Google Search Console Basics
The most basic answer to what is google search console is, a tool that index's and crawls your site, measures your website performance, and search traffic. Sounds super simple, right? Well, it is. But don't let the simplicity of it undervalue the need and use of this tool. Google Search Console (GSC) is one of the most critical tools that can help navigate your SEO and paid ad campaigns. Let's take a more in-depth look into how to set up GSC and the components that make it make so crucial to the future of your digital marketing.
Setting Up Google Search Console
One of the best features about GSC is the variety of ways in which you can add and verify your site. The 2 high level methods are either by "Domain Property" or "URL-prefix Property". Domain property are for websites that contain subdomains or multiple properties (http, https, etc.). URL-prefix will only measure a single subdomain or property. Either method can be used depending on one of two things: 1. If you have subdomains that you want tracked use Domain Property setup. 2. If you only a single URL or do not have access to the DNS server then URL-prefix is the method for you.
Domain Property requires you put a txt doc in your DNS server for verification and is the only method you can do. This is the most optimal way to verify your site and is also a verification method for URL-prefix setup as well. URL-prefix has a few other methods of verifying that include; HTML file upload, HTML tag, GA4 integration, Google Tag Manager, or Domain name provider. 9 times out of 10 DNS is the way to go but if for some reason you don't have access to the DNS the GA4 or Google Tag Manager is the easiest way to go.
Follow Google Search Console to begin your set up process and get your site indexed.
What is Indexing and Crawling Mean?
Indexing is the term used when Google in this case crawls your website and reads the content which then stores into Google's "Web Library" so you can appear for search results. A misconception people have is that when you search something the Google crawlers go and read a bunch of websites at that moment. The reality is that Google index's are more like a library and it pulls sites they same way you would look for a cookbook in the cooking section at a library. In a future blog we will cover how to improve your ranking so you are the first one to show. Google crawlers referring to the section above about set up is what is sent to your site to catalog the information to use for future search results.
Using Google Search Console
Now that you set up the next question is how do I use GSC? There are a few ways depending on who you are and what you want to do. Obviously the owner of the site should at the least know the high-level function of GSC as you push out any needed updates/fixes to the site. The 2 primary users of GSC will be the SEO specialist/marketers and Webmasters (web developers).
For myself GSC is the foundation of any SEO plan that I create and begins with keyword research. Navigating to the "Performance" section and under "Search Results" pulls up some vital information. The two most important tabs here are "Queries" and "Pages". Queries allows us to see exactly what keywords or phrases that people typed in to see and find us. This is where keyword research begins as we can adjust our content to fit more into what people are looking for or even "fix" our site if improper traffic is coming in. With the timeframe modifier we can look through our short term or long term performance. This a great way to either plan future SEO plans or to check in on past ones to see what kind of changes occurred. We can also pair up these keywords with the "Pages" tab to figure out what keywords are leading to where and see which pages users see the most and click on the most. The added benefit is also the Avg. Position that we place in which can also be viewed through a queries or pages perspective. There are a few other tabs we can look at like "Countries" to "Devices" but that a more granular approach for another time.
Web developers have 2 roles when it comes using GSC. The first is making sure the right sitemap was uploaded to GSC or to upload a more recent version if changes were made. We don't necessarily have to upload new sitemaps as the DNS verification will pull sitemaps however this should be an avoided practice. Whenever you make a single or multiple changes to URLs or build a new site structure entirely a sitemap should uploaded immediately. This is due to the random intervals in which GSC will recrawl your site, by uploading a new sitemap it will notify GSC and make it a priority/forced recrawl.
Aside from sitemaps web developers will live for the "Experience" tab as this contains Page Experience, Core Web Vitals, and Mobile Usage. The page experience tab will give an overview of core web vitals and mobile usage with the mix of mobile and desktop users. Core web vitals will give us a look at pages performance in regards to things like LCP (Largest Contentful Paint) and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) to name a couple. These reference site performance for both desktop and mobile as it measures site speed and responsiveness. For a less technical explanation for non-developers read about the Core Web Vitals here. The final tab is Mobile Usability which is exactly how it sounds. If a site is properly responsive for mobile users and things aren't broken or missing.
Google Search Console is a vital tool for both marketers and web developers as a starting point for SEO and website optimizations. While more intuitive tools exist, GSC is a free tool that should serve as a benchmark before paid tools are utilized. Stay tuned for future blogs about SEO, tools, Paid Ads, and more in future blogs.