So you’ve heard that you should be using Search Console. Maybe you spent some time setting your site properties up, maybe you have no idea what that means. There are graphs, data, and filters to analyze the performance of your properties on Google, which can be intimidating to parse and sometimes feels like reading a foreign language with no formal training. I’m here to tell you there’s no hope…
Okay, I lied. There’s hope, and we’ll spend a few minutes going over what it means to set up your properties correctly and how to read the information found in the analytics in this entry level Google Search Console guide. We’ll also touch briefly on being sure your sitemap is setup properly and that you’ve indexed important pages on your site.
Setting up a New Search Console Property
If you haven’t set up your site properties in Search Console, this will be your first step to tracking your progress. Start by logging into your Google account and heading over to the Google Search Console home page. Once you’re there, select start now. At the top left of your screen, click add property and select the add button in the dropdown.
Enter your domain precisely the way it shows up in your browser. Being sure that you use the correct version of your domain for tracking will assure that you get the correct analytics. I don’t mean to run this into the ground, but it’s very important to get this correct so I’ll reiterate – if your site shows up “https://www.yourdomain.com” in your browser address bar, enter it this way in the add property field. Be sure to check this on desktop, as mobile browsers will sometimes hide additional domain information (www. and https://) from your view.
Pro Tip: We recommend verifying all four versions of your domain so you have access to all data, even if your domain changes.
Google Search Console Verification
Verifying your properties on Search Console is one of the first intimidating steps of this process. Once you plug in your property, you’ll be prompted to verify your ownership of the domain in question. This can be done in a number of ways, the easiest of which are using Google Analytics, and adding an HTML meta tag.
Using Analytics to verify your property ranges in difficulty depending on which platform you’ve used to build your site. With minimal research, you should be able to complete this process without any hang-ups. Some things to keep in mind when verifying your site with Google Analytics –
- You may have to move your tracking code if it has already been installed elsewhere in the code of your site. If someone else has set up your Analytics and you have a hard time finding it, check the Chrome Inspector on your site and use a ctrl+f search to look for its location (usually in theme settings or a plugin for WP.)
- Your tracking code needs to be plugged into the head of your site code. Some site builders such as Squarespace or Showit have a third party plugin option in the site settings where you can easily enter your UA code.
Once you’ve added Google Analytics or an HTML meta tag to your site, simply click on the dropdown for that option and select verify. Repeat this step for all four versions of your domain.
New Google Search Console Overview
If you’ve used the old Google Search Console, it may seem like a leap to learn the new version. Let’s go over the locations of your beloved tools!
The Performance report is where you’ll spend most of your time once you’ve got everything set up properly. We’ll work from the top down with the information you can find here, and while we might not cover every element in depth (Google does a really good job here with their tip cards,) we will address the gist of the information you’ll find here.
Pro Tip: Be sure to select the Average CTR and Average Position buttons above your performance report. This will pull CTR and Position data into your report.
Filters: Use these to parse your data based on ranges and comparisons. We prefer to increase the date range depending on the amount of available data. A good example of using comparative filters would be comparing a date range before and after making specific on-page changes. Keep in mind that you’ll need to clear filters from the Search Console filter bar once you want to go back to your default view.
Total Clicks: This is your approximate total site click count incoming from Google based on the selected date range.
Total Impressions: This is the total number of impressions (times your site is served in the search results) based on the selected date range.
Average CTR: The percentage of impressions that resulted in a click to your site.
Average Position: This is the average position of all pages on your site using the highest ranking position for when your pages appeared in the search results. This is an informative statistic, but less useful than viewing individual page position statistics.
Queries: These are essentially the Google Search Console keywords that you are currently ranking for. We’re getting into the extremely valuable information here, as you can see what real keywords users are searching that serve your site as a result in the SERP. Here you can filter down to specific queries to see if and how well you’re ranking for your desired keywords. It doesn’t stop there – you can also see how many clicks and impressions each individual query is getting.
Pages: Want to know what pages are ranking, bringing in clicks, and how many times on average they’re seen when someone searches for a specific query? Click on this tab and behold the glory of your progress. Use the clicks, impressions, CTR, and position filters to sort your pages to your liking. Keep in mind that you can export this data to sort for your liking in Excel or Google Sheets.
Countries, Devices, Search Appearance: We won’t go into much detail on these, but you can get valuable information from these depending on your industry and target market. Devices can be especially useful for seeing how people search for specific terms.
Cross Filtering Search Console Results
I want to make this a separate focus from the previous talks on filters because it is one of the more powerful ways of filtering in Search Console. When you select a view you can actually filter by individual results, and then cross to another view to see statistics for that specific result. For example, if I’m ranking for “photography podcast” and want to know which page is ranking/receiving traffic for that term, I should click on the term in the queries result. Once this is the only option left in the report, I would select the page view to know which page(s) rank for that term.
Pro Tip: Consider adding specific queries (keywords) to the respective ranking page if it’s not already there to strengthen your on page signaling.
As you can see, using this method we easily found exactly which page is responsible for the results in the queries tab.
The same method can also be used for specific pages on your site. Say you want to see if your home page is ranking for your top location keyword – simply select your home page in the page view, then swap to queries to see which terms are ranking.
URL Inspector Tool
Search Console URL Inspection is an easy way to see Google’s indexed version of any specific page on your site. Enter the URL for the page you want to inspect and hit enter. Within the tool you have the ability submit a URL for indexing, which is especially useful if you’ve just added a new URL or have made major changes to important pages on your site.
Google has tons of resources for this tool at the bottom right of the page, and the the details are a bit too technical for this specific guide. Just keep in mind that this, along with submitting your sitemap, replaces the old “submit to Google for indexing” option.
Google Search Console Coverage
The coverage view is a great way to get additional insight into what pages are being indexed, if there are any errors or warnings on your indexed pages, and what pages are being excluded from the index.
Selecting all of the status types above your graph will allow you to see trends in your graph section, and additional details for specific types of issues below the graph.
Pro Tip: Select all of your view options above the graph to bring the data into your graph and details section.
Warnings and excluded statuses aren’t inherently a bad thing. If you’re unsure about this, here’s a guide to learn what types of content you should be submitting for indexing.
Google Search Console Sitemap
From the Sitemap report help block – “The new Search Console encourages the use of sitemaps to help Google discover the right content on your site, and to improve content tracking and error reporting.” This is the core focus of adding a sitemap to Search Console.
Instead of requesting indexing for individual URLs, if you have a number of major changes to your site, or if you’ve made a major repair, you can post a sitemap on your site and submit it here to have a number of pages crawled by Google. If you’ve already submitted your sitemap and need to have changes crawled, you can simply resubmit the portion of your sitemap that includes the changes.
If you find that a large number of your visitors are using mobile devices to browse your site, the Google Search Console mobile usability tool can be a big help to find pages that may have usability issues when viewed on mobile devices.
This is another section that Google does a great job of explaining in their help dropdown. The main takeaway is that you should use this information to find on page errors, determine the cause, and work to keep your content served in a mobile first format.
Hopefully this is the message you see when you get to your manual actions report. Manual actions are hits against your site after a human reviewer at Google determines your site has elements that go against Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
If you do have a manual action against your site, you should take immediate action to reconcile the issue with Google. Manual actions can result in pages or even whole sites being deindexed by Google, and typically are a result of attempts to manipulate the index or search results. Basically, try to avoid cheating Google because they hit hard!
The Search Console link report shows backlinks, internal links, top linking sites, and anchor text for your site.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when viewing this report. Let’s briefly go over some tips for using it to your advantage.
- You can find spammy links by looking in your external link report. This makes it easy to disavow links that may be hurting your backlink profile.
- Use your internal link report to get an overview for the structure of your site. Coming up with a game plan for strong internal linking is great for SEO, so be sure to use this report during your planning process.
- Checking your top linking text will help to be sure you don’t have over-optimized anchor text pointing to your site, and is another great way to search for spammy backlinks. Look out for suspicious words or phrases that don’t match up with the intent of your site.
Under the settings tab, you can choose to verify your property if you haven’t done so yet, or add users to your Search Console permissions. Say you have a new business E-mail, but you’ve set up Search Console on your personal account. Select add user and enter your new address, then you’re all set! If you need to add a user with simple view permissions, change the permissions to restricted.
If you want to add a new owner to your permissions, you’ll have to click on the ellipses next to one of the current listed users and make the changes in Webmaster Central.
The new Google Search Console is a great way to gather data and set goals for your SEO. It is also an invaluable tool for diagnosing issues with your site that may be hindering you from reaching your potential. If you ever find yourself stuck on anything in particular that this guide didn’t cover, Google has put together some amazing help resources for each section of the Search Console that are very intuitive and explain each report in depth.
Click on the info button at the top right on whatever report you have additional questions for, and spend some time digging in to really understand each section of that specific report.
We have more awesome guides coming soon for topics like setting up Google Analytics, and linking your Google Analytics to the correct Search Console property so stay tuned for those powerful resources. If you are looking to have this setup done for you, take a peek at our Google Setup SEO Mini Session!