Google Search Console is a web service by Google which allows webmasters to check indexing status and optimize visibility of their websites.
The service include tools that let webmasters
- Submit and check a sitemap.
- Check and set the crawl rate, and view statistics about when Googlebot accesses a particular site.
- Write and check a robots.txt file to help discover pages that are blocked in robots.txt accidentally.
- List internal and external pages that link to the website.
- Get a list of links which Googlebot had difficulty in crawling, including the error that Googlebot received when accessing the URLs in question.
- See what keyword searches on Google led to the site being listed in the SERPs, and the total clicks, total impressions, and the average click through rates of such listings. (Previously named ‘Search Queries’; rebranded May 20, 2015 to ‘Search Analytics’ with extended filter possibilities for devices, search types and date periods).
- Set a preferred domain (e.g. prefer example.com over www.example.com or vice versa), which determines how the site URL is displayed in SERPs.
- Highlight to Google Search elements of structured data which are used to enrich search hit entries (released in December 2012 as Google Data Highlighter).
- Receive notifications from Google for manual penalties.
- Provide access to an API to add, change and delete listings and list crawl errors.
- Rich Cards a new section added, for better mobile user experience.
- Check the security issues if there are any with the website. (Hacked Site or Malware Attacks)
Inbound And Outbound Links
The list of inbound links on Google Webmaster Tools is generally much larger than the list of inbound links that can be discovered using the link:example.com search query on Google itself.
The list on Google Webmaster Tools includes nofollow links that do not convey search engine optimization authority to the linked site.
On the other hand, the list of links generated with a link:example.com type query are deemed by Google to be “important” links in a controversial way.
Google Webmaster Tools, as well as the Google index, seems to routinely ignore link spam. Once a manual penalty has been removed, Google Webmaster Tools will still display the penalty for another 1–3 days.
After the Google Search Console rebrand, information has been produced demonstrating that Google Search Console creates data points that do not reconcile with Google Analytics or ranking data, particularly within the local search market.
This guide covers:
- Adding your website to Google Search Console
- Setting up owners, users, and permissions
- Submitting a site map
- Understanding dimensions and metrics
- Adding filters
- Using GSC (23 use cases)
- First things first. If you haven’t already signed up for GSC, it’s time to do so.
How to add your website to Google Search Console
Sign into your Google account. Make sure you’re using your business (not personal) account if it’s a business website.
Go to Google Webmaster Tools.
Click “Add a property.”
Choose “Website” from the drop-down menu and enter the URL of your site. Make sure you’re using the exact URL that appears in the browser bar.
Pick a way to verify you own your website (HTML file upload, domain name provider, HTML tag, GA tracking code, or GTM container snippet).
If your site supports both http:// and https://, add both as separate sites. You must also add each domain (for example, hubspot.com, blog.hubspot.com, and www.hubspot.com).
Google starts tracking data for your property as soon as you add it to GSC — even before it’s verified you’re the site owner.
Verifying your Site on GSC
Because GSC gives you access to confidential information about a site or app’s performance (plus influence over how Google crawls that site or app!), you have to verify you own that site or app first.
Verification gives a specific user control over a specific property. You must have at least one verified owner per GSC property.
Also, note that verifying your property doesn’t affect PageRank or its performance in Google search. Of course, the more information you have, the easier it is to rank higher — but simply adding your website to GSC won’t automatically make your rankings go up.
GSC verification methods
HTML file upload: Upload a verification HTML file to a specific location of your website.
Domain name provider: Sign into your domain registrar (like GoDaddy, eNom, or networksolutions.com), and verify your site directly from GSC or add a DNS TXT or CNAME record.
HTML tag: Add a tag to the section of a specific page’s HTML code.
Google Analytics tracking code: Copy the GA tracking code that you use on your site. (You need “edit” permission in GA for this option.)
Google Tag Manager container snippet code: Copy the GTM container snippet code associated with your site. (You need View, Edit, and Manage container-level permissions in GTM for this option.)
Google-hosted sites, including Blogger and Sites pages, are automatically verified.
WWW domain or not?
True or false: hubspot.com and www.hubspot.com are the same domain.
The answer? False! Each domain represents a different server; those URLs might look very similar, but from a technical perspective, they’re two unique domains.
However, if you type “hubspot.com” into your browser bar, you’ll land at “www.hubspot.com”. What is this sorcery?
HubSpot has chosen “www.hubspot.com” as its preferred, or canonical, domain. That means we’ve told Google we want all of our URLs displayed in search as “www.hubspot.com/……”. And when third parties link to our pages, those URLs should be treated as “www.hubspot.com/……” as well.
If you don’t tell GSC which domain you prefer, Google may treat the www and non-www versions of your domain as separate — splitting all those page views, backlinks, and engagement into two. Not good.
(At this time you should also set up a 301 redirect from your non-preferred domain to your preferred one, if you haven’t already.)
GSC users, owners, and permissions
There are two GSC role-types. I know you might be itching to get to the good stuff (cough the data) but it’s important to do this right.
Owner: An owner has total control over their properties in GSC. They can add and remove other users, change the settings, see all data, and access every tool. A verified owner has completed the property verification process, while a delegated owner has been added by a verified one. (Delegated owners can add other delegated owners.)
User: A user can see all data and take some actions, but can’t add new users. Full users can see most data and take some actions, while restricted users can only view most data.
Think carefully about who should have which permissions. Giving everyone full ownership could be disastrous — you don’t want someone to accidentally change an important setting. Try to give your team members just as much authority as they need and no further.
For example, at HubSpot, our technical SEO manager Victor Pan is a verified owner. I’m an SEO content strategist, which means I use GSC heavily but don’t need to change any settings, so I’m a delegated owner. The members of our blogging team, who use GSC to analyze blog and post performance, are full users.
Here are detailed instructions on adding and removing owners and users in Search Console.
There’s a third role: an associate. You can associate a Google Analytics property with a Search Console account — which will let you see GSC data in GA reports. You can also access GA reports in two sections of Search Console: links to your site, and Sitelinks.
A GA property can only be associated with one GSC site, and vice versa. If you’re an owner of the GA property, follow these instructions to associate it with the GSC site.
Do you need a site map?
A site map isn’t necessary to show up in Google search results. As long as your site is organized correctly (meaning pages are logically linked to each other) , Google says its web crawlers will normally find most of your pages.
But there are four situations a site map will improve your site’s crawlability:
It’s really big. The more pages you have, the easier it is for Googlebot to miss any changes or additions.
It has lots of “isolated” pages. Any page that has few inbound links from other pages is harder for a web crawler to discover.
It’s new. Newer sites have few backlinks (links from other sites) making them less discoverable.
It uses rich media content and/or shows up in Google News. In these cases, your sitemap makes it easier for Google to format and display your site in search.
Once you’ve built your site map, submit it using the GSC site maps tool.
GSC site maps report
After Google has processed and indexed your site map, it will appear in the Site maps report. You’ll be able to see when Google last read your site map and how many URLs it’s indexed.
GSC dimensions & metrics
There are a few terms you should understand before using GSC.
What’s a Google Search Console query?
This is a search term that generated impressions of your site page on a Google SERP. You can only find query data in Search Console, not Google Analytics.
What’s an impression?
Each time a link URL appears in a search result, it generates an impression. The user doesn’t have to scroll down to see your search result for the impression to count.
What’s a click?
When the user selects a link that takes them outside of Google Search, that counts as one click. If the user clicks a link, hits the back button, then clicks the same link again — still one click. If then, they click a different link — that’s two clicks.
When a user clicks a link within Google Search that runs a new query, that’s not counted as a click.
Also, this doesn’t include paid Google results
What’s average position?
This is the mean ranking of your page(s) for a query or queries. Suppose our guide to SEO tools is ranking #2 for “SEO software” and #4 for “keyword tools.” The average position for this URL would be 3 (assuming we were ranking for literally nothing else).
CTR, or click-through rate, is equal to Clicks divided by Impressions, multiplied by 100. If our post shows up in 20 searches, and generates 10 clicks, our CTR would be 50%.
Filtering in Google Search Console
GSC offers several different ways to view and parse your data. These filters are incredibly handy, but they can also be confusing when you’re familiarizing yourself with the tool.
There are three search types: web, image, and video. I typically use “web,” since that’s where most of the HubSpot Blog traffic comes from, but if you get a lot of visits from image and/or video search, make sure you adjust this filter accordingly.
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