The Complete Guide to Google Webmaster Tools
In the Comprehensive Guide to Bing Marketing, we looked at Bing’s tools for webmasters. Now, we’re going to look at the search engine marketers focus their efforts towards the most: Google. Specifically, we’re going to look at why you need to be using Google Webmaster Tools to monitor the health of your website in Google search and to learn more about your search engine optimization efforts.
Setting Up Your Website on Google Webmaster Tools
If you haven’t already, you will want to set your website up on Google Webmaster Tools. Using the Google account you already have for your main Google+ profile and Google Analytics, sign in to Google Webmaster Tools. Then click the red Add a Site button to enter your website’s URL.
Next, you will need to verify ownership. You can do this the old fashioned way by adding a HTML verification file to your web server, or you can try one of the alternative methods which include adding an HTML tag to your homepage, signing in with your domain name provider, using your Google Analytics account, or using your Google Tag Manager account.
Once you’ve verified your site ownership, you’re all set to start exploring the rest of Google Webmaster Tools. Note that most areas will not have data available for at least a couple of days after you add a new website.
When you click on your website in Google Webmaster Tools, you’ll start at the Site Dashboard.
Here, you’ll be able to quickly see if your website has any messages, crawl errors, site errors, search query impressions vs. clicks, and your the number of URLs indexed via your sitemap. You can click through to any of these areas if you see a cause for concern, or continue browsing through Google Webmaseter Tools.
Next on the menu are your site messages.
This is where you’ll find any alerts from Google Webmaster Tools about your site. These can include malware warnings, unnatural link warnings, and other warnings about your website’s health in search.
If you are managing multiple websites, you can go to your messages list to see any messages for all of your websites at once.
It might be useful to bookmark this and check in periodically to make sure everything is running as it should be.
Under the Search Appearance menu, you will find options that will affect how your website appears in organic search results. If you click on the info icon next to the menu, you’ll get to learn about elements such as the title tag, snippet, sitelinks, search within a site, rich snippets, and authorship.
In the Structured Data section, you’ll see a summary of the schema markup you use for your website, and whether there are any errors.
If you click on specific errors, you will get the specific pages they are on and additional details about what is missing.
You can click on the particular error type to get a summary of what it is and a link to learn more about how to fix it.
In the Data Highlighter section, you’ll get access to a tool that will let you easily tag your website’s pages and improve the way they look in search. Here’s an introduction to this useful tool that will help Google understand your data.
In the HTML improvements section, you’ll find any errors that might affect your on-site search optimization. These can include missing title tags, duplicate title tags, issues with your meta description, and much more.
If you click through to the ones that are linked, you’ll find a listing of the specific pages the errors happen upon, plus a description of the error and how to fix it.
You can also export these lists to CSV or Google Docs so that someone can work on fixing the errors in a spreadsheet format, which can then be handed off to your webmaster.
in the Sitelinks section, you’ll be able to tell Google which pages you do not want to show up in search results as sitelinks. Sitelinks are the links to internal pages beneath your website in search results.
This can be especially useful if you find that there are specific pages you don’t want to be “highlighted” in search results.
Under the Search Traffic menu, you’ll find information about search queries that lead people to your website and your link profile.
Probably the most popular portion of Google Webmaster Tools is the Search Queries section. Here, you will see the top queries that lead people to your website along with number of impressions, clicks, click through rates, and average position in search for those terms.
If you click on a keyword, you’ll be shown which pages rank for that keyword, along with details about those pages.
You can also click on the Top Pages tab to see the pages that get the most impressions and clicks in Google search. You can click on the pages to see the keywords associated with them as well.
This section is particularly useful since Google Analytics adopted their (not provided) keyword for privacy (and paying customers). You still don’t get to link your keyword searches to conversions like you would be able to in Google Analytics, but at least you get a better view of your keywords. You can also pull this data into your Google Analytics by linking the two accounts together.
In the Links to Your Site section, you’ll find the domains that link to your website the most, the most linked content on your website, and the keywords people use to link to your website.
You can export this data in CSV or Google Docs format and import the links into your favorite SEO software for further analysis. If you’ve gotten an unnatural links warning, you could analyze your list of links to find out which ones are the lowest quality and thus, need to be removed.
In the Internal Links section, you’ll see which of your pages you have linked to the most within your website.
You can click on each of these pages to find out which pages link to it.
In the Manual Actions section, you’ll find any webspam notices from Google. You will also have received a site message if you received a manual action. You can learn more about the types of manual actions and what to do about them here.
Under the Google Index menu, you’ll find out a little more about the URLs from your website indexed by Google. In the Index Status section, you’ll see a graph of how many pages are indexed in Google search.
This is a good section to check periodically as a loss of indexed pages in Google can indicate a problem with your website’s robots.txt and potential penalties.
In the Content Keywords section, you’ll see the top keywords you use in your website’s content.
It’s not entirely the best list as it only has single keyword phrases. But you can click on each keyword to find the top URLs using it.
In the Remove URLs section, you can request that Google not index particular URLs. Maybe these are private downloads or members-only content that somehow got indexed. If you see any URL in Google search results that you don’t want there, use this section to fix it.
Under the Crawl menu, you’ll find all of the things that Google sees when it crawls your website. First, in the Crawl Errors section, you’ll see any server, access denied, 404, or other errors that bots have encountered while indexing your site for desktop and mobile users.
Beneath each error type, you’ll see the URL that caused it and when it was last detected as an error. As you fix them,you can mark them as fixed.
In the Crawl Stats section, you’ll see Googlebot activity on your website over the last 90 days.
In the Fetch as Google section, you’ll be able to see what the Googlebot sees for specific URLs on your website, and submit them to the Google Index if they are not already indexed.
In the Blocked URLs section, you can find out if your robots.txt file is appropriately blocking URLs it was specified to block from search. You can also test specific commands in your robots.txt file to see if they will block or unblock specific URLs. Note that any changes you make to the test version of the robots.txt will not actually be applied to your live robots.txt file.
In the Sitemaps section, you can submit XML sitemaps for your website to help ensure that your content is indexed appropriately. You can also check to see how many URLs you have submitted and how many are actually indexed as well as see if there are any errors with your site map.
In the URL Parameters section, you can configure the way Google handles specific parameters in your URLs. For most sites, this is not necessary to configure, and Google even warns you that incorrectly excluding URL parameters could result in pages from your website disappearing from search. You can learn more about them and whether you need to configure this section here.
Security Issues is a section that details any problems your website may have in regards to being infected with malware or being hacked. You will also receive a site message if an issue arises. This is the section you would go to if your site is flagged as affected to request Google review it again once you have fixed the problem.
Other Resources is a section linking you to other valuable tools for your website. These include the following.
- Structured Data Testing Tool – Use the Structured Data Testing Tool to check that Google can correctly parse your structured data markup and display it in search results.
- Structured Data Markup Helper – Not sure how to start with adding structured data markup to your HTML? Try this point-and-click tool.
- Email Markup Tester – Validate the structured data contents of an HTML email using Email Markup Tester.
- Google Places – 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. Be there when they’re looking for you with Google Places for business – a free local platform from Google.
- Google Merchant Center – The place to upload your product data to Google and make it available to Google Product Search and other Google services.
- PageSpeed Insights – Use PageSpeed Insights to find out how to make your web pages fast on all devices.
- Custom Search – Harness the power of Google to create a customized search experience for your own website.
Under the Labs menu, you will find any tools that Google is currently testing for webmasters. One that has been available for a long time is Author Stats. If you are using Google Webmaster Tools with the same account you have your Google+ profile on and are claiming authorship for your content, you can find out how that content is performing in search in terms of impressions, clicks, CTR, and average position in search.
Since you can’t normally get analytics on content you contribute to other websites, this can be an insight into how your offsite content performs in search. This can help you determine what topics are ranking best, and which sites are generating the most search traffic so you can contribute to them again.
As you can see, Google Webmaster Tools is essential for website owners, marketers, and even online content creators. So if you aren’t using it, be sure to start today!