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An Introductory Guide to Google’s Search Console

An Introductory Guide to Google’s Search Console

An Introductory Guide to Google’s Search Console

Do you have a direct line to Google? You know, that “red telephone” you pick up that helps you cut to the front of the line for anything Google related?

OK, so maybe that doesn’t exist, but it would be great, wouldn’t it?

The next best thing may be the Google Search Console. If the name “Webmaster Tools” rings a bell, then you probably have an idea what Search Console is. Let’s examine it a bit further.

What is Google’s Search Console?

Search Console, formerly Webmaster Tools prior to May 2015, is a no-charge web service by Google for the individuals who manage website properties. It is a place where Google communicates data and statistics about a specific website to the website owners and the professionals who are authorized to manage that website.

From Webmasters to small business owners, Search Console allows individuals or professionals the ability to check the status of their website in Google, as well as analyze data to help optimize their search performance (visibility of a website). Search Console reports key aspects important to the success of your website in Google and provides webmasters with support, learning opportunities and resources.

Search Console is like the dashboard in your car notifying you when things go wrong, or deserve your attention or the attention of a professional. A light indicates when your tire pressure is low or your gas tank is near empty. Search Console indicates areas that may require further testing or diagnosis.

Google’s Search Console can be daunting when you first access it. There are reports and data about technical aspects of your site, messages from Google, links to technical information and solutions, as well as graphs to track your site’s performance in search.

In this post, we will help guide you to effectively using this tool.

Step One: Add Your Site

If you’re new to Search Console, you’ll need to validate the ownership of your site to first start using it. After logging in with a Google account to Google Search Console, you’ll see a button that says “Add Property.” Click the button to start your authorization process for each version of your site: http, https (if you have a secure site), www and non-www versions of your site. Once set up, you can then authorize other users to be added to your account.

There are five ways to authenticate your site for Search Console which include uploading an HTML file to your site (the Google recommended path); add a meta tag to your sites homepage; one requiring you to log into your domain name provider; one that uses your Google Analytics account (if you’re using the right code); and the other uses your Google Tag Manager (if you have Tag Manager installed and in the right place). Not sure which one is best for you? Check out Moz’s “Beginners Guide to Google’s Search Console” for more specifics about the authentication options.

Website access to execute the task of authentication may vary. That’s why Google gives you five handy ways to work around any possible access or knowledge gaps that may exist.

This is a picture of the Google Search Console dashboard. This guide will help you understand the free tool and learn how to improve your website’s performance.

Navigating Search Console

Once you’ve authenticated a website, you’ll be able to access your website’s dashboard by logging into Search Console’s homepage. Upon logging in you’ll be greeted with a dashboard that looks a little bit like the one shown below.

“Recent messages” will open an inbox where messages directly from Google are placed. These messages could include suggestions on how to improve your website’s performance, notifications about spam or malicious activity found on your site. Reviewing messages in Search Console can prove helpful, so make a conscious effort to check regularly.

Clicking on “Manage property” to add or remove users or delete the property. Restricted and full access is available, allowing a website owner or admin to provide access to others. Restricted will allow for read-only access, while full allows you to submit and make changes on the website owners behalf.

Clicking on the website URL itself will take you to the dashboard where your data is. The navigation menu to the left shows the available places to navigate to in Search Console. We’ll examine each of these areas in the text below to get you better acquainted.

Upon logging into your dashboard you’ll see a “New and important” section, as well as a “Current Status” area. Upon first logging in, Google will show you some quick data about your site.

New and important: any new messages in your inbox will be shown here, messages from Google.

Crawl Errors: when a search engine navigates to your site and crawls your site/discovers new pages, there are cases when the search engine runs into problems while finding your pages. Crawl errors will include lists of pages which an error occurred.

Search Analytics: The total clicks your website has received from Google search for the past 28 days will be shown when first logging in. Further information is available, including the ability to change dates and compare, can be found by clicking Search Analytics in the navigation menu docked on the left side of the screen in Search Console.

Getting to Know Search Console

A navigation menu is provided to help you find the most important data available in Search Console. It is conveniently docked on the left of your screen when you log in. Four main areas exist to analyze, along with Security Issues and Resources.

Search Appearance: this section covers how a website appears in organic search. When a user has searched and your website is shown a lot of things can factor into why that user clicks your result over another. The Search Appearance section of Search Console will show you data to help you make decisions which improve clicks and overall performance in search results pages themselves.

Search Traffic: here data is compiled which gives insight into the traffic generated from search (desktop/mobile/tablet), the performance of your website when users don’t click, and information that affects the geographic locations your website will show up in Google.

Google Index: this section will help you understand a bit better about any issues Google has about understanding what your website is about and how it should show in search. Indexing is the process search engines go through that finds, analyzes and stores information for quick and accurate retrieval. If a search engine has issues understanding and analyzing information, it can result in reduced traffic or sometimes no traffic at all.

Crawl: here data is available detailing what issues, if any, Google encountered when visiting your website. While indexing is the process of finding, analyzing and storing information, crawling is the process a search engine goes through when it’s bot (a computer program developed to find your site and navigate to pages) discovers pages on your site. Depending on how popular pages on your site are, a search engine may crawl your pages multiple times a day or some pages once every couple weeks. In the Crawl section of the Search Console you’re able to tell search engines which pages to crawl and which to not crawl; and understand better about the speed with which Google can crawl your site.

Diving into Search Console

The plethora of information available at your fingertips in Search Console can indicate good and bad news about your site. As you examine and get familiar with each of the sections we outlined above, you’ll want to regularly monitor these sections to learn more about items that might need to be fixed on a site you manage.

Messages & Manual Actions

Google tends to share good and bad news with us in the messages section of Search Console. While helpful tidbits about how to improve performance might show up, there are also other messages Google may share. These may include notifications your site has a manual webspam action against it. This notification indicates Google has found your site to contain malicious spam or violate Google’s Terms of Service resulting in pages or your entire site being demoted or taken out of Google completely. Pay attention to messages and the manual action section of Search Console to ensure you’re on top of any issues as they arise.

Search Appearance: HTML Improvements

As Google crawls your website, information is found in specific areas on your page important for SEO. This includes meta titles and descriptions, indicating what a page contains. In HTML Improvements, Google outlines specific meta data which may be duplicated, is too long or too short, missing, or non-informative. Titles should be 50-55 characters (600 pixels) and unique on each page. Descriptions should be unique, and roughly 155 characters or less.

Search Analytics

Some of the most important information you’ll use to analyze performance can be found under Search Analytics.

  • Find out how many clicks from search engine pages occurred during a specific time period. Keep in mind that Search Console limits data to 90 days
  • Gain an understanding about the number of times a website was shown in search results, called impressions
  • Click-through rate is monitored, which is the ratio of users who clicked on your website’s listing in a search results to those in total who saw it the search results
  • Lastly, your site’s average position for specific keyword queries

These metrics are then able to be graphed in handy charts illustrating upward or downward trends. Search Console reports information about the specific keywords or landing page your site ranks for with these metrics, too. Look for the following:

  • Keywords or landing pages that see large dips in impressions, click-through-rate or clicks
  • Keywords that show a large decrease to average search position
  • Keywords or landing pages that differ greatly in performance between mobile, desktop or tablet

Index Status

The number of pages you currently have in Google’s index should reflect the amount of content you publish and pages you keep live on your site. By examining the Index Status section of Search Console, you discover increases or decreases in the total number of indexed pages historically. What date did a spike happen? If you don’t know why a large increase or decrease happened it might be time to investigate.

Content Keywords

In this section, Google helps share some of the key phrases they associate with your site. See a word that doesn’t make sense? This may indicate an issue on your site or with the links pointing to your site. Spam words showing in the Content Keywords section of Search Console could happen if you have hacked pages on your site unknowingly and indicate the need to investigate.

Crawl Errors & Stats

As a search engine discovers pages on your site, it can encounter a few issues gaining access to pages. In the Crawl Errors report you’ll be notified of these issues including: Server Errors, Soft 404s and Not Found pages for both mobile and desktop.

  • Server errors can be caused by issues with your hosting provider. The crawler may experience an issue if your hosting provider goes down and pages cannot be found
  • Soft 404s are errors resulting from URLs not existing on your site. In these instances, the pages don’t exist and your site isn’t showing a 404 error
  • 404s are errors indicating a page does not exist. It shows the user a 404 page and indicates the page is no longer there

Crawl Stats indicate the rate at which a crawler is finding pages, pages crawled per day (high and low), time it took to download and kilobytes downloaded in total. This historical perspective allows for insight into spikes which can then be investigated. A spike in time it took to crawl is something worth determining the cause. If search engines experience issues crawling your site, they very well could miss important information your prospective customers need to see.

Sitemaps

Every website should have a sitemap, if yours does not I highly recommend building one today. A sitemap shows a search engine all of the pages on your site in one simplified and easy to read format for a bot to understand. XML sitemaps are the most common format and accepted by Google, too. In Search Console, web property owners can submit their sitemaps and monitor the number of pages submitted and subsequent pages Google indexes. Any errors encountered with the sitemap are shown in this section. Take note of large differences between the number of pages submitted in a sitemap and the number of pages indexed. A large difference may indicate an issue and should be investigated.

Security Issues & Other Resources

Spam is prevalent online and the security of your website could be at risk if not managed. Google takes precaution and communicates if they discover any indication of spam or security threats on your site. If Malware is detected, Search Console will indicate it in the Security Issues section. Be sure to monitor this area regularly and check out the other resources available, too.

Summary

Search Console is an amazing resource for anyone managing or overseeing the marketing of a website today. Without this handy tool, you’re missing out on in-depth information to help you improve the amount of traffic you get from organic search. Take a few moments to sign into Search Console today, trust me you won’t regret it!

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About

Kaila Strong is a writer, editor, senior marketing strategist, and SEO expert. Along with publishing regularly on Act-On’s blog and on other websites, she is a frequent guest speaker at SMX Conferences, Pubcon, and local conferences where she presents on topics including search, social, and content marketing.