Search engine optimization is an ongoing process, and SEO strategies must be constantly monitored, revised, and tweaked to assure their continued success. To this end, SEOs and webmasters have a variety of valuable tools at their disposal, and one of the most useful and productive is Google Webmaster Tools.
With GWT, SEOs and website owners can scrutinize the sites they are managing, and judge their performance from the perspective of the search engine itself. In effect, GWT lets SEOs and webmasters see their sites through Google’s algorithmic eyes.
From this perspective, webmasters can see what pages on their site are being indexed, what links are directing to their site, and what keywords and phrases are producing the best search results.
Getting Started with Google Webmaster Tools
If you aren’t using GWT already, getting started is relatively easy. Simply sign up for an account, login to the dashboard, and add the website that you want to monitor. You will have to verify that you are the owner of the website domain.
Verification can be accomplished a number of ways, either by adding a Google generated meta tag to your home page, uploading an HTML file to your site’s root folder, or confirming ownership through Google Analytics.
Once ownership of the site is confirmed, GWT will begin collecting data. Within as little as 48 hours, you will have enough accumulated data to begin a comprehensive assessment of your site’s online performance.
The “Search Queries” Area
This area of Google Webmaster Tools gives you detailed information on keyword performance and site traffic, and can be found under the “search traffic” section. This valuable information is broken down into five different categories.
- Query – This section provides metrics on the keywords your site is currently ranking for, and allows you to see what keywords are, or are not, producing the desired results.
- Impressions – This metric allows you to see how many people are finding your website, and what keywords are drawing that traffic.
- Clicks – This section provides information on how many people are seeing your site in a search result, and are following through by clicking on your site’s link.
- Click Through Rate – This is just the clicks / impressions as a percentage. With this information you can gauge if your content needs to be made more relevant to the search query.
- Average Position – This metric tells you how well your site is ranking for a given keyword, and can be used to identify which keywords are performing well and which are performing poorly.
With the information provided by the Search Query Area you will also be able to identify the content of your site that is generating the most clicks, and what keywords are driving people to those pages.
This helps webmasters to see what pages are producing the best organic results, as well as identifying content that needs to be better optimized for online searches.
The “With Change” Feature
Within the Search Query Area, there is a “With Change” feature that allows you to view your site’s performance over time. This data can help you gauge the effectiveness of updates to your site, and can show you how well recently added content is performing.
The “With Change” feature is also useful in demonstrating how your site has been affected by any very recent Google updates, and whether or not you need to alter your SEO strategies to avoid any potential slip in page rankings. While GWT has 90 days worth of data, this feature only goes back 30 days.
Discovering New Keyword Strategies
When building your website, you likely chose a selection of keywords you wished to target on specific pages and sections of your website. Google Webmaster Tools allows you to map the keywords for each section of your website.
Typically, the results will include not only your original keywords, but some unexpected keyword and phrases which may then be exploited to generate even more traffic to your site.
I like to target queries that have an average position of around 12-19 with a good amount of impressions. If you click on the query, GWT will show you what page on your site is ranking for this term.
With some stronger on-page SEO, you should be able to bump this average position with a little effort.
The “Links to Your Site” Section
This area of GWT is extremely valuable to see who out there on the interweb is linking to you. Not only can you see who links to you but also which pages are receiving the most links.
Some SEOs will say that it is not the most update-to-date link profile, and I agree completely. However, it’s an excellent baseline to dive in further. Keep in mind that GWT is a free service, and that using paid tools such as Majestic SEO will provide much better data.
Adding Your XML Sitemap
While not required to use Google Webmaster Tools, I highly recommended that you add an XML sitemap of your site. If you’re on WordPress, there are many plugins that can help with this.
We use the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast for almost all sites we optimize, and it has a section dedicated to getting your sitemap configured. Another option would be to use a crawler such as Screaming Frog, and have it produce a text based version, ready for upload to your server. You will typically want this file to live at www.domain.com/sitemap.xml as a standard.
You can also add subdomains to your XML file, as long as the subdomain is verified. An example is host1.domain.com and this is outlined in the help section of GWT. This can be helpful if you don’t have FTP access to the subdomain for some reason, ie. it’s an ecommerce shop out of your control.
Just add this sitemap to www.domain.com/host1_sitemap.xml by using the crawler mentioned above and add either file under Crawl, then Sitemaps in GWT.
Check For Crawl Errors
In the same section of GWT for adding your sitemap, there is another area for “crawl errors”. You will definitely want to check back in this section after a few days to see if Google has picked up any immediate errors.
Make sure to check back often and fix these errors as quickly as possible. A clean running site can help to avoid Panda issues and keep the user experience in top notch condition.
Google Webmaster Tools is an invaluable resource, and these few examples are only scratching the surface of what it has to offer dedicated SEOs and webmasters looking to improve the online performance of their websites.
GWT offers much more to those who are prepared to explore it fully, and will help webmasters and SEOs to improve both the content of their websites and their performance online.
Would you like me to explore the Google suite of tools further in a future post? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.