If you have a website, Google’s free webmaster tools are invaluable resources that you should be taking advantage of.
Chances are, you already know about and regularly use Google Analytics, but if you haven’t yet, you should add Google Search Console to your list of go-to Google resources to help you get more from your business website as well.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
To start, go to the Google Search Console. To access it, you’ll be required to log in with your Google account – make sure you use the same one here you use for any other Google Webmaster tools you use.
Once you’re logged in, look for the red button that says Add a Property. Enter the html for your website and click the button.
From there, Google may ask you to verify you’re the owner of the website. There are a few different ways you can do this. If you’re already using Google Analytics, then the easiest option will be to choose Google Analytics Tracking Code as your preferred method of verification. As long as your Google Analytics tracking code is in the <head> section of your homepage, you’ll be in with no problem.
When you’re on the homepage of the Google Search Console, notice a link on the top left that says “Try the new Search Console”. You currently have two options for using the tool: the old, traditional one which keeps more of the functionality; and the newer version Google’s rolling out that has a more intuitive visual design, but fewer of the features and functionality of the older version. Over time, Google plans to move all the Search Console’s features into the newer version, but for now, a lot of the benefits of the tool remain in the traditional version.
In the images below, the old version is on the left and the new version is on the right:
10 Ways to Use Google Search Console
With access to the Google Search Console, you can now get to work accomplishing a number of different tasks. Here are some of the most important ways to use it.
1. Submit a sitemap.
While Google’s web crawlers can learn a lot about a website and its individual web pages on their own, you can give them a little extra help in learning the information they need by submitting a sitemap to Google.
A number of websites will automatically generate a sitemap for you. Once you have it, loading it to the Google Search Console is extremely easy.
In the traditional version, while on the main page of the dashboard, look on the right side of the screen to see the Sitemaps section. Click on the gray bar that says Sitemaps.
Then find the red Add/Test Sitemaps button in the top right corner of the screen. Click on it and fill in the URL for your website’s sitemap.
In the new dashboard, click on Sitemaps in the menu on the left side of the page, then fill in the sitemap URL where instructed.
2. Learn common keywords people use to find you.
Anyone that finds your website through search used a specific search term to get there. Google Search Console shows you the most common keywords bringing people to your website.
In the traditional Google Search Console view, you’ll find this information by clicking on the Search Analytics bar in the middle of the page in the main dashboard.
A little bit down the page, you’ll see the list of all the keywords people found you with and the number of times someone has clicked on your link after searching each keyword.
By clicking on a particular keyword in the list and using the filter options in the top menu, you can go a little deeper to learn which pages show up for the specific keyword, what countries people are coming from when they search the keyword, and what devices they’re using. And you can see how different keywords fare in terms of clicks, impressions, and click-through rate.
In the new Google Search Console, you’ll find the same information by clicking on Performance either in the left-side menu or in the top box in the main dashboard.
In this version, Google shows you both the number of clicks each keyword earns you and the number of total times your website shows up in search for that keyword (impressions) on the main page, and you can view the other categories (CTR, position) by clicking on the upside-down triangle above the list.
This information shows you if you’re successfully attracting people based on the keywords targeted in your SEO strategy. And it will reveal any keywords people find you with that you weren’t meaning to target at all.
3. Identify your most popular pages.
Every website will have pages that perform better in the search engines than others. Google Search Console will help you determine which of your web pages is bringing the most people to your website.
You can find your most popular pages in the same section you found the keywords, and filtering and viewing different subsets of data works pretty much the same.
In both versions of the site, in the same Search Analytics section you viewed the keywords in, select Pages in the menu.
You’ll 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. The default view in the old version shows you the most popular pages in terms of clicks; in the new version, clicks and impressions. You can also see which perform best in terms of click-through rate and position as well.
4. See where your visitors are coming from.
If your business serves a particular part of the world, then it’s more important to get traffic from visitors that live in a set geographic area than anywhere else. Google Search Console will also provide you data on where your visitors are located, so you can make sure you’re reaching the right people.
This is in the same section as the keywords and pages data. In both versions, select Countries in the menu.
You’ll see the number of clicks your website receives from each country, with the highest numbers at the top of the list. As with the other categories, you can also switch to view the results based on impressions, click-through rate, and search ranking position.
5. Learn which devices they use.
By now, every business should have a mobile-friendly website. But even if you’ve already taken steps to make sure your website looks good on mobile devices, it’s still good to know what portion of your visitors are interacting with your website on each different type of device. The Google Search Console has you covered there. This is the last piece of data we’ll find in the same section as the last three.
In both versions, select Devices in the menu.
You can see here the distribution of how many clicks you get on each type of device and you can switch over to see the number of impressions, click-through rate, and average position as desired (you know this song and dance by now)
Note that this is the last item on our list that you’ll find in both versions of the product. For the rest, at least at the time of this writing, you’ll be sticking with the traditional version of the Google Search Console.
6. Check that your website works well on mobile.
While it’s a good idea to do mobile testing on your website on your own, you can also use the Google Search Console to confirm that your website passes their mobile usability standards.
In the Search Traffic section on the left-side menu, select Mobile Usability. If everything about your site looks good to Google based on their standards for mobile usability, you’ll see a green checkmark telling you that no errors are detected.
If it identifies something about your website that doesn’t work well on mobile, such as the use of flash or a small font size, you’ll get a message in this section letting you know what the problem is so you can work on fixing it.
7. See which sites link to you.
For anyone focused on SEO, this is important information to have access to. Backlinks are one of the biggest ranking factors, so every time another authoritative website links to you it increases your website’s authority in the eyes of Google’s algorithm.
Under Search Traffic in the left-side menu, select Links to Your Site.
You’ll see a list of websites that include a link on their website back to yours, as well as a list of the pages on your website that other sites link to the most. Under the section labeled “How your data is linked,” you can also see the anchor text other sites use most often when linking back to yours.
You can find more information on each backlink by clicking on the website, and then clicking on the link listed. From there, you can see specific pages that include the link and visit them yourself to see how it’s used.
8. Check for broken links.
Broken links provide a bad experience for your users and lead people away from the functioning pages you want them to be on. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also make you look bad to Google and can have a negative effect on your rankings.
In the Crawl section of the Google Search Console, you can find details on any errors Google found when crawling your website, including all URLs that returned a 404 error.
If you click on each entry, you can find information on what the problem with the link is and where the link is located both on your website and others.
This is valuable information you can use to improve your website experience and cut out any frustrating errors your visitors may be dealing with now.
9. Identify website security issues.
Big website hacks are in the news every day lately it seems. Even if your business isn’t big enough to make the news if you get hacked, it can still cause you serious problems. And that goes double if you have an ecommerce site that collects sensitive customer data like credit card information.
The Google Search Console provides a quick and easy head’s up if your website has a security flaw you should be aware of. Click on the Security Issues option on the left-side menu. If you don’t have anything to worry about, the Console will let you know.
If Google does spot an issue, you’ll learn the details you need to figure out how to fix it here.
10. Confirm your schema markup or structured data is working.
Finally, if you use schema markup or other structured data on your website, Google can confirm for you whether it’s set up right to work in the SERPs.
Under Search Appearance, you’ll find categories for Structured Data, Rich Cards, and Data Highlighter, all of which are methods you can use to communicate more information to Google’s crawlers about how to display your web pages in the search results.
The Console provides details on whether or not you have all your coding set up right for these categories, or if you need to make changes.
The Google Search Console is entirely free and, as you can see, thoroughly packed with useful information for any business website. If you care about where and how you show up in the search engines, this is your best resource for digging into the data available and making an action plan for how to improve your SEO moving forward.