Google Search Console or GSC (formerly “Google Webmaster Tools”) is a conglomeration of Google SEO tools and reporting. It offers data and configuration control for your website as well as a variety of visitor metrics. Search Console gives you direct insight from Google as to how the search engine sees your website. Check your website for any found errors, see broken pages, check site indexing, etc. Additionally, this is where you will receive messages directly from Google regarding any issues with, or actions taken against, your website. This could be something like a detected hack attack, a malware warning, a manual penalty for bad linking practices or other technical notices which the search engine may send via the Google Search Console.
App developers can use Google Search Console to add deep linking to their apps (which allows app pages to show up in users’ mobile search results), connect their app with a website, handle crawl errors and more.
Search Console is a great tool to help you discover problems which might hurt your search result rankings, or even your websites’ user experience.
There’s a lot you can do with GSC, but it can take a while to learn how to get great returns on the time you spend with it. In light of this reality, we’ve tried to assemble a practical collection of key features along with a brief description. Many of these are most useful in maintaining SEO best practices on your website.
Note: If you want to use Google Search Console, you will first need to verify ownership of the domain before Google will grant you access to the data for analysis or download. Remember to add all site versions (http:// and www. versions). Once you have linked your website, Google will then reveal the information it has on your site activity.
This section reveals how your site appears in Google’s search results pages (SERP). Its appearance is influenced by a variety of factors and may include components such as the page title, snippet (meta description), sitelinks, site search option, URL, event rich snippet, breadcrumbs, and product or rich snippets.
Google collects and displays up to 10,000 pages that contain structured data in this section of Search Console. Here you will find graphs showing the amount of structured data elements found on the website, and any subsequent markup errors. You can download the error report for sharing or offline review.
Note: The structured data report can work well in conjunction with the Structured Data Testing Tool. Once you have identified pages with errors, put them in the testing tool. Use the results found to solve any problems.
This impressive tool is one of the easiest ways to implement structured data, especially when you don’t have access to the website’s back end.
Enter the URL of a page on your website and then select a section of text from the page such as the business phone number, for example. Then tag it with the label Telephone in the pop-up window Google provides. Information which isn’t visible on the page can be entered manually. While this is not as preferred as having the hard code on the page itself it is better than nothing!
Google gathers and displays errors discovered during crawls of the website here. Common errors are identified and flagged such as missing title tags, duplicate titles or even non-indexable content. This is a great place to start when performing a website SEO audit.
Sitelinks help visitors navigate your website. They are automatically generated by Google and are basically shortcuts to deeper and often more specific pages. If there are sitelinks that you do not want appearing for a page, you may actually demote them here by entering the URL to remove.
The Search Traffic section of Google Search Console provides information such as the keyword search phrases Google served your site in response to, the number of times this occurred (impressions), how many times this caused a visitor to click through to your site, and your average ranking for the term. In addition, this section allows us to view which domains Google has ascertained contains a link to your website, the page on your site it links to, as well as what your internal link structure looks like. This is also where you will find more information about any manual actions taken by Google against your website.
Search Analytics (formerly Search Queries)
This is one of the most useful reports in GSC. It delivers insights into how your website is performing in regards to the overall organic search traffic from Google. You can see the most popular queries, pages, countries and devices. Additionally, for better understanding of your website’s performance in Google’s search results you can use different filters to segment traffic even further.
Cutting-edge keyword data analysis tools such as Query Hive™ actually use this very same data in their analyses. Query Hive™ allows you to segment your organic traffic according to your business objectives, and compare this data over time in order to identify trends and opportunities. Learn more about Query Hive™
Links to your Site
The link report in GSC is an effective and free alternative to using premium website analysis tools. It displays the linking domains, anchor text used, if any, and the most-linked to pages. This report also provides you with the ability to download the tab into Excel document for further analysis or benchmarking.
Through the internal links report, we can see the pages with the most links to them from within your website. Since internal links play a part in search engine rankings, this information can be helpful.
Pray you do not find a message here! Get information about any Google penalties which are currently being levied on your website from a real human working at Google. If you find that you have been penalized, there will be a message on this page explaining the action taken along with tips on correcting the problem.
The hreflang markup of a web page can be used to identify the language and geographical targeting.
The second tab (country) is an option if you want to target users in a specific country, use this option. If you do not want to target any specific regions, this is where you can inform Google that you want this option set to “unlisted.” Country-specific domains (such as .de and .ca) are automatically associated with the corresponding country and therefore do not need any specific targeting to be set here.
On April 21st, 2015, Google stated that mobile-friendly website design would be used as a ranking signal. This is part of a continued movement by Google to communicate a growing need for the implementation of mobile-ready websites.
The mobile usability section of GSC lists the following mobile user-experience (UX) issues:
- Flash content
- Small Font
- Fixed-Width Viewport
- Viewport Not Configured
- Content not Sized to Viewport
- Tap Targets too Close
Note: You should use the Mobile-Friendly Test to check if a particular page has a mobile-friendly design or if there are errors reported by Google.
Here you can look for how many pages of the website are currently included in Google’s index and also remove any unwanted URLs. Google displays a trend line in a graph to show you how many pages of your site have been indexed. A quick glance can show you if there is a decrease, increase or a stable line. This helps identify any specific windows of time that might have included shifts in the overall indexing of your site.
The Index Status shows the number of pages which are currently indexed by Google.
The Content Keywords report shows the most frequently used keywords found on your website. This is helpful to review from time to time in order to ensure the overall perception of your website content by Google is in line with your targeted keywords and underlying business objectives.
Google provides a list of pages or sections of the website that are blocked by robots.txt rules.
If a web page is already in Google’s index and you would like to remove it, use the Remove URLs feature of Search Console.
Find out the errors that the Google-bot discovered during the crawling of your website. Specific error codes like 404 or 500 can be filtered to view them in separate segments. Once the errors have been corrected, mark them as fixed to inform Google and clean up the report for the future.
This section displays the number of pages which have been crawled in the allowable reporting period (currently 90 days). Additionally it will tell you the time spent downloading and the number of kilobytes downloaded per day. Look for inconsistencies here to flag potential website performance issues.
Fetch as Google
View the way Google renders a certain page in the search results. Toggle between desktop, mobile smartphone, mobile XHTML, and mobile cHTML to view how your site fares in each category.
Use it to test new robots.txt markup and check for errors. All types of Google-crawlers (Googlebot, News, Images, Video, Mobile, Mediapartners and Adbot) are available. To test which URLs Google can and cannot access on your website, try using the robots.txt tester.
Once you create an XML sitemap you can submit it to Google here. An XML sitemap helps to make it easier for a search bot to discover the pages on your site. A view of this section allows you to see the difference between the number of submitted and indexed pages. Additionally, if Google detects an error with the previously submitted sitemap, they will be listed here.
Sometimes Google needs some help in understanding certain URL parameters. This section allows you to improve Google’s crawl efficiency by indicating how it should handle certain parameters in your URL structure. Be careful here: If you incorrectly exclude URL, pages you want to drive traffic to may disappear from search results!
Occasionally, GSC may alert you if your site seems to have important issues such as crawl problems, malware alerts and other security issues or even manual actions taken against your website. Make sure you set up the messaging forwarding so you can get these notifications emailed to you.
This is found by clicking the gear icon in the top right of GSC.
Here you are able to set a preferred domain. You can choose between the www and non-www version. To do this, you may need to verify ownership of both domains.
You can also adjust the crawl rate for root and subdomain levels of your website. If you feel there is a problem with the Googlebot crawl of your site you can report it here.
Change of Address
Use the change of address feature whenever moving your primary website to a new domain in order to ensure Google updates its index. Additionally, Google provides some handy tools to aid in the site move such as a 301-redirect checker tool.
The variety of Search Console features help you optimize the search performance of your website and stay in line with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
For more details about the features of Google Search Console visit the GSC Help Center.
If you would like to discuss how your website stacks up in Google Search Console reach out to us today and schedule a no-obligation website analysis and/or consultation.