Google Search Console, GSC, Google Console, Google Webmaster Console, Google Webmaster Tools… (phew!) whatever you call it – and it has gone by many names – we’re talking about the same thing.
— This post is part of my Google SEO Guide series —
Just to be 100% clear it’s this: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
See? Even in Google’s URL you can see that GSC has (is still having) a bit of a personality crisis.
I originally wrote this back in 2017 – you’re welcome to look back over the old version if you want a bit of nostalgia – but it seems Google are pretty committed to the ‘new-look’ Google Search Console (despite the reservations of many in the SEO community).
Therefore, knowing how to get your website set-up on this system needs a new look too. So here it goes…
A.K.A. Google Webmaster Tools
I’ve always known it as “Google Webmaster Tools” and you’ll often hear (older) SEO’ers and some developers still using that name.
Around the middle of 2015 Google decided that “webmaster tools” sounded a bit exclusive, like it was ‘nerds only’ territory and not something the average site owner really needed to worry about. So they set about re-branding it to ‘Search Console’.
That’s then been abbreviated (as many things are in SEO) to the initials ‘GSC’ – which was all well and good for a few years. GSC in SEO meant Google Search Console. Until, as in their wont, Google also rebranded their Webmasters blog site, to ‘Google Search Central’. Hmm… those initials look familiar.
Anyway, as you can see from their own Trends tool which shows search traffic for the comparative terms, the rebrand from Webmaster Tools to Search Console is working:
As you can clearly see things didn’t really click for ‘Google Search Console’ until late in 2016 – but even today both terms get a fair slice of searches – about 60/40 in favour of Search Console at latest count. (I certainly had to think hard before deciding which to use in the title for this blog post!).
I’ll go into the “Why use Google Search Console?” in another blog post. For now let’s assume you know it’s a good idea (more free data about your site, your users and how people find you is good, right?) and we’ll crack on with:
how to set-up Google Search Console
- A Google account – you can make any email address a ‘Google account’ it doesn’t need to be Gmail
- Admin access to your website – or at least the ability to edit it or upload files to it.
STEP 0: You’re Going to need a Google account
Before we go any further you’re going to need a Google account. Note: This does not mean you have to have Gmail. If you do have Gmail you already have a Google account – but that doesn’t mean you have to (or should) use that email address to set-up Search Console if you don’t want to.
As I discuss in my Guide to Google My Business and ‘How to’ for Bing Places an important consideration here is access. Google Search Console has some powerful functions. You could do serious damage to your site in here – so you may want to think carefully about who has access.
You can grant access (and restricted access) to others later – but for now choose which account you want to set-up GSC with.
If you want to ‘Google enable’ a non-Gmail account that’s fine – you can do that here: Get a Google account without Gmail
Step 1: Add a property
After you sign-in to Google Search Console you’ll see a screen something like this:
If you’ve already got a site set-up you may see data on that site instead. If you want to set-up a new site that’s OK, just pick ‘+ Add Property’ from the foot of the drop-down menu, top left.
That big blue “Start Now” button is where you want to start otherwise (bet you didn’t see that coming!).
Next you need to type in your website’s address. Be careful this is not as straightforward as it seems:
If you’re thinking “Come on… I know my own website address.”
Do you know if it’s http or https? Do you know, if you have both? Do you know what happens if you put www. in front of it? Does the www. version redirect to the www-less version (or vice-versa)?
As far as Google Search Console is concerned, if you have multiple variations around the above, you’re going to want to seriously consider tracking all of them in GSC. To do that you’ll need to ‘+ Add Property‘ for each one separately.
That caveat inserted – stick your main website address into the box and hit ‘Add Property’. You’ll have to return to repeat this step to set-up those other properties later.
Step 2: Verify your property
You’ll see something like this (above).
This is Google making sure that you own (or at least have high level access to) the site you’re setting up Search Console for.
Unfortunately, you can’t just try and stake a claim to the BBC News website or kimkardashian.com (I didn’t even know that was a real site until I just checked… yikes) – this actually needs to be your website (or one you work on).
You have to verify your ownership of the site. There are five ways to do this:
- Upload a file to your site as per the ‘Recommended method’ instructions (above)
- Upload a specific HTML tag into the <HEAD> section of your site
- Verify via your domain name provider (e.g. GoDaddy, names.co.uk or whomever you bought/host your site with)
- Using your Google Analytics account (assuming you have it set-up)
- Using your Google Tag Manager account (assuming you have it set-up)
If you’ve got this far without having Google Analytics installed I suggest you go and do that first. Google Search Console is very much a garnish or side-order (albeit a lovely one) to some basic analytics – get that in place now.
Therefore, using Google Analytics is my preferred method. If you’re setting up GSC using the same account as you use on Google Analytics this is the most straightforward route.
If you’re confident adding code to your site options 1 or 2 from the above are also quite straightforward and – once you’ve verified ownership – you can then safely remove the code snippet or HTML tag again – despite the warnings Google Search Console posts in the above. That said, they’re really small files/snippets so leaving them there really won’t harm your site either.
Whichever route you choose, once you’ve added the code; signed in to your Analytics account etc. hit “Verify”.
Step 3: You’re Done – now set-up some basics
That’s it. It really is as simple as that.
You’ll see something similar to this:
If you have more than one website set-up you can flip between sites by choosing them in the drop-down menu top left. Note those http, https, www and non-www alternatives may all be listed here so choose carefully.
I’ll write a separate blog post soon about what to do with Google Search Console once you have it set-up.
For now, don’t panic if everything shows zeroes or has messages about “no data”. It can take at least 24 hours for Search Console to start populating with data. Even then I would not recommend making any big calls based on one or two day’s worth of data either.
Let things settle down for a good week or two.
Upload your sitemap
A good thing to do whilst you’re waiting is to ‘feed’ Google your sitemap.
You can do that in the appropriately named menu item on the left:
You then need to complete the URL on your site where your sitemap is:
If you have the popular WordPress plug-in Yoast yours will be at whateveryourwebsiteis.com/sitemap.xml
Double-check your sitemap is there (and grab the URLs of any sub-sitemaps you have) and you can pump them all into Google Search Console.
This can help Google discover all your content more quickly (assuming you have your sitemaps set-up right!).
How to Connect Google search console to Google Analytics
Hooking GSC up to your Google Analytics is a good thing to do at this early stage.
In your Google Analytics account, browse to the ‘Acquisition’ menu and find ‘Search Console’.
Clicking into any of the menu items in there will show you something like the above.
Hitting “Set up Search Console data sharing” will move you through to:
this is the ‘Property Settings’ in the Admin menus of Google Analytics – so you may find it easier to navigate here directly.
Hit “Adjust Search Console” – this will take you through to a page where you can find the Google Search Console accounts you have verified with the same account you’re currently logged in with.
If you haven’t completed Steps 1-3 above, including verifying your GSC property, you won’t be able to add it to Google Analytics.
Click “edit” and you should then see a list of your GSC sites so it’s simply a case of picking the correct site from the list and hitting “save”.
Once your Search Console account starts collecting data (remember the ‘don’t panic’ caveat in Step 3 above – as this isn’t immediate) it will then pass some of it through to your Google Analytics account.
This is helpful but is very much just the tip of the iceberg with what’s possible in Google Search Console. It’s definitely not a “load it and leave it” situation.
I’ll write another blog soon about what you can (and should) do with Google Search Console. For now, I hope this has been a useful guide to getting yourself set up.
How was it for you?
Have you set-up your Google Search Console account? If not, why not? What problems have you encountered? If you have done it – what have you used it for? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Cambridge SEO MEetUP
If you found the above useful (even interesting?) you will love the free Cambridge SEO MeetUps I’m organising.
They are chock full of useful, actionable advice and tips about SEO and how to get your business moving on up in the search engine rankings.