Google Search Console tracks how your domain appears in Google Search results and provides reporting and tools to optimize it. As of May, 2015, Google replaced Webmaster Tools with Search Console. Today GSC is the most accurate platform for tracking organic keyword performance, spotting indexing issues, and discovering opportunities for search enhancements.

If you want to build traffic to your website you first have to understand how to use Google Search Console. It will tell you everything you need to know to get your site in good health and good standing with Google. Before you can perfect your search presence, you have to add your domain to GSC.

How to add your domain to Google Search Console

  1. Visit Google Search Console
  2. Select the property dropdown in the top left corner
  3. Click add property
  4. Select a property type

Domain vs URL prefix

Google Search Console allows you to choose between two property types: Domain and URL prefix. To better understand the differences between the two, it’s helpful to first understand the anatomy of a URL. They’re surprisingly complex, and even though most of us use them on a daily basis, few people really understand the pieces that make up a URL.

The Anatomy of a URL

  • Protocol – The standard protocol is http or https for secure sites with valid ssl certificates. Other protocols, like ftp, exist but are much less common than http.
  • Prefix or Subdomain – www. Is the most common url prefix, but most websites will redirect to the primary url with or without the prefix. In the case of subdomain (ex: tools.domain-name.com) www. Is unnecessary.
  • Domain – This is the most familiar part of the url. While exact match domains (EMDs) can have an impact on organic rankings, it’s less important than building a recognizable brand around your company name.An example of an exact match domain would be a company called cheapbluejeans.com that’s trying to rank for the keyword cheap blue jeans.
  • Subfolder – Subfolders are where the majority of content lives on your website. Use caution when naming subfolders since these keywords help crawlers identify the primary topic of all the files in this folder. In the example above, the /blog subfolder would hold all of the blog articles.

How to add your domain to Google Search Console (Cont’d)

So if the anatomy of a URL was mostly a refresher then you’ll want to choose domain verification. But if it was all new information you’re probably better off using a URL prefix property type. The main difference between the two is the domain property type is inclusive of all subdomains that are showing up in search results, while the URL prefix property type only includes search appearances for that specific prefix.

  1. Finally, verify the domain property using one of the available methods

Note: Depending on your domain setup, this is easier said than done. Using Google Analytics is the easiest method of verification if you already have that set up. If you were not responsible for setting up your domain and hosting, then you might want to ask the responsible party for help with this step.

Once your domain is verified, expect to wait 12 to 24 hours in order for GSC to collect all of the data associated with your property.

How to use GSC reports to analyze site health and keyword performance

Congratulations! With your domain name verified, you’ve completed the most technical aspect of this entire course. I’ve designed this course to be very straightforward so that anyone could understand and master the content.

Now that keyword data is flowing into GSC, we’re ready to dive into the rich reporting and tools available for optimizing your search presence.

GSC is broken up into three primary sections: Performance, Coverage, and Enhancements. The titles are fairly obvious, but I’m going to show you how to use each section to better understand how Google sees your domain. 

Performance

The performance report is by far the richest report in GSC. It tells you how many clicks your website gets from search results, how many impressions (appearances), the average click through rate, and the average position you’re appearing in on search. Since all of this data is shown in a customizable timeline, it’s easy to pick out trends and see the impact of website changes over time.

The performance data is valuable but what makes GSC a must-have for any SEO is the keyword data, or as GSC calls them, queries. The query data is the exact search terms that Google is ranking your site for. Not only does it tell you the clicks and impressions of each query, but also the average click-through-rate and position in search results.

Dissecting this data will help you discover trends over time, spot new keyword opportunities, and identify underperforming web pages. Search console allows you to see this data for specific date ranges, but by default it will show you the last three months. Historically, this data has always been 24-48 hours behind, however, recently they’ve added a fresh data option that gives you the last 24 hours of data. 

In addition to custom date ranges, you can also filter the data set by any of the five available fields as you’ll see in my example. Or if you prefer to pull the data into Excel or Google Sheets, there’s also an option to export the entire data set to Google Sheets or into a CSV using the download icon.

How to use the performance report to identify keyword opportunities

The easiest way to use data from the performance report is to export it to Google Sheets or Excel where you’ll have greater data analysis tools available. In this example, we’ll quickly export the data to Google Sheets and apply a few simple filters to identify keywords that are just off the first page of Google. By adding some content to these pages we can likely bump up our rankings for these search terms and start seeing additional traffic on key pages of our website. Here are the steps to use the performance report to identify low-hanging fruit keyword ideas.

  1. Download the last three months of keyword data
  2. Open in Excel or Google Sheets
  3. Filter Average Position by 11-20
  4. Filter out impressions less than 25

The results of this quick analysis are a list of keywords just off of page one in Google with enough search impressions to justify some additional keyword optimization to include these search terms in our content.

Note: These search impression numbers are actually really really low since this is just an example site. Ideally you’d want to sort the queries by impressions and start with the highest values that have the most relevant search intent.

Coverage

The Index section of our left-hand navigation consists of Coverage and Sitemaps. For now, we’re only going to dive into the Coverage report, since sitemaps will be covered in an upcoming lesson. 

Coverage refers to all known pages of your website property in Google’s index. Indexing is a process used by search engines to document all the web pages on the internet using automated machines called crawlers. Crawlers take a snapshot of each website they scan in order to deliver the most relevant results in Google Search. The Coverage report tells you which pages on your site are in good health, bad health, or being completely ignored by Google’s crawlers.

The timeline gives you an overview of how Google’s crawler sees your website pages based on the following statuses: Error, Valid with Warnings, Valid, Excluded. The number is the sum of pages that Google identifies as having that specific status. Here’s what each of the statuses indicates.

Error – These pages couldn’t be indexed by Google. If a page can’t be indexed then it can’t appear in search results and won’t send any additional traffic to your website. These errors should be fixed immediately.

Valid with Warnings – These pages have been indexed, however they have some issues.

Valid – These pages have been indexed and have no issues.

Excluded – These pages have been excluded from indexing.

You might be wondering why anyone would want to exclude pages of their website from Google’s index. But it’s actually common practice to exclude pages and entire subfolders from indexing in order to preserve the crawl budget for pages with greater SEO value.

What is Crawl Budget? 

According to Brian Dean, it’s the number of pages Googlebot crawls and indexes on a website within a given timeframe. Since Google can’t crawl every page every time, it tries to decide which pages are the most important to be indexed. 

Needs outro paragraph

Enhancements

A short explanation of enhancements, maybe a graphic of the different types of enhancements.

The Enhancements pane lists several reports based on rich results found on your property. Rich results are specific types of content, like recipes and reviews, on your website which display in custom formats on Google’s search engine results page (SERPs). According to Google, site enhancements only display properly in search results, and on Search Console, if:

  1. Google finds rich results of that type in your property, and
  2. The type is a supported rich result type listed below. (below)
  • Breadcrumb
  • Dataset
  • Event
  • FAQ
  • Fact check
  • How-to
  • Job posting
  • Logo
  • Product
  • Q&A page
  • Recipe
  • Sitelinks searchbox

To see live examples of all the above rich results, checkout Google’s Search Gallery. Moz also has a great introductory guide to Schema Markup, but it’s a little outdated. If you want to try and start adding some structured data to your content, Google Testing Tool is a great way to get started. You can also use it to test existing enhancements you’re seeing for your website in Search Console.

There’s some debate as to whether or not these enhancements improve click-through-rates in search results. But with the majority of traffic becoming mobile, enhancements not only help your website stand out in search, they also help better understand your content. 

For our purposes you won’t need to master structured site data anytime soon, but it’s good to be aware of it. Over the last 24 months, Google has introduced several new types of rich results in search, indicating that they aren’t going away.