An Overview of Using Google Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is a platform developed by Google that provides you with free access to valuable data that you can use to evaluate your site’s performance and manage its organic search channel. However, to get the most benefit from Google Webmaster Tools, you need to know how to use them effectively. Use this guide to get a strong start with Google Webmaster Tools.

Registration and Set Up

Before you can use Google Webmaster Tools for your website, you must first prove that you are the site’s owner by completing a verification process. You must also have an active Google account. You will use this account to log into Webmaster Tools after you register.

To get started, navigate to the Webmaster Tools home page and click “Add a Site.” Follow the onscreen instructions to add all portions of all of your sites individually, including the domains, subdomains, top level domains and extensions. Next, verify each site by clicking the “verify” button and choosing a verification method. Keep in mind that simply adding sites won’t give you any access to data. In order to benefit from Webmaster Tools, you must verify the sites you add.

Working with the Dashboard

After you have registered for an account and verified all of your sites, your Webmaster Tools’ homepage will include a dashboard that you can use to manage all of your data. On your dashboard, you will find important messages, as well as sitemap, traffic and crawl data.

The messages on your dashboard are particularly important. For example, if Google finds that your website is violating Webmaster guidelines, has been hacked, has too many redirects or contains malware, you will receive a warning in this section. If you receive a warning that you weren’t expecting, investigate the problem and resolve it.

One of the most useful features on your dashboard is the Search Queries report. This report includes information about clicks, impressions, rankings and organic queries over the most recent 30-day period. Google offers a snapshot of the report, as well as a more detailed version.

You may also find “crawl errors” on your dashboard, which are errors that occur when Google’s bots try to crawl your site. Google currently reports three different types of site errors and five types of URL errors. A few crawl errors are rarely problematic. However, if you see a sudden increase in the number of errors, you should try to find the cause.

Finally, if you have submitted any XML sitemaps, your dashboard will typically include some basic statistics about them, such as the number of URLs submitted, the number of indexed pages and the number of errors on each URL.

Configuration Tools Menu

The “Configuration” menu allows you to control basic site management settings. For example, the “Change of Address” page provides helpful information about moving your site from one domain to another. On the “URL Parameters” page, you will find an interface you can use to determine which parameters search engines can view. On the “Sitelinks” page, you can request that certain sitelinks appearing under your primary search result be removed, and the “Settings” page allows users to set the site’s crawl rate, preferred domain and geographic target.

You can also use the “Configuration” menu to control user privileges. On the “Users” page, you can add new users to the account, and you can designate how much access each user has to the account’s tools. In addition, you can add “associates” who are allowed to access other Google properties from the dashboard, such as YouTube.

Traffic Tools Menu

On the “Traffic” menu, you will find some of the most valuable information available from Webmaster Tools, including data about +1 activity, internal and external linkings, rankings, visits and impressions.

The linking reports you receive from Google Webmaster Tools are one of the largest sources of free linking information available on the web. For each verified site, Google will find as many as 1,000 rows of data.

In the “Links to Your Site” report, you will find a list of up to 1,000 domains that have links to your site. The “How Your Data is Linked” reports shows which anchor text is most frequently used when creating links to your site, and the “Your Most Linked Content” report tells you which pages on the site have attracted the highest number of links.

The “Internal Links” tells you which pages receive internal links most frequently. This is valuable information to have because search engines use your internal links to determine which pages on your site are most important. For example, if you find that too many internal links are sent to pages that aren’t high priority, you may need to make some changes.

On the “+1 Reports” page, you will find information about Google Plus activity. If you don’t market actively on Google Plus, this page may not display much information. However, if you are active on this platform, you can find information about +1s, shares and more.

Optimization Tools Menu

The “Optimization” menu includes reports and tools you can use to optimize your websites. For example, you can use the “Remove URLs” tool to remove sensitive content from Google’s index.

The “Content Keywords” report provides information about keyword usage on your site. The “HTML Improvements” page suggests basic updates that you need to make to the site’s meta descriptions and title tags. Finally, on the “Other Resources” page, you will find links to other tools you may be able to use for your site, such as the Google Merchant Center or Rich Snippet Testing Tool.

Health Tools Menu

The “Health” menu includes information about crawl statistics, crawl errors and malware reports. Crawl error and malware reports are also available on the dashboard. The “Crawl Stats” page offers information about the amount of data downloaded each day, the number of pages crawled and the amount of time spend downloading these pages.

On the “Blocked URLs” page, you will find information about your site’s robots.txt file, including the pages it forbids crawlers to access. Pay careful attention to how many pages the file is blocking. If a sudden increase or decrease occurs, investigate it. You can also use this tool to test and edit your robots.txt file before it goes live.

The “Index Status” page provides indexation data covering the past year. Data displayed on this page includes the number of pages crawled, the total number of indexed pages, the number of pages blocked by the robots.txt file and the number of pages that are not indexed or that redirect to another site.

This menu also includes the “Fetch as Googlebot” tool, which you can use to test pages on your site. Simply paste your URL into the form, and Googlebot will crawl the page and display relevant information. Using this tool, you can determine what crawlers can index, as well as whether the site is treating search engines and users differently. You can also use this tool to request indexation of individual pages or to trigger an updated crawl.

Tips and Tricks for Using Webmaster Tools

When using Google Webmaster Tools, keep in mind that much of the data you see is temporary. In fact, most data displayed applies only to the most recent 30-day period. Some charts may allow you to change this range, but most tools won’t record more than 35 days’ worth of information. Thus, you cannot typically use Google Webmaster Tools to compare data year to year or even month to month unless you save the information yourself. For this reason, many webmasters choose to record information to a hard drive on a regular basis and refer to it later.

Many of the charts provided by Google Webmaster Tools feature a “Download” button that you can use to download the information and save it. If a “Download” button isn’t available, take screenshot of the chart to use for comparison purposes.

Google designed its Webmaster Tools to behave much like a standard website. Blue words generally indicate that more detail is available. To access it, simply click the link. Likewise, you can mouse over charts to view individual data points.

Google Webmaster Tools has a lot to offer if you know how to use it effectively. The more time you spend using these tools, the better you will be at interpreting the data they provide and putting it to use on your websites. To get started with Google Webmaster Tools, visit the homepage. To learn more about using Google Webmaster Tools, visit Google’s Webmaster Tools support page.

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Craig Bailey

Craig is the Founder and Technical Director at XEN Systems. He’s been involved in IT, web development and digital marketing for more than 25 years.

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