How to set up Google Search Console and monitor the health of your website
Formerly Google Webmaster tools (GWT), Google Search Console is a free web based dashboard tool conveniently linked to your Google account. It keeps you informed about your sites health and its current status in Google’s search engine. It also allows site owners to inform Google about new content via a sitemap, and deal with any Malware or security issues.
Google Search Console works hand in hand with Google Analytics to give you a clearer picture of how your site is performing.
Having a properly configured Search Console account will help you to:
- See traffic insights:
- How users are finding your site
- Which keywords they most often use
The most popular pages
- The rank and position changes for popular terms related to your site
- Identify technical problems with the site
- Security Issues & Spam attacks
- Explore the top Links pointing to your site
- Advise Google which region you are targeting for visibility
- The preferred version of the site you would like to see in search results
www.myexamplesite.com or myexamplesite.com
In this Google Search Console tutorial we will show you how to set it up correctly from the beginning, so you can monitor the health of your site and inform Google of any changes.
Initial Setup & Verification
Prior to using this tool you need to verify that you are actually the owner of the site, or have permission to administer it. This is called Site Verification.
Google Search Console is linked to a Google Account. If you do not currently have a Google Account, you will be prompted to create one, or you can go here: https://accounts.google.com/SignUp
- Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/and signup for a Google Search Console account.
- Add a website to your account.
This is where you will enter the details of the domain you wish to track. You can also add multiple sites to your Search Console account, making it easier to monitor by only having one login to utilise.
- Verify your ownership of the site
You have a few different options when verifying your website. They include;
- Google Analytics tag
- Google Tag Manager tag
- Domain registration: CNAME Record or DNS TXT
The 2 easiest methods are:
- Upload an html file to the root directory of your site
- Add a special Meta Tag to the <head> section of your webpages
An advantage of uploading the HTML file, is that if your developers update the code on your website (E.g. updating your WordPress theme) the HTML file is separate, and so will not be overwritten, and you will remain verified.
If you don’t have access to upload the file to your Webserver using FTP or cPanel, then it may be easier to use the Meta Tag method.
Many content management systems, WordPress included, have plugins that allow you to easily add the verification code to the <head> section of all webpages. If in doubt, crosscheck with your developer.
Below is an example of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress
Verify Multiple Versions of your site
Typically your site will be accessed either with or without the preceding www’s
E.g. http://www.myexamplesite.com or http://myexamplesite.com
You should verify both addresses in your Search Console account. This will allow you to then choose a preferred version of your site that Google should index and give ranking authority to.
Once you have verified one, there is no need to upload another HTML file for the other version of the domain, you can simply hit the verify button and it will automatically be verified.
Make sure that if your site uses an SSL certificate to use HTTPS when adding the site.
Setting the preferred Domain
Once you have verified the versions of your site you can then choose your preferred domain.
How you can check which the preferred version is;
- Type both versions of the URL into your browser and see which version you are redirected to. The site may redirect you to with www or without.
So, if myexamplesite.com redirects you to www.myexamplesite.com. You should make www.myexamplesite.com the preferred domain.
- If both versions show without a redirect, you can choose the version that has the most links pointing to it. Specifically, you will want to select the version with the most number of linking Root domains. You can find this out by putting both versions in to a tool like Open Site Explorer from Moz.
How to set the preferred version
- Choose the Gear icon and site settings
- Then select your preferred domain and save
Sync Data with Google Analytics
Over the last few years, Google Analytics has been showing less and less data about the keywords people search with when looking for your product or service. For non brand related keywords, they simply show (not provided).
The good news is, Google Search Console has some of this data, and you are able to sync keyword data from Search Console with Google Analytics.
If you already have a Google Analytics property setup, follow these steps
- The gear icon and then Google Analytics Property from the menu
- Select the matching property from the list and save
Submit a Sitemap
Sitemaps make it easy for search engines to crawl your site and discover content.
Here is how you can submit an XML site map within Search Console.
- From the left sidebar menu select Crawl -> Sitemaps
- Select Add/Test Sitemap
- Enter the URL of your sitemap and submit
This will submit the sitemap, display information about the number of pages and if there are any warnings or errors.
Set International Targeting
Within Search Console you have the option to specify the geographic region or language your website is targeting.
If your target market is restricted to a specific country:
- Select Search Traffic and then the International Targeting option
- Tick the box to target users in a specific country
This concludes the basic setup of Google Search Console for your site.
The tool will now start capturing keyword data and crawling your sitemap to identify all the listed pages and rank them in its index. It will also start to analyse your site and offer suggestions for improvement.
In Part 2 of this tutorial, we will look at how to interpret the data, and take action to resolve any issues highlighted by Google Search Console.
For further reading from Google themselves, try the resources below.