Google Search Console for beginners
For anyone who manages a website, either for themselves or for customers, there is no avoiding the Google Search Console. Until recently, the free analysis and service tool was known as Google Webmaster Tools, but was renamed and expanded with new features in 2015. The online tool, which is available for free following a simple one-time registration, provides practical assistance for website optimisation to beginners as well as experienced web developers.
Google Search Console (GSC) is a powerful tool for web developers that provides access to valuable statistics, allows easy manipulation of site settings, and alerts developers to the presence of malware. Why all this for free? Because Google naturally has a vested interest in websites that are well-programmed and contain limited source code errors. The goal of the search engine is to display as many high-quality sites to users as possible in their search results. Google uses Search Console to provide users with a tool that allows the site operator to make constant improvements.
- How to use Google Search Console?
- The most important functions of Google Search Console
- Search appearance
- Search queries
- Google Index
- Essential standard tool for search engine optimisation
How to use Google Search Console?
To use the tool, a developer first registers their website (or Android app) with the appropriate URL in the Search Console. An existing Google account is required to do this. After the website URL has been submitted, Google will verify the registration.
Unlike many other SEO tools, GSC files are not public. Access is only permitted to the designated operator of the site. Various methods are available for verification.
Uploading a HMTL file is the method recommended by Google. A HTML confirmation page is downloaded from the GSC. The file is then integrated into your own page, and a confirmation link is sent to Google to verify the successful download. Alternatively, a HMTL tag can be linked to the homepage, or the site can be verified through a valid Google Analytics Account, Google Tag Manager, or by a relevant domain name provider. As soon as Google confirms the registration, all functions are available for use.
The most important functions of Google Search Console
The Google Search Console offers many functions for the management and monitoring of various site parameters, providing users with valuable tips for optimisation. On the dashboard, the developer sees an overview of all important statistics and innovations.
The tool also helps users understand how Google sees their website, how the Google crawler is doing its indexing, and where technical constraints exist and improvement is needed. Here is a brief overview of the most important functions:
Listed under the menu element “Search Appearance” are all the tools that have to do with the representation of a website in Google search results.
Structured data helps Google correctly interpret the content of a website and understand its connections. For that reason, Google is provided with ratings, event info, or other information contained on the pages of its websites. If Google recognises this kind of structured data, this information can be displayed as an additional component in the preview snippets of search results.
Structured data can be made available by providing sites with special HTML mark-ups. The individual data mark-ups are listed on schema.org. The HTML code can either be changed manually or by using the GSC data highlighter. Data highlighters are used to mark relevant positions on a website, such as opening times or prices. The Search Console can be used to ensure that highlighters have been used correctly, and that the data entered is accurate.
One recent addition is the sub-tem “rich cards”. Rich cards were recently introduced by Google as an innovation in the search results list. In the future, management of the required structured data will also be taken over by the GSC.
For the “HTML improvement” report, Google checks the HTML code of a website and advises the operator on improvements that should be made. Results can reveal syntax errors, but most importantly will provide important tips for search engine optimisation. This includes identifying missing, duplicate, or irrelevant meta-descriptions and title tags, and listed content that can’t be indexed. More useful tips about on-page optimization can be found in this article.
Sitelinks are found under the preview snippets in the search result lists.
In addition to a main link, sitelinks take up more space and are therefore more conspicuous. Through sitelinks, website operators hope to receive more attention, and a higher click-through rate. Google decides which search results display sitelinks. With the sitelinks option, developers can exercise a tiny amount of control over which sites can be displayed. By decreasing the value of specific pages in the GSC, they can lower the probability that those pages will be displayed in the SERPs.
Through search queries, web developers can access information about search requests that have brought users to their website. Google, for instance, provides information to evaluate and optimise a site’s Google performance.
The “search analysis” tab provides users with information and ranking data about a website. Particularly interesting is information about search queries shown in website results, as well as information about the rankings of individual keywords. This is especially important for content planning, as it provides insight and helps identify relevant or less relevant keywords. Other KPIs, such as impressions, clicks, and click-through rates, are also available. This data is a practical basis for web analysis and optimisation, especially when linked to a Google Analytics account. The data can even be broken down by country, device, search type, or search time.
The “website links” tab provides data about the backlink profile of a website. Site developers are kept up to date on pages that link to their content, which subpages are popular, and which anchor texts are used by third parties. The Google Search Console is a good first point of reference; for more detailed analysis, a special backlink tool is recommended.
The quantity and quality of backlinks are an important ranking factor, and a central component of off-page optimisation. Google classifies it as a recommendation if website A links to website B. The more recommendations from high-quality sources, the better the search engine ranks the content. In the Google Search Console it is also possible to invalidate unwanted backlinks. The disavow tool allows developers to declare incoming links as harmful and void them.
This tab contains a handy overview of all internal links. The tool clearly shows how many links lead from each respective subpage to another subpage. These links should not be underestimated: The internal link structure is an important part of on-page optimisation.
User-friendliness on mobile devices
Since the mobile friendly update of 2015, an essential issue has been user-friendliness on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Here, Google points to possible display and operation problems on mobile devices.
Mobile usability is an important ranking factor for mobile search results – since more is now googled on smartphones or tablets than on PCs, Google’s mobile green light is essential for any website developer. In addition to data provided through the Search Console, another tool offered by Google is an optimisation test for mobile devices.
Everything that has to do with the indexing of a website can be found under the menu tab “Google index”. A website only appears in Google search results if Google has previously included it in the index.
The indexing status shows the number of URLs that are available to display in Google search results. This value usually varies, depending on whether URLs are regularly added or removed. The overview shows all URLs which have been blocked or manually removed from the index (see below).
This tab contains a list of all keywords and their variations that Google has identified on a site with its crawler. Using the keywords found here, developers can determine how Google interprets the website, and whether the search machine understands the main focus of the site correctly. This often reveals contextual errors. For example, if Google lists a term that has nothing to do with the focus of the site, making it possible for Google users to be misdirected, then the keyword strategy and website content should be adjusted.
This section contains an overview of all resources (files) that are inaccessible by the Google Bot. The function has been available since 2015, and is intended to help web developers identify and solve problems caused by resource blockages more quickly.
It is possible to temporarily remove URLs from the index, meaning from search results. The Search Console allows this manual removal of particular websites from the SERPs – a respective conversion to “no index” would not be as helpful in the short-term, as the Google Bot would have already indexed corresponding pages.
The following menu elements have to do with the topic of “crawling”. Crawling is the process by which Google’s web crawler, also known as Google Bot, identifies new and updated pages and adds them to the Google index.
Changing site structure or establishing redirects often creates issues with crawling. Google can no longer find the updated sites, and users are linked to pages in the search results which display a 404-error message. Thanks to error message reports, the Search Console can recognise these problems more quickly.
Crawling statistics allow developers to track all Google crawler activities on their own page. The tab includes different graphs, such as how many sites the bot crawled each day, how much data it downloaded, and how much time each download took.
Retrieval as done by Google
This option allows users to look at their website through the “eyes” of the Google Bot. Often, this helps identify and correct syntax errors within a function.
Adding to and editing an XML sitemap
Using a sitemap makes it easier for Google to crawl a site. For this purpose, a table of contents is made available in the form of an XML file. The Search Console can be used to submit and update this sitemap.
The file robots.txt signals to Google or other search engines that a certain page should be excluded from the index. If all contents of a website already exist in an index, then this function is irrelevant. But it is often useful to exclude certain pages, such as the login area for the backend. The Google Search Console can be used to check embedded robots.txt files.
Essential standard tool for search engine optimisation
The Google Search Console provides a comprehensive overview of the technical condition of a website. Whether HTML improvements, index status, or link profile – Google provides information free of charge that otherwise would have to be purchased through third-party providers. The Search Console is one of the standard tools for search engine optimisation, and is useful to both beginners and professionals.
But doesn’t Google already have a powerful analytics tool?
While Google Analytics shows how users are behaving on a website, where they click, and how long they stay there, the Google Search Console shows how the search engine itself is judging the site from a technical point of view. Google Search Consoles helps developers to better understand how the Google crawler indexes a page, and how the page’s position in the search results comes about.
The GSC is not only a good start for data analysis and website optimisation – it also represents an important channel of communication between web developers and Google.