Google Webmaster Tools: Part 1

9 AUG 2010 15

Today I'm going to write about a less known service Google provides that can help your website.  Sure, many people have heard about Google Analytics, and it's fantastic for statistics tracking... but Google Webmaster Tools, while being completely different, is still extremely helpful to the website operator. It can be found at:  http://www.Google.com/webmasters/tools

In a nutshell, Google Webmaster Tools provides you with a wealth of information about your site from Google's perspective. Why would this be helpful, you might ask? Well, think of it this way... Google is not the only source your website can get search engine traffic from, but it is certainly the biggest.  As a webmaster, it's prudent to want to follow the advice Google gives you about your site (there are always exceptions for every rule, but that's an entirely different topic for another day!). While there are no guarantees that following any suggestions from Google Webmaster Tools is going to increase your traffic, implementing the suggestions it provides is only going to make your site look better when it's crawled -- and you'll probably improve your user experience as well.

There are several sections in Google Webmaster Tools (I'm going to abreviate it to GWT from here on out for the sake of brevity); they are as follows:

The Dashboard Gives you a snapshot of some of the most important information

Site Configuration Provides helpful information on the performance of your website

Your Site On the Web Shows you information about your site and how Google sees your site on the web

Diagnostics Helps you to troubleshoot potential issues on your site, both minor and major

Labs Contains new or experimental features that are still in beta. Tools in this area may break or be removed at any time.

In this post we'll be looking at the dashboard area and the information it provides about your site; future posts will cover the other sections, so stay tuned!

The Dashboard

Once you've validated your site with GWT, it will take some time to collect the initial data. Once it does,  the dashboard will provide you with some of the most important information GWT has about your site.  It will give you a listing of all the links your site has as well as to what pages on your sites the links point to.  This can help you determine what pages need more links. For example, if you are are trying to rank a particular page for a chosen keyword, and it's not performing as well as you like, it could be due to the page not having enough inbound links. This information comes from the "Your Site On The Web" section, and you can click through to see more information than is displayed on the homepage.

Also in the "Your Site On The Web" section is the search queries section. This will show you how many impressions (how many times your site is viewed in a Google listing) you have for particular terms as well as how many times users click through. This can help you determine how well you are doing for your targeted keywords, as well as identify new ones.  If you are getting lots of impressions / traffic from a keyword but aren't ranked very high for it, that might be a term you would want to target as getting ranked for, as it will only increase the traffic it sends you.

Next we have the crawl errors section, which ties into the diagnostics section. It will give you an overview of how many site errors (such as dead links / not found pages) the Googlebot  found the last time it crawled your site. You want to correct these errors if at all possible for two reasons. First, Google likes the sites they list in their search engines to be as error-free as possible, so fewer crawl errors are only going to help your position in the search engines. More importantly (and the reason why Google likes sites in their index to be error-free), errors generally cause a poor experience for users browsing your site. Google wants anyone who browses your website to have as positive of an experience as possible.

The final entry on the dashboard from the "Your Site On the Web" section is the Keywords entry. This will tell you what keywords Google thinks your site is associated with and how important (relevant) each keyword is. You can use this information to determine if Google is getting the right message from your site. For example,  if you sell bicycles and the Keywords section is displaying skateboards as your most important keyword, then you have a serious problem with the way your site is optimized for Google, and you can take steps to fix it.

Finally, we have sitemaps. Tied into the "Site Configuration", this will tell you if you've uploaded a sitemap to Google yet, and if you have, how many pages have been indexed (added to the search engine listings). Obviously you want to have as many pages in your site indexed as possible. Generating a xml Google sitemap (there are many free and paid tools available online to do this) will allow you to help Google find and index pages on your site that it wouldn't normally find through regular crawling activity. This is definitely a good thing.

That brings us to the end of part one! Stay tuned for next time when we'll go more in-depth and look at the other features and tools GWT provides for your website!

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