The beginner's guide to Google Search Console
Getting set up with Google Search Console isn't as confusing as it seems
When I started blogging, I was very passionate about using Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics. They're data bombs, and above all, free. I love free things! Who doesn’t?
So, this is a guide to use one of the most powerful tools which Google provides to website owners.
First, you must be wondering how to get started
How to add your site to Google Search Console
Don’t worry. I'm not going to teach you some sophisticated code. It's as simple as ABC.
You must have a Gmail account, right?
Now, go to Google Search Console and log in. You're in!
Click add a property and fill the field. First, it'll ask your website address. Paste your site's URL and click "Continue."
Now, time to verify that the site is actually yours (otherwise anyone can come and start spying on you with a data miner). Once you add your site, you'll get a code that needs to be placed in the header section of your website.
You can either use a plugin or do it manually. If you're using WordPress, just go to your site backend and hit “appearance” then “theme editor” and navigate to “theme header”. Click on it and add the code which you got from GSC. Then click update and it’s done.
There are some other ways to get your website verified but this is the easiest one.
If this process seems complicated then you can watch some YouTube videos (there are tons of videos on how to verify your site in GSC) to make sure you're on the right track.
If it doesn't work right away and you don't see a notice saying ownership is verified, then give it 24 hours and get the results!
If you get it verified then click “Start” on the pop-up.
Simple! Told you.
Now you'll land on an empty area which will look like a ghost town, but don't worry. This is your operating cockpit.
It will initially look like this.
Now, it’s time to submit your site map. Google is good at finding website pages, but it may happen with some delay without a sitemap.
How to submit your sitemap in Google Search Console
Again, it’s easy.
Head over to Sitemap at the mid-left of the page.
Now, hit Sitemap and a page will open like this.
Here you need to submit the Sitemap of the website. You can generate one using a variety of free online tools such as Screaming Frog, or if your WordPress website has the Yoast SEO plugin then it will do it for you. Just set the XML Sitemap settings in Yoast.
Now, search “yoursite.com/sitemap.xml” and you'll see a sitemap. Copy the URL and paste it in GSC as shown in the picture above and hit “Submit”.
This is a pop-up that will appear if your sitemap gets submitted to GSC successfully. You can see that GSC tells you if anything goes wrong in your sitemap in the future.
So, stay confident as long as you don’t see any errors in GSC.
Now, let’s start exploring all the features of GSC one-by-one.
What is the Performance Report in Google Search Console?
This is the first metric to explore in a considerably long list of metrics in GSC.
So, what does it do?
GSC Performance Report starts with the number of total clicks, then goes to impressions, Average CTR (clickthrough rate) and Average Position.
- Clicks are simple. They are the number of clicks that your website received within a set period of time (yeah, you can set a time period to see some custom data).
- Impressions is the number of times one of your page URLs was displayed to users in search results.
- Average CTR is the proportion of users who've clicked through to your site relative to the impressions.
- The average position is the position average ranking in search results of your website's pages.
Let’s move to the next part. Hope it’s not too much for you.
- You will get all the queries (keywords) listed under the table shown above. These are the keywords that people search in the search engine and your website page(s) appear to click.
- The next tab is pages. Here you'll find a report about all your site's pages with different metrics.
- Next comes the country report. This is a full report of all the countries where your website pages are ranking.
- Devices means which device was used to access your website. You can get a mountain of data about all the three types of devices (Desktop, Mobile and Tablet here) here.
- Then comes “Search Appearances”. These are statistics of different search appearances such as video or images.
- In the dates tab you can get any data with respect to date ranges.
You can combine different metrics to get some unique data here. One of the combinations which experts use is going to the “pages” tab and selecting a page then go to queries tab and see all the keywords for which a specific page is ranking. Here, you can set your strategy to get even higher ranking for the same page.
What is the URL Inspection Report in GSC?
Below is the URL Inspection tab.
This tab is useful especially if you're running a news website and want your pages to get discovered by Google spiders fast.
It works well for all types of websites, and if your site is new and you're constantly updating it, then I would recommend using this tab quite often. The benefit is that all the new pages of the website will be discovered soon, which means they can appear in search results and send you more traffic.
However, if you don't use this part of GSC, then Google crawlers will come to your site as per their set schedule. Every site has some specific dynamics and Google sends it spiders to the site to reindex the pages according to those set dynamics.
As a rule of thumb, you won't be using the URL inspect feature if your website is old enough, gets a lot of traffic and is frequently updated. In these cases, Google spiders will come to the site quite frequently. However, you might need it if you don't update the site quite often.
Click "URL Inspect" and a tab will be highlighted. Add the URL which you want to inspect. If the URL is already indexed then it will show "URL is on Google."
However, if the URL is new or not still indexed then it will show "URL not on Google." So what should you do if you've submitted a URL but on rechecking, it shows it's not on Google?
Well, there are some reasons that it happens!
- First, you just submitted the URL and it takes time for Google to action the crawl request. Make sense?
So, give it 24 hours or in some cases, 48 hours and the URL will be there.
Secondly, the URL has some indexing issues (which you will see under the coverage dropdown). You will see the reason why the URL is not getting indexed and fix it accordingly.
What is the Site Coverage Feature in GSC?
Now comes something even easier to understand!
The coverage feature shows whether or not your site has indexation issues.
- Errors mean the website has some pages where there are some errors to be fixed. You can also get more information after scrolling bit down to the "details" in the left corner of the interface.
- Valid with warning is self-explanatory. It means there are some pages on the site that are indexed and valid, but have some warnings. According to a number of experts, there are different types of warnings that may have a negative effect on the infected pages. However, there are some warnings that don't affect the page ranking at all. The thing is that you should focus on the warnings and try to solve them at an early stage.
- Next, “Valid” tab. This is the number of valid pages on your site that have been indexed successfully. After clicking the "Valid" box, you'll see the breakdown of valid pages. First, a graph will appear showing the number of valid pages submitted to Google with the passage of time.
A bit farther down, there is a breakdown of all the valid pages.
It will show the website URLs which have been submitted or not submitted in the sitemap. These are the pages that have been indexed into your site and are working without any issue. If issues are there they will be shown under the "error" tab.
Next comes the “Excluded” tab.
Don’t worry. It’s not as frightening as it sounds. It's the list of those URLs of your site which have been excluded intentionally. For example, there are some sites which don't want to show category and tags. So, this area shows all the excluded URLs which you don't want to index.
Speed is a vital (very vital) feature of your website, and GSC tells you about it in its own dashboard. Cool, huh?
There are two parts of this feature.
First, it shows the speed of your website on mobile devices. It's important to have a fast website as it is one of Google’s ranking factors. So how do you check speed inside GSC?
Click the "Speed" tab and go to Mobile. Here, you'll see the link, "Try pagespeed insights."
Click here and it'll take you to a new page. Here, it'll start analyzing the page speed on mobile devices. Here's what it looks like.
Once the analysis is complete, it'll show you the page speed states with suggestions on how it works.
Desktop speed analysis works the same way.
Mobile Usability in GSC
The mobile usability feature is important in terms of your website UX. If there are some issues in terms of mobile usability, they'll appear here.
You can see "Error" and "Valid" tabs. Errors are obviously the errors which the website has and valid are valid pages that are working well on mobile devices.
Have a look at the three arrows I added in the screenshot. They show the number of errors you faced in the past. After scrolling a bit down, it will also show the mobile usability issue statistics.
Next, there are some features that you probably won't be using much. So, I'll skip to the important part.
Security and Manual Actions
These are the actions that Google might be taking against the site if the website violates Terms and Conditions.
Normally, they take manual actions against those sites which get involved in some black hat SEO techniques to get better ranking.
Products Feature in GSC
This feature enables you to see issues with the products. If your website is facing some data structure errors then they'll get listed here.
You may either get a report of errors or warnings, and it also shows valid rich results.
This is a complete report of the linking structure of the website.
As shown in the screenshot above, it gives you a huge amount of data about internal and external links, with the number of links and the linking domains.
You can set your SEO strategy after getting into this data in the future.
The last important tab is Settings.
These are general settings to change ownership or add or remove properties. You'll be using it if you start another website or abandon one of them.
I hope I've given a detailed and updated guide of Google Search Console which will help you in monitoring your site's performance. If it all seems a bit much, consider talking to a freelance SEO expert to help you set up Search Console and get the most out of the data it offers.