The Ultimate Guide to Google Search Console in 2023

How to Master Google Search Console: The Ultimate 2024 Guide
Google Search Console is one of the most powerful free SEO tools available. Whether you‘re an SEO expert or a website owner just getting started with SEO, Search Console provides invaluable data and insights to help you optimize your site and improve your organic search performance.

In this ultimate guide, you‘ll learn everything you need to know to make the most of Google Search Console in 2024. I‘ll walk you through setting it up, share pro tips for navigating the key reports, and show you how to use GSC insights to level up your SEO strategy.

Let‘s get started!

What is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a free web service offered by Google that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site‘s presence in Google search results. You don‘t have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but it helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.

Think of Search Console as a way to get feedback straight from Google. It shows you which of your pages are indexed, lets you submit new content for crawling, and alerts you to any issues or manual actions on your site. With its detailed reports on your rankings, click-through rates, and search queries, Search Console is a goldmine of data to inform your SEO efforts.

Why is Google Search Console Important for SEO?
Google Search Console is one of the few places you can get reliable keyword data straight from Google. Unlike other keyword research tools that provide rough estimates, GSC shows you the actual terms people are using to find your site. You can see your average ranking position for each query, along with click and impression data.

This data is incredibly valuable for understanding what‘s working and where there‘s room for improvement in your SEO. By identifying your top-performing pages and keywords, you can double down on what‘s working. On the flip side, you can also find underperforming content and keywords to optimize.

Besides keyword and ranking insights, GSC is also an essential tool for monitoring your site‘s technical health from an SEO perspective. The Index Coverage report alerts you to any pages that are blocked from being crawled or have indexing issues. You can also use GSC to submit sitemaps, check your page loading speeds, review your backlinks, and more. Keeping on top of these technical factors is key for maintaining strong SEO.

How to Set Up Google Search Console
Setting up Google Search Console is a fairly straightforward process:

  1. Go to Search Console (https://search.google.com/search-console/) and sign in with your Google account.
  2. Click "Add Property" and enter your website‘s URL. Make sure to include the correct protocol (http:// or https://).
  3. Verify your ownership of the site. Google offers multiple verification methods:
  • Upload an HTML file to your site
  • Add an HTML tag to your homepage
  • Use your Google Analytics code
  • Use your Google Tag Manager container snippet
  • Add a DNS record to your domain hosting provider

Once you‘ve verified ownership, you‘ll see your site in the GSC dashboard. Repeat this process to add each version of your domain (http, https, www, non-www). You can have up to 1000 properties in GSC.

If you have other people who need to access GSC for your domain, like an SEO agency or web developer, you can add them as users with restricted or full permissions under Settings > Users & permissions.

Navigating Google Search Console: Overview of Key Reports
When you first log into Google Search Console, it can be a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of different reports and data points! Let‘s break down the key areas:

Overview:
The Overview page provides a quick snapshot of your site‘s overall search performance and any issues. It shows your total clicks and impressions, your average click-through rate (CTR), and average position over time. It also surfaces any indexing errors, manual actions, or security issues.

Performance:
The Performance report is where you‘ll find your queries, pages, countries, devices and search appearance data. This is the most important report in GSC for SEO insights. You can see which search queries are driving traffic to your site, which pages are ranking, and monitor your positions over time. I‘ll share more tips on using the Performance report below.

URL inspection:
The URL Inspection tool lets you check the status of any page on your site to see if it‘s indexed. Just enter the full URL and GSC will tell you if the URL is on Google, when it was last crawled, any crawling or indexing errors, and more. This is helpful for debugging indexing issues with a specific page.

Index:
The Index reports show you which pages of your site are being indexed successfully. The Coverage report breaks down how many of your pages are indexed vs. excluded, along with the specific reasons why pages aren‘t being indexed (crawl anomaly, noindex, not found, etc.). The Sitemaps report shows you which sitemaps you‘ve submitted and how many pages from each one have been indexed.

Enhancements:
The Enhancements section shows you opportunities to improve your appearance on Google through structured data like reviews, FAQs, or sitelinks. It also alerts you to any invalid markup.

Experience:
The Experience reports help you evaluate your site‘s user experience from a technical perspective. The Core Web Vitals report shows you what percentage of your pages provide a good page experience based on loading, interactivity, and visual stability. The Mobile Usability report flags any pages with usability issues on mobile devices.

How to Use Google Search Console for SEO
Now that you know your way around Google Search Console, let‘s dive into how to use it to improve your SEO. Here are some of the most important use cases and reports to leverage:

Using the Performance Report to Track Your Rankings and Traffic
The Performance report is the heart of Google Search Console for SEO. It shows you how your site is performing in Google search based on actual clicks and impressions.

To access the Performance report, click on "Performance" in the left-hand navigation. By default, it will show your data for the past 3 months, but you can adjust this to see data as far back as 16 months.

The Performance report shows you:

  • Total clicks to your site from Google search
  • Total impressions (how many times your pages were seen in search results)
  • Average click-through rate (CTR)
  • Average position of your pages in search results

You can break this data down by queries (the actual search terms people used to find your site), pages (which of your pages are getting the most clicks and impressions), countries, devices, and search appearance (web, image, or video).

Here are some ways to use the Performance report to gain SEO insights:

  1. Identify your top performing pages and queries. Look at which pages are getting the most clicks and have the highest average positions. These are your SEO superstars! Consider updating and republishing this content to maintain your rankings.

  2. Find queries where you‘re ranking well but not getting clicks. If a page has a high number of impressions but a low CTR, your title tag and meta description may not be compelling enough. Try rewriting them to entice more clicks.

  3. Look for pages that are ranking on the second page (average position 11-20). With a little on-page optimization, you may be able to bump these to the first page and significantly increase your traffic.

  4. Monitor your rankings over time. Use the date filter to compare your average positions for specific pages or queries over different time periods. This will help you track the impact of your SEO efforts and spot any major drops.

  5. See how your rankings differ on mobile vs. desktop. Mobile-friendliness is an important ranking factor, so you want to make sure your positions are consistent across devices. If a page is ranking well on desktop but poorly on mobile, check for any mobile usability issues.

Using the Index Coverage Report to Find and Fix Technical SEO Issues
The second most important report in Google Search Console is the Index Coverage report. This shows you which of your pages have been successfully indexed by Google, and more importantly, which ones haven‘t and why not.

To view the Index Coverage report, go to Index > Coverage in the left-hand navigation. You‘ll see a graph of how many pages are indexed over time, broken down by status: errors, warnings, valid with warnings, and valid.

Here‘s how to interpret the different statuses:

  • Errors: These are critical issues preventing your page from being indexed, like a 404 error, server error, or noindex tag. These need to be fixed ASAP.
  • Valid with warnings: The page is indexed, but there are issues that could be impacting its visibility, like nofollow links or a robots.txt block.
  • Valid: The page is indexed with no issues. Great job!
  • Excluded: The page is intentionally not being indexed, either because of a noindex tag or robots.txt block. This is fine as long as it‘s intentional.

Below the chart, you‘ll see a table with more details on the specific issues. Click on an issue to see the exact URLs affected.

Some common indexing issues to look out for:

  • Submitted URL blocked by robots.txt: This means Google can‘t crawl the page because it‘s disallowed in your robots.txt file. If this is unintentional, update your robots.txt.
  • Submitted URL seems to be a Soft 404: The page is returning a 200 status code, but based on the content, Google thinks it should be a 404. This often happens with thin or empty pages. Consider adding more content or noindexing the page.
  • Submitted URL marked noindex: The page has a noindex tag telling Google not to index it. If this is unintentional, remove the noindex tag.

Once you‘ve identified any indexing issues, work with your web developer to get them fixed. Then use the Validate Fix button in GSC to prompt Google to recrawl the affected pages.

In addition to fixing errors, you can also use the Index Coverage report to identify orphan pages that aren‘t internally linked to. These often show up as Excluded > Discovered – currently not indexed. Consider linking to these pages from other relevant pages on your site to help Google find and index them.

How to Use Filters and Regular Expressions in GSC
One of the most powerful features of Google Search Console is the ability to filter and segment your data using regular expressions (regex). This lets you zoom in on specific subsets of queries or pages to gain deeper insights.

To filter your data in the Performance report, click the + NEW button above the chart. From here you can filter by query, page, country, device, and search appearance.

For example, let‘s say you only want to see queries containing a certain keyword. Click + NEW > Query and enter your keyword surrounded by quotes and periods, like ".keyword.". This will show you all the queries containing that exact keyword.

You can also use regular expressions to create more advanced filters. For example, if you wanted to see all queries containing keyword1 or keyword2, you‘d enter ".keyword1|keyword2." – the vertical bar means "or".

Here are some other useful regex filters:

  • Page filter: "/blog/." will show you all pages in your /blog/ subfolder.
  • Query filter: "^keyword" will show you all queries that start with keyword.
  • Query filter: "keyword$" will show you all queries that end with keyword.
  • Page filter: "inurl:2024" will show you all pages with 2024 in the URL.

You can also combine multiple filters. For example, if you only wanted to see blog pages that are getting traffic from the United States, you‘d apply two filters: Page > "/blog/." and Country > "United States".

Regex can be intimidating at first, but it‘s worth taking the time to learn. It will help you get much more granular with your data and uncover opportunities you may have otherwise missed.

Using Google Search Console with Google Analytics
Google Search Console is extremely useful on its own, but you can gain even more insights by connecting it to Google Analytics. This lets you view your Google Search Console data alongside your other website metrics, so you can tie your search performance to conversions and revenue.

To connect Google Search Console to Google Analytics 4, follow these steps:

  1. In Google Analytics, go to Admin > Product Linking.
  2. Under Search Console Links, click Link.
  3. Select the GSC property you want to link and click Continue.
  4. Under Setting up the link, select the GA4 property you want to link to and click Next.
  5. Confirm the association and click Submit.

Once your accounts are linked, you can access your GSC metrics in a few places in GA4:

  • Reports > Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages or Queries
  • Reports > Engagement > Pages and screens > Organic Search Traffic
  • Explore > Free Form

In the Explore section, you can build your own custom reports combining GSC and GA4 data. For example, you could create a report showing your top landing pages from organic search with metrics like sessions, conversions, and revenue. This can help you identify your most valuable pages from an organic search perspective.

You can also import your Search Console data as a secondary dimension in standard reports. Just click the secondary dimension dropdown and search for Search Console.

Bringing your Google Search Console and Google Analytics data together can help you get a more comprehensive view of your SEO performance and tie your efforts back to your bottom line.

Closing Thoughts
Google Search Console is an incredibly powerful tool for monitoring and improving your website‘s organic search presence. By understanding how to use it to its full potential, you‘ll be well on your way to driving more high-quality traffic to your site.

The most important things to check in GSC are:

  1. Your search rankings and click-through rates (Performance report)
  2. Any technical issues preventing your pages from being indexed (Index Coverage report)
  3. Your site‘s mobile-friendliness and Core Web Vitals (Experience report)
  4. Opportunities to enhance your search appearance with structured data (Enhancements reports)

Beyond that, I recommend checking your GSC data on a regular basis to keep an eye out for any major changes or emerging opportunities. Use filters and regex to slice and dice your data in new ways, and combine your insights with Google Analytics for a more complete picture.

By staying on top of your Google Search Console metrics and continuously optimizing based on what you find, you‘ll be well-positioned to succeed in the ever-changing world of SEO. So go forth and make the most of this free and valuable tool from Google!