Set up your Google Search Console
Is your website ticking along nicely? How would you know if it developed a fault? Google Search Console is the quintessential tool for checking the health and search visibility of your website. Here is a practical guide to mastering the all-new layout.
Some other relevant articles...
Here's what we will cover...
- Google Search Console in a nutshell
- Adding and verifying your site
- Getting familiar with the GSC layout
- Your 2 second website health check
- Delving Deeper
- How and why to submit a sitemap
- Checking individual webpages
Google Search Console in a nutshell
Google Search Console (GSC) was once known as Google Webmaster Tools until it became clear that everyone from business owners and digital marketers were routinely making use of GSC to check how their websites were performing..
Since 2018, there have been significant changes to GSC which has seen its dashboard overhauled and new mobile-first metrics added.
So, let’s get started (you will need to be signed into your Google account!)
First, click this link to sign into Google Search Console. If this is your first time visiting this page you should see a button labelled ‘Start Now’. You will then be prompted to add either a website or an entire domain. For most businesses, adding a single website is sufficient but if you have a business which uses multiple subdomains, adding the main domain will reduce the number of websites you have to add.
Adding and verifying your site
When you’ve entered your domain or website and clicked ‘continue’ you will be given various options to verify that you own the site (sadly, you can’t access your competitors’ search stats!)
Do you have a Google Analytics (GA) account? If so, verifying your website via your Google Analytics tracking code is the fastest and easiest way to get started with GSC. In fact, verifying ownership via the other options (e.g. adding an HTML tag, uploading an HTML file or editing your name host settings) are almost as involved as simply creating a Google Analytics account first.
Linking your GA and GSC accounts is also a great way to enrich your site data and can be done via your GA admin settings.
All done? OK, let’s have a look around.
Getting familiar with the GSC layout
Things in the tech world can get out of date pretty quickly and if you last visited GSC a few years ago, prepare to get a shock – and probably a pleasant one. The old user interface has been radically overhauled and is now very clean and intuitive.
The Console now consists of a main menu on the left-hand side with a number of bold cards taking up most of the rest of the screen. The content of these cards will always relate to the menu item selected on the left.
When you first set up a site, the cards will display a message advising you to come back later while the site gathers some stats. We suggest you do that – otherwise the rest of this article won’t make much sense!
When everything’s up and running, you will see seven menu items in total with some of them containing sub-menu items. For new GSC users, the first five items are enough to get started with. From top to bottom, these are:
- URL Inspection
- Speed (this was an experimental feature at the time of writing)
Your 2 second website health check
With the default ‘Overview’ menu item selected, you should see three cards in the centre of the page marked – from top to bottom – Performance, Coverage and Enhancements.
Think of this layout as the equivalent of taking your website’s pulse. By logging into GSC once or twice a day, you can check instantly whether your website is:
- Generating normal levels of traffic
- Being crawled by Google
- Loading quickly
As you might expect, clicking on the relevant menu items (performance, coverage and enhancements) will bring you a lot more detail on these elements of SEO…
The data you will access via the ‘Performance’ menu item is fairly easy to decipher. It displays the number of times your website has appeared in search results (impressions); the number of clicks you received, the click-through rate (CTR) and the average position your pages held on Google’s search results pages (SERPS).
One of the best features to be found in the ‘Performance’ section is a list of search terms that people have used to find your website. This can help in optimising your content and advertising.
The ‘Coverage’ menu item (formerly labelled ‘Crawl Errors’ in the old GSC) will provide details of any pages that Google is having difficulty indexing. It is often a good way of finding those pages you don’t use anymore but forgot to delete.
This part of the Console is also where you will find the ‘Robots.txt Tester’ tool. If you have deliberately excluded pages from being crawled, you can check the robots are displaying the expected instructions.
The ‘Enhancements’ feature is a brand new addition to GSC and gives information and advice on mobile and desktop page load speed and whether you are making use of special search display features (e.g. a sitelinks searchbox).
We now look at the other two important sections of GMC: Sitemaps and URL Inspection.
How and why to submit a sitemap
A sitemap is a crawler-friendly directory of your website which should include every single page, whether or not it is linked to a menu. It also contains useful info in web crawler language such as how often you update your website.
While it is not compulsory to send a sitemap to Google it is a good idea. A sitemap can help search engines to index your web pages more quickly than the natural method of discovery (basically jumping from link to link around the web). Checking up on your sitemaps report can also quickly highlight problems with certain webpages.
When you select the ‘Sitemaps’ sub-menu, you will see the main screen now contains two cards labelled ‘Add a New Sitemap’ and ‘Submitted Sitemaps’ respectively.
Before you can submit a sitemap, you will need to create one and enter its URL (webpage address) in the space provided. Your website developer should be able to help you with this. If you are familiar with WordPress, the Yoast plugin includes a feature for creating a sitemap which will then be located under yourdomain/sitemap-index.xml
After submitting your sitemap, you will soon receive an indication of whether Google received it OK by looking at the status column in the second panel.
Checking individual webpages
If you ever want to check the health of an individual webpage, the ‘URL Inspection’ menu item is the place to go. Clicking this will bring up a text box for entering the webpage URL.
By looking through each of the central panels, you will be able to check whether the page is currently live and indexed on Google and whether it is mobile-friendly or not. Any areas of concern will be highlighted in amber or red. Clicking on the relevant panel will bring up the resources you need to get the webpage back in the green.
That’s probably enough info to digest in one sitting. Have fun clicking around GSC and discovering more bells and whistles!