SEO isn’t exactly a linear process and not all SEO optimization trick is true or the same across the spectrum within content creators. That said, one of the things that help us improve our content strategy is data.
Data is mighty. Used correctly, data can give us a lot of insights. For example:
- What do people want from you?
- Which topics are trending?
- Where and how do people find you?
- Which keywords bring people to your blog?
And much more.
One of the ways that you can optimize your content is by collecting data across your niche from top-performing blogs and websites. But did you know that data gathered from your own website can be extremely helpful too? Especially after you’ve had your blog for a few months? In fact, the longer you’ve had your blog, the more insightful you’ll find data collected from your own site.
And the best (and free) tool to collect data from your website is Google Search Console. In this post, I want to help you get started with this tool. I’ll briefly talk about how you can use some key data from Google Search Console to optimize your content, but more importantly, I will show you how to add your website and sitemap to Google Search Console so that you have this data when you need it.
What is Google Search Console and How Can it Help?
Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google that monitors pretty much every aspect of your website’s health and performance.
Some of the things that it does are:
- Monitors your traffic data (how do people find you, which keywords bring traffic to your site, which pages get more traffic, how long people spend on individual pages, etc.)
- Monitors your site’s health. (Is a page giving an error? Are there mobile usability issues? Etc.)
When you add your sitemap to Google Search Console, you can do some cool things such as:
- Check if Google is crawling a certain page (useful when you add a new page or post)
- Ask Google to crawl a page (when you add a new page or post or if you edit an old page/post and want to let Google know that you have updated information on that page or post.)
You can also use Google Search Console’s data to optimize your existing content. For example, is a certain page getting a lot of organic traffic? You can see that on Google Search Console, and try to double down on that.
Take my online course—Side Income with Canva Templates—for example. I got the idea for this course when I realized that one of my blog posts on this topic was getting a lot of organic traffic! In fact, it was Google Search Console that had let me know that this page was trending and getting a lot of attention. I used that data to come up with a paid course on the topic, and lo and behold, this course remains the most popular product on The Side Blogger.
Here are some things you can do with data collected by Google Search Console:
- You can look at people’s interests and create a paid product (just like I did).
- Check to see which pages or posts are getting the most traffic and create added value for those pages or posts.
- See which external platforms are bringing in the most traffic (Pinterest vs Instagram vs Facebook, etc.) and create a social media strategy based on that data.
There’s a lot more you can do with this tool, and honestly, one blog post is simply not enough to cover everything. But before I gave you the tutorial for how to actually add your site to Google Search Console, I wanted to share a few of the benefits to get you all pumped up!
Are you pumped up? Hope you are! So, without further adieu, let’s see how to set up your website on Google Search Console.
How to Add Your Website on Google Search Console
Let’s look at how you can check your website data using Google Search Console.
In this section, we will do the following:
- Verify our WordPress website with Google Search Console. (Note: As with most things on this blog, I primarily talk about blogs that are based on self-hosted WordPress. This very blog is on the WordPress platform using SiteGround hosting. If you’re brand new and need help setting up your blog, check this tutorial first.)
- Add the website’s sitemap on Google Search Console (this ensures efficient crawling of your website).
In order to perform these two tasks, I’m going to assume you have the following:
- Your website is on WordPress (this tutorial is for WordPress users only as stated above.)
- You have the following plugins installed and activated:
- Yoast SEO
- Insert Headers and Footers by WPBeginner
If you need help installing and setting up the Yoast SEO plugin, please check out this blog post (you must have it installed, activated, and properly set up before you attempt this tutorial).
As for the “Insert Headers and Footers” plugin, it’s easy—on your dashboard, go to Plugins > Add new, then search for “Insert Headers and Footers”. From the search results, install and activate the plugin by WPBeginner.
This takes care of the pre-requisites.
Now, let’s proceed and set up Google Search Console.
Verify your website in Google Search Console
Open your browser and go to Google Search Console. You must have a Google/Gmail account to have access to Google Search Console. Assuming that you do, you’ll have multiple ways to verify your domain; I’ll be showing you one of these methods in this tutorial—the URL prefix method. The reason being:
- This is a simpler method—doesn’t require you to log into your hosting’s back end and change the DNS setting.
- Using the DNS verification method adds all sites (including sites under subdomains) under one property in Google Search COnsole, and this may or not be desired.
Given that, the URL prefix method is the one I’ll be covering below.
1. On Google Search Console, click on “Add property” in the top left corner.
2. Once you click on “Add property”, a popup will open up, which will give you two main options to verify your website. In this tutorial, we will use the URL Prefix method.
In the popup, under the URL Prefix option, add your full URL. For example, if your website is https://example.com, you’ll need to add the entire thing, including the “https//” part.
[Note: In this tutorial, I’m assuming that you all have your WordPress installed in the root directory. If you have a subdomain instead (most of you probably don’t), then please enter the subdomain URL instead.]
Click “Continue” once you’ve entered the URL.
3. Now a new popup will open up where you’ll be asked to verify your ownership of the website. You’ll be given multiple ways to verify ownership. For this tutorial, we’ll be using the HTML Tag method. Scroll down the popup until you see HTML Tag, and then expand it to see further instructions.
4. Once you expand “HTML tag”, you’ll be asked to add the meta tag in your website’s header file. Copy the tag by clicking the “Copy” button.
5. Once you’ve copied it, we’ll need to add it to the website’s header file. Now, I don’t want you to mess with the header file codes, so instead, we’ll be using the Insert Header and Footer plugin to add the meta tag.
Open a new tab in your browser. Go to your website’s WordPress dashboard. On the left menu, click on “Settings”. In the expanded options, you should see the “Insert Headers and Footers” option. Click it. This will now allow you to add the meta tag in the header area.
Click anywhere in the text area under “Scripts in Header”. Then paste the meta tag you copied in the previous section by clicking Ctrl+V (on Windows) or Cmd+V (on Mac). Or you can right-click on your mouse and choose the “Paste” option. See the image below for clarity.
Make sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Save”. Don’t forget to save or you won’t be able to verify your ownership in the next step.
6. After you have saved the meta tag in your WordPress dashboard, go back to Google Search Console (you should already have it opened in a different tab), and then click “Verify” under HTML Tag.
If you’ve done everything correctly, then you should now see a success message. Click “Go to Property” to do the next step.
Add your website’s Sitemap in Google Search Console
Now, when you go to Google Search Console, you should see that you have an active property there. Since you just added the site, you won’t see any data.
Now go ahead and add your sitemap. For the record, an XML sitemap is a file that has a list of all the pages and other assets on your website. Adding an XML sitemap in Google Search Console ensures Google can easily crawl all of your pages.
To add the sitemap, we need to first get the link to the sitemap.
And if you’ve installed and activated the Yoast SEO plugin as you should have, then the plugin has already created this XML sitemap for you! Pretty neat, right? (And if you haven’t installed and activated the Yoast SEO plugin, please do so now! You’ll find a tutorial here.)
Now, let’s grab the link!
Go back to your WordPress dashboard (do it in a new tab so that you have Google Search Console in another tab). Then, find the SEO menu item in the left panel. Click on SEO > General. Here you’ll see some tabs at the top of the page. Click on the “Features tab”, and then scroll down until you see the “XML Sitemap” option. It should be enabled by default.
Next to the “XML Sitemap” option, you should see a question mark (refer to the image below for clarity); click it to see a link to the sitemap. You should see two links here; the first one should say “see the XML sitemap”. Click that link. This should open up your sitemap.
When the sitemap opens in a new tab, make note of the URL prefix of this page. It should be something like “sitemap_index.xml”.
Now, go back to Google Search Console. On the left menu, find and click on “Sitemaps”. When you click it, it will ask you to enter the sitemap prefix. Enter it, and then click “Submit”.
And you’re done!
It may take a few hours to a couple of days to start seeing data after you’ve added your sitemap. Also, if your website/blog is brand new, the data you see now won’t be very useful to you. But with time, you’ll come to appreciate having added your site to Google Search Console, I guarantee it!
Some Key Features of Google Search Console to Help You Optimize Your Performance and Marketing Strategies
Again, going over every single feature of Google Search Console is beyond the scope of this blog post.
However, I’ve selected a couple of features that I love and use regularly. If you’re new to Search Console, let these features be your entry point to using this tool more often.
Another reminder before we get into this section—I recommend everyone adds their site to Google Search Console as soon as they’ve set up their site. However, you really start to appreciate some of the features of this tool after you’ve had your site up and running for a few months at least.
The performance parameters
The “Performance” tab is mighty. It shows you things like how many people have seen page/posts on your site in search results, how many have clicked through those links to your site, where this organic traffic is coming from (countries), which keywords are bringing more people to your site, which pages are getting most clicks, etc.
Using these data, you can do some pretty cool things. I’ve mentioned some of the things I’ve done already, like creating an online course based on my audience’s interest.
The image above shows what you see when you go to the “Performance” tab located in the main menu to the left of the page. When you scroll down, you see even more information about your site.
You can see “Queries”—these are the keywords that people search for that results in them seeing your page(s).
The “Pages” tab shows you the top-performing pages on your site based on organic search results and clicks.
“Countries” shows you where most of your search traffic is coming from.
And so on. These are pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t be going over them in detail.
As for how to use these data, well, aside from getting ideas for paid products, there are other things you can do with this data. For example, let’s say a certain page is getting a lot of traffic from organic search results. You can use that to create a strategy for gaining more email list subscribers. Create a content upgrade (opt-in freebie) specific to the content/topic of that page or blog post and add an opt-in form to that page. Since you know there’s interest in that topic based on your search and traffic data, you can safely assume that people will be interested in signing up for your email list.
The URL Inspection tool
The tab right under Performance in the main menu is URL inspection.
I use this feature in two ways:
1. When I publish a new blog post, I come here, and in the top search box, add the URL of the new post. Now, Google crawls pages pretty fast, but even so, it may take a few hours or even a day (or a couple of days?). But I can manually ask Google to index a new page or post using the URL inspection tool. If you forget to do that, it’s OK. Like I said, Google is good at crawling pages and posts fast, especially after you’ve added your sitemap to Google Search Console, which we’ve done already if you’ve followed through the tutorial above.
To manually ask Google to index a new URL, go to “URL Inspection”, then insert the new URL in the search box at the top of the page (see image below) then press “Enter” on your keyboard. If this is a brand new page that hasn’t been crawled yet, then you’ll see something like the image below—saying the URL is not found. To manually request indexing of this page, click on “Request Indexing” as shown in the image.
2. Now, let’s say that you have just updated an older blog post with new and/or better information. But how would Google know that you’ve done this? Well, all you have to do is come to this same page, insert the URL of the page, and then manually ask Google to index the page again.
Note that when you’ve updated an old post, the URL should already be on Google (see image below). This time, you should see a message saying “Page Changed? Request Indexing”. Click that to let Google know that it should crawl and index the page again with the updated information.
This tool is pretty cool because every time I update an old page with new information, I always see an uptick in organic traffic.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to add my site to Google Search Console even if I have added Google Analytics?
Yes. These are two different tools and they're both useful when it comes to understanding your website's audience, traffic, and overall performance. The two tools share some features, but otherwise, they offer different kinds of insights into your website.
What's the difference between Google Analytics and Google Search Console?
The complete list of different features and how they're used is plentiful. The most important thing you need to know is that while Google Analytics gives you information regarding all of your traffic, Google Search Console monitors your website's usability, health, performance, content quality, organic search, and user experience and behavior, to name a few.
Do I have to be on WordPress to add my site to Google Search Console?
No. This tutorial focuses on WordPress because that's the platform I focus on here at The Side Blogger. Even if you have a blog on a different platform such as Squarespace or Wix, you'll still be able to add your site to Google Search Console.
Does adding my site to Google Search Console improve my SEO?
Adding your site to Google Search Console has nothing to do with SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Google Search Console is a tool that allows you to monitor your website's performance and it collects useful data about your site that you can use to improve your site's performance, marketing strategies, etc.
Google Search Console is an extremely powerful tool. I’ve only shown you the basics, but the amount of information you can get with this tool is mind-boggling. Feel free to play with the other features in this tool—the page experience, core web vitals, and mobile usability tabs are useful. Check them often to see if you have any errors or how people experience your pages. Play with the different features available and get comfortable with them; they’ll come in handy.
Hopefully, this gives you the resources you need to get started with Google Search Console. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or other input.
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