Using Google Webmaster Tools: best free SEO tools #3

So far our series on the best free SEO tools has looked at keyword research and content creation. Now, we’ll look at what you can do to optimise your site using Google’s Webmaster Tools service.

Stick around, and we’ll give you an introduction to the benefits of using this resource, provide pointers on how to get set up, and then look at several key features you should use.

Google email

We basically assume that your site is set up and ready to go, so if you’re still putting your content together, perhaps bookmark this page for future reference.


What is Google Webmaster Tools?

Google Webmaster Tools – recently rebranded as “Search Console” – gives you detailed reports about how Google views your web pages. It’s a simple way to make your website more Google-friendly. The major benefits that you gain from this free resource are:

  • Seeing which of your pages have been indexed by Google
  • Discovering any errors encountered by Google’s crawlers
  • Being able to submit a sitemap so Google indexes your pages more easily
  • Finding the search queries that list your site as a result
  • Learning what sites link to yours
  • Taking specific pages out of Google’s index
  • Highlighting info from your pages to help Google show the most important details

You’re probably starting to get an idea of how useful this tool can be. So let’s crack on and make sure you’re ready to go.


Guide to Webmaster Tools Setup

You need a Google account to use their Webmaster Tools. If you use Gmail, Google+, YouTube or Google Analytics, then you should log in here with the same details you use to access those services. If not, then you should create a new account here and then visit the Webmaster Tools page.

Once you’ve logged in, click “Add Property” button to link your website to your Webmaster Tools account. You can add up to 1,000 sites to your account, and the range of URLs that you can add as a site includes:

Add Property

We recommend following Google’s advice to add every version of your site, such as both http://www.example.com and http://example.com. After you have submitted all versions of your site, you need to verify ownership. There are several options available including:

  • Google Analytics
  • HTML file upload
  • HTML tag
  • Domain name provider
  • Google Tag Manager

Pick the option that suits you best – using Analytics code is a popular choice – and then follow the on-screen instructions to verify your ownership.

Recommended Method

How to use Webmaster Tools

Once you’re confirmed as the legitimate owner of the site, you’ll be able to access information in your Webmaster Account as in the display below. You dashboard provides an overview of alerts on any important or new issues and snapshots of current status including:

  • Crawl Errors
  • Search Analytics
  • Sitemaps

In the left sidebar, you’ll also see four areas that you can open for further investigation:

  • Search Appearance
  • Search Traffic
  • Google Index
  • Crawl

WMT Dashboard

Each section has many distinct functions. Some reveal information about how Google views your site, while others help Google to crawl your content effectively. We’ve gathered a few of the most useful features for beginners below.


Search Appearance

Like the name suggests, the information in this section helps to determine how your website will appear in search results. We recommend that you initially investigate these two options from this area:

  • Data Highlighter: use Webmaster Tools to highlight relevant info and tell Google all of the most important content on your site
  • HTML Improvements: identify content issues with your site including title tags and meta descriptions

Data Highlighting


Search Traffic

This section provides a review of your website performance including search visibility and external links. Particularly worthy of note are:

  • Search Analytics: examine how often your site is appearing in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) and how often people click through to your site
  • Links to Your Site: find out which sites are linking to your domain
  • Mobile Usability: check that your website displays well for smartphone users

Search Queries


Google Index

Take a look through this section and you’ll find information about what Google has indexed and how you can modify what their crawlers can access. Of particular note in this section area are:

  • Content Keywords: view or download an analysis of the keywords used in your content – it can indicate that you are sending out the wrong message
  • Remove URLs: request that Google does not crawl or display certain pages, such as pages carrying confidential info that was accidentally revealed online

Content Keywords


Crawl

Here, you’ll find handy resources that help Google to crawl your site more effectively. A summary of some of the features you should look at include:

  • Crawl Errors: detect any issues that Google robots encounter such as missing or moved pages
  • Sitemaps: test and submit XML sitemaps to let Google’s crawlers know what to anticipate
  • Fetch as Google: ask Google to crawl your site after you have upgraded your content or revised your site structure

Sitemaps


SEO advice – Webmaster Tools essentials

  1. Find out how to submit XML sitemaps with your particular CMS or website builder and submit one as soon as you have created your basic site structure. Re-submit when you’ve added new pages (Trendzer customer please note: your site automatically submits a new sitemap following structure changes).
  2. Use “Fetch as Google” once you have updated any new and unique content for faster indexing – waiting for it to happen naturally can take days, weeks, or longer.
  3. Take a regular look at Search Analytics and “Queries” to see what search terms are making your site display to potential customers – it may tell you a) how to shape your content or b) what your customers really want.

That’s it until next time, when we’ll look at the benefits of using Google Analytics. This invaluable resource will help you to learn more about your site traffic and what visitor behaviour can tell you!


Webmaster Tools resources

Intro to Webmaster Academy: Google’s own interactive guide lets you take helpful modules to learn the ropes

Google Webmaster Central: several updates a week, typically aimed at the more proficient user

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