One of the most common SEO mistakes we see small business owners make is not being set up with Google Search Console (GSC). Most website developers will handle the site design, but they don’t set up GSC and other essential tools for SEO and site management; if you don’t have experience with SEO or running a website, you might not realize it’s something that needs to be done until you start working on optimization.
Below, we explain the basics of setting up and using Google Search Console for small businesses.
How to Set Up Google Search Console
First, you’ll need a Google account to use Google Search Console. It’s best to use an account that’s already associated with your business, or you may wish to create a dedicated account just for GSC. Once you click on Start Now, you’ll be directed to choose a property type—in almost all cases, this will be Domain, which gives you a full-picture look at the performance of your website.
Next, you’ll need to verify that you own your domain. Without this step, anyone could set up an account and view your search data, so while verification is a pain, it’s definitely necessary!
There are a few ways to verify your domain, including:
- Uploading an HTML file
- Adding an HTML tag
- Via Google Analytics
- Via Google Tag Manager
Using Google Search Console
Once your site is verified, you can access your site’s search information in GSC. (This can sometimes take a bit of time to populate, too.) There’s a lot you can do in GSC, but since this is Google Search Console 101, we’re just going to cover the basics:
The Performance tab is going to be your most-used feature in Google Search Console. There’s a wealth of information here that can be used to understand how your current search strategy is working and what you need to work on in the future. The Performance section is where you’ll find:
- The queries people are using to find your content.
- The number of impressions your pages are getting in Google SERPs.
- How many clicks these impressions are getting and the average click through rate (CTR).
- Your site’s average position in search results.
This data can be filtered by Query, Page, Country, Device, and Search Appearance.
There are a number of keyword tools that do an excellent job of understanding what your competitors are ranking for and whether your website has the potential to outrank them, but the Performance section in Google Search Console is unparalleled when it comes to letting you see how your website is performing historically and currently. In fact, we’d say that GSC is absolutely indispensable here.
This is where you can identify technical issues that are affecting how and whether Google is indexing your website. It will show the status of all the URLs indexed by Google, along with any coverage issues, including errors, pages that are “valid with warnings” (i.e., it may be indexed, but Google thinks it has an issue that should be fixed), and pages that are excluded (you or your developer has decided not to index them).
After Performance, this is the next most important section in GSC when it comes to SEO. Google is placing a heavier emphasis on the user experience offered by websites; in the Page Experience section, you can see how Google rates the experience you offer your users. Factors here include mobile usability, security, and other Core Web Vitals.
Enhancements are where you’ll find errors in your structured data; pages with these errors may not appear properly in search results, so it’s important to correct these issues.
Security & Manual Actions
If all is well with your website, you’ll see a message that says “No issues detected” when you click in this section.
A manual action means you’ve violated Google’s guidelines (or Google believes that you have); you’ll need to review the report, resolve the issue, then submit a request for reconsideration.
Security issues are warnings from Google if they believe your site has been hacked or contains malware. These may need to be referred to your developer or host, as they’re likely to involve behind-the-scenes work to investigate and delete compromised files or code.
Submitting Your Sitemap
There’s one more thing you’ll want to do to set up your site in Google Search Console: submit an XML sitemap. This helps ensure that Google crawls the entirety of your website.
Google has instructions for creating a sitemap and submitting it on their website, but if you have a WordPress blog, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin for this. Under the Features tab in the General settings, you’ll simply need to toggle the XML Sitemaps switch to On, then Save Changes.
To submit your sitemap, simply click on Sitemaps in GSC and enter the sitemap URL (which ends in sitemap_index.xml for Yoast), then click Submit.
Why Google Search Console Matters
There are countless tools available for SEO, but when it comes to in-depth information about your own site’s performance, you simply can’t find anything better than Google Search Console. You’ll be able to see the terms users are searching to find your site, view critical metrics like the number of clicks and impressions, and see your average position in the SERPs.
GSC also gives you information about potential technical issues that can impact your site’s indexing and search rankings, and a means of communicating directly with Google when you resolve these issues so it can re-scan your website.
The first step in any SEO strategy is gathering information about your site’s current performance and GSC provides indispensable insights directly from Google. Follow the tips in this beginner’s guide to get started using GSC to improve your SEO.
Need Help with SEO?
At Main Street ROI, we specialize in SEO services for small businesses and we offer one-time SEO projects as well as monthly SEO services.