A Guide to Google Webmaster Tools

We’ve all heard of Google Webmaster Tools, but how many actually know how and why to use it? My goal with this blog post is to teach you about why you should use Google Webmaster Tools and also how to use some of the key features to easily improve your SEO and rankings.

While there are many great SEO services out there such as Moz and Ahrefs that will give you many details about how your website is performing based on how Google is perceived to work, Google Webmaster Tools is direct from Google providing some of that information for you. Webmaster Tools will give you insights about your website ranging from popular queries, crawl errors, even mobile usability complete with suggestions to improve it. It also lets you manage your site’s appearance in search such as removing content you don’t want seen, removing malware and even removing spam links directly from the console. Want to hear the best part about it all? Google Webmaster Tools is absolutely free to use!

Now that we know about some of the reasons you should be using Google Webmaster Tools, lets talk about some of the features that you should be using and taking advantage of to start improving your sites ranking and SEO performance.

First things first, you will need to set up Google Webmaster Tools and link your site to your account. You will need a Google account for this. I recommend using the same one you use for Google Analytics and all other Google services. If you don’t have one yet, please set one up now. Navigate to www.google.com/webmasters and log in. Once you’ve logged in for the first time you will be prompted to add your site and verify it. Verification can be done a number of different ways, however the recommended way is HTML file verification. Once verified your site will be added and will start collecting and recording data for you.

The first thing to check out is your dashboard. You will need to give Google a few weeks to start collecting data after signing up. Your dashboard gives you a brief overview of any crawl errors, a graph of search queries and your sitemap. This overview is a great way to very quickly get a sense of how your website is performing and any errors that require attention. I recommend checking at least your dashboard once a week.

Next we will go through some of the key features, what they are and how they will help your site. On the left-hand navigation bar under Search appearance we will start with Structured Data. If your site uses any structured data within the code, Google will display how much structed data it has found and how many errors it has found with it. If you’re unfamiliar with structured data, be sure to check back for an in-depth post on structured data. Essentially structured data is basically small snippets of tags that tell Google what the information on your page is, for example around your logo. Google can’t read and interpret the image file that is your logo, so you need to put a little description telling Google that that is your graphical logo and so on.

Next in the list under Search Appearance is Data Highlighter. The previous section was on structured data and analyzing problems with it, but let’s say you wanted to add structured data to your site but didn’t know how. That is where the data highlighter comes in. From the page, you will click on “start highlighting” and use the tool to help you create HTML tags that you can then insert on your page for Google to understand it better. The tool also helps you add it properly. If you struggle with some of the more technical aspects of the web design, I recommend checking this out to ensure you’ve done it correctly and get help where you haven’t.

Sticking with our theme of data markup and HTML tags, the next tab is HTML Improvements. HTML Improvements is great because here we can quickly see any problems that are impacting our sites user experience and performance. Under the Meta Descriptions headline we can see if we have any duplicates, something we need to resolve as it is bad for SEO. Under here we can and long and short meta descriptions. When you select long or short, it will give you a list of all pages with a meta description and the description, something that should be reviewed anytime the content on that page changes to make sure it accurately reflects the web page.

The last tab in Search Appearance is Sitelinks. It is important to note here that not every site will have sitelinks so don’t be alarmed if yours doesn’t have anything there. For those who don’t know, sitelinks are the sub links below the main website when you search on Google. Within the Sitelinks tab you can select certain URLs to remove and which ones you want displaying as your sitelinks. I suggest checking to see which pages you have sitelinks to and ensuring they are high traffic and important pages.

Next we are going to move onto the heading Search Traffic, a very important tool to see how your site is doing based on keywords and click through rate (CTR). First we are going to look under Search Queries. You’ll notice that this displays a larger version of the graph your had in the middle of your dashboard. This graph shows the impressions, number of times your site appeared on Google search when a user searched a query, and also the number of clicks you got. More importantly below, you will get a table showing you each query that you rank for, the position you rank for it and the CTR for each query. You can change the date ranges to look at historic trends and see spikes and drops to find out what worked or what went wrong. High impressions and low clicks can also point to potential SEO errors, perhaps your Title tags, page descriptions or Googles interpretation of your page aren’t what they should be.

Another great resource under Search Traffic is the Links to Your Site section as links are highly correlated with SEO. This page will display who links to you the most so you can get a sense of your link profile, but more importantly it shows your most linked content. This is vitally important when seeking out links, you must have people link to popular content or those links are going to be wasted and you likely won’t generate any value out of them.

While there are still more tools under Search Traffic, I am going to move onto Google Index and allow you to explore the others yourself. If you have specific questions about headings under search please reach out. Onto Google Index and a very important part, Index Status. Index Status will show you how many pages are indexed by Google. Indexed pages are pages that can be found by search engines, it is vital that your pages be indexable or you won’t show up in search. Google will index your page one of two ways, either new pages will be found via a link to your site from a previously indexed page or link, or you can request that Google crawl your page which will index all of them. If you find you’re unable to rank for certain keywords or topics, it would be a good idea to check if Google can see all the pages.

Next, under Content Keywords we can see Google will let us know in priority order what it thinks our site is about. This ties back into the impressions and CTR a little bit and may help point to some issues if you find people are not visiting your page. It is worth checking what Google believes your page is about and perhaps revising content as required. Title tags, H1 tags, Meta descriptions and targeted keywords should all be reviewed if you’re finding Google misinterpreting your page.

Moving onto the Crawl section we can start by viewing the Crawl Errors Tab. Sites with no errors will rank better than sites with errors so its important to be checking back regularly. Under Crawl Stats you will see how many pages Google crawls a day and download times. If you see any big spikes in download times it could point to problems with your site and the content posted. It could be an issue with the web hosting server, or perhaps the content you just put up wasn’t prepared properly (picture files way to large or video files).

That wraps up the most important features of Google Webmaster Tools that you will want to learn about and focus your attention on to start improving your sites SEO. If you have any questions, suggestions or want to share your experience with Webmaster Tools please comment below. We love hearing from you.