Google Search Console (GSC) can seem vast and complicated if you aren’t familiar with it. However, it only takes 10-15 minutes to get to know it, and it might become, dare we say, easy to use. That's why we are going to show you how to use the new version of Google Search Console.
For those of you not familiar with the platform, there is an old version and a new version. The old version of GSC will likely be going the way of the buffalo sometime soon, so we are going to teach you how to use the new version of it which is recently out of beta.
There are still a few tools, functionalities and reports missing in the new GSC as compared to the old version of GSC. However, those that are live will provide ample information about how your website appears in search results and allow you to better manage its appearance.
We are going to take you on a tour and show you how to use Google Search Console in its new and improved state. Let’s get started.
Submit Your Website to Google Search Console
First things first, sign into Google Search Console and verify your website.
If you’ve already verified your site with GSC, skip ahead to the next section of this blog.
If you haven’t, you should see the site verification dialogue pop up when you sign in for the first time. Enter the URL of your homepage and click ADD PROPERTY.
If you signed into Google Search Console with the same Google account you use for Google Analytics, there’s a high probability that Google will auto verify your site. If it does, you will see a success message like this.
If GSC doesn’t auto verify your site, it will give you several other verification options.
Our favorite ways to verify are through Google Analytics and by using the HTML tag. Follow the instructions Google provides for either and then click VERIFY.
Note: If you are a WordPress user, most the popular SEO plugins like Yoast and All In One SEO Pack have a field in their “webmaster” sections where you can easily place your HTML tag to verify your site. Click on the links above for further information on how to verify your site with those plugins.
You should receive a success message once you have properly verified your site. You will then be taken to your Google Search Console Overview page.
If you are verifying your site for the first time, it might take Google a few days to crawl and index it. In the meantime, GSC won’t display information about your site. Wait for your site to get indexed and Google Search Console data to populate before continuing.
How to Use the New Google Search Console
Once your site is verified with Google Search Console, you get access to everything it has to offer. Let's dive into what that entails.
Like Google Analytics, you can use the left-hand navigation in GSC to access its various tools and reports. This tour corresponds with that left-hand navigation. Anytime you need to find the tool or report we are discussing, simply look in the left-hand navigation and click on it.
Getting Started with the GSC Overview
When you sign into GSC, you will automatically be delivered to your Overview page. This page gives you a snapshot of your organic search performance at any point in time.
In addition to your left-hand navigation menu, you should see three charts in your overview.
The Performance chart will show you how many people are clicking through to your site from organic search results. This includes regular web results, images, and videos.
The Coverage chart will tell you how many pages on your site Google has crawled and added to its index.
You will also see information about Enhancements you may have on your site. What you will see in this report depends on what enhancements you have on your site.
For all the reports in the overview, you can either click on the corresponding link in the left-hand navigation or click OPEN REPORT in the chart associated with the report.
Now that you know what you are looking at in the overview. Let's dig into the Performance report for some useful insights.
Understanding the Performance Report
Once you are in the Performance report, get to know the filters. By default, you will see Search type: and Date: displayed in the filters bar. You can add others by selecting the + NEW option.
Once you have your desired filters set, you will be able to see the following metrics displayed in the graph below your filters.
- Total Clicks - How many people are clicking through to your site.
- Total Impressions - How many people are seeing your website appear in search results.
- Average CTR - The average percentage of people who see your site in search results and decide to click on it.
- Average Position - What your average position/rank is in the Google search results.
If you want any one of those four metrics graphed, simply click on its tab in the top of the graph to highlight it. If you want it removed from the graph, just click it again.
If you have questions about what any one of those metrics should mean to you, click on the little question mark icon and Google will give you more information and links to more learning.
Below the Performance chart, you will see alternative grouping categories that will allow you to further group and filter your data.
You can display your results based on the following categories:
- Queries - Shows search terms that return your site in search results and how well your site performs for each term.
- Pages - Displays search results performance data for individual pages on your site.
- Countries - Compiles search metrics based on the country in which a search is conducted.
- Devices - Shows metrics based on the type of device the search conducted on.
- Search Appearance - Allows you to see data for special search results like AMP, Job listing, Media Actions, etc.
Note: If you don’t have a metric highlighted in the graph above, it will not display in your grouping categories.
If you want to further refine your information use the + NEW above the chart to add parameters. This is especially helpful if you want to see information for a single page, search query, etc.
Try out different filters, grouping categories, etc., and see what kinds of insights you can garner.
As a fun exercise, try to answer some of these questions:
- Are you targeting the queries that are returning results in Google?
- What queries are returning the highest click-through rates (CTRs)?
- Which of your pages have the highest ranking positions in search results?
- Do you have pages getting far fewer impressions and clicks than you expect them to?
- What kind of device is responsible for giving you the most clicks?
There should be no shortage of great data to be gathered from the Performance report. Take your time analyzing it and create actionable takeaways. If you want to gain a better understanding of your Performance data, check out Google’s documentation.
Now that you know how to evaluate your website’s performance in the search results, let’s take a look at how Google is indexing your site and the individual pages on it.
Overwhelmed by SEO? Try a
Using the URL Inspection Tool
If you are ever wondering “Is this page appearing on Google?”, there is a simple way to find out: the URL inspection tool.
Click on URL inspection and/or enter the URL in the search bar at the top of GSC and hit return.
You will be able to find out if the page is on Google, if it’s been submitted in your sitemap and indexed, and if it is mobile friendly.
Understanding the Index Coverage Report
From your Overview tab, click on Coverage in the left-hand navigation or click OPEN REPORT on the Coverage chart.
The Coverage report shows you how many pages on your site Google has indexed or “recognized”.
In your Coverage graph, you will see information organized by indexation status. There are four types of indexation status:
- Error - Shows you the number of pages that Google is having issues indexing.
- Valid with warnings - Displays the number of indexed pages with issues.
- Valid - Displays the number of pages Google indexed with no issues.
- Excluded - Shows the number of pages that Google didn’t index because you intentionally asked it not to.
Below the graph is additional information about each status category.
Click on a line item in order to see the pages that Google categorized with that particular status.
From there, click on an individual page URL and Google will pull up additional testing tools for you to use to troubleshoot any issues you come across.
Indexation issues can get complicated, but in general, you want to make sure that:
- Google indexes all the pages on your site you want appearing in search results.
- Google doesn’t index pages you want to keep out of search results.
- You address any errors or warnings Google notes.
For more information on the Index Coverage report and to find out what to do about errors, the Google documentation is helpful.
A few more quick areas to cover and you will have completed the tour!
Submitting Sitemaps in New Version of Google Search Console
Your XML sitemap is a file that tells Google and other search engines which pages on your site you want it to crawl and index. Hopefully, you’ve already submitted your XML sitemap to Google. However, if you haven’t, or if you ever want to resubmit it, here’s how you do it.
Check on your XML sitemap submission status by clicking on Sitemaps in the left-hand dashboard.
If your Status reads “Success” in the Submitted sitemaps box when you click on Sitemaps in the left-hand nav, you are good to go. You have successfully submitted your XML sitemap and Google knows where to find it. You can also see when it was submitted last, when Google last read it, and how many URLs it contains.
If you don’t see your XML sitemap displayed, or you want to submit a new one, simply add one under where it says "Add a new sitemap."
First, make sure you know where your XML sitemap lives on your website. Go to your website and append /sitemap.xml or /sitemap_index.xml to your homepage URL. Your XML Sitemap should appear and should look something like this.
Copy the path portion of the URL where your sitemap lives (www.examplesite.com/sitemap_index.xml) and navigate back to the Sitemaps report in GSC.
Paste that path into the section that reads “Add a new sitemap” and click SUBMIT.
Once you have successfully submitted your sitemap, GSC will display the submission date, status and some other basic information in the Submitted sitemaps table.
Tip: If you ever publish new content on your site and you want Google to crawl and index it quickly, simply make sure the pages your new content is on are in your XML sitemap and then resubmit it to Google in this portion of GSC. This will encourage Google to crawl your site and find that new content.
Learn more from Google about building and submitting sitemaps.
It’s important to make sure that all the pages on your site are mobile-friendly. If they aren't, Google is less likely to place them in search results because they know users are going to encounter a poor experience when they visit them on a phone. Find out which ones are mobile-friendly and which ones aren’t by clicking on Mobile Usability in the left-hand navigation.
Google will then show you how many pages on your site are mobile-friendly. It will also show you pages that are not, so you can know which ones you need to improve for mobile users.
Directly below Mobile Usability in the left-hand navigation is Manual Actions.
Hopefully, you will never have any issues show up in here and your Manual Actions will always read “No issues detected.”
However, if Google ever takes action against your site, this is where you will be able to find out more information about those actions.
Understanding Your Internal & External Link Networks
The last report you must get to know is Links. You will find it right above settings in the left-hand nav.
This report is a powerful SEO tool capable of telling you how your internal and external link networks look. In general, you want lots of external links pointing to your site from other reputable websites and you don't want external links pointing at your site from spammy websites out there on the internet.
You also want lots of internal links pointing at your most important pages and fewer internal links pointing at your least important pages.
Here's how you can use each report in the links section of GSC.
- External links - Click on MORE under external links and GSC will show you what pages on your site have the most external links pointing at them. Click on any of those pages and GSC will show you where those external links are coming from.
- Internal Links - This report tells you how many links from other places on your site each page on your site has. Click on any of the pages and you can see what other internal pages link to it.
- Top Linking Sites - This report tells you which websites have the most links pointing at your website.
- Top Linking Text - When you click on this report, you can see what the clickable text (anchor text) is associated with the external links pointing at your site.
Explore these various link reports and see what kind of insights you can garner based on the general rules we outlined above.
Where to Get Help
There are two other last features you need to know about in GSC.
First, is the Go to the old version feature in the bottom left. Use this to switch back to the old version of Search Console if you can’t find a report you are looking for. There are currently 15 unsupported features in this new version of GSC that were supported in the previous version.
Next, is the Help tool. If you ever get lost or have questions about a report this is where you can go for.
The End of the New Google Search Console Tour
That concludes our review of Google Search Console. You should now have a better idea of how to use one of the most powerful SEO tools available to you. Get to know it and see what kind of insights you can gather about your site.
Here are some more questions to investigate:
- How many people have clicked on your homepage in search results during the past month?
- What queries (search terms) are driving the most traffic to your homepage and your contact page?
- How many pages on your website has Google Indexed?
- When was your sitemap last submitted?
- What other websites have the most links pointing to your site?
- Which page on your site has the most internal links pointing at it? Which has the least?
- How many pages on your site have issues with their mobile usability?
We hope this has been a useful overview of Google Search Console. If you are still struggling with SEO and want to take a guided approach, Pathfinder SEO is here to help.
(This article was originally published on August 8, 2018)
Erik loves breaking down complex SEO topics into understandable instructions anyone can follow. In his role as an SEO coach, he guides Pathfinder SEO customers through the SEO process on a daily basis, giving them helpful tips, instruction, and advice along the way.