One of the best tools for SEO is Google Search Console.
Why? Because it enables you to maximize your visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs). It also provides analytics that show you how people are finding your website.
And best of all: it’s 100% free.
In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of Google Search Console, show you how to set it up for your website, describe the different reports, and even let you in on where the tool is headed in the future.
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.
In short, Google Search Console is an indispensable aid when it comes to optimizing your site for search results.
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
You’ll have to use one of those five options to convince Google that you’re the owner of your domain.
Navigating Around Search Console
Once you’ve validated your site, you’ll see a dashboard that shows a thumbnail of the website’s home page followed by its URL.
Click on the URL. You’ll see that it doesn’t take you to your site, but to another dashboard that gives you plenty of info about the site itself.
At the top of the site dashboard, in the center of the screen, you’ll see notifications about your site. Since you just set it up for the first time, you’ll likely see a message about how you can increase the visibility of your website.
It’s a good idea to click on that message and follow the suggestions in it.
Below the messages, you’ll see a subheader that reads “Current Status.” Below that, you’ll see a section labeled “Crawl Errors,” another labeled “Search Analytics,” and a third labeled “Sitemaps.”
You should see all green checkmarks in the “Crawl Errors” section. That means you have no crawl errors.
If you do see any errors, Search Console will explain the errors and what you need to do to resolve them.
Below the checkmarks, you’ll see another section labeled “URL Errors.” Since you just set up this website, you shouldn’t see anything there.
In the future, though, Search Console will use that spot to inform you about pages that are indexed but no longer available on your site.
In the Search Analytics section, you’ll see a line graph. That will be empty right now because you’ve just set up the site.
After some time, that graph will show you the number of clicks your site received every day.
The Sitemaps section will likewise be empty right now. That’s because you haven’t entered any sitemaps yet.
Eventually, it will display a bar graph showing you how many pages you’ve submitted to the search index as compared to how many pages are actually indexed.
Keep in mind: people can only find your site via search results from pages that are indexed. Pages that aren’t indexed won’t appear in the results.
If you’ve only got a couple of dozens or even a few hundred pages, Google is pretty good about getting them indexed fairly quickly. However, if you’re running an ecommerce site with thousands of product listings, you might find that it takes a while to get them all indexed.
On the left-hand side of the screen, you’ll see a menu. As of this writing, that menu displays 8 clickable items:
- Search Appearance
- Search Traffic
- Google Index
- Security Issues
- Web Tools
We’ve already covered the dashboard. Next, let’s look at the other reports individually.
Google Search Console Messages
Click on “Messages” on the left-hand sidebar and the center screen will show you a UI that looks remarkably similar to an email inbox.
Effectively, that’s what it is.
In this “inbox,” Google informs you about issues with your site. Usually, Google will also tell you how to fix the problems associated with your site. But it also tells you if you have penalty.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a great idea to follow all of Google’s suggestions about how to improve your site.
Structured Data in Google Search Console
Click on “Search Appearance” on the left-hand menu and you’ll see a context menu that appears below it. Click on “Structured Data.”
In the center of the page, you’ll see a line graph that shows you how many structured data elements Search Console found on your site. That graph will also show you how many structured data errors it found on your site.
The “items found” count is shown with a blue line. The error count is shown with a red line.
Below the graph, Search Console displays a table with more detail about the structured data elements and errors it found. If there are errors, you can click a hyperlink to get more detail about what triggered the error.
For example, you might see something like “missing author” in the list of errors. That means you’re using structured data that requires an author but you didn’t specify an author.
Rich Cards in Google Search Console
Click on “Rich Cards” below “Search Appearance” in the left-hand sidebar and Search Console will show you a report about your rich cards.
If you aren’t using any rich cards at this time, Search Console will simply display a message to that effect. It will also point you to a link so that you can get started with rich cards.
In case you’re new to the concept, rich cards give you a way to enhance your visibility in the search results. You can learn more about them here.
If you do have rich cards on your site, Search Console will show you a stacked graph that gives you some insight about the quality of your cards.
Specifically, you’ll see a count of invalid cards (in red), enhanceable cards (in yellow), and fully enhanced cards (in green).
Again, the point of this report is so that you can take corrective action.
Data Highlighter in Google Search Console
Click on “Data Highlighter” below “Search Appearance” in the left-hand sidebar. It’s almost certainly the case that you won’t see a report since you just set up your website. Instead, you’ll likely see a pitch from Google about the advantages of highlighting your data.
Click on the “Start Highlighting” button. Then, in the popup that appears, enter a URL on your website (you can use your homepage or a blog post).
In the “Type of information to highlight” drop-down, select the option most relevant to the type of data on the web page.
If you’re tagging a blog post, select “Tag this page and others like it” from the radio button below. If you’re tagging a unique page, select “Tag just this page.”
Finally, click “OK.”
Search Console will display your page and give you the option to simply point, click, and highlight different elements on the page. Once you’ve highlighted an element (for example, the title), the tool will display context menu so that you can specify the type of data in the highlight.
When you’re all done highlighting data on the page, click the “Publish” button.
After that, the Data Highlighter report will show you a graph with your highlighted data. You can just click on a page set to view details about the highlights.
HTML Improvements in Google Search Console
Next, click on “HTML Improvements” below “Search Appearance.” Hopefully, you’ll see a notification that Search Console didn’t detect any content issues with your site.
If not, though, you’ll see one or more messages indicating exactly what’s wrong with your HTML. That way you’ll know exactly what you need to fix.
It’s important to keep your HTML in top shape or your rank could suffer.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Mobile is everything these days. That’s why Google has thrown its weight behind AMP.
In Search Console, you can access the AMP report by clicking on “Accelerated Mobile Pages” under “Search Appearance.”
On the center page, you’ll see line graph with those familiar blue and red lines.
The blue line indicates how many AMP pages you have indexed. The red line indicates how many AMP pages have an error.
If there are any errors detected, Google will tell you exactly what’s wrong so you know what to fix.
The AMP project offers a great guide to get you started with AMP if you haven’t already done so.
Search Analytics in Google Search Console
On the left-hand sidebar, click on “Search Traffic.” Then, select “Search Analytics” from the drop-down menu that appears.
On the center screen, you won’t see anything useful right now. That’s because you’re just getting started.
After a while, though, you’ll see a line graph that shows you how many clicks your site received every day. That’s the default graph, anyway.
You have plenty of options when it comes to changing that graph to show other useful metrics.
For starters, you can track clicks, impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and position in the SERPs.
You can also select a date range for your graph. The chart by default shows the last 28 days. In 2018, this will start to show 12 months of data.
There’s also a table below the graph that shows you the information that you’re tracking. By default, that table shows you the search queries that are bringing visitors to your site. It’s ordered by most popular search queries in descending order.
You can track more than just search queries, though. You can also track pages, countries, devices, search type (web, image, or video), and search appearance (AMP, rich result, or non-AMP non-rich result).
This is probably the report you’ll spend most of your time on when you visit Google Search Console in the future.
Links to Your Site in Google Search Console
Next, click on “Links to Your Site” under “Search Traffic” in the left-hand menu. That report will show you which sites are linking to your site and which pages they’re linking to.
At the top, you’ll see your total links.
Right below that, you’ll see two sections: one that shows you which sites link to your sites the most and another that shows your most linked content.
Below those tables, you’ll see another section that shows a list of anchor tags people are using to link to your site.
Keep an eye on this section each month. If you see bad links coming in, here is how to clean them up.
Click on “Internal Links” under “Search Traffic.” You’ll see a report that unsurprisingly tells you all about your internal links.
It’s a table that shows your most popular linked-to pages in descending order. You’ll likely see your home page at the very top.
You can also use that report to search for target internal links.
Manual Actions in Google Search Console
If there’s one report where you don’t want to see a lot of information, it’s the Manual Actions report. You can access it under the “Search Traffic” menu on the left-hand sidebar.
You’ll probably see the following message on that page right now: “No manual webspam actions were found.”
That’s a good thing because it means your site hasn’t been penalized.
If your site becomes the target of a manual penalty, you’ll see information to that effect on this page.
Your website can get penalized if you practice “blackhat” SEO tactics or optimization techniques that violate Google’s guidelines.
International Targeting in Google Search Console
Click on “International Targeting” under “Search Traffic” in the left-hand sidebar. In the center page, you’ll see a report about international targeting.
The first tab provides detail about the language you’re using. If you haven’t specified an hreflang tag, then you’ll see an alert to that effect.
The other tab provides detail about the country you’re targeting. You can change your target country if you’re using a “generic” domain extension (like “.com” or “.net”). But if you’re using a country-specific domain extension (like “.us”), you won’t be able to change anything.
Mobile Usability in Google Search Console
Another report that you want to be very brief is the Mobile Usability report. You can access it underneath “Search Traffic” in the left-hand sidebar.
Hopefully, you see this message: “No mobile usability errors detected.”
If you don’t, Search Console will provide a report detailing the errors.
Index Status Report in Google Search Console
Click on “Google Index” on the left-hand sidebar. Then, click on “Index Status” on the context menu that appears below.
On the center page, you’ll see a line graph that shows you how many of your pages have been indexed in the last year.
At the top, you’ll see the total number of indexed pages. On the graph itself, you’ll see the number of indexed pages for every day.
If you’re interested in seeing more detail, you can click on “Advanced” towards the top of the report. That will show you how many of your pages are blocked by robots or have been removed from the index.
If you’re interested in seeing which parts of your website are blocked by robots.txt directives, click on the “Blocked Resources” item underneath “Google Index” in the left-hand sidebar.
You’re probably trying to index your entire site, so you should see the following message: “No blocked resources detected.”
On the other hand, if you’re using robots.txt to intentionally prevent the Googlebot from crawling certain pages, you’ll see a report about the blocked resources.
Next, click on “Remove URLs” under “Google Index.” On the center page, you’ll see a table of URLs that you asked to be removed from the search index.
Obviously, there won’t be anything there since you just set up your Google Search Console account.
In the future, though, if you want to remove URLs from the search results, just click on the “Temporarily Hide” button and enter the URL that you want removed.
Crawl Errors in Google Search Console
Click on “Crawl” on the left-hand sidebar and select “Crawl Errors” from the context menu that appears. On the center page, you’ll see a report about site errors and URL errors.
Hopefully, you’re looking at green check marks in both of those sections.
If there are any errors, though, you’ll see them reported on the center page.
The “Site Errors” section will show you errors that prevented the Googlebot from crawling your site. You’ll see a lot of site errors if your website is down or misconfigured.
The “URL Errors” section will show you errors related to crawling specific URLs. You’ll see URL errors when you have bad redirects or a sitemap that’s listing incorrect hyperlinks.
Click on “Crawl Stats” under “Crawl” in the left-hand sidebar. In the center page, you’ll see three line graphs.
The top graph shows you the number of pages crawled every day for the past 90 days. The middle graph shows you the total number of kilobytes downloaded during the same period. Finally, the last graph shows you how long it took Google to download a page during that period.
Beside each graph, you’ll see a high/low/average table.
The last graph/table pair might be the most important of the bunch. It shows you how long it takes people to access your website.
You can lose users and rank if your site is slow, so pay particular attention to that data.
Fetch As Google
Get an overview here.
To find this report, click on “Fetch as Google” under “Crawl” on the left-hand sidebar. You’ll see a small form on the main page.
You can use that form to request Google to “fetch” (or load) a page on your website.
Why would you want to do that? There are a few reasons.
First, you can use the fetch request to display your page contents. That will give you an idea about what it looks like on a browser other than your own.
Also, Google will tell you if there’s an error loading that page. Then, you can fix the problem.
One of the most popular reasons that people use “Fetch as Google,” though, is so they can manually request indexing.
To do that, simply enter the URL on the top field. Then, click the “Fetch” button next to the drop-down just below the field.
Once the page is loaded, you’ll see a “Request indexing” button on the table below the form. Click that button.
A popup will appear asking you to prove that you’re not a robot. Go ahead and click the “I’m not a robot” checkbox.
Below that checkbox, you have two options:
- Crawl only this URL
- Crawl this URL and its direct links
It’s usually best to reserve the second choice for pages that have lots of internal links. In fact, some SEOs design pages with internal links to all of their blog posts just so that they can submit them here.
If you’re only trying to index one page, though, click the first radio button.
Finally, click the “Go” button. Google will “process” your request for indexing. That means you’ll still have to wait a bit for the page or pages to make it into the search index.
Robots.txt Tester in Google Search Console
If you want to see how Google views your robots.txt file, click on “robots.txt Tester” under “Crawl” on the left-hand sidebar. You’ll see the contents of your robots.txt file in the middle of the screen.
In case you’re unfamiliar with robots.txt, it’s a file that allows you to “tell” bots how to behave when they crawl your site. You can use it to prevent certain bots from crawling your site or to block access to specific resources.
Keep in mind, though, that there’s no law requiring bots to follow the directives in your robots.txt file.
If you want to update your robots.txt file, make sure that you know what you’re doing.
Sitemaps are a great way to tell Google how to crawl your site. They’re really essential for SEO.
You can see information about your sitemaps by clicking on “Sitemaps” under “Crawl” in the left-hand sidebar. On the center page, you’ll see bar graphs that show you the different content types (pages, images, videos) found in your sitemaps that were submitted for indexing and indexed.
Since you’ve just created your account, though, all you’ll see is the “Add/Test Sitemap” button on the right-hand side of the page. Click that button to submit a sitemap.
You’ll have to consult your developer or site documentation to find the URL of your sitemap. If you’re using Yoast, it should be at http://yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
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.
URL Parameters in Search Console
If you need to inform Google about how you use certain URL parameters, click on “URL Parameters” under “Crawl” on the left-hand sidebar.
On the center page, click on the “Configure URL parameters” link. Then, follow the popups to specify a parameter and identify its purpose.
Keep in mind that adding URL parameters is an advanced topic that should be left to experienced SEOs. Your pages can disappear from search if you misconfigure parameters.
Next, click on “Security Issues” on the left-hand sidebar. That will show you another report that you want to be brief.
Hopefully, you’ll see a couple of paragraphs on the main page informing you that you don’t have any security issues.
If not, though, you’ll see info about threats on your site. You’ll likely need to enlist the aid of an anti-virus specialist to take care of the problem.
If you click on “Web Tools” at the bottom of the Search Console sidebar, you’ll go to another page that shows you a list of tools you can use to check your site. Although those tools are helpful, an explanation of each one of them is outside the scope of this article.
Search Console: The Future
As of this writing, the next generation of Google Search Console is in beta testing. It has at least one important feature that SEOs have been waiting for.
It shows a full 12 months of search data.
Additionally, early screenshots of the new version seem to indicate that you can view search data for the “full duration.” That sounds like you’ll be able to check your analytics for the entire time that Search Console has been monitoring your site.
Those are exciting developments. Soon, you’ll have even more historical data that you can work with to improve your optimization efforts.
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.