Google Webmaster Tools 101: An Overview

Whether marketing is your game or you’re a small business owner learning as you go, you know a little something about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Users conduct over 13 billion searches on Google every month. This is just one reason why SEO focuses on Google rankings over other search engines.

Google Analytics provides the insights you need to monitor your site’s SEO health. Though, the beginner may overlook another tool offered by Google tool that can give life to your SEO campaigns.

Google Webmaster Tools is a free set of SEO tools. With them, you can better understand what Google is looking to find on your website.

Free tools don’t always mean easy. Take a little time to understand Google Webmasters Tools, and you’ll find them an easy-to-use aid in keeping your website SEO-fit.

What Are Google Webmaster Tools?

Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is the primary channel Google uses to communicate with webmasters. While you do need to open a Google Webmasters account, it is free to do so.

Google Webmaster Tools helps you to identify problems with your site. It can also alert you when malware has infected your website. This could be a lifesaver if you weren’t able to spot the malware yourself.

Webmasters ensure that websites run smoothly and troubleshoot any problems. Regularly monitoring helps them rectify problems sooner than later. There are paid tools out there, but none quite like Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).

Benefits of Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools do more than notify you of issues. They work to boost your SEO efforts as well. Boosting your organic search rank on Google is possible when you follow Google Webmaster guidelines.

Using those guidelines, you can modify your website to boost your optimization. Google Webmasters provides insights into your site above and beyond Google Analytics.

You get more information from GWT about your web traffic and marketing campaigns. Sometimes the information you get is overly technical. You’ll want to call in your web team to tackle it.

When you optimize a website, you are doing so in accordance with search engine algorithms. As a result, your site’s visibility and search rankings improve. You will see more visitors, and convert more of those visitors into customers.

Google Webmaster Tools helps you see your website as Google sees it. With this tool suite, you can submit your website to Google.

If something is stopping Google from indexing a certain page, you can find the cause. You can check the links that are pointing to your site to see if they are correct.

Google Webmasters also informs you what keywords on your website are popular. This, in turn, helps you understand what additional, potential keywords you are ranking for.

As mentioned, you can check for malware or other invasive technology that may be affecting your site.

Turn all of this data into action items that will tighten up your content so that Google can index is quickly and earn those valuable rankings.

Google Webmaster Tools is not a tool for beating search algorithms. IT’s not about tricks and loopholes. The advantage comes with learning the tools Google provides and using them regularly and correctly.

Let’s get started with some basic tasks.

Get Started with Google Webmaster Tools

Sign in to your Google Webmaster Tools account. The site will prompt you to enter your website’s details. Next, have GWT verify your website.

Verify Your Website

Verifying your website is crucial because you don’t want another party accessing your website data. Verification means verifying that you own the site.

To do this, select “Verify this Property.” The verification page appears. You can verify that you are the owner in one of several ways. The preferred way is to upload an HTML file.

Uploading an HTML File

Here is how to verify your website with an HTML file.

1. Download the Google Webmaster Tools blank HTML file.

2. Upload the blank HTML file to your server using your FTP. Be sure you name the HTML file something specific to the verification process.

3. Visit the page you just created to confirm the upload.

4. Return to Google Webmaster Tools.

5. Check the “I’m not a robot” option. Select the “Verify” option. T

Next are additional ways you can verify ownership of your website:

Use an HTML Tag

GWT provides you with a meta tag you can use for verification.

1. Copy and paste the tag into the head section, before the first section of your site’s homepage.

2. Select “Verify.”

Use Your Domain Name Provider

1. From the drop-down list, select your domain name provider or registrar or provider. Google sends a unique verification token along with instructions.

2. Follow the instructions. This step varies with the different domain name providers.

Use Google Analytics

If you use Google Analytics, verify your ownership using your tracking code. You can find this code in the head section of your page. As the webmaster, you have permission to edit this Analytics web property.

Use Google Tag Manager

To use your Google Tag Manager account to verify, you must have permission to manage the Task Manager container. If you don’t, skip this option.

Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard

After you verify ownership, you can see the Google Webmasters dashboard. The dashboard is an overview of important items, such as your crawl error status. You can also see sitemaps, search queries, and so on.

Review Settings

The cog settings icon is at the right corner of the page. Select the Settings icon to access a drop-down list containing your settings options.

Webmaster Tools Preferences

Here you can select your preferred language. You can also choose your contact email and select notifications.

Site Settings

Here is where you select your target country. It’s also where you set how the search engines display your site (include the www. or not). And, this is where you set the frequency at which you want the Google bots to index your site.

Change Address

If you are moving your site to a new domain, here is where you inform Google.

Google Analytics Property

Here, you link your Google Analytics account to your Google Webmaster Tools account. This enables you to have improved access to data from both accounts.

Users and Site Owners

In this setting, you can edit who can manage and access your GWT account.

Verification Details

This setting allows you to view verification problems and successful attempts.

Associates

The Associates setting enables you to link Google accounts to your GWT account. Though you’ll need to add those other Google accounts as administrators, or they can’t access the data.

Once you configure the settings, you can move through the other sections.

Review Site Messages

You’ll find Site Messages at the top of your dashboard. Google uses site messages to communicate with you. Google notifies you about things like regular maintenance issues, and of any viruses that may be affecting your site. In short, Google scans your site for issues and then sends you a message with the results.

See How Your Website Appears in Search

Select the “I” icon to see an overview of how your site shows in search engines. Google Webmasters shows elements that affect your search rankings.

You’ll see the snippet, title, site links, URL, event-rich snippet, author information, and search within a site.

Data Highlighter

The Data Highlighter section lets you help search engines identify structured data on your site. You won’t need any code to accomplish this.

Structured Data

Google Webmaster Tools gives you information about structured data on your site like schema.org., hcard, breadcrumbs, and other formats.

HTML Improvements

The HTML Improvements section contains excellent tips for optimization. Both the title and the meta description tags affect search ranking. If GWT finds a problem with either of them, you find information about it here.

Often, the title and meta description tags are too long. Or, Google may report that they are not unique. This affects whether or not readers make it to your site.

If they can’t read the title and meta description, they may not choose to click to your site. So, take a good look at Google’s suggestions and use them as guides for creating compelling content descriptions for your target audience.

Sitelinks

Sitelinks are hyperlinks to your site’s subpages. In search results, they appear below the URL listing. Google perceives sitelinks as proof your website is an authority for the entered search query.

You can’t decide which links will appear here. There may be links you don’t want to appear in searches.

You can, however, use the Sitelinks section to specify which pages you wish for Google to remove from the sitelinks list. This demotes the page, but you can restore it after 90 days.

Search Traffic

Google Webmasters reviews the search engine result pages (SERPs). It notes the top keyword searches where your site was listed. Google Webmasters also provides information about each keyword term.

Information could include the number of clicks your website had, the general position, total number of impressions, and so on.

You can use this date to boost your SEO efforts even more. For example, say your page ranks high in searches but has a low click-through rate.

You can modify the content so that it’s more appealing to your audience. You can do this by optimizing the meta description or another applicable item.

Website Links

The Website Links area shows you the websites that link to your site. You can also see which linked pages are the most liked. While you can’t see all the external links, you can glean some useful data here.

Manual Actions

If Google’s web spam team reviews your site, you will get a notification here. Google will notify you that your site received a manual spam action, along with the reason why.

Internal Links

This Internal Links section displays the top web pages on your website. GWT determines this by counting the maximum number of internal links received.

If there are pages that don’t have an internal link, consider adding internal links from highest ranked pages. Doing this means that the page Google wasn’t indexing will now be indexed (and therefore ranked) in search results.

Google Index

Indexing pages means adding your site’s pages into Google’s search. If Google spiders don’t index your pages, then don’t get featured in organic search results.

Because Google has over 67% of the search queries conducted each month, this feature is crucial.

Index Status

The Index Status is your update as to how many pages on your site Google indexed. Sometimes, we accidentally block Google spiders from indexing some pages.

This section provides details about un-indexed pages. You can take action to correct the settings.

Remove URL

You may have a reason that you don’t want a page (or pages) indexed. You can delete the page from the index in the Remove URL section.

Using 301 redirects won’t prevent the search engine from indexing those pages. So, your best option is to remove them by adding the URLs here.

Keywords

This section lists the keywords that to your website as determined by the search engine. Essentially, these are the words that the Google bots find as they crawl your site.

If you notice that some keywords don’t relate to your business, you can investigate further.

Unrelated keywords could mean that your website has been hacked. The odd keyword may be hidden somewhere in your articles or pages.

Or, the keywords may be slightly related to your business. That could mean that your content isn’t as relevant as it could be. The information in this section gives you an opportunity to create new content that features the right keywords.

Crawl

This section contains data that relates to your site’s crawling status.

Crawl Statistics

This subsection contains statistics about how fast Google bots crawl through your website. The quicker they crawl, the better it is for your SEO. Google reviews website speed as necessary for a user-friendly experience. Your site should load fast.

Google shows the average time it takes to download a page or crawl through your site. If the average time is long, you can work with your development team to reduce the load time.

Often, reducing your file sizes helps. Also, review recent changes made to your site. You may want to change the format in which you provide the information to one that has a faster load time.

Crawl Errors

When Google bots visit your website, you will be able to see any crawl errors. You can use log activity for the past 90 days to identify problems. The log activity shows you whether the issue has developed over time or all of a sudden.

You can check to see what changes you made around that time that could have caused the errors.

Fetch as Google

This section shows you have Google views your web pages. You can review the HTTP response, time and date, the first 100kb of text on the webpage, and the HTML code.

Blocked URLs

If you want to keep Google bots from crawling specified pages, you can block those URLs in the Blocked URLs section. You can also test changes you made to the robots.txt files to see if and how they affect your site.

Sitemaps

The Sitemaps section allows you to check and submit the status of your site’s sitemaps.

Submitting the sitemap allows Google bots to access your website easily. Also, the sitemap is updated to reflect recent changes you may have made to your website.

Google Webmasters notifies the bots with the update. In response, the bots will visit your site. If the sitemap contains errors, you will receive notification in this section.

URL Parameters

The URL Parameters section notifies Google if it should pass over any specific URL query string parameters when it counts your URLs.

Security

If there are any security problems like malware or another security breach, Google Webmasters reports it to you. You can then take action before the breach affects your website’s rankings.

If your site has been hacked, malware is found, or there are other security breaches, then GWT will alert you in this section.

Other Resources

Other Resources contains useful links and tools to other Google services and products. These all relate to and support your role as webmaster. They complement the data found in GWT.

Labs

Google uses the Labs section to test new tools and functions Google Webmaster Tools. This section changes as Google adds and removes tools. Given the rapid updates Google is known for, this section will prove useful in the near future.

On Your Way to Using Google Webmaster Tools

It may be that Google Webmaster Tools contains more data that you can digest at once. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. Though, remember this is a free tool suite. Take your time to absorb the information one section at a time.

Soon, you’ll be using several of the tools to boost your SEO like the pro you are. If you have any Google Webmasters or SEO questions along the way, please contact us.