History of Webmaster Tools & Search Console
Google released Webmaster Tools to the public in 2006. According to Google’s Official Blog, the tool was originally launched with the goal “to reach as many webmasters as possible in order to help them create more search engine friendly sites”. The end goal was to help webmasters and SEOs alike to understand how Google viewed and interacted with their website. This provided a more clear understanding of how a website could be fixed in order to allow Google to let them reach more visitors.
Why We Have Search Console
Before the introduction of Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools), Google did not have a way to communicate directly with webmasters regarding site issues such as malware, indexation issues, penalties, etc. Search Console has become an invaluable tool for assessing how the search engines are viewing your website and can help spot potentially crippling issues.
Why Search Console is Useful For Data Mining
In 2013, Google encrypted searches which meant keyword data would no longer be sent to Google Analytics from organic search for signed in users (the vast majority of organic search). One of the last remaining sources of keyword data from organic search can be found in Search Console under the Search Analytics section. Although search analytics via Search Console is technically sample data (and should not be used for exact data), it is an excellent source of information that can provide you with clicks, impressions, click-thru-rate, and average position of the actual search queries that Google finds your website relevant for.
5 of Our Favorite Things Search Console is Used For
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of core functionalities I find most useful when using Search Console (in no particular order):
Fetch and Render
The “Fetch as Google” functionality inside of Search Console has become a go-to feature for two reasons. First, if you need Google to index recent changes you have made on your site, and are not willing to wait, the “Request Indexing” feature can be a valuable resource. In our experience, Google is much quicker to index the updates you have made to a page if you use this feature. Sometimes it’s nearly instantaneous, other times we’ve found that it can take a few hours. This is much better than waiting several days if you choose not to use this option.
And second, if you are concerned that Google may not be seeing a page as you intended the user to see, you can “Render” the page to see what Googlebot is seeing and compare it to how a visitor would see the page. Comparing these two items would allow you to discover potentially threatening problems if Google isn’t seeing everything the way you intended.
Google provides a very helpful feature inside of Search Console dedicated to handling URL parameters. Google will automatically detect URL parameters that may cause duplicate content issues and another wealth of parameters inside of a URL string. At the core, you can tell Google whether the parameter affects page content or not. This small bit of information can help limit duplicate content issues, and save your crawl budget, so Google can focus on pages that actually matter.
*A word of wisdom here—if you aren’t sure how to use this feature, leave it to the experts. One misstep here could cause some major indexation issues resulting in a dramatic traffic loss if you aren’t careful.
When planning to convert your site to HTTPS using an SSL Certificate, we suggest using Search Console as a tool to make a seamless transition. Simply claim your HTTPS profile by using the “add a site” functionality after your SSL is completely set up. You can now start the process of transitioning your preferred URLs by inputting redirects, submitting new sitemaps, and requesting to be indexed.
One of the key functionalities of Search Console is having the ability to submit your website’s sitemap to Google. Adding a sitemap can help Google to efficiently process the individual pages on the website. This can preserve your crawl budget and ensure your most important pages are available to the search engine.
Possibly the most valuable tool in finding potential issues and dead ends on your site, Google provides information on which pages are resulting in errors. We recommend checking this section often for problems with server errors & 404 pages that need to be redirected.
While we’ve covered many of Search Console’s core functionalities, there are hundreds use cases for the tool, and it is only getting more useful as Google invests time and resources to improve it.
What ways do you use Search Console that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments!