Beginner’s Guide: how to use Google Search Console

Previously known as Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is an integral piece of equipment that allows site owners to discover and analyse a great range of information, including:

  • How many people are on your site.
  • How they are getting to it.
  • Which pages they are visiting.
  • What devices they are using.
  • What errors your site might contain.

All these elements are integral to understanding how well your organic search campaign is performing in Google’s search result pages (often referred to as SERPs).

Before you can start looking at this information, however, it is important that you add and verify your site into the console.

Adding and verifying your site

To add a “property” into Search Console, simply click on the property selector dropdown, select “+ Add property” and choose the type of website property that you want to add.

This element is particularly important as you have the option of adding a Google-hosted property (such as a Blogger site or G Suite account), a URL prefix property (such as a single branch of a website (example.com/cars for example)), or an entire domain.

When adding a domain property, you will also be given the option of adding any subdomains, such as:

  • com
  • example.com
  • m.example.com
  • m.example.com

It is important to remember that the “www.” element of a URL is not supported, so do not include it when submitting your site.

Once that you have added your site, it is important that you verify it.

Here you will be given the option to verify it now, or at a later date, but either way you will have to follow a series of steps.

Verification confirms whether you have control of the property, and each site must have at least one verified owner, although it is sometimes necessary to have more than one.

You can verify ownership by:

  • Uploading a HTML file to your site.
  • Adding a <meta> tag to the HTML of a specified page.
  • Adding a DNS record in your domain name provider.
  • Using the Google Analytics tracking code associated with the site.

Google has created an in-depth guide in how to verify your site, which is informative and well worth reading so you can verify the site using the most convenient method for you.

Adding a sitemap

Your next step should be to add a sitemap, which is integral for search engines and other crawlers to discover and navigate your site and its content.

Sitemaps can include information about images and videos, as well as on metadata and how often your site is updated.

Although it isn’t mandatory to add a sitemap, it is something that I strongly advise so that you can give Google information so that it can crawl your site more efficiently.

Each website is only given a certain amount of crawl budget, so it is important that it is used as efficiently as possible.

You can add your sitemap by clicking on the Sitemaps option underneath Index, and you’ll be able to add a sitemap to the Search Console.

Google has written an in-depth guide on how to build a robust sitemap for your website if you are unsure what it involves.

Learning about all the different reports and features mean

Within the Search Console there are a range of reports and features that you can inspect and analyse to understand how your website is performing, where there might be issues, and how improvements could be made.

AMP status report

The AMP status report helps you fix errors that could prevent Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) from appearing within certain search results.

From this top-level view, you can inspect all AMPs found by Google. If there are issues present, these will be grouped by the specific problem that Google has identified.

Search Console will also highlight how you can go about fixing the issue and how to notify Google once that repairs have been made.

Index coverage status report

This report will help you understand which of your site pages have been indexed and how to fix ones that might not be indexed.

When viewing the report, it is important to look out for elements that could be harming your performance in organic search, such as:

  • Spikes in indexing errors.
  • Drops in total indexed pages without corresponding errors.
  • If there are a significant number of pages that are not indexed.

You can find a full and in-depth guide about the Index coverage status report, here.

Links report

In the links report, you will find information about who is linking to your site, what pages are the most linked to, and what happens to be your top linking text.

It is worth noting that duplicate links are combined, and that tables are limited to 1,000 rows, so your data, if your site is large enough, may be truncated in larger or more linked-to sites.

You will also find information about your internal linking in this report.

Mobile Usability report

The Mobile Usability report is particularly helpful for showing which pages have usability problems for users who are accessing your site on mobile devices.

The top-level view offers information regarding the status of a page (whether it is or isn’t mobile friendly), and the number of pages that are found in error state.

Like most other reports, the console also provides information on how to fix specific issues.

Rich results status reports

Rich results are incredibly lucrative for driving traffic to your site outside of the traditional organic rankings within SERPs.

This report will inform you which rich results that the search engine wasn’t able to read from your site, as well as how to fix the issues it finds and how to notify Google once that they are fixed.

You will find information about the following rich results in this report:

  • Event
  • Job posting
  • Logo
  • Product
  • Q&A page
  • Recipe
  • Sitelinks searchbox
  • Video

It is important to note, however, that Google will only show one of the above if it has found rich results of that type on your site. If you find that some are missing, you can work out why in this support guide.

You should also keep an eye out for spikes in errors, as well as a drop in total items, which could mean that Google might not be able to access certain pages.

Performance report

In here, you will find important metrics and data showing how well your site is performing within organic search results, how often it appears, click through rates, and other special features (including rich results appearances).

The performance report will help you see your traffic changes over time, where it comes from, and what search queries are likely to show your site to users.

It is also useful for looking into traffic drops. You can read more about this in a previous article I wrote.

You will also be able to find out which devices are making requests and which pages have the best (and worst) click through rates from results pages.

Furthermore, the report will let you:

  • Choose which metrics you see.
  • Choose which dimensions to show.
  • Filter your data.
  • Compare dimension groups (for example, compare results from different countries).

Sitemaps report

This report will let you submit a sitemap for your site, as well as your submission history, and any errors that Google might have encountered when parsing your submitted sitemaps.

Here you will find the following information about where your sitemap is located, the type of sitemap it is (for example if it is in XML or text format), when it was submitted, when it was last processed by Google, and its status.

URL Inspection tool

The URL Inspection tool provides detailed information about Google’s indexed version of a page, including AMP errors, structured data errors, and indexing issues.

The tool enables site owners to:

  • Retrieve information about Google’s indexed information version of a page.
  • Test whether a page is able to be indexed.
  • Request that an inspected URL is crawled by Google.
  • See a screenshot of how Googlebot sees the page.

To inspect a URL, you need to ensure that it must be in a current property. You can also inspect both AMP and non-AMP URLs, as well as alternative page versions.

Manual Actions report

This report is particularly important, as it will inform you if any manual actions that are issued against your website.

These are a kind of penalty determined by a human reviewer at Google, and can be implemented against a site if it does not comply to Google’s quality guidelines.

If your site has been issued a manual action penalty you will be notified both in the Manual Actions report and the Search Console message centre.

You can find out more about Google penalties in this article.

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