Everyone wants to learn SEO to get more free traffic to their site. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t that simple. It used to be as simple as getting as many links pointing to your site as humanly possible. The Penguin update killed that off. While links *are still very important*, there’s a lot more that Google is looking for on your site.
Google Search Console is the interface Google uses to tell website owners and managers how they view their site. It also tells them what they need to fix. They do a lot of the hand holding to help you get your site up to par.
Google used to be more straightforward. Ads at the top and organic listings below. The goal was to get as close to position #1 as possible. As time has progressed, so has Google and the web.
A user searching on Google no longer just sees text ads and basic organic listings. They see maps, local listings, featured snippets, answer box, knowledge panel, rich product snippets, people also ask, product listing ads (paid & free), local inventory ads (paid & free), news and other Google concoctions.
Search is getting more complicated. This means that the data of how your site shows up in search is becoming more difficult and more valuable. So let’s dive in, get you set up, and show you around.
Table of contents
Add Property in Google Search Console
First you have to get Search Console set up and “take ownership” of the property. If you’re on WordPress, you should have already done this with Site Kit if you followed along in The Basics of Your First Website post. If you haven’t yet, go to https://search.google.com/ while logged into the same email as your Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.
It should look something like below. Click add property and input your correct version of your URL into the right side. There are 4 versions of your URL. Mine are below.
https://www.bowtiedisland.com – Incorrect
https://bowtiedisland.com – Correct
http://www.bowtiedisland.com – Incorrect
http://bowtiedisland.com – Incorrect
It’s fine if you have www in your URL. BUT you had better have that version everywhere else on your site and tools.
It’s fine if you register all 4 of your properties. It’s useless if you built your site correctly, but if you didn’t, you’ll be able to notice if Google is driving traffic to the wrong URL.
If you installed GA and GTM correctly, it should automatically verify that you’re the owner. If not, you’re going to have to verify by putting an html tag in your header file. Now go back to The Basics of Your First Website post and do it correctly so you don’t have to do that.
Connect Search Console to Google Analytics
This isn’t necessary but it can be helpful to do. Go to your Google Analytics property and go to admin in the bottom left hand corner -> “Property Settings” under Property -> “Adjust Search Console” at the bottom.
Associating the two accounts together will allow them to pass data between the two. This way, among other things, you can compare actual organic traffic to last non-direct click organic traffic in GA or utilize Search Console Insights in Search Console.
Explore Search Console Functionality & Purpose
The list is going to be a little out of order and long. Search Console adds and subtracts sections based off of what they find on your site. If you don’t publish news articles, “Google News” won’t show up in your Search Console. It’s the same for “Discover”, “Breadcrumbs”, “Products”, “Reviews”, and so on.
It’s also good to note that Search Console is constantly changing. What’s there in July 2021 may not be the same exact UI that’s there when you’re reading this article several months later.
I shouldn’t have to explain this too much. It’s just a high level view of some of the below functions.
This is where I’m imaging everyone skipping to and not reading the rest of the article. This is your performance in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
The bread and butter of search data for your website. Every button on this page acts like a filter allowing you to drill down into what Google is ranking you for and where. Be sure to check out what you’re ranking for for Images instead of Web in the top left. Images is an often overlooked SEO tactic.
I obviously don’t have much experience here but you get the idea.
Google Discover, for you Apple users and people that haven’t unchecked “Web & App Activity”, is Google’s custom feed of posts that you might find interesting. I’ve only once had a website end up on Discover for a total of 3 weeks.
This is the troubleshooting powerhouse of Search Console. There’s a few things you should use this for.
- If your site is new, Google won’t be crawly your site often and will miss pages. Use this tool to “Request Indexing” of any new pages you create.
- Utilize this to see how Google sees your page. Is it not indexed because Google’s bot didn’t get a 200 code? Is it not mobile friendly?
If URL Inspection is for looking at 1 page, the index section is a high level view of all of your URLs.
This report specifically tells you which URLs have errors, are indexed or not, and why. Sometimes you don’t want sections of your site indexed. Canonical URL’s, pages with a no-index tag, etc.
However, if you have pages that aren’t indexed, and you want them indexed, figure out the problem ASAP. I recently handed the below to our new SEO guy after a site redesign and told him to have fun. Ha!
I don’t think he’s going to stay long…
Updated: He quit…
Your sitemap(s) are XML pages that tell Google what pages to crawl and what it should index. You should submit your sitemaps to Google as soon as you get set up with Search Console. For a WordPress site, it should look like the below. Yoast will create the sitemaps for you.
For a Shopify site, it should be “domain.com/sitemap.xml”.
If you delete a page, it’s still staying in the SERPs for a while. There’s a bunch of reasons why you might want to remove a page from the SERPs and I’m not mentioning any of them. Just remember that it’s there when you need it.
This section started to appear around the time that Google announced that in May 2021, Core Web Vitals would be a ranking factor. I think the team that was building this part of Search Console got fired because it’s completely underwhelming. See below for more info on why.
This is supposed to be a high level overview of the rest of the Experience section with some extras but I’ve noticed a lot of irregularities.
- The below website hasn’t changed at all, yet Google has changed it’s mind on “Good URLs” 3 times in the past few months.
- Another website of mine showed that it had no HTTPS. After racking my brain about this for weeks, Google publicly came out and said it was an error on their end.
- I have sites that are 2 years old, get a few thousand visitors a month and Google shows no data for the website.
- Another website with tens of thousands of pages somehow doesn’t have 1 single “Good URL”
What I’m trying to say is look in here and try to see if there’s something wrong, but don’t waste too much time on it.
Core Web Vitals
This section actually seems accurate. Google switched to mobile first indexing for all new sites in 2019. Which means that if you don’t fix these issues, good luck ranking your site!
Enhancements is what I mentioned earlier in the article about Google’s search changing over the years from organic text results and text ads to a gaggle of different results in the SERPs. You should definitely check out Google’s documentation on this part of Search Console along with the different types of structured data. <-Seriously. Don’t skimp out on that link.
What you need to know is that pages on different websites have to be structured in the same way for Google’s crawlers to be able to crawl and compare pages. This structure is called “structured data” and is based off of Schema.org. It allows Google’s bot to read the recipes, product data, FAQ, review, etc the same way so that it can be presented to the user in an organized fashion.
This has been a big shift in SEO in the last few years since Google will not and cannot rank you for many things without that structured data. A plugin like Yoast SEO will implement the Structured Data for you.
Security & Manual Actions
Check this section only occasionally. If your ranking start to tank, check this ASAP.
Manual actions is when Google catches you doing some black hat SEO and smacks you. This is where they let you know that you’ve been caught.
If Google finds that you have a security issue on your site, your rankings will tank and this is where they’ll let you know what they’ve found. Sometimes it’s a false flag but it’ll likely be because you’ve been hacked and/or have malware on your site.
If you find anything in this section, I hope you have an old backup of your site!
Legacy Tools & Reports
Just ignore this section. I’m not sure why they even still have it around.
The lifeblood of SEO. This report shows you all(most) of the links that Google has found pointing to your site. We’ll dive deeper into linking for SEO at another time but a few things you should know.
- Links matter. A lot.
- The type of link matters a lot. Relevancy, keyword text, niche authority, etc
- Internal linking structure matters. Link juice can be passed between pages on the same website.
This doesn’t need much explanation. One thing to note, Googlebot *Desktop* is crawling this site and not Googlebot *Mobile*. That’s because I’m transitioning this site over from an old domain that got 95% desktop traffic. This is unnatural in today’s internet age. Yours will likely be mobile, so make sure you optimize your site for mobile!
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a thing or two. As always, I approve of you geeking out and reading the full documentation of Google Search Console here.
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