Google Search Console is an intelligent tool that tracks your website’s performance and sends you email alerts when any part of your website needs work. It’s an indispensable tool that maximizes your marketing return on investment (ROI), and makes your website more effective and efficient. Search console tracks technical parts of your website, like broken pages or crawls errors, as well as SEO items like keyword search volume and missing metadata. All of these things are vital to the health of your website, and now thanks to the new Search Console, you don’t have to try to track them all on your own.
Google launched the updated Google Search Console in January 2018 and as of September, it is finally out of Beta. And since a new year is all about making goals and starting fresh, there’s never been a better time to learn how to use Google Search Console to make the most of your digital marketing efforts. The new Search Console interface is a little different from the old one, and there are a few new features you should be aware of before you dive in. Today, we’re going to teach you how to use the new Google Search Console so you can get moving on your digital marketing goals in Q1.
Step 1: Setup Google Search Console
The first step to getting up and running with Google Search Console is navigating to the Google Search Console website, logging in to your business account, and adding your site. Once you’re logged into your Google account you can add your site by clicking “add property” in the drop-down menu at the top left of the dashboard.
Now, enter your site URL. Be careful not to make any typos – your domain must be exactly as it appears in the browser, including any protocols (http:// or https://). If your site supports multiple protocols or you have multiple domains, be sure to add each of them as a separate property within Search Console.
The next step is to verify that you own these domains. Navigate to the “Manage Property” tab on the home page of each property that you added and click “verify property” in the drop-down menu. You will now be prompted to choose a verification method, depending on the makeup of your site. If the verification method you chose isn’t working or you’d like to change verification methods, check out this Google Console tutorial on site verification.
Now, Google will ask you to choose your Preferred Domain, or whether you want your site to be listed as “https://www.dummysite.com” or “https://dummysite.com.” The domain you pick isn’t going to affect your search rankings, so don’t stress too much, but choosing a preferred domain is a required step in this process.
Once you’ve made a decision, choose your property form the home page, click the gear icon in the top right corner and choose “Site Settings.” From there you’ll see the various domain options you have to choose from, as well as a “don’t set a preferred domain” option. By way of choosing this – it might cause Google to treat different versions of your site as separate sites, and therefore hurt your search visibility. We recommend picking one of the Google-generated domain options. After you’ve chosen, save your new settings.
Step 2: Link Google Search Console with your Google Analytics account
One of the major benefits of using Google products for your digital marketing is the ability to integrate them for even more powerful reporting. Google Analytics gives you an inside look into your traffic and website performance, while the new Google Search Console gives you access to the why behind your site performance. By linking these two accounts, you can not only tell how well your site is performing, but you can also get a glimpse into the search trends that are causing those spikes in performance.
You can link your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts by clicking on the admin panel in the bottom left corner of your Google Analytics dashboard. Then, find the Property level and click “property settings.” If you can’t find Property Settings, it means you don’t have access to edit permissions at the Property level. Another owner of your site may have access to this and can either grant you access or can link your Analytics and Search Consoles for you.
After you’ve navigated to Property Settings, scroll down until you see “Search Console Settings.” There, you should see your site URL if your site has been properly verified in Search Console. From there, click the reporting view from which you want to see your data and select Save.
You should now be able to see your Search Console report under your Audience tab in the Analytics dashboard. This report allows you to view search data like keyword search volume and referral sites, along with actual site activity like your time on site and bounce rates so you can better tell what pre-click activities are contributing to certain site trends. You can use the Landing Pages report to see search data for every URL on your site that is being indexed by Google so you can see specific search trends and performance for every page on your website and track performance changes as you update each page.
Step 3: Submit your Sitemap to Google
Having a Sitemap is critical because it shows Google’s crawlers how to navigate your site and tells them more about the contents of your site. You can check whether your site already has a Sitemap by navigating to your URL plus the extension “/sitemap.xml.” It should look something like this:
If a Sitemap shows up when you navigate to that page, you already have one. If not, you need to create one and submit it to Search Console. Your sitemap should be less than 50 MB and have fewer than 50,000 URLs. If you have more than that, you should generate multiple sitemaps. Be sure to only include canonical URLs and exclude any that you don’t want Google to crawl using robots.txt. If your site is hosted on a site like WordPress or Drupal, you can install a plugin to help with your Sitemap generation.
Step 4: Use Reports to optimize your site
Now that you’ve linked your Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you have full access to tons of reports that can help you optimize your site performance. Here are a few reports we suggest utilizing:
Index Coverage Status Report
In the new version of Google Search Console, you’ll find the Index Status Report front and center in the dashboard, rather than having to go searching for it in Index tab as in the old version. The report will give you all the same information as it did in the old Search Console, in addition to in-depth crawl status information from the Index tab. As in the last version of the Index Coverage Status Report, you’ll get insights into all potential site errors that Search Console has flagged, warning reports from pages that are blocked by robots.txt but are still being indexed by Google, valid pages that need to be marked as canonical, and excluded pages that Google is not currently indexing. You can learn more about what each of these things means for your website at the Google Search Console website.
The Performance Report is a replacement for the “Search Analytics” report in the old version of Search Console. These two reports are largely the same and include all of the site metrics imported from Google Analytics when you link your accounts. This information can give you stats on things like page views, time on page, bounce rates, most popular pages, and any spikes or dips in traffic so you can improve your content and site performance.
You’ll find the Links Report at the bottom of the Search Console dashboard. This report lets you use links in several ways to boost your SEO. One of these things is driving traffic to less-frequently trafficked pages by linking internally to them via your most popular pages. By doing this, you’re able to boost the search engine rankings of these pages with high-quality links right from your own site.
A second SEO-building benefit of the Links Report is the ability to disavow spammy links to your site. You can check which sites are linking to you by looking at “Top linking sites” in the Links Report overview. If you see any spammy sites that aren’t doing anything to build your reputation with Google, you can add them to Google’s disavow links tool. You should only do this if you’re absolutely sure they are spam. If you accidentally disavow a link that’s actually helping your site, you’ll end up hurting your own rankings.
Make 2019 your year of marketing efficiency
The new Google Search Console is packed with tools that make it easier than ever to make your marketing strategy smooth and efficient. And combined with the power of Google Analytics, you have all of the data you need to ensure that you’re making smart marketing decisions. So rest easy – once you’re up and running with Search Console, the tool will send you an email if it detects unusual events on any of your sites, including problems Google’s crawlers encounter or attempted hacks. Be sure to check in with Search Console regularly to look for any errors that need to be fixed, and to add any new site properties and test any new content you’ve added against Google’s search quality guidelines.
Want to do even more with your SEO? Search Console and Google Analytics make it easy for small businesses to do a lot as a one-person marketing team, but if you’d like to see your business really grow in 2019, sign up for a free Big Leap SEO consultation. We help small businesses just like yours maximize their SEO potential, and we can’t wait to help you start running even faster.