While many of us wish we could have a direct line to Google to learn how to make our website better and identify any issues, that’s not really an option. The next best thing, however, is the Google Search Console. This free web tool allows you to check the status of your website in Google, analyze data to help optimize your search performance (visibility of a website), and fix any problem areas.
Whether you’re a marketer or your organization’s webmaster, you’re probably heavily invested in your website’s performance. After all, it is one of the most important tools your company has at its disposal to help attract and nurture prospects and customers alike.
When you’re website is performing at it’s best, it helps you rank high in Google search — which allows new leads to find you easily, empowers you to nurture them through the customer journey, and helps you gain valuable insights to close the deal. But for your website to do all this, it’s essential that you continuously optimize it and fix any issues preventing you from achieving the results you want.
Google Search Console offers you reports and data about technical aspects of your site, messages from Google, and graphs to track your site’s performance in search. These insights and reports are extremely useful when you know what to do with them. But we completely understand that, despite the wealth of information and resources available within this tool, navigating Search Console can be pretty intimidating if you’re new to the world of website optimization.
That’s why we’re on a mission today to help you demystify this tool so you can better understand and leverage it. Keep reading to learn more.
Before You Start, Make Sure to Validate Ownership of Your Site
If you’re new to Google Search Console, you’ll need to validate the ownership of your site before you 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, www, and non-www versions). Once you’ve validated all versions of your website, you can then authorize other users at your organization to be added to your account.
Website access to execute authentication may vary depending on your role at your organization. That’s why Google gives you five handy ways to work around any possible access or knowledge gaps that might exist. You can authenticate your site for Search Console by:
- Uploading an HTML file to your site (the Google recommended path)
- Adding a meta tag to your site’s homepage
- Logging into your domain name provider
- Using Google Analytics (if you’re using the right code)
- Using Google Tag Manager (if you have Tag Manager installed and in the right place).
Navigating Your Website’s Dashboard on Search Console
Once you’ve authenticated your website, you’ll be able to access your site’s dashboard by logging into Google Search Console’s homepage. Below are some key features you should pay extra attention to.
- Recent Messages: This leads you to an inbox where you can find all messages that are directly from Google. These messages include suggestions on how to improve your website’s performance and notifications about spam or malicious activity found on your site. Keeping on top of these suggestions and notifications will ensure peak site performance.
- Manage Property: This section allows you to add/remove users or delete a property. Website owners or admins can provide access to others on a full or restricted basis. Restricted will allow for read-only access, while full allows you to submit and make changes on the website owner’s behalf.
- Website URL: Clicking on the URL links will take you to the dashboard where your data is for that particular website property. You should pay extra attention to the areas below when you navigate to this section of Google Search Console.
- New and important: This will show you any new messages you receive from Google.
- Crawl Errors: Clicking on “Crawl Errors” will show you a list of any pages on your website where an error occurred while Google tried to crawl it.
- Search Analytics: This section will show you the number of clicks and visits to your website during the past 28 days. You can play around with dates to view and compare your website performance over time.
Key Google Search Console Data to Help You Leverage Your Website
There are a lot of data and resources available within Search Console to help you optimize your website, so it can be hard to know where to start if you’re new to the platform. Thankfully, Google understands this problem and provides you with a navigation menu — conveniently located on the left of your screen when you log in — to help you quickly access the tool’s most useful features. The four sections in this menu (described in more detail below) provide the information you need to analyze performance, identify security risks, and fix any issues.
- Search Appearance: When your website appears in a related search, there are a lot of things that can influence whether that user clicks your website link over another. The Search Appearance section of Google Search Console will show data to help you decide which changes to make to your website to improve your ranking and website visitor traffic.
- Search Traffic: This section shows data for the traffic generated from search (desktop/mobile/tablet), the performance of your website when users don’t click, and the geographic location of the person performing the search.
- Google Index: This section will help you identify and understand any issues Google has when it comes to understanding what your website is about and how it should show up in search. This is important because if a search engine has issues understanding and analyzing information on your website, it can result in reduced traffic or, sometimes, no traffic at all.
- Crawl: While indexing is the process of finding, analyzing, and storing information, crawling is the process a search engine executes when it discovers pages on your site. This section shows data detailing issues, if any, that Google has encountered when visiting and crawling your website. This section also allows you to indicate to Google and other search engines which pages to crawl and which to avoid.
How to Put the Information and Resources in Google Search Console to Good Use
The plethora of information available at your fingertips in Google Search Console can indicate good and bad news about your site. As you examine and familiarize yourself with each of the sections we outlined above, you’ll want to monitor them regularly to learn more about items that might need to be fixed on a site you manage. We’ve highlighted a few ways to leverage this information to get you started.
Messages & Manual Actions
Google tends to share good and bad news with us in the messages section of Google Search Console. While helpful tidbits about how to improve performance might show up, there are also other messages Google might share.
For example, Google may notify you if 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 search completely. Instances like this can have a serious negative impact on your ability to attract new customers and generate ROI from your website. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of any messages you receive and take manual action when needed.
Search Appearance: HTML Improvements
As Google crawls your website, it finds information in specific areas, such as meta titles and descriptions, that indicate what your page is about and influence SEO. In HTML Improvements, Google outlines specific meta data that may be duplicated, is too long or too short, missing, or non-informative to help you optimize your website pages.
Some of the most important information you’ll use to analyze performance can be found under Search Analytics.
In this section you’ll:
- Find out how many clicks from search engine pages occurred during a specific time period. Keep in mind that Google Search Console limits data to 90 days.
- Gain an understanding of the number of site impressions(times a website appeared in Google search results) your website has received recently.
- Be able to monitor your website’s click-through rate, which is the ratio of users who clicked on your website’s listing to those in total who saw it the search engine results page (SERP).
- Learn your site’s average position for specific keyword queries.
These metrics can be graphed in easy-to-read charts illustrating upward or downward trends. Google Search Console reports information about the specific keywords or landing page your site ranks for with these metrics, too.
To make sure your website is always in its best shape, look for the following:
- Keywords or landing pages that see large dips in impressions, click-through-rates, or clicks
- Keywords that show a large decrease in average search position
- Keywords or landing pages that differ greatly in performance between mobile, desktop, or tablet views
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 can discover increases or decreases in the total number of indexed pages over time. If you don’t know why a large increase or decrease happened when analyzing this information, it might be time to investigate.
Crawl Errors & Stats
As a search engine discovers pages on your site, it can encounter a few issues as it tries to gain access. In the Crawl Errors report, you’ll be notified of issues such as Server Errors, Soft 404s, and 404 Not Found pages for both mobile and desktop, which indicate the following errors on your site.
- 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.
- 404 Not Found notifications 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), the time it takes to download your page, and kilobytes downloaded in total. It’s important to analyze these stats over time for better insight into sudden spikes in traffic or time it takes to crawl your site, both of which could indicate issues that are worth investigating in more detail. After all, if search engines experience issues crawling your site, they very well could miss important information your prospective customers need to see.
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 a format that is simplified and easy for a bot to read and understand.
In Google 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 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 it is not managed correctly. Google takes precautions and communicates if they discover any indication of spam or security threats on your site. If Malware is detected, Google 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.
Optimizing Your Website Takes Time and Effort
Search Console is an amazing resource for anyone managing or overseeing marketing activities related to a website. Without this useful tool, you’re missing out on in-depth information to help you improve the amount of traffic you get from organic search and, as a result, failing to capture great leads that help drive ROI.
Optimizing your website, however, is only part of the equation. If you want to learn how you can do more with your website to engage visitors and keep them moving through the sales funnel, download our eBook, Personalizing the Web Experience: The Key to Better Customer Interaction and Engagement on Your Website (also linked below). In this useful guide, we’ll walk you through what you can do to engage and inspire visitors to convert once they’re actually on your site.