Google Search Console is a free platform for anyone with a website to monitor how Google views their site and optimize its organic presence. That includes viewing your referring domains, mobile site performance, rich search results, and highest-traffic queries and pages.
At any given time, I have Google Search Console open in two to 10 tabs. It’s helpful on a macro and micro level — both when I need to figure out what’s happened to a high-traffic blog post that suddenly dipped, and see how many impressions JasaSEO.be is gaining month over month.
I’m a content strategist on JasaSEO.be’s SEO team, which means Google Search Console is particularly useful to me. But anyone who’s got a website can and should dip their toes in these waters. According to Google, whether you’re a business owner, SEO specialist, marketer, site administrator, web developer, or app creator, Search Console will come in handy.
I remember the first time I opened Google Search Console — and it was overwhelming. There were tons of labels I didn’t understand (index coverage?!?), hidden filters, and confusing graphs. Of course, the more I used it, the less confusing it became.
But if you want to skip the learning curve (and why wouldn’t you), good news: I’m going to reveal everything I’ve learned about how to use Google Search Console like a pro.
This guide covers:
Adding your website to Google Search Console
Setting up owners, users, and permissions
Submitting a site map
Understanding dimensions and metrics
Using GSC (23 use cases)
First things first. If you haven’t already signed up for Google Search Console, it’s time to do so.
How to add your website to Google Search Console
Setting up Google Search Console is quite easy. Head over to its welcome page and log in with your Google credentials.
After signing up, you will be asked to enter your web address in one of two boxes. The left-hand box is for a Domain Property and the right-hand box is for a URL Prefix Property.
f your site supports both http:// and https://, add both as separate sites. You must also add each domain (for example, jasaseo.be, blog.jasaseo.be, and www.jasaseo.be).
In the past, you had to verify all the protocols separately but thanks to the domain property option, all you need is to enter your domain and all the variations will be included.
URL Prefix Property – You should use this option if you only want to cover an exact URL format. For example, if you enter http://www.website.com/blog into the required field, only this URL format will be tracked. This option is often used for targeting a specific language mutation on a multilingual website, e.g. https://en-gb.example.com
Now that you have selected the property type and entered your domain, you need to verify that you are the owner of the website.
If you selected the Domain Property, you’ll need to verify the ownership via the DNS record.
The exact steps will depend on your domain provider, but in general, you’ll need to follow these steps:
Go to your domain’s DNS record settings
Add a new DNS record and paste the code that appeared in the Search Console
Once you added the DNS record, go back to GCS and click on “Verify”. Don’t worry if you see a message that “the ownership verification failed.”The DNS record change may take up to 72 hours to take effect.
Just try a little bit later, until you see a similar message:
Verification with an HTML tag
If you selected a URL prefix in the property type, you’ve got more options on how to verify your website. One of the most popular ways is to use the HTML tag and copy the code into the <head> section of your site.
If your website runs on WordPress, you can use a plugin to simplify the whole process. If you use Rank Math plugin, you just need to go to Rank Math – Dashboard – Setup Wizard
Users, owners and permissions
You now have access to Google Search Console. Let’s take a look at how you can share access with other people.
There are three different permissions levels in the Search Console:
Owners: This will probably be you. Owners can view all the site’s data and use all the tools. They can also give other people access to the Search Console. You can also create delegated owners, who have the same control over Search Console as you.
Full Users: Can view all site data and use most of the Search Console tools. They can’t change permissions. Neither can they share access to other G-suite accounts or change the web address.
Restricted Users: Can only view Search Console data and generate basic reports.
To add a full or restricted user, follow these instructions:
Press Settings, then Users and Permissions
Hit the Add User button
Enter the email address of the person you want to add
Choose the level of permission you want to provide
To add a delegated owner, press the three dots beside the current site owner.
You should only provide delegated owner status to people you trust. You can provide full user and restricted user access to agencies and people in your company.
The Overview Report is the first page that loads when you access Search Console. The dashboard contains a snapshot of key information about your site.
Google Search Console dashboards:
From this dashboard you can see:
Site performance report: How many people have clicked on your website from Google
Coverage report: Information whether your pages are indexed properly on Google
Enhancements report: Provides information about enhancements (such as AMP) you’ve made on your site
Manual actions report: This will show you if Google has given you a manual penalty
You can click on the Open Report link to view each report in full. Let’s go through each report in the order that they appear in the left-hand menu.
The Performance report reveals how your website, and pages on your site, are performing in the search results.
There is a lot to cover in this section. So let’s start with an explanation of how to navigate it.
There are 3 main sections you can adjust or click on to show the data you need:
4 main metrics
The various variables you can add include:
Search: Choose to filter the results by web, image, or video
Date: Filter the results by date range. You can also compare date ranges.
Query: Filter by specific keywords, or even exclude keywords
Page: Select a page that you want to focus on
Country: Filter search results by country
Device: Filter search results by the device used
Search appearance: Filter by looking at Rich Results and other variables
As you can see, there are four metrics above the graph. From right to left, they are:
Total clicks: the number of people who visited your site from Google
Total impressions: the total number of times your content was seen on Google
Average CTR: what percentage of impressions resulted in a click
Average position: the average ranking your content has in Google search results
Pro tip: Keep in mind that a sudden increase in impressions will almost always lead to a decrease in average CTR. It is not necessarily a thing to worry about – it just means your page appeared on a lower position for some highly-searched keyword.
Below the main graph, you’ll find a table with specific results.
There are five tabs you can select:
Queries: see what keywords your content is ranking for
Pages: review how pages and blog posts on your site are performing on Google
Countries: see how your website is performing by country
Devices: find out what device – computer, mobile, or tablet – people use to access your website
Search appearance: this will show you whether your structured data appear in the search results
There’s also one more filter in the tabs section that allows you to work with that data from the table.
Quick tip: If you want to see what queries a specific page ranks for, select the Pages tab, then click on a specific page you want to analyze and select Queries again.
Now you have an idea in how many ways you can chop and change the way you analyze data.
For example, you can:
See how your website is performing for a specific keyword
View the keywords and phrases that an individual page is ranking for
Compare search results over time to see if your ranking is improving or decreasing (for this, however, we recommend exporting the data and using a spreadsheet)
Analyze how your website is performing on different devices
3 quick tips to get more organic traffic with the Performance report
You’ll spend most of your time on Search Console analyzing the Performance Report. It may take a little time to get to know your way around it, but don’t worry, it’s no rocket science.
Here are 3 useful tips on how to use the Performance report to improve your SEO.
TIP #1: Find pages that need the CTR optimization
The pages with low click-through rates are low-hanging fruit. They may perform much better if you just make small changes. But first, you need to find them.
Here’s what to do:
First, select the Average CTR and Average position metrics above the graph.
Stay in the Queries tab and sort the results by the position to see what keywords you rank for in the first SERP. You can also use the bottom filter to filter out all the keywords that do not fulfill certain criteria.
For example, we can set up the filter to show only keywords that rank on the first SERP (position is smaller than 10) or the ones that have the CTR lower than 10%.
If the CTR value for any important keyword is considerably low, click on the keyword and switch to the Pages tab. You’ll see the page that ranks for that keyword.
The title tag and meta description have a significant impact on your CTR, so use SERP Simulator tool to see what your page will actually look like in the Google results.
Of course, you can’t optimize for every keyword, so stick only to the focus keywords or keywords that have some value for you.
Note: Keep in mind, that the brand keywords will have significantly higher CTRs while the keywords that have SERPs with featured snippets may have lower-than-the-average CTRs. Always try to think about the possible reasons behind the lower CTR to understand the issue.
TIP #2: Find new keywords to optimize for
Google Search Console can be a great place to find new keyword opportunities. Let’s see how to do it:
Similarly to the previous tip, we can use the filter to narrow down the results.
By focusing on the keywords you already rank for on the 2nd or 3rd SERP (setting the filter to position smaller than 30), you’ll find the keywords with the highest potential.
Now, again, there will be two kinds of keywords you’ll see and your next step will depend on what kind of keyword it is:
If you rank on the 2nd or 3rd step for a focus keyword, you should think about ways to improve the content of the page.
Look at the pages that rank in the 1st SERP and do the competitor analysis. Think about how to make your content:
more visually appealing
Secondary keywords are keywords you rank for even though you did not optimize for them at all. If you already rank for at least one bigger keyword, there will be many of them.
Your main task is to identify the ones that will bring the most value for you. You need to consider the search volume, the difficulty of ranking for them and the relevance. You’ll find more about this topic in our ultimate guide to keyword research.
Let’s say you wrote the ultimate guide to coffee machines and you’ll find out that you rank on position 22 for “4 cup coffee maker”. Great keyword, with great potential.
There are two basic things you can do:
Improve the existing post to include more information about the 4 cup coffee makers
Create a new post focused on 4 cup coffee makers to rank for (and link it from the ultimate guide)
Tip #3 Identify articles competing for the same keyword
I suggest doing this every time you are going to publish a new piece of content.
add the Query variable from the filter at the top
enter your focus keyword into the input field
click on the Pages tab below the graph – this will show you all your pages that rank for this keyword in Google
Now, this may not always be a bad thing. Here are some scenarios and what to do about it:
if the page you found has the same focus keyword, think about updating the old page instead of creating a new one or redirecting the old page to the new one and repurposing the appropriate content
if the page ranks for the keyword, but it is not it’s focus keyword, you can inspect the page and add an internal link to your new piece of content if appropriate
In the following example, we can see all the pages that rank for “things to do in jakarta”. The first page is obviously the main content while the second and third page just mentions the topic. They are a great opportunity to link to the main content internally.
Next up on the main menu is the Index Report. The index report shows the total number of pages that appear in the search results. If everything is green then things are good.
The red box is where problem pages are displayed. You want the number of problematic pages to be as low as possible, ideally zero.
Under the details section, you can sort issues by status, type, validation, and pages. If you notice sudden spikes or drops in your indexed pages, there’s probably a technical problem, for example, a server black-out or a redirect error.
The Enhancements page allows you to view the enhancements you have made to the site.
There are many reports you can find under Enhancements, and many of them will appear only if you have the specific feature implemented on your site.
Let’s cover the three most basic reports:
Mobile usability report
The Accelerated Mobile Pages report
Structured data report
Mobile usability report
The Mobile usability report assesses how your site works on mobile. The report shows you any mobile responsive issues your site has. If your site is mobile responsive, everything should be green.
If there are any problems they will appear in the red rectangle.
You can find information about any problems Google identifies in the Details table below the graph.
Common issues Google finds include:
The text is too small to read
Content is wider than screen
Clickable elements are too close together
Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, are stripped-down versions of a page. AMP is an initiative by Google to optimize the net for mobile. It is designed to load very quickly on mobile.
You can add AMP to your website using a plugin. When implemented, people on a mobile phone will access an AMP version of your site from Google. AMP may help your content to rank higher in the SERP, since fast load time provides a better user experience for visitors.
Once you activate the AMP on your website, you can check the report in Search Console. You can find out if the AMP is working correctly through this report.
Like the other reports, Google uses a traffic light system for rating pages. You can find details regarding any issues Google identifies below the graph.
Structured data report
Structured data allows you to present additional information in Google search results, such as pictures, videos or star ratings.
For your structured data to appear on Google, the search engine needs to understand the code you use. Issues with your structured data will appear on the Structured Data Report. A good resource for reviewing and fixing issues is the Structured Data Testing Tool developed by Google.
Manual actions report
Hopefully, you will never have to view this report. By default, it will show No issues detected. If a manual penalty has been applied to your site by a Google employee, then the penalty will appear in this tab.
Google will apply manual penalties to your site if they think you have been doing anything shady. For instance, you might get a manual penalty as a result of buying backlinks.
A penalty from Google can harm your search rankings or result in your site being de-indexed. It is crucial to resolve any manual link penalty if you want to avoid SEO problems.
Legacy tools and reports
These are some features from the old Search Console. They are not available for domain property so we won’t go into much detail here.
The legacy tools include:
International targeting – you can set a specific target country
Removals – you can remove URLs from the search results
Crawl stats – you can view and regulate the frequency of crawls by Google
Messages – messages from Google
URL parameters – you can let Google know about various parameters you use
Web Tools – access to other tools
Through the Links Report in Search Console, you can view the backlinks pointing to your website. From the table, you can see the pages that have the most internal and external links.
Further down, you can see the top linking sites and anchor texts.
Backlinks (both their quality and quantity) are one of the most important SEO ranking factors – so even if you have great content and perfectly optimized site, you’ll need some quality backlinks to profit from your blog or website.
The report is a great starting point to find:
which pages of your website have the most links
what websites link to you the most
what are the most common anchor texts
what pages have the most internal links
In the Top linked pages report, you can click on a specific page to see who links to it:
Note: Google Search Console has its limitations when it comes to backlinks.
Knowing your top referring domains is incredibly useful for promotion — I’d recommend starting with these sites whenever you do a link-building campaign. (Just make sure to use a tool like Moz, SEMrush, or Ahrefs to filter out the low-authority ones first.)
Identify the most popular anchor text for external links
Scroll down to “Top linking text” > “More.”
Anchor text should be as descriptive and specific as possible — and best case scenario, include your keyword. If you find websites linking to your pages but using anchor text like “Click here” “Learn more”, “Check it out”, etc., consider sending an email asking them to update the hyperlink.
Identify which pages have the most internal links
Scroll down to “Top linked pages” > “More.”
It’s normal for some URLs to have more inbound links. For example, if you run an ecommerce site, every product page in your “Skirts” category will link back to the “Skirts” overview page. That’s a good thing: It tells Google your top-level URLs are the most important (which helps them rank higher).
However, a heavily skewed link distribution ratio isn’t ideal. If a tiny percentage of your URLS are getting way more links than the rest, it’ll be difficult for the 95% to receive search traffic — you’re not passing enough authority to them.
Here’s what a heavily skewed distribution looks like:
The optimal spread looks like this:
Use Google Search Console link data to learn how your links are distributed and if you need to focus on making your link distribution more smooth.
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