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A Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console

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Want to know how your SEO efforts are paying off?

Google provides a free tool called Google Search Console that provides a ton of detailed information about your site’s performance, security issues, errors, and more.

How does it work? That’s what we’re going to cover today.

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console is a suite of tools from Google that helps you track your site’s performance, find issues, and help your site rank higher in Google. It is a powerful, but complex, tool.

Back in 2010, we wrote a thorough beginner’s guide to Google Webmaster Tools. Since then, there have been significant changes to Google Webmaster Tools, including a rebranding as Google Search Console.

We’ve updated this guide to include how to set up Google Search Console, what data you’ll find about your website, important data you might have forgotten about, and how to continually monitor for any issues that might affect your search engine rankings.

How to Set Up Google Search Console

If you haven’t already, the first thing you will need to do is set up your website with Google Search Console.

To do this, visit the Search Console website, sign in with your Google Account – preferably the one you are already using for Google Analytics.

Click the Add Property button in the upper left corner, and you’ll see this dialogue box:

Google search console guide add property.

Select the URL prefix, as it gives you more options for verification.

Next, you will have to verify this site as yours.

Previously, this involved having to embed code into your website header or upload an HTML file to your web server.

Now, if you already have Google Analytics, it will automatically verify your site for you and you will see this:

google search console owership authorization.

If this doesn’t work for you, use one of these other options for verification.

Once your site is verified, you will want to submit a sitemap if you have one available.

This is a simple XML file that will tell Google Search Console what pages you have on your website

If you have one already, you can usually find it by typing in http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml to see it in your browser.

To create a sitemap if you don’t already have one, you can use online tools like XML Sitemaps.

If you are running a website on your own domain using WordPress, you can install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.

Once you have activated the plugin, look under your Settings in the WordPress dashboard and click on XML-Sitemap.

The plugin should have already generated your sitemap, so there’s nothing else you have to do.

You’ll find your URL at the very top of the page:

search engines haven't been notified yet

Copy the link address and head back over to Google Search console, then paste it under “Add a new site map” in GSC.

google search console sitemap

It may take a few days for Search Console to start pulling information about your website.

Be sure to wait a bit, then keep reading to find out what else you can learn from Google Search Console!

What Data Can You Pull From Google Search Console?

Once you’ve added and verified your website, you’ll be able to see tons of information about your site performance in GSC.

Remember, this is a powerful tool; these are only the highlights of new types of data and the important data you should remember to check on occasionally.

Google Search Console Overview

Google search console overview

When you visit your website in GSC, you will first see your Overview.

This is an overview of the important data within Google Search Console. You can visit specific areas such as your Crawl Errors, Search Analytics, and Sitemaps from this screen by clicking on the applicable links.

You can also navigate to these areas using the menu in the left sidebar.

Search Results

In the left sidebar, you’ll see is Search Results.

Google search console search results

This section gives you an overview of how your site appears in the Search Engine Results Page, including total clicks, impressions, position, click-through rate, and what queries your site shows up for.

The filters at the top allow you to sort data based on location, date, type of search, and much more. This data is crucial to understanding the impact of your SEO efforts.

Index Coverage Report

This report gives you data about the URLs that Google has tried to index on your selected property and any problems Google has had.

As Googlebot crawls the Internet, it processes each page it comes across to compile an index of every word it sees on every page.

It also looks at content tags and attributes like your Titles or alt texts.

index coverage report google search console

This graph shows a breakdown of the URLs on your site that have been indexed by Google and can thus appear in search results.

As you add and remove pages, this graph will change with you.

Don’t worry too much if you have a smaller number of indexed pages than you think you should. Googlebot filters out the URLs it sees as a duplicate, non-canonical, or those with a no index meta tag.

You’ll also notice a number of URLs that have been disallowed from crawling by your robots.txt file.

And you can also check on how many URLs you’ve removed with the Removal Tool. This will most likely always be a low value.

Sitemaps

I mentioned sitemaps earlier, so I’ll cover this again in brief.

In GSC under “Sitemaps,” you will see information about your sitemap, including if you have one and when it was last updated.

If you notice the last date your sitemap was downloaded is not recent, you might want to submit your sitemap to refresh the number of URLs submitted.

Otherwise, this helps you keep track of how Google is reading your sitemap and whether or not all of your pages are viewed as you want them to be.

Removals

If for some reason you need to temporarily block a page from Google’s search results, head to removals.

google search console URL removal

You can hide a page for approximately 90 days before this wears off.

If you want to permanently remove a page from Google’s crawling, you’ll have to do it on your actual website.

Core Website Vitals

Core website vitals are a set of metrics that impact your search ranking. They include speed, usability, and visual stability. These are now ranking signals, so you’ll want to pay attention to them.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open-source initiative designed to provide fast-loading mobile websites that work with slow connection speeds.

You can go here to get started creating your first page if you haven’t got one already.

You’ll be given a boilerplate piece of coding that you can customize to your site.

accelerated mobile pages boilerplate code

To view pages in GSC, head to Enhancements > AMP.

Links to Your Site

Curious about your backlinks?

GSC shows you the domains that link to you the most as well as the pages on your website with the most links. Scroll down in the left side bar until you see “links.” Click and you’ll see a full report of links to your site:

google search console links

This is probably the most comprehensive listing of your backlinks (and internal links!) that you will find, for free at least.

It’s a powerful tool to know where your content is being leveraged around the web, and what performs best in Google’s eyes.

Manual Actions

The Manual Actions tab is where you can find out if any of your pages are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.

It’s one of the ways that Google has taken action against web spamming.

Mobile Usability

On the Mobile Usability tab, you can check to make sure that all of your website’s pages are aligned with what Google considers best practice.

mobile usability google search console

As you can see, you can have issues with text size, viewport settings, or even the proximity of your clickable elements.

Any of these problems, as well as other errors, can negatively affect your mobile site’s rankings and push you lower on the results page. Finding and fixing these errors will help your user experience and results.

While reviewing this information, I suggest that you also check your site’s mobile speed. I use Ubersuggest to do so.

The first thing you want to do is type your URL into the search box and click “Search.”

use ubersuggest to check mobile usage report.

After clicking the “Search” button, click “Site Audit” in the left sidebar and then scroll down the page until you seed “Site Speed.”

ubersuggest mobile usablity Google search console guide

You’ll see the site speed for both desktop and mobile devices. For the sake of this exercise, we’re more interested in mobile loading time. My site loads on mobile devices in two seconds, which scores in the excellent range.

In addition to overall site speed, there’s also an advanced breakdown for:

  • First contentful paint
  • Speed index
  • Time to interactive
  • First meaningful paint
  • First CPU idle
  • Estimated input latency

If you see any issues here, fix them immediately, and then re-test your site. It may be enough to improve your loading time.

Crawl Stats

For a more in-depth analysis of how often Googlebot is looking at your site, you can use the Crawl Stats report under Settings > Crawl stats.

Here, you’ll see how often the pages of your site are crawled, how many kilobytes are downloaded per day, and what the download times of your site are.

Google search console crawl stats report
time spent downloading a page

According to Google, there is no “good” crawl number, but they do have advice for any sudden spikes or drops in your crawl rates.

Fetch as Google (Now Called URL Inspection)

This tool is helpful as it lets actually do a test run of how Google crawls and renders a specific URL on your site.

It’s a helpful way to make sure that Googlebot can access a page that might otherwise be left to guesswork.

URL inspection google search console

If you’re successful, the page will render, and you’ll be able to see if any resources are blocked to Googlebot.

If you want access to the code of your site, click “View Tested Page” to see the HTML, a screenshot, and any crawl errors. (Note: Crawl errors used to be its own report, now it’s located in URL inspection under “Coverage.”)

When you get to the debugging point of web development, you can’t beat this free tool.

Robots.txt Tester

If you’re using a robot.txt file to block Google’s crawlers from a specific resource, this tool allows you to double-check that everything is working.

So if you have an image you don’t want to appear in a Google Image Search, you can test your robot.txt here to make sure that your image isn’t popping up where you don’t want it.

When you test, you’ll either receive an Accepted or Blocked message, and you can edit accordingly.

URL Parameters

Google themselves recommend using this tool sparingly, as an incorrect URL parameter can negatively impact how your site is crawled.

You can read more about how to properly use URL parameters from Google.

When you do use them, this tool will help you keep tabs on their performance and make sure they’re not pointing Googlebot in the wrong direction.

Conclusion

Google Search Console can give you powerful insights into how your site performs, as well as what you can do to keep Google’s attention. Once you have the basics down, learn how to use GSC data to increase your traffic by 28 percent or more.

Do you use Google Search Console? What areas do you find most useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and happy data analyzing!

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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Student writing on computer

With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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Google Home App Gets an Overhaul, Rolling Out Soon

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Google Home app

Google refreshes its Home app with a slew of new features after launching a new Nest gear. This makes it faster and easier to pair smart devices with Matter, adds customization and personalization options, an enhanced Nest camera experience, and better intercommunication between devices.

This revamped Home app utilizes Google’s Matter smart home standard – launching later this year – especially the Fast Pair functionality. On an Android phone, it will instantly recognize a Matter device and allow you to easily set it up, bypassing the current procedure that is often slow and difficult. Google is also updating its Nest speakers, displays, and routers – to control Matter devices better.

Google Home App New Features

  • Spaces: This feature allows you to control multiple devices in different rooms. Google has listed a few things by room: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc., although it’s pretty limited right now. Spaces let you organize devices how you see fit. For instance, you can set up a baby monitor in one room and set a different room’s camera to focus on an area the baby often plays. With Spaces, you can categorize these two devices into one Space category called ‘Baby.’

Google Home app Spaces

  • Favorites: This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to make certain gears as a favorite that you frequently use. Doing so will bring those devices into the limelight within the Google Home app for easier access. 

Google Home app

  • Media: Google adds a new media widget at the bottom of your Home feed. This will automatically determine what media is playing in your home and provide you with the appropriate controls as and when needed. There will be song controls if you listen to music on your speakers. There will be television remote controls if you’re watching TV. 

Google probably won’t roll out this Home app makeover anytime soon. But you can try it for yourself in the coming week by enrolling in the public preview, available in select areas.

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