Comprehensive Guide to SEO with Google Search Console

  • June 12, 2024
  • SEO
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Google Search Console is an indispensable tool for SEO as it provides data about the organic performance of a website or page.

Understanding how users search for products and services, measuring your site performance in the search engines, and getting recommendations for improvements are vital to SEO.

Originally known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is the SEO tool that most SEO professionals either do use, or should be using for insights and technical health.

What Is Google Search Console (GSC)?

Google Search Console, also known as GSC, is a free service from Google that allows site owners to monitor their overall site health and performance using data directly from Google.

Among its many facets, GSC provides several valuable reports, including:

  • Impressions and Clicks
  • Indexation
  • Links
  • Manual Actions
  • Core Web Vitals (CWV)

GSC also allows site owners to take specific actions related to their site, such as:

  • Submitting a sitemap
  • Removing URLs from the index
  • Inspecting URLs for any indexing issues

Additionally, GSC regularly sends updates via email to verified owners and users indicating any crawl errors, accessibility issues, or performance problems.

While the data for GSC has been expanded from just 3 months to up to 16 months, it doesn’t start collecting data until you have verified your ownership of the property in question.

How To Get Started With GSC

To begin using Google Search Console, you’ll need a Google account, such as a Gmail account or an email account associated with Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), and you’ll also need to be able to add code to your website or update the domain name servers with your hosting provider.

In this section, we’ll cover the following topics:

  • How to verify site ownership in GSC
  • How to add a sitemap to GSC
  • Setting owners, users, and permissions
  • Understanding dimensions and metrics

How To Verify Ownership

Since the data provided and the available processes in GSC can be highly valuable to competitors, Google requires that site owners take one of several available steps to verify their ownership.

It’s important to discuss the two different types of properties you can verify in GSC: Domain and URL Prefix.

Screenshot from author, March 2024

Domain

If you are verifying your domain for the first time in GSC, this is the recommended property type. It will establish verification for all subdomains, SSL patterns (http:// or https://), and subfolders on your site.

There are two types of verification for this property type: TXT and CNAME. Both methods require you or your site engineer to have access to change your site’s Domain Name System (DNS) records.

For TXT verifications (preferred):

  • Copy the text in the TXT record field
  • Create a new DNS record for your domain (usually via your hosting provider), with the Type set to TXT
  • Paste the verification TXT from GSC into the Record field
  • Save Record, and wait for the DNS changes to update
  • Click Verify in GSC to verify that you have added the TXT record to your DNS.
  • Note that replication can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, so you can click Verify Later if the change is not immediately verifiable

Image of the GSC Verification screen for

For CNAME verifications:

  • Copy the CNAME label and paste it into the Name field of a new CNAME record in your site’s DNS configuration
  • Copy the CNAME Destination/Target content into the Record field in your DNS configuration
  • Save Record, and wait for the DNS changes to update
  • Click Verify in GSC to verify that you have added the CNAME record to your DNS.
  • As with TXT verification, replication can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, so you can click Verify Later if the change is not immediately verifiable

Image of the GSC Verification screen for

Watch this video by Google for more details:

Once your domain is verified, you can verify additional properties for this domain using the URL Prefix property type.

URL Prefix

This verification method is used when you cannot access your domain’s DNS records or when you want to verify specific URL paths under an existing Domain verification.

The URL Prefix verification allows you to verify:

  • http:// and https:// separately (if you haven’t canonicalized your URLs)
  • Subdomains, such as m.domain.com or community.domain.com
  • Subdirectories, such as www.domain.com/products or www.domain.com/articles
  • Any prefix with URLs that follow a specific pattern

Note that this verification method will yield data solely for URLs that match the specified prefix.

For smaller websites, a single verification might suffice. Larger sites might prefer tracking site health and metrics for various subdomains and subdirectories for a comprehensive data set.

GSC offers five options for verifying your site or segments using the URL Prefix method:

  • HTML Page – Upload the .html file directly to your site’s root directory using an FTP client or your hosting platform’s cPanel file manager.
  • HTML Tag – Add the provided HTML tag to the <head> section of your homepage. CMS platforms like WordPress and Wix allow this through their interfaces.
  • Google Analytics – Use your existing Google Analytics verification to add your site to GSC.
  • Google Tag Manager – Similarly, if you use Google’s Tag Manager, verify your site with the tags you’ve embedded.
  • DNS Configuration – Verify sub-sections of your site using the TXT or CNAME methods described above. Use this for verifying subdomains or subdirectories.

Image of the

These verification methods can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days to replicate, so if you need to click the Verify Later button and return later, you can find that site or segment in the Not Verified section under your account’s properties.

Simply click on the unverified site and click Verify Later.

How To Add A Sitemap In GSC

While Googlebot will most likely be able to find your site’s XML sitemap over time, you can expedite the process by adding your sitemaps directly into GSC.

To add a sitemap to GSC, follow these steps:

  • Go to the sitemap you want to add and copy the URL. The syntax of most XML sitemaps is like “https://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml.” Sitemaps automatically generated by content management systems, like WordPress, may have this syntax instead: https://www.domain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
  • In GSC, click on Sitemaps in the left column.
  • Add your sitemap URL in the Add a new sitemap field at the top of the page and click Submit.

Image of the Add Sitemap screen within GSC

Note that you can add as many sitemaps as your site requires. Many sites will have separate sitemaps for videos, articles, product pages, and images.

The added benefit of including your sitemaps in this interface is that you can compare the number of pages your site has submitted to Google to the number of indexed pages.

To see this comparison, click on the three vertical dots to the right of your sitemap and select “See page indexing.”

The resulting page will display the number of indexed pages (in green) and pages that are “Not Indexed” (in gray), as well as a list of reasons those pages are not indexed.

Setting Users, Owners, And Permissions

It is crucial to control who has access to the data and functionality within GSC. Some functions, such as the Removals tools, can be very dangerous in the wrong hands.

Image of the Add User screen within GSC
Screenshot from author, March 2024

The permissions settings associated with user types limit who can access these parts of GSC.

  • Owner – There are two types of owners: either the user has verified their ownership via one of the verification steps listed above or has had ownership delegated to them by an owner. This level of user has full control over the property up to complete removal from GSC.
  • Full – This type of user has access to almost all the functions of the property Owner. However, if the Full user removes the property, it only removes the property from their list of sites, not from GSC entirely.
  • Restricted – This user can only view the data within GSC. They are unable to make any changes to the account.

It is important to note that Google recently enhanced Search Console security by introducing a new feature for managing ownership tokens under Settings > Users and permissions > Unused ownership tokens

Screenshot from developers.google.com

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