What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a free SEO tool developed by Google for website owners. Google Search Console provides you with an enormous amount of relevant information to help your website rank higher in Google.
With Google Search Console, you can check whether your meta titles and meta descriptions are working properly and whether they are ensuring a high CTR. You can also discover important crawl errors such as 404 errors, server errors, noindex, etc., and solve them right away! With Google Search Console, you will also find out on which search terms your website already ranks high. And you can even discover trends in keywords, so you can optimize your content accordingly.
How to create an account on Google Search Console?
Luckily, it is easy to start using Google Search Console. Create a Google Search Console account at https://search.google.com/search-console/welcome.
First, you log in with your Google account. Then choose “Add property”. At the option Domain, enter your website. You will probably see the following screen:
Copy this code and send it to your web developer, or add it to your DNS records via the party where you registered your domain. The so-called TXT record must be placed in your DNS. After you or your web developer have done this, it takes about an hour before your Google Search Console account is live.
Another option is to verify via a URL prefix. This is where you fill in the complete URL, including https://. So for example https://smartranking.nl/. You then have the choice of verifying your property in one of five ways:
- Via an HTML file that you place on the server.
- Via an HTML tag that you add in the code of your website.
- Via a Google Analytics account.
- Via Google Tag Manager.
- By linking a DNS record through the domain name provider.
8 tips for using Google Search Console
1. Find out for which keywords you are already being found
Via “Performance” in the left menu, you can quickly and easily see on which search terms your website is already ranked. You select the desired data, such as the number of clicks and the number of impressions.
Do you want to get more in-depth insights of a certain URL? Then navigate to “Pages” and click the relevant page. Then click “Searches” and you will immediately see for which search terms the page concerned is shown in the SERP. It is also possible to see the average position of your page in the search results. To accomplish this, check “Average position” (at the top of your screen). At last, it is also possible to view the “Average CTR”.
Based on the data you see, you perform optimizations on your page, such as:
- Adding new content in which the relevant search terms are mentioned.
- Adapting your HTML headings, responding to the search terms used by your target audience.
- Rewriting your meta titles and meta descriptions if your CTR is low.
- Placing internal links from other pages to increase your average position.
2. Submit your XML sitemap and check which pages are indexed
Your crawl budget can be crucial if you have a big website (with over 100,000 pages). You don’t want to waste it on non-relevant pages. Therefore, make sure you submit an up-to-date XML sitemap to Google Search Console. The submitted XML Sitemap should only contain indexable pages. So, don’t include pages with a noindex tag in XML sitemaps.
What is an XML sitemap?
An XML Sitemap is a file in XML-format with the URLs of your website. An XML Sitemap indicates which pages are most relevant to you. Google will then always start indexing these pages and will only index other pages if there is a crawl budget left.
Under the menu item “Coverage” you can verify how many pages Google has indexed from your website. Under “Sitemaps” you can check the current number of pages in the sitemap and compare it with the statistic below. Should this not corresponds with a large percentage, then something might be going wrong with the indexing, and you might have crawl errors or duplicate content issues.
It is also possible that Google has discovered pages that are indexable, but are not in your XML Sitemap. In that case, it is important to determine whether you should add the pages to your XML Sitemap or whether the pages are indexable accidentally. With this knowledge, you can act.
3. Find crawl errors and solve them
Coverage problems due to crawl errors are a detriment to your SEO efforts. First, you waste your precious crawl budget and often other pages still contain internal links to your pages that contain a crawl error. Secondly, every page builds up some authority and a crawl error will cause you to lose the authority of that page.
Under the menu item “Coverage”, select the “Error” box in red at the top. You will then immediately see a selection of errors. These range from server errors and 404-errors to pages which, intentionally or not, have been given a noindex tag.
Resolve these errors as much as possible by applying redirects, removing redirect loops (multiple redirects in a row) or performing other actions.
Google Search Console also contains a peculiarity. Many errors are not necessarily displayed by Google under “Errors”. You should therefore always check the “Excluded” tab. Many errors that appear under “Crawl error”, “Soft 404” and “Not found (404)” are also broken pages.
In addition, pages under “Duplicate page without user-selected canonical version” and “Duplicate page, submitted URL not selected as canonical” are pages with duplicate content. For these, too, it is important to carry out optimizations.
4. See the difference between mobile and desktop traffic
You may find a difference in your performance on mobile devices versus the desktop. For almost all websites, Google already uses “mobile first indexing”. Occasionally, your performance still differs. For example, because a meta title or meta description is chopped off on mobile devices or that the mobile SERP looks wholly different from the desktop SERP.
That’s why it’s useful to look in Google Search Console. For all your search results and windows, it is possible to apply the filter Mobile or Desktop. Use this and focus particularly on the traffic that converts well with you.
5. Submit a new URL for immediate crawling
Waiting for a new page to be indexed is frustrating. Unfortunately, waiting is something we have to do, a lot of our time, actually. Fortunately, Google Search Console has a handy feature that allows you to have a URL crawled directly by Google.
Often, the page will be indexed by Google the same day. This ensures that a new page appears in the SERP faster or that an optimization is processed more quickly.
At the top of Google Search Console, you will see a gray bar with a search field in it. Type in the URL that Google should index and press Enter. Google will immediately retrieve the data from the database for the URL in question. Next, use the button “REQUEST INDEXATION” to request a new indexation with Google.
6. Check the backlinks indexed by Google
In Google Search Console, you can see at a glance what your global link profile looks like via the menu item “Links”. You can immediately see which pages receive the most internal and external backlinks. You can also see which domains are sending links to your website (and how many) and you can see the most frequently used anchor texts. An enormous amount of data!
Find out how many external and internal links your most important pages get, and draw up an action plan to get backlinks through link building. Always remember: start with on-page SEO. So if your on-page SEO is not yet in order, then that is the first point of attention.
Via the “Export external links” function, it is possible to export the backlinks indexed by Google. This way, you can immediately find out on which pages you have a link. This is an important function for identifying SPAM links and acting for them by a backlink disavow.
7. Structured data status analysis
With structured data, a Schema.org code in the HTML of your website, Google acquires more information about your website and your pages. Google then uses this information to enrich your search results with rich snippets. The most common structured data are breadcrumbs, reviews, FAQ (see example below), author, address, price and duration (e.g. for a recipe).
In Google’s Search Console, you can easily see on what pages you have applied structured data and whether this code is error-free. You can also see how often the various categories are displayed and how often they are clicked on. For this, go to the submenu “Search results” and click on “Search layout”. Here you can see the results for each category. On each result, you can click further for depth.
To check the status of your structured data fragments, have a look at the different structured data types in the menu item “Optimizations”. Possible errors can then be fixed in the structured data code on your website.
8. Look beyond the numbers
Google Search Console holds a wealth of information. It takes us beyond the scope of this article to go into this in more detail. The real data junkies will be happy with all the possibilities the Search Console offers. A fairly simple data analysis can be made by for example looking at which search terms for specific pages your CTR is high. If you have, for example, a CTR of 5% and a low position on a search term with 1,000 impressions and a CTR of 1% and a high position on a search term with 4,000 impressions, it pays to focus your content more on the first search term. Although you have a low position, you already get an interesting amount of traffic with that keyword. So don’t just stare at the number of impressions, but look a little further!
We hope that with these tips you will further improve your findability. By implementing the aforementioned tips and information, you are taking important steps towards a solid SEO strategy!