While discussing the setup of a new digital marketing campaign, some clients might ask, “What is Google Webmaster Tools used for?” “Do I need it?” This guide to what’s inside the valuable toolset answers those two questions and more.
Monitor & Improve Your Site’s Performance with Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools, provided by Google, is among the best free toolsets available to help monitor and improve a site’s performance. If malware is infecting your site, you will likely see a notice in Google Webmaster Tools. If your site develops a significant increase in 404 (Page Not Found) errors, Google will alert you. If your robots.txt file is preventing Google from properly accessing and indexing pages in your site, you can find out in Webmaster Tools.
Through analysis of data in Google Webmaster Tools, you also gain insights into how your site performs for specific search queries (keywords), from rankings to clicks. This is data you can use to improve your search engine optimization. Google even provides recommendations for site improvements.
A Look Inside: The Dashboard
After logging in and clicking on your website link, you will see a dashboard providing an at-a-glance look at the current status of your site and any identified issues.
New messages or recent critical issues are noted at the top under New and Important, along with a link to learn more. Below that you see your site’s status with issues Google discovered such as missing pages or errors with your sitemaps. If you haven’t submitted a sitemap, you can do so in Google Webmaster Tools.
Google also provides data on the top 2,000 search queries causing your site to appear in search results. From the dashboard you can see the number of times your site appeared (impressions), the number of times a searcher clicked through (clicks) from search results and the number of search queries bringing those impressions and clicks. Look inside to see more data and do some analysis.
Keywords Sending Your Site Traffic, or Not
On the Search Queries page you will again see the number of queries, impressions, and clicks, along with the percentage increase (in green) or decrease (in red) for both impressions and clicks for the time period shown. You can change the dates by clicking them. Google allows you to see up to 90 days of data; however, if you want to see data changes, keep the time period at 30 days or less.
Google also provides a list of your top search queries. View the number of impressions, clicks, CTR, (click-thru rate, or how many times a searcher clicked through from search results to your website) and your average ranking position for each query. Analyzing this data helps you make decisions for improving your site’s performance in organic search.
You can sort data by impressions, clicks, CTR, or average position. Click on “With Change” and Google shows you how data changed from the previous period. If you want to filter the data, click on Filters to see your options:
Click on each keyword to view pages(s) of your site that appeared for the query and more data for your analysis.
The availability of search query data provided is reason enough to set up and use Google Webmaster Tools. You can discover which keywords your site ranks for in search, which ones result in clicks from search results, if your click-thru rate increases or decreases, if your site is showing up for queries it shouldn’t be (maybe it’s been hacked), and much more.
But Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t stop there.
Identifying Crawl Errors
Through the Crawl Errors page, Google provides details about issues preventing Googlebot from successfully crawling your site, or URLs within your site. This page is divided into two sections: Site Errors and URL errors.
Data under Site Errors shows any DNS errors, problems with your server connection, and issues with your robots.txt file, if you have one. Click on each in Webmaster Tools to learn more.
Under URL Errors, Google provides any specific errors (often 404s) Googlebot discovered. You can click each URL for details. With this information, you easily discover and correct issues (such as broken links) in your site.
Google also shows Crawl Stats, accessible through the left sidebar under Crawl. Monitor and watch for spikes and trends to discover issues such as bloated code or poorly compressed images causing problems with Google’s crawling.
Accessing Google Webmaster Tools through the Sidebar
Explore more of what Google Webmaster Tools offers through links in the left sidebar.
Search Appearance includes reports and tools for improving how your site appears in search results. Structured Data reports on your site’s markup to help Google better understand your site’s content and any markup errors.
Data Highlighter offers an alternative markup option enabling you to easily tag data fields for Google from within Webmaster Tools.
HTML Improvements provides recommendations to help you improve your site’s page titles and Meta descriptions. If you have duplicate titles / Meta descriptions, or they’re too short or too long, Google provides a list.
Through the Sitelinks (shortcuts to pages within your site) page you can see what sitelinks Google shows in search results to help searchers more quickly find information they want. Google automatically generates sitelinks; you cannot add them. However, you can demote any you do not want shown in search results.
Tools for Monitoring & Improving Site Traffic
Under Search Traffic is a link to the Search Queries report. Next is a page with data on Links to Your Site. See a sample of sites linking to yours. This report helps you watch for unnatural links while monitoring your site’s link profile. (Tip: Don’t rely solely on this report to monitor your site’s backlinks. Use other tools, too.)
Use Internal Links to see how your site’s pages link together and determine if you need to make improvements to your internal linking structure.
If Google detected unnatural links to your site and imposed a manual penalty, you may see a notice under Manual Actions.
Search Traffic also includes reports to help with International Targeting and Mobile Usability. Google now places more emphasis on mobile usability and recently started sending notices for some sites with errors. If you did not receive a message, click to view the Mobile Usability report. You may see a notice of issues there:
New Blocked Resources Report
Google wants to see pages as users do. When a robots.txt file blocks the crawling of such resources, it may affect how well Google can render and index the pages, which in turn can affect rankings.
The report shows the hosts of blocked resources. Click on each to see your pages using the blocked resource. Click the pages for additional information and instructions on how to unblock them.
Also under Google Index is an Index Status report showing how many of your site URLs Google indexes. Look for spikes and trends.
Do the right keywords stand out in your site’s content? Content Keywords shows you which terms Google sees as the most significant based on your content.
Although you can block pages in your site from Google’s index using a robots.txt file, if you need to remove a page quickly, you can submit a request through the Remove URLs page. This can be helpful if one of your pages with confidential data is accidently indexed.
More Crawl Data
Want to see your site as the Googlebot does? With the Fetch as Google tool in the Crawl section you can. Click Fetch and Render to see how Google renders the page, helpful in diagnosing issues. Make sure to view desktop and mobile versions.
The robots.txt Tester identifies any errors with your file. The wrong instructions in a robots.txt file can completely block your site from showing in search results. If you want to test a specific URL, you can do so.
Through pages under the Crawl section you can also submit, test and see any errors with Sitemaps and configure URL Parameters.
After the Crawl section is a Security Issues report where Google will provide information about any security issues associated with your site.
Yes, You Need Google Webmaster Tools
As you can see, Google Webmaster Tools provides valuable data to help you monitor your site, its usability and performance in search. With frequent monitoring and analysis of the data, you will learn more about your site and have a better idea of how and where to make improvements. Considering it is a free toolset with easy setup, you have no reason not to use it and loads of data to gain.