The Ultimate Guide to Google Search Console in 2021

What is the Google Search Console?

The Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a free platform for all users of a website with which they can monitor how Google is displaying their website and optimize its organic presence. This includes showing your referring domains, mobile website performance, large search results, and queries and pages with the highest traffic.

At any point in time, I have GSC open in 2 to 10 tabs. This is helpful at both the macro and micro levels – both when I want to see how many impressions HubSpot is getting month on month, as well as to find out what happened to a sharply decreased blog post that suddenly fell.

I’m a content strategist on the HubSpot SEO team, which means GSC is particularly useful to me. But anyone with a website can and should dip their toes in these waters. According to Google, Search Console comes in handy whether you’re a business owner, SEO specialist, marketer, website administrator, web developer, or app builder.

I remember the first time I opened GSC – and it was overwhelming. There were tons of labels I didn’t understand (index coverage?!?), Hidden filters, and confusing graphics. The more I used it, the less confusing it naturally got.

However, if you want to skip the learning curve (and why not), great news: I’ll be disclosing everything I learned about using the Google Search Console as a professional.

This guide covers:

The important things first. If you haven’t signed up for GSC yet, it’s time to do so.

How to add your website to the Google Search Console

  1. Sign in to your Google account. Make sure to use your work (not personal) account if it is a business website.
  2. Go to Google Webmaster Tools.
  3. Click on “Add Property”.
  4. Select “Website” from the drop-down menu and enter the URL of your website. Make sure you are using the exact URL shown in the browser bar.
  5. Click on Continue”.
  6. Select one way to verify that you own your website (HTML upload, domain name provider, HTML tag, GA tracking code, or GTM container snippet).
  7. If your site supports both http: // and https: //, add them as separate sites. You’ll also need to add each domain (e.g. hubspot.com, blog.hubspot.com, and www.hubspot.com).

Google starts tracking data for your property as soon as you add it to GSC – even before it has verified that you own the site.

Check your site for GSC

Since GSC gives you access to sensitive information about the performance of a website or app (plus influence on how Google crawls that website or app!), You need to first verify that you own that website or app.

Verification gives a specific user control over a specific property. You must have at least one verified owner per GSC property.

Also, note that checking your property will not affect PageRank or its performance on Google Search. Of course, you can use GSC data to plan how you would like to rank higher. However, simply adding your website to GSC will not automatically increase your rankings.

GSC verification methods

  1. Upload HTML files: Upload a confirmation HTML file to a specific location on your website.
  2. Domain Name Provider: Log in to your domain registrar (like GoDaddy, eNom or networkolutions.com) and check your site directly from GSC or add a DNS TXT or CNAME record.
  3. HTML tag: add a Day to Section of the HTML code for a specific page.
  4. Google Analytics tracking code: Copy the GA tracking code that you use on your website. (For this option you need the authorization to edit in GA.)
  5. Google Tag Manager container snippet code: Copy the GTM container snippet code associated with your website. (This option requires you to view, edit, and manage container-level permissions in GTM.)

Websites hosted by Google, including blogger and website pages, are automatically checked.

URL versions: WWW domain or not?

Right or wrong: hubspot.com and www.hubspot.com are the same domain.

The answer? Not correct! Each domain represents a different server. While these URLs look very similar, they are technically two distinct domains.

However, if you type “hubspot.com” in your browser bar, you will land at “www.hubspot.com”. What kind of magic is that?

HubSpot selected www.hubspot.com as its preferred or canonical domain. That is, we told Google that all of our URLs should be shown as “www.hubspot.com/……” in search. And if third parties link to our pages, these URLs should also be treated as “www.hubspot.com/……”.

Example of SERP with URL highlighted to demonstrate the URL version

If you don’t tell GSC which domain you prefer, Google may treat the WWW and non-WWW versions of your domain as separate. All page views, backlinks and engagements are split into two parts. Not good.

(You should also set up a 301 redirect from your non-preferred domain to your preferred domain at this point, if you haven’t already.)

GSC users, owners and permissions

There are two types of GSC roles. I know you may be itchy getting to the good things (coughing up the data), but getting this right is important.

  1. Owner: An owner has complete control over their property in GSC. You can add and remove other users, change the settings, view all data and access any tool. A verified owner has completed the property review process, while a delegated owner has been added by a verified owner. (Delegated owners can add other delegated owners.)
  2. User: A user can view all data and perform some actions, but cannot add new users. Full users can see most of the data and take some actions, while restricted users can only view most of the data.

Think carefully about who should have which permissions. Giving everyone full ownership could be catastrophic – you don’t want someone to accidentally change an important attitude. Try to give your team members just as much authority as they need and no further.

At HubSpot, for example, our SEO technical manager Victor Pan is a verified owner. I’m an SEO content strategist, which means I use GSC a lot but don’t have to change any settings so I’m a delegated owner. The members of our blogging team who use GSC to analyze blog and post performance are full users.

Here are detailed instructions on adding and removing owners and users in the search console.

There is a third role: an employee. You can associate a Google Analytics property with a Search Console account so that you can view GSC data in GA reports. You can also access GA reports from two sections of the Search Console: links to your site and sitelinks.

A GA property can only be assigned to one GSC site and vice versa. If you own the GA property, please follow these instructions to link it to the GSC site.

Do you need a sitemap?

A sitemap is not required to appear in Google search results. As long as your website is properly organized (that is, pages are logically linked), Google’s web crawlers will usually find most of your pages.

However, there are four situations in which a sitemap will improve the crawlability of your website:

  1. It’s very big. The more pages you have, the easier it is for Googlebot to overlook changes or additions.
  2. It has many “isolated” pages. Any page with few inbound links from other pages is harder for a web crawler to see.
  3. It’s new. Newer websites have few backlinks (links from other websites), which makes them less findable.
  4. It uses rich media content and / or is featured on Google News. In these cases, your sitemap makes it easier for Google to format and display your website when searching.

When you have your sitemap created, submit it using the GSC Sitemaps tool.

GSC Sitemaps Report

After Google processes and indexes your sitemap, it will appear in the Sitemaps report. You can see when Google last read your sitemap and how many URLs are indexed.

GSC dimensions and metrics

There are a few terms that you should understand before using GSC.

What is a Google Search Console query?

This is a search term that generated impressions of your website page in a Google SERP. You can only find query data in the search console, not in Google Analytics.

What is an impression?

An impression is generated every time a link url is displayed in a search result. The user doesn’t have to scroll down to see your search result for the impression to count.

What is a click?

If the user selects a link that takes them outside of Google search, it counts as one click. If the user clicks a link, clicks the back button, and then clicks the same link again – still one click. If so, click another link – that’s two clicks.

If a user clicks on a link in Google search on which a new query is executed, this is not counted as a click.

This also doesn’t include paid Google results.

What is the average position?

This is the average ranking of your page (s) for a query or queries. For example, let’s say our guide to SEO tools ranks 2nd for “SEO Software” and 4th for “Keyword Tools”. The average position for this url would be 3 (assuming we literally rank for nothing else).

What is CTR?

The click rate is the same as clicks divided by impressions multiplied by 100. If our post is shown in 20 search queries and generates 10 clicks, our click rate is 50%.

Filter in the Google Search Console

GSC offers various options to view and analyze your data. These filters are incredibly useful, but they can also be confusing as you get used to the tool.

Search type

There are three types of searches: web, image, and video. I usually use “web” as this is where most of the HubSpot blog traffic comes from. However, if you are getting a lot of visits for image and / or video search, make sure to adjust this filter accordingly.

Search type in the Google Search Console

You can also compare two types of traffic. Just click the Compare tab, select the two categories you are interested in and select Apply.

This can lead to interesting insights. For example, I’ve found that this post on Color Theory 101 gets more impressions from image search than it does from the web (although the latter still generates more clicks!).

Google Search Console Web vs. Image Impressions

Date range

GSC now offers data for 16 months (from 90 days). You can choose from a variety of preset time periods or set a custom range.

Google search console date range selection

As with the search type, you can also use the Compare tab to compare two date ranges.

Queries, page, country, device, search appearance

Click New next to the date filter to add up to five additional filter types: Query, Page, Country, Device, and Search Presentation.

Performance of the Google Search Console - new next to the date filter

These filters can be layered. For example, if I want to display data for SEO-related queries in mobile search, I’ll add a filter for queries that contain “SEO” on mobile. If I just wanted to limit the results to just posts on the marketing blog, I would add another filter for pages that contain the URL blog.hubspot.com/marketing.

This is where you can get very specific. I recommend playing around with different filter combinations so you see what is possible.

Index Coverage Report

The index report shows you the status of every page that Google has tried to index on your website. You can use this report to diagnose indexing problems. Each page is assigned one of four statuses:

  1. Error: The page could not be indexed.
  2. Warning: The site is indexed but has a problem.
  3. Locked out: The page is an alternate page with duplicate content and a canonical page. Because of this, it was purposely excluded while the canonical page was found and indexed.

Submitted sitemaps

In this area you can make your sitemap available to Google and display its status.

Sitemaps submitted by the Google search console

How to use the Google Search Console

  1. Identify your pages with the highest traffic.
  2. Identify your requests with the highest click rate.
  3. Take a look at the average click-through rate.
  4. Monitor your click through rate over time.
  5. Monitor your impressions over time.
  6. Monitor your average position over time.
  7. Identify your top ranked pages.
  8. Identify your lowest ranking pages.
  9. Identify the rise and fall of the ranking.
  10. Identify your requests with the highest traffic.
  11. Compare the search performance of your website on desktop, mobile phone and tablet.
  12. Compare the search performance of your website in different countries.
  13. Find out how many of your pages have been indexed.
  14. Find out which pages were not indexed and why.
  15. Monitor the total number of pages indexed and indexing errors.
  16. Identify mobile usability issues.
  17. Find out how many backlinks your website has in total.
  18. Identify which urls have the most backlinks.
  19. Identify which websites are referring to you the most.
  20. Identify the most popular anchor text for external links.
  21. Identify which pages have the most internal links.
  22. Find out how many internal links your website has in total.
  23. Find and fix AMP errors.
  24. Check Google to see how Google displays a URL.

Can you see why i love GSC? Let’s examine each use case.

1. Identify your pages with the highest traffic.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the Page tab (next to Queries).
  3. Change the date range to “Last 12 months”. (A full year gives you a full overview of your traffic, but you can always adjust the period.)
  4. Make sure “Total Clicks” is selected.
  5. Click the little down arrow next to “Clicks” to sort from highest to lowest.

Google Search Console pages report

2. Identify your queries with the highest CTR.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the Queries tab.
  3. Change the date range to “Last 12 months”. (A full year gives you a full overview of your traffic, but you can always adjust the period.)
  4. Make sure “Average CTR” is selected.
  5. Click the little down arrow next to “CTR” to sort from highest to lowest.

Note: It’s useful to look at this together with “Impressions” (check “Total Impressions” to see this information side by side). A page might have a high CTR but low impressions, or vice versa. Without both data points, you will not get a complete picture.

Google Search Console pages report with impressions and ctr

3. Look at the average click through rate.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the date to adjust the time period. Select the area you are interested in. (Alternatively, you can click Compare to analyze two ranges of dates at the same time.)
  3. Take a look at “Average CTR.”
  4. Click on Performance.
  5. Click the date to adjust the time period. Select the area you are interested in. (Alternatively, you can click Compare to analyze two ranges of dates at the same time.)
  6. Take a look at “Overall Impressions”.
  7. Go to Status> Performance.
  8. Click the date to adjust the time period. Select the area you are interested in. (Alternatively, you can click Compare to analyze two ranges of dates at the same time.)
  9. Look at “Average Position”.

google search console average ctr

4. Monitor your click through rate over time.

I recommend keeping an eye on the click rate. Any significant movement is significant: if it’s gone down but impressions have gone up, just rank by more keywords so the average click-through rate has gone down. If the click-through rate increased and the impressions decreased, then you’ve lost keywords. If both the click rate and the impressions have increased, congratulations – you are doing something right!

5. Monitor your impressions over time.

As you create more content and optimize your existing pages, that number should increase. (As always, there are exceptions – you may have decided to use a small number of high conversion keywords instead of many average conversion keywords, focus on other channels, etc.)

6. Monitor the average position over time.

Average position isn’t that useful at the macro level. Most people are concerned when it goes high – but that’s shortsighted. Typically, ranking a page or set of pages by additional keywords increases the average position. If you don’t rank for the exact same position or better than your existing keywords, your “Average” will eventually get bigger.

Don’t pay too much attention to this metric.

average position of the Google search console

7. Identify your top ranked pages.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the Page tab.
  3. Change the date range to “Last 28 Days”. (You want an up-to-date, accurate snapshot of your pages.)
  4. Make sure “Average Position” is selected.
  5. Click the small up arrow next to Position to sort from smallest (good) to highest (bad).
  6. Click on Performance.
  7. Click the Page tab.
  8. Change the date range to “Last 28 Days”. (You want an up-to-date, accurate snapshot of your pages.)
  9. Make sure “Average Position” is selected.
  10. Click the little down arrow next to Position to sort from highest (bad) to lowest (good).

Since you’re showing the average position by URL, this number is the mean of all rankings for that page. In other words, if it’s a ranking for two keywords, it might be number 1 for a high volume query and number 43 for a low volume query – but the average is still 22.

With that in mind, you shouldn’t judge a site’s success or failure by its “average position” alone.

8. Identify your lowest ranked pages

Follow the same steps you would take to identify your highest ranking pages, except this time by toggling the little up arrow next to “Position” to sort from highest (bad) to smallest (good).

9. Identify the increase and decrease in rankings.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the Query tab.
  3. Click the Date Range button to change the dates, then select the Compare tab.
  4. Select two equivalent periods and click “Apply”.

At this point you can view or export the data in GSC. For an in-depth analysis, I recommend the second – it will make your life a lot easier.

To do this, click the down arrow under “Search view”, download it as a CSV file or export it to Google Sheets.

Download csv in the google search console

Now that you have this data in tabular form, you can add a column for the position differences (position of the last 28 days – position of the previous 28 days) and then sort by size.

If the difference is positive, your site has been moved up for this query. If it’s negative, you’ve fallen.

10. Identify your requests with the highest traffic.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Click the Query tab.
  3. Click Date Range to select a time range.
  4. Make sure “Total Clicks” is selected.
  5. Click the little down arrow next to “Clicks” to sort from highest to lowest.

It is definitely useful to know which queries are generating the most search traffic. Consider optimizing the ranking pages for conversion, updating them regularly to keep their rankings, leaving paid advertising behind, using them to link to relevant lower-ranking (but as if not more important) pages, and so on.

11. Compare the search performance of your website on desktop, mobile phone and tablet.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Go to the Devices tab.
  3. Make sure that Total Clicks, Total Impressions, Average CTR, and Average Position are selected.
  4. Compare your performance on desktop, mobile phone and tablet.

12. Compare the search performance of your website in different countries.

  1. Click on Performance.
  2. Go to the “Countries” tab.
  3. Make sure that Total Clicks, Total Impressions, Average CTR, and Average Position are selected.
  4. Compare your performance in different countries.

13. Learn how many of your pages have been indexed.

  1. Start with “Overview”.
  2. Scroll down to the index coverage summary.
  3. Look at the number of valid pages.

Index coverage in the Google search console

14. Find out which pages were not indexed and why.

  1. Go to Overview> Index Coverage.
  2. Scroll down to the Details box to see what errors are causing indexing problems and how often they occur.
  3. Double-click any type of error to view the affected page URLs.

15. Monitor the total number of pages indexed and indexing errors.

  1. Go to Overview> Index Coverage.
  2. Make sure Errors, Valid with Warnings, Valid, and Excluded are selected.

Drill down to index coverage in the Google search console

The total number of indexed pages on your website should increase over time as follows:

  • Publish new blog posts, create new landing pages, add additional website pages, etc.
  • Fix indexing errors

If the indexing errors increase significantly, a change to your website template may be to blame (because a large number of pages are affected at the same time). Alternatively, you may have submitted a sitemap with URLs that Google cannot crawl (due to “noindex” policies, robots.txt, password-protected pages, etc.).

If the total number of indexed pages on your website is decreasing without a proportional increase in errors, you may be blocking access to existing URLs.

Either way, try to diagnose the problem by looking at your excluded pages and looking for clues.

16. Identify problems with the usability of mobile devices.

  1. Click on Mobile Usability.
  2. Make sure “Error” is selected.
  3. Scroll down to the Details box to see which errors are causing mobile usability issues and how often they occur.
  4. Double-click any type of error to view the affected page URLs.

mobile usability in the google search console

17. Find out how many backlinks your website has in total.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Open the Linked Pages Above report.
  3. Look at the “Total external links” field.
  4. Click the down arrow next to Inbound Links to sort from highest to lowest backlinks.

Top linked pages externally in the Google search console

Every backlink is a signal to Google that your content is trustworthy and useful. In general, the more backlinks, the better! Of course, quality matters – one link from a high-authority website is far more valuable than two links from low-authority websites. Just double-click that URL on the report to see which websites are linking to a particular page.

18. Identify which URLs have the most backlinks.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Open the Linked Pages Above report.
  3. Click the down arrow next to Inbound Links to sort from highest to lowest backlinks.

If you want to help a page rank higher, adding a link from a page with a lot of backlinks is a good choice. These backlinks give this URL a lot of page authority – which it can then pass on to another page on your website with a link.

Top websites linking to this page in the google search console

19. Identify which websites are linked to you most often.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Scroll down to Top Link Sites> More.

Knowing your most referring domains is incredibly useful for advertising. I would recommend starting with these websites in any link building campaign. (Just make sure you use a tool like Moz, SEMrush, or Arel = “noopener” target = “_ blank” hrefs to filter out the low-privileged first.)

These can also be good candidates for comarketing campaigns or social media partnerships.

20. Identify the most popular anchor text for external links.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Scroll down to Top Link Text> More.

The anchor text should be as descriptive and specific as possible – and ideally, include your keyword. If you find websites that link to your pages but use anchor text like “Click Here,” “More Info,” “Check Out,” and so on, you should send an email asking you to update the link .

21. Identify which pages have the most internal links.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Scroll down to Top Linked Sites> More.

It is normal for some URLs to have more inbound links. For example, if you run an e-commerce website, each product page in your Skirts category will be linked to the Skirts summary page. That’s a good thing: it tells Google that your top-level URLs are most important (which helps them rank higher).

However, a severely skewed link distribution ratio is not ideal. When a tiny percentage of your URLs get far more links than the others, 95% find it difficult to get searches – you don’t give them enough permissions.

This is what a heavily distorted distribution looks like:

Average number of follow inlinks by percentile of URLs

The optimal spread looks like this:

Average number of follow inlinks by percentile of the URL line chart

Use GSC’s link data to learn how your links are distributed and if you need to focus on making your link distribution smoother.

22. Find out the total number of internal links on your website.

  1. Click on Links.
  2. Scroll down to Top Linked Sites> More.
  3. Look at the box labeled Total Internal Links.

23. Find and fix AMP errors.

  1. Click on AMP.
  2. Stellen Sie sicher, dass “Fehler” ausgewählt ist.
  3. Scrollen Sie nach unten zum Feld “Details”, um zu sehen, welche Arten von Problemen Sie haben und wie häufig sie auftreten.

Google empfiehlt, Fehler zu beheben, bevor Sie sich die Seiten in der Kategorie “Gültig mit Warnungen” ansehen. Standardmäßig werden Fehler nach Schweregrad, Häufigkeit und der Frage, ob Sie sie behoben haben, eingestuft.

24. Sehen Sie bei Google nach, wie Google eine URL anzeigt.

  1. Klicken Sie oben auf der Seite auf die weiße Lupe.
  2. Geben Sie die Seiten-URL ein. (Stellen Sie sicher, dass es zu der Eigenschaft gehört, die Sie gerade anzeigen.)

URL-Überprüfung in der Google-Suchkonsole

Hier erfahren Sie, wie Sie die Ergebnisse interpretieren. Wenn sich die URL bei Google befindet, bedeutet dies, dass sie indiziert ist und in der Suche angezeigt werden kann.

Dies bedeutet nicht, dass dies der Fall ist. Wenn der Inhalt als Spam markiert wurde oder Sie ihn entfernt oder vorübergehend blockiert haben, wird er nicht angezeigt. Google die URL; Wenn es angezeigt wird, können Suchende es finden.

Öffnen Sie die Index-Coverage-Karte, um mehr über die Präsenz der URL bei Google zu erfahren, einschließlich der Sitemaps, die auf diese URL verweisen, die verweisende Seite, die Googlebot zu dieser URL geführt hat, das letzte Mal, als Googlebot diese URL gecrawlt hat, ob Sie Googlebot erlaubt haben, diese zu crawlen URL, ob Googlebot diese URL tatsächlich abrufen konnte, ob diese Seite die Indizierung nicht zulässt, die kanonische URL, die Sie für diese Seite festgelegt haben, und die URL, die Google als kanonisch für diese Seite ausgewählt hat.

Im Abschnitt Verbesserungen finden Sie Informationen zu:

  • Die AMP-Version dieser Seite, falls vorhanden, und alle AMP-spezifischen Probleme
  • Status für Stellenausschreibungen und / oder rezeptstrukturierte Daten

Anmerkung des Herausgebers: Dieser Beitrag wurde ursprünglich im Oktober 2018 veröffentlicht und aus Gründen der Vollständigkeit aktualisiert.

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