Google webmaster tools is perhaps one of the most useful tools today for SEO. It is free, it’s Google and it can give you a lot of information about your website. If you are a website owner and you are not using this tool, you are certainly missing out a lot of features that can make your SEO job easier and most effective.
Let’s examine which of the features of Google webmaster tools are important for SEO purposes and how to use them.
#1 – Ask Google to notify you if there is a problem with your website
Google developed webmaster tools so that they can communicate more efficiently with webmasters. Since one-to-one communication is impossible due to the volume of webmasters, webmaster tools is the medium to get information from Google about your website.
In case there is a problem with your website (server is down, hacked, affected with malware), Google can notify you via email. In order to receive these emails you have to enable email notifications by selecting SETTINGS (that’ the top right gear style icon) and then WEBMASTER TOOLS PREFERENCES.
#2 – Let Google know about your target audience
Suppose that you have a .com or .net domain but your target audience is people searching Google from the UK. You can use the SITE SETTINGS (it’s under SETTINGS) in Webmaster tools to tell Google about your target users by selecting TARGET USERS IN and choosing United Kingdom as the destination.
The effect of such a setting is that your website will perform better in Google.co.uk than Google.com (of course a lot of other factors play a role but the general idea is that Google will give more preference to what you have set here).
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#3 – Set your preferred domain
In the SITE SETTINGS screen you also configure whether Google should use the www or the non-www version of your domain (see screenshoot above). In order to do that you need to have both domains verified with your account.
What this means is that if you set the preferred domain as the www.yourdomain.com, Google will treat any links pointing to http://yourdomain.com the same way as it treats www.yourdomain.com links.
The setting you have here should be the same in your website as well. If you are using WordPress this is under SETTINGS > GENERAL > WORDPRESS ADDRESS (URL)
#4 – Identify which keywords bring Google traffic to your website
Perhaps one of the most commonly used features of webmaster tools, especially after Google removed the keywords data from Google Analytics, is the search Queries (you can find it under SEARCH TRAFFIC on the left menu).
The Search Queries feature has a number of useful functions like:
A graph that shows your performance in Google Search – a handy tool to spot dramatic changes to your Google traffic (either positive or negative)
All the keyword searches that triggered your website to appear in Google search. Besides the actual keyword term you can also see the impressions (how many times a page from your website appeared in the results), clicks (how many people visited your website), the CTR and average position for that keyword.
For the more experienced, this information is extremely valuable for creating a long term successful SEO campaign. For beginners you can use this data to understand your website’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to Google search traffic.
Something to be aware off is that the data in SEARCH QUERIES is only available for the past 90 days so if you need to keep history for more than 3 months, you need to download the data on monthly basis.
#5 – Keep track of incoming links
Knowing the number of links pointing to your website (homepage or internal pages) is necessary for many reasons:
- You know which websites link to you
- You know which terms they use to link to you
- You know which pages from your website have more links
- In case there is sudden problem with incoming links you can use the DOWNLOAD LATEST LINKS to see which links may have caused the problem
- You can use the data to identify if you have any ‘bad links’ that need to be removed
The data provided for incoming links is not historical i.e. you cannot go back see your link status so what you should do is keep this data (at least the number of links) in an Excel sheet for statistical purposes.
#6 – Check if your website is under a manual penalty
Google can impose two types of penalties to websites. First is the manual penalty which means that the Google quality team reviewed a website and decided to impose a penalty. In such a cases in order to get the penalty removed you need to file a reconsideration request and someone from Google will review the website again and decide if the penalty is to be removed or not.
The second type of penalty is the algorithmic penalty (think Panda or Penguin). In this case it means that your website violates one or more rules of the ranking algorithm. In order to recover from the penalty you need to find out the possible causes, take corrective actions and wait for the next Google update to see if you have recovered (at least partly) or not.
Under the MANUAL ACTIONS option Google will tell you if a manual penalty is imposed on your website. It is also worth noting that manual actions have an expiry date so you may see the penalty removed without filing a reconsideration request but most probably it will come back again if you don’t take corrective actions.
#7 – Check if the Google crawler can access your website correctly
If Google cannot access or read your website properly then this also minimizes your chances of achieving good rankings. Under the CRAWL section there are 2 really useful features to help you ensure that there are no problems with crawling:
Crawl Errors – Use this report to find if you have any broken links within your website or if there are any links pointing to pages on your website that do not exist. Correct these errors by fixing the broken links or doing 301 redirections.
These functions are available for both the desktop and mobile version of your website.
#8 – Submit and check your sitemap status
An xml sitemap is a list of urls that you want Google to take into account when crawling your website. If you don’t have a sitemap, Google can still find out about the website and pages but a sitemap among other things, makes their life easier.
Under the SITEMAPS option you can check your sitemap status and see any potential problems. You can test and submit new sitemaps and also see how many pages from your website are included in the Google index.
#9 – Is your website affected by malware
If your website is not secured enough, it can be hacked and injected malware code. What this means is that while you navigate the website without noticing any difference, your visitors from other places will see popups advertising all sorts of things or page redirections to viagra related websites or links to casino or gambling sites.
This is a very bad experience for the webmaster and Google can inform you if they detect anything weird happening on your website. This is why it is very important to have email notifications activated (as discussed on point 1 above).
Google webmaster tools is a great tool with lots of useful information about your website. Even if you are not a professional SEO, you can still dig into webmaster tools and find out what Google knows about your website, identify potential problems and improve your Google presence.