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Google Search Console : Best Free SEO Tool (Ultimate Guide)

Google Search Console or GSC (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) is one of my favorite and essential SEO tool for all online marketers and SEO experts.

In this guide, we will cover how to use powerful features of GSC to improve your website's SEO and rankings.  Only actionable steps with no fluff!

So, what is Google Search Console and why it is important?

It's a free tool by Google to monitor and maintain site's performance in Google search.​

You can use it to strategize and optimize your site's SEO and rankings.

You would be able to identify the issues hurting your site's performance and boost the SEO and rankings by fixing them.

It is a long guide so use this navigation to quickly ​jump to a specific section of Google Search Console:

We are going to cover these sections of GSC as highlighted below:

google search console seo tool

Let's dive in and get started.

1. Search Appearance

The search appearance section gives you these very important insights:

  • How your website visually appears in Google search results
  • Ways to enhance site's visibility in search results to improve CTRs
  • Find and rectify issues hurting your site's SEO performance
  • Optimizing your site's performance on mobile devices

There are many snippets code such as rich cards and rich snippets which you can integrate to make your site search listings extremely informative as well as visually appealing for the users.

It will make your search listings stand out among other results and improve your CTRs (Click Through Ratio).

  • High CTRs in search results directly equate to higher rankings!

(a) Structured Data

Structured data markup is a way to provide information to search engines so that they can easily recognize it and display it creatively in search results.

It commonly uses the Schema.org markup language which is an open community promoting the standard structured data markup.

It helps Google to display 'Rich' results in search listings like in the image shown below:

structured data results example

Image source : Search Engine Journal

The highlighted info in search results like ratings, reviews, votes, movie star casts, album tracks etc. is due to the structured data rich snippets.

This has a huge impact on SEO and keyword rankings.

Users tend to click more on listings with rich snippets.  It tells them that this website will give them detailed info such as reviews, ratings, votes etc. which is very useful.

It improves your CTRs in search results and boost rankings.

Google currently supports rich structured data for following content type:​

Content Type

Available Features

Articles

Top stories carousel

Local Businesses

Place actions

Reviews

Critic review cards

Music

Music actions

Recipes

Rich cards / Host-specific lists

TV & Movies

Watch actions

Videos

Rich cards

​Refer to Google's official guidelines here on qualifying content types and how to enable them on your website.

How Google Search Console can help with structured data?

google console structured data errors

In Google Search Console (or GSC), you can find the pages where you have set up the structured data to show rich snippets in the search results.

It could be for different elements such as product pricing, reviews, ratings etc.  If any of these elements are not set up correctly, it will appear in GSC highlighted by a red line named 'Items with Errors'.

You can download the list of pages with errors that needs to be fixed. You can then share this list with your webmaster or developer to get it rectified as per Google's guidelines.

You can also use Structured Data Testing Tool to detect and fix the issues.  Below is a test result which detected all rich snippets on a URL with no errors.

google structured data testing tool

​(b) Rich Cards

Rich Cards are the most recent introduction by Google to improve their user's experience.

On 17 May 2016, Google added Rich Cards for movies and recipes websites and added reporting section in Google Search Console.

It uses card carousel feature with a high-resolution image to further enrich the search results and improve searcher's experience.

They are similar to rich snippets and you can see the difference between standard, rich snippet and rich card results below:

google rich cards

Image Source : Google Webmaster Central Blog

Rich cards also use Schema.org structure markup to show the website content in more engaging and appealing way to mobile users.

It is currently available for movies and recipes content types and it will only appear on mobile search results initially.

Visit the gallery ​with example images and code samples of each markup type here.

Rich Cards report and debugging errors:

You can track the coverage of your rich cards like how many of them are indexed and find out errors in Google Search Console Rich Cards report.

google rich cards errors

Rich Cards : Growth Opportunities:

In the report, you can also see which rich cards are further enhanceable by adding supported markup.

google enhanceable rich cards

Using Rich Cards for SEO benefits:

If you host the supported content for Rich Cards (movies and recipes), then you should definitely get this implemented to get SEO advantage.

  • Make you search listings stand out in search results
  • Show engaging and visually appealing results to searchers
  • Improve the CTRs of your site in search results
  • Enjoy higher rankings!

(c) Data Highlighter

Data highlighter is the tool introduced by Google to make it super easy to markup your site to display rich snippets.

You don't need to depend on developers for adding markup.

It is point and click and anyone can do it easily.

Here is a video highlighting the benefits of data highlighter:​

Steps to markup your content using Data Highlighter tool:

search console data highlighter

Step 1: Go to Data Highlighter section in Google Search Console.

Step 2: Click on 'Start Highlighting' button and a pop up will appear.

Step 3: Enter the URL of your site which you would like to markup and select the content type to be highlighted.

Step 4: Select if you want to tag that URL only or also other similar URLs.​

Step 5: Google will now render that URL and you can start highlighting the elements on your page such as images, titles, author, ratings, categories etc. 

Step 6: ​Once you are done with tagging all data items, click 'Done'.

​That's it! Google will ask you to review data items and you can remove items you added by mistake.

You don't need to rely on developers now to add markup.  Go ahead and do it yourself - it is fun and it will boost your site rankings.

(d) HTML Improvements

HTML Improvements is the most important tool where you can quickly find actionable insights to improve your site's SEO.

It will highlight all the issues discovered by Google while crawling / indexing your website pages such as:

  • Duplicate, too short or too long meta descriptions.
  • Missing, duplicate, too short or too long title tags.
  • Non informative title tags.
  • Issues detected with non-indexable content on website.

​Here is a screenshot showing the issues with meta description and title tags:

search console html improvements errors

You can click on any discovered error item and download the data in CSV spreadsheet or Google doc format:

search console html improvements download

Using HTML Improvements tool for SEO benefits:

  • Quickly discover the issues related to indexing and meta tags
  • Download the list of pages affected in CSV or Google doc format
  • Send the list to your developer or fix it yourself at the earliest
  • Get more Google love & enjoy higher rankings and increased traffic!

Ensure you have ZERO errors showing in this section.  This is a surefire way to increase your rankings in search results.

​(e) Sitelinks

Sitelinks are a particular format of search results.  It shows internal pages of a website just below the main result to help the users in navigation.

This is how sitelinks appears in search results:​

google sitelinks

Sitelinks are automatically generated by Google and there is no way right now to set it up in search results.

However, you can potentially increase the chances of getting sitelinks by having a good site structure, by keep adding high-quality content and by building the authority of your website.

In Google Search Console, you have the option of demoting a sitelink if you don't want it to appear in search results.

Here are the steps to follow:

demote sitelinks in google search console

(f) Mobile Accelerated Pages (AMP)

Mobile Accelerated Pages (AMP) project was introduced in October 2015 to design quick-loading mobile web pages to improve the experience of mobile users.

It is an open source framework backed by Google to design mobile-friendly pages that loads instantly and you can learn more about this project at AMPProject.org.

Here is a demo video to give you an idea of how the mobile site pages built with AMP framework would load instantly giving users a great experience:

There are many top brands (like CNN, TripAdvisor, eBay, Forbes) all over the world already using AMP technology for their mobile sites giving their users rich mobile experience.

SEO benefits of using Accelerated Mobile Pages:

  • Reduce bounce rates
  • Increase time visit duration and engagement on mobile site
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Higher rankings in search results due to first 2 factors

Adopt this latest technology to get an edge over your competitors.

Take help of your developer and convert the regular HTML codes of your mobile site to AMP specifications.

​In AMP section of Google search console, you can find the error reports related to your AMP implementation which you need to debug.

It also gives you stats such as keyword rankings, links to your site, validation errors etc so go ahead and explore it to find tons of actionable insights.

​2. Search Traffic

This is my favorite section which I refer to almost daily.

It gives you great insights on how your website is performing in Google search results in terms of keyword rankings, backlinks, internal links, mobile vs desktop traffic comparison, CTRs etc.

Let's go ahead and dig into each of the sub-sections.

​(a) Search Analytics

You can dig and get lots of insights on how your site is performing in search results from this section.

Let's break down all the available filters and data labels one by one and see what it means and how we can leverage it for SEO benefits.

google search console search analytics

CLICKS: This tells you the number of clicks received for each keyword.  You can see your top keywords sorted by highest clicks.

You can even get the clicks count by pages, country, device types such as mobile or desktop and search types such web or image.

Clicks by country:

google search analytics clicks by country

Clicks by device type:

search analytics clicks by device types

Clicks by keyword queries:

google search analytics clicks by keyword queries

​You can analyze this data to get more clicks and traffic for your website.

For example, if your top keyword with most clicks is ranking at #5 in search results, then this could be your focus KW to improve its ranking and get more traffic.

IMPRESSIONS: This tells you how many times your site appeared in search results against a particular keyword query.

Couple of ways you can use this data for SEO benefits:

  • If you are getting many impressions but fewer clicks for a Keyword, then improve Title & Meta Description and include rich snippets to make it stand out against competing results.
  • Look for the keywords with impressions but no clicks at all.  It's your growth opportunity - build backlinks, optimize pages for these KWs to improve rankings and start receiving clicks.

CTR: CTR stands for Click-Through Rate and it is calculated as a percentage.  It is a very important metrics and one of the many Google ranking factors.

CTR = (Clicks / Impressions) X 100

For example, if you receive 5 clicks from 1000 impressions then the CTR would be (5/1000) X 100 = 0.5%.

In search analytics, you can compare the CTRs of two date ranges to keep track of how your CTRs are changing and set up goals for yourself:

google click-through rate comparison

Continuously work for getting high CTRs to get better rankings!

POSITION:​  It simply tells the ranking position of your site for a particular keyword.  

For ex, you might be at position #25 for a keyword which is getting good impressions.  It shows it has a good search volume and it could be one of your focus keywords to improve its position.

Again, you can track positions of your keywords by comparing 2 date ranges in search analytics section.

QUERIES: These are keyword queries which searchers are typing in to find your website.  

This is one of the filter types and you can see the Clicks, Impressions, CTRs and Positions for all your keyword queries.

You can sort keywords by clicks, impressions, position etc and download the data in CSV or Google Docs format.

PAGES: It helps you to filter out the URLs and again sort them out by clicks, impressions etc.

It's a great way to find best and worst performing pages for you to strategize and create SEO plan based on the findings.

COUNTRIES:  This filter tells you from which countries you are getting the visitors and you can sort your results by clicks and impressions.

It helps you find your site performance by country and do the comparison of rankings, clicks or impressions between two countries.

DEVICE TYPES: In this filter, you can analyze your site's traffic distribution based on the device types like desktop, mobile & tablet.

Let say, if more visitors are accessing your site on mobile than desktop than you should focus and prioritize to optimize user's experience on mobile such as implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages and Rich Cards.

SEARCH TYPE: This filter gives you stats on whether you are getting more clicks through web, image or video searches in Google.

So let say if you have a blog on photography and you are expecting more traffic through image searches then you can optimize your images and add title, alt text and description to improve rankings of your images.

DATES: It helps you to select a custom date range​ to see the site's performance for that particular time period.

The most effective way to use it is by comparing data for two different periods. For ex, compare the stats for this month with last month and compare the performance.

google search analytics compare dates

(b) Links to Your Site

In this section of Google Search Console, you can see all the domains that are linking back to your site.

In the nutshell, it's a backlinks checker tool for your site.

Use it to check what domains are linking back to you and if there are any spammy ones (like adult, drugs etc unrelated to your industry) which could hurt you.

In that case, you need to submit these links to Google's Disavow tool.

Use Disavaow tool here, if you believe your site's ranking is suffering due to low-quality backlinks and ask Google not to consider them as a ranking factor for your site.

Screenshot of the domains linking to site which you can download as well:

google search console links to your site

(c) Internal Links

Internal links are the hyperlinks that point to another page or source on the same website or domain.

In Google search console, this section gives you the report on the count of internal links pointing to a page on your website.

google search console internal links

Internal links are critical for SEO rankings.  Look how extensively Wikipedia use it on their site and they get tons of love from Google in rankings.

Use this report to find out how many internal links your pages have.  Build the internal links to your important pages which you would want to rank well.

It sends out the signal to Google that these pages are important and has valuable information.

Use internal links to build the authority of your deep internal pages such as information-rich articles and guides.

(d) Manual Actions

This report list out the cases where a manual reviewer from Google has determined that your website is not compliant with Google's quality guidelines.

It is different from an algorithmic penalty which is automated and it won't appear in this report.

A manual penalty is generally more severe and requires you to take massive action.

You need to submit your site back for consideration after fixing all the reported issues under manual review to get the applied penalties removed.

Here is a spam type chart released by Google, which shows the count of domains ​where manual action has been taken:

google spam chart manual action
  • Stay miles away from black-hat SEO practices to build long-term business

(e) International Targeting

This section is useful if you have a global audience and your site's content is translated into various languages for users in different countries globally.

You need to add hreflang tag to serve the content in right language to your users.

For example, you want to show content translated in the Spanish language to users from Spain but show English content to users from USA.

In this section, Google search console report the errors in the implementation of hreflang tag on your site.  It will help you to identify and fix the reported errors for better international targeting.

(f) Mobile Usability

This tool identifies and reports the usability issues or errors that your users might be experiencing while visiting your site on mobile devices.

Here are few error types that is being reported​:

  • Flash Usage
  • Viewport not configured
  • Fixed-width viewport
  • Content not sized to viewport
  • Small font size
  • Touch elements too close
  • Interstitial usage

​Use this report and work with your developer / webmaster to fix the reported errors.

Users accessing the web on mobile devices is increasing exponentially over the past few years.

They are most likely to visit mobile-friendly sites that are well optimized for mobile devices.

Make sure to fix all the reported issues and deliver a great experience to your users on all device types.

3. Google Index

This section gives the insights on pages being indexed by Google or blocked by their crawlers and the keywords identified in your site content sorted by their significance.

(a) Index Status​

Below is a screenshot of the index status report:

google search console index status

​Index status report gives you the following stats:

Total URLs indexed in Google: Count of total URLs being indexed by Google in its search results.  

It is almost always significantly less than total URLs crawled as it does not count URLs that are duplicates or the ones containing meta noindex tag. 

Blocked URLs: This gives you the count of URLs ​ blocked by robots.txt file and are not allowed by you to be indexed in Google search results.

URLs removed: Count of URLs removed by you ​from Google's index by using URL removal tool provided by Google.

By using this report, keep an eye on the steady rise in count of crawled and indexed pages which shows that Google crawler's are able to access and index your pages without any issues.

Also, look out for sudden drops in indexed pages which could mean your server is down and Google is facing issues in crawling your site pages.

​(b) Content Keywords

Content Keywords section in GSC gives you the list of keywords and their variants identified by Google while crawling your wesite.

The keywords are sorted by their significance based on how many times it appear on your site pages.

'If you see any irrelevant keywords in the list, such as 'drugs', then it could be the case of your site being hacked.'

You can click on any keyword to drill down further and see it's variants, frequency and the top pages where it has appeared.

google search console content keywords

(c) Blocked Resources

​It gives the list of site resources which Google crawlers are unable to access as they are blocked by site's robots.txt file.

You may want to hide few resources from Google such as member's area of any paid product or download link for subscribers which is absolutely fine.

Check the list to ensure you are not blocking any resources such as JavaScript, CSS and image files that are important for Googlebot to crawl and interpret your pages like a normal user.

(d) Remove URLs​

Remove URLs tool gives you the option to block pages temporarily from appearing in Google search results.

Use it to block pages you don't want everyone to access and contains confidential data you don't want to get exposed.

It's a temporary URL removal tool and it block your pages for 90 days after which it can again appear in search results.

google webmasters tool remove url

​Enter the URL you want to remove and then click on 'Continue'.  In the next step, select your preferred option and submit the request:

google search remove urls

4. Crawl

Crawl section in Google search console gives you crawl stats, errors identified while crawling, Fetch as Google tool, option to submit sitemaps, test robots.txt file and add URL parameters.

(a) Crawl Errors​

This report has 2 primary sections - Site Errors & URL Errors.

google crawl errors

Site error types:

DNS Errors

Server Errors

Robots Failure

URL error types:

Common URL errors

Mobile-only URL errors

News-only errors

(b) Crawl Stats

​Crawl stats report gives the information on Googlebot's activity on your site within the last 90 days.

It gives info on pages crawled per day , kilobytes downloaded per day and time spent downloading a page.  It provides high, average and low values for each of them.

You can use this report to analyze how active Googlebot is crawling your site's content every day and how good is your page load speeds.

(c) Fetch as Google

This is a great tool to check how Google crawls and renders a page on your website.

Use it to test if Google is able to access all the resources (like images, scripts etc) on your page correctly and how it renders it.

fetch as google

Enter URL path in the textbox and select the Googlebot type (Desktop, mobile etc) and click on 'Fetch' or 'Fetch and Render' button.

'Fetch' option only gives you HTTP response received, while 'Fetch and Render' will also render your page based on selected platform (desktop or mobile).

'Fetch and Render' runs all resources present on your URL, such as images or scripts and shows you how Googlebot see your page visually.

Fetch request statuses that can be returned by Google:

  • Complete: Google successfully fetched and crawled your URL.
  • Partial: Google was able to fetch your URL, but could not run all the resources because they are blocked by robots.txt file.
  • Redirected: If the URL is being redirected. The tool does not follow a redirect and you need to do it manually.
  • Not Found: If the requested URL does not exist on your site.
  • Blocked: If the URL is blocked by robots.txt file.
  • Unreachable: Google did not receive any response from your server and the request timed out.
  • Error: Google unable to access your URL due to some error.

(d) Robots.txt Tester

Robots.txt is a simple file on your server which tells Google which files or folders they need to access on site.

You can block certain sections through this file which you don't want Google to crawl and index.

Few commonly used examples for robots.txt file:

Allow full access

     User-agent: *

     Disallow:​

Block full access

     User-agent: *

     Disallow: /​

Block a folder

     User-agent: *

     Disallow: /folder/​

Block a file

     User-agent: *

     Disallow: /file.html

The robots.txt tester section in GSC reports errors and warnings - ensure not to block any important resources required by Google to properly index it.

(e) Sitemaps

Sitemaps (sitemap.xml file) is an efficient way to communicate to Google about your site's structure and pages.

It helps Google to categorize and index your site efficiently.

Submitting a sitemap.xml file is highly recommended as a good SEO practice.

You can submit or test a sitemap through this section in Google search console and can check the number of pages submitted Vs indexed.

google xml sitemaps

(f) URL Parameters

Use the URL parameters tool to tell the objective of using various parameters on your site.

Certain sites could have different URLs providing the exact same content due to the additional appended parameters for different reasons.

​This leads to duplicity issue and can hurt site rankings.

Use this tool to handle it, and provide info to Google on how to interpret these parameters.

The appended URL parameters could be for tracking purposes, for personalizing user's experience like the country parameter, or session id of a user etc.

Important Note: It is quite technical, so don't make any changes unless you are 100% sure how it works.  Any errors here can severely affect your site rankings and visibility in search results.

5. Security Issues

Taking all the necessary steps to protect your site from malware infection or hacking  is critical and should be of utmost importance.

​Most likely, you must have seen these malware warnings while accessing a site.

google security malware issues

Google even show the warnings in search results if they detect a malware.

malware may harm your computer

If you see below message in Google search console, then there are no security concerns and your site is virus free.

google search console security issues

The below message shows your site is infected by a malware and immediate attention is required to fix it.

You need to submit the site for review after fixing the issues so they can review and remove the warnings from site and search results.

google malware detected

Google provide in-depth guidelines and best practices to prevent your site from being hacked or infected by malware.

If your site is already hacked, then follow this helpful step-by-step tutorial ​by Google to recover your site.

6. Other Resources

This section list other tools provided by Google to help you test few other site functionalities.

Resources

Description

Structured Data Testing Tool

Use it to check that Google can interpret structured data markup correctly and display in search results

Structured Data Markup Helper

Use this tool to add structured data to your site's HTML easily by highlighting it

Email Markup Tester

Use this tool to verify the structured data contents of an HTML email

Google My Business

Make sure to list your business here so that it is easily discoverable on Google Search, Maps and Google plus

Google Merchant Center

Use it to upload your product feed to make your product info available on Google Product Search etc.

PageSpeed Insights

Use this tool to get the feedback on your site's loading speed and the suggestions on how to make it fast on all devices

Custom Search

Create a customized search experience for your users on your own website by using this tool

Google Domains

Search and register the domain names to create your new website by using this tool

Webmaster Academy

Learn how to create a website which provides great value to the users and have it easily indexed and crawled by Google

Use the ones which are relevant for you and your business.  For ex, Google merchant center is irrelevant if you are not selling any products.

Conclusion

Google search console should be the top SEO tool in your arsenal.

It is the best free SEO tool available for everyone.  You can use it to find many actionable items to quickly improve your SEO and website rankings.

I hope this guide will be useful in improving your SEO.

Are you going to start using it?

Let me know in the comments section below.  Over to you now!