A Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free product that helps you manage your site's presence in Google search results.

Google Search Console is one of the most important tools in an SEO toolbox. It is easy to use, and free.

In this guide, I cover –

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster’s Tools, allows website administrators or owners some ability to monitor and manage their site’s presence on Google search results. Search Console can be a really effective tool in helping understand how Google perceives a website.

Setting Up Google Search Console

Step 1: Log in to Google Search Console with your Google account credentials. You will be directed to a page that looks like this:

Google Search Console Welcome

The next step is verifying the ownership of your website.

Step 2: Enter your website URL (for CSU Social Blog it is http://social.colostate.edu)

Now, there are five methods by which you can verify ownership. The idea with each is that you copy a snippet of code generated by Search Console and paste it on your website using any of the methods. For four of the five, you would require the help of your website developer or ‘edit’ permissions in your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager.

If you use Yoast plugin in a WordPress website, the easiest method, in my opinion, is HTML Tag. Here’s a quick walk-through of what you need to do with this verification method:

  • Copy the HTML code generated by Search Console
  • Login to WordPress
  • Go to Yoast Plugin, add the code in Google Search Console box and hit ‘Save Changes’

verification in Yoast wordpress plugin

  • Go back to Search Console and hit ‘Verify’

And that’s it! You are all set to use this tool.

Website Optimization with Google Search Console

Search Console is loaded with features but let’s talk about some that are absolutely essential:

XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a way of explicitly signaling to Google a list of all URLs meant to be indexed by Google. Your site’s XML sitemap generally resides at yoursite.com/xml

If you do not see anything at this location then you might need to build a new XML sitemap. There are a number of tools that you can use to create one. WordPress’ Yoast Plug-in helps you generate XML sitemaps. Once you have your sitemap in place, you can submit the URL to Google Search Console by going to the ‘Sitemap’ report.

xml sitemap submission screen

Use the ‘Coverage’ report to Manage Site Errors

The coverage report displays how Google perceives URLs within a particular website. It shows you:

  • Errors: Potential Site errors that prevented Google from indexing the webpage. These include server errors, redirect errors, page not found (404 errors), etc.
  • Warnings: A page indexed by Google but explicitly blocked using robots.txt file by the website owner features in the ‘Warnings’ list
  • Valid URLs: All your website pages that are in Google’s index
  • Excluded URLs: All URLs that were not indexed by Google due to some reason

coverage report in Google search console

It is critical to keep an eye on errors and warnings. If you see the count of errors and warnings increasing over time, you should take a deeper dive into potential causes. Google suggests self-explanatory fixes for all these errors and warnings. I will cover some quick fixes for each of these in a future blog.

Improve Keyword Rankings with Google Search Console

The top three search results on Google may account for approximately 80 percent of clicks for most search queries. A website ranking in the bottom half of Google’s search results page hardly receives any clicks.

Take a look at a screenshot of CSU’s news website’s Search Console dashboard:

Search Console - Position number 1
CTR for the 1st position

 

Google Search Console - Second Position
CTR for the Second Position

 

Google Search Console - CTR for the Third Position
CTR for the Third Position

 

Notice the big drops in click-through rate (CTR) as you move down in positions on Google search.

The pay-off in moving from a position number four to position number three can be big if you identify the right keywords in your Search Console dashboard. In this blog post, I attempt to walk you through a strategy to boost keyword positions and increase click-through rate on queries that you are already ranking for on the first page.

Observe current performance on search results

To view the search queries that you currently rank for, click the Performance tab on the left panel on your Search Console dashboard.

Select Total clicks, Total impressions, Average CTR, and Average position in the Performance panel.

This is where you can find the Performance panel:

Performance Panel in Google Search Console
Performance Panel in Google Search Console

 

The date range defaults to last three months. The panel above gives you the ability to filter by Web, Image, and Video search on Google.

Step 3: Identify underperforming keywords in Google Search Console

You are looking to bump the position for keywords that:

– Are on the first page of Google search results

– Have high impressions

– Have a low click-through

In the example below, I apply two filters to select ‘Position’ less than four, and ‘CTR’ less than three. I go on to sort the Impressions column in descending order so that I target queries that have high search volume.

A search query having high impressions indicates that the search volume for that query is high. A low click-through on the first page of Google results indicates that either the page mapped to the query has content irrelevant to the search query or the keywords in the query have low visibility on your webpage.

I try to find queries that have a low CTR and are most relevant to the content that we create. Once I lock-in on a search query, I select the corresponding page where this query is mapped. Personally, I like to export the data as a spreadsheet and select a bunch of queries at the same time.

The final step is to insert the selected search queries and add them as keyword instances within the content, page title, headings, and meta information.

This is by no means everything you need to do to boost your keyword rankings, but it is an efficient step, one that requires minimal resources and can potentially deliver great results.