Originally, Google Webmaster Tools were pretty much just for the webmasters’ benefit. It has since become a powerful toolset to help increase rankings on Google’s search engine. Over the years, Google has rolled out with more tools than one could expect or imagine. If you hook your website up to Google Webmaster Tools, you’ll learn more about your website and how it’s viewed by Google better than any other resource on the net. However, with so much information, what do we really need to know when trying to improve our search engine visibility on their search engine?
Below are 10 “tools” we recommend you understand and fix/configure to make sure your website is running smoothly, and indexed properly for Google Search.
Site Configuration > Sitemaps – Once you’ve created your website (or after you’ve made all the fixes in the other tools below) it is HIGHLY recommended that you submit your XML sitemap to Google. This is the fastest way to ask Google to index all of the pages of your website. This is also the fastest way to identify which pages haven’t been indexed.
Site Configuration > Settings – The only option that really matters in this section is “Preferred URL”. Pick the one your website canonicalizes to (www or non-www versions). This usually requires verifying both versions, though.
Your site on the Web > Search Queries – Here you can see all of the terms that your website is getting action from. Google tells you the keywords that give you impressions and clicks, as well as your website click-through-rate, average position, and position changes. You can also star and monitor specific keywords, and even export a report.
Your site on the Web > Content Keywords – This shows you the keywords that according to your website’s content are most important. If you don’t see your target keywords on the list, then obviously your website isn’t relevant to them. Kind of like the old school keyword density checker SEO tools.
Your site on the Web > Internal Links – These are links pointing from one page of your website to another page within your website. What one page on your website calls another is very important to Google (hence providing a tool within GWT). Some may even debate that internal links are just as important as backlinks from other websites. However, keep in mind, optimizing this too much could possibly raise the “over-SEO” flag.
Your site on the Web > Links to Your Site – Speaking of backlinks, the most important SEO factor. Knowing where all your links are coming from and which pages they point to could give you great insight, especially if you assign keywords and content based on which links point to different pages.
+1 Metrics > Search Impact – Since Google+ is the “new thing”, and since we’re working closely with Google+ to make sure we’re making the best of it for our clients, this is a good place to see the effectiveness of our Google+ initiatives. If you don’t see anything, then you need to get more pages plussed!
Diagnostics > Crawl Errors – This is one of the most important tools within GWT. This tool tells you all the pages the Googlebot couldn’t access. Google usually finds these errors via the sitemap, backlinks or internal links. If there are any crawl errors, it is recommended to either make sure that there’s a page at that URL, or to 301 redirect it to the most relevant live page.
Diagnostics > HTML Suggestions – This is where Google tells you about duplicate, too short, and too long title tags and meta descriptions. No title tags or descriptions should be identical to each other, nor should any only have 2 words or have more than ~15-20 words. A new feature they have in this section is “non-informative title tag”. I’d venture to say this is one of the most important ones within this section, given the fact that Google is imposing new “over-SEO” rules, and are always striving to deliver relevance.
Labs > Site Performance – Since late 2010/early 2011, site speed has become extremely important. If your website takes longer than most in your industry to load, it could turn Google off. Google searchers want answers fast, and if your site is so slow that they click the back button, it makes Google look like they present lame/slow/non-performing sites.
There are a few other tools within Google Webmaster Tools that are just as valuable as the ones mentioned above. The tools necessary for success could also vary depending on the website. For some websites perhaps only 3 of the above tools make sense, while for other websites more tools are necessary. Regardless, it’s recommended to play around with each tool within GWT to familiarize yourself with both your website and what Google thinks about it.