What is Google Search Console? Understanding your organic traffic

Author: James Clark


Search Console is a free tool from Google that, in the search engine’s own words, enables you to “monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results.” In a nutshell, it helps you to understand how Google sees your site and fix issues it may have found.


The use of Google Search Console is entirely optional and you do not need to use it for your site to appear in organic (that is, non-paid) search results. However, it’s an extremely useful tool for anyone maintaining a website (large or small) and provides insight that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere.


It’s worth remembering that Google is not the only search engine, and many other search engines have their own equivalent of Search Console—for example, Bing offers Bing Webmaster Tools. But, as Google accounts for over 90% of the global search engine market share worldwide, it probably makes sense to start with Search Console.


In order to use Search Console, you must first verify your site to prove that you own or manage it. This is to prevent other people from having access to business-sensitive data about your website, and potentially even making changes that will affect its presence in Google search.


Verifying your website


Below are two approaches you can take to verify your website property with Search Console.


Manual verification

For manual verification (which is open to all websites, including those with a free Wix URL), Google provides multiple ways for website owners to prove their ownership, such as uploading an HTML file or creating a DNS record. Not all of these are appropriate for (or possible with) every setup.


One of the easiest ways to prove ownership of a Wix website is adding a meta tag to your site’s homepage using the Site Verification manager. A meta tag is simply a small piece of information about your website, almost like a label—it isn’t visible to visitors, but Google will be able to see it. Wix provides full instructions on how to verify your site with Google Search Console using a meta tag.


Verification with the Wix SEO Wiz

Wix websites with a connected domain can use the Wix SEO Wiz, which takes you through a step-by-step plan to help you get started with SEO—including Search Console verification.


The SEO Wiz is the easier of the two processes, but to use it, you’ll need to have either the ‘Owner’ or ‘Admin’ contributor role in Wix (so this isn't a job for a ‘Back Office Manager’).


Full instructions are available here, but the basic steps are as follows:

  1. Click here to get started with Wix SEO Wiz

  2. Complete step 1 of your checklist

  3. Click Connect to Google

Once you've verified your site this way, your homepage will be indexed instantly.


Diving into Search Console data


After successfully verifying your site, it can take some time (perhaps a day or two) for Search Console data to become available. So, if you can’t see anything useful straight away, that’s nothing to worry about. And, if your site itself is new, there may be no performance data at all to start with—but this will rectify itself over time as you create more content for Google to crawl and the search engine learns more about your site.


Once data does show up, the most interesting place to start from an SEO perspective is arguably the Performance report, as this shows a table of all the search queries your website is ranking for—in other words, the phrases that users type into Google for which your site appears in the search results.

Diving into Search Console data
An example of the data that can be found in the Performance report.

Click on the four panels at the top of the report to view or hide the following pieces of data for each query in the table:

  • Clicks - How many times your site was clicked on for each query

  • Impressions - How many times your site appeared in search results for each query

  • CTR - Your average click-through rate for each query, which is clicks / impressions x 100

  • Position - Your average position in Google search results for each query, with ‘1’ indicating the first or top result. The lower the number, the better.

You can also click on any individual query and then select the ‘PAGES’ tab to see which page of your website is appearing in Google search results for that query.


Reviewing your search data


If you want to review your search data systematically, you can export it to Google Sheets or download it as a CSV file. You can do this by clicking on the ‘EXPORT’ button to the top-right of the report and selecting your preferred option. This will give you up to a thousand rows of spreadsheet data which can be sorted and filtered exactly as you wish.


For example, you might want to look at pages that have an average position of around 11 or 12 for an important search query. That average position means you are probably appearing towards the top of the second page of Google search results (though the number of organic results shown per page does vary and is sometimes fewer).


Tweaking your content here could bump you up a few positions and see you appearing on the first page of results, which may significantly increase the impressions and clicks you receive for that query.


Common crawl errors


Google Search Console isn’t just useful for understanding your site’s performance in organic search results, it also lets you see any errors that Google encountered when trying to crawl your website’s content. Remember that Google's crawlers visit your web pages in order to discover new content and “bring data about those web pages back to Google’s servers.” Not every page that is crawled will be indexed (appear in search results), but every page that is indexed will have been crawled first.


To get started, go to Search Console’s Coverage report (within the Index section of the left-hand navigation panel). At the top of the report, you will see that each page Google has tried to crawl on your site is placed into one of these four groups:

  • Error - Pages that couldn’t be indexed

  • Valid with warning - Pages that have been indexed “but perhaps you don’t want them to” (in Google's opinion)

  • Valid - Pages that have been indexed

  • Excluded - Pages that were not indexed

This site had a few errors briefly back in October but has been error-free since then example
The Coverage report in Google Search Console. This site had a few errors briefly back in October, but has been error-free since then.

It’s best to start by looking at the error pages. Helpfully, the Coverage report also lists the specific errors that it has found with your site and the number of pages affected by each error, as well as what Google calls the ‘trend’—a small graph showing whether the error is becoming more or less common on your site over time.


Click on any error to see a list of pages affected, then click on the ‘LEARN MORE’ link to access Google’s own definition of the error. These definitions can be slightly on the technical side, so you might prefer to consult the Wix Help Center which gives more straightforward explanations of the most common errors. As a brief overview, you could encounter some or all of these:

  • Server error (5xx) - This suggests a temporary problem with the server rather than your site content.

  • Redirect error - If you have redirected one page to another page, and redirected that second page back to the first, you will have created a so-called ‘redirect loop.’ That’s one of the most common causes of this redirect error.

  • Not found (404) - It’s likely that the page no longer exists. Have you recently deleted it or changed a redirect? Or, could you be redirecting to a page that no longer exists?

  • Submitted URL marked ‘noindex’ - This indicates that Google thinks that a certain page shouldn’t be indexed and shown in search results. This includes blog tag pages and password-protected pages.

By looking through the list of errors, you can see that a crawl error does not necessarily mean a website error, and there are plenty of genuine reasons why Google would not be able to crawl a particular page.


Investigating errors


Even when errors do indicate problems with the site itself, bear in mind that Search Console’s Coverage report is not ‘real time.’ It lists errors that Google found when it tried to crawl your content, not necessarily errors that are affecting your site right now.


To put it another way, the report could well include problems that have already been resolved by the time you came to look at it. As a result, it’s really worth digging into each error to see whether it still needs to be addressed.


To do that, click on any error to see a list of pages affected by it. Hover over one of the page URLs (web addresses) and click on the magnifying glass icon (‘inspect URL’). This will provide you with information from Google’s index, including the time and date that Google last tried to crawl the page. You can then click ‘TEST LIVE URL’ to see whether the page is currently available to Google.


If you are sure an error has been resolved, the next step would be to ask Google to ‘VALIDATE FIX.’


Next steps with Search Console


Now, you are able to verify your site with Search Console, understand how it’s performing in search results, and investigate crawl errors. But, don’t stop there. Search Console is full of other insightful reports and useful tools, including:

  • Mobile usability - Are your pages difficult to use or read when viewed on mobile devices?

  • Core Web Vitals - How are your pages performing and what is the overall user experience like?

  • Rich results - Has Google found special rich results on your pages, including FAQs and products?

 

James Clark - Web Analyst

James Clark is a web analyst from London, with a background in the publishing sector. When he isn't helping businesses with their analytics, he's usually writing how-to guides over on his website Technically Product. Twitter | Linkedin