Google is the world’s leading search engine, processing more than 92% of the world’s internet search queries. That means your Google ranking can make the difference between your content going viral or going unseen. Google Search Console reveals how this search engine giant views your site and suggests how to improve it for better search results. In this article, we will explain what Google Search Console is and how to use it.
What is Google Search Console?
Image via Flickr by edowoo
Google Search Console is a free online tool that outlines how Google perceives websites. It alerts publishers to any issues impacting website traffic and offers tips for boosting search results.
You might know Google Search Console by one of its earlier names, Google Webmaster Tools or Google Webmaster Central. It is also often shortened to the acronym GSC.
How to use Google Search Console
You can use Google Search Console to understand more about your content. Google Search Console’s insights can help you refine your website to improve its impact and reach. Follow these steps to use Google Search Console.
1. Set up a Google Search Console Account
You’ll need a free Google Search Console account to start working with this tool. To establish your account, visit the Google Webmasters page and click the “Sign In” link in the top right of the screen. Enter the name of your domain or website URL and click “Continue.”
As you can’t assess competitors’ pages, Google will then ask you to prove that you own the domain or website you’re analyzing. You have several options for verifying ownership, including:
- Uploading an HTML file to your website.
- Adding a meta tag to your website’s homepage.
- Linking your Google Search Console account with your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account.
- Associating a Domain Name System record with Google.
Once you’ve completed the instructions for your chosen method, click the “Verify” button. After Google confirms verification, click the “Go to Property” button.
If you verified ownership by uploading an HTML file or adding a meta tag to your website, keep the file or tag on your site. Otherwise, you will lose verification. You can make your verification more secure by using multiple verification methods. Go to “Settings,” then “Ownership verification” to verify ownership in other ways.
2. Familiarize Yourself With the Google Search Console Dashboard
After establishing your account, Google takes you to the Google Search Console dashboard. This is the page you’ll see whenever you sign in via the Search Console login. Spend time familiarizing yourself with this dashboard so you can use it efficiently.
It may take a few hours or even a day until Google populates your dashboard with website data, so be patient. Once it does, you can use different tools to discover what Google sees when it views your website.
3. Browse the Google Search Console Overview
Google Search Console’s overview summarizes some of your website’s most important elements. This is the page you’ll see by default when you sign in to the Google Search Console. The overview tells you:
- Your site’s keywords and their rankings.
- How much web traffic your page receives.
- The number of websites linked to yours.
- The number of website pages Google indexed.
- Any crawl errors that prevented Google from viewing your pages.
This tool gives you a good starting point for elements you may want to revise. For example, if your site isn’t ranking for the keywords you intended, adjust your content so those keywords appear more prominently. If there are crawl errors, you can correct these so Google can view your entire website.
4. Analyze the Performance of Your Website and Webpages
Click “Performance,” under “Overview” on the navigation menu, for a more detailed performance report. You can also analyze individual page performance by clicking “URL Inspection.” After clicking this link, simply type the URL of the page you’re interested in into the search bar at the top of the page. Understanding how your website and its pages perform now can help you understand the impact of any changes you make.
5. Correct Page Problems
Once you understand your current website ranking, you can make changes to improve its performance. Correcting page problems should be your first priority.
Click the “Coverage” link, underneath “Index,” to see all the pages on your website Google could potentially view. Google Search Console breaks down your pages into clear categories. Consider the first two: pages with errors and valid with warnings. Pages listed under both these categories need to be corrected so Google can view them easily. Here are some common errors and how to fix them:
- Submitted URL errors: Pages with errors aren’t indexed. If you want these pages indexed, remove any robots.txt and noindex directives. If the problem persists, debug it with Google Search Console’s URL inspection tool.
- Excluded from indexing errors: Make sure any pages you want to be indexed are being indexed, using the methods above. Add canonical tags to duplicate pages.
- 404 error: If you’ve moved or replaced the page with newer content, add a 301 redirect. Otherwise, ignore the error. In time, the Google bot will stop looking for the page.
- Server error (5XX): Check that your server is up and correctly configured and that your site isn’t accidentally blocking Google. Reduce any excessive page load times.
- Redirect error: Review redirects and make sure no more than one operates on any page.
- New product issues detected for site: Add missing or unspecified page elements as directed. Ensure that product ratings are zero or greater.
- Mobile usability errors: Adjust font size and layout as directed. Specify a viewport using the meta viewport tag. For example, “.”
6. Exclude Pages You Want Hidden
The remaining page categories are valid and excluded. Valid pages are error-free pages Google views. Excluded pages don’t factor into Google’s rankings. Most publishers want Google to consider most of their website pages. However, there may be some pages that should be off-limits, such as:
- Private log-in areas, such as employee log-in pages.
- RSS feeds.
Excluding these pages and focusing Google’s search on other pages can boost your search engine rankings. All the pages you want Google to view should fall into the valid category. The ones you don’t want Google to view should be in the excluded category.
If you’d prefer that Google doesn’t view some of the pages listed as valid, create a robots.txt. This is a simple text file that you can place in the top-level directory of your domain to tell robots, such as those that assess Google pages, what to do. Your robots.txt page might read:
The asterisk beside user-agent means all robots should pay attention to the file. Take a new line for every page you don’t want the robots to access. In the example above, robots can’t view the log-in page in the wp-admin folder or the website’s feed subfolder. The disallow command can help you block files and folders from bots. There is also an allow command, which makes sure bots see certain files and folders.
There are several robots.txt generators and test programs online. If you’re not familiar with these text files, use these online resources to make sure you’re creating the file correctly. Otherwise, you might accidentally block bots from your entire website.
Alternatively, submit a removal request to Google via the “Removals” link at the bottom of the navigation menu’s “Index” section. If you want to remove your link temporarily, click the red “New request” button. You can ask Google to hide the URL for six months or until its next bot crawl. Alternatively, ask Google to hide outdated content by clicking the “Outdated content” tab. Click the question mark icon near the “Submitted requests” heading, then the “Remove outdated content tool” link. If your content is inappropriate, click the “Safesearch filtering” tab and follow the same steps.
7. Submit a Site Map
Submitting a site map helps Google understand the pages on your website and how they fit together. Think of it as a flowchart for your website. Without submitting a site map, Google’s bots may overlook some of the pages on your website, which could impact your Google ranking.
If you’ve never made a site map before, use an online site map generator. Simply enter your website URL into the generator and let it do all the hard work. Google only accepts .xml site maps less than 10 MB with no more than 50,000 URLs. If your website is larger, divide your site map into multiple smaller files.
Once you’ve made your site map, upload it to your website’s root folder. Check that you’ve uploaded it correctly by typing your website’s URL into your browser, then the site map document’s name, such as “sitemap.xml.” Then click the “Sitemaps” link, under “Coverage” in the Google Search Console. Add the document’s name to the prefilled URL and click “Submit.” If you have multiple site maps, repeat the process.
8. Differentiate Your Pages
Google Search Console will tell you how many of your URLs it’s indexing. Google may not index all your pages, but you should aim for a high number. Often, Google won’t index pages it feels are too similar to others on your site. You can increase the number of pages indexed, and therefore your ranking, by differentiating your pages. You can do this by:
- Adjusting similar content so it feels different.
- Making title tags and meta descriptions more specific.
- Increasing the number of other websites linking to your pages. This can be difficult, but you could boost this number by promoting content and forming link exchange deals with other businesses.
9. Improve Your Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are three performance metrics impacting user experience.
- Largest Contentful Paint: How quickly a page renders.
- First Input Delay: How quickly a page responds to user interaction.
- Cumulative Layout Shift: How stable a page’s layout is.
Google Search Console considers all three metrics for the traffic-light ratings on its Core Web Vitals page. Ideally, you want all good, or green, elements. Click on any issues found to see which page posed a problem. After correcting the issue, click the “Validate fix” button.
10. Improve Mobile Usability
The next link, “Mobile Usability,” helps you improve the mobile browsing experience. With nearly three-quarters of the world expected to only access the internet using mobile devices by 2025, this is a key priority. If you’ve corrected all the page problems above, ideally this page will display no issues. However, if some problems are outstanding, you can take further steps to optimize your content for mobile users.
11. Resolve Manual Actions
If users have reported your website to Google, you may have a manual action listed under the “Manual actions” link. This typically happens if someone feels you’ve tried to manipulate Google’s search engine for a higher ranking. When this happens, you may receive a ranking penalty or be removed from Google altogether.
If there’s an action against you, browse the affected pages and their issues. Follow the steps to fix the issue on all impacted pages, then click “Request review.” In your review request:
- Explain what the issue was.
- Describe what you’ve done to fix the problem.
- Document the impact of your fix.
Google can take one to two weeks reviewing requests, but you will receive email updates. Do not resubmit your request until Google delivers its verdict.
12. Resolve Security Issues
The “Security Issues” link shows any security issues with your site, such as hacking, malware, or social engineering. If you have any, click on them for a sample of impacted URLs. Click the “Learn more” link for more detailed information, including how to fix the issue. Follow the steps to correct the issue throughout your website. Start with the sample list of URLs, but remember this list may not contain all impacted pages.
Once you’ve corrected all security issues, test your fixes. If the report says they are fixed, click “Request review” in the security issues report. Include similar information to a manual actions review request. Submit your review and wait for the verdict.
13. Add More Links
Internal and external links also increase your Google site ranking. You can view all your links via the “Links” page on Google Search Console. Review this page and work on increasing your links. Commit to linking to your own pages in every piece of content you create. Also, work on boosting external links through content promotion and partner arrangements.