Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools is a mainstay in any SEO pro’s toolkit.
And while the tool’s been around for a while, it recently went through a major update, changing its entire interface and the reports it offers.
In this article, I’ll explain the benefits of Google Search Console, what’s changing in the new version, and break down each of the reports and how they’re used for SEO.
What You’ll Learn:
- The benefits of Google Search Console
- How to set up Google Search Console for your site
- Overview of the latest changes to Google Search Console
- Reports breakdown:
- Reports: what’s merged, what’s been replaced, and what’s left the new Google Search Console
- What’s next for Google Search Console
The Benefits of Google Search Console
So what, exactly, does Google Search Console offer digital marketers?
For starters, it informs Google about your online content. Without Search Console, you’d likely have a website that nobody could find with a simple search.
Next, Search Console enables you to remove content from Google’s search index that you’ve taken down from your website. That way, people won’t find broken links to your site in the search results.
Third, Search Console shows you which search terms are drawing people to your website. That will give you the knowledge you need to optimize your site for relevant keywords.
Search Console will also advise you about malware or spam issues on your site. Google might just save the life of your business with that kind of warning.
Next, Search Console will inform you if your product detail is making it into the rich results. If not, you can take corrective to ensure a better user experience.
Also, Search Console will show you which websites are linking to your site. That will give you some insight as to your popularity online.
If any mobile users are having problems accessing your site, Search Console will issue a notification to that effect. That way, you can make design changes to ensure a mobile-friendly experience.
Finally, if you want to put some of your web pages in the search index immediately, Search Console offers you a tool to do just that.
How to Set up Google Search Console for Your Site
When you’re ready to set up Google Search Console for your website, you’re going to have to do some technical stuff.
It’s understandable if you’re not up to that task. In that case, you’ll have to hire a professional who has some experience.
Start by visiting Google Search Console. If this is your first visit, you’ll have to sign in.
Just use your Google account to sign in.
Once you’re signed in, click “Add A Property” in the upper, right-hand corner. When you do that, a popup will appear.
Leave the drop-down in the popup set to “Website.” That’s what you’re adding right now, after all.
In the text field, add the URL of your site. You can follow the example that’s already in the field.
Once you’ve typed in the site URL, click “Add.”
Now, the fun begins. You have to “prove” to Google that you’re the owner of that website. There are a few ways to do that.
The easiest, and most popular, is the method that Google will show you by default. That’s where you upload a simple HTML verification file to your site.
Once you’ve uploaded the file, click the confirmation link and Google Search Console will validate the existence of the file. Then, you’re all set up!
If, for whatever reason, you can’t upload a file to your website, you still have a few options to prove that you own the domain:
- An HTML Tag – put a meta tag in the homepage of your website
- Domain Name Provider – sign in to your domain name provider
- Google Analytics – use your Google Analytics code to validate ownership
- Google Tag Manager – use your Google Tag Manager account to validate ownership
Google Search Console in 2019: What Are the Latest GSC Changes?
Between June’s Core Algorithm Update and the newfound ability to load Google AMP pages directly from your own URL, there’s a lot of exciting changes taking place on the platform–in and out of the Search Console.
Not all features included in the last iteration are present in this latest version. As noted in the Search Console Help section, Google is in the process of reassessing and replacing several features and reports to keep pace with the changing SEO landscape.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the changes you can expect to see inside the New Search Console :
- New reports and tools
- Now works on mobile devices
- Historical data dates back 16 months instead of three
- Tracking flows for monitoring and fixing issues directly from the platform
- Access to more information about specific pages such as index coverage, canonical URLs, mobile usability, and more.
The idea is, these updates make the platform more useful for SEO pros.
As an added bonus, Google Search Console is now available on mobile.
Now, you can access your Google account on your phone instead of logging into your web account any time you need to check something real fast. The new version of GSC allows you to do everything you can do on desktop.
Below, we’ll dive into some of the reports and tools they’ve added and what’s no longer included in GSC’s suite.
Keep in mind, all navigation happens in the left-hand sidebar. You’ll find all the reports we’re about to cover in that section.
Google Search Console 2019: URL Inspection Tool
At the very top of the menu, you’ll see the Overview (this offers a quick – you guessed it – overview of the reports we’re about to cover).
Right under it you’ll find the URL Inspection Tool.
The URL Inspection Tool has been available for quite some time and allows users to check the status of a particular URL to review how Google sees your page.
The status report provides information about your crawl history, as well as any indexing or AMP errors.
How it works is simple. Just enter the URL in question and run the report.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The URL must be part of the current property. Any URL outside of the property cannot be tested, even if you own that property. In that case, you’ll need to log into that account to check the URL.
The URL inspector can be used to test both AMP and non-AMP URLs, and the tool will also provide information about the AMP or non-AMP version of the URL you entered.
If the URL entered has an alternate or duplicate version, the report will include the information for that page as well, plus information about the original version provided it is part of a website that you own.
The URL Inspection Tool replaces Fetch as Google, Crawl Errors and Blocked Resources reports that were previously available on the old version of Google Search Console.
The report can:
- Test indexed URLs – this will retrieve the version of your page Google has indexed, and report on why or could or could not be indexed
- Test live URLs – this will test if a given URL is able to be indexed by Google; Google notes that this is useful when checking page updates against the version currently indexed
- Request a URL be indexed – request a certain URL be crawled and indexed (or reindexed) by Google; the process can take up to two weeks, and status can be found in the report
- View rendered version of a page – this will show you how Google views your page (formerly performed by Fetch as Google)
The “Performance” report feature in Google Search Console was one of the first new tools introduced as part of the beta version, so it’s been around for over a year now.
This report has been introduced as a replacement to the old Search Analytics, adding a new and improved UI and access to more historical data.
As compared to Search Analytics, search marketers now have access to data dating back 16 months, as opposed to the measly three-month period offered before.
The goal of this report is to let you know how your site performs in the Google Search results.
So, you’ll use this to track metrics that reveal your average position, how often your site shows up, your click-through rates, and rich results, where applicable.
Use this report to review how search traffic changes over time, which queries generate the most traffic, and where most of your visitors are coming from.
As of now, there aren’t many customization options built into the platform. Users can filter the data or pull it into DataStudio, which, while useful, is kind of a time suck. Hopefully, Google will continue to make changes to the report for faster access to vital insights.
As part of the Performance report, you can also check your site’s performance on Google Discover.
As a reminder, Google Discover is a solution for keeping up with your favorite topics. If you have Google on your smartphone, you’ve probably noticed this feature on your mobile homepage. Discover typically shows users trending articles, human interest pieces, and content that relates to past search results.
On the publisher side, Google is making it easier to track your appearance and performance on Discover, through the new GSC Discover report.
Google Search Console: Index Reports
Next on the left-hand menu, you’ll the Index dropdown.
Click the arrow for two options: the Coverage report and Sitemaps.
The Index Coverage Report replaces Index Status and Crawl Errors, combining the two reports to give you a comprehensive view of the crawling and indexing issues that can impact your site.
This report can be found in the left-hand menu under Index > Coverage.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect to find in each of the tabs:
- Warnings–This lets you know if a page is indexed, but is blocked by robots.txt.
- Error–Scans for redirects, 404, robot.txt, and server errors.
- Valid Pages–Valid pages are recorded in the index
- Excluded Pages–pages blocked on purpose (i.e. a noindex directive or a page removal tool) or by Google. Google might exclude pages if it detects duplicate content or some other problem.
This is the part of Google Search Console that will show you the index state of your URLs as well as if there have been any issues with your submitted sitemap.
Sitemaps (previously called Sitemap Reports) are being rolled over from the previous version.
Sitemaps are a great way to tell Google how to crawl your site. They’re really essential for SEO.
Once your sitemap is submitted, come back to this page to check for errors. If there aren’t any errors, the Google will submit all of the links in your sitemap to its index. Again, though, that could take some time.
This report will show you the status of all sitemaps you’ve submitted to Google and if they contain any errors.
Google Search Console: Enhancement Reports
Speaking of structured data, enhancement reports allow you to review any issues related to structured data on your website, highlighting where you can improve your performance.
Structured data is becoming a more significant part of SEO all the time, and this report aims to help marketers understand more about what goes into the ranking criteria, rather than trying to follow Google’s EAT guidance as best they can.
You can find individual reports for the following rich results:
- Fact Check
- Job Posting
- Q&A Page
- Sitelinks Searchbox
When looking at these report, you want your current error count to be 0. If it isn’t, Google notes that the increase in errors could be due to a change in your template, or mean that your rich results aren’t showing on the page.
If your report does show errors, it’s something you’ll want to investigate ASAP. Google goes into how to diagnose and fix a rich result error on this page.
Under the Enhancements section in the left-hand menu, you can also test your rich results for mobile usability. This will return any errors that occur during mobile use, for example, too small text or content that’s too wide for the screen.
Updates to Structured Data (Now Rich Results) in Google Search Console
Just recently, Google also announced that they’d be releasing support for FAQ and How-to structured data both on Google Search and Google Assistant. In the past, Google hasn’t been super forthcoming about how marketers can ensure that structured data show up in the search results.
However, over the past month or so, they’ve started to offer some guidance on best practices and how to monitor your performance, making this SEO area feel less like a black box and more like something you can approach systematically.
Here’s a bit more about what that means for search marketers:
- FAQ: FAQ pages are for, you guessed it, answering common questions on a particular topic. FAQ page structured data allows you to make your content eligible to show up in the featured snippet or the Google Assistant results.
- How-to: You can add how-to actions (Assistant) and how-to search (web) structured data to allow your page to show up as a rich result.
Rich results updates have slowly been rolling out over the past several months, and you can check out the full lineup of support docs, case studies, and more here.
Security and Manual Actions Reports
These next reports are designed to help you stay aware of combat and penalties or security issues.
Manual Actions Report
Also new to the Console is the Google Manual Actions report.
As a quick refresher, the search engine issues a manual action any time its human reviewers have determined that pages on your website don’t comply with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
The new report can be found as part of the report summary in the Overview page, though it’s not exceptionally detailed.
Here, you’ll mainly find mobile usability and crawl errors that you can fix from the report.
The benefit of this feature is to help you spend less time addressing website performance issues.
This way, when Google hits you with a manual action, you can quickly scan the report for any items you’ve missed, then per usual, make the changes and request a review.
If all’s well, you’ll simply see a “no issues detected” message on the page to confirm you’re in the clear.
This will show you another report that you want to be brief.
Security Issues is located under Security & Manual Actions > Security.
Hopefully, you’ll see a big green check marking informing you that your site has no issues.
Links to Your Site in Google Search Console
Towards the bottom of the left-hand menu, you’ll see the Links report.
Merging of User Management and Settings
Another improvement here is that user management and settings have merged, making it much easier to navigate through your admin features in the new interface than the fragmented old one.
The usability features in the new Search Console are much easier to navigate than they were in the old interface.
Restricted access has been renamed “read-only access,” meaning those users can read reports, without making changes. The benefit here is, you can give more employees access to Search Console Data while keeping peace of mind that they can’t mess anything up.
What’s more, you can also share reports with people who are not on your user’s list.
This is great for people who need to share performance results with a third-party stakeholder that they don’t necessarily want inside the system.
To share a report, all you’ll need to do is click the “share” found on the top righthand corner of the page featuring the report you’d like to share.
Some Search Console features are getting some minor updates, like a name change and an improved UI.
- Accelerated Mobile Pages will become AMP Status
- Sitemap reports are now just Sitemaps.
- Internal and external links are consolidated under one unified Links tab.
What’s Leaving Google Search Console?
Google hasn’t updated or replaced everything from the old Search Console.
Google has already bid farewell to Android apps, Fetch as Google, and Property Sets. They’ve also announced that HTML Improvements are on the way out, but haven’t set a retirement date.
HTML improvements was designed to alert you to on-page SEO issues like tagging and meta description problems, but given the changing nature of SEO, they aren’t especially useful anymore.
Not Yet Supported in the New Google Search Console
According to Google, the following features are not yet supported in the new console but will be by the end of the year when they finally disable the old version.
- Robots.txt tester
- Crawl stats data
- Ability to manage URL parameters in Search
- Data highlighter tool
- Reading and managing your messages
- Ability to set a preferred domain
- The change of address tool
- Disavow links tool
- Associating your Search Console property with an Analytics property
- The ability to remove old content from Google’s index.
What’s Next for Google Search Console?
As it stands, we can expect to see some new tools inside the GSC dashboard, while other features will be retiring.
By the end of 2019, the old Search Console will no longer be available for use. Until then, users still do have the option to switch to the old version of the site.
While based on the list of tools that are “not yet available,” you’ll still need to keep using some items until they are replaced, we recommend switching to the replacement tools as they roll out, as you may lose some data if you put off the migration.
Oh, and we should leave with on this note—Google is actively seeking out feedback from SEOs. If there are parts of the old version you don’t want to or issues with the new version, be sure to let them know.
Wrapping Up How to Use Google Search Console
Now you know how to use Google Search Console. Do yourself a favor: make it a habit to check it regularly. That way, you can monitor your site’s health and learn about search terms that are boosting your brand. That kind of knowledge will help you outrank your competitors.
Google Search Console FAQ
How Do I Connect Google Search Console With Google Analytics?
It’s possible to connect Google Search Console with Google Analytics. That will enable you to view Search Console data within Analytics.
You’ll need administrative rights to both Search Console and Analytics to make that happen, though.
As of now, Search Console only retains 90 days worth of data, so that’s all you’ll see in Analytics once you connect the two.
How Do I Use the Google Search Console API?
If you’re a power user who’d like to harvest key data from Google Search Console programmatically, you can do that. There’s an API available.
For starters, you’ll need a Google account to create a project in the API console.
You’ll also need to be somewhat familiar with how to use Google Search Console as a regular user. If you’re not familiar with it, check out our article above.
The Search Console API supports both Python and Java. You can read more about how to get started in the developer’s guide.
How Accurate Is the Data in Google Search Console?
Recently, some digital marketing professionals have called into question the accuracy of the data reported in Google Search Console.
About a year ago, Moz questioned the accuracy of GSC reports.
Some SEOs have conducted their own studies and noticed significant disparities between actual ranking data and what Search Console reported.
Bottom line: it’s not gospel. That’s why it’s best to use multiple tools to measure the effectiveness of your SEO campaigns.