Search Engine Optimization…the ever-evolving beast you’ve spent hours strategizing over and still think about daily. While you may be using the right keywords, H2 tags, Alt tags, etc., to rank higher on Google search results, what if we told you there’s one simple tool you may not be using, and it’s holding you back from being crawled by Google?
Enter Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) — a free service that gives you a great deal of information about your website and the people who visit it. Daily reports are available with information about how many people are visiting your site, how they find it, whether more people are visiting your site on a mobile device vs. desktop computer, which pages on your site are most popular, and so on. Additionally, it allows you to submit a sitemap, create a robots.txt file, fix website errors, and analyze reports.
Taking this step tells Google that you are the website owner, webmaster, or another authorized user and gives you access to all of that good info we listed above. You must have a Google account to log into the Search Console. We recommend using the same log-in you use to sign into your Google Analytics account, as it will be beneficial later in the process. Once you’re logged in, paste your URL in the box next to the red “Add Property” button. Congrats, your site has now been added!
After adding your website, you must verify it in order to access the reports. Start at the Search Console dashboard, choose “Manage Site” then “Verify this Site.” From here, choose “Alternate Methods,” then you have one of four options to complete the verification:
Sitemaps give search engines and web crawlers important information about what type of content you have available and how your website is organized. Adding a sitemap to Google Search Console will ensure that Google has all of the information it needs to properly find content on your site and index it more quickly.
If you don’t already have a sitemap set-up, you need to create one. If you’re using WordPress, install the Yoast SEO plugin, which will generate an automatic sitemap for you. If you aren’t using WordPress, there are plenty of other online tools that will automatically create a sitemap for you.
Once created, go to your Search Console dashboard, select “Crawl”, then “Sitemaps.” From here, choose “Add/Test Sitemap” and then “Test” if you’d like to test it first, or “Submit.” It takes a few days for Google to pull in the data, so check back in every day until the reports start getting pulled.
Once Google Search Console begins generating information about your site, there are a few key data points we recommend analyzing right away:
You most likely have authorized pages within your website that you don’t want indexed by search engines. In order to signal to Google which pages these are, you can create a robots.txt file, which provides boundaries for search engine crawlers and tells them what they can and can’t crawl.
With Google Search Console you can check on your robots.txt file to see exactly what these boundaries are. To do so, log into Search Console and pull up your dashboard, then choose “Crawl” followed by “robots.txt Tester.” From here, you can see your robots.txt file, find errors and make changes.
Often times, we don’t find out about website errors until one of our employees or customers points it out to us. With Google Search Console, you can receive notifications each time an error is found.
In order to check for internal errors, go to your Search Console dashboard, click “Crawl” then “Crawl Errors.” You will then be shown any site or URL errors found by Google. You can click on the errors to receive a full description, which you can then use to solve the issues or pass along to the person in your company responsible for your website.
If you’ve made changes to your website, you may notice that they don’t show up in Google search results. Search Console allows you to notify Google of the changes and get your updates indexed correctly. Simply go to your Search Console dashboard, select the page you need to submit, click on “Crawl” then “Fetch as Google.” From here, enter the full URL of the page you want indexed, the click “Fetch and Render.”
This process may take a few minutes, and once completed, click “Submit to Index.” If you’re only submitting one specific page, then choose “Crawl Only This URL” but if you want to index the entire site, choose “Crawl This URL and its Direct Links.” And voila! You’ve completed the process and your updates will catalog your new content within just a couple of days.
Although Google Analytics and Search Console seem very similar at first, they have distinct qualities, and it’s crucial that you allow them to work together. Google Analytics allows you to see who is visiting your site (how many visitors you’re getting, how they’re finding your site, how much time they spend on your site, and where they’re coming from); while Google Search Console gives you more internal information (who is linking to you, if there are problems on your site, and which keywords your site is appearing for in search results).
When the two accounts are linked together, you can pull very insightful reports that will help you enhance your website. How do you link them? In the upper right hand corner of your Search Console dashboard, click on the gear icon, then click “Google Analytics Property.” Choose the Google Analytics account you want to be linked to your Search Console and click “Save” and you’re all done!
And…breathe. Once you have Google Console properly setup for your website, you and your analytics team will have a whole new wealth of data to dig into. This is a great foundation for ensuring that Google is successfully crawling your site. Explore the reports, analyze how people are interacting with your site, and fix errors you never would have known existed.
Now you can sleep better at night knowing Google Search Console is doing some behind-the-scenes work for you, and you can go back to dreaming about keywords, H2 tags, and puppy dogs.