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How to Properly Set Up and Use Google Search Console [Complete Guide]

Sep 6, 2021
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Google Search Console is essential for any website owner who wants to know how their site is performing in search. However, in order to get the most from this amazing tool, you must set it up properly. In the video and accompanying guide below, we will walk you through how to properly set up and use Google Search Console.  

 

Time Stamps:

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 2:36 - Adding a URL Prefix
  • 4:50 - Verifing via HTML Tag
  • 7:11 - Adding Your Domain
  • 10:11 - Getting to Know Search Console
  • 10:58 - Connecting Google Analytics and other Accounts
  • 14:33 - Using Search Console
  • 14:48 - Overview
  • 14:55 - Performace Report
  • 17:12 - URL Inspection
  • 18:52 - Creating and Adding A Sitemap
  • 22:30 - URL Removal
  • 22:42 - Page Experience
  • 23:39 - Core Web Vitals
  • 25:22 - Mobile Usability
  • 25:29 - Enhancements
  • 27:22 - Security & Manual Actions
  • 27:53 - Legacy Tools
  • 28:35 - Links
  • 29:07 - Wrapping It Up

Video Transcript

In this post, we're going to be taking a look at Google Search Console. We're going to go from start to finish, adding our domain, setting it up, doing all the things that we need to do to make sure that we can have the data we need in order to make informed decisions on our search strategy.

How to Properly Set Up and Use Google Search Console

This is the welcome page for Google Search Console. This is a very different tool than Google Analytics. We've talked about Search Console a number of times on this channel, whether it be for SEOs as well as for some of the data videos we've done, pulling some data, and doing some optimization tasks.

If you have a Google Analytics account, you don't necessarily have a Search Console account. We want to walk through and make sure that this is set up because this is data directly from Google about our specific domain and how it's performing within Google's search engine.

One of the things that Google did recently, or at least more recently, was adding an ability to verify a domain. Before you can get the data from Search Console, you have to prove that you own or have access to the domain. In the past, you had to do a URL prefix. What this means is you would type in the full URL, so https://www.yourdomain.com.

In order to see all the different domains and make sure that you're covered appropriately and correctly, a best practice would have been to do the non-'www' and the 'www' version of your domains, as well as both of the HTTP and the HTTPS.

As you can see, this can get very complicated very quickly. This would also be a way where you'd have to do every subdomain in order to get that access as well. But thankfully, due to this new domain setup, we can do it much easier and much quicker.

I'm going to walk you through the domain setup, because this is much better to do. But we'll also look at the URL prefix as well.

Because the URL prefix is a little bit easier, let's do that one first.

Adding a URL Prefix

What you would do is you would type in your domain. What I would do is put your site into the search bar at the top and just run it. This is most likely going to be the correct version of your site or the site you want to be indexed.

A lot of people don't realize you can have a 'www' in here or not. A 'www' before your domain name is technically a subdomain. You'd have to set up redirects and all of that, which we're not getting into in this video. But you want to make sure you pick the version that is live, or the one you're using as your primary version. If you've got two versions, you can go ahead and hit 'www' here and hit enter. You'll notice that my site redirects, always, to the non-'www' version.

I'd copy this and paste it into this right here and I would hit continue. What Google is going to tell me to do is make sure that I own this. There are a few ways that we can verify this. The first way is we can actually download this file and then upload it via FTP, or one of our file managers from your hosting company, into the root folder, so the main folder where your website is hosted or housed.

You could also add an HTML meta-tag on your site. A number of SEO plugins, if you're using WordPress, will do this. SEOPress and Yoast will do this. There's a number of other ones. You can use Google Analytics, so if you already have access to Google Analytics and you're running Google Analytics on your website and it's with the same domain that you're logged into Search Console with, you can verify via Google Analytics. You can also use Google Tag Manager, so you can have a container on your website. And again, if that tag or that container is registered under the same email that you're logged into Search Console with, you can do that there. Finally, you can use a DNS record.

The DNS record is typically used for domain verification. The easiest one to do would probably be the HTML tag. You could do this in the header or the body of your website if you don't have WordPress, and if you do use WordPress, you would just copy this verification code in and paste it into either your SEOPress or your Yoast implementation.

Let me show you what that would look like within a WordPress website.

Verifying via HTML Tag

The first thing you'd do is log in to WordPress. Over here, you can use any SEO plugin of your choice. We use SEOPress. We just like that one. Under analytics, we'll be able to create some of these connections here. If we go down to tracking, we can also add in Google Optimize. We can add in the pixel right here. So when we talk about Search Console, we could actually just take this entire tag and copy and paste it right into something like this.

Another option would be to use its built-in verification tool. This is going to be different places, depending on the plugin. Under this tool, it's going to be in advanced. I can hit the advanced section here and down here it says Google site verification. It's also got one for Bing, Pinterest, and Yandex. If you're doing Google, this is where you need to add this. If you're setting up Bing Webmaster Tools, you would do it here, and all the way down. You wouldn't need to put in the entire code, but just this code right here.

Once I put this in, I could just save the changes. I would go back over to Search Console and I would hit 'verify'. There we go. Now I own this domain. I have this domain within Google Search Console, and I can start to look at it.

Remember, if you're doing the URL prefix method, you're going to want to do both the HTTP as well as your HTTPS version. You're going to want to do the version with 'www' and the non-'www' version. The reason why, is if all those aren't set up correctly you want to make sure that you can see all those variants and see the data all the way across Google, because they may have indexed one of your pages, maybe non-secure, and that's how you would actually be able to find that data. Once you're done, you can go to the property.

If this is a new website, or this is the first time you're logging in and setting up Search Console, it's going to take some time. You're not going to see the data right away. You're going to have to wait for it. Go ahead and follow the overview if you want to, but probably going to take about 24 hours for your data to show up.

Up here, you'll see I've got a domain set up.

Adding Your Domain

Let's take a look at how we can do this using domain verification. Domain verification is very similar to what we just did in URL prefix. The only difference is we're going to leave off everything in front of the HTTPS and 'www', we're just going to put our domain name. The one that you probably bought from your domain registrar. Go ahead and add your domain here and hit continue.

What they're going to have you do is add a TXT record to your DNS. Your DNS comes from your hosting company. If you're not hosting your website, you might need to ask whoever is hosting your website to help you out with this. If you do host your website, but maybe you haven't looked at the server side of things or the DNS, this is where you would have to get involved with that portion.

Now, you've got this TXT record, which is just short for text record, right? And we need to add it into our DNS configuration. I'm using SiteGround for my site, but DNS pretty much works the same no matter who your provider is. Google does add a list here from companies like 1&1 and GoDaddy and others, so if you're using one of these, it's fairly simple to do. If you don't see your provider there, just Google how to add a TXT record to DNS with X, and it should show you.

I'm going to show you how quick and easy it is. TXT records are hard to screw up. As long as you make sure it is a TXT record, you should be good to go.

When you're inside of your host, you'll probably see something that says DNS or DNS Zone Editor. You want to launch that. Most hosting providers, their DNS section or their Zone area of their site works pretty similar. For Search Console, you need to add a TXT record. You can go ahead and leave the domain empty. You can set it at the default value time. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes, or one minute, or whatever. An hour is totally fine. You're just going to copy this verification code, and then add it here into the value. That's what you're going to put it in. Value, and hit 'create'.

That's all you have to do, now you've got a TXT record. Again, what this is going to do, is going to allow you to see the data for all of the different subdomains and other different versions of your main website. After you've added that TXT record hit verify.

As you can see, it happens relatively quickly, as long as everything's set up. Then, you can go to property.

All right, so now we have a domain property. As I said before, you can see up here where Google has got both the secured and non-secured version, the 'www' version, as well as a subdomain here. Everything's being pushed to this new domain property.

We can go ahead and hit start. Now you've got a domain property, which is different from what we set up before the URL prefixes. You can also start to see some data. It's starting to pull in. We've obviously verified this site before, under a different account, but I wanted to show you it from scratch.

Getting to Know Search Console

This is Google Search Console. We've done some videos, some overviews, on Search Console, and this tool is extremely helpful. Once you have it set up, you can actually see how people are experiencing your website across the web.

Google has got some helpful hints and tips here. The overview is pretty good if you want to check that out, but your home base is going to show you a few things. It's going to show you clicks right away. It's going to show you what's called coverage. This is your indexation, so how is your site being indexed? It's also going to show you core web vitals.

It's going to tell you how your page experience is doing, mobile usability, all of that. And an overview of enhancements. This is where you would see different structured data or rich-featured elements, that you are ranking for within Search.

Connecting Google Analytics  and Other Accounts

In order to get the most out of Search Console, it's important to make sure that it's also connected to analytics. This is going to bring data from Search Console into your Google Analytics setup as well. It also just makes a cohesive environment for all of your tools that you're using with Google, whether that'd be Data Studio and more.

In order to set up and link these accounts together, there are a few ways that you can do it. I actually like to start from Google Analytics because, to me, it's just what I know, so it's a little bit easier. Pop over to Google Analytics, and hopefully, you already have a Google Analytics account set up, and then you're going to go to the bottom. It says 'admin'. Go ahead and click on 'admin'.

There's a lot of different settings. We'll do a quick overview because this video is not about Google Analytics, it's about Search Console, but just so you get an idea. Within Google Analytics, you've got accounts. An account would be for a brand itself. Then, you've got properties. These would be the different things that you're tracking. For instance, a website, but you could also track a blog on a different property. Let's say you have a 'blog.yourwebsite', you could also set up a property for that. Within each property, you have multiple views. These are just different buckets. The top one is your account, properties, and views.

We need to go to our property settings, because we want to track everything associated with this URL. If we go to the bottom here, we can see something that says Search Console. All we have to do is click this button. Once we click this button, we will see 'add'. If you've already associated something, you would see that site here. Since we haven't yet, we need to hit 'add'.

And then it'll give us an option. If you have a number of websites, you'll be able to select the one that pertains to you. Since we only have one here, it's pretty easy. We select the domain property, and now it's telling you here within Search Console, do you want to associate this property with this Google Analytics account? Which we do, so we hit 'continue'.

All right, so now we've created this association. We've connected them together, which means we can now see Search Console data within our Google Analytics account. This is also pretty cool, because now under settings, you'll see associated services, and we can see that we've connected our Google Analytics here.

There's a number of other things that you can set up as well. If we look at what Google has, we can create more associations and more connections. You can approve and deny a number of different ones. You can set up Google ads, YouTube, and connect all these together. If you do YouTube, you can actually pull in video data within Search Console. That's pretty cool.

Let me show you what that looks like within one of my other accounts. This is our main agency Search Console account, and we've got the YouTube channel connection here, which allows us to get some YouTube data, as well. As you can see over here in enhancements, we can see videos. We've got video markup on some pages, but it also allows us to see search results and how those videos are doing right within the search results.

If I go here and I narrow this down to search appearance, I can look at videos and hit 'apply'. This is going to show you how videos are doing within the search results. You know, we can take a look at the different pages here, these are all pages that have YouTube videos on them and look at the clicks. We can look at the search appearance, which obviously right here would only show videos because that's all we're looking at.

I highly recommend that you set up all of the different accounts that you have within Google to make sure that you can pull all that data here into Search Console.

Using Search Console

Once you've created all of your connections, you're now going to be able to leverage Search Console to help you grow the visibility of your website. Let's talk a little bit about these tabs here and how you can leverage them for site optimization.

Overview

This is the homepage, which is under overview. We've already taken a quick look at this. The next step down would be your performance.

Performance Report

Inside of performance, we can see a few things. Most notably, you'll see the total clicks and total impressions of that website. You also see the average CTR, which stands for Click Through Rate, as well as the average position. The average position is an aggregate of where your site ranks, based on the highest position, as well as the lowest position. It's an aggregate rating, so it would say with all the terms I'm ranking on average, high and low, at 53.8.

You can filter this data, whether it's through the last couple of months, you can also look at the different search type. You can do image search, video search, and news search. There's a lot of cool things that you can do. Let's say if you want to see how your images are doing, you would click on image search. Well, we've got some impressions for image search.

We can also narrow this down again. How are we doing in video search? Not as well, right? This website doesn't have a ton of video yet, but that makes sense. We can only see it, which is really cool. Now, we go put it back on web, because I know that we don't have any news stories.

You can also filter this more here. We can look at a specific query or a page. We can look at a country. We can look at device, or as we talked about before, we could look at search appearance. This would look at our rich results or, as they call them here in Search Console, enhancements.

The query one is pretty cool. In this case, I want to look at structured data, because we talk about that a lot on this website, and it'll show me terms that have structured data in them. Right here. I could see, "okay, I want to know what my average position is." Right now, we've got schema-structured data generator. We're at 7.8. What can I do to improve the ranking there? I can start to see the different terms that I'm ranking for, and how Google is showing them within the search results.

I'm getting the most clicks for structured data generator, so that's maybe a term that I can do a little bit more marketing around and hopefully increase this average position from a 5.6 to maybe into the top three, which would be a significant increase in traffic.

By adding this simple filter, we've got some pretty good information on how we're doing in a certain section. We can also look at the pages. What pages are ranking really well for this? We can see what countries we're doing well in. We can see what devices people use the most, and more. It's pretty cool.

URL Inspection

The next thing to look at would be your URL inspection. This is going to look at a specific website page. Let's say you wanted to know how a page was doing, or whether it was eligible for rich results, or if it had some kind of an issue or an error. That's what you could use the URL inspection for.

With the URL Inspection Tool, you just paste a specific URL from your website and hit enter. Google is going to pull this from the index and it's going to say, "All right, the URL is on Google, and notice here, it says it's indexed, but it's not covered in the site map." This is important. This is saying that Google has found this page, it's crawled this page, and it's indexed this page, but it hasn't been able to see this page in the site map.

There's a reason for that. We haven't actually added a site map to this Search Console yet, which is really important. Site maps give Google the information on how to index your website. A lot of people will go in Search Console and maybe they will say, "Well, why isn't this certain page showing up?" You might not have a site map, which is an extremely important part of the setup process.

As you can see, Google can still find your pages, but we want to give them the information that we want them to have. We want to control the process as much as possible. You can also see from this, that it is a mobile-friendly page, which is great. I'm glad that it's mobile-friendly, but if we want to have a Search Console set up well so it's going to make us, obviously, get the most out of our website and give us as much control as possible over the indexing, we need to have that site map added it in.

Creating and Adding a Sitemap

Again, if you've got a WordPress site, there's a number of ways to build a site map. A site map is just a data file that helps Google understands how your site is structured, and then it gives them a bit of rules on how you want it to be crawled. Most SEO plugins today will have a site map feature. The same is true with SEOPress. You can just look at a number of different site map plugins for WordPress, and it would work. You just go ahead and enable those site maps. You can say we want all these different types, or just a certain type, and then click 'view'.

A site map will look something like this in WordPress, but if we actually looked at maybe a page, it's just a bunch of links and some information about those links like what the URL is, and when was it last updated. What you can do is just take this right here, sitemaps.XML, or whatever the tool creates your site map as. I want to go back over to Search Console.

The next box below, we have something called coverage. Right below that we have site maps. Click on site maps, and then we want to enter the URL of our site map. Paste that in there and hit 'submit'.

Google will read this pretty quickly. It will periodically look at it, but it will also read it pretty quickly. Here's one thing to note. Very often, the first time you put it in here, you're going to see this couldn't fetch. Don't freak out. This happens all the time. Simply refresh your browser, and as you can see, it says success.

Notice that it has zero discovered URLs. That's not because we have zero URLs. It's because that Google is now reading the site map, and it needs to take some time to discover those URLs. As we keep refreshing this and come back regularly, you'll see more and more pages will be added to this.

We know that Google can crawl it. We know that there are URLs in this site map, and we know that now we have some rules for how we want them to crawl our website. Now, what you can do is use this index report under coverage and get more information about your indexing under coverage.

Since this site didn't have a site map, you can see something interesting here. Right now, we've got no errors, which is great, but we've got 35 valid pages, indexed, not in site map. It also says we have 107 excluded pages. This means that maybe there are pages with redirects. Maybe there are pages that were crawled, but they were not indexed, for whatever reason. Maybe Google saw a page as a duplicate without user-selected canonical tags. Indexed, not submitted in the site map.

All of that information. Some pages have no index tags saying, "Hey, we don't want these to be indexed." There's a lot of reasons for why pages may be excluded, but once you have this information you can figure out whether or not those pages actually should be.

As you click into these reports, you can go ahead and see that information. Like the no index tag, these are some things that maybe we want to have, maybe we don't want to have, right? For instance, I actually do want to start indexing this author page because those can be really beneficial. As we talked about in one of our structured data videos, you can use author URLs to give Google more information about you as an author, and help build that trust.

Some of these other pages, we're not tagging for a specific reason, because they're within the product itself that we're selling on our site we don't want those indexed in search. These are always good to look at periodically to make sure that you have them set up correctly. The cool part is once you have a site map in here, Google can start reading your website the way you want them to read your website. It gives you a little bit more control.

URL Removal

You can also ask Google to remove URLs. "Hey, we've got pages on our site that we don't want to be an index. We don't want on the internet anymore." This is where you can come and request those pages to be removed.

Page Experience

As of creating this video, Google has officially finished rolling out the page experience update. The page experience update is all about speed. It's all about usability and really making sure that it's a good experience for your web users.

As you can see, my site doesn't have enough recent data. The Simplified Search site is a little bit smaller, but let me show you what a site that has a little bit more traffic would look like within the page experience side.

All right. Here is what the page experience homepage would look like. As you can see, Google is saying that 89.6% of my URLs are considered good URLs. You can see that, for the most part, we're passing a lot of the things, but there are still some areas that we can improve upon. Mobile usability, we're good. We are also secure. But one area that they're showing me is I've got 275 failing URLs when it comes to core web vitals. This is a subsection of page experience, and this is something that Google wants us to really improve.

Core Web Vitals

Core web vitals are broken down between mobile, as well as desktop. For the most part, you need to look at mobile because that's where Google indexes first. They've got two areas that they are going to be looking at. One is called Content Layout Shift [CLS] and the other is Largest Contentful Paint [LCP].

CLS is talking about just your page moving maybe a little too much on mobile. You want to see the URLs affected, click on it. They'll give you this guide. It'll tell you, okay, it's a 0.36 is my average, so I need to improve that. If you go ahead and click on this, it'll tell you, you can launch it here in page speed insights. It'll give you some more information about that page.

This typically tends to be a little bit heady, and we will do a video on page speed insights and actually how to read this report, because it took me a while to really understand this. Some of these things the site owner can do, and some of these things you might need some help with in order to really optimize those pages for speed, but you can launch that straight out of Search Console and it's going to give you a score that you can look at.

The other issue is LCP, which is Largest Contentful Paint, which is all about page speed. They want us to load under that four seconds. As you can see, they're saying this one's at 5.8 seconds. They are showing me other pages that are similar. Again, I can run it in page speed insights, as well.

If I go back over here, I can also see that I've got 272 good URLs, and we can see a list of those here. A lot of times, it's our AMP pages, which is accelerated mobile pages. Some people are moving away from those. We still leverage them at this point, seeing some benefit from them. As you can see here, they get good core web vital scores.

Mobile Usability

Also, look at mobile usability. As you saw before, we've got 312 pages that are valid, that are mobile-friendly. Underneath that, we see our enhancement section.

Enhancement

Enhancement is all about how our pages look and search. Are they getting rich features? As you can see here, we've got pages that use AMP. We've got some with an issue right now, as you can see. It'll also show you pages with warnings, and it'll show you pages that are valid. You can go through these and find any of those issues that might be causing your page not to rank as well.

If we go back over to the Simplified Search one, we've only got two right now that we can look at. We've got sitelink search box, which is available. We've got six valid here. We've also got videos. Again, three valid videos.

Over here, we've got quite a bit more. FAQ, that's another one. We've got five valid FAQs. We've got logos. We've got sitelink search box. This is a really good one, too. If you find what's called unparsable structured data, it'll show up here. If you've got a structured data error, where it says maybe you're missing a comma or a quotation mark, it'll tell you where that's at.

One of the most common issues when it comes to unparsable structured data for us, has to do with the way that we build out the schema.org markup. It's done with automation, for the most part. I guarantee you the issue here is a quotation mark. Yep. Here in the headline, where it start with "what", this quotation mark right here is breaking that structured data because we cannot have quotes within quotes. That will break your JSON.

So, we just need to go through all of these and fix where, nine times out of 10, it's all having to do with quotes. Right here, here's another quotation mark. We can go ahead and fix these 11 pages, and then we won't have this issue anymore, and the blog markup will be working correctly.

Lastly, we've got videos like we did on the other site, as well. The six videos that it's showing here at the moment.

Security and Manual Actions

Google also gives you some information on security and manual actions. If you're doing something you're not supposed to do, and Google gets offended by that, they will send you a manual action and you'll be able to see it here. They'll say, "Hey, your website or this page has been suspended or taken down, or whatever, for this specific reason." If I had a manual action, it would be here. It would also give us security issues. I don't have any issues, but if it detected any, it would share those with me here.

Legacy Tools

They also give you some legacy tools. Let's say you want to target internationally. You've got an international tool here, but it's not available for domain properties. You could only use these tools within the URL presets, because that's what they were designed for. Here, you've got messages. As you can see, none of these legacy tools work here, but if you are using a URL prefix version, then you would have access to these tools, like your web tools or whatnot.

Some of these are actually pretty cool, if you want to take a look at them, but we actually don't use them very much anymore because they've been kind of phased out.

Links

The last section is the link section. Search Console tells you a little bit about your link profile. You can go here and look at your external links, so what are the top pages that are being linked to from other places? We can see the top linking websites, so who is linking to us?

We can also see the anchor text, so what is the anchor text that's being used when people are linking to our website? These are pretty cool. Definitely helps us see how people are connecting with us. Finally, we can look at our internal linking structure.

Wrapping it Up

As you can see, Search Console is an extremely important tool. It's going to give you a lot of information about how your site is performing within the search results. Setting it up properly is extremely important. If you haven't set it up yet, I recommend that you go back to the beginning of this video. You look at how to build it out. Use the domain connection, that way you get all of the data available to you. Link it with Google Analytics. Link it with YouTube.

That way, all of that is being put in here, and then use the data you get to understand what people like, what content you should create, how your sites linked together, and also find those errors that you might not have been able to uncover from another SEO tool. I hope you found this video helpful. If you've got any questions, please comment below. 

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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