The Google Search Console - a short guide for small business owners

How to find hidden SEO gems for your business using the Google Search Console

If you are wondering why people are or aren’t finding you online, then you need to get into the meaty stuff about how Google sees your site and where it places you in search engine results. It is critical to your online success to be regularly looking at your data and understanding what is actually going on.

So how can we do this?

Well, Google has provided a very helpful tool called the Google Search Console to help you do exactly that. Using it is a great way to understand more about how people are finding you online right now as well as helping you improve where you are listed inside Google Search results.

Google Search Console ( or what was commonly known as Webmaster Tools) is a FREE service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search Results.

So just like in my post on Google My Business, this tool is how we tell Google all about our new pages, what we have at our site, when we update it, how we structure it all on autopilot.

From an SEO perspective, it is gold.

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It is a critical little tool that any web developer worth their salt should set up for you when they build your website. 

If you are a DIY person, you need to do this with your site because this the tool that tells you how Google actually sees your site, how people are searching and finding you, identify areas for improvement, errors on your site plus it is here that you submit a sitemap to Google that helps Google understand the structure of your site and index you so must faster.

Google Search Console is not needed to index your site, but it is super helpful to have it in place and it is essential for any new site or upgraded site.

So first up how do you access this marvellous tool?

Setting up Google Search Console

To take advantage of Google Search Console, you need to first submit your site.

To do this visit - https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home

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Follow the prompts to sign in with your google account and then click Add Property

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Once you enter in the domain of the site you want to add, you then need to verify your domain. There are several methods available to do this.

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I find it easier to use an alternate method and add a meta tag to my home page for verification purposes. You can also use your Google Analytics account to get verified.

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Once your account is verified, then you need to submit your sitemap. Your sitemap is a file at your website that lists all your pages, their hierarchy, dates relating to updates etc. It is an XML file and most content marketing platforms usually create this automatically for you.

With the new version of Google Search Console is it easy to see where you need to upload your XML file and where you need to type in the address.

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You are not actually uploading a file, rather you are telling Google where to look for your sitemap.xml file. This file is really important from and SEO standard point, it is the starting point for Google to index your site correctly and quickly. I and my agency Big Blue Digital, do this each time we send a site live. It is a step just like embedding Google Analytics or your Facebook Pixel. It is just part and parcel of the go live process.

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Most platforms automatically have this file ready to go. Squarespace does this, so does Wix, Adobe Business Catalyst and Kentico. (I know - too easy!)

With Wordpress you just need to use a plugin to make it happen. I recommend the Yoast plugin for this process, as most people with Wordpress sites I work with use the Yoast plugin for their search engine optimisation, so it is handy to have the one tool to manage a few items.

With a few little clicks inside the plugin, you can make this happen but the url you need to submit will be sitemap_index.xml.

How do you use Google Search Console

Ok, so now that you are verified, what next.

There are several parts to the Google Search Console.

In the side navigation of the current version of the console, you see

Messages - this is where Google will send you error messages about your site. These are essentially technical in nature, but great to know, for example, an increase in 404 messages meaning that perhaps you have some broken links at your site.

Search Appearance - this is where Google will tell you if there are any issues or errors with how your site appears within search results. It specifically is looking for your metadata (think page titles and page descriptions) plus give you some tips to improve them.

Search Traffic - This is the place you go to see what are people actually searching for to find you, what kinds of search queries returned your site in the mix of results and what position you were in. This is incredibly valuable as often what we want people to know us for online and what people actually know us for are 2 different things.

You can also see what sites are linking to your website so that you can potentially build on that relationships. Quality Backlinks ( ie people who link to your site) provide terrific domain authority to your site and help to boost where you appear organically within search results for a particular keyword. You can read more about what backlinks are in this blog post of mine

Analysing this part of the Google Search Console should be a key part of your SEO plans and overarching digital strategy.

Google Index - this is referencing pages that have been added to Google’s index from your site - ie the pages they see, what has been blocked and what might have been removed

Crawl - this area is where Google records when it crawls your site. It is also where it will report on any issues with accessing your site, for example if your host goes down or the Google bots have difficulty accessing any pages for any reason, it will report on that in this section.  It gives you or your web developer the opportunity to look into what is going on and fix the problem.

If you have recently made significant changes to a page or pages, then this is the place to come and get Google to FETCH your page. This is the fastest way for your new pages or update page to be reindexed inside Google.

Once Google has Fetched your page, you can then click request indexing.

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If your page has links within it, you can also ask Google to also re-index those pages as well. This process will ensure that your new content or pages will appear within Google Search results within the next few days.

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You can also add in your Sitemap in this part of the console.

You can have multiple people access this information, so if your web developer set this up for you, ask them to also give you access to this part of the Google Ecosystem.

I have only scratched the surface of how this tool can benefit your business, so have a chat to your website developer today about accessing yours or simply set it up yourself.

The best part? It's 100% free.