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Are you looking for better search engine rankings?
Of course, you can spend your way to success on Google. But that comes with some serious downsides, namely, it’s expensive and the traffic evaporates as soon as you stop spending. Instead, if you’re low on funds, focus your efforts on organic search engine traffic through SEO, or search engine optimization. Thankfully, Google has given us a simple tool to understand how it sees your site, what issues might be affecting your traffic, and how you can improve the site for better rankings and results. That tool is known as Google Webmasters or Google Search Console.
This guide to Google Webmaster Tools will walk you through the various features of this tool, and give you insight into what actionable data can be found within.
What is Google Webmaster?
Webmaster Tools is a free service that helps you evaluate and maintain your website’s performance in search results. Offered as a free service to anyone who owns a website, Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is a conduit of information from the largest search engine in the world to you, offering insights into how it sees your website and helping you uncover issues that need fixing. You do not need to use GWT for your website to appear in search results, but it can offer you valuable information that can help with your marketing efforts.
How GWT can Monitor Your Website’s Performance
- Google Webmasters makes it possible to submit new pages and posts for Google to crawl and remove content you don’t want search engine users to discover.
- It verifies that Google can access the content on your website.
- It helps you deliver and evaluate content that offers users a more visual experience.
- You can maintain your website without disrupting its presence in search results.
- It allows you to discover and eliminate malware or spam problems that may not be easily found through other means.
How GWT Helps You Understand How Google Search Views Your Website
- It tells you the most popular queries causing your website to appear in search results.
- It tells you which queries are driving the most traffic.
- You can see which websites are linking to yours.
- You can evaluate how well your mobile website is performing for people searching on tablets and phones.
Once you get started with Google Webmasters, you gain access to some powerful tools to help keep your website Google-friendly. Let’s now look at some of the Google tool’s key features.
Google Webmaster Tools Features
The Search Appearance tab contains a set of tools to help you optimize the appearance of your website on Google’s Search Results. For example, you can use the Data Highlighter to help Google understand your site’s data and display it as snippets on the search results page.
The HTML improvements tab will alert you if there are any content issues with your website. You can think of this section as Google Web Developer tools to help programmers construct and format your website in a Google-friendly way.
The Crawl tab gives you vital information on any crawl errors or blocked pages that your website might have. Some of the features in this tab include testing and submitting your sitemaps to Google, testing your robots.txt file, as well as fetching and rendering your website.
Submitting a sitemap is used to let Google know if you’ve made a major change to your website like adding/removing pages in bulk so they can crawl it accordingly. By using these tools, a webmaster can ensure that the site can and will be crawled by Google without any problems.
The Google Index tab monitors the number of website pages indexed by Google. You can see how the number of pages indexed changes over time as well as the number of URLs blocked from indexing by your robots.txt file.
You can use the Remove URLs section to exclude specific URLs from Google’s search results (on a temporary basis). Here you can also see what pages were removed from Google index automatically. For example, if you removed a page from your website and this change got detected by Google’s crawlers. You can re-include removed URLs into Google index using this tool if you wish to.
The Search Traffic tab is one of the most useful free tools for SEO and keyword research purposes. In the Search Analytics tab, you can see what queries people search for on Google when they visit your website. You can filter the metrics by clicks, impressions, CTR, and position (average position on Google).
You can also see which pages are receiving the most clicks or which country or device type is sending you the most clicks.
Links to Your Site tab can show you which websites link to you the most, what are your most linked content as well as the anchor text of those links. In the next section, we’ll look at how we can use these features for SEO purposes.
Google Submit URL Tool
A quick and easy way to get your pages indexed without having to submit a sitemap is using the Google Submit URL Tool. This page is not accessible via the Google Search Console; however, you can access it directly here. To use it, just input the URL of your new page, and it will tell Google to crawl it.
Use Google Webmasters to Maximize SEO Results
Add Your Website and Verify
To start things off, you’ll need to set up a free account with Google Webmasters. Then you’ll need to verify that you actually own the site you’re going to analyze. Before you can access any data on your site, you have to prove that you’re an authorized representative of the site. This is done through a process of verification.
There are five main methods of verification currently in place for GWT. There’s no real preference as to which method you use, although the first two tend to be the most commonly used as they’ve been around for longer.
- The HTML file upload. Google provides you with a blank, specially named file that you just have to drop in the root directory of your site. Once you’ve done that, you just click on the verify button and you’ll have access to your Google Webmaster data for this site.
- HTML tag. Clicking on this option will provide you with a metatag that you can insert into the head of your home page. Once it’s there, click on the verify button to view your GWT data. One item to note about using this method of verification is that it’s possible for the tag to be accidentally removed during an update to the home page, which would lead to a revocation of the verification, but reinserting the tag and clicking verify again will fix that.
- Domain Name Provider. Select your Domain Name provider from the drop-down list and Google will give you a step-by-step guide for verification along with a unique security token for you to use.
- Google Analytics. If the Google account you’re using for GWT is the same account as for GA (assuming you’re using GA as your analytics solution), is an admin on the GA account, and you’re using the asynchronous tracking code (with the code is in the head of your home page), then you can verify the site this way.
- Google Tag Manager. This option allows you to use the Google Tag Manager to verify your site.
Now, start by clicking the “add property” button on the left-hand dropdown. From there, just enter your site name. Remember that it’s a strict entry, meaning http: and https: are counted as different sites. Next, you’ll need to verify that you own the site. Google provides a few different ways of doing this. The recommended method is to add an HTML file to your server. But you can also add a meta tag, edit your DNS settings, or connect to your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager account.
Access the Dashboard
Once your site is verified you’ll start seeing data on your website. Sometimes it can take a few hours before you see any data, but it’ll start rolling in. Once it does, you can use a few different tools to explore what Google sees – overview, performance, and URL inspection.
The Overview tool gives you a rough overview of everything from what keywords you are ranking for how much traffic you are getting.
In addition to that you’ll see if the Google bot is experiencing any crawl errors when going through your website, the number of sites linking to yours, and how many pages Google has indexed.
With Performance, you can see a more detailed breakdown of your site’s performance on Google.
And with URL inspection, you can explore any single URL. Just type it into the search bar at the top of the screen, and you’ll be presented with a quick report on how Google sees the URL, like this.
Work on the Site index
Just like everything else, Google isn’t perfect. So configuring your site can help them do a better job of ranking your website. When configuring, there are a few areas that you should be familiar with.
There will be some pages on your website that you just don’t want Google to index. These could be private login areas, RSS feeds, or crucial data that you don’t want people accessing. On the coverage tab you can see a basic report of pages on your site. It’s broken into a few categories – pages with an error, valid with warnings, valid, and excluded. You should try to have zero pages with errors or warnings. The number of valid and excluded pages depends on what you’d like Google to index, and what you want to keep private. By creating a robots.txt file you can block not just Google, but all search engines from accessing web pages that you don’t want them to get their hands on.
However, for highly sensitive areas of your website you may want to consider password protecting all relevant directories. Through a robots.txt generator and tester, not only will you be able to create a robots.txt file, but you will be able to see if it is done correctly before you upload it to your server. It’s wise to do because the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and tell them not to index your whole website. And if you accidentally mess up and find Google indexing pages that you don’t want them to index, you can request them to remove it through this section.
Next up is sitemaps. This is basically a “table of contents” for your site that can help Google find every page on your site and understand its hierarchy. Submitting a sitemap will help Google determine what pages you have on your website so they can index them. If you don’t submit a sitemap they may not index all of the pages on your website, which means you won’t get as much traffic. Sitemaps have to be submitted in an XML format and they can’t contain more than 50,000 URLs or be larger than 10 megs. If you exceed any of those limits, you need to split up your sitemap in multiple files and then submit them.
If you aren’t technical, you can go to XML Sitemaps to create a sitemap. All you have to do is enter the URL of your homepage and click “start”. Once your sitemaps have been uploaded, Google will tell you how many of your URLs are being indexed. Don’t worry, it is common for them to not index all of your web pages. But your goal should still be to get as many pages indexed as possible.
Typically, if pages aren’t being indexed it’s because the content on those pages isn’t unique, the title tags and meta descriptions are generic, and not enough websites are linking to your internal pages.
Identify Useful Keywords
Perhaps one of the most commonly used features of webmaster tools, especially after Google removed the keywords data from Google Analytics, is the search Queries (you can find it under Search Traffic on the left menu).
The Search Queries feature has a number of useful functions like:
A graph that shows your performance in Google Search – a handy tool to spot dramatic changes to your Google traffic (either positive or negative)
All the keyword searches that triggered your website to appear in Google search. Besides the actual keyword term, you can also see the impressions (how many times a page from your website appeared in the results), clicks (how many people visited your website), the CTR and average position for that keyword.
For the more experienced, this information is extremely valuable for creating a long term successful SEO campaign. For beginners, you can use this data to understand your website’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to Google search traffic.
Something to be aware of is that the data in Search Queries is only available for the past 90 days so if you need to keep history for more than 3 months, you need to download the data on monthly basis.
Keep Track of Incoming Links
Knowing the number of links pointing to your website (homepage or internal pages) is necessary for many reasons:
- You know which websites link to you
- You know which terms they use to link to you
- You know which pages from your website have more links
- In case there is a sudden problem with incoming links you can use the DOWNLOAD LATEST LINKS to see which links may have caused the problem
- You can use the data to identify if you have any ‘bad links’ that need to be removed
The data provided for incoming links is not historical i.e. you cannot go back see your link status so what you should do is keep this data (at least the number of links) in an Excel sheet for statistical purposes.
Check for Manual Penalty
Google can impose two types of penalties to websites. First is the manual penalty which means that the Google quality team reviewed a website and decided to impose a penalty. In such a case, to get the penalty removed, you need to file a reconsideration request and someone from Google will review the website again and decide if the penalty is to be removed or not.
The second type of penalty is the algorithmic penalty (think Panda or Penguin). In this case, it means that your website violates one or more rules of the ranking algorithm. In order to recover from the penalty, you need to find out the possible causes, take corrective actions and wait for the next Google update to see if you have recovered (at least partly) or not.
Under the MANUAL ACTIONS option, Google will tell you if a manual penalty is imposed on your website. It is also worth noting that manual actions have an expiry date so you may see the penalty removed without filing a reconsideration request but most probably it will come back again if you don’t take corrective actions.
Once your account is set up and your website is verified, you will have access to plenty of actionable data that can help you optimize your website. You can receive alerts from Google, adjust settings to deliver specific information to your inbox, submit XML sitemaps and view user queries where your website appeared in search. Learn the basics of using GWT, and you will have a great resource on which to base your future marketing decisions. We can help you with the basics and advanced features of Google Webmasters. Simply get in touch with us, and we can take things forward from there.