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How to use Google Search Console: a beginner’s guide

Do you have your own website or maintain the website of the company you work for? Of course, to do this right, you need to keep a keen eye on the performance of your website. Google offers several tools to collect and analyze data of your website. You probably have heard of Google Analytics and Google Search Console before. These tools are free to use for everyone maintaining a website and can give you very valuable insights about your website. Here we’ll explain how to use Google Search Console for SEO!

Table of contents

Why everyone with a website should use Google Search Console

Google Search Console has been created to easily track the performance of your website. You can get valuable insights out of your Google Search Console account which means that you can see what part of your website needs work. This can be a technical part of your website, such as an increasing number of crawl errors that need to be fixed. This can also be giving a specific keyword more attention because the rankings or impressions are decreasing.

Besides seeing this kind of data, you’ll get mail notifications when new errors are noticed by Google Search Console. Because of these notifications, you’re quickly aware of issues you need to fix. That’s why everyone with a website should learn how to use it!

Setting up an account

To start using Google Search Console, you’ll need to create an account. Within the new Google Search Console, you can click on ‘add a new property’ in the top bar:

Add a new property — or a site — to get started

Clicking on the ‘Add a property’ button, you can insert the website you want to add. If you choose the new Domain option, you only need to add the domain name — so without www or subdomains. This option tracks everything connected to that domain. With the ‘old’ URL prefix option you have to add the right URL, so with ‘https’ if you have an https website and with or without ‘www’. For collecting the right data, it’s important to add the right version:

Choose domain if your want to track all your URLs or URL prefix if you want to track specific URLs

When you’ve added a website, you need to verify that you’re the owner. There are several options to verify your ownership. The Domain option only works with DNS verification, while the URL prefix supports different methods. You can find out more about the differences in Google’s documentation: adding a new property and verifying your site ownership.

For WordPress users who use Yoast SEO, get the verification code via the ‘HTML tag’ method:

You can easily copy this code and paste it into the ‘Webmaster tools’ tab within the Yoast SEO plugin:

After saving this, you can return to Google Search Console and click on the ‘Verify’ button to confirm. If everything is ok, you’ll get a success message and GSC will start collecting data for your website.

Features in Google Search Console

Now you’ve set up your account what would be the next step? Well, it’s time to look at some of your data! We’ll explore some of the reports and information available in the rest of this article.

Performance tab

Within the Performance tab, you can see what pages and what keywords your website ranks for in Google. In the old version of GSC you could see the data of a maximum of the last 90 days but in the current version, it’s possible to see the data up to 16 months. Keep in mind that the data is available from the moment you set up your account.

If you check the performance tab regularly, you can quickly see what keywords or what pages need some more attention and optimization. So where to begin? Within the performance tab, you see a list of ‘queries’, ‘pages’, ‘countries’ or ‘devices’. With ‘search appearance’ you can check how your rich results are doing in search. Each of those sections can be sorted by the number of ‘clicks’, ‘impressions’, ‘average CTR’ or ‘average position’. We’ll explain each of them below:

The Perfomance overview harbours a ton of information

1. Clicks

The amount of clicks tells you how often people clicked on your website in the search results of Google. This number can tell something about the performance of your page titles and meta descriptions: if just a few people click on your result, your result might not stand out in the search results. It could be helpful to check what other results are displayed around you to see what can be optimized for your snippet.

The position of the search result also has an impact on the number of clicks of course. If your page is in the top 3 of Google’s first result page it will automatically get more clicks than a page that ranks on the second page of the search results.

2. Impressions

The impressions tell you how often your website in general or how often a specific page is shown in the search results. For example, in the GSC account of our own website, Yoast SEO is one of the keywords our website ranks for. The number of impressions shown after this keyword shows how often our website is shown for that keyword in the search results of Google. You don’t know yet what page ranks for that keyword.

To see what pages might rank for the specific keyword, you can click on the line of the keyword. Doing this for the keyword [Yoast SEO], the keyword is added as a filter:

You can query the data in many ways

After that, you could navigate to the ‘Pages’ tab to see what pages exactly rank for this keyword. Are those pages the ones you’d want to rank for that keyword? If not, you might need to optimize the page you’d like to rank. Think of writing better content containing the keyword on that page, adding internal links from relevant pages or posts to the page, making the page load faster, etc.

3. Average CTR

The CTR – Click-through rate – tells you what percentage of the people that have seen your website in the search results also clicked through to your website. You probably understand that higher rankings mostly also lead to higher click-through rates.

However, there are also things you can do yourself to increase the CTR. For example, you could rewrite your meta description and page title to make it more appealing. When the title and description of your site stands out from the other results, more people will probably click on your result and your CTR will increase. Keep in mind that this will not have a big impact if you’re not ranking on the first page yet. You might need to try other things first to improve your ranking.

4. Average position

The last one in this list is the ‘Average position’. This tells you what the average ranking of a specific keyword or page was in the time period you’ve selected. Of course, this position isn’t always reliable since more and more people seem to get different search results. Google seems to understand better and better which results fit best for which visitor. However, this indicator still gives you an idea if the clicks, impressions and the average CTR are explainable.

Index coverage

A more technical but very valuable tab within Google Search Console is the ‘Index coverage’ tab. This section shows how many pages are in the index of Google since the last update, how many pages aren’t and what errors and warnings caused difficulties for Google indexing your pages properly.

Index coverage
You can see the trends in errors as well

We recommend checking this tab regularly to see what errors and warnings appear on your website. However, you also get notifications when Google has found new errors. When you get such a notification you can check the error in more detail here.

You may find that errors are caused when, e.g., a redirect doesn’t seem to work correctly, or Google is finding broken code or error pages in your theme.

Clicking on the link, you can analyze the error more in depth to see what specific URLs are affected. When you’ve fixed the error you can mark it as fixed to make sure Google will test the URL again:

Submitted URL not found (404)
Fixed the specific error? Validate it so Google can check if it’s gone for real

There are a few things you should always look for when checking out your coverage reports:

  • If you’re writing new content, your indexed pages should be a steadily increasing number. This tells you two things: Google can index your site and you keep your site ‘alive’ by adding content.
  • Watch out for sudden drops! This might mean that Google is having trouble accessing (all of) your website. Something may be blocking Google; whether it’s robots.txt changes or a server that’s down: you need to look into it!
  • Sudden (and unexpected) spikes in the graph might mean an issue with duplicate content (such as both www and non-www, wrong canonicals, etc.), automatically generated pages, or even hacks.

We recommend that you monitor these types of situations closely and resolve errors quickly, as too many errors could send a signal of low quality (bad maintenance) to Google.

URL Inspection

The URL Inspection tool helps you analyze specific URLs. You retrieve the page from Google’s index and compare it with the page as it lives now on your site to see if there are differences. On this page, you can also find more technical info, like when and how Google crawled it and how it looked when it was crawled. Sometimes, you’ll also notice a number of errors. This might be in regards to Google not being able to crawl your page properly. It also gives information about the structured data found on this URL.

The URL Inspection tool gives invaluable insights into every URL on your site

Enhancement tabs

Below the ‘Index coverage,’ you can find the Enhancement tab. Here, you’ll find everything you need to improve how your site performs. It has insights in site speed, mobile usability, AMP usage, and structured data enhancements that might lead to rich results in the SERPs.

Speed

The new speed report is still in its experimental stages, but already an invaluable addition. This report gives a good idea of how fast your site loads on mobile and desktop. In addition, it also shows which pages have issues that keep them from loading quickly. The data is based on the Chrome UX report, so real data of real users. Site speed is a difficult topic containing many moving part, so it’s good to learn how you should think about site speed. You can find the answer here: how to check site speed.

Find out which pages load slowly

AMP

One of the tabs is for all things ‘AMP’. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages: lightning fast mobile pages. If you’ve set up AMP for your website you can check for errors in Google Search Console. Within this section you can see the valid AMP pages, the valid ones with warnings and errors:

AMP error

Below the chart, the issues are listed. If you click on one of the issues, you can see the affected URLs. Just as in the index section of GSC you can validate your fix if you’ve fixed an issue.

Rich results enhancement tab

If you have structured data on your site, provided by Yoast SEO for instance, it’s a good idea to check out the Enhancements reports in Search Console. The Enhancements tab is the place where all the insights and improvements that could lead to rich results are collected. There’s an ever-expanding list of support rich results. As of writing, that list contains:

  • breadcrumbs
  • events
  • faqs
  • how-tos
  • jobs
  • logos
  • products
  • reviews
  • sitelinks searchboxes
  • videos

All these tabs show how many valid enhancements you have, or how many have errors or warnings. You get details about the kind of errors and warnings and on which URLs these are found. There’s also a trend line that shows if the number of issues is increasing or decreasing. And that’s just the start of it.

Here’s an example of a how-to enhancement. You can overlay Impressions to get more context for the stats

The Enhancements reports help you find and fix issues that hinder your performance in search. By checking the issues, reading the support documentation and validating fixes, you can increase your chance of getting rich results in search. We have a more expansive guide on the structured data Enhancement reports in Google Search Console.

Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is like a roadmap to all important pages and posts on your website. We think every website would benefit from having one. Is our Yoast SEO plugin running on your website? Then you automatically have an XML sitemap. If not, we recommend creating one to make sure Google can find your most important pages and posts easily.

Within the XML sitemap tab of Google Search Console you can tell Google where your XML sitemap is located on your site:

Add a new sitemap

We recommend everyone entering the URL of their XML sitemap into GSC to make Google find it easily. In addition to that, you can quickly see if your sitemap gives errors or if some pages aren’t indexed, for instance. Checking this regularly, you’re sure Google can find and read your XML sitemap correctly.

We recommend regularly checking the XML sitemap section in our plugin to manage which post types or taxonomies you’re including in your sitemaps!

Within the links to your site section, you can see how many links from other sites are pointing to your website. Besides, you can see what websites link, how many links those websites contain to your site and lastly, what anchor texts are used most linking to your website. This can be valuable information because links still are very important for SEO.

Find out which pages receive lots of links

Within the internal links section, you can check what pages of your website are most linked from other spots on your site. This list can be valuable to analyze regularly because you want your most important pages and posts to get most internal links. Doing this, you make sure Google understands as well what your cornerstones are.

You can even see how many links individual pages get

Mobile usability

The mobile usability tab within this section shows you usability issues with your mobile website or with specific mobile pages. Since mobile traffic is rising all over the world, we recommend checking this regularly. If your mobile site isn’t user-friendly, lots of visitors will leave it quickly.

Handy tips to improve your mobile pages

Manual Actions

The manual actions tab is the one you don’t want to see anything in. If your site is penalized by Google, you’ll get more information in here. If your site is affected by a manual action, you’ll also get messaged via email.

There are a number of scenarios which can lead to these kinds of penalties, including:

  • You have unnatural/bought links
    Make sure from and to your site are valuable, not just for SEO. Preferably your links come from and link to related content that is valuable for your readers.
  • Your site has been hacked
    A message stating your site’s probably hacked by a third party. Google might label your site as compromised or lower your rankings.
  • You’re hiding something from Google
    If you’re ‘cloaking’ (that is, intentionally showing different to content than to users, for the purposes of decieving either of them), or using ‘sneaky’ redirects (e.g., hiding affiliate URLs), then you’re violating of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Plain Spam
    Automatically generated content, scraped content and aggressive cloaking could cause Google to blacklist your site.
  • Spammy structured markup
    If you use rich snippets for too many irrelevant elements on a page, or mark up content that is hidden to the visitor, that might be considered spammy. Mark up what’s necessary, and not everything is necessary.

Security issues

Last but not least: within the security issues tab you’ll get a notification when your website seems to have a security issue.

Search Console: an incredibly helpful tool

Reading this post should give you a good idea of what Search Console is capable of and how to use it, so I’d like to ask you this: Do you already use Google Search Console for your website? If not, we definitely recommend creating an account so you can start collecting data about your website. Do you think something is missing? Feel free to leave a comment!

Read more: How to make your site stand out in the search results »


44 Responses to How to use Google Search Console: a beginner’s guide

  1. Eamon Morrish
    Eamon Morrish  • 1 month ago

    Hi, I am looking for the robots.txt tester feature, is that gone ? or if its still there where can I find it ? thanks, great article and very helpful !

  2. Paula
    Paula  • 1 month ago

    Hello,
    I’ve tried to verify my Google Analytics and Pinterest via the Yoast Settings but I keep getting responses from both companies that verification was unsuccessful. Do you have any suggestions?

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 1 month ago

      Hi Paula, sorry to hear that you’re having problems. We’d be happy to help. Just go to https://yoa.st/support for an overview of options to get support. Good luck!

  3. Susan Palmer
    Susan Palmer  • 2 months ago

    Thank You for this information. As I tried this walkthrough on my blog and setup Search console. But there are some problems like I can not find a place to paste the Google Analytics code. And when I tried to submit my website’s homepage URL to console, it is showing soft error 404. How can I resolve that? Please Help me!

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 1 month ago

      Hi Susan. Did you mean the code for Analytics or Search Console? You can add your code for Search Console in Yoast SEO > General > Webmaster Tools. For Analytics, you can add an Analytics plugin to your WordPress site. Or use Google’s Site Kit plugin to get your site verified quickly. I’m not sure why your homepage would turn up as a soft 404. Could your try running it in the URL inspection tool to see what comes up? https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9012289

  4. Luke Shaw
    Luke Shaw  • 2 months ago

    I’m in two minds about using Ahrefs or Google search console. Whease, Ahrefs helps us keep an eye on link building and other competitors, Google Search Console gives us good insights on what people use to find our website. So, in your opinion, which SEO tool is better? Thanks in advance

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 months ago

      Hi Luke, difficult to compare, both tools are very valuable! Google Search Console is great and free, so you can always use that. If you need more information, for instance on backlinks, or you’re in a very competitive market and you’re willing to spend some money, Ahrefs is a nice addition!

  5. Shane warne
    Shane warne  • 2 months ago

    Hi Writer,

    Your content helped me a lot in setting up my google search console for my website. I was having some issues in my last setup and because of which my data was not up to the mark. Thank you for the blog.

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 1 month ago

      Hi Shane, glad to be of service :-) Good luck with your site!

  6. Nitin
    Nitin  • 2 months ago

    Does http and https version of same page are considered as two different entities.If yes then how do i correct this?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 1 month ago

      Hi. If you set up your domain via the domain property option, you’ll automatically set up Google Search Console for all your underlying URLs. See Google’s documentation for more information: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/34592?hl=en

  7. Shivya
    Shivya  • 2 months ago

    Super helpful! Been meaning to get on google search console for a long time, but it remains on my to-do list. Thanks for the nudge.

    • Hanneke Beers
      Hanneke Beers  • 2 months ago

      Thanks Shivya and good luck!

  8. Moses
    Moses  • 2 months ago

    Where is the google analytics tracking code location Inside yoast seo to enter?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 months ago

      Hi Moses, Thanks for your question! If you mean the verification code of Google Search Console, you can enter that in the Webmaster tool tab in Yoast SEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zDiIJIHZjQ Good luck!

  9. md MOFIJUL ISLAM
    md MOFIJUL ISLAM  • 2 months ago

    Thank you. That was extremely helpful

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      You’re welcome!

  10. Mike
    Mike  • 2 months ago

    Great info. Concise and to the point.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Thanks, Mike!

  11. Shella Marie Oson
    Shella Marie Oson  • 2 months ago

    Thanks for this. Newbie SEO Specialist here.

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 1 month ago

      You’re welcome Shella, that’s how all of us start out :-) Good luck!

  12. steventoews
    steventoews  • 2 months ago

    Do you happen to know how long it takes, on average, for backlinks to be updated on the Links section of Google Search Console? In my experience, the time can vary wildly. Is this common?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Steven. I don’t think there’s an average for this. As you say, it varies wildly, so it’s not something to worry about too much.

  13. Francesco
    Francesco  • 2 months ago

    Very nice and helpful article thanks

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      That’s good to hear, Francesco!

  14. Harish Nemade
    Harish Nemade  • 2 months ago

    Hey Yoast, As we are able to add Sitemaps and take the full advantage of GSC. Blogger is not allowing me to add Sitemaps. Because GSC doesn’t accept any sitemaps? Why But?
    I mean any explaination

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Harish. You should be able to add your Blogger site to Search Console. Go to your Settings, click on Crawlers and indexing, and follow the procedure. Good luck!

      • Harish Nemade
        Harish Nemade  • 2 months ago

        No, I said we can’t add sitemaps to GSC of blogger right?

  15. contro tak
    contro tak  • 2 months ago

    Hi
    Very good and quite useful
    I enjoyed it. Thank you. I am from Iran and I like your website.

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 1 month ago

      Thank you Contro, that’s great to hear!

  16. Mon Petit Site
    Mon Petit Site  • 2 months ago

    Intersting post Meike ! Thanks from France !

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      You’re welcome!

  17. Eduadda
    Eduadda  • 2 months ago

    First of all thanks for sharing this amazing article, and I just recently start my blogging journey and I think this article can help to grow my blogging journey in 2020.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Good luck on your endeavours, Eduadda.

  18. konstantinos panagos
    konstantinos panagos  • 2 months ago

    Very useful post. It is very important to enroll your xml sitemaps to google. There is not enough google vertification code

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Konstantinos. Yeah, it’s a very good idea to let Google know of your XML sitemap. It is one of the quickest ways to have Google index your pages.

  19. Inspirell
    Inspirell  • 2 months ago

    Hi, i really liked your blog on the Basics Of SEO. By reading your blog I surely understood that Search Console is an incredibly helpful tool. Now I’ll be able to track the performance of my website.
    Thankyou :)

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Cool, good luck! You’ll get amazing insights.

  20. Meena
    Meena  • 2 months ago

    It is really helpful for me.
    But my question is in search console how do we get the traffic analysis of each and every page of a website?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      Hi Meena. You’re looking for an overview of all pages? That’s possible, of course. You can export your analysis to Google Sheets, that makes it easier to work with a lot of data rows.

  21. Panagiotis Kontogiannis
    Panagiotis Kontogiannis  • 2 months ago

    More links in number, better quality links, more new and useful content, more site visitors and more work for us. To stay on top you always have to work harder than your competitors.

    • Pvachase
      Pvachase  • 2 months ago

      I am beginner , does it help to me?

  22. Jonathan Z
    Jonathan Z  • 2 months ago

    I have to say that I am a new user to Google Search console and I find this information really helpful. The tools that I use the most are Performance and the part where you can see the pages that have been indexed.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 2 months ago

      I agree, Jonathan, Google Search Console is awesome. Hopefully it’ll give you new opportunities to rank your content.