In my day-to-day work, most of my clients seem to be familiar with Google Analytics, and use it to monitor the performance of their websites in terms of traffic levels, traffic sources and popular pages. However, in my experience, there seems to be a lot less awareness surrounding Google Search Console.
Many people have told me they have never heard of Search Console, let alone know what it’s for. In this post, I will provide a quick guide to the different sections of Google Search Console, for anybody wanting to start using the tool and explore what it can do.
What is Google Search Console?
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is a valuable tool for webmasters, marketing professionals, SEOs and business owners that enables us to learn a huge amount about how a website is performing, both technically and in terms of visitors.
It is a free service from Google, and in Google’s own words, it: ‘helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results’.
How Do I Sign Up?
Go to the Google Search Console website, and sign in using a Google account that you would like to manage your website through.
When you log in, you will be given the option to add the site you want to manage:
Enter your website’s URL and click ‘Add Property’. Next, you will be prompted to verify your site – or confirm that the site you want to manage is owned by you. There are a few different ways you can do this, some easier than others. Read more here and decide which the best option for you is. You may need to work with your developer on this.
Once you have verified your site, you should familiarise yourself with the different sections of Search Console, listed down the left-hand side of your screen. This post will aim to explain what each of the sections mean, and how they can be used.
This is the first screen you will see when you login to your Search Console account. It provides a snapshot of how your site is performing, and flags up any urgent issues:
Any new messages you have received from Google about your site will be displayed under the ‘New and important’ heading. You might receive messages urging you to make your site more mobile-friendly, for example, or alerting you to Malware being detected on your site.
If you’re unsure of how to fix any issues on the Dashboard, speak with your developer.
Structured Data: Shows the structured information that Google was able to detect on your site. It also provides information about errors in page markup that may prevent rich snippets and other search features from being displayed.
Rich Cards: A new way of providing Google with important information on events, products or opportunities on your website. Read more here.
Data Highlighter: An alternative way to mark-up data on your site to appear in search.
HTML Improvements: Highlights any problem with the meta data on your site, such as duplicate title tags and meta descriptions.
Sitelinks: If you search for some brands or high authority websites, sitelinks are displayed underneath the website in the search engine results. For example, if you Google ‘ted baker’ – underneath the website you can click straight through to Men / Women etc.:
Although you can’t control which links are displayed, you can enter ones here that you don’t want to be shown.
Accelerate Mobile Pages: This is a new feature from Google aimed at speeding up the delivery on content on mobile devices. Read my colleague Ben’s blog on this feature here.
Search Analytics: Shows you the search terms people used to get to your site. You can play around with filters to find which queries led to which pages, which search terms are more popular on various devices, which are your best performing pages and more!
This can be a valuable tool for generating content ideas – read how here.
Links to Your Site: Shows you the sites that link to you and where they link to on your site. This can be useful for spotting any potentially harmful links.
Internal Links: Shows your internal links.
Manual Actions: Will display a message if you’ve received a penalty from Google.
International Targeting: For sites targeting other countries / languages.
Mobile Usability: Flags up any issues with pages on mobile to consider fixing.
Index Status: Shows total number of URLs indexed by Google. If there are any large dips here, you should look into why this might be.
Content Keywords: List of the most significant keywords in the content on your site. Provides an insight into how Google is interpreting your site.
Remove URLs: Temporarily remove URLs that you own from search results. You might use this function if you published content by mistake, or if you discovered lots of duplicate content or poor quality pages. But in any case, this tool should be used with caution.
Crawl Errors: Shows any broken links on your site found by Google. Having 404 errors on your site won’t generally harm your performance in search, but if there are a lot in comparison with the total number of pages on your site, or pages which receive a lot of traffic or external links are broken, you should consider implementing redirects.
Crawl Stats: Shows Googlebot activity on your site in the last 90 days.
Fetch as Google: Enables you to test how Google crawls or renders a URL on your site. Use it to see whether Googlebot can access a page on your site, how it renders the page, and whether any page resources are blocked to Googlebot.
If you make a lot of on-site changes, you can also submit pages to Google’s index to speed up the process of the changes being picked up.
Robots.txt Tester: This tool shows you whether your robots.txt file blocks Google web crawlers from specific URLs on your site. Read more about robots.txt files here.
Sitemaps: Shows whether you have a sitemap and if there are any issues.
Sitemaps help to tell Google how your site is organised, making it easier for your site to be indexed properly. If you don’t have one, you should work with your developer to create one and submit it to Google via your Search Console account.
URL Parameters: Tell Google how to handle parameter URLs on your site.
This section flags up any security issues with your website.
Google Search Console can provide you with a wealth of valuable information about your website. This guide is intended as a starting point for people who are new to the tool. Once you have familiarised yourself with the basics, there is plenty of further information out there to help you make the most of it.