Google Search Console may sound like a new tool to some people, but is actually the re-branding of the web-service formerly known as Google Webmaster tools, which took place in May 2015.
The reasoning behind this re-branding would seem to have been to provide a reflection that the resource was user-friendly enough that it shouldn’t be intimated for use by Webmasters, in the traditional sense of the word.
i.e. that the ability to work with this useful data, is open to all manner of users.
Google statement (May 2017) – https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2015/05/announcing-google-search-console-new.html
A Simple Definition
The Google Search Console is an indispensable free web service provided by Google, which requires registration and verification.
The console is a collection of technical tools and reports used to aid and analyse website performance. Through this portal you are able to affect your site’s search appearance, analyse traffic & crawl data and implement technical website analysis.
Adding a site to the Google Search Console is a fairly straightforward process. However, due to the private, sensitive nature of the data within, a verification process is a secondary step which will take a certain amount of technical proficiency.
To add a site to your Search Console Account, you use the “ADD A PROPERTY” button, as per image below;
This then “kickstarts” the verification process before you can start to use the Console, all of which can be completed using step-by-step instructions.
Verification can be executed in a variety of ways, such as adding HTML code to the <Head> section of your site. Alternatively, uploading an HTML File, verification via domain name provider, by using Google Tag Manager or by adding Google Analytics code.
At this point it is worth noting that Google Analytics and Google Search Console, though similar are separate, entities.
The easiest way to portray the difference is to liken them to “Technical” and “Visitors”.
Console = Technical: What’s going on with your site. Technical issues, code problems, structure problems, broken links, internal links (though also reference to external links also) etc. Overall, this is mainly monitoring your actual website and its structure, problems and its place on the web.
Analytics = Visitors: Where visits are coming from and what visitors are doing when they reach your website. Overall, this is monitoring, auditing and tracking traffic and visitors on and to your website.
If you are already using Analytics, we would recommend linking the Console account with the Analytics account.
So what resources does Google Search Console give us?
The easiest way for us to discuss what data is at our disposal, is by taking a brief look at each of the menu items within the console.
This first section on the dashboard, is immediately very important. This “Messages” area is where Google communicates with you, with regards any issues on your website. This communication directly from Google can be absolutely vital in notifying the user of issues such as crawl errors, malware detection or even Google penalties.
As the name would suggest the “Search Appearance” section of the Console contains elements which relate to how your web pages appear on SERPs.
The information icon here, will generate a pop-up displaying an example of an SERP result’s appearance, as per the image below….
Within this section there are several sub-menu items. The “Structured Data”, “Rich Cards” and “Data Highlighter” items report errors with and provide tools to manipulate how your results appear on Google SERPs. Rich snippets are one of the prominent areas addressed in here, which was a topic we discussed in The Jan Klin July SEO News article .
HTML Improvements reports any coding issues that Google deems worthy of flagging up as suitable for addressing.
These can be issues with meta descriptions (too long, too short or duplicated), your site’s title tags, and any content that Google may be having difficulty indexing.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) section again reports any errors found with any AMP pages you may have set up. AMP is a topic we may well be featuring in the near future, but in short is a relatively new element whereby specific high speed pages are used and are becoming increasingly important with the rise in mobile search.
The Search Traffic section, provides you with some vital reporting on the search traffic visiting your site. Reports can be manipulated in a variety of ways to provide very detailed information. e.g. What types of device are being used to access your site etc. This is the area of the console which is similar to Analytics in many ways.
There are reports on both external and internal links pointing to, and within, your website. Again this is an invaluable tool from an SEO and link building perspective.
The remaining three sections of the Search Traffic section report whether Google has penalised you for any reason (“Manual Action”), any issues relating to international versions of your site, if applicable, (“International Targeting”) and any issues relating to the mobile friendliness of your site (“Mobile Usability”). The latter obviously being an increasingly important area to monitor, with the continued increase in mobile search numbers, as we have mentioned in recent news posts.
The Google Index area of the Console is another reporting area.
Here you can see data pertaining to Google crawling and indexing your site, including blocked pages etc. Blocked resources that need to be addressed for Google to index correctly, are also highlighted and can be researched in further detail.
There is also the facility to hide individual pages from being indexed by Google and returned in SERPs.
The “Crawl” section of the console is possibly the most important and useful section of the Console.
The reporting of both Crawl Errors and Crawl Stats should be monitored on a regular basis in order for your site to perform well on Google SERPs.
Crawl errors, such as 404 errors or timeouts, need to be fixed in order to perform well, whilst crawl stats can give vital insights into performance, in particular “Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)”. i.e. An important site speed indicator, a key element.
Fetch as Google is a key element of the Console, as it simulates how Google sees pages on your website once they have been crawled. You can test pages for errors, by using this element and then submit them to Google for faster indexing once happy. This is a particularly useful tool if attempting to fix existing site errors.
Also within this section of the console are the “robots.txt Tester” and “Sitemaps”, which both guide Google as to what to index and provides the search engine with detailed information about your site. Both of these topics are areas that we have previously covered within our SEO lessons, and are vital components of “On-Site SEO”.
Finally the Google Console has areas for “Security Issues” and “Web Tools”.
The headings are pretty self-explanatory and basically “do what it says on the tin”…..
“Security Issues” is a section whereby notifications will be posted should there be suspicion that your site has been hacked or malware identified etc.
“Web Tools” provides links to, and information about, a number of other useful Google tools.
That concludes our brief overview of the Google Search Console, and it’s various uses. Obviously we could go into a great deal more detail on every section, but this is intended as an introduction to the console and what it can do.