If you’re a webmaster or an in-house marketing manager, you might have heard of Google Search Console, previously known as Google Webmaster Tools. Like Google Analytics, Google Search Console is a free and powerful tool that helps site owners analyze the performance of their website while finding room for improvement. Google Search Console provides plenty of information about performance, indexing, mobile usability, manual actions, and links. Below, we’ll discuss how to use that information to improve your SEO.
Create an Account
To gain access to the information in Google Search Console, you must first create a Google account and set up Search Console. To do so, visit google.com/webmasters and log in with your Google account. (Ideally, this will be the same account you use to log into Google Analytics.) Once you’re logged in, you’ll see the option to add a property. You can do so in one of two ways:
- Domain: You can add an entire domain that will include information about subdomains, with or without HTTPS or WWW, by verifying domain ownership via a DNS record.
- URL Prefix: You can also add a property by entering the URL of your site; you just have to make sure that the URL you enter has the appropriate prefix. This option is more user-friendly for users that may not have as much technical knowledge or access to the website’s DNS. Users will have the option to verify site ownership by using their Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager accounts, when these are under the same Google account, or by adding an HTML tag to their site, which can easily be done with the Yoast SEO plugin.
Once you’ve added a property and verified ownership, you’ll be able to view the Google Search Console dashboard for your website. On the left hand side, you’ll see a menu with tabs that contain tools and data that can be used to improve your SEO.
Under the Performance tab, Google Search Console provides helpful metrics related to your website’s clicks and impressions, as well as the average click-through rate and position when shown in the search results. The metrics shown in this tab can be filtered by content type (web, image, video, news) and by date (going up to 16 months back). The table below the chart will show the same metrics broken up by search queries, internal pages, users’ countries, devices, and search appearance. The information in this table can help determine what your strongest keywords are and whether you should alter these based on users’ actual search queries. Likewise, the table will show you which pages perform the best, in terms of the four metrics mentioned above, and which ones could use improvement.
Review Index Coverage
Under the Index section, the Coverage tab, provides a brief overview of how many pages on your website are included or excluded from the index. The Details section below the graph shows why pages are included or excluded. Valid pages, or pages that are indexed, are typically indexed because they were submitted in a sitemap or linked to from another webpage. Excluded pages, on the other hand, may be excluded for various reasons, such as 404s, crawl anomalies, redirects, or a ‘noindex’ tag. While it makes sense to exclude certain pages, it could be harmful to your SEO efforts if a major landing page is not indexed. As such, you should check the Coverage regularly and make sure your important pages are indexed properly.
Below the Coverage tab, the Sitemaps tab allows you to submit an XML sitemap that lists your site’s pages and posts. Submitting a sitemap to Search Console is an easy way to boost your SEO efforts as it ensures your site’s pages are crawled by Google. Depending on what platform or plugins your website uses, this could vary. For users with the Yoast SEO plugin, the main sitemap URL is usually /sitemap_index.xml . Once submitted, you can see when your sitemap was last read and how many URLs were discovered. (Tip: If you have a single URL for a page that has recently been updated or needs to be indexed ASAP, “inspect” the URL by pasting it in the top bar and request indexing.)
Lastly, the Removals tab allows you to urgently remove content from Google’s search results. This tool can be extremely helpful when a page with sensitive information or a thank you page that is affecting your conversion tracking is appearing in the index, and you need to remove it as soon as possible. (Note: URLs submitted for removal with this tool are only hidden for about six months. As such, you should either remove these pages from the website or update their indexing settings for a permanent solution.)
Under the Enhancements section in Google Search Console, the Core Web Vitals provides information about your website’s speed on desktops and mobile devices. The Mobile Usability tab goes a step further into mobile devices and analyzes whether pages are mobile-friendly. If your site is not mobile-friendly, you’ll see errors, such as “Text too small to read”, “Clickable elements too close together”, “Content wider than screen”, to name a few. Given that Google has recently made the switch to Mobile-First Indexing, it is important to prioritize fixing these errors as it is now the mobile version of a site that is primarily used for indexing.
Avoid Manual Actions
The Security & Manual Actions section in Google Search Console is one you do not want to have to spend much time on. If all is well with your website, you’ll see a “No issues detected” text box and can move on to other sections in Google Search Console. If your site has participated in black-hat SEO efforts to manipulate Google’s search results, it might be penalized with a manual action. While there are several actions that can lead to penalties, the most common include:
- Having Paid or Unnatural Links: Links going to your website should come from a site that is somehow related to your content, whether that’s a regional or topic relevance. Additionally, your website should be linked to because it is helpful to users of another site, not because you paid to have a link added. To resolve this issue, you may have to disavow links by submitting a list of low-quality backlinks to Google and asking that they not be taken into consideration when crawling your site.
- Hacked Website: If your site has been hacked or compromised, Google will flag your website which can affect your rankings until you resolve the issue and can provide proof that your site is secure again.
- Hidden Content: If your website has content that is hidden, such as long lists of keywords or affiliate links, you are likely violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and could receive a manual action. To avoid this, make sure all content on your website is visible and not spammed with keywords.
If your site has been penalized, getting rid of Google’s manual action should be your top priority. While a manual action is in place, any SEO efforts will be thwarted as your site will either experience a dramatic dip in rankings or be removed from the index altogether.
In the Links section, Google Search Console will show you which pages on your website are most linked to internally and externally. You’ll also see which sites link to yours the most, as well as what anchor text is used when linked. While Google Search Console may not be entirely comprehensive, when used with other backlink checkers like Majestic, Moz, or SEMrush, you can get a pretty complete list of what sites link to yours. With this list, you may find additional backlink opportunities or create a disavow file. As mentioned previously, a disavow file is a list of low-quality websites that link to yours. When you submit a disavow file, the intention is to let Google know that it should not follow links to your website from theirs, which can help get rid of penalties related to obtaining spammy links. For additional information on disavowing links and how to format and submit these lists, visit Google’s help article on the topic.
Google Search Console is just another one of the many free and powerful tools available to digital marketers. With thorough information about your website’s performance, index coverage, mobile usability, and manual actions, there are a lot of opportunities to identify ways to improve your SEO. To learn more about Google Search Console, contact the SEO experts at Geek Powered Studios.