In this episode, you will learn how to set up Google Search Console (GSC) on your website. If you prefer to follow along by reading, scroll down for the full transcript.
Things you will need
To start discovering how people are finding your website and for what pages, you will need the following:
- A free Google account.
- Access to your domain registrar (optional – if you don’t have this, we can word around this).
- Administrator access to your website/CMS – this can be WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Shopify etc.
- A way to insert a meta tag onto your homepage (you will need this if you do not have access to your DNS settings).
- FTP access (optional)
Recommended reading: What is search engine optimization?
What is Google Search Console?
If you’re new to SEO, you may not have come across Search Console. More people seem to know Google Analytics but Search Console can quite often provide better insights for you to improve your organic visibility and traffic.
Like Google Analytics, Google Search Console is free service that helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results.
You don’t have to sign up for Search Console to be included in Google Search results, but Search Console helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.
Why should you set up GSC for your website?
To this day, people use keywords to find solutions to their questions and problems. Therefore, know what keywords your website ranks for and how much traffic and conversion those keywords bring to your business are important things to know.
Unfortunately, Google removed keyword data in 2013 from its Google Analytics tool and replaced it with “not provided”.
However, Google Search Console provides the exact search queries that people used to click through to your website.
For example, the tool can tell you:
- How often your site appears in Google Search.
- Which search queries (keywords) show your site.
- How often searchers click through for those queries, and more.
In addition to this, GSC helps confirm that Google can find and crawl your site.
It can assist in fixing indexing problems and requesting re-indexing of new or updated content.
Other cool things Search Console can tell you
- The exact phrases people are using and clicking through to your site.
- The average keyword position of a particular keyword.
- How pages and/or keywords are trending across time or when compared to a previous period.
- How effective a page title is by looking at its CTR across time for a given keyword.
- Backlinks your website has (but very basic).
- Identify queries that you can target through content.
- Identify pages that you can target with link building.
- Issues a webpage may have with being crawled and indexed by Google.
What is the difference between GSC and GA?
- Google Analytics (GA) provides data on all visits to your website. This can be through paid ads, clicking on a link in an email or other website, or through Google search.
- GA is required to set up conversion goals, GSC cannot do this.
- Google Search Console (GSC) is a set of tools that helps Google discover the pages on your website and how they relate to searches.
- Search Console only provides data from organic traffic.
- GA does not provide keyword information while GSC does.
- Both are useful tools and serve different functions.
Setting Up Search Console
Make sure you’re signed into your Google account.
Then go to https://search.google.com/search-console to add your website (Google calls this a property).
You will see the following prompt (see below):
Google offers two ways options to add a property: domain or URL prefix.
For most purposes, URL prefix will be good enough and will not require you to edit your DNS settings.
FYI, https://domainname.com is not the same as http://domainname.com.
Just as https://www.domainname.com is not the same as https://domainname.com.
Similarly, https://www.domainname.com is not the same as https://domainname.com and https://domainname.com is a different property to http://www.domainname.com.
This matters because setting up the wrong domain will result in inaccurate data and this will defeat the purpose of collecting first-hand data.
The easiest way to eliminate this issue is to add the entire domain as a property, however, you will need to be able to edit your DNS via your domain registrar.
Search Console will provide you with a piece of text to copy and paste.
You will need to log into your domain registrar (where your domain name is held) to make this change and depending on who your domain name provider is, the process will differ from provider to provider.
Once you have added the TXT record, go back to the Search Console setup screen and click VERIFY.
If GSC cannot find the TXT record, it will tell you that verification has failed (see above).
How to add and verify a URL prefix via HTML tag
If you do not know how to edit your DNS settings or your domain registrar makes it difficult to do so, you can add a URL prefix instead of the domain.
This shouldn’t be an issue because most websites should redirect from www to non-www, from http to https and vice versa. Therefore, only one version of the website usually gets all the traffic.
Here’s a quick tip to ensure you have the correct URL prefix added to GSC.
- In a new browser tab/window, navigate to your homepage.
- Once your homepage has fully loaded, hover over the URL in your browser’s navigation bar.
- Double-click it highlight the entire URL then copy it (Windows: CTRL+C, OSX: command+c).
- Go back to the Search Console setup panel and paste in the URL. Doing this will ensure that the correct URL (https, http, www, non-www version) is used.
- Then click ‘continue’.
- On the next screen, you will be asked to choose a method to verify ownership of the website.
- Select HTML tag.
- Copy the tag and paste it onto your homepage in the <head> section.
How to add HTML tag onto a WordPress website
To do this on a self-hosted WordPress website, you will need to install a free plugin called SOGO Header & Footer.
After activating the plugin, go to edit your homepage. You will find a new panel at the bottom of the window (see below).
Paste in the HTML tag > save/update your page > go back to Search Console and click ‘Verify’ to complete the process.
How to add HTML tag onto a Squarespace website
To do this on a Squarespace website:
- Go to Pages from your primary Squarespace dashboard.
- Hover over your homepage and click on the settings cogwheel icon.
- In the panel that opens up, click on Advanced.
- Paste in the HTML tag in the page header code injection field.
- Save/update > go back to Search Console and click ‘Verify’ to complete the process.
How to add HTML tag onto a WIX website
- Go to SEO Tools in your Wix site dashboard.
- Click Site Verification.
- Click on Google Search Console to expand.
- Paste in the meta tag.
- Click Save.
After verification, now what?
Once you have verified that you are the owner of your website, Google Search Console will take 2-3 days to populate data.
There isn’t much you can do with GSC until you start getting more traffic to your website. But as you wait, you should add a sitemap to Search Console.
Sitemaps are not necessary for Google to discover and index pages on your website but it can make it easier for Google to do so.