For Small Businesses: How to Set Up & Use Google Search Console
If you have a website, you should set up Google Search Console. Full stop. Period.
Even if you don’t think you’ll ever look at it. Even if you’re not working with any marketing specialists right now. Even if you don’t think your site is good. It’ll take you about 30-minutes to set up, and then when you are in a place to invest in your marketing, you have the data to spend your resources most effectively.
So that’s 30-minutes of your life, in exchange for saving a LOT of money down the line on uninformed decisions. Do I have your attention? Great. Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- What is Google Search Console and why should you have it?
- Set up your Google Search Console account
- Essentials to Set Up in Google Search Console
- How small business owners can get the most out of Search Console
- You’re off to the search-ranking races!
What is Google Search Console and why should you have it?
Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that you’ll want to set up to measure your search engine optimization (SEO) performance.
Why should every single small business have it? Did you know that 81% of people search online for a product or service? That means that people are turning to Google to find businesses like yours. If you’re not there, you’re losing them to your competitors.
That being said, you may not be in a place in your business right now where you’re ready to focus on an SEO strategy, and that’s okay. But I’m betting that you have some big dreams for your business in the future, and you’ll probably need to incorporate SEO at some point down the line.
But don’t bounce off yet, you’re not off the hook. Google Search Console only starts collecting data from when you set it up. And for the most accurate data, you want to compare this month’s data, to the data from the same month last year. So that means you (or the SEO specialist you hire) need a whole year of data to make the most strategic decisions (read: spend your marketing budget most wisely).
So, essentially, no matter what — every single website should have Google Search Console set up.
Set up your Google Search Console account
Log in to Google Search Console
The first step is super easy. Go to Google Search Console’s website and click the big, blue “Start Now” button and it’ll prompt you to log in with your Google Account (the same one you use for Google Drive, Gmail, Google Analytics, etc.)
Choose your verification method
In Google Search Console, every website is called a property. So, you should see a view where it prompts you to set up a new property, and it gives you two options: to verify via “Domain” or via “URL prefix”.
The best way to do it is through the “Domain” method. But it requires “DNS verification” which means that you’ll have to set it up through whomever you purchased your domain with. So lots of people use GoDaddy or Namecheap — you’ll need to log in and do the verification there.
So, if you have access to that, and are moderately tech-savvy, do this method. If that won’t work, skip down the page to the Verify a URL Prefix Property section.
Verify a domain property
Alright, to verify a domain property, take your domain and remove the prefix (for example, “https://akaridigital.ca” becomes “akaridigital.ca”), put it in the box, and press continue.
From there, Google provides instructions on how to verify via DNS verification. Once you’ve done that, the hardest part is over! Then come here and skip down the page to Essentials to Set Up in Google Search Console for some final pieces.
Verify a URL prefix
Put your default URL in the property field
For this method, instead of typing your website URL from memory, I recommend visiting your website and copy-pasting the default URL directly from the URL bar into the field.
Why? When you have a website, you actually have 3-4 identical websites. For example:
One of these will be your default that all the others redirect to, but you want your Google Search Console set up to the default version.
So, visit your website homepage, click into the URL bar, highlight all of it, and copy that. Then paste that directly into Google Search Console.
Verifying your domain
It’ll offer you a few different ways to verify, and each one has links to provide additional instructions.
If you have Google Analytics or Tag Manager set up (and associated with the same Google account you’re logged in as), those tend to be the quickest and easiest ways to verify.
If you don’t, or if those don’t work, then I recommend the HTML tag method. Depending on the CMS you’re using (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, etc.), how you paste the HTML tag is different, but if there are some support documents that can help:
- HTML tag verification for Squarespace sites
- HTML tag verification for Wix sites
- For WordPress sites, you can do this through most SEO Plugins. I recommend RankMath (the free version is enough for most small businesses).
Once you do that, go back to your Search Console and click “Verify”. It should send you a message that it’s connected and then celebrate! Because the hardest part is over.
Essentials to Set Up in Google Search Console
Submit Your Sitemap
Your sitemap is a ‘map’ of your website that tells Google exactly what pages you have. Think of it like this: if you wander through a new city with no map, you’ll likely still come across restaurants, coffee shops, and attractions. You may still have a great time exploring! But if you had a map, you’d be able to find the exact types of places you were looking for, and a lot quicker.
Your sitemap is that for Google. It tells Google which pages you have and where they are on your site. Now, the most popular CMS’ will automatically generate a sitemap for you which is great. But if you don’t submit it to Google, it’s like you’re putting your city maps on a table near the entrance to your city. It’s there, ready, and waiting for people and they may see it and pick it up, but they may also miss it!
So what you want to do is send your sitemap directly to Google by submitting it through Google Search Console. And guess what — it is really quick and easy!
Find the link to your sitemap
Like I said above, most CMS’ automatically generate a sitemap. For the popular CMS’, here is where to start:
- How to find your sitemap for Squarespace sites
- How to find your sitemap for Wix sites
- For WordPress, your sitemap is generated through your SEO Plugin. If you used RankMath as I suggested above, navigate to your plugin in your dashboard, go to “sitemap settings” and your sitemap link should be highlighted in blue at the top.
Submit your sitemap
Once you have the link to your sitemap, copy it, and head back to Google Search Console. Navigate to “Sitemaps” in the sidebar, and then paste your sitemap under “Add a new sitemap”. Press “Submit” and you’re DONE!
Essential setup complete! What Now?
If you are someone who is just setting it up so that it’s there when you need it down the road, you’re done! 🥂
You can confidently say that you are tracking your Google search performance and rest easy that when you need it, it’s waiting here for you. If you’re on a roll, maybe you want to set up your Google Analytics or optimize your Google My Business profiles next.
If you want to learn how to dig deeper into your Google Search Console data, keep on reading and I’ll walk you through it!
How small business owners can get the most out of Search Console
So now you set this thing up, what should you be doing with it? Well, most of this is useful for your web developer or SEO specialist (if you have them). But if you don’t, there are still some things that you can check without that expertise!
What queries (keywords) are you ranking for?
In the sidebar, click “performance”. You can toggle the dates up at the top if you’d like, but it’ll default to list the “queries”.
In this report, you can extract a lot of information, but I want you to look for one thing: are you getting traffic to your site from non-branded keywords. What that means is, are you getting clicks for any keywords that don’t have your brand name (or your staff/founder’s names) in them.
Yes? Great! That means you’re doing something right for your SEO. When I work with clients in this position, I look at whether the keywords you’re ranking for are driving ‘relevant’ traffic (read — people who are actually in a place to buy from you), how we can improve that content so that you rank higher and get more clicks, and then what other keywords can you create content for that will bring more people to your site.
No? That’s okay! Have a look at the keywords you may have impressions for, but no clicks. Is there one there that you think would be really great for you to be ranking higher for? Write a blog post or create a services page for it, and see if your impressions and clicks improve over the coming 3-6 months!
Related: Wondering how you can use a blog to rank for more keywords? Well, you’re in luck. We wrote a whole post on building a results-driven blog for your business.
Which pages on your site are showing up in Google?
Stay on the “Performance” section, but toggle to the “Pages” tab. Now you’re seeing a report that shows you how many impressions and clicks each page (or post) on your site gets.
The main thing I want you to look for on this report is to see if your product or services pages have clicks. Don’t get me wrong, getting people on your homepage is great, but your services pages are the ones that are set up to convert your visitors into buyers.
Yes? Amazing! You’re probably in a pretty good place as far as “SEO basics” go and you’re probably getting a fair amount of organic traffic that’s converting on your site. Maybe it’s enough for where your business is right now. But if it’s not, you’re probably needing an SEO specialist to look into your specific business and industry. If you have questions about finding the right consultant for you, check out our post on How to Find an SEO Consultant You Can Trust.
No? You’re in a great place to start! Have you put all your services on separate pages? Start there. Bonus points if you do some research into how to optimize a sales page for SEO and incorporate it into your pages (Here’s a great summary from SEMRush). If your industry isn’t that competitive, that might be enough! If not, consider hiring a specialist. Not sure if you’re ready for this? Check out our post on When to DIY and When to Hire an SEO Specialist.
You’re off to the search-ranking races!
Congrats again on taking the first step of setting up Google Search Console for your business. Whenever you dig into your SEO strategy, that data will be incredibly valuable. Would you like to receive more content like this right to your inbox? We’re constantly creating and updating our content, so sign up for our email list, and we’ll send you our newest marketing insights and tips directly.