A beginner’s guide to Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a must-use tool if you want to track how your website is performing. You can keep an eye on keywords, page impressions, click-through rates, rankings, mobile usability, top linking sites and so much more.

It’s a fantastic companion to Google Analytics and completely free to use.

It can be a bit daunting to start with, which is why I’ve put together this beginner’s guide to the various reports and features to give you a handy starting point.

 My advice is to spend some time playing with the different features and filters in the Google Search Console Guide

 

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console began its life as Google Webmaster Tools.

It’s a free platform from Google that lets you see how the search engine views your website so that you’re better able to optimise your organic presence.

Using Google Search Console, you can tap into important information such as:

  • Queries/search terms used to find your site in search engine results pages (SERPs)
  • Average ranking position for keywords/phrases
  • Impressions and clicks for specific pages
  • Page speeds and performance
  • Errors that need correcting

How to add your website to Google Search Console

If you don’t have access to Google Search Console already, your first step is to set it up.

  1. Go to Google Search Console and click on Start now.
  2. Sign in using your Google account. If you have a personal and a business account, choose your business account. (If you don’t yet have a Google Account, hit the Create account option and follow the instructions).
    Sign Up Screen in Google Search Console
    You may be prompted to change your password to one that you only use for Google Search Console.
  3. You’ll be taken to the Google Search Console dashboard. Click on Add a property.
  4. On the Select property type pop-up that appears, you’ll be given the choice between adding a Domain or a URL prefix.
Select property type - Google Search Console

I’d recommend reading Google’s explanation about what these two options mean

The Domain option covers all subdomains (e.g. www.example.com, blog.example.com, m.example.com) and protocols (i.e. http, https) associated with your website.

It’s a way of consolidating all of your data from your whole domain into one view.

Domain property graphic

The alternative – the URL prefix option – was the only method available in older versions of Google Search Console.

It only covers URLs under the entered address and specified protocol, e.g. https://www.example.com.

URL Prefix property graphic

If you use several subdomains and protocols, you would be better choosing Domain.


Please note: Currently, Google Analytics will only link to URL-Prefix properties.

My advice would be to set up a Domain property for your entire domain but also create a URL-Prefix property for your primary site URL and protocol, e.g. http://www.example.co.uk. This would be the primary version of the site that’s indexed with Google.


5. Click Continue.

6. As Google Search Console will give you access to confidential data about your website’s performance, you will need to pick a way to verify that you own the website you’re trying to add.

If you’ve chosen the Domain option, you will see a pop-up that looks something like this:

Domain verification in Google Search Console

Follow the instructions given to verify your ownership of the domain.

If you’ve chosen the URL Prefix option, you will see a different verification screen:

URL verification

Pick your chosen verification method and follow the instructions given.

Google Search Console will start to collect and display data about your site as soon as it is verified.


Note: Google will let you re-add a web property that you’ve removed in the past without you having to go through a second verification process if the property still has one verified owner.

To re-add a website/domain, follow steps 1-5 above and you should be automatically re-verified.


Your next step is to link Google Search Console with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – this will enable you to understand more about how your website is performing in organic search results.

(If you’re not already using Google Analytics 4, you can find my set-up guide and walkthrough here).

To link Google Search Console with Google Analytics 4, you will need to complete the following steps:

1. Log into Google Analytics and choose the property you want to connect to Search Console.

2. Click on Admin (the gear symbol at the bottom of the main left-hand menu).

3. Click on Property Settings and then Product Links.

4. Choose Search Console Links from the list.

5. If Search Console and GA4 are already linked, you will see it in the list of properties on this screen:

Connecting GA4 and Search Console

If the list is blank, as in the screenshot above, click on Link.

6. To link Google Search Console with GA4, you need to have edit or administrator-level permission in Google Analytics. You also need to be the owner of the property in Google Search Console.

After clicking Link, you will see the following screen:

Choose Search Console property

Click on Choose accounts and select the website you want to connect.

Unlike in previous versions of Google Analytics, you can now choose to connect a domain property or a URL-Prefix property (it used to be URL-Prefix only).

7. If you haven’t verified your property on Google Search Console yet, you can click the Add a property option at the top of the screen – this will redirect you to Google Search Console to complete the steps needed to verify a property.

8. If you can see the website you want to link, select that, and click Confirm and then Next.

9. The next step of this process is to select a data stream that is used to collect data for your property. Data streams are sources of information that feed into your Google Analytics property – for example, your website, Android app, and iOS app.

If you have a single data stream, this step is simple. Just choose the data stream and click Next. If you have multiple data streams, select the one used for the website you’re linking to in Google Search Console. Click Next, check you’re linking the right property, and then hit Submit.

You should now have successfully linked Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console. It can take up to 48 hours before you see data from Google Search Console in Analytics.

Creating a sitemap

Once your website is verified in Google Search Console, you should create and submit a site map, as this tells Google what pages you have on your website that you would like it to crawl.

There are lots of different ways to generate a site map.

If you have a WordPress site, you can create an XML sitemap using the fantastic Yoast WordPress SEO or a dedicated XML sitemap plugin, such as Google XML Sitemaps.

If you don’t have a WordPress site, Google offers advice about the different site map formats and general guidelines for building and submitting a site map.

Once you have generated a site map:

  1. Click on Sitemaps under the Index heading in the main Google Search Console menu to the left of the screen.
  2. Under Add a new sitemap, enter the URL for your sitemap.
  3. Click Submit.

Your Google Search Console Overview screen

On your Overview screen, you’ll notice that the main menu runs down the left-hand side.

Overview page

There is also an at-a-glance view of:

Let’s take a look at what the different options in the left-hand menu mean.

URL Inspection

After the Overview, the first option in the main menu on the left-hand side of the screen is the URL Inspection tool.

This enables you to look at individual URLs on your website to:

  • Check the current index status of the URL
  • Determine whether a specific URL can be indexed
  • Request that Google crawls – or recrawls – a page
  • View how Googlebots see a page, including rich snippets such as FAQs

Note: This isn’t a live test. Instead, this tool gives us a view of the most recently indexed version of the URL. To test the live version of the page, you will need to click on the Test Live URL button at the top right of the screen.


To check a URL, simply:

  1. Click on URL Inspection in the main menu.
  2. Enter the URL you want to inspect in the search box at the top of the screen.
  3. Review the results.
URL Inspection screen

You’ll notice that the Page indexingVideo page indexing, HTTPS, Breadcrumbs, FAQ, and Sitelinks searchbox sections each have a little arrow to the right on them. Click on these to expand the section for more information.

(You may have different options, depending on the purpose of your website and the type of content you have on it.)

Within these boxes, you can see when a URL was last crawled by Google and whether it was crawled as a Googlebot smartphone or desktop, for example. To find this information, click on the downward pointing arrow to the right of the Page Indexing line.

You can check out the user-selected canonical URL and whether this matches the Google-selected canonical (a fantastic way to hunt out duplicate content!)

The URL Inspection tool will also flag up errors such as:

  • Problems with the page’s coding, structure, rich snippets, etc.
  • Page can’t be indexed
  • There is a duplicate version of a canonical page
  • The content is password protected or has a noindex tag

When problems are indicated, Google Search Console will give you appropriate information about how to fix the errors.

Performance>Search results

The Performance section of Google Search Console is where you can find valuable information about your website’s overall search performance in Google.

You can access this report either by clicking on Performance>Search Results in the left-hand menu (desktop view) or clicking on Full Report in the top right-hand corner of the panel at the top of the Overview screen.

Performance overview

As you can see from the screenshot above, the Performance Search Results report gives you clear information about your website. There are four main metrics for this (i.e. quantitative data that describe how much or how often something happens), sorted within four main tabs:

  1. Total number of click-throughs from SERPs
  2. Total number of impressions in SERPs (i.e. the number of times your pages showed up in search results)
  3. Average click-through rate (CTR) (i.e. the percentage of impressions that result in click-throughs)
  4. Average position in searches, overall and for each search term

You can view all four tabs together or select different combinations or single selections of the four tabs, depending on what data you want to view.

Dimensions and filters

In addition, Google Search Console lets you group your data by six different Dimensions (i.e. attributes of your data that describe who did something or where it happened):

  • Queries (see all the searches for which your web pages have ranked over the given period)
  • Pages (see all the pages that have ranked in searches)
  • Countries (see where your audience is based by country)
  • Devices (see how your traffic is split across desktop, mobile devices, and tablets, and whether the device on which SERPs are viewed influences your click-through rates)
  • Search Appearance (this will show up pages that contain rich snippets or results that have been translated into other languages so you may not see many results listed here)
  • Dates (you can see your total clicks, impressions, average click-through rate, and average position by date)

It’s also possible to filter in/out specific information to help you target specific information (I’ll be covering that in more detail below!)

Google Search Console enables you to see 16 months’ worth of data, which helps you to build up a longer-term view of how your keywords are performing.

Ways you can use the Performance report to boost your organic SEO

  • Identify your highest click-through rate queries

Click-through rate (CTR) is defined as the percentage of impressions that turn into click-throughs to your website.

CTR is an important metric to keep an eye on because it’s an indication of relevance between search terms and your content. Google is likely to view a high CTR as a positive ranking signal, especially if your CTR is higher than for other pages in the same SERP.

So, what are your highest CTR queries? Here’s how you can use Google Search Engine to find out:

1. Click on Performance>Search Results in the main menu. 

2. Click on the Queries tab below the graph (although the Performance page usually defaults to this view).

3. Click on the Date display to the top-left of the graph and change the date range to Last 12 months (or whatever range you’d prefer) and then hit Apply.


Performance date range

4. Make sure the Average CTR tab is selected.


Average CTR view

5. On the line above the list of search queries, click on the arrow next to CTR to sort the results from highest to lowest. This will show you which of your search terms have the highest CTRs.

Of course, this information doesn’t give us the complete picture. A search term could have a 100% CTR but should you spend your energies on optimising that search term if it has only appeared once in a SERP?

To get a more complete understanding of your best performing search terms, click the Total Impressions tab too.

Which search terms stand out for having a high number of total impressions and a high CTR?

A further helpful step here can be to highlight the Average Position tab too. Make a note of search terms that have high impressions, high CTR but rank in position five or below in SERPs (i.e. halfway down page one and lower).

You could try building targeted content around these search terms to attract more traffic for these queries and boost them up to the top half of page one.

  • Find high-ranking pages with a low click-through rate

It can be a red flag if you’re getting loads of impressions for a search term, but the click-through rate is low. This might be a sign that you need to revise your title tags and meta descriptions to grab attention and show searchers/Google that your content is relevant to specific search terms.

Google Search Console can help you to pinpoint where you need to improve click-through rates.

Try the following:

1. Click on the Average CTR and Average Position tabs

Average CTR and average position

2. We want to find the pages that rank in positions five to 10 on Google (the bottom half of page one) and have a bad CTR. This means that we need to filter out higher ranking pages that have an average position of one to four in SERPs. 

3. To do this, you will need to click on the Filter button to the top right of the list of search terms (and below the graph) and tick the Position checkbox. Note: The options in this filter dropdown menu will change according to which of the four main tabs you have selected. 

Filter button

4. This will bring up a new line above the list of search terms where you’ll see the word Equals next to a small triangle indicating the presence of a dropdown menu. Click to view the dropdown menu and click on Greater than. Type 4.9 in the Filter by Position space. This will filter the results so you only see pages with an average ranking position of 5 or lower.

Filter by position

5. At the time of writing, Backlinko says that web pages ranking in position five on Google have an average click-through rate of 6.3%. Pages in position 10 have an average click-through rate of just 2.4%.
We can use 6.3% as our baseline. This means we will need to filter the list of search terms further, so we find those that have a CTR lower than the 6.3% average. Click on the Filter icon again and check the CTR box.

Filters applied

6. Now, go back to the dropdown menu where it says Equals and choose Smaller than. Type 6.3 in the Filter by Position box. You now have a list of lower ranking search terms with low CTRs. Among them, there should be some pages that are relatively high ranking (positions five to 10).

7. If you click on the Total Impressions and Average Clicks tabs too, these will show you how many times your low ranking/low CTR pages have been seen in SERPs and searchers have clicked through to your site.

Need to improve clickthrough rate

In the example image above, the top line stands out. The search term has been seen 1,287 times and yet there have only been 21 click-throughs.

8. We need to take this line of investigation further by understanding which pages are showing up in SERPs for the search term with the low CTR.

To do this, click on the individual search query that you want to explore. This will isolate all the data to that search term.

9. Click on the Pages tab.

Pages tab

This will give you the page or a list of pages on your website that rank in response to the search term. You can add to the picture you’re building about specific keywords and pages from this information. For example, do you have lots of pages all ranking – and competing – for the same keyword?

The picture still isn’t complete.

10. It could be that a page on your website has a low CTR for the search term you initially identified but that it ranks better and has a much higher CTR for a different search term. There’s no point optimising to improve the CTR for a keyword if it might negatively affect keywords that are already performing well for the page in question.

To check this out, go to the top of the screen and click on New then Page and enter the URL for the page you want to investigate (remember to delete any queries or pages from the search parameters if you don’t want to narrow down your search to include them):

Search by page

You’ve now got a list of all the keywords the page ranks for. Which of the keywords have the best CTR? Which have the highest number of impressions?

Depending on what you see, you might decide to tweak the page in question and its meta data to optimise it for the greatest amount of search traffic. A priority is to make the meta title and meta description as enticing as possible. Remember, these are what people see in search results. They need to function as a compelling call to action, encouraging searchers to click through to your website.

11. Monitor the results! Having tweaked your meta data and optimised your low CTR pages, it may take a few days for Google to recrawl the updated content. Check Google Search Console regularly over the next couple of weeks to see if the CTR improves.

  • Identify your highest-traffic queries

Google Search Console can also help you identify which keywords bring the most search traffic to your website.

To find this data:

  1. Go to the Performance
  2. Click on the Query tab if it’s not your default view.
  3. Click on the Date range button to choose the time period you want to view (e.g. last 28 days)
  4. Make sure the Total Clicks tab is the only one selected in graph at the top of the screen. This relates to the actual number of searchers who clicked through to your website from a Google search, i.e. the total number of visitors arriving on your website from an organic search.
  5. Click on the small downward arrow next to Clicks to sort from the highest to the lowest.
  6. Click on each high performing search term and then the Pages tab to see which pages are ranking for the term.

You can use this information in a number of ways:

  • Optimise the ranking pages for conversion (e.g. more bookings or sales)
  • To update the ranking pages so that they maintain their position
  • To support the page with paid promotions such as Google or Facebook ads
  • Using them to link to low-ranked but relevant pages
  • Track ranking increases and decreases

Once you have implemented SEO changes to increase CTRs, for example, you will want to keep an eye on whether your rankings are going up or down for your target keywords.

Google Search Console helps us with this:

  • Go to the Performance
  • Click on the Queries tab if it isn’t your default view.
  • Click on the Date option to the top-left of the Performance graph and then choose the Compare tab:
Compare date ranges
  • Select to compare two equivalent date periods (e.g. Compare last 3 months to previous period) and then hit Apply. (You can also enter custom date ranges if you prefer).
  • This data will show whether your average clicks, total impressions, average CTR and average impressions have gone up or down between this period and the previous one.

    At this stage, you can view the data in Google Search Console or export it as a CSV file, to Excel, or to Google Sheets. To export the data, click on the Export icon to the top right of the screen and choose how to want to save the data.
Export
  • For a view of ranking changes in Google Search Console, make sure that you only have the Average Position tab selected. This will bring up three columns of data – Last XX days/months position, Previous XX days/months position, and Position Difference. (Slightly confusingly, the lines with a negative difference (e.g. -0.9) represent an increase in rankings between the last and previous periods, whereas the lines with a positive difference represent a decrease in rankings.) 

    You can see some examples of this in the screenshot below: 
Average rankings difference

If there are some significant increases or decreases between this period and the last, you may need to investigate the cause.

Sometimes, you’ll notice a big variation because the search wasn’t made during the previous period. This will be indicated with a 0 in the relevant column. It could be that this is the first period during which your site has ranked for a search term, in which case you won’t need to worry about the increase or decrease.

My advice here is to begin building up a picture month-on-month of your highest ranking keywords. If you suddenly notice a nosedive for a usually productive search term then you will want to explore this further.

  • Are your competitors targeting the same term?
  • When did you last update/refresh your content?
  • Could you have been hit with a Google penalty?

These are all questions you might want to consider.

  • Find ‘Opportunity’ keywords

You can use the Performance data to find keywords that rank between positions 8-20 in SERPs and get a good number of impressions. These are sometimes referred to as ‘Opportunity keywords’, i.e. words and phrases that reveal an opportunity to rank highly in SERPs.

With ‘Opportunity’ keywords, you should already have a page that is ranking well for the search term. With a little care and attention, you could boost the relevance of the page and bump up its rankings.

But how do you find ‘Opportunity’ keyword?

  1. Set the date range of the date to the Last 28 days.
  2. Filter the report to show keywords ranking Greater than 7.9 (this will show everything ranked from position 8 and below).
  3. Sort by Impressions (largest to smallest) and look for key phrases with a good number of impressions and a ranking average somewhere between 8 and 20.
  4. See which page ranks for this keyword by clicking on the search query and choosing the Pages tab

Once you’ve identified the pages you could improve to see a quick increase in rankings, you’ll want to turn your attention to the page in question.

  • Look at ways to add more detail by covering as much as you can about the topic.
  • Add in a video to keep people viewing the page for longer.
  • Provide step-by-step instructions.
  • Link to connected content.
  • Share on social media and build backlinks to the updated page.

As we can see, the potential within the Performance report is MASSIVE!

There are other ways to use this report, such as exploring which countries your web traffic is coming from, which devices people are using to find your site, pages that aren’t appearing in searches, branded searches, and more.

Performance>Discover

Google Discover is available to mobile users. By clicking on Google’s “G” icon in the search bar on a mobile device, users are taken to their unique Google Discover page, which suggests content they might like based on their previous search history.

As a content creator, if you have pages that are appearing in Google Discover, the metrics will appear in a dedicated Performance>Discover report in Google Search Console. You can use this data in much the same way as outlined above for Performance>Search Results.

Yoast has a helpful introduction to Google Discover and getting your web pages listed on it here. If you don’t yet have content on Google Discover, this report will be blank.

Indexing>Pages

The Page Indexing report gives you an overview of how many URLs on your website that Google has crawled and indexed successfully and how many cannot be indexed.

Indexing Pages overview

As you can see from the screenshot above, the report also lists the reasons why pages can’t or haven’t been indexed, such as they’re not found, they have 301 redirects, they have a “noindex” tag, or a redirection error.

If you have a domain that is well established and your website has been through several incarnations, you may find that you have more Not Found (404) URLs than you realised.

The fantastic thing about the Page Indexing report is that you can click on the reason pages/URLs aren’t being crawled and Search Console will give you a list of every single URL to which that issue applies.

In the case of “Not Found (404)” pages that no longer exist on your site, you can then start working through them to identify where it would be helpful to set up redirects to pages on your site that do exist and that contain content that is relevant to the searcher.

You should only redirect a deleted URL to a new one if the content is a relevant replacement. If you simply no longer offer a product or service, for example, it’s fine to leave the page as Not Found.

Google doesn’t worry about URLs that can’t be indexed for good reasons – for example, “noindex” tags that you’ve deliberately set up or deleted pages for which you have no replacement.

This report also helps you to pinpoint duplicate content or pages where you might need to use a canonical tag.

Once you are confident that you have fixed any issues, you can click on Validate fix button within the page indexing issue on which you’ve been working. Google will then check the fix you’ve implemented and either crawl the URL successfully or let you know if there is still a problem.

Validate fix in Google Search Console

If you have a WordPress website, a 301 Redirect plugin can help you to manage redirects.

Note: Google Search Console highlights that you probably won’t need to use the Page Indexing report if your website has fewer than 500 pages. It says it’s far simpler, in the case of smaller sites, to search for your site on Google by entering site:example.co.uk, where example.co.uk is your site’s homepage URL without the http:// or https:// prefix.

For example, I would enter site:seo-plus.co.uk

The search results show pages that Google knows about on your site. You can add search terms to find specific pages on your site – for example, I could enter site:seo-plus.co.uk local SEO to bring up all the indexed pages about local SEO.


Indexing>Video indexing report

The Video Indexing Report shows how many indexed pages on your website contain one or more videos, and how many of those videos could be indexed to show up in search results.

In June 2023, Google added more detail to this report to explain why there might be a problem with indexing a video. This includes three more specific reasons:

  • Video outside the viewport: This means you need to reposition the video on the page so that the entire video is inside the renderable area and seen when the page loads.
  • Video too small: Increase the height of the video so that it’s larger than 140px or the width of the video so that it’s larger than 140px and at least a third of the page’s width.
  • Video too tall: Decrease the height of the video so that it’s smaller than 1080px.

Google lists the other reasons a video might not be indexed. Often, it will be because the video is not the main content of the page (Google will only return videos in searches that are the central focus of a page rather than something that adds to or explains more about the primary content). There may also be issues with the thumbnail you’re using for the video or, if it’s hosted off-site, it may be that the video is no longer available.

If you have videos that are on standalone pages on your website and you want to drive traffic to them, then this is the report to check.

Indexing>Sitemaps

I covered how to create and submit a sitemap earlier in the guide.

This report shows sitemaps that you have submitted to Google for indexing related to the current web property. It will look something like this:

Sitemap report in Google Search Console

The report will tell you whether the sitemap was read and processed successfully or whether there were any problems that require your attention. You will see one of three statuses on the report:

  1. Success: The sitemap was fetched and read without any errors. 
  2. Couldn’t fetch: Google couldn’t fetch the sitemap.
  3. Sitemap had X errors: The sitemap could be fetched and partially read but encountered some errors.

Click on the Help question mark icon to the top right-hand side of the screen while you’re in the Sitemaps report for a helpful guide to troubleshooting common sitemap problems.

Indexing>Removals

Google Search Console now features a Removals tool that enables you to temporarily block pages on sites that you own from appearing in search results. You can also see any URLs that we reported by people as containing adult content, as well as a history of removal requests by site owners and non-owners.

You should only use this tool if you need to temporarily and quickly remove sensitive content from showing up in Google searches (Google says a successful request usually last around six months).

A typical scenario for using this tool might be if you have a product line that is out of stock, and you don’t want it showing up in searches during a busy period or when you are running a sale. This helps to avoid customer confusion.

Another scenario might be if you were to accidentally post confidential or incorrect information and you don’t want people to find a cached version while you deal with deleting or correcting the page in question.

If you want to remove a page from Google search permanently, Google advises that you take one of the following actions:

  • Remove or update the content on your site (images, pages, directories) and make sure that your web server returns either a 404 (Not Found) or 410 (Gone) HTTP status code. Non-HTML files (like PDFs) should be completely removed from your server. (Learn more about HTTP status codes)
  • Block access to the content, for example by requiring a password.
  • Indicate that the page should not be indexed using the noindex meta tag. This is less secure than the other methods.
  • Do not use robots.txt as a blocking mechanism.

If you blocked the page before removing your content permanently (step 1), unblock and then reblock the page. This clears the page from the index if it was recrawled after blocking.

Experience>Page experience

Next, you will find the reports dedicated to the user experience for people visiting your website. Page experience is evaluated per URL and draws primarily on the Core Web Vitals data (more about this in the next section!) and HTTPS usage for security.

The initial Page Experience report will give you an overview that looks something like this:

Page experience

As you can see, it will broadly tell you whether your site offers a good mobile or desktop experience or if there are issues or pages that need improvement. If your website is not secure (indicated by an http prefix rather than https), the HTTPS column in the report above will be categorised as “Failing”.

If there is a “Need improvement” message, as in the desktop column in the screenshot above, you can click on this to go through to the Core Web Vitals (see below) report to see what issues you need to address.

Experience>Core web vitals

Google rolled out its page experience update in 2021, which covers the Core web vitals data that you’ll find in Google Search Console.

According to Google, the update was designed to “measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web”.

Specifically, Core web vitals measures:

  • Loading performance
  • Interactivity
  • Visual stability of the page

The Core web vitals report helps you to find pages that are taking a while to load or where users might experience a notable lag between clicking on a button, for example, and seeing the information it leads to.

These technical issues on a page can all damage the user experience and cause people to bounce away from your site.

The overview page of the report looks something like this:

Core Web Vitals

As you can see, it splits the user experience into mobile and desktop. Colour coded in red, amber, and green, you can see immediately how many pages on your website offer a poor user experience, need improvement, or are rated “good”.

If you click on the Open report option to the top right of each graph, you can then explore in more detail any technical page speed and display issues that you might need to address.

I have already published an in-depth guide to the Core Web Vitals here – this should help you to understand what the different issues and their abbreviations mean.

Note: In March 2024, INP (Interaction to next paint) will replace FID (First input delay) as a metric in Core Web Vitals.

Google says that INP is a “metric that assesses a page’s overall responsiveness to user interactions by observing the time that it takes for the page to respond to all click, tap, and keyboard interactions that occur throughout the lifespan of a user’s visit to a page. The final INP value is the longest interaction observed, ignoring outliers”.

Identifying issues in Core Web Vitals

As we can see from the screenshot of the overview above, the Core Web Vitals report is showing that 29 pages on the website covered by the report need improvement for desktop users.

If we click to open the report, there is more detail. All the affected pages have a Cumulative Layout Shift issue, which means the page may jump around until all the elements on it are fully rendered.

Core Web Vitals_Need improvement

If you click on the problem, you’ll be taken to a new screen where Google will give an example URL from your site where this problem exists. You’ll notice that next to this, there is a “group” score (for example, “Group CLS”), which shows the lowest common score for that metric for at least 75% of the visits to a URL in the affected group of pages.

In the test website I’ve been using for this article, all 29 pages with a CLS issue are custom pages in a directory that was made using various WordPress plugins. The profiles do take a few moments to load, which is something the website’s owner might want to improve, if possible.

The actions you need to take will depend on which issues the Core Web Vitals report flags up, if any. When you’re on a page in Google Search Console, you can click on the “?” help icon to the top right of the screen for more advice and links to resources.

Experience>HTTPS

This is a simple report that checks which URLs are served by HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), ensuring they are secure and safe for visitors to visit, and which are HTTP, i.e. not secure.

If you do not have a suitable security certificate (HTTPS/SSL), Google will make your website as “failing” on this report.

When you’re on a website on any device, you can click on the icon next to the web address (sometimes a padlock) and see a dropdown panel of site information that tells you whether the site is secure. If your site is listed as “secure” and uses HTTPS, you won’t need to worry about this report in Search Console.

Site information

Enhancements

In the Enhancements section of Google Search Console, you’ll find various reports designed to help you see which rich results Google has found on your site, and any problems the search engine might have had with examining/understanding them.

Rich results are snippets of additional information such as images, ratings, reviews, FAQs, breadcrumbs, profiles, etc., that enhance normal search results.

You’ll see a separate report for each type of rich result found on your site. For example, this might be:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • FAQs
  • Profile pages
  • Products
  • Events
  • Recipes
  • Sitelinks searchbox

In each of the Enhancement reports, rich results are either shown as Valid (in green) or Invalid (in red) as you can see from this screenshot:

Enhancement report

If any rich results are listed as invalid, you can click on the issue and Search Console will give you more information about the error and steps you can take to fix it. After a fix, you can click “Validate fix” to ask Google to recrawl the item.

If you don’t have rich results on your website, then you won’t see any reports under Enhancements.

If you think Google Search Console is missing your rich data, you can use the Rich Results Test Tool to check how Google sees the URL and whether the rich results are correct.

Again, Google Search Console’s Help feature has some great pointers for troubleshooting if you do have errors highlighted within any of the Enhancement reports.

Security & Manual Actions>Manual Actions

Google issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer at Google has found something on the site that they consider to breach Google’s webmaster quality guidelines/Google Search Essentials. This is often where ‘black hat’ SEO techniques attempting to ‘game’ Google’s rankings will show up.

If your website has been hit by a penalty and you’ve noticed a sudden drop in rankings (or a page has completely disappeared from searches), this is the report to check first.

If you do have manual actions against your site, they will be listed in this report with details of the affected URLs. Google will expect you to fix the highlighted issues on all affected pages, not just a selection, before you see an improvement in your rankings moving forward.

When all the issues have been fixed on all pages, you can select to Request Review. Google says that in your Reconsideration Request, you should:

  • Explain the exact quality issue on your site
  • Describe the steps you’ve taken to fix the issue
  • Document the outcome of your efforts

You should receive an email to confirm that your Reconsideration Request has been received but it may take one or two weeks before the review is complete.

Common manual actions include:

  • Thin content
  • Unnatural links to/from your site
  • User-generated spam
  • Cloaked text or images
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Sneaky redirects

Security & Manual Actions>Security Issues

The security issues report will flag up if your web property has been hacked in some way. This can include types of malware, content or code injections, or social engineering (phishing) scams that attempt to trick web users into doing something dangerous, such as revealing confidential information or downloading harmful software.

As with the other reports, Google Search Console will walk you through the steps you need to take for any flagged issues. This could include checking third-party resources on your site, removing content or following the hacking recovery process.

Legacy tools & reports

Once upon a time, you could access a wide variety of legacy tools and reports here. Today, a few Web Tools remain that relate to advertising standard violations or reports of abusive content.

If you think your site or Google ads may have violated advertising guidelines or been associated with an abusive experience for users in any way, this would be where you find more information about what you need to address and why.

Links

The Links report gives you an at-a-glance view of:

  • Your most linked to web pages from external sources
  • Your most linked to web pages from internal links
  • The top linking sites to your content
  • The text people use to link to your site

If you spot that one page is attracting a lot of backlinks, you can click on the URL to see all the websites linking back to it.

This is a great way of building up a picture of who’s connecting with your content and sharing it with their own communities.

The information you gather from this report can help you identify guest blogging opportunities, influencers in your sector, content that you might want to link to, similar audiences and much more.

The report can also help you spot spammy links back to your site, which can sometimes be the cause of a manual action (see above). If you do find spammy backlinks, you could ask the publisher to remove them or disavow the links.

With the internal links information, you can build up a better view of how your content connects across your site.

Are there pages that you link to regularly? This could be your cornerstone content, i.e. the pillars around which you’ve built your website. If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, it has a feature that allows you to mark cornerstone content for Google. This is a way of telling Google which content is evergreen, in-depth and important to your audience.

Settings

Finally, the Settings feature will just let you check that your web property is verified. You can also check approved users/owners and learn more about the indexing crawler for your domain.

Now, over to you.

Are you a longstanding user of Google Search Console or has this guide inspired you to give it a go?

Which Performance report do you plan to look at first? Or are you more interested in who’s linking to your site? Do you have errors that need fixing? Have you identified good keywords to target?

Need some help?

Let’s chat… book a free 20-minute call with me here and tell me about your business and your goals and we’ll take a look at the best way to help you achieve them.

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1 thought on “A beginner’s guide to Google Search Console”

  1. #GoogleSearchConsole is useful for every type of website — especially business websites. Whether you run an ecommerce site or a simple page listing your company’s contact details, ensuring your website performs well on Google is vital for connecting with customers and supporting your brand.

    Reply

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