Most marketers are familiar with Google Analytics, using it to monitor the performance of their websites in terms of traffic levels, sources, most popular pages and goal conversions. However, there seems to be less awareness surrounding Google Search Console, but with the new Google Search Console officially replacing the old version, it’s time to refresh your knowledge of this underutilised free tool
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, as it enables us to learn a huge amount about how a website is performing, both technically and in terms of visitors.
A new version of Search Console was launched just over a year ago, with the old version slowly being phased out. In fact, just days ago Google announced that they were retiring another set of reports from the old Search Console.
Search Console is a free service, 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 for Google Search Console?
Signing up is easy. Simply head on over to the Google Search Console website, and sign in using the Google account that you use for Analytics.
Once you’ve logged in, you’ll have the option to add the site you want to manage. Type in your website’s URL (removing the https:///www.), and click “continue”.
Search Console will either want you to verify your site, or confirm that the site you want to manage is owned by you.
There are five ways you can verify ownership, many of which you’ll need a developer to help you out with:
- Upload an HTML file to your site: Search Console provides you with the file. Once ownership has been verified, don’t remove the file, otherwise you’ll be unverified again.
- Add a meta tag to your site’s homepage: copy the meta tag that Search Console has provided you with, and past it in the <head> section of your site’s homepage.
- Use your Google Analytics account: to do this, you’ll need to be using the gtag.js tracking code, which is in the <head> of your homepage. You’ll also need to have the edit permission on your Google Analytics’ property.
- Use your Google Tag Manager account: to use this verification method, you’ll have to be using the container snippet, and have the “manage” permission on the container.
- Associate a DNS record with Google: the final way you can verify ownership is by signing into your domain name provider, and copying the TXT record that Search Console has provided you with, into the DNS configuration.
Once you’ve verified the ownership of your site, you’ll have access to the information in Google Search Console.
Navigating Google Search Console
Once you’ve clicked on your chosen property, the first page you’ll see is the overview page. It shows you a graph of the performance of your site, in addition to coverage issues and enhancement opportunities. You can click “open report” to view these in more depth, or you can navigate to these reports on the sidebar.
Directly under “overview” on the sidebar is performance. On this page, you can see a visual graph that highlights impressions and clicks to your site. It’s set to the last three months as standard, but you can amend this and enter your own dates. You can also compare two different date periods, just like you can in Google Analytics.
You can also view the average click through rate, and average position throughout your specified time period.
If you scroll down, you’ll be able to see a few other options. If you click on “queries”, you can see the top queries with regards to clicks, impressions, click through rates and position (basically, everything you can see on the graph). You can also compare this with your pages, countries and devices.
The URL inspection allows you to find out more about a specific URL in depth. Just type in your chosen URL, and Search Console will show you whether it’s been submitted and indexed, in addition to showing you any recommended enhancements.
Under the “index” section on Search Console, you’ll find the “coverage” section, which is split into four parts:
- Error: these are pages that haven’t been indexed. This is the most important part of this section, and it provides you with more information on how you can fix the error.
- Valid with warnings: these are pages that are either indexed, or were until recently, but now have issues that you need to be aware of.
- Valid: these are pages that have been indexed (they may or may not have been submitted to the sitemap).
- Excluded: these are pages that haven’t been indexed, but not for any negative reason. For example, it could be because these pages are going through the indexing process, or have been deliberately excluded by you.
On this section of Search Console, you can see your list of submitted sitemaps, including the date it was submitted, when it was last read, the status, and the number of URLs in the sitemap.
If you want to upload an updated sitemap, this is where you do it.
Mobile usability falls under the “enhancement” section of Google Search Console. The error section is the most important, as it highlights any errors that could be affecting usability – which could have a negative impact on conversions.
Typically, errors include things like small text, clickable elements that are too close together, and content that’s wider than the screen. If you see these issues, it’s worth gathering together the list of URLs and sending the recommendations over to your UX team.
However, it’s always worth testing the URLs on your mobile first, as sometimes these issues may not actually be present.
Security and manual actions
Here, you can discover if there are any security issues or manual actions that need addressing. If there aren’t any problems, you’ll see a green tick that says “no issues detected”.
Under this section of Search Console, you’ll see four separate lists:
- Top linked pages (external): these are the pages that have been linked to the most from external websites. This can indicate which content has performed best for outreach.
- Top linking sites (external): this shows a list of sites that link to your pages the most.
- Top linking text (external): this shows the most commonly used anchor text that links to your site – quite often it can be your brand name, or your products/services.
- Top linked pages (internal): these show the pages that you link to the most internally, and can be a good starting point for your internal link audit.
Whilst you can pay for other software such as Ahrefs to discover external links to your website, the benefit of Search Console is that it’s free.
The “settings” section is the admin area of your account, and shows you the list of users and their permission levels for your property.
Getting used to the new Search Console compared to the old Search Console can take some time. However, the free tool is certainly worth utilising helping you to identify issues that you wouldn’t find on Google Analytics.