Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, is a tool that helps you manage your site in Google Search results. It provides data to inform Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and tells you how your site appears in the world of Google Search. Use Webmaster Tools to confirm that your site is accessible, then track its performance. With Search Console data, you’re on the road to optimizing for organic traffic.
Google’s mission is to provide searchers with fast, relevant, and accurate information. Google indexes the web – or crawls, looking for information – and displays the best content in its searchable index. You want to be in Google’s searchable index. How do you make sure you’re there? Search Console is here to help.
Search Console tells you which search terms make your site show up in Google Search, how your site ranks for those terms, and how many people are actually clicking to your site. It also monitors your site and notifies you of malware or hacking issues, or if Google’s crawler can’t access certain pages.
Getting Set Up
Google automatically crawls billions of pages every day, so you don’t need to connect to Search Console to appear in Google Search. You do need to connect your site to see analytics. Log in with your Google account. Then, type in your site name, choose website or mobile app, and click add. You need to verify your ownership of the site – the easiest way to do this is with a Google Analytics account. If you can’t use Google Analytics for verification, other options are using Google Tag Manager, uploading an HTML file to your site, or adding an HTML tag to your home page. Once you connect to Search Console, it might take a few days for Google to gather your data. Once it’s ready, dive in!
After setting up Search Console, associate your site’s GA account so you can see Search Console reports in Google Analytics. To do this, navigate to the Acquisition → Search Console report in GA. Choose ‘Set up Search Console Data sharing’. This allow you to see Search Console’s Landing Pages, Countries, Devices, and Queries reports without leaving GA. You can also track organic keywords by navigating to Acquisition → Campaigns → Organic Keywords.
This report shows you how often your site appears in Google Search results. Filter by query (what a user is actually searching), date, or device, and use the results to improve your site’s performance in search. Find out:
- Where search traffic is coming from
- How it’s is changing over time
- Which queries are most likely to show your site
- Which pages have high CTR (click through rate) from Google search results
Links to Your Site
The ‘Links to Your Site’ section tells you which external sites are linking to your content, which pages they’re linking to, and how the data is linked. Good external links have high SEO value. The quality of an external link is generally determined by the trustworthiness (authority) of the linking domain and the popularity of the page sending the link. Examples of high authority domains include .gov sites, .edu sites, and news sites like bbc.com, nytimes.com, and cnn.com. Popular domains like wikipedia.com also provide high quality external links. When sites like these link to your content, Google takes it as a signal that you’re providing good content. The ‘Links to Your Site’ report shows you which content is being shared around the web and who’s sharing it.
Similar to external links, internal links tells Google what your most important pages are. An internal link is a link from one page to another within your website or domain. The most important pages on your site, aka the pages you want people to see, should have the most internal links. Think of internal links as directions for your visitors. If you don’t see your most important pages on the list, or if you see ones that are less important, consider making changes to your internal linking structure.
The crawl errors report shows site errors and URL errors. Site errors are issues that prevent Googlebot from accessing your entire site. If Google can’t find your site, it can’t show your site in search results. URL errors are specific pages that Google couldn’t access during its crawl. Monitor this report to make sure Google can access your site and its most important pages. Address site and URL errors as they come up. If Google can’t find you, then no one else can either!
If you’re unfamiliar with HTTP status codes, this report can seem daunting. What’s a 404? A 301? Fear not – let’s dive into HTTP status codes and what they mean for your site.
- 500: Internal server error. This happens when the servers down due to maintenance or overload, and signals a problem with your site to Google. Prioritize 500 errors by sharing them with a developer and getting servers up and running.
- 404: Page not found. Click on ‘Linked From’ to find out which page is sending the link. If it’s from another site, use a 301 redirect to send the broken link to a legitimate one. If it’s from your own site, 301 redirect the page that’s sending the link.
- Soft 404: The page should be a 404, but Google’s not getting a 404 response code. To deal with these, 301 redirect to existing pages. Make sure your non-existent URLs are sending correct 404 error codes.
- 301: Permanent redirect. All requests for this page are sent to the redirected page. This is what you implement to fix 404 pages.
- 200: OK. This is the standard response for successful HTTP requests.
In addition to reporting tools, you can use Google Search console to submit a sitemap. A sitemap is a file that lists the web pages of your site and tells Googlebot which pages you want it to crawl. Sitemaps aren’t always necessary, but they can improve site crawling and performance in search. To create a sitemap, use a tool like xml-sitemaps.com. The free version works for up to 500 pages, or you can pay $19.99 to map unlimited pages. Once your sitemap is ready, submit it to Search Console and let Google do the rest. Check back occasionally to make sure Googlebot is reading your sitemap successfully.
Making the most of Search Console
In addition to these reports, Search Console offers many other tools. It tells you about your site’s mobile usability, gives you HTML suggestions, and lets you temporarily remove URLs from search results. If anything really bad happens, Google will notify you via email – they’re good like that. Otherwise, to make the most of Search Console, check in on your reports on a regular basis – we suggest biweekly. The main dashboard gives you a quick overall health check, like increases in errors or major dips in clicks.
If you make major changes to your content, use Search Console to check on it. Make sure Google knows about new pages by adding them to your sitemap. If you change your domain name, point Googlebot to the new address with the change of address tool.
Search results are an awesome way to help visitors find your site, and Search Console provides the tools you need to make sure everything is going smoothly. If you’re not already using it, get connected! For more on developing a successful SEO strategy, see our six steps to SEO success for small nonprofits.