What Is The Google Search Console: SEO Tool
In this post, I’ll take you through the basics of search console and how it can help you succeed on the web.
Search console is a free tool from Google that helps website owners, SEO professionals, and developers understand how they’re performing on Google search and what they can do to improve their appearance and search to bring more relevant traffic to their websites.
Search console is not a requirement for your site to appear in organic search results, but it can definitely help you monitor and optimize how Google crawls, indexes, and serves your website to users.
If you’re not acquainted with the terms crawling, indexing, and serving, you should read through the documentation, it will help you get a better understanding.
Here are some things you can do in search console:
- Learn how Google crawls, indexes, and discovers your
- Fix errors
- Submit updated content to the Google index
- Monitor search performance trends by queries, countries, pages, and more
You may be asking yourself how you should be using search console. If you don’t understand all the terms do not worry we will discuss each of them separately.
If you just launched a blog, you’re responsible for maintaining it but not as your main job, you should start simple.
Check your search traffic in the performance report and try to understand which queries, pages, and countries are driving most of your traffic.
If you’re responsible for building or maintaining a large website, you should come to search console to check all pages are indexed and have no errors. Check for indexing errors in the coverage report, the mobile usability report, the AMP report, and other enhancement reports if any are shown to your website.
If you’re an SEO professional, well, you’ll have lots of fun with search console. Depending on whether you’re more focused on technical SEO, content development, strategy, or something else, you’ll find important insights in the tool.
Sitemaps In Search Console
You should be able to know about sitemaps, decide whether you need one or not, it is important to learn how to build and submit a sitemap to Google and track it’s status using search console.
A sitemap is a signal about which URLs you would like Google to crawl on your site. It may provide information on URLs that were recently created or modified, and gives us some extra information about them.
Google supports four main ways for you to provide additional information:
- You can extend a URL with images
- Extend a URL with videos
- Include information about alternate languages with hreflang annotations
- For news sites, you can use a special variation of sitemaps, to provide information about the most recent updates.
Note that this information won’t necessarily be highlighted on search console. But you can still provide it in your sitemap.
If you don’t have a sitemap, will Google find all your pages?.
Usually, if you have a relatively small website, and your pages are properly linked, Google bot can discover your content. So you don’t need to worry about the sitemap.
However, if your site meets one of the following criteria, a sitemap might help Google decide what and when to crawl your website. If your site is really large, a sitemap will help Google prioritize the URLs to crawl.
If your pages are isolated, or not well linked to each other, a sitemap might help Google find those pages.
If your site is new and it has a lot of quickly changing content, such as a news website, a sitemap will help Google discover your content.
Remember that using a sitemap doesn’t guarantee all your pages will be crawled and indexed. But in most cases, your site will benefit from having a sitemap.
And there is no disadvantage for having one.
In addition, sitemaps don’t replace normal crawling. And not including URLs in a sitemap, won’t result in those URLs no longer being crawled.
So how do you create a sitemap?.
Ideally, the system running your website will make sitemap files for you, automatically. For example, you can find a wordpress plug-in, if you use those content management systems.
Always make sure to check the documentation from your provider, as every platform is slightly different. However there’s a simple way to automatically generate sitemaps, rather than creating them manually.
Usually, this will involve running code on your server, so if you’re not a developer, you might need help from one. There are limits to the number of URLs and the maximum size of a sitemap file.
If you need more space, you can make multiple sitemap files. You can also submit all of these sitemap files together, in the form of an index sitemap file.
Doing that makes it a bit easier to track them all together in one place.
Before you submit a sitemap to Google, you need owner permission to submit it. That is to say, you need to verify your website first, create a property and then initiate the process.
If you submitted a sitemap but it was not relevant anymore, you can delete it from search console. Know that deleting a sitemap removes it from the report, but doesn’t make Google forget any URLs listed on it.
In order for Google to forget the sitemap, just remove it from your site and return a 404. After some attempts, Google will give up and completely stop refreshing the sitemap. This has nothing to do with the URLs in the sitemap.
If you truly need Google to stop visiting the URLs listed in a sitemap, you will need to use a robot.txt rule for the URLs that you want to block. This is what you would do in order for Google to stop crawling this page.
If your goal is to remove the URL from the Google index altogether, you should either use the no-index directive or require HTTP authentication for users to see your page.
Index Coverage Status
We want to figure out which of our pages have been crawled and indexed by Google and any problems found during that process.
So what is crawling?.
Crawling is the process by which Google Bot discovers new and updated pages to be added to the Google index. Google Bot processes each of the pages it crawls in order to compile a massive index of all the words it sees and their location on each page.
When a user enters a query, Google machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the most relevant to the user.
How often should you check the index coverage status report?.
If search console detects a new index coverage issue on your website, you will get an email. But if an existing issue gets worse, you won’t. This simply means you don’t need to check the coverage report everyday, but keep an eye once in a while to make sure that nothing is going from bad to worse.
When you open the index coverage report, the first page you see is the summary page. The default view shows indexing errors on your website. But you can click to show valid with warnings, valid, and excluded.
In addition, you will find a checkbox to add to the main chart, and the number of impressions your page has got on search.
Here is what each status means with some examples:
- Error on pages – Errors prevent pages from being indexed. Pages with errors won’t appear in Google search results, which can mean a loss of traffic to your website. For instance, you might get an error when you submitted a page containing the no index directive.
- Server errors – Google might find a server error, or your page might be returning a 404. All these cases would prevent the page from appearing on search results. Issues on pages you submit via sitemaps are explicitly called out, since they’re most likely to be problems you should resolve.
- Valid with warnings – They are pages that may or may not be shown on Google search results, depending on the issue. For example, Google might find pages that are indexed though blocked by robots.txt. This is marked as a warning, because we’re not sure if you intend to block the page from search results. If you do want to block this page, robots.txt is not the correct mechanism to avoid being indexed. To do so, you should either use the no index directive to see your page.
Valid pages have been indexed and can be shown on search results. Excluded pages that are not indexed won’t appear in Google. For example, if the page is a duplicate of another page, it returns a 404 error.
In the summary page, you should start by checking the chart to learn if your valid pages trend is somewhat steady. Some amount of fluctuation is natural. And if you’re aware of content being published or removed, you might see that reflected as well.
Performance Reports In Search Console
Monitoring your site’s performance in Google search is very important, it helps you track your success and failures.
Let’s dive deeper and find even more interesting insights you can learn about your site’s performance on Google search.
The performance reports are divided into two sections; Search and Discover.
All accounts have data on search.
In addition, websites that have accumulated meaningful search traffic in discover will see a report for it.
Metrics and dimensions are basic concepts that will help you understand the data on your performance report.
Let’s break them down.
Metrics are quantitative measurements. They are the numbers you see for each of the columns of a table. They usually describe how much and how often.
In the performance report, you’ll find four metrics:
- Impressions – The number of times your site appeared in the search result.
- Clicks – The total number of times users clicked from search result to your website.
- Average CTR – The percentage of impressions that result in the click.
- Average position – The average position of your site in search results based on it’s highest position whenever it appeared in a search result.
Dimensions are attributes of your data. They usually describe who did something or where it happened. For example, the dimension countries indicates the country where searches for your site originated, like United States, UK, Australia..etc. The dimension pages indicates the page that was viewed on a search by a user.
Note that pages refer to the canonical page, which means that if you have duplicate pages, only one of them will be shown.
The performance report is built out of three main elements:
- Filter bar
Let’s start with the chart as it is the most beautiful visual element.
An image is worth a thousand words. The first thing you need to know about the chart is that you can choose the metrics, that you want to see, including impressions, clicks, average CTR, and average position.
In order to see the trends for different metrics, you simply need to click the metrics themselves to add or remove them from the chart. Note that if you add or remove a metric, it will update both the chart and the table.
The table element allows you to break down the metrics according to the possible dimensions that you can see just above the table; queries, pages, countries, et cetera. You can click each of those dimensions to see a table with the metrics for that dimension. If you click countries, you will see a list of all countries where your site was shown in search results and how many clicks it generated.
Here are four ideas on what to look for when analyzing your performance data:
- Low click-through rate – If the number of impressions is significantly higher than clicks, you might need to create better titles and snippets in search results in order to make your site more attractive to users.
- Missing search queries – If search queries that you expect to see don’t appear, your site might not have enough useful content relevant to those queries.
- Missing pages – If important pages on your site are not in the pages list, there might be an issue with them. In that case, you should use inspect URL tool to find out why.
- Branded search queries – Check how many queries show your site when the user does or doesn’t include a specific string, such as your site’s name. These might show interesting areas where people are searching for content directly related to your brand.
Checking the aggregate dimensions and metrics might not be enough. Filtering data can help you find interesting insights about your performance on search by helping you to explore a more specific scenario. To do so, use report filters.
You’ll find them just above the chart. Alternatively, you can simply click a relevant row in the table, such as a specific country. Doing that will filter the data in all the performance report to include only the clicked country.
Google search console is the perfect SEO tool for businesses and SEO professionals, it does exactly what you want by helping you improve SEO, fixes complicated issues, signals keyword opportunities that are easy to rank, and gives you an overview and a clear understanding of how your website is performing in search results. And if you’re more advanced with technical SEO, content development and strategy, you’ll find important insights in the tool.
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