Ready to make a monumental impact online?
There’s a wealth of tools and tricks out there to help you along the way.
Amongst them all, there’s one tool that you definitely can’t afford to ignore: Google Search Console.
Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a core foundational tool for ensuring your SEO strategies are set up for success.
Best of all, it’s a completely free service. So there’s no excuse for ignoring it.
Whether you’re working with an SEO agency or going solo, Google Search Console gives you the information you need about your site and the people visiting it.
Got no idea where to start with Google Search Console? This article will show you how to get set up for success.
Are you an SEO pro wanting to get more out of the GSC? Read on for advanced tips and tricks to get squeeze the best results from the tool for higher rankings.
Bottom line: whatever stage you’re at with Google Search Console, this article is for you.
Let’s dive in.
Why you need Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a set of tools designed to help you fully understand:
how Google sees your site, and
why it ranks your site where it does.
Here are 3 major things top digital marketers use Google Search Console for:
Pinpoint and fix issues and crawl errors that could be preventing your site from being visible in search results pages (SERPs) and holding back your SEO performance.
Analyse your link profile to see all the websites that link to your site and refine your backlink strategy.
Communicate certain data to Google so it can highlight information to your audiences in accurate ways, e.g. dates, time and locations for future events.
In short, Google Search Console should be right at the top of your ultimate SEO checklist.
How to set up Google Search Console FAST
Before you can do anything else, first you need to add and verify your site.
Google doesn’t want all the information and insights about your site getting in the wrong hands. So by verifying your site, you’re proving to Google that you're the site's owner, webmaster, or other authorised user (such as the SEO agency).
Log into your Search Console account and click on “Add Property”.
Enter your site’s URL and click "Add Property".
Next, you’ll be asked to verify your site.
There are 7 ways to verify your site on GSC.
Here are the 4 easiest options available.
GSC Verification Method 1: Add Google Analytics code
Do you use Google Analytics to track site metrics? If so, use this to verify your site.
All you need to do is check your site’s homepage code to see if the GA tracking code is within the <Head> section, not <Body>.
If it isn’t, simply move to the <Head> section. Then, go to the Search Console dashboard, click on "Manage site" and "Verify this site".
Click on the "Google Analytics tracking code" option under the "Recommended method" or "Alternate method" tabs. Then, follow the instructions.
GSC Verification Method 2: Add an HTML tag.
This is a good option if you have HTML coding experience.
Go to the Search Console dashboard and select "Manage Property".
Click "Verify this property".
Either click on the "HTML Tag" option under "Recommended method" OR click on the "Alternate methods" tab and select "HTML Tag".
This gives you the HTML code to verify your site.
Copy this, then open the code for your homepage and paste the code anywhere in the <Head> section.
Save and publish the updated code.
Then, open your site's homepage to view the site's source code. The verification code should be right there in the <Head> section.
Return to Google Search Console and click "Verify".
Google will check your site's code and if it finds the verification code, you’ll see a confirmation screen.
Not confident with HTML code? Go to the next option…
GSC Verification Method 3: Upload a HTML file
Another option is to upload an HTML file to your site’s root directory.
Again, go to the Search Console dashboard, "Manage site" and "Verify this site".
Under “Recommended method”, click on "HTML file upload". If it’s not listed, go to the "Alternate method" tab.
Follow the instructions to download the HTML file and upload it to the specified location.
Don’t change the file’s content, otherwise Google won’t be able to verify your site.
Once uploaded, go back to Search Console and click "Verify".
GSC Verification Method 4: Verify via your domain name provider
Finally, you can verify your site via your domain name provider.
This is the best option if you have a large website, as it proves you own all the subdomains and subdirectories associated with your main domain.
Go to the Search Console dashboard, select "Manage site", then "Verify this site”. Click on "Domain name provider" under "Recommended method" or under the "Alternate method" tab.
Choose your domain name provider from a list of popular providers, or choose “Other” and follow the instructions.
Congratulations! You’re verified.
Next, link your Google Analytics and Search Console.
Okay, you’re probably wondering what’s the difference between Google Search Console and Google Analytics. They both provide site and search traffic information, right?
So do you really need both?
The answer is YES.
There are some essential differences between Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
Google Analytics tells you:
Who is visiting your site
How many visitors you're getting
How visitors are getting to your site (source)
How much time visitors spend on your site
Where your visitors come from geographically
Google Search Console is more about the internal data:
Who is linking to you
Which keywords queries your site is appearing for in the SERPS
And much more...
Some of the information overlaps, so to get the most out of the data, the best approach is to link the two accounts together.
Go to the Search Console dashboard and click on the site you're trying to connect. Click on the gear icon in the top right-hand corner and choose "Google Analytics Property."
You’ll see a list of GA accounts associated with your Google account. Click the correct account and hit "Save". That’s it!
Once your site is verified and your GA is linked, you are ready to optimise Google Search Console to extract the insights you need for maximum search performance.
PRO TIP: Another great addition to your Google suite of tools is the Google Display Network (GDN). Get started with our Ultimate Guide to GDN.
How to optimise Google Search Console
Right, so now you’re set up on GSC, how do you use it to boost your SEO performance?
Start with these easy steps.
1. Set your preferred domain.
Essentially, this tells Google to use the www or non-www version of your site.
Go to site settings and click on your preferred version.
This is the version that will show up in Google Search results. For example, here’s a non-www version:
PRO TIP: Make sure you specify a preferred domain, even though it gives you the option not to.
According to Google, “If you don’t specify a preferred domain, we may treat the www and non-www versions of the domain as separate references to separate pages.”
The upshot of this is that your backlinks will be way less powerful, which can impact your search ranking.
2. Set up your sitemap
Sitemaps are really important for Google. They help Googlebot crawl and index your pages, which will ultimately improve your site rankings.
Fact is, submitting a sitemap to Search Console doesn’t take long and it can really improve your site’s crawlability, especially if your site has hundreds or thousands of pages.
The bigger your site is, the easier it is for Googlebot to miss changes, which means they won’t get shown in the SERPs.
Likewise, if your site is new, a sitemap helps Googlebot crawl and index your site faster.
Once you’ve created your sitemap, go to Google Search Console > Sitemaps > Add/Test Sitemap.
Enter sitemap.xml and click Submit Sitemap.
Now, be patient.
It can take time for Google to index your site.
Once Google has indexed your sitemap, you can see it in the sitemaps report.
This is a handy way to see when Google last read your sitemap and how many URLs it’s indexed.
3. Boost Rankings With Schema Markup
If you’re not using Schema markup, you’re missing out on a sure-fire way to skyrocket your click through rates.
Schema markup, aka structured data, is code that you put on your site to help the search engines return more informative and richer results - also known as “rich snippets”.
Essentially, Schema markup tells search engines how to read the information on your webpage.
Let’s say you use Schema markup to tell Google to use the data to display a recipe.
When we search “brownie recipe”, here’s what Google returns:
The search listing separates the rating (4.8), recipe time (1hr) and calories (144) from the rest of the meta description. That’s because the Schema markup told Google to do that.
Speaking of ratings… a recent study by ConversionXL found that:
Review stars can improve click-through rates by UP TO 35%!
Adding Schema markup to your site doesn’t need to be complicated. Use a plugin, like the Schema Creator plugin for WordPress sites, or Google’s schema generator to add Structured Data to your site. (For tips, check out Google’s free tool for webmasters called the Structured Data Markup Helper)
Then, use Google Search Console to test it out.
In Search Console, go to Web Tools > Testing Tools > Structured Data Testing Tool.
Type your site URL in the box and hit “Run Test”.
This will show you any errors you need to fix and where you can add extra data, like this:
Here, the site owner just needed to add a name.
Image Credit: Backlinko
Another way is to click Search Appearance > Structured Data. You’ll see something like this:
Then click to see the errors and add schema.
4. Nail Your Backlink Strategy
We probably don’t need to tell you that backlinks affect Google rankings more than any other factor. The more quality backlinks (votes) your website has, the better it performs in search engines.
So, how do you know how many backlinks your site has?
By using Google Search Console, of course.
Click “Links” and open the Top linked pages report. Then, look for the box called “Total external links.”
Click the down arrow next to “Incoming links”, which will sort the results from highest to lowest backlinks.
Here’s the important part: Google isn’t looking for the highest number of backlinks - it’s looking for quality and relevance.
So, you need to delve deeper to see which sites are linking to a specific page. To do this, simply double-click the URL in the report.
Use this data to inform your link building strategy.
5. Turbocharge Important Pages With Internal Links
Internal links are essential for your SEO. Why? Because they help establish your site architecture, showing Google the relationship between different content and pages.
They also show Google which pages are the most important to your site.
In fact, internal links are so important that Google Search Console has a feature designed
especially to show you where you need to give your site some internal link action.
In the GSC sidebar, go to “Internal Links”.
You’ll see a report with the number of internal links pointing to every page on your site.
Image Credit: Backlinko
From here, find the pages that link to a specific page on your site.
Using the example above, say you wanted to find all the pages that link to your surfing category page.
Grab a URL and paste it into the top box and hit “Find”. You’ll see all the internal links pointing to that page.
If you find that a page doesn’t have enough link juice, you can fix it by adding internal links to that page. Easy!
Nailed the basics? Get ready to raise your game with some of GSC’s advanced features.
Take Google Search Console to the next level
GSC has tons of incredible features - you just need to take the time to learn which ones will give you actionable insights to improve your SEO.
To help, here are our top 3 must-use features:
1. Crawl stats
Got a large site of more than 1,000 pages? You need to be checking your crawl stats.
The number that really matters in the Crawl Stats report is the Crawl Budget. This is the number of pages on your site that Google crawls every day.
Why does Crawl Budget matter for your SEO?
It impacts how quickly your site changes are reflected in Google Search.
Say you have 100,000 pages and a Crawl Budget of 1,000 pages per day.
Google could take 100 days to crawl your site.
So if you change something urgently on one of your pages, it can still take months for Google to reflect the change.
Likewise, if you add a new page to your site, Google could take a full three months to index it.
But there are things you can do using the data in Google Search Console..
Go to the crawl report and check the average time it takes Google to download your pages.
If Google takes ages to download pages, it can ruin your Crawl Budget.
So, you need to speed up your site.
Not only does this help your rankings and user experience, it can maximise your crawl budget too.
2. Fetch As Google
Okay, we know what we just said but there is a way to get new pages indexed rapidly using Google Search Console.
Simply use Fetch As Google.
This is the fastest way to get your newly published pages indexed.
Go to Crawl > Fetch As Google.
Type the new page’s URL into the box and click “Fetch”.
Then, hit “Request indexing” which will send Googlebot to that page.
Image Credit: Backlinko
Lastly, select “Crawl only this URL” and click “Go”.
Another way to use Fetch As Google to reindex updated content.
Simply freshen up your content then use the tool to get it indexed instantly.
3. Mobile Useability
It’s no secret that your site needs to be 100% optimised for mobile if you want even a sniff of a high organic search ranking.
So, how do you know how Google rates your site’s mobile optimisation?
With the Mobile Useability tool on Search Console.
This tool provides a report telling you if mobile users have any trouble with your site.
The report shows you any errors. Then, you simply click on the errors to see A) which pages have this issue and B) how to fix it.
Over to you
There you have it! Now you know the basics to get started with Google Search Console and use it to propel your search engine optimisation.
With this guide, we haven’t shown you every single thing you can and should do with Google Search Console - there’s just too much to cover!
But we hope you’ve learned the essentials to get started right now or, if you already use it, get more from the free tool.
One way you should be using Search Console is to inform your Digital Marketing Game Plan. Together with Google Analytics, the data insights will help you forge the right direction for your digital marketing strategy. .
Want to find out more? Download our FREE eBook for must-know tips and tactics on creating a Digital Marketing Game Plan from the world’s best digital marketing gurus.