A Guide to Getting Started in Google Search Console
Search engines are generally a big mystery to everyday web users. We generally find what we’re looking for, and that’s all we care about, right?
If it’s YOUR site that you want people to find, you might be thinking, “why is my website not on Google? How do you submit a site to search engines?” Luckily, search engines aren’t the big mystery that many assume them to be – with the help of Google Search Console, it’s actually possible to help search engines index your site and serve it up to users.
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a useful (and free!) tool you can use to help search engines understand your site, and to help you monitor the way that your site is being indexed.
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that can help you monitor your site’s appearance in search, search performance, and search engine indexation. It differs from its better-known cousin, Google Analytics, because while Google Analytics is primarily a monitoring/reporting tool, Google Search Console also offers a range of technical insights and tools that help you take action to improve your site’s search performance.
What is Google Search Console Used For?
Google Search Console is a huge help for anyone with a website because it can help you monitor and control (to some extent) the way that Google “reads” your site. If you’re wondering why your website isn’t on Google’s first page when you perform a search for your brand name, Google Search Console can be used to help you diagnose the problem and improve your visibility.
Google Search Console or Google Analytics: Which One Do I Need?
Ideally, you should use both! These tools measure entirely different metrics, so if you only have one or the other implemented on your site, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities and information.
How Do I Access Google Search Console?
Luckily, Google Search Console is not only free, but it’s also relatively straightforward to set up on your site! You’ll need a Google account to access this tool, so if you already have Google account (which you do if you currently have Google Analytics on your site), you can jump right in – if not, it’s easy enough to do that here.
Once you’ve done, that, you can access Google Search Console here.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
- Add your website as a Property.
First, paste your site’s complete URL as it appears on your homepage into the space allotted on the GSC’s welcome page. Be sure to add the complete and correct URL – take care to be sure the “HTTP” or “HTTPS” is included in the URL, and corresponds accurately to the current version of the site. Do not remove the “/” (trailing slash) at the end of your site URL.
- Verify your site ownership.
Next, you’ll need to verify your ownership of your site. This step helps ensure that you’re the only one who can make important changes to your site. Google Search Console verification can be tricky for first-timers – we recommend following Google’s instructions on the page, and reaching out to your site developer or a digital marketing expert for help if you’re unsure how to successfully verify your site’s ownership.
Once you’ve chosen your method and taken the appropriate steps as indicated, hit “Verify” to gain access!
PRO TIP: Check the “Alternate Methods” tab for other verification options; often, this can make Google Search Console verification easier if you are already using a tool such as Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager on your site.
- You’re in! (Hopefully)
If your site verification was successful, you’ll be able to continue to your Google Search Console dashboard and begin your adventure. If the verification was unsuccessful, don’t give up – try another suggested verification method or two. If you’ve exhausted your options for verification, it’s time to call your developer or digital marketing team – you won’t be able to use Google Search Console without verification.
How to Use Google Search Console
Now that you’re in, the dashboard may seem kind of overwhelming. Luckily, if you’re a business owner, you don’t have to know absolutely everything about every tool to get the most out of Google Search Console – by knowing the following three highlights to hit, you make an impact on your site performance without devoting a whole week of work towards becoming a webmaster.
Note: Google Search Console has recently introduced a brand-new interface for GSC, but at time of writing, not all features have been fully moved over to the new version and remain on the old interface. I will indicate on each feature if I am referring to Google Search Console Classic or the New Google Search Console.
(You can toggle between the two different dashboards by finding the link on the left sidebar on both versions which indicates access to the other version.)
- See Your Site’s Visibility with the Performance Report (View on New Google Search Console)
One of the most useful reporting tools in GSC is the Performance Report. You can access this report in both the new and old versions, but the new dashboard offers some additional functionality and therefore is recommended. You can get to this report via the left side navigation menu, under “Status>Performance”.
From here, Google Search Console helps you monitor a lot of useful info about your site – primarily, how many clicks it receives from search and how many impressions your links are receiving from the search results pages.
These metrics differ from others that you may be familiar with in Google Analytics, such as Sessions or Users. “Clicks” purely refers to visitors that click on one of your site’s links from the search result page, and “Impressions” are gathered every time your site appears for someone’s search – the user need not click on your link for it to count as an impression. “Sessions” and “Users” in Google Analytics only reflect activity once a user gets to your site, while GSC’s Performance report focuses on the user’s journey to getting to your site in the first place.
Here’s how this info can be a weapon: maybe you’re getting a ton of Impressions, but very few Clicks. You’ll see that reflected in the “Average CTR (click through rate)” metric on the report, which indicates what percentage of impressions turned into clicks. If you’re just not getting as many clicks as you feel you should, maybe your page titles are leaving something to be desired. You can read more about improving your click through rate here.
What about the other part of the Performance report? You can see how many clicks and impressions that your site gets for specific user searches (under the “Queries” tab) as well as which of your pages receive the most clicks and impressions. This can help you identify how your users are finding your site and help you gain insights on your site’s keyword visibility, brand name, and so much more.
PRO TIP: Use the “Compare” feature under the Date control on the top left side of this report to get an idea of if your site is becoming more or less visible over time. This way, you can compare click through rates and page performance, as well as keep an eye out for poorly-performing pages or dipping click through rates.
- How to Submit Your Site to Google (View on New Google Search Console)
One of the most vital skills you can gather from this article is how to create and submit a sitemap for Google Search Console. Sitemaps help Google “read” your site the way you want it to be read and indexed.
XML sitemap creation and submission in Google Search Console can be quite straightforward, depending
on what platform your site is using. Most modern platforms (WordPress, Shopify, Magento, etc) offer an automatically generated sitemap or have easy plugins that allow you to create and customize your sitemap in no time, without any technical knowledge required. Get in touch with your web developer or friendly neighborhood marketing expert if you’re having trouble generating a sitemap for your site.
Your site’s XML sitemap can usually be found just like a regular page of your site, most commonly in this format: https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml (except replace “example” with your site domain). Check out your sitemap and see if it looks like a good representation of the pages on your site. If so, copy the complete URL of your sitemap and navigate to “Sitemaps” on the new Google Search Console dashboard. To submit your site to Google, simply paste the address of your sitemap into the allotted space.
Why do this? Well, while Google is generally smart enough to locate a site without the help of a submitted sitemap, sitemap submission is a much faster way of pointing Google over to your site and indicating for them to add it to their index.
If you’re wondering how to get Google to crawl your site, this is how you tell it to. If you’re curious why you site isn’t on Google’s results when looking for your brand, it might be because Google hasn’t found your site yet! Go, submit away!
Keep in mind that Google doesn’t index your site instantaneously – it could be anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks before Google fully indexes your site. You can keep an eye on the “Index Status” report within Google Search Console Classic to see how many of your pages are indexed by Google.
- How to Check for Penalties and Spam (View Google Search Console Classic)
Let’s face it: the internet isn’t perfect. Some site owners try to “game” Google’s algorithm and rank #1 for every
big keyword, and Google knows this. Other site owners fall victim to hacking and spam. Google’s algorithm has gotten very advanced and knows when you’re trying to game the system, and has learned how to identify spammy sites and protect users from stumbling across harmful or useless content. When a Google crawl finds evidence of a spammy, slick, or hacked site, it will demote that site’s rankings in the search results to protect its users.
If you’re checking your Google Analytics reports or playing around with the Performance report in Google Search Console and notice a serious drop in your site’s visibility and traffic, you’re likely to be concerned. When you feel like something’s awry, your first stop should be to check Google Search Console’s Manual Actions and Security Issues reports.
These two reports are currently found in the classic Google Search Console interface, in the left hand menu. A little more detail on each report:
- Manual Actions: this report checks for activity that is marked as spam on your site. If Google finds evidence that your site contains spammy content, you will see a warning in this section and instructions on how to best deal with the issue and return your site’s visibility to normal. If no manual webspam actions are found, all is well on this front.
- Security Issues: This report checks for signs of malware and hacked websites that can be harmful to you and visitors alike. Security issues can be another factor in a big drop in traffic, so keep an eye on this report if you suspect you’ve been hacked. Google also provides a few resources on the Security Issues page to help you manage a potential hacking situation.
If you check both of those reports and see nothing unusual, it’s possible that there are other issues affecting the visibility of your site and the recent traffic slowdown. Google won’t notify you of every single algorithm update that might affect your visibility, so the responsibility to stay within Google’s recommended guidelines for search engine visibility lands on you at the end of the day.
However, teaming up with SEO experts can help you manage the murky waters of search engine ranking drops. The right SEO consultants can help you navigate Google Search Console, among other tools, and take care of the big stuff that overwhelms small to medium size businesses.
If you think a recent algorithm update is the reason why your website is not on Google’s top spot, or you just want to make sure your site is being read by Google the way you want it to, get in touch with our team of SEO all-stars today. We’re tackling big questions in and out of Google Search Console every day, and we know what it takes to gain the visibility you need on the search results.