Today’s post is the result of a request that I received from one of our regular readers. They wanted to know all about the Google Webmaster Tools and how it can be used to help manage a website. Well ask and you shall receive, so here is my beginners guide to Google Webmaster Tools!
What Is Google Webmaster Tools?
So, what is Webmaster Tools? Well it is a fantastic set of free tools provided by Google that helps you to keep track of your website and manage different aspects of it. It allows webmasters to check the index status of their site in Google and optimize their visibility in the search engine. Every website owner should use it alongside of Google Analytics, as these are arguably the best ways to monitor a site.
I’d also like to mention that there is a very useful Webmaster Central blog and great ‘Google Webmaster Help’ YouTube channel from the legend that is Matt Cutts that you can visit for lots of great info.
How To Set Up Webmaster Tools For Your Site
For starters, you need to have a Google account, so if you haven’t already got one you can sign up for free.
Once you have a Google account, you can navigate to the Webmaster Tools page and login with your details. This will take you to the ‘Welcome to Webmaster Tools’ page where you will be asked to add your site.
1. Go to Google Webmaster Tools and sign in.
2. Add your site URL.
Next you will be asked to “Verify your ownership” of your site. This will allow you to access more information about your site and use their tools (which we will talk about shortly).
Follow the onscreen instructions that are presented to you to verify your site.
3. Verify your site.
You can also watch this video by the Google Webmaster Help that will explain more about verifying ownership of your site.
Getting To Grips With Webmaster Tools
So, now that you have added and verified your site, you can begin to look around and use the Webmaster tools. I should add that it may take some time before all your data is first available. This is perfectly normal as Google needs to crawl your site in order to show you all your information. Simply check back later when it has had chance to review your site.
Let’s take a look at the different aspects of Webmaster Tools.
This is where you will see a quick snapshot of all the important aspects of your site. So you will be able to see if you have any new messages, current status (including site & URL errors), Search Queries (number of impressions & clicks) and Sitemap information.
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE make sure you add your sitemap if you haven’t done so already! This is vital for your website as it helps Google to find all of your pages on your site. Google will likely crawl all your pages eventually (though not always if you have a bad link structure), but by adding your sitemap here, you make it much easier for them to find them all.
If you haven’t setup a sitemap for your site yet, you can do so easily by installing the ‘Google XML Sitemaps’ generator plugin for WordPress.
Pretty self-explanatory, but the message tab is where all your messages will be kept. Here you will be informed if any important things that have happened on your site. For example, you’ll get a message if your preferred domain has changed or if any malware has been found on your site.
These messages will also be emailed to you, so you will always be kept up to date with your sites health.
You can change a lot of the technical aspects in the Configuration tabs of your Webmaster account. A few of these you won’t want to touch unless you really know what you are doing, but there are some useful options here that you can look at.
On the Settings (Configuration>Settings) tab, it will allow you to select a preferred domain (www or non-www). If you’ve noticed, Online Income Teacher doesn’t include ‘www.’ in our URLs. We felt that it made our URLs look a bit tidier and also helped shorten them slightly. Whichever you use, it won’t affect your rankings.
If you do choose to go with a non-www preferred domain, just make sure you set it up properly by adding 301 redirects from www to non-www.
In the Users (Configuration>Users) tab, you can add additional users who can access your site’s Webmaster Tools information. This is great when you have more than one person running a site, or if you are hiring an SEO analyst, as this information is very useful. You can give people limited access, so that they can only see the information, rather than being able to alter anything. You only want the administrators to have full access to your webmaster account.
Change of Address
If you have changed your website address (e.g. example-site.com to example-domain.com), you can inform Google in the Change of Address (Configuration>Change of Address) tab. Remember, this is simply telling ‘Google’ of the change. You will still need to set up 301 redirects and inform the other search engines.
It is very important to always check the health of your website as it can significantly affect your search engine rankings and traffic if something is wrong. This includes things such as malware detection and crawl errors, which you want to avoid. Personally, I find this to be the most useful aspect of the Google Webmaster Tools.
The Crawl Errors (Health>Crawl Errors) tab allows you to see what errors Google is finding on your site. Most of the time this will simply be when you remove/delete a page or change the URL structure, in which case you can ‘Mark As Fixed’. You want to watch out for errors that are occurring that you didn’t cause yourself.
The fewer errors you have, the better. Google can penalize your site if you have too many errors that are resulting in 404 redirects, so it pays to make sure everything is working fine.
The Crawl Stats (Health>Crawl Stats) tab lets you see information about how Google is crawling your site. It does this by showing you 3 sets of data;
- Pages crawled per day
- Kilobytes downloaded per day
- Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)
The ‘Pages crawled per day’ information depends heavily on how big your site is. If you have only just started your site, obviously you aren’t going to have many pages for them to crawl yet. Generally though, the more pages the better as Google likes larger sites.
Both the ‘Kilobytes downloaded per day’ and ‘Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)’ refer to your site size and speed. Every time Google crawls your site, it downloads each page and assesses how quickly it opens. If you have lots of large files like images or videos on each page, then it will take much longer to open and slow down your site. Google likes fast sites and puts more emphasis on sites that load quickly. Therefore you want these stats to be quite low.
Check out our tips on how to speed up your website.
The Malware (Health>Malware) tab will show you any information in regards to malware that is found on your site. Hopefully you won’t have any on your site, so Google won’t need to inform you, however it only needs someone to hack your site to place some on your site. Should you unfortunately find some, Google will identify your site as infected in the search results to protect other users, so you will need to go about cleaning your site.
Once you have removed all malware from your site, you can ‘request a malware review’. If Google finds no malware, then it will remove the warning from your site and you are good to go again. If not, then you have probably missed something that you will have to remove before doing another review.
Here you will see statistics on the traffic that your site has been getting. I won’t really go into any detail here as it’s pretty self-explanatory. This information isn’t as detailed as your Google Analytics dashboard though, but it’s good to be able to see this information within the Webmaster Tools window.
Another great feature of Webmaster Tools is its optimization tools. Here it will allow you to make changes and give you suggestions as to how you can improve your site.
The Sitemap tab (Optimization>Sitemaps) will let you see how well Google has been indexing your site. Here it will show you if there are any issues with pages that have not been indexed properly. Like before, this is usually because you may have removed a page or changed the URL structure.
The HTML Improvements tab (Optimization>HTML Improvements) allows you to see where you can make any changes that may improve your site’s user experience and performance. Here you will see info on pages with;
- Meta Description – Duplicate meta descriptions, long meta descriptions and short meta descriptions.
- Title Tag – Missing title tags, duplicate title tags, long title tags, short title tags and non-informative title tags.
- Non-Indexable Content
The most common issues here will be missing tags/descriptions that you may have forgotten to add. Simply go back to the page(s) that they have highlighted and make the necessary additions/changes.
The Data Highlighter tab (Optimization>Data Highlighter) is a recent addition to Webmaster Tools that lets you improve the look of your search results. Here you can inform Google of the different types of content on your site, so it can display key information right in the search results.
Finally, Webmaster Labs has a bunch of new experimental tools that you can try out for your site. These are usually new tools that are being developed and tried out before being rolled out properly. Due to this, you have to remember that these tools can be a little rough round the edges and they can even be removed from Webmasters all together should they not prove successful. Having said that, you can get to try out the brand new features that may become permanent features in the near future.
Google Webmaster Tools is great for any website owner to use, especially when used alongside Analytics. It can inform you when your site is having issues, help you make changes and let you control how Google looks at/presents your content on the web. So if you haven’t already, check them out and see how it can help you improve your site!
Do you use Webmaster Tools? If so, how do you find using it? Do you have a request for a future post? Please let us know in the comments section below!