Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) is the source of much information about your website visitors. It even provides technical tips to improve the performance of your website. It contains the basics you would expect, such as the number of visitors, but also details about how those visitors find your site. But there is more that makes it incredibly valuable.
Search Console tells you which web pages are popular and whether visits come from mobile devices or desktop computers.
It provides a wealth of information, all of which is valuable to your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts. I’ll tell you about five of the most interesting and useful pieces of data you can glean from it.
It’s free to set up and use, so there’s no excuse not to take advantage of the insight it provides.
If you’ve never used Google Search Console (or Webmaster Tools), you’ll have to add and check your website. You will insert some code into your site that allows Google to collect visitor data. You can manually add the code to a global site header or use Tag Manager (the most complex).
Once you’re set up with Google Search Console, you might want to wait a day or two for Google to collect data. You can then look at the key items in this article. If you have an old Webmaster Tools account, you already have a Search Console, and you can get started right away.
It’s Google, so You Know It’s Going To Be Much To Take
In front of you login to Search Console, remember it comes from Google. That means very little of what you can do will be obvious at first glance.
We’ll go through the five important parts step by step to get you started. But the more time it takes to get to know you, the more it will reward you with valuable information.
How to Connect Google Search Console to Google Analytics
At first glance, Google Analytics and Search Console may seem to provide mostly the same information. But Analytics data is focused on visitors. How do visitors find the site, how many come, time spent on the site, those kinds of things.
Search Console focuses on internal website data. What keyword searches bring up your site, which websites link to you, do your website have technical problems, etc.
There are also differences in the way Analytics and Search Engine apportion data for what is essentially the same report. The “Audience Overview” numbers in Analytics may be slightly different from “Performance” in the Search Console although you would expect those reports to be the same.
Linking Search and Analytics Console merges some of the data and also gives you access to some new reports. You link the accounts from Google Analytics. However, you must obtain administrative permission for Analytics and Search Console to make the connection.
When logging into your Analytics account:
- Click “Admin,” then click the property with which you want to share Search Console data.
- In the Properties column, click “Property Settings.”
- Scroll down to Search Console Settings. If you see your website URL, the site has been checked in Search Console and you can make changes. If you do not see the URL, it means that the site has not been added to Search Console. Go back and add and check your website.
- Under “Search Console,” select which reporting views you want to include Search Console data for.
- Click “Save.”
Okay, let’s get to those interesting parts of Search Console that can help our websites rise in search results.
Number One: Site Maps
There are two ways to let Google know your site exists and it should be indexed and included in search results. The first way is to submit a sitemap to Google. The second way? Please wait patiently and hope that Google sometime finds your site through a link from another.
Guess which method you should use?
Submitting your sitemap to Google is one of the first things you should do whenever you launch a new website. But you can submit a site map anytime through the Search Console.
In the left navigation, click the “Site Maps” link.
Put your sitemap filename in the space after your domain name.
Click the “SUBMIT” button.
You should see a message of success.
Your sitemap URL will then be listed in the “Submitted site maps” section.
Google will not crawl your site immediately after you submit a sitemap. Wait a day or two, and the crawl should be complete. Larger sites may take a little longer.
There is no need to add your sitemap every time you update it. However, you want to come back and add any new website maps you create.
For example, if you add a WordPress blog to your site, WordPress may produce a separate sitemap. The same goes for other standalone software that you could add to a website, such as a forum.
Number Two: Site Errors
If you wait for visitors to tell you about website errors, you can wait forever. People generally do not take the time to help you in that way. You can analyze server logs to see where errors occur, but that is not always possible. And even when it is, apportioning those logs is far from easy or convenient.
Google Search Console, on the other hand, makes it easy to find errors on your site.
Select the property to check from the drop down menu in the top left corner of the Search Console.
In the left navigation, click the “Comment” link.
The “Error” box should be selected by default. If not, choose it.
Only one of the boxes should be checked at a time. The only time you want to check more than one box is when you compare multiple values.
Scroll down to the “Details” section and click one of the error rows.
Scroll down to the “Examples” section. There, you’ll find a list of URLs that returned errors when Google crawled them.
Click the arrow-in-box icon to open the page and return an error in a new tab.
If the error is actually an error on your website, you can address it. But sometimes the errors are not site errors, but instead, a problem with the Google bot crawling your site.
If you open the URL and there is not site error, here is how to fix the issue.
Click the magnifying glass icon to explore the URL.
On the URL Inspection page, click the “LIVE TEST URL” button. The Google bot will try to retrieve the page.
Since you just checked the page and it’s there, the bot should be able to retrieve it. When it does, you’ll get a “URL is available to Google” page.
Click the “REQUIRED INDEX” link.
Google will now index the page, and soon it will not be listed as an error.
Another thing to Check out in the Comment Section
You can use the same process as we used to fix errors to repair “Exempt” pages. Those are pages that Google crawled but haven’t indexed for some reason.
While we are still in the “Comment” section of the left navigation, check the “Exempt” box, then uncheck the “Error” box.
Scroll down to the “Details” section to see a list of pages that are not indexed by Google.
You can fix the following categories in the same way we fixed the above errors.
- Inconsistency of crawling
- Crawled – not currently indexed
- Found – not indexed at this time
You may also see other types of exclusions. Repairing those generally requires changes to the website.
Number Three: Mobile Usability
Mobile usability is important because mobile devices account for about half of all web traffic. But it’s also important because Google uses it as a scaling factor.
Things are changing fast, but mobile traffic is clearly here to stay. So your website should perform well on a mobile device. Fortunately, the Google Search Console can show you where you can improve your website’s mobile performance.
In the left navigation, click the “Mobile Usability” link.
The “Error” box should be selected by default. If not, choose it.
Scroll down to the “Examples” section to see the error rows. The errors shown here in our example are the typical mobile usability errors you see. “Text too small to read,” “Clickable elements too close together,” “Viewport not installed,” and “Content wider than the screen.”
You cannot fix any of these errors from the Search Console; they must be installed on site. However, Search Console will show you where they occur.
Click one of the error lines for a list of URLs.
You can probably guess what the problem is on the pages, based on the name of the error. But, you can get details and even tips on how to resolve the issues.
Click a URL in the example list, and a popup window will open. Click the “TEST LIVE PAGE” link.
That will take you to the Mobile Friendly Test page. All the error information is there, and if you scroll down a little, you’ll find the “Additional resources” section. The links there will lead you to answers and recommendations.
You can return to this section of the Search Console later to check your answers.
Repairing moving issues can seem like a lot of trouble. Because it usually is. But the benefit of doing it is that it can make Google’s army of robots take a more favorable view of your website.
And that’s a good thing (even if it sounds kind of creepy).
As much as I’d love to research this “Structured unobservable data” section for number four, I’m afraid most of you probably don’t share my enthusiasm for structured data , so instead we will look at “Links. ”
In the left navigation, scroll down to the bottom and click on the “Links” link.
The Links section is just a list of the top linked pages externally and internally and the top link text. But there are some things you can take from the lists.
Let us look at the “Top Related Pages” in the “Internal links” and “Top link” section because those are links we control.
If you do not have many “top linked pages” in the “Internal links” section, you should put that right. Google values internal links. Meaningful links that point back to other pages on your site.
Internal links may seem like an odd signal to use because you can create as many as you like. But Google doesn’t use internal links as a signal of quality or relevance the same way they use external links.
Instead, it uses them to try to figure out the hierarchy and structure of your site. And that’s good for you because the more Google knows about the structure of your website, the more likely it is to expand your search results.
So look for opportunities to create links to other pages on your site. One easy way to do this if you have a WordPress blog is to use a “similar articles” plugin.
The “Top link text” Another section is another area that can help you with Google. You know what keywords you want your site to rank for, right? Do what you can to work those keywords into the text of your internal links.
Those keywords will overflow into Google’s wide-angle view of your site, and will factor in search results.
Number Five: Speed (experimental)
I think this will become an integral part of Search Console, so I’m including it here even though it’s “experimental.”
In the left navigation, click the “Speed (experimental)” link.
These graphs show you how your website speeds up for mobile and desktop. It plots page load speeds “Slow,” “Moderate,” and “Fast”.
If slow results are listed, you can drill down the same way as we did in previous sections. This will allow you to access page URLs and more detailed information.
Making the Most of Google’s Search Console and Google Analytics
It should come as no surprise that we have only scratched the surface of the tools in this article. But I hope that going over the Search Console sections we’ve included makes you curious to learn more.
Google has built many simple, easy-to-use tools. Search Console and Analytics are not among them. They are two of the more elaborate, complex offerings. But if you’re worried about how Google views your site (and you should be), learning these tools is well spent.
When we talk about SEO, we talk about Google. So whether you love or hate the company, it benefits you understanding it. Or at least to understand the tools it offers when those tools can benefit you.
The data in Google Search Console can help you. If you use it properly, you can make your website more visible in search results.
Search results are not everything, of course. We cannot optimize an empty site to rank highly in search results. There must be something of value or interest on the website. If not, not all the SEO in the world helps the site search.
But for most of us, we can use as much Google information and leverage as we can get.
All that aside, we all want people to visit our websites. That’s why we built them. So let’s do everything we can to make them stand out and get attention.