When you set up a website, surely you set up Google Analytics (GA) for the site. There’s also a second Google area to set up. It’s not discussed as much as GA but is just as important and helpful. I’m talking about Search Console. It was formerly known as Webmaster Tools. Search Console provides invaluable tools to help manage and troubleshoot your website, particularly with regard to search results. Google also sends notifications if something regarding your site requires attention. If you have or manage a website and haven’t yet done so, you might want to look into setting it up in Search Console.
Note: This topic is for intermediate to advanced users who are familiar with website structure and management. For example, I’m assuming readers are familiar with Robots.txt files, sitemaps, and more including their purpose, use, and content.
Where to Find Search Console
Here’s a direct link. If you search for it online and see a reference to Webmaster Tools, there’s a good chance it will go to Search Console. I don’t believe that information has been updated everywhere.
These are some of the items you can work with and review in Search Console. To save time, set these items up before using Search Console. You can also add them at any time. If you don’t have any particular item, add it to your to-do list.
- Robots.txt file
- Responsive website
- Determination of preference to use for the site URL: one with the www prefix or without.
- Website set up as a property in Search Console
Google will ask that you designate a “preferred domain” for purposes of Search Console work. This is very important and something you should research before setting. This also carries over into your Google Analytics. For information about it, review Google’s help topic about it:
Also, keep in mind that Google views each as a separate website, so you have to set each version up as a property. Now with https, there are four.
There are multiple sections in Search Console, as indicated in the graphics below. You have to select your web property to see these items.
Sections at a Glance
Here are the sections in the console for a property. The Messages area is very helpful because Google posts messages about issues found such as whether Googlebot is unable to crawl your site. I think these notices also are sent in email, but they’re available in the Messages area.
Items in this section provide ways to change the way search results display.
This section provides good information about queries and click counts as well as link information. For additional information about the Links to Your Site option, see the procedure I’ve included later in this post.
These items are good to check to see if there are issues, and to remove a page from search results.
This section is great for troubleshooting and to set things up to ensure that your site indexing proceeds smoothly and correctly.
This section provides tools to check your page load time and structured data markup in addition to other items. Definitely take a look through all the options.
There are many features in Search Console. I’m organizing them into three categories.
- Information for you
Here’s information of many of the features. Once you get set up, spend some time to review what’s available and how to use Search Console for your site.
These features provide the opportunity to be proactive in setting up your site so that the search indexing runs smoothly. Once set up, it’s good to return periodically for a quick check to ensure everything’s running as it should.
Ensure that Your Site is Set Up to be Indexed Correctly
There are several options to use which are in the Crawl section.
- Fetch as Google
- robots.txt Tester
Fetch as Google: This initiates a quick pass on your site to ensure that the Googlebot can access and index the site. You can also use it to render an image of your site so you can see if the site is displaying as you intend. This is especially helpful if you’re checking your responsive design. You can choose to fetch or fetch and render for desktop or mobile.
robots.txt Tester: You can approve or block site access in your robots.txt file. In Search Console, you can check it to see if Google is able to access your site for indexing.
Sitemaps: Website sitemaps are XML files that list posts on your site. Search engines use these for indexing. Use the Sitemaps option to upload and test your sitemaps. If you don’t have a sitemap, it’s possible to easily generate one using SEO plugins that you might already have active on your site. When you select Sitemaps, you have the option to download the sitemaps. I recommend you do so, because there’s quite a bit of information. Know what information is available to you.
Troubleshooting Site Search Issues
If your site seems to be having issues with search, items in Search Console provide helpful options for troubleshooting.
If you think your results are incorrect, check these items in the Crawl section.
Crawl Errors: This shows problems such as 404s (pages not found). Look here to see what some of the issues might be.
Crawl Stats: Check to see if there are changes in the number of Googlebot visits, kilobytes downloaded, and download times.
Google Index Section
Index status: Check the graph for big changes. For additional information, click the question mark next to Total Indexed and then click Learn More. This displays the Index Status Report help topic.
Blocked resources: Identifies URLs blocked by your robots.txt file.
Information for You
Ongoing analysis of website stats of various types is instrumental in site management. Search Console has helpful information available.
Download List of Sites Linking to Yours
One nice aspect of Search Console is the ability to download a list of specific links to your site. Actually, there are several options. One is to download a list of just the domains. Another is to download complete URL paths to the page(s) that include links to your site. Here’s how to find that information.
1. Search Console > left navigation > Search Traffic > Links to Your Site
2. Links to Your Site area > Who links the most > More
3. Select one of the three download options: Download this table, Download more sample links, or Download latest links.
4. Select the file format: CSV or Google Docs.
I suggest downloading one of each so you see the type of information provided. Then use it as you like. You can see who is linking to you. Perhaps you might want to contact them. You might also be pleasantly surprised to find a new link of which you were unaware. I think it’s good to check this periodically to see what’s happening with references to your site.
If you have an issue or question, the Google help forums are a good place to check for information. Here’s a link to the Webmaster Tools help forum:
There’s much to know about Google Console. Go through the options and familiarize yourself with the features and set up your site there.
For other tips in this series, see the following post.