Want to know how your SEO efforts are paying off?
Google provides a free tool called Google Search Console (GSC) that offers a ton of detailed information about your site’s performance, security issues, errors, and more.
It’s also a powerful tool to help you increase your site’s search traffic and can rival the performance of some premium tools.
How does it work, and how can you use GSC to boost your traffic? That’s what we’re going to cover today.
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a suite of tools from Google that helps you track your site’s performance, find issues, and help your site rank higher in Google. It is a powerful, but complex, tool.
What is Google Search Console Used For?
I consider Google Search Console to be a must-have tool for any site owner, but it’s often overlooked. That’s a shame, because GSC can deliver some amazing results when used correctly.
Here are just a few of the benefits of using GSC:
- Ensure Google can access your site’s content
- Submit new URLs for crawling
- Monitor search performance
- Monitor and resolve spam issues
- Discover how Google sees your site
It’s one of the most comprehensive free SEO tools out there. In fact, it rivals many paid tools on the market. It’s not a replacement for all of them, but it’s an outstanding supplement to be used alongside other tools.
Back in 2010, we wrote a thorough beginner’s guide to Google Webmaster Tools. Since then, there have been significant changes to Google Webmaster Tools, including a rebranding as Google Search Console.
We’ve updated this guide to include how to use Google Search Console, what data you’ll find about your website, important data you might have forgotten about, how to continually monitor for any issues that might affect your search engine rankings, and how to use GSC to improve your traffic levels.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
If you haven’t already, the first thing you will need to do is set up your website with Google Search Console.
Click the Start Now button to the lower left side of the screen, and you’ll see this dialogue box:
Select the URL prefix, as it gives you more options for verification.
Next, you will have to verify this site as yours.
Previously, this involved embedding code into your website header or uploading an HTML file to your web server.
Now, if you already have Google Analytics, it automatically verifies your site for you, and you will see this:
If this doesn’t work for you, use one of these other options for verification.
One of the newest verification options, DNS CNAME verification, is actually something that was in the old Google Webmaster Tools, but has been brought back for Google Search Console.
Once your site is verified, you will want to submit a sitemap if you have one available.
This is a simple XML file that will tell Google Search Console what pages you have on your website.
If you have one already, you can usually find it by typing in http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml to see it in your browser.
To create a sitemap, if you don’t already have one, you can use online tools like XML Sitemaps.
If you are running a website on your own domain using WordPress, you can install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
Once you have activated the plugin, look under your Settings in the WordPress dashboard and click on XML-Sitemap.
The plugin should have already generated your sitemap, so there’s nothing else you have to do.
You’ll find your URL at the very top of the page:
Copy the link address and head back over to Google Search Console, then paste it under “Add a new site map” in GSC.
It may take a few days for Search Console to start pulling information about your website.
Be sure to wait a bit, then keep reading to find out what else you can learn from Google Search Console!
What Data Can You Pull From Google Search Console?
Once you’ve added and verified your website, you’ll be able to see tons of information about your site’s performance in GSC.
Below, I’ll break down all of the data and reports you can pull from Google Search Console.
Google Search Console Overview
When you visit your website in GSC, you will first see your Overview.
This is an overview of the important data within Google Search Console. You can visit specific areas such as your Crawl Errors, Performance Reports, and Sitemaps from this screen by clicking on the applicable links.
You can also navigate to these areas using the menu in the left sidebar.
Performance Search Results
In the left sidebar, you’ll see Performance Search Results.
This section gives you an overview of how your site appears in Search Engine Results Pages, including total clicks, impressions, position, click-through rate, and what queries your site shows up for.
The filters at the top allow you to sort data based on location, date, type of search, and much more. This data is crucial to understanding the impact of your SEO efforts.
Here’s what each of them does:
The Clicks filter shows you how many clicks you’ve gotten from the SERPs.
The Impressions filter shows you how many SERP results people have seen. Google counts these impressions differently based on certain factors, but that’s really all you need to know.
The CTR (click-through rate) is probably a metric you’re familiar with. Google has a standardized formula for this: the click count divided by the impression count.
The Position filter gives you the average position of the topmost result of your site.
Together, these four filters give you a wide range of data.
The options in the next box allow you to refine your results further. These are grouping options that categorize the data for you.
I’ll briefly go over each of them.
The Queries option returns a list of search terms that drove users to your site.
The Page option shows you which pages on your site appeared in search results.
The Country option shows you where all of these searches came from.
The Device option shows you which devices were used to search.
The Search Type option shows you if users used web search, video search, image search, or another type.
The Search Appearance option lets you use special filters. You might not always see this option since it requires you to have impressions for at least one of the other features.
Finally, the Date option lets you choose the timeframe.
Index Coverage Report
This report gives you data about the URLs Google has tried to index on your selected property and any problems Google has had.
As Googlebot crawls the internet, it processes each page it comes across to compile an index of every word it sees on every page.
It also looks at content tags and attributes like your titles or alt texts.
This graph shows a breakdown of the URLs on your site that have been indexed by Google and can thus appear in search results.
As you add and remove pages, this graph will change with you.
Don’t worry too much if you have fewer indexed pages than you think you should. Googlebot filters out the URLs it sees as duplicate, non-canonical, or those with a no index meta tag.
You’ll also notice a number of URLs your robots.txt file has disallowed from crawling.
And you can also check how many URLs you’ve removed with the Removal Tool. This will most likely always be a low value.
I mentioned sitemaps earlier, so I’ll cover this again in brief.
In GSC, under Sitemaps, you will see information about your sitemap, including whether you have one and when it was last updated.
If you notice the last date your sitemap was downloaded is not recent, you might want to submit your sitemap to refresh the number of URLs submitted.
Otherwise, this helps you track how Google is reading your sitemap and whether all your pages are viewed as you want them to be.
If you need to temporarily block a page from Google’s search results for some reason, head to Removals.
You can hide a page for approximately 90 days before this wears off.
If you want to permanently remove a page from Google’s crawling, you’ll have to do it on your actual website.
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics that impact your search ranking. They include speed, usability, and visual stability. These are now ranking signals, so you’ll want to pay attention to them.
Some of the key metrics that comprise Core Web Vitals include:
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This is the time that a page takes to load. A good score is 2.5 seconds or less. Note this includes large items like images or headers.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This covers the visual stability of a site, particularly how much the layout changes after it loads.
First Input Delay (FID): This is the amount of time between when a user performs an action on your site and when the browser responds.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open-source initiative designed to provide fast-loading mobile websites that work with slow connection speeds.
You can go here to get started creating your first page if you don’t have one already.
You’ll get a boilerplate piece of code you can customize to your site.
To view pages in GSC, head to Enhancements > AMP.
Links to Your Site
Curious about your backlinks?
GSC shows you the domains that link to you the most, as well as the pages on your website with the most links. Scroll down in the left side bar until you see Links. Click, and you’ll see a full report of links to your site:
This is probably the most comprehensive listing of your backlinks (and internal links!) you will find, for free at least.
It’s a powerful tool to know where your content is being leveraged around the web, and what performs best in Google’s eyes.
The Manual Actions tab is where you can find out if any of your pages are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
It’s one of the ways that Google has taken action against web spamming.
On the Mobile Usability tab, you can make sure all your website’s pages are aligned with what Google considers best practice.
As you can see, you can have issues with text size, viewport settings, or even the proximity of your clickable elements.
Any of these problems, as well as other errors, can negatively affect your mobile site’s rankings and push you lower on the results page. Finding and fixing these errors will help your user experience and results.
While reviewing this information, I suggest that you also check your site’s mobile speed. I use Ubersuggest to do so.
The first thing you want to do is type your URL into the search box and click Search.
After clicking the Search button, click Site Audit in the left sidebar and then scroll down the page until you seed Site Speed.
You’ll see the site speed for both desktop and mobile devices. For the sake of this exercise, we’re more interested in mobile loading time. My site loads on mobile devices in two seconds, which scores in the excellent range.
In addition to overall site speed, there’s also an advanced breakdown for:
- First contentful paint
- Speed index
- Time to interactive
- SEO audit opportunities
- First meaningful paint
- First CPU idle
- Estimated input latency
If you see any issues here, fix them immediately and then re-test your site. It may be enough to improve your loading time.
For a more in-depth analysis of how often Googlebot is looking at your site, you can use the Crawl Stats report under Settings > Crawl stats.
Here, you’ll see how often your site’s pages are crawled, how many kilobytes are downloaded per day, and your site’s download times.
According to Google, there is no “good” crawl number, but they do have advice for any sudden spikes or drops in your crawl rates.
URL Inspection (Previously Called Fetch As Google)
This tool is helpful as it lets you actually do a test run of how Google crawls and renders a specific URL on your site.
It’s a helpful way to make sure that Googlebot can access a page that might otherwise be left to guesswork.
If you’re successful, the page will render, and you’ll be able to see if any resources are blocked to Googlebot.
If you want access to the code of your site, click View Tested Page to see the HTML, a screenshot, and any crawl errors. (Note: Crawl errors used to be its own report; now it’s located in URL inspection under Coverage.)
When you get to the debugging point of web development, you can’t beat this free tool.
So if you have an image you don’t want to appear in a Google Image Search, you can test your robots.txt here to make sure that your image isn’t popping up where you don’t want it.
When you test, you’ll either receive an Accepted or Blocked message, and you can edit accordingly.
Google itself recommends using this tool sparingly, as an incorrect URL parameter can negatively impact how your site is crawled.
You can read more about how to properly use URL parameters from Google.
When you do use them, this tool will help you keep tabs on their performance and make sure they’re not pointing Googlebot in the wrong direction.
How to Use Google Search Console to Increase Your Traffic
Do you want to know how to use Google Search Console for SEO? There are a couple of ways you can use the platform’s Performance Search Results reports to increase traffic to your site.
I’ll explore them below.
Optimize Results That Don’t Get Clicks
This is one of my favorite features in GSC.
The idea here is to look for keywords with lots of impressions but few clicks and a low CTR.
These are keywords that tons of people are seeing, but they’re not actually visiting your site.
Since these keywords have high visibility, you can work on improving your SERP presence so more of those people click through to your site.
First, you have to run a simple report.
Start by clicking all four filters: Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position. (You don’t technically need the Position filter, but it’s nice to know.)
Next, select the Queries option.
Below the graph, you should see a list of keywords.
Those four filters you applied are available for each keyword:
This will give you a great idea of how each keyword is performing with a high amount of detail.
Remember, you’re looking for keywords that have a high impression count, a low CTR, and a low number of clicks.
Try to find 5-10 keywords that meet these criteria. I suggest recording these in a spreadsheet.
At this point, I like running a search of my own.
You can just open Google in a new tab or window, or you can even use an incognito window in Google Chrome or change your IP address so Google gives more general results.
Search each keyword and take a look at the SERP result.
Try to step back and look at these results objectively. Ask yourself why these aren’t getting that many clicks.
There could be several culprits here. The most common causes are a bad title tag or a bad meta description.
Here are a few steps you should consider:
Tweaking your title tags: This is the biggest and most obvious part of your result, so you need to make them SEO-friendly, but also compelling.
Maximize your meta descriptions: After seeing the title tag, the meta description gives your readers essential details. Keep them short, clear, and make the reader curious.
When in doubt, make it shorter.
Find Your Mobile Keywords
Mobile keyword research is a field of its own.
If you’re serious about enhancing your SEO, I recommend putting some time into it.
That being said, Performance Search Results reports are great for a quick fix to your mobile SEO strategy.
Performance Search Results can show you which keywords are being used for mobile.
To see this in action, look at the Devices option.
Above the graph, click “new” and choose “device.”
You should see options for Desktop, Mobile, or Tablet. Select Mobile.
Now you’ll see all of the keywords that mobile users are searching to find your site in the SERPs.
Once you know these keywords, you can implement them into your mobile SEO.
Find Performance Drops
Here’s something about Performance Search Results that’s not obvious.
By default, a Performance Search Results report will only cover the last 3 months.
That means you’re seeing a notable timeframe, but also a singular timeframe.
This can hide some issues.
For example, if one of your keywords is at position 11, you’d probably think it’s doing well.
But that keyword could have been at position eight a few months ago.
To get the most out of Performance Search Results, you need to get comfortable with adjusting dates.
It’s all in the Dates option. Right now, you’ll probably see that it says “Last 3 months.”
You can take a look at older dates, but what I really like to do is compare date ranges. This is one of SA’s handiest tools.
Click on the “Last 3 Months” text. You’ll see a box pop up:
Click on “Compare.” Then you’ll see this:
You can go with one of the preset options if you want. However, if you click the “Custom…” option, you get the ability to specify exact date ranges.
I like this option because it’s super flexible.
Once you’ve set your date range, you should see something like this:
In the first section, you can see how all of your metrics have changed:
And the graph provides an interactive, visual analysis of your performance.
Here’s the really cool thing about the Dates feature.
When you change a date, you can change anything else you want, and the dates will stay the same.
I love this about Performance Search Results. It’s really flexible and does everything you tell it to.
One thing I should mention: The furthest back in time Performance Search Results can go is 16 months.
So let’s talk about how you can use all of this information.
That means fewer people are seeing your search results.
So you could run a Google search yourself and see if you’ve been pushed down a few positions.
If you have, you know you need to recover your ranking.
That’s just one way to use these results.
You can use the Dates function to find any sort of drop in performance. That way, you’ll know where to start fixing it.
The Google Search Console is a collection of tools that enables you to monitor the operation of your website, identify problems, and improve its Google ranking. It’s a free online tool Google offers with details about your website and the users who visit it.
When learning how to use Google Search Console, first add your website to Google Search Console. Then, set up operations you want to look to optimize consistently. Next, submit a sitemap, and finally, learn metrics for refining and reporting purposes after putting the Google Search Console to work.
Start by signing into your Google Account, open Google Search Console, and add your site. Finally, add in your domain or URL prefix to verify your account and begin taking advantage of the features.
GSC stands for Google Search Console, the free tool provided by Google which lets users check the search health of their website.
A Google Search Console property can have a maximum of 100 users. To add a new property, head to Settings, click on Users & permissions, click Add user, enter their Google Account email, and choose their permission level.
Google Search Console is Google’s free tool that lets you see how well your site is indexed and performing on Google,
Google Search Console gives you powerful insights into how your site performs, as well as what you can do to keep Google’s attention. Now you know how to increase traffic with Google Console, learn how to use GSC data to fix issues with your site next.
Do you use Google Search Console? What areas do you find most useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and happy data analyzing!
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