The SEO tools provided by Google are invaluable to any marketer and website owner. They can help you analyse the effectiveness of your efforts, report and set up your marketing campaigns, implement your SEO strategies, and check your website’s performance.
Because these SEO tools are so encompassing, it’s vital that business owners know how to use them properly and put them to good use.
In this post, we will discuss the basics of Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tool) and how it can help website owners be more effective in implementing Google’s best practices.
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What Is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google to website owners or administrators. It provides valuable insights on how the website is doing, who its visitors are, and the actions they are taking once they land on the page. All this data can help you spot potential issues before they snowball into bigger problems, but also identify the areas with the most growth potential.
We strongly believe that using the Google Search Console should become a part of any site owner’s routine, which is why we wrote this beginner’s guide to the multivalent tool we love.
Are you ready to start making the best out of your website? Let’s start from the beginning.
How to Connect Your Website to the Google Search Console
To connect your website to the Google Search Console, you need to sign in with Google first. Keep in mind that you need to use your business email address, even if it’s not a Gmail address. After you have successfully created a Google account and you’re logged in, go to the Google Search Console and connect your website.
To connect your website, click on the Add Property button and insert the main address of your website. If you have more versions of it (for example, https and http), create a separate entry for each one.
The next step you should take is verifying your site’s ownership to gain access to behind the scene insights. There are several ways to do the verification, but the most common one implies adding a code snippet to your website. One of the alternatives to that is using your Google Analytics account to do the verification, which we do prefer since Analytics is another free Google tool you should be using regularly.
Once your website is added and the ownership is verified, you might be surprised to see no data in the Google Search Console. Don’t worry, it can take up to 24h before you start seeing your website’s indicators.
Google Search Console Features
Once you’re all set up, the learning process begins. You might be intimidated by the multitude of tabs and all those terms you are bombarded with and probably didn’t use before, but trust us, the console is user-friendly and beginners can quickly learn what’s what and how to use GSC’s magic.
An important mention is that the Google Search Console will only show data starting from the moment you verified your website, so don’t expect insights about your website’s past performance. Eyes on the future!
Next, you will read about the main Google Search Console features and how to use them to improve your website, making it perform better in Google and other search engines.
The performance tab contains some of the most relevant search traffic data for a website: what keywords you ranked for, what’s the average CTR for each web page, and how visitors ended on your website in a certain date range.
The indicators that are detailed in the search analytics performance tab include the average CTR, the number of clicks and impressions, average position, and so on.
This indicator tells you how many times Google users have clicked on your web page when it appeared in their search results. It will be greatly influenced by the position you are shown on in SERPs (search engine results pages), but it can also give you an idea of how well your meta title and meta description are doing.
Impressions are the number of times your website or one of its pages are shown in the Google search results. The number of impressions for certain keywords can help you improve your research strategy by showing you which key phrases are most successful, or what pages you should enrich with certain keywords.
The click-through-rate is the ratio between the number of clicks and the number of impressions. Its value is highly influenced by the position you appear in, but it can also be improved by writing better copy for the meta elements that are shown in SERPs. Average CTR is a good indicator of your website’s relevance
With the help of this indicator, you can better understand how the other parameters are performing. The average position your web pages are ranking on for certain keywords brings all the other data together.
The Index Coverage tab also offers a highly valuable set of insights. If you’re a new user, you might feel intimidated by the technical look of this tab, but once you get familiar with a few terms and try it out, it becomes a reliable tool that taps your shoulder when something is wrong with one of your web pages.
The Index Coverage tab displays errors and warnings whenever something on your website is not working properly. Some mistakes can shatter all your SEO efforts overnight, and recovery can take months before you get the same traffic again.
Avoid costly mistakes by checking this tab for any errors, like bad redirects, broken code, 404 error code, 504 error code, etc.
If you want to see how your web pages look like to Google, you need to perform an URL inspection. How does it work? Google crawls websites without stopping, using robots called crawlers or spiders. By doing that, it creates an index of the website, registering it in a huge database and retrieving it when its content matches certain search queries.
To rank high on Google and actually benefit from higher conversion rates, Google has to properly index your website. The URL Inspection tab gives you all the needed information on indexing and structured data.
So, whenever you add or change content on your website you should resubmit your sitemap? No, Google will automatically update the sitemap by recrawling your website periodically, so it’s not needed for every new blog post you publish. It is, indeed, helpful, if you make big structural changes to your site.
The ranking factors that business owners tend to overlook when they are new to digital marketing are often the more technical ones. The Enhancement Tabs show you the status of such indicators, and it can tell you if your website is slower than recommended or if it needs more effort in mobile optimisation, for example.
When it crawls your website, Google can create a sitemap on its own. But, instead of relying on its capability to determine the page hierarchy and understand the logic behind it, you should be proactive and submit your website’s sitemap yourself.
Once you have submitted a sitemap and checked it regularly, you can rest assured that there will be no missing indexed pages, and Google can easily find what it needs from your website.
You probably already know that link building is very important for SEO. The Links tab analyses both external and internal links, giving you an insight into how well certain pages on your site are performing, and where you should add more links.
Google displays the external links to your site and shows you the domains that link back to you.
In order to rank higher on Google and be seen as a valuable, authoritative website, it’s good to generate evergreen content. This is the type of content that you can easily link back to internally, and also share with your audience in order to get external links to your site. This type of content is called “cornerstone content” and Google loves it.
Mobile use has increased dramatically in the last years. Mobile search, for instance, has surpassed desktop search, accounting for over half of all internet searches. That means that having a mobile-friendly website has become mandatory if you want to rank high in the search engines.
Your website doesn’t necessarily need to be mobile-optimized to its last URL, but the minimal requirement to rank high on Google is to make it mobile-friendly.
You can use various tools to test how mobile-friendly your web pages are, including the Google Search Console. This tool gives punctual suggestions on what to improve on specific pages to offer a better user experience.
The Manual Actions tab shows penalties applied by Google when your website is not complying with Google’s best practices. They are called manual actions because they are issued by a human reviewer at Google.
The types of actions you can be penalised for include:
- Unnatural links to/from your site
- Cloaked images
- Keyword stuffing and other black hat SEO practices
- Content with thin or no value
This is the tab where you really don’t want anything to appear. If you do have an issue and your website was flagged, you can fix the elements that generated these errors and request another review. It can take several days or even weeks before the website is reviewed again and the manual action can be revoked, so it’s best to prevent these situations altogether.
Security issues are included in the Google Search Console reports, so make sure to check this section regularly.
Why Is Google Search Console so Important?
As you can see, Google Search Console is a complex, detailed reporting tool that gives extremely valuable insight on how your website is performing. You might need some time to adjust to its specifics, but using it is a great way of monitoring the health of your website.
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