Beginners Guide To Google Webmaster Tools

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Google Webmaster Tools

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.

Google Webmaster Tools

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.

Dashboard   

Google 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.

Messages

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.

Configuration

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.

Settings

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.

Google Webmaster Tools

Users

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.

Health

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.

Crawl Errors

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.

Google Webmaster Tools

Crawl Stats

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;

  1. Pages crawled per day
  2. Kilobytes downloaded per day
  3. Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)

Google Webmaster Tools

 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.

Malware

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.

Traffic

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.

Optimization

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.

Sitemap

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.

HTML Improvements

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.

Data Highlighter

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.

Labs

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.

Summary

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!

About Matt Smith

Matt Smith is the founder and editor of OnlineIncomeTeacher. He is a Professional Blogger, SEO Consultant & Web Developer, running a number of sites from the UK. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

  • Catherine Holt

    This is a great post. I have had Google Webmaster set up on my site, but to be honest have never looked at it. I have looked at my analytics, but not webmaster. This was really useful to go through each step and see where things are at. One query tho….when looking at stats it shows “impressions” and “clicks”. What are the differences between the two?

    • http://onlineincometeacher.com/ Matt Smith

      Hi Catherine,

      Good question! Think many people don’t know the difference as I’ve been asked a few times lately.

      Impressions are the number of times your posts/pages get “shown” in the search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, if you rank #1 on page 1 for a certain keyword/phrase, then you will naturally get more “impressions” than if you were ranking on page 10, as more people will see it.

      Clicks are simply the number of times people click onto one of your posts.pages in the SERPs and go to your site.

      Impressions will always be higher than the number of clicks, as no site gets a 100% click-through rate. You want impressions to be as high as possible, as that shows that your posts/pages are getting seen in the SERPs. A low number of impressions could indicate that a site needs to spend more time on SEO to get them ranking higher.

      The two numbers are essentially a quick way of measuring how well a site is doing in Google.

  • http://www.exerciseandhealthyeating.com/ Sharon Schisler

    Thanks Matt! I have only looked at the analytics but will have to dive in deeper and this post will be a reference for me to learn more… I have a web site ranked #1 for a keyword phrase that gets 2900 local monthly and 5400 global yet I only get about 5-10 people to actually click on my site… Hopefully following some of these suggestions will help get me more traffic!

    • http://onlineincometeacher.com/ Matt Smith

      Hi Sharon,

      Strange that you are getting so few clicks if you are ranking #1 in the SERPs. You may want to try changing your snippet information (the lines of text under your title in SERPs), as that could help encourage people to click onto links.

  • alexwhalley

    Holy crap man, this post is EPIC
    whenever anyone asks me about GWT in the future I am simply going to refer them to this post!
    Even I learnt a thing or two and (as arrogant as this sounds) I thought I hada pretty good handle on it!
    bookmarked, shared, read, learnt, loved…. hammock time!

    • http://onlineincometeacher.com/ Matt Smith

      Hi Alex (a.k.a. MC Hammock),

      Really glad you liked the post! Appreciate you sharing it :)

      • alexwhalley

        MC Hammock!.
        Bahahahahahahahaahahahahahahaha! oh my god, I’m totally crying I’m laughing so hard!!!
        Made my morning that did

        • http://onlineincometeacher.com/ Matt Smith

          STOP……………………………………………. Hammock Time! :)

  • Cristi

    wow this is really helpful! Had signed up for webmsters ages ago but hadnt realized you could do SO much with it. Need to go back and take a look at my site with it

    • http://onlineincometeacher.com/ Matt Smith

      Hi Cristi,

      Yes, it’s a really great tool to use for your site. I use it mainly to keep tabs on our site’s health, so if ever we were to get hacked with malware or get any errors from our links, we would be notified.