How to Use Google Search Console for SEO Like a Pro
Why is Google Search Console important?
“The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google Search.”
We’re not entirely sure who said this famous quote first. Not even Google could tell us. What we are sure of is:
(a) Whoever said it first was 100% spot on…or 92% anyway – as Search Engine Watch explains, one study found that the first page of Google Search saw about 92% of all traffic from the average search, with only about 5% of total traffic on the second page.
(b) We know exactly how to make sure your website – and business – can avoid being relegated to what is the Internet equivalent of the graveyard.
Say goodbye to the second (or, the horror!, third, fourth, or fifth) page of Google Search.
Say Hello to Google Search Console
Google Say What Now? Never fear: if you’ve never heard of Google Search Console you’re not alone. We won’t judge. But snakes on a plane, surely at the very least you’ve heard of Google Search? Of course you have. Not for nothing was the word “google” added to the dictionary as a verb! (Just in case you missed that too, though, the Oxford English Dictionary added Google as an official word on June 15, 2006, and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary added Google as an official word to its eleventh edition in July 2006.)
Now synonymous with the act of searching for something on the Internet, Google remains the number one search engine in the world. It follows then, that if you have a website, you want your site to pop up on any Google search. More specifically, given that whole “hiding a dead body” thing on page 2 of Google Search, you want your site to pop up on page 1 of any Google Search.
Read on to find out how Google Search Console can make that happen, what exactly it is, why it’s important, who should use it (spoiler alert: everyone!), how to use it, and our top tips to make it really work for you.
Already using it? Well done! But are you making the most of it? Look for Pro Tips throughout this article, or skip ahead to our 5 Tips to Use Google Search Console Like a Boss.
Either way, read on.
What is Google Search Console (GSC)?
Do a Google search for “What is Google Search Console?” and the very first hit on the very first page is… surprise! (not)… an answer from Google itself. (We’d be shocked if it wasn’t – practice what you preach and all that.) So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, let’s trust the source to give us their best description of what Google Search Console (GSC) is:
“Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but Search Console helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.
Search Console offers tools and reports for the following actions:
- Fix indexing problems and request re-indexing of new or updated content.
- View Google Search traffic data for your site: how often your site appears in Google Search, which search queries show your site, how often searchers click through for those queries, and more.
- Receive alerts when Google encounters indexing, spam, or other issues on your site.
- Show you which sites link to your website.
- Troubleshoot issues for AMP, mobile usability, and other Search features.
Source: Google Search Console Help Center
Let’s break that down. Google Search Console is:
- a free service which …
- offers you a bunch of cool techie-type tools (that don’t require too much techie know-how) designed to …
- help you get your content actually seen (hopefully first) on any Google Search.
By using GSC you can learn uncover an enormous amount of information about your website and the people who visit it. Find answers to crucial questions like:
- How many people are visiting your site?
- What search terms lead to your site?
- How are people finding your site? Mobile phone? Desktop computer?
- How good is your mobile site performance?
- Which pages on your site get the most hits?
- Which pages may be lost in omitted results?
- Which domains, or websites, are referring people to your site?
GSC can also alert you to any errors on your website – it finds ‘em, you fix ‘em. Errors equal frustration. Fewer errors, happier site visitors.
In short, GSC can help you keep track of how your site is performing in Google Search by playing Big Brother – in the best possible way – with your website. It’s a powerful third eye, which gives you every opportunity to see everything that’s going on with your website, optimize its performance, and slay the search game. Every day.
Ringing Any Bells?
If any of this sounds at all familiar to you, that’s because you may have heard of, or have already been using, Google Webmaster Tools. Same same, different name.
Recognizing that their tool had become a valuable resource for so many more types of people than just ‘webmasters’ (business owners, marketing professionals, SEO whizzkids), Google changed the name back in May 2015 to Google Search Console. In theory, this makes it more inclusive of Joe Blogs, a.k.a., you and me.
You may also already be using Google Analytics – and wondering why you now need GSC? Same same, but actually different. Here’s why.
Google Search Console vs Google Analytics
The easiest way to understand the difference between these two tools is to think about them in terms of man vs machine:
Man: Google Analytics offers up information on how people – your website users – visit and interact with your site. This provides you with an opportunity to tailor your site content to suit your audience.
Machine: Google Search Console offers up information on how search engines interact with your site. This provides you with tools and insights that can help you improve site visibility and presence in SERPs (search engine results pages).
Google Analytics will give you stats about how people visiting your site act when they are there. This includes information like (but not limited to):
- total site visits (this, at least, correlates with GSC),
- bounce rate,
- average time spent on site, and
- demographic information about your audience.
Google Analytics is also immensely helpful if you’re planning on running ad campaigns, offering seamless integration with Adsense and AdWords.
Google Search Console
GSC is less about the people visiting your site and more about the tool they used to get there. While it does offer up stats on things like total site visits, it also provides information on things like (but not limited to):
- click-through rates,
- search queries,
- crawl errors,
- links from outside websites, and
- HTML errors.
This is less to do with WHO visits your site, and more to do with how your site appears to people searching specific keywords and phrases.
Another key difference is that Google Analytics is objective in its data offerings. The data you find with Analytics is useful, but you’re on your own in interpreting it. GSC not only highlights errors and areas for potential improvement, it actually offers suggestions and helpful hints. Think of Analytics as your Google Grandparent – it will play with you and give you good times (for good times read “information”), but when it comes time to discipline you (i.e., give critical feedback) he hands you back over to your parents. GSC is your Google Parent – it will give you information and school you in how to use it.
Pro Tip: You can actually integrate Search Console and Analytics. Most of the data in Google Search Console can be extracted and integrated into other systems, including Google Analytics and SEO beast Yoast SEO. But that’s a whole other story for another day, another article.
Why Does GSC Matter?
Answer this: “Do you want your website to actually work for you?” Did you answer “Yes!”? Of course you did. And there it is. That’s why GSC matters.
If you want your website to be the very best it can be, GSC is a no-brainer. Created specifically to easily track your site performance, you can get daily valuable insights into what part of your website needs work, and how to fix it. Whether its a technical error (such as a crawl error), or a content-driven issue (a keyword that could be doing better), GSC will find it, highlight it, and best of all, even send you mail notifications that the error exists.
We also offer our clients Technical SEO Audits to uncover other issues that may be affecting your website’s performance.
Who Should Use Google Search Console
If you have a website, Google Search Console is for you. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, what you use your website for, or who your audience is. The point is this:
1. If you have a website, you’re clearly looking for an audience.
2. But just don’t make your audience look too hard for you!
Let’s go to the source once again to find out who Google thinks should be using Google Search Console:
“Anyone with a website! From generalist to specialist, from newbie to advanced, Search Console can help you.
- Business owners: Even if you won’t be using Search Console yourself, you should be aware of it, become familiar with the basics of optimizing your site for search engines, and know what features are available in Google Search.
- SEO specialists or marketers: As someone focused on online marketing, Search Console will help you monitor your website traffic, optimize your ranking, and make informed decisions about the appearance of your site’s search results. You can use the information in Search Console to influence technical decisions while implementing advanced SEO strategies on your website and do sophisticated marketing analysis in conjunction with other Google tools like Analytics, Google Trends, and Google Ads.
- Site administrators: As a site admin, you care about the healthy operation of your site. Search Console lets you easily monitor and in some cases resolve server errors, site load issues, and security issues like hacking and malware. You can also use it to ensure any site maintenance or adjustments you make happen smoothly with respect to search performance.
- Web developers: If you are creating the actual markup and/or code for your site, Search Console helps you monitor and resolve common issues with markup, such as errors in structured data.”
How to Add Your Website to Google Search Console
Okay. So, we’ve established what GSC is, why it matters, and if it’s for you. (It is.) Now it’s time to add your website to GSC. Here’s a simple step by step guide to get you, at the very least, up and running. It takes mere minutes.
Step 1: Sign in to your Google account. Don’t have one? Get one. Stat. Click here for more information from Google on setting up your account.
Step 2: Head to the ‘About’ Google Search Console web page and click the Start Now button. Or click here.
Step 3: Add your property (website) by choosing property type – either Domain or URL prefix. Follow the prompts on the screen. If you choose ‘Domain’, Verification will be required – follow the instructions to verify ownership of your site. If you choose URL prefix, Google does the verification for you.
Step 4: You will now be taken to your new GSC dashboard. Welcome! From there, the first thing you need to do is choose your preferred domain name. What? Why? Quite simply, Google considers URLs with www and without www as two different pages. For example, if you use the https://www.example.com as your URL and someone types in your site as https://example.com without the www, Google will consider the second version as a completely different website. I.e., not your website. This could affect your site’s performance in search results. Fortunately, there is an easy(ish) fix to this by setting your preferred domain name: switch to the older version of Search Console by clicking on ‘Go to the old version’ link found at the bottom of the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. Once you’re in the old version, click on the gear icon, then click on Site Settings. On the next screen, you’ll see three options for the ‘Preferred domain’. Choose the display name you used when submitting your site to GSC. Click save and you’re all set.
Step 5: Set your target country. If your business, and by extension your website, is specifically targeting an audience in, for example, Canada, you can tell Google to do that too. This doesn’t mean your site won’t appear to users in other countries for relevant searches, it just means that Google can better understand who you’re trying to reach, which can give you an SEO boost in local search results. To set your target country, you’ll again have to go to the old version of GSC. Click on ‘International Targeting’ under ‘Search Traffic’ in the left-hand menu bar, then click on the ‘Country’ tab and select your target country. Hit save, and you’re all set to win the local search wars.
Step 6: Submit a sitemap. Google can do a lot of big brothering (again, the good kind, the kind that helps you) all on its own, using its own web crawlers to learn a lot about your website and its individual web pages. But even Google can use a little extra help. Make Google’s life a little easier, and your own GSC performance even more powerful, by uploading a sitemap to Google Search Console.
Adding an XML sitemap to your website helps search engines better crawl your website. It won’t necessarily give you a boost in search rankings, but it does help search engines index your content more efficiently by telling them which links on your website are more important than others. To get, and install, your sitemap, make sure you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed on your site. Yoast SEO automatically generates an XML sitemap for your website; find it by adding this extension to your domain name: /sitemap_index.xml. Now head back to GSC headquarters – your dashboard. Click on the ‘Sitemaps’ link found in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard, and paste the sitemap extension at the prompt.
Your shiny new toy is up and running. Your website is added to GSC. The question now is: what are you going to do with it?
Top 5 Tips to Use GSC Like a Boss
For GSC to have any value, you need to actually use the information now gathering steam in your GSC dashboard. There’s no point in collecting the data if you’re just going to let it sit there, gathering dust instead.
That said, we completely understand that the GSC dashboard can be overwhelming. Data often is. Which is why we’ve compiled this list of our top five tips to start using GSC like a boss. Our top tip being: use this list as your starting point; take it one day at a time, one tool at a time; research each tool, master it, then move on to the next one.
Tip 1: Find – and more importantly fix – indexing errors
This is possibly the most useful feature of Google Serch Console. The dreaded 404 error message, along with a few other nasties, can wreak havoc with your search rankings by stopping search engines from crawling and indexing pages on your site. GSC not only finds these errors for you, it gives you some help on how to fix it. To find errors, click on the ‘Coverage’ link in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. Scroll down to see a full list of any errors found. You can click on each error individually to learn more about it and get help fixing it.
Tip 2: Discover the most common keywords people use to find you
Click on the ‘Performance’ link found in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. Select the ‘Queries’ tab if it isn’t automatically selected. You can now see the most common keywords bringing people to your website. You will also see the number of clicks each keyword earns you and the number of total times your website shows up in search queries for that keyword (impressions). To view other categories, such as CTR or position, click on the upside-down triangle above the list. This not only shows you if your strategized keywords are working, it can also reveal any keywords people are finding you with, and allow you to adjust your content to cash in on those keywords.
Tip 3: Identify your most popular – or highest traffic – pages
Click on the ‘Performance’ link found in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. Select the ‘Pages’ tab. Here you will see a list of all the pages people have seen and clicked in descending order of popularity, with your best-performing pages right at the top.
Tip 4: Check that your website works well on mobile
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you must know the importance of having a mobile friendly website. Just come out from under that rock? Well, according to Statista.com, 60% of Google searches are done via mobile devices. Compare this to just five years ago, when the figure was nearly half that at 34%! (Statista) By now you’ve probably already made sure your site is mobile friendly, using Google’s simple Mobile-Friendly Test (clever those Google folk, ey?). Even so, you can also use GSC to confirm that your site passes mobile usability standards… and continues to do so, error-free. Click on the ‘Mobile Usability’ link in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. GSC will either find no errors, resulting in a green check mark. Or it will identify pages with mobile usability errors, tell you what those errors are, and tell you how to fix them.
Tip 5: See which sites link to you
Just like word of mouth in real-life, backlinks are worth their weight in gold. People talk, and in the world of the worldwide web, talk is not cheap. Backlinks are one of the biggest ranking factors, so every time another authoritative website links to you, Google’s algorithm kicks into high gear and rewards your website with your own increased authority. To see a list of websites that include a link back to yours, click on the ‘Links’ link in the left-hand menu bar of your dashboard. (It’s towards the bottom of the menu.) Once in there, scroll down to ‘Top linking sites’ and click on ‘More’ to see all the sites with links back to your site. Click on each individual one to see full details of how many backlinks they have. You can even see the specific pages on each website that uses links to your site, and visit those pages to see how your URL is used. Bonus tip: if people are talking about you, talk back! Remember to reach out to those sites and say thanks and, where relevant, link to them too!
Of course, there is so much more that Google Search Console can do for you. But these five tips will set you up with a sound knowledge of the power of GSC. Once you’re comfortable using these five, you can begin to dive deeper and use even more tools.
GSC Is… and Isn’t…
We’ve established what GSC is: used to its full potential, it is ground zero, your nerve center, for understanding when, where and how your website is appearing in Google. It provides tools and resources to make sure your website is working as hard for you as it could be. It is the kind of tool Google excels at. It is free. It is part of your business arsenal. It is your new business bestie.
What GSC isn’t, is a magic wand. Like any magic trick, it requires behind-the-screens work on your part. It’s a fantastic data source, offering helpful suggestions and solutions, but what you do with those are up to you.
We also have a post entitled, 5 Ways Bing Webmaster Tools Can Help Your SEO.
General FAQs About Search Console
What can you do with Google Search Console?
According to Google, Search Console allows you to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. For example, you can confirm Google can find and crawl your website, fix indexing issues, view search traffic data, receive alerts when there are issues, and see what websites link to you.
What’s the difference between Google Analytics and Google Search Console?
Google Analytics provides information on how people interact with your website while Google Search Console provides information on how Search Engines (Google) interact with your website.
Does Google Search Console help with SEO?
Yes. Most importantly, Google Search Console will highlight website errors and give you important tips and areas for SEO improvement. You can use Google Search Console to improve click-through rates, analyze search queries, correct crawl errors, address HTML errors, and more.
Please call our SEO experts here at 1st on the List at 1-888-262-6687 if you still have questions about using Google Search Console.