Google Search Console: Setting Up to Improve Your Site Performance

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By CKMAdmin

Google Search Console: Setting Up to Improve Your Site Performance

These days, the first thing I do after setting up a new website is link it to the Google Search Console tool.

Since Google is the largest search engine in the world, you naturally want to rank high in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Google Search Console helps you track your site’s performance in Google search and what you can do to keep it performing well or improve its performance.

What Is Google Search Console?

Previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, this free resource from Google shows you how the search giant crawls and indexes websites and how they appear in search results.

The service also helps you monitor, maintain, and improve your ranking in those search results.

It includes several tools that give you insight into how your search result appears, what could be affecting its rise or decline in the rankings and how to fix potential issues contributing to a decline.

Why Use Google Search Console?

Google Search Console is invaluable for anyone needing to monitor:

  • Their site’s performance in search results
  • Content accessibility
  • Malware and spam issues

It’s a one-stop shop to keep your site in front of potential visitors.

Guide to Google Penalties

One of the significant benefits of using Google Search Console is its insight into penalties you may have against your site and how to fix them.

Google penalises sites that violate its guidelines for what they consider good content.

There are several penalties Google enforces through their algorithms and human reviewers. Those include:

  • General spam problems, including thin content and doorway pages
  • User-generated spam problems, including spammy links in your comments section
  • Hacked content spam, which is caused by a breach in your website
  • Incorrectly structured data, in which a site inflates the data on a specific area to try to grab a rich snippet
  • Unnatural outbound links, including 404s, incorrect redirects or links to spammy sites
  • Unnatural inbound links or links from spammy sites to your site

Suppose Google finds and penalises your site for any of these issues. In that case, Google Search Console will tell you and provide guidance to fix those issues.

For example, the Manual Actions page lists human reviewers’ issues with your site. It also shows you how to fix those issues. Once you have, you can file a reconsideration request to have Google review your site again to lift the penalty.

How to Use Google Search Console to Optimise Articles

I’ve talked about how valuable Google Search Console is for maintaining visibility in Google search. But did you know you can also use it to optimise your content?

No doubt your site is filled with quality content that’s both compelling and useful to your audience. But all that effort to create great content is wasted if your audience can’t find it, right?

There are two ways you can use Google Search Console to optimise articles and make sure they’re seen.

To do that, ensure your content pages are set up correctly so that when Google crawls them, it’s apparent what the Googlebot is looking at.

Check your article pages in your Search Console. If they’re not ranking well, Google recommends checking the following issues:

  • Ensure you’re allowing Googlebot to crawl Javascript, CSS and image files. This will let Google see your page as a visitor sees it and could raise your ranking.
  • Make sure your unique titles and header tags accurately describe your content. These tags will also signal to Google the essential topics in your article.
  • Make sure you have a meta description. This description could be used as a Google snippet.
  • Use structured data markup. The structured data markup will indicate which text should appear below your link in the search.

In all of these places, make sure you are using your keywords in a meaningful way. Google Search Console uses keywords to understand your article’s topic and determine if it is quality content.

Anybody with a website should use this excellent search ranking and optimisation tool. If you don’t know how to use Google Search Console, here’s how to get started.

How to Use Google Search Console

I will assume that you are one of the millions with a Google account. If you don’t, get one. If you do, sign in to the Google Search Console page.

Now, take a look at these steps and learn how to set up Google Search Console:

Step 1: Add a Search Console Property

Before you can start using Google Search Console, you must add something to track.

Google calls this a property, and it can be either a website or an Android app. For this tutorial, we’ll be working with websites.

Click the “Add a property” button near the top of the homepage. Type in the name of the property and click the Add button.

It’s easy to add a site to Google Search Console, right?

Step 2: Verify Your Site

When you visit the verification page, you will get several verification options.

Google usually recommends HTML file upload, but other choices for Search Console verification include:

  • Adding an HTML tag to your home page
  • Signing into your domain name provider
  • Verifying with your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account

When you select HTML file upload, you get a file to upload to your hosting provider.

I’ve used this method in the past, and it’s reasonably straightforward to get it into the correct (usually root) folder using the file manager of your web hosting control panel.

However, suppose you’re running a WordPress-based site. In that case, you can use plugins such as Rankmath SEO; adding the HTML tag to your site is more manageable.

Choose the HTML tag option in Google Search Console, and then copy the code that follows “content=”, excluding the quote marks.

Go to the Yoast dashboard and click the “Webmaster Tools” tab. Paste the code into the appropriate box.

Then return to the Google Search Console dashboard and hit the “Verify” button.

If verification works, you will see a big green check mark.

This time, I used another verification method. I clicked on the Google Tag Manager button, clicked again to log in to my Google Tag Manager account, and verification happened.

If verification fails, here’s a list of common issues that might be the cause.

Although I usually use a single verification method, Google recommends you use more than one to make ownership more “resilient.”

Pro Tip: You will need a different Google Search Console property for each version of your site. To get the most data, add them all. My Google Search Console account includes HTTPS, HTTP, WWW, and non-WWW versions of my site, making four properties for a single site.

Step 3: Connect Search Console to Google Analytics

Once your site is verified, the next step is to link Search Console to Analytics. This allows the two accounts to share information, providing even more data for you to analyse.

To do this, click on the property name in the dashboard, select “Google Analytics property” from the drop-down menu under the gear, select the appropriate Google Analytics profile on the next screen, and press save.

Step 4: Learn How to Add a Sitemap to Search Console

One key benefit of Search Console is you can make sure Google is crawling your site correctly and indexing all relevant pages.

To do this, you must add a sitemap in one of the formats Google supports. Most people recommend an XML sitemap, which can be submitted to other search engines.

One way to create a sitemap is to use an online tool like XML-Sitemaps.com.

But getting your Sitemap using RanMath or Yoast SEO is even easier for WordPress-based sites.

Click on the “XML Sitemaps” link in the WordPress dashboard, ensure the sitemap function is enabled, and then click on the appropriate button to see links to your sitemaps.

To submit a sitemap to Search Console, grab the URL you need (I usually upload the posts and pages’ sitemaps) and then return to Search Console.

Navigate to Crawl > Sitemaps > Add/Test Sitemap. Paste the relevant part of the URL (Google includes the start of this by default), then refresh to see your sitemap data.

Pro Tip: If you’re using Yoast, you can simply edit the URL of the Sitemap to add it to a different property. Although my site is HTTPS and WWW, I removed the WWW part of the URL to add the Sitemap to the non-WWW property in Search Console.

Step 5: Submit Your Site URLs to Google

If you’re anything like me, you probably submitted your site to Google when you set it up to ensure (or at least try to ensure) that the search bots were crawling your site.

Google Search Console gives you another way to submit a URL in Google. It’s called “Fetch as Google.”

Go to “Crawl”> “Fetch as Google,” and then click the “Fetch” button. When it’s complete, hit the “Submit to Index” button.

When done, it will report that the URL and linked pages have been submitted to Google’s index.

Install Search Console Plugin – Site Kit

Suppose the above is a bit complicated or, like me. In that case, if you want to click a few buttons and have everything sorted, you can install the Google Sitekit plugin from the WordPress plugin repository online.

Once installed, activate and follow the instructions; it’ll do all the hard work for you and set everything up.

If you already have a Google Search Console or Google Analytics, you can link them to your site using this plugin.

Using Google Search Console To Improve Your Website

Once you have those five steps, it’s time to explore Google Search Console in more detail to see what you can learn about your site’s search performance and how to improve it.

When you log in to Google Search Console, you’ll see a list of all the sites you added. The list includes messages relating to any recent issues Google has found with any of your sites.

If there’s a message, click on the link at the end to see more details and get help to resolve the issue.

Otherwise, click on your site’s URL to access Search Console features for that site.

In addition to the Dashboard and Messages centre, Search Console has four main sections: Search Appearance, Search Traffic, Google Index, and Crawl.

There are additional links for Security Issues and Other Resources, as well. Each main section has several sub-sections addressing different aspects of your site.

Google Search Appearance

Google Search Appearance shows how your site looks in search results — how the title and snippet might appear, for example — which can affect how many people click on your search listing.

Structured Data

We’ve talked before about semantic search and schema markup; this section is where you can see how your content stacks up.

If you’ve just added your site, there won’t be much to see, but you can guide Google using the Data Highlighter tool.

This allows you to indicate the correct microformats for your content. For example, I used it to suggest that most of the content on my blog should be listed as Articles.

To use the Data Highlighter, click the link and then Start Highlighting.

Add a URL for a recent post and select the post type from the drop-down list. I chose Articles, but there are several other types, including Reviews and Events.

Click “Tag this page and others like it.” This will tell Google to treat other similar pieces of content in the same way.

The content comes up in a window next to the highlighting interface. Highlight each piece of information on your content and apply the appropriate tag.

When you have finished, click the Done button, and Google will find similar content to check. When you have checked that the pages look identical, click Create Page Set to check a few sample pages.

When I did this, Google added my homepage, but it was easy to remove while checking the page set. Google wanted 10 example pages in all. Then I was able to publish the collection.

Rich Cards are available in this section, as well. Introduced in 2016, this is another way to display schema markup in search results.

HTML Improvements

The HTML Improvements section is where Google highlights content issues such as duplicate meta tags or title problems. It’s a way to ensure that your search results look as good as possible.

Sitelinks

The Sitelinks section shows you different links from your site that appear under your main listing in the search results. Here’s how the Crazy Egg site shows up in search.

Those links should appear in the Sitelinks section of the Search Console.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

The last part of the Search Appearance section looks at Accelerated Mobile Pages(AMP). Launched in October 2015, AMP aims to serve faster content to mobile, and there’s speculation that it will become a ranking signal.

This section points out any AMP errors and gives guidance on how to fix them.

See Yoast’s guide for help setting up AMP for your WordPress site.

Search Traffic

The Search Traffic section analyses your site’s performance in Google searches.

Search Analytics

The first subsection is Search Analytics, which includes graphs and tables tracking clicks, impressions, click-through rate and position for the search queries that lead people to your site.

You can click the table to change the sort order. You can also look at data for pages, countries, devices, and search types and gain insight into how your web visitors search for and find your site.

The stats aren’t always identical to the data found in your Google Analytics account. That’s because, as LunaMetrics explains, while there’s some overlap, the two tools may report different types of traffic.

Links to Your Site

This subsection details the sites linking in, the top content linked to, and the primary phrases used to link to your content.

You can click on any link to get more detail on the link profile. In the screenshot below, I can see which pages have been shared on Pinterest. This is valuable data for marketing; it’s one way to identify gaps in your strategy.

Internal Links

The Internal Links subsection allows you to examine your internal linking profile. Again, click on a link to get details on which internal pages link to it.

Manual Actions

The Manual Actions section discusses any penalties Google imposes for potential web spam.

You will usually get an email warning, as well. It’s handy. When one of my sites had been compromised by code injection, I first found out about it via my Search Console account.

International Targeting

This is useful for international SEO. If you use hreflang meta tags to indicate a particular language, data on this will appear here.

You can also set the country you want to target with your site. For example, although I don’t live in the US, most of my clients are there, so I set the US as my target country in this section.

Mobile Usability

This points out errors that will lead to a loss of ranking in mobile search results.

Page elements that are too close together, poor viewport settings, and other issues will appear here. You can click on the arrows to the right for more detail on each error found.

Google Index

The third main section of the Search Console is the Google Index section. It’s divided into these four sub-sections:

Index Status

This shows how many URLs from your site have been added to Google’s search index. If you click on the advanced tab, you can also see if your robots.txt file is blocking any URLs and whether any URLs have been removed. All of the data is for the past year.

Content Keywords

This shows the main words and phrases used within your content. It’s an excellent way to find out if there are overused terms.

Blocked Resources

This subsection lists any URLs blocked via the robots.txt file. Remove URLs is a tool to ask Google to temporarily de-index some of your content.

Crawl

The last section provides data on what Google’s search bots find when they crawl your site. It has six subsections:

Crawl Errors

This subsection shows errors the Googlebot found when crawling your site. It shows errors both for desktops and smartphones.

Crawl Stats

Crawl Stats show the past 90 days of Googlebot activity. Look out for spikes or drops. Spikes may mean you have added lots of new content; drops may mean the bot is blocked. Google lists other reasons for spikes and dips in its help files.

The spike in the screenshot below was because I switched my site to HTTPS, forcing an increase in pages to crawl.

Fetch as Google

As I mentioned, Fetch as Google lets you see how your site renders.

Robots.txt tester

The robots.txt tester shows you how Google sees that file, and it allows you to check if you are blocking the crawler in any way.

Sitemaps

As we learned earlier, Sitemaps lets you submit sitemaps to Google, so its bots know where all your links are.

URL Parameters

URL Parameters let you alert Google about which pages to crawl to help you avoid duplicate content. Learn more about this from Google.

Finally, Google rounds out Search Console with a collection of helpful tools.

Of these, I’ve found the structured data testing tool and page speed insights most helpful in checking how my schema markup looks and assessing desktop and mobile page speed.

Conclusion: Start Using Search Console Reporting

I’ve found Google Search Console invaluable for managing and troubleshooting all aspects of my site’s search listing.

It’s also helped me keep my sites more secure by highlighting potential malware and spam issues.

Everyone should use it to improve their SEO. But don’t stop there – once you have an increased flow in traffic, make sure you make the most of it by optimising your site for conversions (read: revenue).

You can learn how by reading our handy Getting Started Guide to CRO!