Google Search Console (previously known as Webmaster Tools) is by far the most useful and is my favourite SEO tool! It has all the critical data you need to manage your SEO campaigns, without the complexities of analytical tools such as Google Analytics.
The following will provide beginner’s guide to Search Console, that covers the basics of setting up, verifying and using Google Search Console, focusing on the most used elements.
Add your property
Each website has two properties:
Either http://website.com and http://www.website.com or
https://website.com and https://www.website.com
It’s important to add both versions of your website, to ensure you don’t miss any messages or data. After you’ve added your website, you’ll need to prove that you are the rightful owner of the site.
Verify the property
Once the property has been added, you’ll need to verify that you are indeed the rightful owner. There are several ways to verify a property. The most frequent ways I use are listed as follows:
HTML file upload
If you have access to the cPanel (or file system) of your web hosting, one of the simplest ways to verify is to upload the HTML file to your web hosting environment.
Simply log in to your cPanel environment and upload the HTML file. Alternatively, use an FTP program to upload the HTML file to your web host. After the upload has completed, simply click the address that’s listed in step 3 (above), to verify the property.
I find this is one of the easiest (and safest) methods for site validation, as no code changes are required and no additional plugins need to be installed.
If you’re confident to add/Modify HTML code on your homepage, the adding of an HTML tag to your home page is simple. Simply add the code provided in the <head> section, and you’re on your way!
The issue with this approach, especially in Content management systems such as WordPress, is you’ll need to mess around with your site’s theme. This is low risk, but themes get updated periodically and you’re at risk of losing the HTML tag when a theme is updated.
For WordPress, if you pick the HTML validation method, I’d recommend using a plugin to set the HTML tag. The excellent Yoast SEO plugin has this built in, else there are many plugins designed just for this purpose.
If you already have access to Google Analytics on the destination website, one of the simplest ways to gain access to the Search Console is to get access via Google Analytics. This only works if you have Asynchronous tracking mode enabled, however.
You’ll notice there are other methods that I haven’t discussed, such as Google Tag Manager and Domain Name Provider. That’s because I’ll rarely use them. It’s unusual that Google Tag Manager is already set up, but you don’t have access to Google Search Console. It can happen, I’ve just never experienced it.
Once you have verified your website property, it’s time to move on to cover the basics of the information that’s contained and how to use Google Search Console.
The dashboard is the logical place to start when familiarising yourself with the search console. It contains the most important information about your site and it’s search performance
Search traffic is the foundation of SEO and the Search Traffic area of Google Search Console is where the crux of the information is stored. The most useful area is undoubtedly Search Analytics. This provides the following information, which can best be described by the four metrics that are displayed:
Clicks-These are clicks from Googles organic search results. Ie, someone has typed a query, which has displayed pages of results. Clicks are when someone has actually clicked a search result that has brought them to your website.
Impressions- Search results that were displayed to the searcher, but not clicked (think of these as lost opportunities).
CTR (Click Through Rate) Clicks divided by impressions
Position is the position that keyword has in Googles organic search results. Ie the result displayed at the top of Google search results is 1 and so on.
Now, following the check buttons from left to right on the page, we have:
Queries– search terms that were used to bring visitors to your site
Pages– displays the pages that receive the most clicks
Countries– allows you to break down the metrics by country of origin
Devices– which device was used to access your site: Desktop, Tablet, Mobile.
Search Type– Web, image or video search
Search Appearance– this shows other sources, such as links and apps.
Dates– You can filter by date range. Up to 12 months is currently being introduced by Google.
Links to your site
Links are one of the most important SEO metrics. This area provides a breakdown of links to your site:
I’ll skip over the rest of the categories in the search traffic area, as it’s unlikely you’ll need to access them.
This page is very useful to see how many pages you have indexed in Google.
Crawl stats are important, as they show how busy Google has been when it’s been “Crawling” your sites with it’s “Spiders”. This process is how pages are indexed in the search engine, so it’s important to keep an eye on your crawl stats.
Fetch as Google
Fetch as Google is the mechanism where you can manually submit pages to be Indexed by Google. Crawling will happen periodically by Google and there’s no need to manually submit pages. Sometimes, it’s urgent to have a page indexed ASAP, so here is the mechanism to submit pages manually.
This area tests your Robots.txt file to ensure you aren’t blocking Google’s spider inadvertently from crawling and indexing your pages.
Sitemaps tell Google the overall structure of your website. In this area of the Google Search Console, you can see the pages Indexed by Google, compares to those on your website (as submitted in the form of a Sitemap). This section provides valuable information for investigating any pages that aren’t indexed by Google
In this blog, I’ve covered off the basics of Google Search Console and how to register your site in the search console. This isn’t a complete guide, merely a starter guide that covers off the basics to get you started.
I find Google search console to be the most useful SEO tool any site owner can have and it will save you valuable time if used correctly. Although Google Analytics has a purpose (especially to identify traffic and conversions), I find in most cases it provides too much information and I go down the “rabbit hole”, only to exit wasting countless hours traversing data!
Anything I’ve missed? Have a question? Please comment below.