When I first discovered Google Webmaster Tools I was thrilled. I was fasinated by the data it provided and it has only gotten better over the years. I love showing it to clients, as many don’t even know it exists. Okay – 99% of my clients don’t know it exists until I show it to them. And the remaining 1% had no idea how much the tool really offered.
If you’re like most small business owners, you have limited time and resources to dedicate to sleuthing around in Webmaster Tools. Don’t fret! There is a lot of great information and tools waiting and it won’t take physics degree to understand the information presented.
Let’s walk through what I think are some critical areas for small businesses owners to review within Google Webmaster Tools. Remember this tool is 100% free and it is worth every minute you spend in it.
Google uses the messages to communicate with website owners and authorized users. Google may send you messages about your site for website health issues such as inaccessibility, malware, crawling issues, indexing problems, or the dreaded notices of unnatural links. Most the time you will not receive any messages and this is good. If you do receive one, take note and act quickly to repair whatever is wrong.
An XML sitemap is a special sitemap that gives Google a road map of your content. It not only buckets content up for the search engine, it also tells the search engine the last update date by individual piece of content. It can include pages, posts, images, and videos.
So why do you need one? Not only does an XML sitemap provide a complete list of pages for Google, it is updated each time you update your website by adding or updating existing content. Or at least it does so in WordPress when you use plugins like Yoast’s WordPress SEO. This updates virtually pings Google to notify it of fresh content and provides an invitation to come back to your website. This leads to quicker indexing of your content, which is imperative for showing up in search.
If Google isn’t picking up and indexing your new content quickly, your sitemap is most likely missing or broken. A quick trip to Google Webmaster Tools will let you know if this is the case.
This section lists each type of structured data discovered on your site, along with the number of URLs contained in each type. Structured data can include reviews, people, products, businesses, recipes, events, and music.
Why do you care? It not only provides a better search experience for Google’s users, it allows you to stand out in the search results page which increases the number of visits to your content. Structured data is fairly new, but it is important in today’s SEO.
If you suspect your website is slow or has had periods of slow performance, jump over to this section and take a quick view of how Google sees your website. This area has made me leave two hosting companies, because I could see the performance issues I thought were occurring, were indeed true issues.
Google wants a good experience for it’s searchers. That means it favors websites that are fast and quick to respond to user requests. Slow websites do not offer a positive experience and thus will hurt your overall ranking. It also hurts your user experience and will elevate bounce rates.
This section shows you Google’s high-level view of your meta descriptions and titles. If you have duplicates it will tell you. Short titles or descriptions will also be highlighted so you can make adjustments and improvements. Why should you care? Google uses meta titles and descriptions to differentiate your content and to assign it to a given search phrase. If Google struggles with meta titles and descriptions, you will not perform well in search.
Do you need to check this all the time? Nope, but a drop in once in a while to make sure all is well is advantageous.
I absolutely love looking at content keywords with clients because it helps show just how egocentric we are when creating and updating our websites. This section basically shows a list of the top words used in your website’s content. If you are egocentric this will include your company name, product name, and of the ever present “contact us”. If you’re SEO savvy this will include your highest priority keywords.
This list is a reality check at it’s finest. It not only show you how Google views your website, it helps give a data driven view of your content. When you see strange words or silly words you know your writing and content needs some love. I’d say in 80% of our clients have issues in this area and had no idea it was an issue until we pointed it out.
The search queries section of Google Webmaster Tools provides user search queries that have returned pages from your site. In addition to seeing what keyword phrases appear for search, you can also see information about what content pages of your website appear most often in search results. Thus you’ll see your top searches by volume and your top pages.
Why does this matter? When I show people this section most immediately tell me they have Google Analytics so they don’t need this tool. They are wrong. Google Analytics only shows activity once someone clicks through to your website. The search queries here shows all activity within Google.
Over the years this tool as improved a ton and it now shows keywords, impressions, clicks, click through rates, and average position. You can also see a delta for changes. It will help provide insight on search traffic you’ve recently lost and it will show you oodles of keywords and phrases you can target for improvement.
Want to know what keywords you could improve on in search? Then look here because a ton of helpful data exists.
Links to Your Site
This section simply provides a list of websites that link into your website. While I say simply, this list can be very important. If you’ve been penalized by Google, this information will be vital to regaining your position in search. Within this section you will be able to see who links to you, from what pages, and to the specific pages within your website.
I recently worked with a client who had hired a few naughty SEO consultants in the past. This list of inbound links is the action plan they need for removing black hat links and regaining their favor with Google. By looking at the information together we discovered black hat links from years ago that they thought were already removed. They were not and they were hundreds. The client had a fresh view of their issues with Google and they were now empowered to correct the situation.
While the internal links are not nearly as important to the external links, this list does provide a good third party view of how you link content. You’ll quickly see if you link to undesirable pages more often that you should. And more importantly, you’ll see what content you’re not linking to and knowing this is critical.
Many clients default to linking to their contact page, but forget to link to their core service or product pages. This is a disservice to your visitors and to Google, because it does not highlight what content is most important. While your contact page is important, making sure Google and users see your most important content is critical.
A brief jump into this section of Google Webmaster Tools will quickly show you areas of improvement. And we can all use some improvement.
The Take Away
If you haven’t started using Google’s Webmaster Tools, it is time to jump in. If you don’t, you’re competition will be leaving you behind in both search and in revenue. Take a moment and watch Google’s video promoting the tool. You’ll see Google Webmaster Tools isn’t so scary after all.
Google is making lots of strives in making the verification process easier for people, so don’t let that part scare you. If it does scare you, hire a consultant to get it set up for your and your website. The $50 you spend for someone’s time will be well worth it.
If you’re considering rebuilding your website, we’ll take care of all of this for you as part of our all-inclusive web design packages. We want to design a beautiful website for you and we want the world to see it, so we are happy to integrate SEO into our website design projects.