Google Search Console for Beginners
There are innumerable tools out there for the new SEO, or a business owner new to SEO, meaning that Google Search Console (GSC) is often overlooked – but the free to use platform offers some useful information, tools and measurements
While there are several tools that can do some or almost all of the tasks that GSC offers, there are none that you can use for free – and if you’re starting out in search, you may not want to invest the money that would be required for some of the top tier tools. While we’d definitely say that there will come a time when you’ll need crawlers and monitoring tools, GSC offers a nice intro to some of the techniques and practices you’ll need to master to succeed in search.
What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a free service designed to help brands monitor and maintain their site’s presence in search results. Launched in May 2015, replacing Google Webmaster Tools, and updated in January 2018, Google Search Console is one of the many tools that developers and SEOs use to monitor the performance of their sites. It offers error reports, keyword reports, mobile site reports and more – making it an ideal tool for any brand, but perfect to newcomers.
How to add your site to Google Search Console
First, you’ll need to log in to Google Search Console. Once there, you’ll be presented with a binary choice between adding a property by domain or URL prefix.
If you choose to add your property, you will need to verify your ownership of the property via DNS – while it’s not tremendously difficult, there are a few steps you’ll need to follow and you can find guidance on how to navigate DNS verification here.
Probably the easier route is to verify by HTML which involves copying a snippet of code into your <head> section before your first <body> section. You can find the code you need to copy and paste by expanding the box indicated below – once you have placed the code snippet, you can click ‘verify’.
Once you have verified your site, you’ll be met with your homepage – the ‘Overview’, a left-hand side menu with your available reports, which we’ll take a look at one by one. Firstly, we’ll have a look at the Overview page.
As you would expect from an ‘overview’, the first screen offers a big picture view of your site’s recent performance, coverage and enhancement with full reports available at a click.
An expanded version of the top level performance report from the overview, this is made up of two sections – your site’s performance in SERPs, and your site’s performance broken down in to categories, so a top level performance and a break down performance (there are no table labels, so I apologise for this awful naming convention).
The top level report offers insights in to the performance of your site overall – with four metrics displayed in a line graph:
- Total clicks: – The total number of clicks through to your site resulting from searches.
- Total impressions: – How often your site has appeared for a consumer’s search term.
- Average CTR: – The percentage of impressions that resulted in a click.
- Average position: – The average position of your top ranking page whenever your site appears in a search result.
These can be filtered by:
- Search type : –
- Date: – this is simply the start and end dates for the report.
- Country: – restricts the report to only include searches made in a specific country.
- Query: – narrows the report to searches that contain a specified keyword or phrase.
- Page: – filters the report to searches for which a specific URL appeared.
- Device: – allows you to see searches only from desktops, mobile phones or tablets.
- Search appearance: – shows searches where your site appears in either ‘Web Light’, ‘AMP’ or ‘AMP article’ results.
this can be filtered to include only web searches, image searches or video searches – it’s worth pointing out here, that the ‘google images – organic’ source seems to have disappeared from Google Analytics, so this will be where you’ll need to look for performance in this area.
While the uses of this are probably obvious, this group of potential filter combinations allow you to compare your performance on different devices, track your site’s performance over time and the frequency your site’s AMP pages appear in SERPs.
The break down table organises your site data more specifically – giving you greater insight into performance. While the metrics remain the same for each of the five options, they are still subject to the main page filters – so that comparison between devices, queries etc. can still be made. The metrics for the table are:
- Impressions: – how many times the specific page, query etc. has generated an impression.
- Position: – the average position of the specific page, device, country etc.
There are other metrics there – but to access them, you will have to either export the data, or connect your GSC to Data Studio (there’s a guide on connection a little further down, and there’s a guide to creating a GSC report here.
The dimensions available here (again, all filtered by the main page level filter) are:
- Queries: – gives you the search terms for which your site has appeared.
- Pages: – which of your pages has appeared in search.
- Countries: – which countries your site has appeared in results for.
- Devices: – how your site has performed on mobile, tablet and desktop.
- Search appearance: – > how your site has fared across ‘Web Light’, ‘AMP’ and ‘AMP article’ results
This table gives you the ability to determine your best performing content, topics, queries you are answering well and those you could answer better, which countries are seeing your work and which could do with a little extra help – whether in the form of translation or paid promotion – and more besides.
The next report in the menu is the ‘URL inspection’ tool – this crawls a specific URL as entered and offers some key information: whether the page has been indexed, whether it is mobile friendly and whether AMP is in place.
By expanding the top tab, or clicking on the others, you can see what the declared canonical tag for the page is, its last crawl date, as well as open up a page specific mobile usability or AMP report.
Your ‘Coverage’ report gives you the headline numbers on your indexing performance and any errors present with your site’s coverage by search. This allows you to ensure you have not ‘noindex’ed any important pages, and whether or not there are any other errors that are halting your progress in search. In addition, by overlaying the ‘impressions’ line, you can also see immediately whether your errors are causing any real problems with your visibility.
The report is broken up in to a stackable bar chart with four options and a ‘Details’ table below. The four metrics in the top chart are:
- Error: – gives you the search terms for which your site has appeared.
- Valid with warnings: – which of your pages has appeared in search.
- Valid: – which countries your site has appeared in results for.
- Excluded: – how your site has performed on mobile, tablet and desktop.
This can also be filtered to ‘All submitted pages’ and to your submitted sitemap (with the default ‘All know pages’).
The details box allows you to dig a little deeper in to the highlighted issues in the main chart – however, any pages you have specifically noindexed will show as errors, so don’t panic but do make sure you keep an eye on the total so that it matches your own number (to save you having to go through the URLs every time).
By clicking on any of the errors or warnings, you are directed to a more in-depth report on the issue – with effected URLs listed and exportable to a Google Sheet or CSV.
In addition, once you have tackled any issues present – you can then click a button to have Google validate the fix for you.
Sitemap is where you enter the location of your XML sitemap for validation – this allows you to communicate to GSC what you expect to see indexed and, therefore, is an important part of setting up your GSC profile. There’s some more information on the importance and creation of XML sitemaps here.
The Mobile Usability report, like many of the other GSC report types, is split in to the top table and ‘details’ box below. Errors detected by this report include:
- Clickable elements too close together: – as you might imagine, this refers to icons, menus and the like which are positioned in such proximity that it makes clicking on the right option difficult or impossible.
- Viewport not set: – while I’d hope you won’t see this error, this refers to the <meta name=”viewport”> element which should be set generally as <meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″>.
- Content wider than screen: – generally experienced when you have failed to define a width or break points for your site or images, this is where you’ll see pages on your site which require sideways scrolling to see the whole page.
- Text too small to read: – again, this is fairly self-evident but refers to the size of your text when viewed on smaller screens – again, you can resolve this by selecting specific increases in font sizes along with your break points, attributing font sizes relatively (using em or rem), or by specifying font sizes along with your @media queries.
Again, these errors are clickable – taking you to a page with a drill down of the errors, and the option to submit your fixes for validation.
Again, the report is split in to the two sections – with the totals and details separate. With opinion split on the benefits (not to mention the general morality) of Google’s AMP project, the decision as to whether this report will matter to your brand will be one to think carefully about. The furore around the recent swipe to visit for image search, and the fact that it remains within the Google ecosystem rather than directing to your actual site, is only the surface of the rows surrounding the technology. Nevertheless, there are apparent benefits and search features which require adoption, so it’s a conversation that will need to be had.
Some errors you may see in this report include the below:
The sitelinks searchbox report refers to the searchable rich result for a brand term:
In order for this report to mean anything for your site, you’ll need to add a schema snippet to the <head> of your site – which should look something like this:
Once this has been implemented, you’ll get the same style of report for this section – with the chart above and table below – though provided you add the schema correctly, your report should hopefully remain happily uninteresting.
Unparsable structured data
Very much in keeping with the ‘it is what it is’ naming convention, the ‘Unparsable structured data’ report provides you with a bar chart above and table below that lists URLs with errors in your structured data.
While there is an extensive list of the errors here, the most concerning one to see would be ‘Invalid JSON document’ which could potentially stop all of your mark-up from working as it should.
Manual actions is within the ‘Security & Manual Actions’ section of the reports and is an entirely binary report – you will either have a manual action penalty and it will tell you where and why, or you won’t, in which case you’ll see the below message:
Directly below your ‘Manual actions’ report and identically presented, the ‘Security issues’ report will again describe an extant problem, or give you the all-clear:
Honestly, there is no one tool that will give you a full reflection of your external inbound links – but in case you haven’t the budget for the two or three it would take to give you a good idea, GSC’s link report is a pretty good place to start. There are 4 reports – each of which will give you a little more information about how your links (internal and external) are representing your brand and the information they communicate about you.
Top linked pages (External links)
This report gives you the pages on your site that have presently earned links to your site, and the report shows as a table on the links report with the target URL and the number of links, but once clicked through, you can also see the number of linking sites.
While, obviously, we think everything we write is worthy of linking to – we write what we do because we think our audiences need to read it – but it’s seldom the case that everything will earn a click let alone a link. This report allows you to see what parts of your site, what content you’ve produced, is earning your site links.
While most of your links, generally speaking, will probably be to your home page – you’ll be able to scope out content that you could be promoting more, or that could use updating in order to keep it relevant etc.
Top linked pages (Internal links)
Links are a reasonable way for search engines to determine importance (though, obviously, there are a lot of other factors) and this is true internally as well as externally. Therefore, this report – which, as with external links report, can be expanded to show all pages – can let you see whether there are any of your important pages that are presently underserved by your internal linking strategy.
Top linking sites
Top linking sites is not just a way to check for your biggest fans – it can also represent an opportunity for prospecting. By downloading the full list, you can run it through whatever tool you’re using to audit links, but you can also check out sites that have linked to you once or twice and, using tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs or others, you can look for similar sites that might also want to link to your content.
Top linking text
Set up like the rest of the reports in this area, the top linking text report provides you with a list of the anchor text that is being used to point to your site – while you can tell from a glance whether your top text is what you want it to be, if you have hundreds of results here, you can export the list, possibly using delimiting in a spreadsheet and run it through a word cloud generator to discover trends in the anchor text and expose areas you may need to work on.
Using Google Search Console with Data Studio
Like the rest of the integrations with Google tools and Data Studio, the Google Search Console connector is nice and simple – simply select ‘Manage added data sources’ from your resource tab (in edit view).
Then scroll to the bottom of your current data sources and select ‘add a data source’.
Then select GSC from the list of sources (one scroll down – for me at least).
You’ll then need to choose the site you want to connect to – for which there’s a search function if you are managing multiple sites.
Then you’ll need to choose between the two options – site impression or URL impression. For this report, we’ll be using site impression as it holds average position data while URL impression doesn’t (though it has landing page data instead), after which you can click the connect button.
You can then add the data source to the report (changing any of the dimensions and metrics to the measurement you prefer).
You can then confirm the process and add it to the source.
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