Use Google Search Console to Optimize Your WordPress Site
Website optimization can be an overwhelming task. There are many ways to approach it, and what seems like a never-ending list of items you need to attend to. Knowing what to tackle first is not always clear.
Fortunately, Google Search Console (GSC) can offer insight into what your optimization priorities should be. This free tool can help you monitor how your website appears in search engine results, and pinpoint areas for potential improvement.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to get set up with the search console, and turn your GSC insights into tangible optimization strategies. Let’s get started!
Verify Your WordPress Site on Search Console
Getting your WordPress website set up through the GSC is straightforward, but it does require verifying ownership of your website. This process helps to keep your valuable data safe.
To get started, log in to GSC. In the upper left-hand corner, click on Search Property to access the Add Property option:
Now you can choose whether you’d like to track a new domain or a URL prefix:
For this example, we’re going to select Domain. You will need to paste in the URL of your website exactly as it appears in the browser, and select Continue.
Step 2: Verify Your Site
Once you add your property, you’ll be given the information needed to verify your website through the Domain Name Server (DNS) settings:
This process will vary depending on your hosting provider and setup. However, you can often do this by logging into your cPanel, and navigating to Domains > Advanced DNS Zone Editor. There, you’ll Add a Record:
You’ll need to change the Type to “Text”, and paste in the text record provided when you created your property in GSC. Once you enter this information, you can return to GSC and hit the Verify button.
You can also manage the verification process with a plugin like Yoast SEO. This can be helpful if you’re not comfortable adding code to your site or accessing your control panel.
Step 3: View Your Site in GSC
Now, you’ll be able to view your newly-created property in GSC. There will be many options for reviewing data in the Overview section:
Keep in mind that it sometimes takes 24 hours for DNS changes to resolve. If there’s no data available for your new property, you might have to check back later.
Employ Structured Data
Another important consideration when optimizing your website is using structured data. The GSC offers several tools related to structured data, which can help Google better understand your pages. Let’s take a look at how to use these features.
Step 1: Determine Which Schema Your Site Needs
Before you start adding structured data to your site, it’s best to determine which schema will suit your needs best. You can use the most current schema vocabulary list to narrow this down.
You’ll often be able to start with a broad category. If you have a website about cooking, you could focus in on the Recipe schema, for example:
Above, you can see that this schema lives nested within the other categories of Thing > Creative Work > How-To > Recipe.
Step 2: Employ Schema Manually or With a Plugin
Once you know which schema you want to use, you can add it to your website manually or using a plugin.
Manually Adding Schema
Google has a Structured Data Markup Helper tool that can assist you in marking up a web page and creating an HTML document with the proper schema. First, you can visit the tool’s website and select what kind of content you’ll be using:
On the next screen, you can highlight any part of the text or images, in order to categorize and assign a schema to them:
You can also add tags that are not listed, using the Add missing tags button. When you’re done tagging your content, you can use the Create HTML button to produce markup text for use on your website:
You can copy and paste this code just below the <HEAD> section of your page’s HTML file. This will help Google create richer information in search results for your website.
Using a Plugin to Add Schema
Alternatively, you can use a WordPress plugin to add schema markup to your website, such as Schema & Structured Data for WP & AMP:
This free plugin supports 33 data types, and has a very user-friendly interface. After installing and activating it, you can access its functionality from your WordPress dashboard and add as many tags as you need to create rich snippets for search engines.
Step 3: Check for Errors Using the Structured Data Tool
Once you’ve tagged your content or added schema with a plugin, you’ll want to test your structured data for any errors. You can do this easily with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool:
Simply enter the URL of the page you want to check, or paste in the code snippet you’ve created with the markup helper, and select Run Test. This will highlight any schema you need to review or edit.
Improve Linking Structure
Internal, external, and third-party links all help Google understand your site. The more quality links you have, the more you can boost your rankings in search results.
Step 1: Run an Internal Link Report
Linking internally helps give Google more context for your site’s content. To run an internal link report, navigate to the Links menu in GSC.
Find your internal link list, and click on More to view your internal links separately. You can download a CSV or Google Sheets file as well:
This will give you a clear picture of your internal linking structures, and where you might be missing opportunities.
Step 2: Run an External Link Report
From the main Links page, you can also view and download your external links report. There’s an Export External Links button on the Links page:
Combining this information with the “Top linking sites” list can give you a fuller picture of the factors influencing your site’s performance in Google’s search results.
Step 3: Employ Changes Based on These Reports
One of the ways you can use these reports is by reaching out to sites that link to you often. Then, you can offer suggestions for other content they might be interested in linking to.
You can also click on any of the items listed on the Links page and get more information about them. Taking a closer look at what text is being used to create these links can guide your future content choices.
Index Your Site’s Pages
When Google explores your website’s pages, it creates an index that contributes to your rankings. Whether that contribution is positive or negative depends on the status of the page and what happens when Google looks at it.
Step 1: Download a Coverage Report from GSC
If you navigate to the Coverage menu in GSC, you’ll see data pertaining to all the pages that have been indexed by Google:
You can also click on the Excluded tab to see which pages are not being indexed and why:
If you have a growing site, you may want to download this information on the Coverage page. That enables you to review it in further detail to spot possible site improvements.
Step 2: Submit All Unindexed Pages
Once you’ve reviewed the reasons pages were excluded from indexing, you can click on any of the reason categories and view a breakdown of each URL that was crawled but excluded:
You can then use the URL Inspection Tool to review each issue further, and select Request Indexing to ask Google to re-crawl your page:
It can sometimes take a few minutes for this process to complete.
Step 3: Wait for Confirmation
Your request will now be processed, but indexing will not take place right away. You should wait to receive confirmation that your request was received:
While you can request indexing again, it will not speed things up.
Index Your XML Sitemaps
Sitemaps provide valuable data about your website’s structure and content to Google. You can create sitemaps using third-party tools, and submit them for indexing.
Using the Sitemap menu option in GSC, you can view information about your existing sitemaps or create a new one:
It is recommended that very large sitemaps be broken into several files to be submitted separately.
Next you’ll need to visit your sitemap online and copy its URL. After that, you can return to your GSC Sitemap page and paste the URL into the submission form:
There are a number of other ways to make your sitemap visible to Google, but this is one of the most effective options.
Keep Your Site in Top Shape With WP Engine
Making sure that Google search results do your website justice can seem overwhelming. However, following a few best practices can drive more organic traffic your way in no time.
Here at WP Engine, we want users and developers to have access to the best resources, so you can build incredible digital experiences for your customers. We also offer a wide variety of hosting plans and WordPress solutions for all your hosting needs!