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The Ultimate Guide to Google Search Console for SEO

Google Search Console

Are you looking to effectively use Google Search Console to improve your website’s search rankings? Look no further, as our comprehensive Google Search Console Guide is here to help! Packed with tips for using Google Search Console and its various features, this guide will walk you through the process of setting up, using, and optimizing your account for the best results.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to use Google Search Console to set up your search console account and add your website to Google’s search results. We’ll also dive into submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console and detecting errors within the platform to ensure a smooth and efficient crawl by Google’s bots.

Discover the power of Google Search Console’s reports, analytics, and extended features as you explore the old and new versions of the platform. By understanding how Google crawls, indexes, and displays your website in search results, you’ll be better equipped to enhance your website’s performance and visibility.

So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, our Google Search Console Guide is here to help you harness the potential of this free tool to increase your website’s search rankings and drive more traffic to your site. Don’t miss out on this invaluable resource – start using Google Search Console today!

What Is Google Search Console?

What Is Google Search Console

Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is a free web service provided by Google that allows website owners to monitor and manage their site’s presence in Google search results. 

With Google Search Console, website owners can check their indexing status, submit sitemaps, analyze search traffic, and find and fix website errors. By using this tool, website owners can improve their site’s visibility and performance in Google search results.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use search console for SEO by improving your technical SEO. If you just want results without the work, check out our SEO services where we do a full audit of your search console for you.

What Can the Search Console Do?

Google Search Console (GSC) is a powerful tool for website owners and marketers. Here are some tips to help you take full advantage of the features in GSC:

  1. Monitor your search traffic: The Performance Report shows how your site performs in search results. You can use this report to track changes in clicks, impressions, and click-through rate (CTR). Google finds this data to help you identify which pages and queries are driving traffic to your site.
  1. Use the Index Coverage Report: Search Console provides which pages on your site Google has indexed and any issues that may prevent Google from indexing your pages. The report also shows how many pages were indexed and how many pages were excluded from indexing.
  1. Check for mobile usability issues: The Mobile Usability Report shows any issues that may prevent users from accessing your site on a mobile device. Fixing these issues can improve user experience and search engine rankings.
  1. Monitor Core Web Vitals: GSC has a Core Web Vitals report that shows how your site performs in terms of page speed, interactivity, and visual stability. Optimizing your site for these metrics can improve user experience and search engine rankings.
  1. Monitor Backlinks: Search Console shows all the links pointing to your site. You can use this report to identify which sites are linking to your site, and which pages on your site are being linked to. You can also use this report to identify any spammy or low-quality links that may be harming your site’s search engine rankings.

You can improve your site’s search engine visibility and user experience by taking advantage of these GSC features.

New Google Search Console has some old Google features missing such as Links to your Site or Search Queries Report.

How to Get Started Using Google Search Console

How to Get Started Using Google Search Console

In order to start using Google Search Console, you must have a Google account.

Verifying site ownership is the first step to using Google Search Console. In this step, you basically submit your website to Google Search Console so it later gets indexed by Google. Depending on the type of site you’re verifying (e.g., website, domain, Google site, or Blogger-hosted site), Google provides different verification methods. Your domain will be automatically verified if it is registered with Google domains. 

Most users verify their sites using one of these four methods: 

  • HTML file upload
  • meta tag
  • Google Analytics tracking code
  • Google Tag Manager. 

However, some site hosting platforms may restrict uploads and require a specific verification process. Nonetheless, many hosted site services now offer an easy-to-follow verification process, which we’ll cover in this guide.

How to Verify Site Ownership Using Search Console Account

There are two standard methods to verify ownership of a WordPress site: HTML file upload and meta tag. Both methods use the URL-prefix properties process. Although the phrase “URL-prefix properties” might seem confusing, don’t worry – verifying your site with Google is straightforward.

HTML File Upload Method

  1. Go to the Google Search Console and click the Property Selector dropdown in the top left-hand corner of any Search Console page.
  2. In the pop-up window labelled “Select Property Type,” enter the URL of your site and click the Continue button.
  3. Select the HTML file upload method and download the HTML file provided.
  4. Upload the HTML file to the root of your website. The root is typically at https://example.com/, so the uploaded file should be located at https://example.com/verification.html (assuming the downloaded file is named “verification.html”).
  5. Click “Verify” in the Search Console to complete the verification process.

Verifying a standard website with a sub domain in website platforms like Wix and Weebly follows a similar process. However, you will need to add a meta description tag to your Wix site for verification. Alternatively, Duda provides a simple verification process that uses a Search Console App to verify your site and get you started quickly.

URL Versions: WWW Domain or Not?

URL Versions WWW Domain or Not

The debate over whether to use the www domain in a website’s URL has been ongoing for years.

Some argue that having the www prefix is outdated and unnecessary, while others say that it’s still important for branding and consistency.

From an SEO standpoint, it doesn’t matter which version you choose as long as you’re consistent across your entire site.

However, it is vital to ensure that your site is configured correctly so that both versions (www and non-www) resolve to the same page. This is known as a canonicalization issue, and it can cause duplicate content problems and hurt your SEO if not resolved.

At Digital Estate, we can help you with your SEO needs, including properly configuring your website’s URL structure. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation with our SEO experts or check out our online marketing store.

GSC Users, Owners, and Permissions

When it comes to managing owners, users, and permissions in Search Console is integral to controlling access to your website’s data. Here’s what you need to know:

  • There are two types of roles in Search Console: owner and user. Each role has different rights and capabilities.
  • Only owners can grant permissions to other users. If you want to add a new user, you need to be an owner of the property.

You can manage the user list in the Settings > Users and permissions section of Search Console. Four types of permissions can be assigned to a user: owner, verified owner, delegated owner, full user, and restricted user.

  • Owners have full control over properties in Search Console. They can add and remove other users, configure settings, view all data, and use all tools. A property must have at least one verified owner, or no users will have access to the property.
  • Full users have view rights to all data and can take some actions.
  • Restricted users have simple view rights on most data.
  • Associates are people or accounts that can take specific actions on behalf of your site or access certain data. Unlike site owners and users, associates can’t open or view your Search Console account or data directly but are authorized to perform other tasks.

By understanding these roles and permissions, you can better manage access to your website’s data and ensure that only the right people have access to your Search Console account.

Is a Sitemap Necessary for Your Website?

Is a Sitemap Necessary for Your Website

While a sitemap is not mandatory for your website to appear in Google search results, a well-organized site with logically linked pages should be sufficient for Google’s web crawlers to find most of your pages.

However, there are four scenarios where having a sitemap can improve the crawlability of your site:

  1. Large Website: If your site contains many pages, Googlebot can overlook any updates or additions without a sitemap.
  2. Isolated Pages: Pages with few inbound links are harder for web crawlers to discover, so a sitemap can help in such cases.
  3. New Website: New sites typically have fewer backlinks, making them less discoverable. Having a sitemap can assist Google in finding your website.
  4. Rich Media Content or Google News: If your site contains rich media or appears in Google News, a sitemap can make it easier for Google to format and display your site in search.

Now, submit a sitemap with the GSC Sitemap Tool after generating it through your theme or any SEO plugin.

Google Search Console (GSC) Sitemaps Report

Once Google has processed and indexed your sitemap, you can view it in the Sitemaps report. This report displays the date when Google last read your sitemap and the number of URLs it has indexed. More on this later.

Understanding GSC Dimensions and Metrics 

Before using GSC, it’s important to familiarize yourself with a few key terms.

What is a Google Search Console Query? 

This refers to a search term that generated impressions of your site’s page on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It’s important to note that you can only find query data in Search Console and not in Google Analytics.

What Is an Impression in Google Search Console Reports? 

An impression is generated each time a link URL appears on a search result page. It doesn’t matter whether the user scrolls down to see your result or not – the impression will still count.

What is a click? 

A click is counted when a user selects a link that takes them outside of Google Search. If a user clicks the same link multiple times or clicks different links, each click is counted separately. However, if a user clicks a link that triggers a new query within Google Search, it is not counted as a click.

It’s important to note that clicks do not include paid Google results.

What’s the Average Position?

The average position of your page(s) for a query or queries is known as the mean ranking. For example, if your guide to SEO tools ranks #2 for “SEO software” and #4 for “keyword tools,” the average position for the URL would be 3, assuming there are no other rankings for that URL.

What is a Click-Through Rate (CTR)?

CTR stands for click-through rate, calculated by dividing the number of clicks by the number of impressions and then multiplying the result by 100. For instance, if a post appears in 20 searches and receives 10 clicks, the CTR would be 50%.

Troubleshooting With GSC

GSC troubleshooting

The ability to rank in search results depends on Google’s ability to crawl and index web pages. To avoid any issues with crawling and indexing, it’s important to use the Search Console URL Inspection Tool, which can warn of any issues before they become a major problem and pages start dropping from search results.

URL Inspection Tool

The URL inspection tool allows you to check whether a URL is indexed and eligible to be displayed in search results. For each submitted URL, you can:

  • Request indexing for a recently updated webpage.
  • View how Google discovered the webpage, including sitemaps and referring internal pages.
  • View the last crawl date for a URL.
  • Check if Google is using a declared canonical URL or another one.
  • Check the mobile usability status.
  • Check enhancements like breadcrumbs.

Coverage

The coverage section shows Discovery (how Google discovered the URL), crawl (shows whether Google successfully crawled the URL and provides a reason if not), and Enhancements (provides the status of structured data).

Coverage Error Reports

Although labelled as errors, the coverage reports in Google Search Console don’t necessarily indicate something is wrong. Sometimes, they suggest that indexing can be improved.

For example, if Google shows a 403 Forbidden server response to nearly 6,000 URLs, the server has forbidden Googlebot from crawling those URLs. 

This type of error occurs when Googlebot is blocked from crawling the member pages of a web forum. Every member has a member page with their latest posts and other statistics, and this causes the 403 error response.

The report provides a list of URLs generating the error, and clicking on one of the listed URLs reveals an option to inspect the affected URL. Checking the URL reveals how the page was discovered and provides data on last crawl, crawl status, and page fetch status.

The Discovery section provides information about pages showing links to member profiles to Googlebot. Publishers can use this information to code a PHP statement that removes the links to the member pages when a search engine bot comes crawling. Alternatively, they can add a new entry to the robots.txt to stop Google from crawling these pages.

By resolving these errors, we free up crawling resources for Googlebot to index the rest of the website. The coverage report in Google Search Console is an effective tool for diagnosing and fixing Googlebot crawling issues.

Fixing 404 Errors

The coverage report in Google Search Console can also alert publishers to 404 and 500 series error responses or communicate that everything is fine. A 404 server response occurs when a browser or crawler requests a webpage that doesn’t exist. This type of error doesn’t necessarily mean that your site is in error.

If another site or an internal link refers to a page that doesn’t exist, the coverage report shows a 404 response. Clicking on one of the affected URLs and selecting the Inspect URL tool will reveal what pages or sitemaps are referring to the non-existent page.

From there, you can decide whether the link is broken and needs to be fixed (in the case of an internal link) or redirected to the correct page (in the case of an external link). Alternatively, the webpage never existed, and whoever is linking to that page made a mistake.

If the page doesn’t exist anymore or never existed, it’s okay to show a 404 response.

Taking Advantage of GSC Features

Taking Advantage of GSC Features

The Performance Report in Google Search Console

The Performance Report is a powerful tool in Google Search Console that provides multiple insights on how a site performs in search, including in search features like featured snippets. In this report, you can explore four different search types: web, image, video, and news. By default, the report shows the web search type.

Understanding the Metrics

The Performance Report displays four key metrics prominently at the top of the page: Total Clicks, Total Impressions, Average CTR (click-through rate), and Average Position. By default, Total Clicks and Total Impressions are selected, but you can view any of the metrics by clicking on its dedicated tab.

Impressions are the number of times a website appears in search results, even if the user doesn’t click on the link. This can include cases where the URL ranks at the bottom of the page, and the user doesn’t scroll down to see it. High impressions are a good sign that your site is showing up in search results, but this metric becomes more meaningful when viewed together with Clicks and Average Position metrics.

Clicks represent how often users have clicked on a link from search results to visit your site. A high number of clicks along with high impressions is a good sign. However, if you have a low number of clicks and a high number of impressions, your site needs some improvements to gain more traffic.

The Average CTR is a percentage that represents how often users clicked on a link from search results to visit your site. A low CTR means that something needs improvement to increase visits from search results. A higher CTR means your site is performing well.

Average position shows the average position in search results that your website tends to appear in. An average position between one and ten is excellent. If your average position is in the twenties, your site appears on page two or three of the search results. This isn’t too bad, but it means your site needs additional work to improve its ranking. Average positions lower than 30 could mean that your site would benefit from significant improvements.

You may also link your analytics and search console accounts to have a better understanding of the overall metrics.

How the Metrics Work Together

All four metrics (Impressions, Clicks, Average CTR, and Average Position) present a meaningful overview of how your website is performing. The big takeaway about the Performance Report is that it is a starting point for quickly understanding website performance in search. It’s like a mirror that reflects how well or poorly your site is doing.

By understanding these metrics, you can diagnose areas for improvement, such as increasing your CTR, improving your site’s average position, or even creating new content to target keywords with low rankings. The Performance Report is a valuable tool that can help you monitor your site’s performance over time and make informed decisions to optimize your site for search engines.

Dimensions in the Performance Report

When scrolling down to the second part of the Performance page, several Dimensions of a website’s performance data are displayed. There are six dimensions that can be explored to gain a better understanding of the site’s performance:

Queries: This dimension shows the top search queries and the number of clicks and impressions associated with each keyword phrase.

Pages: This dimension shows the top-performing web pages along with their clicks and impressions.

Countries: Google Search Console provides the top countries where the site has been viewed, along with clicks and impressions data.

Devices: The search console also shows the top devices, segmented into mobile, desktop, and tablet.

Search Appearance: This dimension shows the different kinds of rich results that the site was displayed in. It also tells if Google displayed the site using Web Light results and video results, along with clicks and impressions data. Web Light results are results that are optimized for very slow devices.

Dates: The dates tab organizes the clicks and impressions by date. The clicks and impressions can be sorted in descending or ascending order.

Keywords

The keywords are displayed in the Queries as one of the dimensions of the Performance Report (as noted above). The queries report shows the top 1,000 search queries that resulted in traffic. It is important to pay attention to the low-performing queries because some of them may be quick wins that, when addressed, can result in significantly increased traffic. 

Some low-performing queries may result from web pages that need improvement, perhaps requiring more internal links, or it may indicate that the keyword phrase deserves its own dedicated webpage. By reviewing low-performing keywords, publishers can gain insights that can help them improve their website’s performance in search.

Links

The Links report in Search Console displays a list of all links pointing to a website, including those not helping the site rank. It includes links with the nofollow link attribute.

To access the Links report, go to the bottom of the left-hand menu. The report has two columns: External Links and Internal Links. External Links are links from outside the website pointing to the website, while Internal Links are links originating within the website and linking to other pages within it.

The External Links column contains three reports: Top linked pages, Top linking sites, and top linking text. The Top Linked Pages report lists the top target pages that are linked to the most from external domains.

Clicking on a URL in the report shows all the external domains linking to that page. The report displays the domain of the external site, but not the exact page that links to the site. Each report has a link to view more results and expand the report for each type.

While the Links report is useful for discovering all the links pointing to a website, it does not provide information about the quality of those links or which ones are helping the site rank.

Sitemaps

Sitemaps are XML file that lists URLs to help search engines find a website’s web pages and content, especially for large or frequently updated sites. However, they do not guarantee crawling and indexing, which depends on various factors like page and site quality, and links.

Generating a sitemap is usually straightforward, as the CMS, plugins, or website platform can automatically create them. Some hosting services even automatically generate and update sitemaps for their hosted sites.

Google Search Console offers a sitemap report and an option to upload a sitemap, accessible from the left-side menu. 

The sitemap section reports any sitemap errors, and publishers can remove a sitemap from the reports. Removing a sitemap with errors from the website is also required, or Google may revisit it.

Once submitted and processed, the Coverage report will include a sitemap section that helps troubleshoot any issues related to URLs submitted through the sitemaps.

Search Console Page Experience Report

The Search Console, Page Experience Report, provides valuable data regarding the user experience of a website, particularly in terms of site speed. The report presents information on two key factors impacting the user experience: Core Web Vitals and Mobile Usability.

Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics used to measure a website’s loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability. These metrics include Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). The Page Experience Report provides an overview of how well a website performs in these areas and identifies areas that may require improvement.

The Mobile Usability section of the report provides data on how well a website performs on mobile devices. This includes information on issues such as mobile-friendly design, viewport configuration, and the use of plugins. The report provides actionable insights that can help publishers identify and address issues that may be impacting the mobile user experience.

By providing data on Core Web Vitals and Mobile Usability, the Page Experience Report offers publishers a starting point for understanding and improving site speed performance. The report provides insights that can be used to optimize a website for a better user experience, which can in turn lead to improved search engine rankings and increased traffic.

Rich Result Status Reports

The Rich Result Status Reports, found under the Search Appearance tab in the Performance Report, offer feedback on the performance of rich results, including clicks and impressions data. This report can help diagnose issues related to structured data and provide insight into traffic patterns related to rich results.

Google Search Console SEO

Overall, the Search Console is a valuable tool for improving search presence and addressing issues that may impact a website’s performance in search. In addition to the benefits outlined above, it can also be used to upload link disavow reports, resolve penalties, and address security events like site hackings.

Are you looking to improve your website’s search visibility? Look no further than Digital Estate. Our team of SEO experts can help you maximize your search performance and grow your online presence. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation, or check out our SEO services to see how we can help you take your business to the next level!

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