Published on February 04, 2020 Last modified on May 05, 2022
Estimated reading time: 18 minutes
Google Search Console (GSC) is a free set of tools developed by Google for keeping track of a website’s organic search ranking and performance.
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, GSC is no longer just for webmasters to monitor crawl coverage and indexing; anyone involved in maintaining a website can benefit from data that GSC reports—from site owners and marketers to content editors and SEOs.
This guide was last updated on February 25, 2020. Search Console is constantly being improved and developed by Google, and while we’ll do our best to keep the information here accurate, consider them as current only for the date of the last revision.
How to set up Google Search Console
To start using GSC, all you need is a Google account and a way for you to verify site ownership.
2. Select property type. (“Property” is simply Google’s term for a website that you want to track in GSC.)
You can choose to enter a Domain or URL prefix.
Domain – This covers all protocols and subdomains. Choose this if your site supports both http and https, or multiple subdomains (like “m” or “www”) so that you don’t need to add separate properties for each.
URL prefix – This means that GSC will track all URLs that start with the prefix that you specified. Choose this if you are tracking a specific subdomain or even a subsection of your site.
At 1902 Software, for example, we set up our GSC property using the URL prefix “https://1902software.com/” to exclude subdomains that we don’t need to track like our CRM and project management system, which are all in the same “1902software.com” domain.
3. Verify your site ownership.
If you chose the Domain option, you are required to verify via your DNS provider; for URL prefix, there are various verification methods including DNS record, HTML file upload or tag, Google Analytics, or Google Tag Manager.
Verification is an important step because some controls in Google Search Console can affect a website’s search performance; thus, only the site owner and trusted partners should be allowed access to this tool and its data.
Most of these verification methods are fairly straightforward, but you can always ask your developer for help in setting up.
Google Search Console and Google Analytics
Search Console and Analytics are two different but equally useful sources of data about your website—both track your site performance but report on different aspects of it.
Google Search Console provides reports primarily about your site’s organic search presence and the factors that affect it: which pages are indexed, how you appear on search, the clicks you get, and pages that are eligible for rich results.
On the other hand, Google Analytics tells you all about what happens within the website itself: how many visits you get, how long visitors stay, which pages get the most visits, and the sources where those visits are coming from, among others.
As such, these two tools are best used hand in hand to get the most out of the data that they offer.
So, once you have set up GSC, you can connect it to your Google Analytics account to view Search Console data within the Analytics dashboard.
Linking these two services enables you to get a complete view of organic visitors’ journey, from their searches to landing pages, website navigation, and visit information.
Note that setting up GSC is not a requirement for your website to appear in Google search results; at the same time, it’s also not a guarantee of a higher ranking or better search performance.
Search Console merely provides the data, from which you can gain insights that will enable you to fix issues or optimize your pages for improved organic Google ranking.
What can Google Search Console do?
At first glance, Google Search Console may seem like an overwhelming collection of reports and tools that you wouldn’t know which to start with—which is understandable, really.
While GSC is mainly about search data, it also features reports on other website-related information like speed, mobile usability, internal linking, referring links from other websites, and even security issues.
But you’ll notice that these areas still indirectly affect your search presence, and the added reports only serve to make GSC more of a treasure trove of free insights that can really help you optimize your website not only for search engine rankings, but for better user experience as well.
Here are the key tools and reports within Search Console:
Search Console Overview
When you first log in to your GSC account, you’ll be taken to the Overview page, a place where you can see different reports on the main areas that GSC covers: Performance (clicks that your pages get on Google search results), Coverage (indexed pages by Google) and Enhancements (speed, mobile usability, AMP, and rich results from structured data).
These reports are presented in intuitive line charts enabling you to better visualize Search Console data.
From the Overview page, you can then open the various reports to drill down to the areas that need your attention, especially to troubleshoot those with errors or warnings.
Indexing refers to the process by which Google adds new pages into its index to be shown in search results.
If you’re aiming to reach your target customers online with your website or webshop, then it makes sense that you would want your pages to be indexed so that people can find them when they make a relevant query in Google.
Search Console’s Index tool shows you a report of how many pages in your site are indexed and how many are not, as well as lets you submit new pages or a sitemap for indexing.
There are three sections within GSC’s Index tool:
The Coverage section is an expansion of the coverage report that you see in the Overview page.
Here, you can keep track of how many pages on your site are “valid”, i.e., properly indexed by Google, how many are “excluded”, i.e., intentionally not indexed with robots.txt, as well as errors and warnings about your pages’ coverage.
A sitemap is simply a “map” to the pages of your website.
In the Search Console context, this refers to an XML file that lists the URLs of your website along with information such as when the page was last updated and how often the page changes (optional).
The Sitemaps section allows you to submit or add a new sitemap to help Google in crawling your pages more efficiently.
You can also view the status and fix errors with previously submitted sitemaps in this section.
This section is where you can request for Google to urgently remove a page in your site from Google search results, as well as keep track of any previously submitted removal requests.
Note that this is only for temporarily removing the page for a period of 6 months, but for permanent removal, you will need to take action such as blocking the URL from indexing through robots.txt or deleting it from your website.
Submitting a new page for indexing in Google Search Console
If you just published a new page that you would like to be indexed by Google right away, you can submit it for indexing through the URL inspection tool in GSC.
Go to URL inspection in the left sidebar, or simply type in or paste your URL in the field located above the Search Console dashboard.
GSC will then return a coverage report for that specific URL. Click on “Request Indexing” to submit the URL to Google’s index.
Google will then test the URL for any indexing issues; if nothing is found, then the page will be added to its priority crawl queue.
You can also use this tool to request that an existing page be recrawled by Google, in case you make any significant changes to the content that you want to be indexed right away.
Starting last year, Google has shifted to mobile-first indexing, where its crawlers primarily use the mobile version of websites for indexing and ranking, as opposed to its older practice of prioritizing the desktop version.
Now, by default, newly published or newly found websites will be indexed mobile-first, while existing websites are still subject to evaluation on when to switch to mobile-first indexing (note that it’s a matter of “when” and not “if”).
Google sends a notification through Search Console on when the site is switched to mobile-first indexing.
This doesn’t mean that there is now a mobile-only index, but instead that the mobile version of the page is the one that Google primarily considers for indexing and ranking.
If you don’t have a 100% mobile-friendly site, Google might resort to considering the site’s desktop version, but the lack of a mobile-friendly experience can ultimately impact your performance and ranking in search results negatively.
Search performance is arguably the most exciting feature within Google Search Console.
Every website owner would want to achieve high organic rank for their pages in search results, and the toolset within Search Console lends valuable insights that help them achieve just that.
In the Performance dashboard, you can see a report consisting of different data points affecting search performance: clicks, impressions, average click-through rate, and average position.
Further supplementing these data are background information to searches, like queries, pages, countries, devices, and search appearance.
Clicks – are counted for each user that clicks on your link from a Google search results page.
Only one click is counted if, say, a user clicks on your page once, goes back to the search results page, then clicks on your link again.
Impressions – are recorded every time your page appears in a search results page.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that a user has actually scrolled into the part where your page is or that the page is visible in the view.
Average click-through rate – is calculated by dividing your total clicks by the number of impressions.
Average position – tells you where your site is located, on average, in a search results page.
This number is calculated based on the highest position of your site—so if two of your pages appear in a single search result, the page with the highest position is counted.
You can also see an individual page’s average position in the detailed report in the Performance dashboard.
Queries – are the exact keywords that people have used in search results where your pages appeared or ranked.
Pages – are the URLs from your site that appear in search results.
Countries – tell you where users are searching from.
Devices – used by searchers in their queries—whether desktop, mobile, or tablet.
Search appearance – refers to how your pages appeared in search in terms of rich results (if they are eligible for it using schema markup).
Using the different data points described above, you can play with different data filters to get the most out of the performance insights from Search Console:
Search type – Filter your searches depending on whether they’re for web, image, or video.
Date – Select certain days, weeks, or months to see search performance for specific date ranges.
Compare – Compare different sets of data; for example: web search performance vs. image search, or this year’s vs. last year’s data.
You can also compare between different data points like pages, queries, countries, and devices.
Enhancements are certain features that make the search experience richer for the user, and therefore contribute to better search performance for your website pages too.
Here are the different sections you can find within Google Search Console’s Enhancements tool:
This section contains reports on mobile and desktop speed based on Chrome User Experience report (CrUX).
CrUX gathers anonymized data about how actual real-world Chrome users experience websites.
As evidenced by Google’s shift to mobile-first indexing, there is an increasing importance placed on mobile usability both for the benefit of users and for better search engine rankings.
The Mobile Usability report warns you of any issues that might affect your site’s usability on mobile devices, like if your content is too wide for the screen (requiring your visitors to scroll horizontally when browsing your page), or clickable elements that are too close together (making it hard for mobile users to navigate your website properly).
AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open source framework spearheaded by Google to improve mobile web experience.
AMP components are generally optimized by default for performance so it helps a lot in improving mobile speed.
If you implemented AMP in your mobile pages, the AMP section in Google Search Console is where you can see a status report on these pages and be warned of any errors in your AMP implementation.
Rich results, also called “rich snippets”, are a special type of search results that contain additional information and enhanced visuals—like images, video thumbnails, or star ratings.
These results are made possible by implementing schema markup on your website pages.
Since rich results provide richer information, they’re also most likely to catch users’ attention, inviting more clicks and eventually helping with improving organic ranking.
GSC provides status reports for certain rich results: Breadcrumbs, FAQ, Logos, Products, Review snippets, Sitelinks searchbox, and Videos.
In the individual reports for these, you can see the URLs with valid schema implementation that make them eligible for the specified rich result.
(Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that your pages do appear as rich results, just that they’re eligible to.)
Under Enhancements, there’s also an Unparsable structured data section where you can check for errors in schema implementation within your pages and how to fix them. (Alternatively, you can also use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.)
The Links report in Google Search Console show you a list of all external and internal links that point to your website pages.
Here, you can see data on:
Which of your pages are most linked to by other sites or domains;
Which of your pages are most linked to from within your own pages;
Websites that link to your pages the most; and
The most used link text in external pages that point to your site.
Both internal and external links are important to your website—they help Google crawlers find their way to your pages, and they also demonstrate site authority that can help you rank better in search results. (Read more in our Content SEO guide.)
Just the same, though, external links from untrustworthy sources or spammy sites can negatively affect your website standing in Google’s eyes. Fortunately, you can disavow these unwanted external links (more on this below).
Regularly reviewing the Links report not only lets you keep track of your page’s performance in terms of popularity (i.e., how many external sites are linking to it), but also help you monitor if your pages are being unintentionally associated with spammy sites through external links.
How to disavow external links using Google Search Console
In order to prevent your site from being affected negatively by the external sites linking to it, you can disavow certain links by submitting a list to Google:
List all the URLs or domains that you want to disavow. Make sure that you follow Google’s link file format; alternatively, you can download the links report from Search Console and simply remove the URLS that you don’t want to disavow.
Go to the Disavow links tool page. This is a legacy tool from the old Search Console but still working just the same (as of February 2020).
Upload the list you prepared and wait for Google to process the request.
Aside from keeping track of your website’s search performance, Google Search Console also enables you to monitor possible security issues affecting your site.
Under Security & Manual Actions, you can find the Security issues report which alerts you to detected issues that may signal your site being compromised, like hacked content, malware, or unwanted software.
What are manual actions?
A manual action is a penalty issued by Google to a website that violates Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
These violations are manually reviewed and flagged by human reviewers at Google, and result to either lower site ranking or removal from search results altogether.
Manual actions are reported in Search Console.
You can expand each manual action to get more details about the issue and how to fix it. Upon fixing the problems, you can then request for reconsideration from Google within the same dashboard.
Using Google Search Console
Google Search Console is an extremely useful tool for keeping an eye on your search presence and performance—an important aspect of your business especially if you rely heavily on online sales or branding.
To make the most out of this tool, consider reviewing reports once or twice a month and keep on improving your website content based on the data you gather, including those from other tools like Google Analytics or user behavior analysis tools like Crazy Egg.
It’s also worth regularly checking for errors and manual actions, to make sure that your site is always eligible to appear and rank in search results.
If you need help in setting up Google Search Console or using its different tools and features, our team at 1902 Software is ready to help. Contact us today to learn more.