Basics of Search Console
Search Console, formerly called Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT), is a great tool for monitoring overall site health and getting an inside look at your technical SEO, which is search engine optimization that is not content related, but consists of the foundation of your website. This tool gives you access to see if Google is reading your main files, like robots.txt or sitemap.xml, correctly and if you have any errors to fix. This tool also gives you an inside look at keywords you are getting organic traffic from, which has been limited in Google Analytics as of a few years ago.
Search Console is completely free, it just needs to be set up and verified.
Search Console Setup Tips
For the initial setup, Google makes it simple with step-by-step instructions found here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en
A great beginners guide to reference for setting up your account can be found here, by our friends at Moz: https://moz.com/blog/a-beginners-guide-to-the-google-search-console
- I’ve always found this set up to be easiest done by whoever has access to your website hosting account, such as GoDaddy. Using your hosting account to verify ownership of the domain is the easiest and quickest that I’ve found, although all methods work depending on which credentials you have available..
- I’ve done a lot of troubleshooting recently when people have set up multiple accounts (whoops) because Search Console is so particular. Be sure to copy and paste the exact URL of your domain. So, for example if your site has http or https, or if it is www or non-www, it will make a difference in Search Console pulling in your data. Data takes a while to populate, so if you set up your account and you are not seeing anything populated for a day or so that is totally normal and it’s too soon to tell if it is set up properly or not. If a week goes by and still nothing, check your URL to ensure you put it in exactly as it appears in your browser.
- Make sure the right people have the right access. There is an owner of the account, full access users and restricted access users. If you want to make changes within the account, make sure to get full access to ensure you can access all of the data and error reports ,and more importantly, actually make changes to resolve anything noted. So, for example if you want to mark a 404 error as fixed because you just resolved that error (yay one less thing!) then you would need full access to your Search Console account.
Top Five Uses for Search Console
- Fetch and Render: Under Crawl tab → Fetch as Google, you can submit URLs to see what Google is seeing. Is your content showing up? Have you updated your page recently and want Google to recognize the new changes?
- Search Traffic and Keywords: Play with the filters under Search Traffic → Search Analytics to see what your latest rank changes are, where you are getting the most clicks and see metrics like average ranking position for all your terms. Change your filters to see a different list of the thousand results Google shows you.
- 404 Errors: Crawl → Crawl Errors, will show you all of the errors on your site. 404 errors (page not found errors) are generally what I look at. These are both a poor user experience and cause Google to spend time crawling pages that do not exist. You can see a thousand errors at a time, resolve them and mark as fixed as you fix them, and even see where the error pages are linked to from to remove the linking page or fix the broken link..
- Removing URLs from Index: Have an old URL in the index you’ve removed it from your site, or noindexed the page, and even Disallowed it in your robots.txt file but it is still showing up? This can be super frustrating. Give this a try: Google Index → Remove URLs, to temporarily hide the URLs from the index and see if they go away.
- International Targeting: Have an international website targeted for a specific language and country? In Search Console you can reiterate to Google which language and country your website is relevant for. Go to Search Traffic → International Targeting to use this feature.
Assignment: Create a weekly checklist that includes these items, so you can catch errors in advance and keep track of historical progress. I usually do this every Monday to catch any errors at the beginning of the week.
- Average ranking position for all of your terms
- Ranking for your brand name
- Number of 404 errors