Google Search Console is an incredibly useful, free tool offered by Google to help website owners get in-depth insights into the health and performance of their sites. Some of the insights Google Search Console offers are:
- Number of webpages are in Google’s index
- Number of 404 (not found) pages and other errors have been identified
- Search terms your site is ranking for in Google search results
- Malware and suspicious activity alerts
Between access to this useful data, and the warnings Google Search Console sends when something goes awry on your site, it’s really worthwhile adding your site to this service. There’s absolutely no downside, and no cost. Here’s how to do it:
Add your website in Google Search Console (GSC)
Log in to your Google account and go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/. Click the “Add a property” button in the top-right of the page.
Verify your property (website)
Google Search Console calls websites “Properties.” The next step is to prove to Google that you own your site.
GSC offers a number of methods for verifying your site, but the best option is via Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager under the Alternate Methods tab. By verifying with Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager, you’ll be able to see some additional information in your Google Analytics account like as Search Queries (keywords). (If you don’t have a Google Analytics account, create one asap and add it to your site regardless of whether you use GSC or not!)
If you prefer not to verify this way, you can use one of the other methods, such as adding a meta tag to the <head> code of your pages, which you can do this easily with Yoast’s SEO plugin under Dashboard > Webmaster Tools).
Make sure to verify all the versions of your site
A lot of site owners aren’t aware, but best practice for adding your site to Google Search Console is to add all versions of it. You may be wondering how a site can have more than one version. Well, every site exists both as a www and non-www URL and you need to add both:
Best practice is that you choose one version as the primary address for your site, and 301 redirect all other pages to that URL. For example, if your preferred URL is mysite.com, then www.mysite.com will redirect to mysite.com, www.mysite.com/about will redirect to mysite.com/about, etc.
You can verify each version of the site by clicking the “Add a property” button again.
But if you thought two properties per site is a lot, we’re heading into a world where all sites need to have at least four properties…
SSL all the sites!
Over the last year or so, Google has been hinting loudly that all sites should be encrypted and secured with SSL in order to provide a more secure user experience, and those that aren’t may be penalized. In addition, Google announced that new versions of Chrome will “shame” websites that don’t have an SSL certificate by indicating that those sites are not secure, as opposed to what has been the norm until now where non-https sites were just displayed, while https sites got the boost of a fancy green lock indicating security.
What this means for Google Search Console management is that an SSL site’s URLs start with https rather than http, and therefore needs to be added as four properties:
Creating four properties for each site is a bit of a pain, since you need to verify them each one at a time. Once you’ve added all the versions of your site, you need to tell Google Search Console which is your preferred version. Do this by clicking on the wheel at the top-right corner of the screen when you’re in the relevant Property, and then clicking Site Settings:
Submit XML Sitemap to Google Search Console
The recommended next step is to submit your site’s XML sitemap to Google Search Console. An XML sitemap gives you more control over which pages are indexed by Google, and can also help speed up the indexing of your site. If you’re using Yoast’s SEO plugin, you can enable the XML sitemap under the XML Sitemaps settings. Once you’ve done that, there’s a link to access your XML sitemap on that page:
Grab the URL, which in the case of Yoast’s plugin is in the format of https://mysite.com/sitemap_index.xml, and submit it to Google Search Console by clicking into your preferred version of your website, and then clicking on Crawl > Sitemaps:
Click on the red button that says Add/Test Sitemap, and that will open this box:
Paste the end of your sitemap’s URL into the field. In our case, it’s sitemap_index.xml. Once you’ve submitted it, you’ll start to see results that look something like this:
Viewing Search Console Data in your Google Analytics account
As mentioned above in the section about verifying your site, the data provided by Google Search Console is different than that which is offered in Google Analytics. Both data sets are important and useful, so it’s great to be able to see it all in one place. You can do that by setting up Search Console Sharing.
Once you’ve verified your Google Search Console property via Google Analytics, Search Console data can now be accessed in your Google Analytics account under Acquisition > Search Console.
Click “Set up Search Console data sharing.” This will take to you Admin > Property Settings where you can click on “Adjust Search Console”.
On the next screen, click Edit:
Select your preferred web property (i.e. https://mysite.com) and click Save.
You can now go back to your Analytics and view data about what users see in Google search results under the Acquisition > Search Console tab. You can use this data to find opportunities such as identifying search queries (keywords) for which your site has good average positions, but poor click through rates. Improving the page titles and descriptions could lead to more visitors.
Combining Google Search Console Properties into Sets
About a year ago, Google released a new feature for Google Search Console called Property Sets. The idea behind Property Sets is to help you collate multiple related properties, like the four versions you needed verify, into one set for greater efficiency. However, in practice you just end up with a fifth entry in your GSC Dashboard, and the features in Property Sets are more limited than individual properties:
- If you don’t have access to one of the properties in a set, you lose access to the entire set.
- Sets cannot be shared with others.
- Not all reports are available for property sets.
Hopefully Google will develop this feature further and make it more useful. In the meantime, if you want to use Property Sets despite its drawbacks, here’s how:
Click on Create a Set in the top-right corner of the dashboard:
Click on Create a Set to create a set of Properties in Google Search Console
Then, select the properties you want to add to the set from the drop-down. Keep choosing them one-by-one until you’re done, and then click Save Changes:
Now this set will appear in your dashboard as a set, which has a bit of a different UI than your individual properties:
That’s it! Here’s what a Set looks like:
Here’s what this site looks like as a regular, single property:
Making the most of Google Search Console
In my opinion, just like Google Analytics should be integrated with every site so site owners can have a clue about what’s going on, so too with Google Search Console. GSC is free, easy to integrate and provides very valuable information that can help site owners make better decisions regarding their sites moving forward. I hope you install it, and I’d love to hear what information you learned that helped you with your online presence!