At the end of this Tutorial you will be able to:
- Add your website to Google Search Console (GSC).
- Create and upload an XML sitemap file.
- Connect GSC to your Google Analytics account.
- Use the various featues of GSC to improve your performance on Google search results.
- View detailed reports on your website's traffic, keywords and click-through rates (CTRs).
About Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool offered by Google to help website owners monitor and maintain their site’s presence in Google search results.
It provides essential marketing data that you need to start tracking. It also alerts you about errors, security issues, and crawling/indexing problems that may affect your website’s search rankings.
Adding your website to GSC
Simply go to Google Search Console website and click the Start now button.
You’ll be asked to sign in using a Google / Gmail account. Once logged in, you will need to enter your website URL.
Google Search Console offers two number of methods of adding your website. The simplest is Domain.
Enter the URL of your GitHub-hosted website as follows:
Note that Google considers HTTP and HTTPS as two different protocols. It also considers https://www.example.com and https://example.com as two different websites.
After entering your website URL, click the Continue button.
Next, you will be asked to verify ownership of your website. The simplest option is to use HTML tag.
Click on the HTML tag to expand it and then copy the code inside the <head> of your 'home' web page. Next, upload that index.html file to your account on GitHub.
Finally, go back to Google Search Console settings and click on Verify button.
Google Search Console will now look for the HTML tag in your web page and show you a success message.
That’s it. You have successfully added your site to Google Search Console. You can now click on the Go to Property link to visit your Google Search Console dashboard.
Adding an XML sitemap
An XML sitemap is a way for website owners to tell search engines about all the pages that exist on their website. It also tells search engines which links on your website are more important than others.
Adding an XML sitemap to your website helps search engines better crawl your website. While it doesn’t give you a boost in search rankings, it can definitely help search engines index your content more efficiently.
Your sitemap web address will look like this:
Use Sitemaps XML or similar website, copy the file into your 'main' folder and upload it to your GitHUb account.
In the Google Search Console dashboard, click on the ‘Sitemaps’ option from the left column. After that, you can paste the URL and click the ‘Submit’ button.
Google Search Console will now check your sitemap and use it to improve your website’s crawling.
Connecting GSC to Google Analytics
Connecting Google Search Console to your Google Analytics account helps you analyze search console data in Google Analytics. This provides you with a new perspective on your top-performing content and keywords.
To connect Google Search Console to your Analytics account, open a new tab in your web browser, go to Google Analytics and sign into your account. From the bottom left corner of the man Dashboard screen, click the ‘Admin’ (gears) icon.
Google Analytics will now switch to Admin view. In the middle column, click the Property Settings option and then click the Adjust Search Console button.
On the next screen, click on the Add button to select your website.
Analytics will now take you to the Google Search Console website showing you the list of all websites you have added to the search console. Select the property you want to link to Google Analytics from the dropdown menu.
After that, you’ll need to select the Google Analytics property you’ want to connect with Search Console and click the Continue button.
You’ll now see a popup window showing that you’ve successfully connected Google Analytics and Search Console.
That’s it. You have successfully connected your Google Search Console data to your Analytics account. You can go back to the Google Analytics Search Console settings page to see the connected Search Console and click the Save button.
You can now view the newly unlocked Search Console reports in your Google Analytics account under the Acquisition option. It also helps unlock 'keywords not provided/set' in Google Analytics.
The first report you will find there is the Landing Pages report.
For each landing page, you’ll see the impressions (number of times a page appeared in search results), clicks, click-through rate (CTR), and average position in the search results. Combined with that page’s analytics parameters like bounce rate, sessions, and pages per session.
Clicking a landing page will show you the actual keywords that brought users to this landing page.
Next, you can Switch to the Countries report, and you will see countries listed in the same order. This helps in creating content and geolocation marketing campaigns for people from different regions.
The Devices report will show you how your site performed in desktop, mobile, and tablet search results.
Next, Queries are the most important of all reports among this data. It shows you the keyword data missing from your Google Analytics reports. You can see which search terms are driving traffic to your site.
Working with search indexing issues
The most helpful feature of Google Search Console is that you can troubleshoot indexing errors.
These errors can affect your search rankings by stopping the search engine from crawling and indexing the pages on your website.
You can easily locate these errors under the Coverage report.
It shows you which pages from your website are indexed by Google and which pages resulted in an error or a warning.
Next, scroll down, and you will see the detailed list of all the errors. Clicking on a link will open the detailed view, where you will also find the link to learn more about the error and how to fix it.
The following are a few common indexing errors you may see:
- 404 error – This error means that the crawler followed a URL and saw a 404 error.
- Server error – This means that your website server timed out or didn’t respond. This could happen if your website were under heavy traffic, was under maintenance, or unavailable for any other reason.
Now let’s take a look at how to fix some of these crawl errors.
Working with 404 errors ('missing pages')
Google lists any 404 errors. For example, you accidentally deleted something or forgot to redirect users to the new updated version.
Simply click on the error in the Index Coverage report, and it will show you all the pages displaying that error. Carefully review the pages and if you see a page that shouldn’t be there, then copy its URL and open it in a new browser window.
If you see a 404 error page in your browser, then this means that you need to fix this page.
Now, if it is a page that no longer exists but you have a newer or similar version of it, then you would want to redirect users to that page.
Working with security issues
Security issues not only stop Google from crawling your website, but they could also cause a sudden drop in search traffic. Google may temporarily remove affected pages, show a warning to users, and drop a page’s ranking.
Security issues will be highlighted on the overview screen as you login to your Google Search Console account. The most common security issue is websites affected by malware and trojans.
Manual actions and requesting reviews
While security issues are automatically triggered, manual actions are the penalties that are imposed by human staff from the Google Search team after a careful review. If a manual action is taken against your website, then this is pretty significant and can immediately take away all your search traffic.
These manual actions usually occur when a website is involved in illegal activities, spamming, and other fraudulent or fishy activities.
Clicking on Manual Actions link will show you the actions in your search console report. You will also find detailed information about the issue that triggered it and how to clean it up.
Once you have removed the objectionable content, you can click on the request review button. Your website will now be reviewed and reconsidered by the Google Search team, and they can decide on removing the penalty.
Using GCS to increase traffic
Now that we have covered the technical bits, let’s get to the fun part of growing your website traffic by utilizing the data available in Search Console.
Google Search Console helps you uncover keyword data, find your top-performing keywords, and discover hundreds of potential keywords where you can easily rank and get more traffic.
We will also look at links and how to use them to improve search rankings.
Mining Keyword Data in Google Search Console
Keywords are the search terms users type in search engines to find information.
Marketers and website owners can optimize their content to target desired keywords and improve their chances of appearing on top in search results.
Previously, keyword data was available in website stats and analytics reports in Google Analytics. However, Google encrypted that information in 2013 when they switched to HTTPS.
As a result, if you try to view search queries in Google Analytics, you’ll most likely see ‘not provided/set’ keywords. A simple solution to this issue is connecting Google Analytics with Search Console.
You can also view the keyword data in your Google Search Console reports.
It gives you a full view of the keywords your website is ranking for, average position, clicks, and impressions (number of times your site appears for that keyword).
You can see this information in your Google Search Console reports under the Performance tab.
On the top, you will see a graph of your website’s performance in search results. Below that, you will see the keywords data, which you can filter by position, impression, and click-through rate.
You can sort this data by clicking on any column or using the filter option to narrow down the results.
You can also switch to the Pages tab to see the performance of your pages in search results.
Clicking on any page in the list will filter the results for that page. You can then switch to the ‘Queries’ tab to see the keywords that bring the traffic to that particular page.
Finding Low-hanging Keywords That You Can Easily Rank
A lot of your pages may be ranking on page 2 or 3 of Google search results for different keywords. These are the keywords that you can quickly work on to rank higher and get more traffic.
In your Performance report, click on the filter icon and then select the ‘Position’ option. Next, you’ll be looking for keywords where the average position is higher than 7.
Search Console will now only show the keywords where your site appears on an average position of 7 or higher. Now, click twice on the position column to sort the list in ascending order.
As you scroll down, you will find tons of keywords that rank between 7 and 30. All these keywords are low-hanging fruits where you can easily rank higher.
To view more results, scroll to the bottom and select a higher number for ‘Rows per page.’
When choosing the keywords to work on, you would want to choose keywords based on their number of impressions. Higher impressions mean more search traffic for those keywords.
To do that, you can export the data in CSV format and then open it in spreadsheet software.
Using Core Web Vitals in GSC
In 2020, Google introduced 'Core Web Vitals' that measures how fast your website is and help the search engine measure your site’s user experience.
In Google Search Console, you can view the ‘Core Web Vitals’ report under the Experience menu on your left. It provides a complete report about your site’s speed score for mobile and desktop.
Using GSC to improve mobile usability
Nearly 63% of all Google searches in the United States come from mobile devices. That’s why Google gives an SEO bump to mobile-friendly websites in the search results.
Google has a Mobile-Friendly test tool that allows you to quickly examine a page. The Mobile Usability report in Search Console tells you how Google sees your entire website in mobile performance.
If you see errors on this page, then this means that these issues may affect your site’s rankings.
To see the affected pages, you can scroll down to the Details section and click on the error.
Use URL Inspection Tool in Search Console
The URL Inspection tool in Google Search Console provides information about a page if it’s on Google search results or not.
You can check the status of a page and also request Google to recrawl a page. To start, simply enter a URL in the top search bar.
Google Search Console will then show you the status of the page is indexed by Google. If it’s not indexed, then you’ll see a message saying ‘URL is not on Google.’
You can click the ‘Requesting Indexing’ button and request Google to manually fetch the page from your website.
Besides that, you can scroll down and see more details in the ‘Coverage’ report. It will show information about sitemaps, crawl history, and indexing.
You can also live test a URL and see if there is an indexable version available. If there is, then simply click the ‘Request Indexing’ option.
Removing URLs from Google Search
So far, we have focused on using Search Console to get your content indexed and improve rankings in Google Search. However, sometimes you may want to remove content from Google Search as well.
One way to do this is to add a noindex meta tag to the page you want to remove from search results. However, depending on how often Google crawls your website, this could take some time before your page actually disappears from search results.
Search Console’s Remove URL tool allows you to request a URL to be removed from the search results. Simply click on ‘Removals’ under Index in the menu on your left.
Now click on the ‘New Request’ button, and a popup window will appear. Go ahead and enter the URL you want to remove, select whether you want to remove this URL only or with this prefix, and click the ‘Next’ button.
Google will now block the URL from its search results for about six months. You can add as many URLs as you want and see them in the Removals section in the Search Console.
Adding Users to Access Google Search Console
If you have a marketing team or you have hired someone to help you with SEO, then those users may need access to Google search console data.
Search Console allows you to easily add users and give them access to view all reports without sharing your Google account credentials with them.
To add a new user, simply click on the Settings » Users and permissions option under Property settings and then click on ‘Add User’ button.
Next, you need to provide the user’s valid Google account email address and select permission to grant them.
There are two types of permission levels. The full permission level will give them access to everything, including the ability to add new users. Restricted permissions will allow them to view the data but not add new users.
After choosing a permission level, click on the ‘Add’ button to save your changes.
The user you added will now receive an email notification, so they can login and view Google Search Console data for your website.