What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console (GSC), previously called Google Webmaster Tools, is a free web service that is essentially a Google communication and diagnostic center for your website. GSC is not just for webmasters, it’s for marketers and SEO professionals too. In fact, that is why Google recently changed the name from Webmaster Tools to Search Console.
With Google Search Console you can make adjustments to how your site appears in search results, review keyword data, review site links, check for Google bot crawl errors, submit site maps, and much more.
GSC will even send you important notifications when something happens with your website or Google is making a big change. For example, recently I wrote about Google’s Mobile Friendliness Update. Google practically spammed my inbox with Google Search Console notifications meant to give all GSC account holders fair warning on a big algorithm update. These notifications also offered instruction on how to optimize websites to be mobile friendly and avoid penalties when the new algorithm update went into affect. Awfully nice of them, really.
Why Google Search Console is Important for SEO
Like many website analysis toolkits, the challenge is often knowing what information and actions are most important for your site. Reviewing Google Search Console data is critical for identifying potential site problems or errors that may impact your site’s ability to grow authority, build rankings, and ultimately show up in search results.
In the following list I’ll share the top GSC features to pay attention to for SEO purposes.
Set Your Preferred Domain
Duplicate content is considered to be one of the factors Google looks at when determining the authority or rank of a site. Duplicate content is a red flag, and can hurt a site’s capacity to rank. What does that have to do with your domain? Many businesses, without realizing it, have 2 full copies of their websites, meaning the entire site is duplicated content. The two versions of the site are: www.example-site.com and http://example-site.com. If you do not set your domain preference to include the www or not include the www, Google will read both sites and see them as copies. Setting the domain preference fixes that issue. Here’s how:
If you have trouble setting your preferred domain, or you’d like more information on setting your preferred domain, visit the Google Search Console Help Forum.
Submit a Sitemap
A sitemap is a list of pages on your site that can be crawled by Google bots. A sitemap allows Google to better read through and index your site pages. Sitemaps are particularly important for new, large, or complicated sites. There are many free tools to generate sitemaps and Google has compiled a list. Once you generate a sitemap you can upload it to your website as a new page. That new page could look something like: www.ugh.mystagingwebsite.com/sitemap. Once you’ve created the page you can submit the sitemap to Google Search Console.
Discover Crawl Errors
Crawl errors occur when Google Bots run into problems while crawling your site. It’s natural to have some errors on your site, but you’ll want to check your crawl errors in GSC. If you have thousands of crawl errors they may impede your SEO efforts.
Often times these errors occur when pages are deleted from the site or the URL has changed, but there are links from your own website or other websites to that old location. The easiest way to resolve this is to create a 301 redirect from the old page to the new page. If you have an abundant amount of unexplainable errors I recommend reaching out to your webmaster or site manager for assistance.
Review Links to Your Site
It the past many marketers worked to acquire inbound keyword links to their websites. What this means is that if you have a site that sells pasta, online marketers would try to get links from other websites to your website using the keyword anchor text “pasta.” These types of keyword links are no longer acceptable and can hurt your SEO effort. You want to make sure the majority of your inbound links use your brand name. You can ensure you’re being linked to properly in the “Links to Your Site” section of Google Search Console.
This feature of GSC is my very favorite and for good reason. You can connect Google Search Console to Google Analytics so you can view real keyword data within your Analytics Account. Without Google Search Console, most keywords are obscured within Analytics and are listed as “(not provided).” Google Search Console shows you all the search queries that lead visitors to your site, which is essential information for SEO work.
Google Search Console is capable of much more, but the areas presented here are a good place to get started as you continue to familiarize yourself with GSC data. The majority of the time, I’m using GSC to look for red flags or site errors that could prevent SEO success. It’s totally possible that you will review your Google Search Console data and there won’t be any problems. That’s great! But please do include a GSC review in your own site functionality checklist.
And make sure you associate your GSC account with your Google Analytics Property so you can see your keyword data within Analytics! If you want to learn more about SEO techniques (what to do and what to avoid), read through my other posts in the SEO No-Nos series! If you want help applying SEO techniques to your business, contact us today.