Lesson Three: Search Console Explained
Confused by Google Search Console (formally known as Google Webmaster Tools)?
You’re not alone, there is much confusion about this fantastic (free) tool from Google.
In this lesson we reveal some of the fantastic uses and insights it can give you to make better decisions about your SEO for your business
Update: Google Search Console has visually changed since we recorded this training, however the principals and tools we guide you through are still available – they just might be in a slightly different place.
Watch the next lesson: Lesson Four: Tools of the Trade
Hello, and welcome to lesson three of module five.
I hope you’re now much happier and confident with Google Analytics. As now, we’re going to delve into Google’s Search Console. Now, this tool scares a lot of people as it does contain a lot of very technical information, but don’t worry.
I’m going to reveal its secrets. I’m going to walk you through all the key information and data that you need to know and show you how to use it. I’m going to jump onto my computer right now and go through it all.
Okay, so this is Google’s Search Console and hopefully you’re at least a little familiar with this tool. I’m going to run through the various technical aspects that I use on an almost daily basis for my agency clients and just familiarise you with this tool as it does have some really valuable data and can tell you a heck of a lot of stuff that you can then take forward and apply to your website to increase your visibility online. I’m going to use Decorque Cards. You can see up here in the top right side, as the live example, much like we did with the analytics lesson. So I’m going to use this agency client’s website as the live example.
Now, the search console is one of those tools that often businesses set up and then they never look at again. There is so much to be gleaned from it if you just know your way around and you know the sorts of things that it can tell you. So I thought, “What better way to start than by running through some of the key things that I use the search console for and some of the best information that it can tell you?” So things like errors with your website, it can tell you those. It can tell you any big problems with your website.
It can also tell you the search traffic to your website that’s coming from Google and that’s really valuable, because in analytics, and years gone by, it used to tell you all of the keywords that people are searching to find and land on your website. Or a few years ago, Google stopped that to help prevent spammers, and now you’ll see if you go into the keyword data and analytics, it says a lot it. It says, “Not provided,” a great deal. In place of that, Google added one or two additional tools to the search console, one of which is this search analytics here, so we’re going to click into that shortly, but that is one way to gain some keyword data, and it’s really handy to see how people are finding and discovering your website.
The search console will also tell you things like who is linking to your website. It will tell you if you have any manual penalties applied to your website, which is really … It’s quite rare, but it’s a really important thing that you want to be aware of if that is the case. I will also tell you any issues around mobile usability. So again, if your website is not responsive, or even if it is responsive, Google will tell you if they have any issues in crawling or understanding or reading your website as far as mobile users are concerned.
It will also tell you what pages Google has indexed for your site. So that again is important because if there is any fluctuation in how Google is indexing your website or how Google is interpreting your online visibility, you want to be aware of that so you can look into it and see why, what’s happening, and Google will tell you all of this stuff. You can also do what’s called a fetch and render, which is really, really important if you make any changes to your website, if you restructure content, if you add loads of new content, if you rebuild your website, or you redesign it, or you make any substantial changes. Then you can do what’s called a fetch and render.
This forces Google to re-crawl and re-index your website, so it’s about taking that control back. You can also submit your sitemaps, which again, if you make changes, or if you add content, or if you just want to refresh your indexing within Google, you can just update your site Maps within your website and then resubmit them to Google, and those are just had a handful of the things that you can do within this search console. There are a huge number of things you can do in the search console, and it will tell you a lot of very technical data.
But those are just a few of the things that I do almost on a weekly basis, and I’m going to show you all of them so you can get to grips with the types of things that the search console can tell you. You don’t then just look at it and think, “Blimey. I don’t know where to start. I’m just going to shy away from it, and I’m never going to use it,” but actually, you can use it to your advantage, and again, be a step ahead of your competitors.
Now, before we get into that, I wanted to show you a couple of settings with regards to your preferences. So in the top right-hand side here, you’ve got this cog. If you click into that, you’ve got various options, and what I want to quickly go through are the site settings. If you click into that, you will see here you’ve got a preferred domain. Now, any website will either appear on a www.website.co.uk, or it would do away with the www.
Now, Google likes website owners to specify which they prefer because, otherwise, I have seen it where Google sometimes will index some pages with a www and some pages without, and it becomes a bit of a mess. So Google likes you to set your preferred. Now, to do that, what you have to do is you have to add both versions of your website. So you have to go into the search console. You would click here and over on the right-hand side here, it would say, “Add a website,” much like we did in module one.
What you need to do is you need to add both the non-www version of your website and get it verified. Follow the steps. It’s very simple to do. Then you would add the WWW version in the same way. So you would, essentially, when you see your list of websites within the search console, you would have two versions of the same website. Once you’ve got both of those in and both of them are verified, then you would choose your preferred.
So, in this case, Decorque Cards uses the www. You would come in here. You would choose your preferred version, and then you’d hit save. If you don’t have both versions verified, it will say, “You need to verify the other version before you can specify.” The reason Google asks you to do that is because in theory you could have two completely different websites. You could have the www.website.co.uk could be one website, and then you can have a completely different, entirely unrelated website or even business that runs with the non-W version.
So Google likes you to verify both, and it just confirms to Google that actually this is one and the same business, one and the same website, and your preference is the www-dot version or the non-dub version. So that’s something that is Google likes you to do. I always recommend doing it. It’s something I always do for any website that I’m working on, and you may be wondering, “Well, what’s the difference between having www-dot and non-dub. Is there a difference? What would I recommend? The question is whatever you prefer.
My own agency website, and the academy has the non-dub version because I just find shorter URLs better. But it’s built into a lot of people’s DNA when they think of websites, is they almost go, “Right. What’s the website?” It’s www-dot. It’s that default. The WWW simply stands for World Wide Web. So the question is really your preference. You don’t really need it. All I would say is whatever … If you’ve had a website for a long time, there’s no need really to change it. So if you’ve always been on the WWW, there is no real reason to change it. If you’ve always been on the non-dub, then the same version.
Unless you just really prefer one version, there’s the alternate to what you have, just keep it the same. It really doesn’t matter, but make sure you verify both and set up both in the search console and then choose your preferred version. You can leave the crawl rate as like you’ve optimised for your site. That’s fine. Then if we click back up here into the right, we’ve got couple of other options. You’ve got Google Analytics Property. I’m not going to do it, but if you click into that, if you follow a couple of steps, and it will ask you to link your search console account, so this account here, with your Google Analytics Property.
That just ensures that the two tools, the two Google tools, can talk to one another. So click into there. You’ll see your website listed, and then you can just a couple of clicks, and you can link the two tools so they can talk to one another and they can share data across them. You’ll get more detailed reporting in both if you do that, so make sure you do that as well. You can add users here. So if you need to add people to give third parties or other people or your team access to your search console, you can click into Users here, add a new user, and then you just pop their email address in there and decide whether you want to give them restricted access or full access, and that’s as simple as that.
Once you do that, they will get a notification saying that they’ve … Sometimes, the notifications do come through; sometimes, they don’t. So if they don’t, just tell them to go on to their Webmaster Tools of their search console, which is google.com/webmasters/tools and just hit refresh a couple of times, and often within a matter of minutes, that will appear. Beyond that, there’s nothing else. There’s a various other options in here, which, by all means, have a look through. There’s nothing you’re really going to need to worry about as far as the settings are concerned. So, we’re going to go back to the dashboard.
You can see on this left-hand side here, we’ve got various options, and I’m going to open all of these up so I can walk you through some of the key stuff in here, because like I said, a lot this is the more technical stuff. The analytics is mainly based around traffic and the slicing and dicing that data. This is some of the more technical indexing and some of that kind of data, so huge, huge value in it. Now, this initial dashboard here will always have crawl errors, search analytics, and sitemaps, arguably, three of the most important elements within the search console.
So firstly, I want to look at the crawl errors, which you can get to by clicking here or by clicking here. It takes you to the same thing. If you click into the crawl errors, what it will do here is it will break it down by crawl errors by desktop and crawl errors by smartphone, and sometimes, you have more. It may say by tablet, or you have other options here. It does change for different websites, depending on how they’re set up and the type of sites they are.
Now, in here, what this is telling you is, “Has Google come across any errors or any pages that it cannot find or that it cannot crawl properly or for whatever reason?” It will list them here. If you’re only seeing a handful, if you’ve got nine like we’ve got here or even 10, 20, 30, even up to 50 or 100, depending on the size of your website. If you’ve only got a small percentage, then it’s not a huge problem, but I would always encourage you to fix them.
If you click into here, and you’re seeing hundreds or even thousands of pages saying they’re errors for whatever type, whatever reason, whatever type of errors. It’s a problem and it’s something needs to be corrected. So we can see desktops got nine errors, and smartphones, the same. So, what you would do is Google is going to give you a list of the types of errors that they are. It’s going to list the URLs, and it’s going to give you a response code.
Now, a 404 means that it’s a web page that just simply cannot be found, and Alexa is going to list you the different URLs. Now, I’m not going to cover in this lesson how to go about fixing all of these errors because that’s very technical, and it would take far longer than I have to cover this lesson. However, just to know where your crawl errors are is invaluable, and what I often do when I check this … It’s worth checking this once a month, once every couple of months. You would come into here, select them all, and then download them.
Then you’d pass them over to your web developer or someone with some technical expertise, and you would say, “These are showing in my search console as some crawl errors. They’re showing as 404s or 302,” whatever the issue is or a 500 error, 400 error, and you’re going to highlight and say, “These need to be fixed.” Then really, you need to speak with your developer to find out the best course of action. A 404, just as a quick FYI means google can’t find that page, so what you would normally do is you would look at, “Did these pages previously exist?” In which certain ones like this, but the product ones, yes, they clearly did at some point. Maybe that product’s no longer in stock. Maybe it’s had its name changed.
So what you would generally do is you could apply a 301 redirect, which tells Google that this page is now living on a different URL, so it redirects it. That’s a 301. It’s a permanent 301. Alternatively, you can leave. If you only have a small number of 404s, you can leave them here, and eventually, once Google crawls it and sees that it’s a 404, it sees it as an error. It will go back a few weeks later and it will try again. If it tries two or three times to crawl that same URL and every single time it doesn’t have any luck, then what it will do is it will just drop it from its index.
So if you clicked into here and you saw you had nine or 10, if you thought, “I’m not too fussed about that.” If there were any 404s, if they weren’t important pages, you could just leave them probably the next time you check, though they would have gone. So there’s no right and wrong with this. There’s no definitive way I can … As I write, you always do X or you always do Y. It really depends on the type of errors you’re getting and the number that you are getting. If you do come across anything that is really scary and you’re really not sure, then by all means let me know, send me an email, and I’ll gladly see if I can take a look for you.
Now, there’s various other things under crawl. You’ve got the crawl errors, crawl stats, which has some very technical data. It’s just loading. You’ll have some graphs, and then we have the fetch as Google. Just waiting for that to load. I’m just going to click into fetch as Google. So this is what I was saying about fetch and render. This is where you can request Google to re-crawl your entire website. So if there was only a specific page that you wanted Google to crawl. Let’s say we wanted to … We just updated this specific page, and we wanted to get Google to re-crawl it. Well, what we’d do is you can just pop the URL in here.
So you take out the home page because we’ve already got that, and then you put the specific page, and you could do one for desktop, one for mobile, and you could do fetch, which … a fetch. Just ask Google, “Go and check this page. Make sure it’s indexable. Make sure I can access that page,” and you can crawl it no problem. Fetch and render is fetch it and then render it, get it index, get it visible within Google. So, often, I just do the fetch and render.
What you can do if you make a lot of changes, again, periodically, leave it as the homepage and just do a fetch and render. When you click that, you’ll get a little loading icon here, and it will highlight and say that it’s working. It takes a few minutes. Then once it’s done, you’ll get a little box that will pop up, which will say, “Submit to index.” So you just click that, and it will then submit. Within a few days or a couple of weeks, Google will start showing the newly cached content within their search results.
What else do we have here? Also, this is all under the cross section. We have sitemaps. This again is one of those from on the dashboard. It’s one on the right-hand side. You’ve got here your … the sitemaps. Now, we’ve previously covered sitemaps. You should always have a HTML version of a sitemap, which is for users. Often, you link that in your footer and then the XML version. The XML version is the one you’re always going to upload into the search console. You can have multiple versions of sitemaps.
Typically, you will have one XML sitemap for your blog posts, one for your website pages, and then you can have one for … Depending on your website setup, you might have one for products. You might have one for services. You might have one for different types of media. It really depends. But to add them, it’s very simple. You just click up here, add and test sitemap. And again, you would put in just the URL of that sitemap. So it might be as in this case sitemap_index.xml, which if you’re on a WordPress website that … depending on which sitemap plugin, you may … Well, if you use Yoast SEO, that is often the default sitemap. You can submit this one.
Or what you can do is you could submit the individual ones. In fact, I’m going to show you that and just click into this. If I go to that URL, I will see that I have this sitemap. Now again, here, I’ve got one for post, one for pages, one for products, and one for product categories. So if I hold down control and open these as an example, you can see I’ve now got post-sitemap.xml, list of all the blog posts. I’ve then got page.xml. If I go to products, I’ve got products. These are all the different sitemaps.
So what I could do is I could take that specific sitemap, pop that into there. You can hit test or just hit submit, and then it will add to these listings here, and what this will do is combine all of the website pages and the images and tell you the total number that has been indexed. That’s your sitemaps. So that is again really, really important to do, and make sure that you do that periodically. I would probably do that once every couple of months. Right. Well, that just about covers the crawl part of the search console.
Next, we’re going to move into the Google index. Now, index status. This is really important. This is where Google will tell you if you have … or how many pages are indexed. What you’re looking for, generally speaking, unless you’ve made some changes. You’ve just added a new website. You should look for this to be relatively flatlined, which is what this is. You’ll always get the odd spike here and there. But generally, it should be flatlined, because that means Google has got a consistent amount of pages indexed for your website.
It’s not changing radically and that is fine. So we can see since that’s saying it’s now mid-February, and if we go back as far as, well, a year, actually, 12 months. You can see the pages have only increased by around a dozen or so, which will be additional blog posts. So that is fine. Now, you’ll always … If you’re adding new content on a fairly frequent basis, you just maybe increased. That’s fine. What you don’t want to be seeing are these huge waves and changes of Google having real issues with crawling your website.
If you’re seeing that, it could be an issue, and you need to really delve into it a little bit deeper. See why that is happening. Blocked resources, remove URLs, you don’t really need to worry about right now. It’s a little bit more advanced. It’s stuff that we’re not going to get into right now. It’s not something that I particularly check very often. Next, we’re going to click into the search traffic. Now, you have search analytics. There’s some really, really valuable stuff within this section. This is probably where I spend the … this and the crawl errors part are the two areas of the search console which I check most frequently when I am using the search console.
So, first of all, we have the search analytics. Now, in here, this is what I mentioned at the outset, which was the keyword data that it will give you which actually Google Analytics no longer does. In here, you can see it defaults the last 28 days, and it will always default to queries, and it will tell you the exact keywords that people are searching and arriving at your website. So it’s a great treasure trove of keyword ideas. Often if I’m doing keyword research, and we have covered this in module one.
Come into here. Download this list because it will give you loads of ideas, and you could then cross-reference this with the Keyword Planner and with the other, Ubersuggest, and the other tools that we’ve previously used to get those keyword ideas and to come up with some topics and some themes of content that you can then incorporate into a local or authority content marketing plan and strategy. What I always do if I’m going to do that is I always come into here, select date range, and go last 90 days, because it will give you more data, and that’s very important because the longest you can go back within the search console is 90 days.
You cannot go back further than that. So default it to the last 90 days, and then you could download that, and it will give you loads of keyword ideas. It’s also really handy to just get a real sense of your visibility. As you can see, this client’s … The traffic is growing quite nicely, and they’re coming for all sorts of … they sell how many cards. They’re coming up for a huge number of different … some short, some long. All different variants of different handmade card terms. They’re coming up for loads unless they’re getting clicks for all different types of terms, which is really, really positive to see.
What you can do is you’ve got options here: Clicks, impressions, click-through … CTR means click-through rate and position. So if we select those, you can see the different types of data, and this is good. Again, you can get a real sense of how many impressions you’re getting, all the trends going … Are they increasing? Is that positive or are they decreasing? Average position is 12.1, which if I can increase that and get that within the top five, top six as the average position, naturally, all the clicks, all the … just the visibility of this website will dramatically increase, so that is my actual campaign.
Focus for that is to increase this average position, and it’s just a good way for you to be able to … Their click-through rate, 1.25%. Total impressions, 186,000. 2,300 are clicks. This can provide you with a lot of data. I often review this and will look for terms that I’m performing quite well for, and I’ll look for where is my average position and often I actually will sort by average position, see where are we ranking really well for, and then go the other way as well, because you can see we’ve got heck of a lot of terms here and look at where are we down in, say, if we click through to here.
So these ones here would be interesting. These are where we’re currently positioned five to eight. So I would look at these, extract these, see if there are any themes of these whether lots of the keyword strings, which ultimately is around the same content. I could take that, put it into my content strategy process and then look at … because I know if I’m already averaging a position six, seven, and eight, if I work a little bit harder, put a little bit more into the content, then maybe I could nudge that into position two, three, and four.
If I’m doing that, you know the clicks are going to increase. You know the visibility is going to increase as well. So, just a really handy thing. This data, you cannot get this from analytics. And years gone by, analytics would tell you all of this stuff and more, whereas Google took that away, but they gave us this instead. This is the best that we can do with it, and just knowing where to find it and how to use it and download it. Again, it’s going to equip you with lots of really useful information.
You can also work through this. You can select a different thing to slice and dice the data and get a real sense of what is happening for your website. But I’ll leave you to just have a play with that in your own time. I want to move on to links to your site now. This again is really, really important. Google doesn’t tell you every single website that it’s linking to. If only they did, it will make everyone’s life that much easier, but unfortunately, they don’t. What they do is they give you a proportion, and they won’t tell you whether that’s 60% or 70%.
They won’t tell you, but they will give you a percentage. So we can use that to our advantage. And again, keeping on top of your links, knowing where you’re getting your links from can do all sorts of things. It can ensure that you stay spam-free, because if you spot any spam, you need to then be looking at getting rid of that. So you would contact the website owners, request they remove the link, or as a final option, you could do a disavow.
It also tells you what types of websites are linking to you, so you can learn from that and go out, and if there are good quality links, you can then go out and think, “Right. I’m going to try and acquire more of those.” If I’m getting some great coverage from a PR standpoint, or if I’m getting lots of people linking into me in a specific topic or a specific theme, go after more of those links. So it’s a great way to see what’s working. You’ve got who links the most, your most linked content, so you can break the links down by where are you getting the most links in.
You can click more and view that and download it. What you can also do is who links the most. So if we click into this, Google will tell you it’s currently … It’s same. For this, there’s 134 domains out there. That’s not going to be all of them, but it’s going to be a sizeable percentage, and it’s going to tell me all the different types of websites that are linking to you. So you could download this table. What I often do is just download more sample links. That will give you this list and more, and it’s going to highlight the different types of links so you can actually then review them and see, like I said, where you’re acquiring those things from.
So again, a lot of what the search console has is just a way of informing you and educating you so you can make practical, informed decisions going forward, so you know what is going on with your business. I think that’s the key here is often with a search console, all this data is there, but whenever I delve in and I start asking questions, people just don’t know. They say, “Oh, I don’t know this, and I have no idea who’s linking to me, and I have no idea what I’m being found for.”
This stuff that is ready and waiting there, and now, we’ve got this set up. Just by you knowing how to access all of this stuff, you’re going to be that much more knowledgeable when it comes to your online visibility. You’re going to know who’s linking to you. You’re going to know where your traffic is coming from. You’re going to know if you have any errors on your website that you need to fix. You’re going to know all of these things.
So we’ve then got internal links, which we need not really worry about. It just tells you how many where you’re linking to within your own website. So if there are certain pages that you want to promote prominently on your website, one simple way to do it is get more internal links to that page. Traditionally, your home page is going to be your most valuable page and your most authoritative page. So just adding a link from your homepage to your new, latest product or your latest blog post will more often than not give that a little bit of a boost.
Manual actions. If you’re unfortunate enough to have a manual penalty applied, it will appear here. Hopefully, you won’t ever see it. You’ll just only ever see, “No manual webspam actions found.” That’s what you want to be seeing. But again, it’s something. If you ever do get a manual penalty applied, you will get email notifications from Google, and this is where you would click in to see it, and it would tell you how to try and correct that and how to try and recover.
But it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see anything here, but I just wanted to highlight that it is there if you ever do get any manual spam actions. International targeting, again, it’s more advanced. We need not worry about that. Mobile usability. This is where you if you have any mobile usability issues, Google will tell you or it will list the types of problems to you it’s having or the experiences that Google came across the last time it tried to crawl your website.
As you can see for this website, we have issues, and I think that just about covers all the main things that I wanted to cover. You’ve got in the search appearance, we’ve got HTML improvements, which is an okay … You’ll cover most of this when you’re working through module one, and you’re optimising all your title tags and your meta descriptions and your on-page … You’re doing your on-site audits essentially. But it’s always something to have a quick glance at, which that Google will list when it last crawled your website.
It will list any duplicate or any issues that it found. So here it’s telling you’ve got four duplicate title tags. But then we’ve got no missing title tags. We’ve got no tags that are too long, none that are too short, and none that are non-informative. So pretty good, just four title tags that I can have a look at. But again, if you’re only seeing a minimal number, it really isn’t a concern. It’s only if you come into here and you know you’ve got 100 products on your website, and you’re seeing 100 or more of these type of errors, then it’s something to be looking at.
But if you’ve done the on-site audit and all that work in module one, you’re not going to be seeing this. Even if you do, once you resubmit your website and Google re-crawls it, you’re going to have taken care of most of this anyway, but it is handy to know where it is, and that just about covers everything. I’m going to go back to the dashboard. Like say crawl errors, search analytics, and sitemaps, they’re the main three, and that’s it.
It’s not half as scary as it seems and just knowing your way around it, knowing the types of things that the search console can tell you is really valuable. It ensures that you know what’s what when it comes to these various Google tools. Google gives you all of this stuff for a reason. It wants you to do a great job with your website. So I hope that you find that really useful.
In the next lesson, I’m going to look at some of the tools of the trade, some of the handy, both free and paid tools that agencies like myself and marketers and a lot of business as well that we’ll have for doing all sorts of tasks that will speed up tasks and make things … you able to do them in a more efficient way. In Lesson four, I’m going to cover the tools of the trade, and I look forward to seeing you there.