How to Use Google Webmaster Tools

You’ve read all the SEO articles on this site. You’ve tested the waters by improving your content and producing articles readers will find interesting. However, there are still some things you can do to tweak your site and improve it even more. The better your site, the more people will want to return to it again and again.

Google describes the tools as having the ability to:

Get the data, tools, and diagnostics for a healthy, Google-friendly site. Check your site’s health for potential issues that Google has detected.

Powerhouse for Your Site

Google Webmaster Tool

You may not realize what a powerhouse Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) can be for your site. Not only can you make sure your site is Google-friendly, but you can check search engine traffic and know where your site visitors are coming from and other details that can help you target advertising campaigns directly to your most interested customers.

The biggest advantage is that you can analyze your site the same way that Google analyzes your site. Signing up is simple. Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools, sign up for an account or login with your current account and add your site. Other advantages include:

  • Free tool
  • Easily find site errors
  • Discover backlinks you may not know are there
  • Quicker sitemap indexing
  • Learn site’s load time
  • Find crawl errors
  • See if there are missing meta tag descriptions
  • Notifications if site is compromised

Initial Set-Up for a Site

Once you are logged in to webmaster tools, you will see a red box that says “Add a Site”. Click on this button and add the website you’d like to track. You will receive a file to download. Download the file, do not change the name of the file in any way, and upload to the main folder of your website.

Once the file is uploaded on your site, go back to GWT. The website should appear with the words “verify this site” next to it. Click on “verify this site”.

If the verification is successful, you will see a message that congratulates you and says that verification was successful. Do not remove the file from your site.

Using the Tools

You are now ready to use the tools to enhance your site and improve your SEO. Each tool has a different purpose and ability to help you improve your website.

Queries

On the left side of the page, under Traffic, you can choose “Search Queries”. This information can help you identify which keywords are effective for you and which pages are receiving the most traffic from those queries. You can see if a keyword is being recognized by Google for your site or if you need to make additional tweaks. The tool only identifies SERPs and not necessarily traffic, but it helpful in determining how to improve your site’s rank with Google for those search terms. You can also filter by which of your pages rank highest in the search engines and can see how many impressions the page receives versus the click-through rate (how many actually click on the link and come to your site).

Click-Through Rate

When you look at the “Clicks” or click-through rate, compare it to how many impressions you are getting. If your rate seems low compared to the number of views (under 40% is a good rule of thumb), it is time to improve your meta description. Your description should convince the browser that your page is the exact place she wants to be to learn about that search term. If you still feel a bit uncertain about how to best improve your description, go to Google.com and punch in the keyword term you are tracking. Look at the descriptions for the top three or four sites that pull up in the search.

What information are they providing that you are not? Is there a call to action in the description? Does the description entice the reader in another way to come and visit that page? Armed with this information, you can rewrite your description to make it have a better impact.

Crawl Errors

Improve your site’s overall health by finding out what crawl errors exist and fixing them. Do any of the searches link to a 404 page or another page that is inefficient? Look under “Health” and then “Crawl Errors” and you’ll get a report of these pages. If you want to see your site exactly the way Google sees your site, click on the “Fetch as Google” choice. This can help you identify content that Google can’t return correctly, such as rich media files. If Google can’t return the content without error, then Google can’t crawl that content either.

The “Fetch” tool is also helpful if your site was hacked. You can identify content that has been inserted without your knowledge and remove it. If you suspect your site might have malware, click on the link titled “Malware” and Google will try to detect if there is any on your site.

Disavow Backlinks

The feature in Google Webmaster Tools that allows you to disavow low quality backlinks is one that Google identifies as an advanced tool. “This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”

However, now that Google is looking at backlinks as part of the overall algorithm package, you may want to seek out what sites are backlinking to your pages and if any might be harming your overall ranking. Although it makes sense to only disavow those sites that are extremely poor (spammy, ads only, malicious or adult content), it is also important to know what sites link to yours and to recheck that information regularly.

Removing the backlinks is a two-part process. The first part is finding out who links to you. Under “Traffic”, click on “Links to Your Site”. Under “Who Links the Most”, choose “More”. Now, download the links. You can search this file and check out the sites linking to you to identify if any are the weakest link (pun intended).

Once you identify the sites you would like to remove, you may want to contact the site owner first as a courtesy. If there is no way to contact the site owner or they refuse to remove the link to your site, then you do the following:

Create a .txt file containing info on the domains you want to remove. The text in the file should look something like this:

domain: badlinkexample.com

You should stick to one domain per line. Once you’ve completed your file, upload it to disavow links tool.

Sitemaps

Once you’ve cleaned up your site, you may want to begin optimizing it. While there are several different tools under “Optimization”, one exciting one is the sitemaps feature. Google recommends creating your sitemap in Sitemap protocol. This is a protocol used by members who belong to SiteMaps.org.

Although you can create the sitemap manually by coding it, this is confusing and time consuming for many. Fortunately, there are several third-party tools that are easy to use and will help you create a sitemap that Google will love.

Google requires that the sitemap be 50,000 URLs or less and the file be 50 MB or less.

Once your sitemap is created, return to Optimization/Sitemaps and click on the red button that says “Add/Test Sitemap”. Upload your file.

Other Resources on GWT

The features listed above are some of my personal favorites for improving your website and your website’s content. However, there are other tools that are available on GWT that you might find useful.

Some of the other things you can do:

  • Change your website’s address when you move to a new domain.
  • Study your internal links (this feature is under “Traffic”) to be sure you aren’t being obnoxious with the internal linking and that your links make sense as far as what the keywords are linking to.
  • HTML Improvements will evaluate your site and see what problems Google encountered while crawling it. This can help you further improve the health of your site.
  • Data Highlighter helps you indicate to Google that you have content that is a review or otherwise unusually in its markup.
  • Author Stats is a feature that GWT offered, took way, and recently reintroduced. This tool helps you see your own ranking as an author It will show you sites where you’re the verified author of that content, click through rates, and number of impressions verses click-through.
  • Under “Other Resources”, you’ll find features like Google Places, where you can list a business location, and the Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure Google is reading your markup correctly.

As you can see, Google Webmaster Tools has enough data and tools to keep you busy tweaking your website. If you use just a few of the tools to make sure your site is a strong contender for certain keywords, then the tools will benefit you. Since GWT is completely free to use, what do you have to lose by trying it out?