Google Search Console – A Comprehensive Guide – Part 1

SEO SEO - Google Webmaster Tools

Hello and welcome to my Google Webmaster Tools 7 1/2 part tutorial. Here I will walk you through each and every area of Google Webmaster Tools and how you can utilize them to better understand what is “technically” going on with your website. Google released Webmaster Tools in 2006 in order to help webmasters “create more search engine-friendly sites.”

***Update 9/16/2015

As of May 20th 2015, Google have changed the name of Webmaster Tools to Search Console.” ***

Adding A New Website

Entering a URL

The website, https://www.google.com/webmasters/, allows you to submit your website to Google’s index, then see a technical overview. To do this, you must first add a site to Webmaster Tools.  When you click the red button in the upper-right hand side of the screen, you will be prompted to enter a domain name. Once you enter a domain name you will then need to verify that you own, or manage, that domain.

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Add A Site icon found in upper right-hand side of Google Webmaster Tools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Enter a URL in this pop-up box and click continue to add a site to Google Webmaster Tools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verifying Your Website

Depending on where your domain is registered and hosted you may be asked to verify ownership of a domain by changing the DNS. Below is an example of something you may see (taken directly from Google Webmaster Tools):

  1. Log in to your account for test.com at www.example.com by clicking the Manage Account icon.

  2. In the left navigation bar, open the nsWebAddress (Domains) menu by clicking the + icon.

  3. Click Manage Domain Names.

  4. On the Domain Details page for the domain you’re using, select the Designated DNS radio button (to the right of Change domain to point to) and click the Apply Changes button. If you’ve previously modified your advanced DNS settings, click Edit (to the right of Domain currently points to).

  5. Under the Advanced DNS Manager heading, click Manage Advanced DNS Records.

  6. Under the Text (TXT Records) heading, click Add/Edit.

  7. In the Host field, enter @.

  8. Leave the TTL field set to the default value.

  9. In the Text field, copy and paste the following unique security token: a security code will be provided here

  10. Click Continue.

  11. Review your changes and click Save Changes.

  12. When you’ve done saving the TXT record, click the Verify button below on this page.

If you are not comfortable verifying your website this way, there are several other alternate methods for you to verify your site.

  1.  Upload an HTML file. Google will provide you with a file to download that you can then upload to your website via your CMS or FTP. This file will be appended to your domain name like this: http://www.example.com/googlexxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.html. For those who do not wish to upload a file to your website or are not comfortable doing so, you may choose to add a meta tag to your home page.
  2. Add an HTML tag. Google will provide you with the appropriate meta tag to add to the home page of your website. This will be placed in the <head> section of your website, along with the other meta data. It will look something like this: <meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”xxx-XXXxxxXxxXXXXxxxXxxxxXXXxxxxXXxx-xxXxXXxx” />. If you do not wish to touch the coding of your website, you can verify your website by using Google Analytics if your website already as this installed.
  3. Google Analytics Select this option if your website is using the Google Analytics asynchronous tracking code. This is the javascript version of the Analytics tracking code that was used prior to Universal Analytics. The tracking code MUST be in the header section of your website, just before the closing </head> tag. This is my preferred verification method and also the quickest.
  4. Google Tag Manager This option will allow you to verify your website if you are using Google’s Tag Manager. To do this you must be using the container snippet. Make sure you have permission to “manage” the tag prior to using this method.

After you complete the verification process you will brought to the Site Dashboard.

Site Dashboard

The site dashboard in Google Webmaster Tools is a 10,000 foot view of what’s going on with you website. Here you’ll be able to the current status of your website. This shows you crawl errors, search queries and sitemaps.

Crawl Errors

The Crawl Errors section in Webmaster Tools will show you if there are any issues with you website such as 404 errors, 500 errors and so on. Here you will be shown a complete list of errors found as well as a link back to that specific URL. Below is a screenshot of what I saw when I logged into my site dashboard:

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This is a screenshot taken from Google Webmaster Tools showing crawl errors on my website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The green check marks underneath each category indicates that there are no issues with my DNS, Server or Robots.txt. When I click on Crawl Errors under Current Status I am presented with the following screen:

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Screenshot taken from my Google Webmaster Tools account showing a chart of some crawl errors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This chart allows me to see a 90 day history of any errors that occurred on my site. You can see that on 12/10/2013 I corrected some issues but more quickly arose. This is a common occurrence with most websites and should not be cause for alarm. Most errors can be easily dealt with and I will go more in-depth on this topic in a later entry. Underneath the chart is a list of all the errors and their server response codes.

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Google Webmaster Tools screenshot of crawl errors and server response codes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see on this list I have several 404 errors. This means that there are pages that are not found by Google.  This could mean a couple of different things. One reason is that there was an older version of the page that I deleted and never redirected, another reason is that a page was moved and not properly redirected. From here we are able to select one or multiple URLs and mark them as fixed. You are also given the option to download a complete version of this as a spreadsheet or Google Doc that lists their server response codes and dates detected. Regardless of the issue, once we click on one from the list under URL we see a pop-up screen that shows us a bit more detail about this specific issue.

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You can see that Webmaster Tools tells us the date that this issue was first detected as well as the last time that Google crawled this particular URL. Underneath the dates are a brief description about what a 404 error is. If we click around we can see if this URL is in our XML Sitemap and what other pages on our website link to this erroneous URL. Here we can click on the link provided to see what the pages currently looks like. If we know for a fact that this page is no longer an issue we can mark it as fixed. But since we’re SEO’s and want to know more about why the issue occurred, we would click the fetch as Google button. The fetch as Google button allows us to see the page as Google see’s it with the server response code and all of the source code. We will discuss that in a later post as well.

Conclusion

We covered a lot of grounds today on how to set up your website with Google Webmaster Tools. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll be discussing Search Appearance and all of the areas that are part of that section.

About the Author:

An SEO in NYC with a penchant for the technical side of things. Father, Husband, Novice Photographer and Music Lover.

4 comments

  1. […] to part 2 of my 7 1/2 part series on Google Webmaster Tools. In my last post I covered the Site Dashboard in Google Webmaster Tools as well as how to obtain a list of all […]

  2. […] not going to spend too much time on this section since I covered  it in Part 1, so I will just do a quick review. This section shows us a list of errors that Google has found […]

  3. Maria

    Thank you for the article Joe. I have some doubts. I’m working on a new website and I chose www as my preferred domain (I’ve seen that you add only one domain in your guide, why?). When I have to verify the second domain without www do I have to submit the google analytics code again, in the same place than the www domain? So will I have 2 different analytic codes? And at the end do I have to make the redirect 301 or it is not necessary? If yes what kind of code do I have to add in the htaccess file? Sorry for all these questions, hope you can help me!

    • Hi Maria,
      I’m terribly sorry for the delay, I’m just seeing this comment now. You should be able to verify the website by using one Google Analytics code for both sites.

      Regarding redirects, you can set do a site-wide redirect at your registrar (for example, GoDaddy) that will move everything from non-www to www.
      You can also set the preferred version in Google Webmaster Tools.

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