If you’re working on improving your site’s SEO, then you’re likely already using Google Search Console in some capacity. If you aren’t familiar with the platform, then you’ll likely be creating an account by the end of the next few paragraphs.
Google Search Console is a free, web-based tool, owned and operated by Google, that allows you to track and troubleshoot your site’s presence among Google search results.
Not sure if it’s applicable to someone in your role? According to Google, those who should be familiar with and using Search Console include business owners, marketers, site administrators, web developers, and SEO specialists.
Even if your title wasn’t included in the list, if your success is in any way tied to a website’s performance, then it will pay to know how to use Google Search Console.
In a quick list, Google Search Console offers users the ability to:
There are a variety of components to learn and master on Search Console. Today, we’ll be focusing on just one aspect: the index coverage report.
In short, the coverage report shows you how well your website is indexed by Google.
Quick refresh: For a page to be indexed by Google, this means that Google includes the page in its vast (and I mean VAST) library of pages that it draws from to create the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), customized for each unique query that a user types into the search bar.
It is the last step in the process of a Google bot interacting with a we bpage: first is discovering (finding the URL’s existence), next is crawling (analyzing the page to understand its contents and judge its quality), and last is indexing (Google categorizing and storing the page in its library, based on its analysis)
It’s important that the web pages you want users from organic traffic to find are indexed; otherwise, there’s no way for those new users to get to those pages directly from Google. And let’s face it: that’s how most people get to web pages.
The index coverage report will give you a high-level overview of how much of your website is indexed, how much isn’t, and if there are glaring indexing problems on your site.
When you run a coverage report on your site, the pages will be split up into 4 different categories: Error, Warning, Excluded and Valid.
Let’s dig into what each of these categorizations mean.
Valid: Pages that are indexed and deemed to be in good health will fall into the Valid category. As your site launches and grows, the number of indexed pages should increase over time.
With the high volume of web pages that are created every day (more like every second of every day), it can take a beat for Google to crawl and index a new page on your site.
If you want Google to crawl your page a little faster, you can submit its URL for indexing. Using the URL inspect tool on Google Search Console, enter the page URL and click the Request Index button.
If you have a lot of pages to submit, it may save time to submit a sitemap.
Error: An Error page is not indexed due to an error. You can click into this area to see the specific errors. Your priority should be fixing the issues that are revealed by this area. We’ll get into detail on what these errors may be and how to fix them later.
An important thing to note is that Google Search Console cannot solve the page’s problem for you, it can only find them and alert you to them, as well as allow you to resubmit the page once its problem is fixed. Resubmitting a web page for crawling is a similar process to submitting a new one, you can use the URL inspect tool on Google Search Console.
Warning: Pages in this category are indexed, but there is an issue present. Addressing these issues are important, of course, but not as critical as the issues in the Error category.
Excluded: Excluded pages are not indexed, and typically it is appropriate that these pages do not be included in Search results.
You may be wondering why in the world you wouldn’t want a web page to be indexed by Google, but here are a few different perfectly justified reasons:
If you have pages with duplicate content on your site, you’ll want to set the URL of the page you’d like to appear in Search results as the canonical URL. Then, you can add canonical tags to the rest of the pages with duplicate content to direct Google to display the principal URL on the SERP.
If a page should not be indexed for a reason other than duplicate content, you can prevent Google from displaying it on the SERP by adding a noindex tag to it.
There are 10 types of issues that will cause your page to fall into the Error category on the coverage report. Let’s go through each type
URLs submitted through a sitemap but have a noindex directive either in their HTML source or HTTP header will return this error.
If you do want the page to be included in the index, then you need to remove the noindex tag.
If you do not want the page included in Google’s index, then remove this page from the XML sitemap to clear the error.
If a URL is submitted through a sitemap, but Google blocked the robots.txt file, the URL will return this error.
The robots.txt file is meant to provide directions to search engine bots on your website. It can direct search engine bots away from certain pages.
To fix this error, you’ll need to update your robots.txt file to allow Google to crawl the page. IF you don’t want the page crawled by Google, then you should instead remove it from your XML sitemap.
This happens when Google finds a problem with the page’s redirect.
It may be that the redirect leads to a URL that is too long, a redirect loop (the page redirects to another page that redirects back to the original page), or the redirect chain contains too many URLs (Google follows 5 redirects per attempt.)
If Google finds a submitted URL to be under restrictive access and cannot get on to crawl the page, the URL will be assigned this error.
One reason that Google may be restricted is the URL is still in a staging environment, hidden by HTTP Authentication.
If you want Google to be able to access these URLs, then you must grant Google access. If you want Google to continue to be restricted from them, then simply remove the URLs from your sitemap.
This error is virtually the same as the 401 error above, except the 401 status expects login credentials to be entered.
403 errors require the same investigation and solutions as 401 errors.
You’ll get this error when you submit a URL through an XML sitemap, but the URL doesn’t exist.
If you want this URL to be indexed, you’ll need to restore its contents or 301 redirect to the best alternative page.
If you don’t want the URL indexed, remove it from your sitemap.
Google assigns these errors when a page does not have a 404 status code, but still gives the impression the page is a 404.
This may be due to the contents of the page, or the page has a status code 200, but displays a 404 page.
If the page really is a 404, make sure that the status code reflects this. However, if the page is not a 404, you’ll need to update the page’s contents to clearly communicate this.
URLs in this category return an error in the 400s other than 401, 403, or 404.
500-level errors occur because the server cannot complete the valid request that’s been made. This means that the server may be too busy, down, etc. Google takes this as a sign to assign less crawl budget to the page, demote the page on the SERP, or remove it from the index.
Upon submission and crawling, these URLs gave Google issues that don’t fit into one of the typical categories, making this error a miscellaneous bucket of issues.
It may sound like this category can get murky to fix quickly, but the good news is that often these extraneous issues are temporary, and Google will place the URL into more typical categories upon re-checking them.
Once you’ve identified what the URL’s error is in Google Search Console, it will most likely require some investigation to identify the best solution.
To conduct your investigation, use Google Search Console’s URL Inspection Tool.
By running a URL through this tool, you’ll be able to obtain information on the page’s presence (whether or not it’s on Google), coverage (details about how Google was able to crawl and index the page) and enhancements (whether the page has mobile usability issues, or if its Schema markup is valid).
In addition to this information, you can also “view the crawled page” to see the HTML response and other technical details, “test live URL,” which can be helpful to test changes and see if fixes were effective, and “request indexing,” which will prompt Google to re-crawl and re-index the URL.
Most errors in Google Search Console require various tweaks, but they all start with an investigation to find out what the problem actually is.
Once you’ve identified the root cause of the error, you usually have two options:
The Index Coverage Report is a powerful tool to demystify how Google has been able to interact with the different URLs on your website. It helps explain why some URLs may be sitting pretty on the SERP, while others are nowhere to be found.
This report empowers you to take control of what Google does and doesn’t index on your site. This is one of the most basic and crucial parts to the overall SEO health of your website.
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