Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools before a rather unnecessary rebranding exercise, Google Search Console is a free tool you can install to track tons of data about your blog. This includes numbers related to search engines performance, and a range of technical parameters to assess user experience.
GCS is great for several reasons. Firstly, it’s actually good and free which is a rare enough combination to be highlighted. Because its data is sourced from Google, it’s generally pretty reliable and insightful. It’s also straight forward to install and use.
How to install it
Firstly you’ll need a Google account if you haven’t already got one. Sign into Search Console, click on ‘Add a site’ (I know, crazy stuff). You’ll need to add your url and then verify ownership. This can be done in several ways:
- Upload a file to your server
- Add a meta tag to your blog’s HTML – you can get that file from GSC
- Add a new DNS record
- Use your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account. If you haven’t got GA installed on your blog, don’t worry about that one
- Like every problem, there’s a plugin for it! If you blog on WordPress, you can install the All in One SEO Pack. Once downloaded, go to WordPress admin -> Settings -> All in one SEO, and paste the meta code in the area called “Additional Home Headers.” Verify Ownership in GSC.
Note: if you’re using Blogger which is owned by Google, your blog should be added and verified automatically. If it doesn’t appear on your GSC homepage, add it as highlighted above and it should verify itself. If you’re struggling to get your head around verification, you can find more details on each methods here. Or drop me a comment if you’re unsure 🙂
Once you’re into the main dashboard, you’ll wonder where you’re supposed to look. Wonder no more. The main page has 3 central elements: the search traffic analytics, the indexation traffic and the crawl errors tab, plus a bunch of additional stuff on the side. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the categories and their functions:
just where you get all notices, such as admin related notifications, penalties, errors, big increases in 404s, etc.
Structured data: structured data are additional markups you can use on your site to signify what your content is. You can for instance label your content as recipe so the ingredient lists display in your search results, which is cool, or indicate your content is news in order to gain visibility in the Google news tab.
You can also label restaurants, reviews, etc. This tab allows you to keep an eye on such data, and whether it’s being picked up by Google.
Data Highlighter: assistant on how to implement structured data properly. Beware of using those markups in a misleadinh way to gain more visibility. Not only will Google not be fooled, but it could backfire and get you in trouble if misused!
Search Analytics: great tool which you can use to check how often your pages appear in search results, get clicked on and what specific queries they appear for. Improvement in those 4 metrics (impressions, clicks, click-through rate and average position) are good indicators of how much your site is improving in search. Or not.
Links to your site: self explanatory, picks up links pointing to your site. This tends to not pick up all links, and maybe one of the weaker features of GSC. However if you have no other tool to check your link count, it’s a handy place to start.
Internal links: Internal links are links pointing from one of your own pages to another, like when you reference a previous post. Creating links between your pages is considered good practice, and helps Google crawl your site more quickly.
Manual actions: Google penalty management tab. Hopefully you’ll never need that one.
International targeting: This is where you can select which language and country you want to target. It can be very useful for sites writing in several languages.
Mobile Usability: traffic from mobile phones has now overtaken that on desktops, which means it’s even more important to make sure your blog is ‘mobile friendly’. The usability report identifies urls with usability issues for visitors on mobile devices.
Index status: number of pages on your site which are indexed by Google. The more the better, obviously.
Remove URLs: If there are particular pages on your site you don’t want Google to access and index, you can add them here. Note: you can only block those pages 3 months at a time.
Crawl Errors: The main tab to get an overview of errors picked up on your pages by Google crawlers. This typically includes stuff like 404s and server errors. If you think something may be wrong with your site, you’ll be able to see it here.
Crawl Stats: gives you an overview of how many of your pages Google is crawling daily, looking back over the past 90 days. Other useful data provided in there includes loading time for crawlers.
Fetch as Google: Google can sometimes take a while to take into account the changes you make on your pages and index the latest version in its search results. This feature allows you to manually submit pages to Google to speed up the process. You can submit a limited number of pages a month via this method, so pick carefully!
Robots txt Tester: the robots.txt is a file you can use to systematically block some content on your site. Using the ‘disallow’ function, you can block specific url paths appearing in search results. If there are pages on your blog you want to keep but prevent from appearing in search, this is a good.
What you want to keep your eye on?
Still reading? Jeez, well done! It’s a lot to take in, but there are several elements I personally like to keep an eye on. Of course, the notifications are a good place to start.
For me, the main one is definitely the search analytics data, which gives really cool insight as to which pages attract visitors, what queries people type to find you and just generally how much your site is growing. This can help you decide what you should write about next, or which pages might need optimising.
Since links pointing to your site are an important elements for Google to determine your authority, I like to keep an eye on the number of links pointing to my site too, as well as what the nature of the sites pointing to me are.
Finally, the number of pages from your blog Google has indexed is a good metric. If you keep producing more and more content and this number doesn’t grow, you might be doing something wrong or have some technical issue preventing pages getting picked up. The crawl errors is a good tab to make sure your blog’s technically sound, and visitors have no problems viewing your pages.