC to track your domain name and all URLs across all subdomains of an HTML website. Alternatively, selecting ‘URL prefix’ means that GSC will only track a specific page.
Step 3: Verify ownership of the domain or URL in question through your domain name provider.
This step is mandatory as only site owners and appointed users are lawfully allowed to use Google Search Console.
Here are the three best ways to verify a domain.
- HTML File: Upload the unique HTML file to your site.
- CNAME or TXT Record: Add the CNAME or TXT record to your domain settings.
- HTML Code Snippet: Simply upload the snippet of code given by GSC to the <head> section of your homepage’s code.
To verify a single page, you also have the option to use a Google Analytics tracking code or Google Tag Manager snippet if you are utilizing either of those tools already.
Note: When verifying your website you might get a message from Google that says “Your verification record was not found.” This sometimes happens because it takes Google a moment to catch up with your action. Give it a few minutes and try the “Verify” button again.
You might also receive a message that says, “Your verification record did not match.” This can occur when you’ve improperly pasted the code provided by GSC. Verify that you’ve copied and pasted the code correctly, and try to verify again.
Step 4: Set up your users and permissions
In GSC, there are two roles available: Owner and User.
‘Owners’ have full rights and control within the search console. They have access to features, settings, as well as the ability to add and remove other users.
‘Users’ can view data but may only perform a few admin tasks.
Step 5: Link Google Analytics to Google Search Console
Open Google Analytics, and click on Admin at the bottom right of your dashboard.
From the Admin menu, then click on Property Settings.
From the Property Settings screen, scroll down to Adjust Search Console.
Click on “Add” on the popup for Search Console Site.
Click on your website, and then click “Save” and you’re done.
2. Metrics Measured by Google Search Console
There are several terms used in Google Search Console that you may or may not be familiar with, so we’re going to include a quick rundown of each of them here.
Queries: this refers to the words or phrases that searchers use to search Google.
Clicks: this refers to the behavior expressed by the Google searcher, specifically, the number of times the visitor clicks on one of your pages after performing their search 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 average CTR would be 10%.
Impressions: this refers to the number of times a page from your site appears in the Google SERPs.
Average Position: this refers to the search appearance of your content on a SERP for various queries.
3. Google Search Console Features
Now that you’re set up with the platform and you have a good understanding of the key terms you’ll see within the platform, let’s now talk about features you can and should leverage to improve your SEO strategy.
The overview serves as your main dashboard for all the reporting that Google Search Console does, and gives a birds-eye view of everything that Google Search Console tracks. It’s the first thing you’ll see when you log in to the tool.
On the overview, you’ll see graphs that show the total number of indexed pages by Google and the number of clicks each page has received. It will also show any security issues or problems occurring with your site as it is viewed by Google, so you can address them immediately.
Next up is the performance report. You have the choice to display your results in many ways including: by URL, by device, or by location. This is where you can monitor your site’s performance and note any changes in ranking that may indicate action is needed.
From this report, you can also see the search queries being used and make changes to your content keywords, as needed, to improve performance.
URL Inspection Tool
The URL Inspection Tool can inspect any page on your site that might be experiencing crawl errors, indexing issues, or blocked resources. This tool gives a good review of pages from a technical perspective so that you can pinpoint issues and address them quickly.
Google Index Coverage will show you whether or not Google indexed your site as well as the individual pages on your site. Therefore, if there is a page that is not getting indexed by Google, you can troubleshoot the issue and resolve it. This is critical to your overall SEO strategy because if a site or page is not being indexed, then it will not show up in Google search results.
While not required, you have the option to submit sitemaps to Google Search Console to improve the overall index status. If you have a brand new site or a large site with many pages, this can help the Google crawler to index pages faster.
You can also use the sitemap report to view any crawl errors that occurred while Google was attempting to crawl your sitemap.
If you were to ever need to have a URL taken off Google Search quickly, you can use this tool to remove it from temporarily. You can also use this tool to remove sensitive content from a page without removing the entire page from Search.
Enhancements – Core Web Vitals
The Core Web Vitals report shows your URL performance either grouped by status, metric type, or URL group. This report shows three metrics:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): The amount of time to render the largest content element visible in the viewport, from when the user requests the URL.
- First Input Delay (FID): The time from when a user first interacts with your page (when they clicked a link, tapped on a button, and so on) to the time when the browser responds to that interaction.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): The amount that the page layout shifts during the loading phase.
If a URL doesn’t have enough data to qualify for reporting on these metrics, it will be omitted from the report.
Based on the data received in this report, you can take steps to improve your content so that any sites that are “poor URLs” or “URLs need improvement” can move into the “good URL” status.
Enhancements – Mobile Usability
Statista reported that mobile devices generated over 50% of global website search traffic in the second quarter of 2020. So, it’s important to ensure that your website is accessible and readable for those visiting via a mobile device.
The Mobile Usability Report can tell you which of your URLs are seen as “mobile-friendly” by Google standards. Additionally, it will indicate any errors on your pages as it relates to mobile accessibility.
Enhancements – Sitelinks Searchbox
The site links search box is a quick way for users to search your site immediately on the search results page. The search box implements real-time suggestions and other features.
Google sometimes provides these boxes automatically, without you having to manually request it. However, with this feature, you can explicitly provide information by adding structured data, which can help Google better understand your site.
Security & Manual Actions
The Manual Actions Report and Security Report will give details around any manual actions taken against your site or security issues within your site and include suggestions on how to resolve the issue.
Once you’ve addressed any issues, you can request that Google review your site again to check your fixes. If there are no issues, you will just see a single box with a green checkmark like this.
Gaining external backlinks and internal link building is an important part of any SEO strategy. Having legitimate links from other sites with high domain authority (DA) will increase yours, while interlinking on your site will help improve your overall SEO and ranking.
The Links Report is where you will track and manage these internal and external links. It shows what site and page the link is from and what text is being linked. It will also show you any spammy links that you may be getting so that you can address them before your DA suffers.
4. Quick Start Checklist
Follow these quick and easy steps to get quick wins for your website right out of the gate!
- Claim all versions of your domain on Google Search Console
- Make sure you’ve verified all your domains.
- Connect Google Analytics for maximum effectiveness.
- Check for security issues and address those first!
- Add a sitemap to Google Search Console so that Google indexes your entire site.
- Use the Index Coverage report to begin addressing errors and warnings.
- Check the excluded tab to make sure everything listed should actually be excluded.
- Use URL inspection to get new pages indexed immediately and re-index updated content.
- Make sure your website is optimized for mobile–this one is huge!
- Utilize the Mobile Usability check for any issues that can reduce your mobile usability.
5. BONUS: Do More With Your GSC Insights
So you’ve learned what Google Search Console is and what it can do, how to install it and use its core functionality. We’ve even given you a quick start checklist to help you take action immediately.
Last, we’d like to share a few more things you can do with the insight you get from GSC.
- Map groups of keywords to funnel stage, topic, location, branded terms vs non-branded terms, and track their performance over time.
- Using Google Analytics data, you can track conversions that you’re getting on certain pages and map those to the keywords that are driving the traffic according to Google Search Console.
- You can improve low ranking pages by optimizing them for the most popular, relevant keywords. This includes your title and links anchor text.
- You can filter reports to track how much organic traffic you’re getting from your blog, a particular topic or content type, a keyword cluster, navigation pages, etc.
- You can identify your highest-traffic pages, highest-CTR pages, highest traffic queries, average CTR, and identify changes over time.
- You can see how many internal and external links you have as well as which pages have the most links, which site links to your site most, and identify the most popular anchor text for external links.
By their admission, Google Search Console is a tool for everyone. We’d have to agree with that assessment.
The reports that GSC provides are extremely helpful in improving both the UX, SEO, and SERP rankings for your site and your pages.
The alerts help easily identify problems that can negatively impact your site, and the improvement suggestions are easy enough for non-technical users to follow.
Whether you are B2B or B2C, a micro business, or an enterprise, we hope you found this guide helpful as you get started building and/or scaling your SEO strategy with Google Search Console.