Google Search Console : What, Why and How to Use?
Every SEO specialist understands that site optimization is impossible without special tools and services. This work requires a constant analysis of indicators, finding and eliminating errors, monitoring positions, etc.
One of the most important tools for webmasters is the Google Search Console (GSC).
What is the Google Search Console?
The Google Search Console is a free web tool Google that provides information about the representation of your resource in the search results.
Until May 20, 2015, the service was called Google Webmaster Tools. In January 2018, Google introduced a new version of GSC, and in September 2019, the old version became unavailable, but some of its features can still be used.
Your resource will be indexed even without registration in GSC, but this service will show exactly how it is scanned by the search engine. This data will help you find any weak points and eliminate them for successful SEO promotion in Google.
You can learn more about what the Google Console is by watching the video Daniel Waisberg, who is a Search Advocate at Google.
What is the Google Search Console Used for?
In my practice, there was a case when an SEO specialist ignored the importance of GSC and instead trusted other services. Because of this, he missed a drop in site traffic and did not even suspect it for some time. So I recommend not repeating their mistakes and exploring the webmasters console – Google Search Console.
What actions can be done with this tool:
- Ensure that the resource is available in the search engine, and it is indexed.
- Evaluate the organic traffic coming to your site and its pages.
- Track positions (the average position of the site and individual pages, the position by keys, positions by specific dates, and GEO).
- Identify which domains link to the resource.
- Find out if there are any errors (server errors, indexing problems, convenience for mobile devices, etc.). There is more information on this topic in the article Mobile Search.
- Request re-indexing of content.
These are not all of the features of GSC, but even this should be enough to understand how important this tool is for data analysis.
How to Install and Get Started with Google Search Console
To get started, read our Google Search Console Tutorial, here you will find a detailed description of how to use the tool.
Before you begin working with GSC, make sure that you have a relatively new browser version. The tool is available in Chrome, Firefox, Edge, or Safari. You will also need a registered Google account if you do not already have one.
Go to the main page and log into the GSC service. After that, you need to select the resource type, add it, and confirm ownership.
GSC allows you to add two types of resources:
- Resource with a prefix in the URL – includes only a URL with a specific prefix HTTP, https, www, m, and so on. Read more in the article HTTPS vs. HTTP.
- Domain Resource – at the domain level and includes any subdomains and protocol prefixes.
The method for confirming ownership differs depending on the selected resource type. For example, there are many ways for a resource with a URL prefix, but domain resources exclusively use a DNS record. Google Support describes both processes in detail.
The GSC tool itself also provides instructions. After selecting the resource type, further instructions will appear on the screen.
Resource With a URL Prefix
After confirming your ownership rights, you will be able to use all of the reports and tools in GSC.
How to Tell if Your Website is on the Google Search Console
If you try to register a site to which your account has already confirmed your rights, the GSC will notify you.
In any case, the resource will appear in the control panel.
To check the confirmation of rights, you need to select the site of interest and go to Settings.
There you will see the status of the ownership confirmation.
You can also share access to other accounts via settings by clicking on the “Users and permissions” tab.
In Google Search Console the “Add user” button will appear in the upper-right hand corner. By clicking on it, you will be able to give other accounts full or limited access.
By the way, this can be another way to add a site to the GSC, if your colleagues have already confirmed access, then they can grant you access.
What Reports are Available in the Google Search Console and How to Use Them?
You are now registered in the search console and will receive messages about errors on your resource and violations of Google recommendations. There will also be various reports available to help you understand how Google sees your site. Please note that this information will not be immediately displayed.
As soon as data is collected from your site, you will be able to make full use of the available reports in the GSC.
It is one of the most important reports for an SEO specialist. It can be used to analyze many factors, such as traffic, positions, impressions, and CTR (for more information, see the article What is a CTR). Every parameter has its graph, highlighted in color.
The performance report shows site data, such as key queries, pages, countries, devices, search views, and dates.
You can view the number of impressions, clicks, CTR, and position for each parameter. You can also structure the data using filters, which will allow you to get detailed information about the site:
- Filter by search type. You can use it to view Web, Images, and Video.
- The data filter allows you to analyze data for different periods and dates, the last seven days, the three months, the six months, and so on. There is also a custom date range that you can enter yourself. Customization is possible up to the display of one day.
- The search filter allows you to view data for an exact search query, or for a request that includes the entered word or phrase. Alternatively, you can exclude queries.
- The URL filter works on the same principle as the query filter, word content, exact match, and the exclusion of the page URL.
- Filter by country.
- The device filter includes desktop, mobile, and tablet versions. It allows you to divide data into segments of users who performed actions in the search network from different devices.
- The search view will highlight the data from the report that relates to the AMP article.
You can compare indicators in all of the filters above. You can match two date ranges, multiple search queries, several URLs, and so on.
How to Use Google Search Console for Keyword Research
Thanks to the performance report, you can track certain key queries on your site. Here are several features that are available with GSC:
- Impressions, clicks, positions, and CTR of the site for key queries for which the resource is ranked.
- Which key queries are used to rank certain pages of the site.
- The growth or decline of the position of the site for a certain keyword.
- The amount of traffic for a key request from certain countries and devices.
You can get all of this data by using the available filters and switching between the report tabs. Read more in the article about How to Do Keyword Research.
GSC will provide information about the site that your competitors will not be able to get in any paid service.
In addition to analyzing key queries, the performance report can analyze site traffic as a whole, highlight pages with low CTR, determine which pages are poorly ranked, track the cannibalization effect of key queries, and so on. Learn more in the article What is Keyword Cannibalization.
I recommend that you carefully review all tabs and filters before you start working with the performance report.
For successful site optimization, its pages must be well indexed. The coverage report provides detailed information about site indexing and errors.
The report is divided into four categories:
- Errors. It includes URLs that cannot be indexed for various reasons, such as closing the no-index tag, 5xx or 4xx server responses, and redirect chains. There is more information on the subject in 301 vs. 302 redirects.
- Warnings. This category includes less critical indexing issues, but they also need to be addressed. Here you can see pages that are indexed by the search engine, but they are closed in the robots.txt.
- Pages without errors. Here you can find all of the indexed pages of the site. This way, you can determine whether all important URLs are in the Google index.
- Excluded. It features pages that are not indexed intentionally.
You can view each category separately by only marking it with a check.
To get acquainted with the types of errors, just look at the information below.
There is more information about indexing status and crawl errors in Google support.
If you want to see problematic URLs, you need to click on the error type of interest in the Details tab. After doing so, you will be presented with a list of pages.
Do not worry if you see a page where the errors have already been corrected. It is most likely that the last site scan was performed before the fix.
If you know that there are no more problems on the pages, you can request re-indexing using the URL inspection tool. To do this, enter the URL in the field indicated in the screenshot and send the page back to Google for review.
This tool is also available on the GSC dashboard.
You can use this function when adding new pages to the site, or changing the content of old pages so that Google can quickly index the new content of your resource.
In the updated version of GSC, it is now possible to analyze the URL indexing status from individual Sitemaps.
This feature is convenient for large sites. You can split URLs into multiple Sitemaps, meaning you will not miss the pages that will not be visible due to the GSC line restriction.
In addition to the performance report, the Coverage Report, and the URL Inspector tool, the service also provides other features that are useful for SEO specialists; they are located in the Google Search Console dashboard.
The name of this tool indicates its purpose; the webmaster needs it to send a file to Google Sitemap.xml.
This report will show you all of the files you sent, as well as the errors that occurred during their processing by Google.
I recommend checking the report periodically for file scanning errors. Learn more in the article Sitemaps XML Guide.
The Removals Tool
It is located below the Sitemap Files tool and allows you to temporarily remove the pages of your site from the Google search engine index.
When you go to the report, you will see three sections.
When is it recommended to use this tool:
- There is a page on the site that you want to remove from the search results as quickly as possible. You can delete both the page URL and image URL.
- You deleted content from the page and do not want it to appear in the search results, but the page remains.
When you do not need to use the Removals Tool:
- To block the URL of a page that does not belong to you.
- If you want to delete content from the entire Internet. The tool allows you to remove it only from the results of the Google Search engine. However, other systems will continue to show it.
- If you want to delete the page permanently. The tool allows you to remove a URL from the search only temporarily.
When creating a deletion request, note that the tool provides several options: temporarily deleting the URL or removing the cached version.
You can also delete not only individual pages but also all URLs with a specific prefix.
For a detailed description and guide on how to use the Removal tools, see Google Support.
Core Web Vitals Report
Google took into account three metrics to create this report. They show Page Loading Speed (LCP), visual stability of content (CLS), and interactivity (FID).
The report displays deviations on pages, dividing the data into mobile and desktop versions.
The data is divided into three statuses, which are based on performance metrics.
By selecting a report, the user can learn more about the types of problems and what metrics they are associated with. GSC also provides specific URLs that require correction.
If you do not see any data when you go to the report, it is likely that the search engine has not yet fully processed the pages of your site.
In Google Support, they describe what the data from the report means and how to use it, read it before you start analyzing.
You can also use PageSpeed Insights or Chrome Lighthouse. They allow you to evaluate the performance and loading speed of individual URLs. Thanks to the reports of these services, you can find out the problem areas of site pages and fix them.
Mobile Usability Report and the Mobile-Friendly Test Tool
Starting from July 1, 2019, the indexing of the mobile version of a resource is enabled by default for all new sites. If the old site switches to Mobile-first indexing, this is reported in the Search Console. More information about this can be found in Mobile-First Indexing.
Therefore, it is important for an SEO specialist that their web resource is optimized for mobile devices. And you can find out about scanning errors in the mobile version thanks to the GSC Convenience for Mobile report.
This report shows which pages of your Internet resource have problems with usability on mobile devices. You will also see the kinds of errors that occur on the resource.
AMP Status Status Report and AMP Test Tool
AMP pages are a simplified version of the mobile version of the site. They consist of HTML markup with special tags and scripts. These pages do not contain complex elements and often do not look as attractive as the main site. However, AMP pages are pre-cached, which can significantly speed up loading.
Ideally, your site should not have errors in scanning AMP pages, but if there are any, please read carefully how Google describes them and what actions you should take.
Google has created a tool that allows you to check whether the page meets the parameters of AMP, the AMP Test.
The tool will check the configuration settings, but will not determine the index status of AMP pages. Therefore, if you want to find out if they are indexed correctly, it is better to use the URL verification tool instead of the AMP Test Tool.
Security Issues and Manual Actions
This is the area in the GSC to which you should always pay attention. After all, it is here you can learn about problems that can significantly affect the promotion of the website.
If Google believes that your site can harm a user or their computer, or it has been hacked, the security report will show information about this.
When site pages, or the site as a whole, are affected by a security issue, they will appear in the search results with a warning label. Also, when a user tries to access them, they may see an immediate warning page in the browser.
You may encounter these security issues:
- Hacked content is posted on your site without your knowledge.
- Malicious and Unwanted Software is software that can harm the user’s computer.
- Social Engineering is content that can encourage the user to disclose their confidential information.
Google describes in detail what to do in case of security problems, so even if the site was hacked and malware appeared on it, you can fix it.
In addition to security issues, the site may suffer from measures taken manually; these are the actions Google employees take in the event of an attempt to manipulate ranking algorithms. It does not affect the user in any way, but it will affect the results of SEO promotion. If you violate the recommendations of Google, the pages of your site may be lowered in SERP, or they may no longer be displayed at all. Read more in What is the SERP in 2020?.
It is the last report that can be found in the updated version of the GSC. For an SEO specialist, it is useful in that it can detect sites that link to pages of your resource.
The report is divided into four parts:
- The pages that are referenced most often. It shows the pages of your resource and the number of pages and sites leading to them.
When you select a URL, you will see the domain names of the referring sites. This will be a useful feature when looking for spam donors.
- Sites that link most often. In this report, you can select a donor site and view which pages of your site it links to. You will be shown the number of referring pages and the number of destination pages.
- The most common link texts. The anchor text for your external links is shown here.
- Internal Linking. It shows your site’s URLs that the internal pages link to.
Thanks to the link report, an SEO specialist can perform a donor analysis, but GSC is not the only one that provides this opportunity. There are paid services, such as SEMRush. Thanks to it, you can get much more information about backlinks, such as their type, the authority of the referring domain, and the location of the domain. More information on this topic can be found in Build High-Quality Backlinks.
I recommend using GSC and SEMRush at the same time when analyzing the reference mass.
Which Reports From the Old Version of Google Search Console Can be Useful?
In addition to the reports and tools that are available in the updated version of Search Console, there are several services from the old version that are still useful for SEO specialists.
Some of these tools are displayed in the GSC dashboard.
International Targeting Report
This report will help you detect errors that are associated with the hreflang attribute, as well as set the target country. It is necessary to ensure that the site pages are scanned correctly in different languages and for different regions. You can find it here. When you select the desired resource, you will see two sections:
- The “Language” section will help you track the use of the hreflang attribute, and also show errors if there are any.
- In the “Country” section, you can ask Google which country your site’s content is targeted to.
Working with the tool is quite simple, and Google will tell you what the errors mean.
Crawl Stats Report
The Crawl Stats report lets you find out how often the Google search robot scans your resource. It takes into account data such as images, Flash, PDF, CSS, and JS.
If you see a stable graph in the report, there are no problems with the site. You should pay attention to the sharp jump because the scanning speed should remain at the same level.
If you do not want to change the schedule, please review the possible reasons for this behavior and try to fix them.
It contains all messages that your site has received until May 23, 2019. After this date, all messages were displayed in the dashboard of the updated version of the Search Console. They are easy to find; they are in the upper-right corner.
If you still need to read the old messages, you can find them here.
URL Parameters Tool
There are cases when there are identical pages on the site with different URL parameters.
If your site contains a large number of such pages, I recommend using the URL Parameters Tool.
Note that these actions can be applied to the same URL with different parameters. If the site has different pages with URLs without parameters and identical content, this will be considered a duplicate. In this case, you need to specify the canonical page. Read the Rel=Canonical Tag article to learn how to deal with duplicate content.
You can use the tool if you are an experienced webmaster. Google explains the rules and requirements for using the URL Parameters in its support tab.
A Tool for Connecting to Your Google Analytics Account and Other Kinds of Resources
If necessary, the SEO specialist can import data from the GSC to the GA account using a special tool, Analytics Property Selection. After that, data from the GSC will be available in GA reports. Only confirmed resource owners can establish this relationship.
You can also link to other types of resources using a special tool.
You can always find detailed instructions on how to use these features in Google support.
robots.txt File Validation Tool
This tool allows you to check the robots.txt file for correctness, to find out if it blocks the work of the Google robot.
Validation in the Robots Testing Tool will show the syntax and logical errors and their number in the file. However, you can make corrections on the menu and perform the check again. But the changes will not be made to the robots.txt file on your resource.
The Data Highlighter Tool
If you want to send structured data from your site to Google, use the Data Highlighter Tool. It supports data such as:
- Television Series
- Local Organization
This tool is usually useful for resource owners who use basic hosting services. Please read the guide in Google Support before using it.
Google Disavow Tool
Google Disavow Tool is a useful tool that allows you to inform Google about the most low-quality backlinks to your site.
If manual steps were taken to your site for artificial link building, then you can reject these links. Thus, speeding up the process of removing sanctions from the site.
Before you begin working with it yourself, read the article in our blog Google Disavow Tool; it describes in detail what this tool is and how to use it.
Google Search Console is the right service for every SEO specialist. It provides essential information that helps you fix errors and successfully optimize your resource.
Sometimes, without a GSC, it is just impossible to notice the problems that are observed on the site. This applies to drops in traffic, the appearance of measures taken manually, errors, etc. Therefore, for an SEO specialist, the console is an indispensable tool. Find more services for SEO specialists in our article on the Top SEO Tools for Businesses.