What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a Google tool with a lot of functionality. Here are just some of the things you can do:
- See how your website is performing in Search
- Identify errors that could be hurting your site
- Carry out keyword research
- Check internal links and backlinks
- Help Google crawl your website
- Analyse individual pages to find errors and opportunities for improvement
It’s a fantastic tool if you want to improve your search presence and create a stronger site for your business.
A quick note: A new design of Google Search Console was rolled out in November 2021. This guide is based on the newest design.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
If you haven’t got a Search Console account for your website, then you’ll want to do that first of all. Head to the Search Console home page and select Start now.
If you already have a Google account (for example, for GSuite), you can select Add a Property in the top left, then follow the instructions to add your website. You may need your web developer’s help to verify ownership or, if you’re using WordPress, can do so with the help of a suitable plugin.
If you don’t have a Google account at all, you will need to first create an account.
Keep in mind that, if you’re new to Google Search Console, then you will need to wait a little while for the system to gather data on your site before you can use its tools effectively.
Google Search Console Features for Beginners
Now, let’s jump ahead a few weeks so that you have some usable data in your console. We’re going to take a look at the different sections of Search Console and look at how each can help you improve your website.
This page gives you a general look at your website and how it is performing in Google Search. You can quickly identify possible issue areas before looking closer at them in one of the other sections.
Information here includes how many clicks your website has received over the last three months, general trends in traffic, and possible errors around coverage, mobile usability and page experience. We’ll look at these in more detail later.
Remember that all this data is based on organic traffic, not paid or direct traffic.
This is arguably one of the most useful tools on Search Console, as it helps you see how your website is performing in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Here, you can compare clicks and impressions for your site overall, and identify the search phrases that your site shows up for.
You can also use this report to see:
- How individual pages perform in Search
- The devices searchers use to view your site (e.g. mobile, desktop or tablet)
- The countries your users are from
- Where your site shows in Search with special features such as video, review snippets or product results
You can change the period covered (the default is the last three months) and the type of search (e.g. web, news or images), or use a number of other filters to dig down into the data.
There is a handy option to export too, so that you can analyse the data more closely.
The Search Results report helps you see how your site is performing in organic search over a period time. You can identify popular search queries and see how target phrases are performing.
By comparing click-through rates and impressions, you can see if any pages are performing particularly well or particularly poorly, and adjust your page headings and descriptions as necessary.
Take a look at phrases you’re already ranking for. Are you ranking for potentially lucrative phrases but low down in the SERPs? You can use this information to update your content by including relevant phrases and gradually increasing your visibility.
The URL Inspection function allows you to look closer at a specific page on your website. Simply paste the full URL and hit Enter to generate the report. Here you can see whether the page is mobile friendly, and if Google can find it when crawling your site.
If any of your pages are receiving a particularly low amount of traffic, or are not performing well, then the URL Inspection can help you identify why.
For example, if the page isn’t indexed, it won’t show up in the SERPs and so can’t be found organically. Make sure the page is indexed by:
- Including it on your sitemap
- Requesting that Google index it
- Ensuring other pages on your site link to it, and
- Removing any noindex tags
This page will also allow you to see when Google last crawled your page – i.e. how up-to-date its information is. If your page has had significant updates and hasn’t been crawled in a while, you may want to manually Request Indexing.
If you get a warning that the inspected URL isn’t on Google, this could be because Google isn’t able to crawl the page (check you’ve linked the page as described above), or that it hasn’t yet crawled the page since you added it to your website.
The Coverage report lets you see if there are any crawl errors on your site. For example, if you’ve submitted a URL via your sitemap and that page can’t be found, or if a page is marked ‘noindex’ and Google thinks it shouldn’t be.
While, as a beginner, you may be able to use the Coverage report to pick out some easy-to-fix errors, correcting most errors requires a more advanced level of SEO. If you open this report and see a high proportion of errors, then you may need speak to your developer or an SEO expert.
In general, the Coverage report is most useful to larger sites. If you’re a small site or only have one or two errors, this is usually not a huge problem.
This is where you submit your website’s sitemap(s).
The sitemap tells Google how your website is structured, and the pages that it should be crawling. It should be formatted to indicate higher-level (and therefore more important) pages and a clear site hierarchy.
A sitemap can be found by Google’s crawlers without you doing anything, but it’s generally quicker to submit manually.
Firstly, make sure your site has a sitemap. If you use a WordPress plugin like Yoast, it will automatically generate one for you. If you don’t have such a plugin, and don’t already have a sitemap, you will need to create one.
Whether or not you use Yoast (or a similar SEO plugin), you can usually find your sitemap by typing in your website address followed by any of these filepaths:
If you have a particularly large website and multiple sitemaps, you may see several listed here.
Copy the filepath of your link (I.e. the sitemaps.xml part of the URL), and paste it into the Sitemaps report. Then click Submit.
Once your sitemap is submitted, Google will intermittently update it to check for new content.
You can also use this report to make sure all of your pages are being indexed. If your sitemap has lots of pages listed, but Google Search Console has only discovered a few, then you should look for the cause of the issue. Perhaps links on your sitemap are broken (i.e. they don’t take you to a usable page), or maybe there’s a typo.
The URL Inspection report can help with identifying problems.
Removals is handy if you want to urgently remove one or more of your web pages from Google Search.
There are three types of request you can make:
Temporary removals if your want to remove a URL from search for around 6 months or if you want to clear a cache to stop Google showing an outdated page description. This is for pages that have already been removed on your site but are still showing on Google Search, or for pages you only want removed temporarily.
Outdated content if you want to permanently remove a page from Google Search. This could be because the page no longer exists but is still showing in Google Search, or to remove an older version of a page to allow Google to instead show an updated version.
Safesearch filtering to filter out adult content from search results.
Remember that removals can only be requested for your own site (with a few exceptions).
You can also use the Removals page to cancel requests and see a list of past requests.
Find out which sites are linking to your site, and which specific pages they’re linking to. This can help you identify any spam links to your site, or how much traffic you’re receiving from backlinks.
It can also show you the kinds of pages on your own website that external sites want to link to, either because the content is relevant to them, or because the information is useful. This, in turn, can influence content creation, link building, and possible affiliations.
Google Search Console Features for Advanced SEO
There are a number of other features available in Google Search Console, but they require a more advanced understanding of SEO and many need the input of an experienced developer.
As they go beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide to Google Search Console, I’ve included a brief overview of each of the features only.
There are three parts to the Experience section of Google Search Console. Each can help you make your whole website better for your users, whether that’s through increasing page load speed, ensuring your site is mobile-friendly, or analysing and improving Core Web Vitals.
You can start making improvements to your page experience by using the following guides:
- Core Web Vitals: What You Need to Know and Do
- 5 Tips for Optimising Your Website for Site Speed and Page Speed
- Mobile-First Indexing
Security & Manual Actions
Manual actions mean that a real person at Google has identified that your site breaches Google policies in some way. This could be through numerous spammy inbound and outbound links, copying content from other sites, or phishing, to name a few. If you use good SEO practices, then you’re unlikely to be hit with any of these issues.
If you are, then your page(s) won’t show on Google Search and you will need to take steps to fix the issues. This can be a long process as you’ll need to demonstrate to Google that you’re taking appropriate action to clean up your site.
Security issues informs you if your site has been hacked or has malware. If you have any of these, you need to address them as soon as possible. Users will otherwise continue to see a warning notification from Google whenever they try to follow a link to your site.
Legacy Tools and Reports
At the time of writing, there are a number of tools that haven’t been fully replaced in the new (November 2021) version of Search Console. However, you can still access them via a Learn More link on the menu, though many will likely be irrelevant to your site.
International targeting identifies errors with your hreflang tags if your website has multiple languages or targets users in specific countries.
Messages is a for Google Search Console to send you notifications.
URL parameters can help you manage duplicate content on your site.
robots.txt tester: tests this file on your site and can help with debugging issues such as non-indexed pages.
Data highlighter: help Google extract information from template pages that are used repeatedly on your site. This can usually be done through structured data instead.
Crawl rate settings: reduce the number of crawling requests from Google.
Web Tools includes various reports and tools to help your site.
Google Search Console has a lot of functionality to offer and can be effectively used by both beginners and experienced SEOs. You can use it to improve a user’s experience on your site, create content, analyse your progress in Google Search, and much more.