Google Search Console: Step-by-step guide on getting set-up on ‘GSC’

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.

A.K.A. Google Webmaster Tools

I’ve always known it as “Google Webmaster Tools” and you’ll often here SEO’ers and 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’.

And it’s working as you can see from their own Trends tool which shows search traffic for the comparative terms:

Chart from Google Trends showing search traffic for terms "Google Webmaster Tools" versus "Google Search Console" - the chart shows Google Webmaster Tools significant ahead up until late 2016 after which Google Search Console gets more searches
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

Duration: About30 minutes
Cost: 0

– you can do this yourself

Necessary Items:
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.

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:

A screenshot from Google Search Console - showing the log-in screen and 'Add a Property' button

If it looks more like this:

A screenshot from Google Search Console - showing the log-in screen and 'Add a Property' button

don’t panic – that just means, like me, you already have some sites and ‘properties’ set-up in Google Search Console.

Either way, that big red “Add Property” button is where we’re heading next (unless the site you want to add is already in the list you see on arrival – in which case, your work here is done!).

You can choose – via the drop-down – if you want to track a website or an Android app.

For now, let’s pick “website”. 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

Screenshot from Google Search Console showing the routes to verify your website 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:

  1. Upload a file to your site as per the ‘Recommended method’ instructions (above)
  2. Upload a specific HTML tag into the <HEAD> section of your site
  3. Verify via your domain name provider (e.g. GoDaddy, names.co.uk or whomever you bought/host your site with)
  4. Using your Google Analytics account (assuming you have it set-up)
  5. 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 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. confirm you’re “not a robot” and hit “Verify”.

Step 3: You’re Done – now set-up some basics

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That’s it. It really is as simple as that.

You’ll see something similar to this:

A screenshot from Google Search Console - showing the log-in screen and 'Add a Property' button

If you go into your site’s console (just click on the screenshot of the site, or the big blue link – the “Manage Property” drop-down is only if you want to add/invite other users to your GSC account or delete the site from GSC. Steer clear of that for now!) you’ll be able to start familiarising yourself with some of the menus there.

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 week or two.

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.

Screenshot from Google Analytics showing where to add Google Search Console data

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.

Screenshot showing how to connect Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts

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.

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