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Google Webmaster Tools 101

by Mediacurrent Team
October 13, 2014

Google provides a number of different free tools to help users improve their SEO and drive more traffic to their websites. Chances are you may already be familiar with Google Analytics, Google’s popular and widely used analytics tools suite. When it comes to your SEO arsenal, however, don’t overlook Google Webmaster Tools! Google Webmaster Tools is a free, easy to use toolkit from Google that will help your website be found online. This tool suite is absolutely essential to successful SEO because it allows you to see your website just as Google sees it. With Webmaster Tools, you’ll gain invaluable insights into what pages have been indexed on your site, which are your most popular keywords, and what links are pointing to your website.

Can Google Find Your Site?

Webmaster Tools are designed to ensure that Google finds your website and shows it for the correct search query. Webmaster Tools displays the errors that Google finds when reading a website so you (the website owner) can fix these problems in order to make all your website’s pages appear in search results. Additionally, every time that you create a new page for your website, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to see how often people link to this page and how often it appears in Google’s search results. This data is invaluable for discovering the most successful pages and products on a website, so you know exactly which pages to focus on driving more traffic.

For a fast way to confirm your website is showing up in Google search results, type the following into a Google search bar, substituting your website’s name in place of “domain name” – “site:domainname”. If something comes up, you’re in Google search results. 

Why Can’t Google Find My Website?

Let’s say you used the trick above and found that Google isn’t listing any of your pages at all. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about whether or not you’re getting rankings for the keywords you want- I’m talking about testing if Google is able to even get to your website. If you find yourself in this situation, we need to do a little digging to find and fix the problem. 

If it’s a new website, it’s possible Google hasn’t had a chance to index it yet. One way to speed this process up is to submit a sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools. 

It’s also possible that Google might be having a hard time crawling your website. Check Google Webmaster Tools for crawl errors (shows the URLs Google tried to crawl, but couldn’t access) and test your robots.txt file to make sure you aren’t accidentally blocking Google from any URLs or directories on your website. If you see issues with either of these, take steps to fix the crawl errors and the robots.txt file. 

If you don’t see any issues with crawl errors or your robots.txt file, then make sure your site wasn’t previously associated with spammy links. This is a common problem if you have recently purchased a new domain or if you’ve been impacted by some of the updates Google has made over the past few years. Most of the time Google will rely on algorithms to improve or demote your website in search result pages, but they will also take manual action on websites that use spammy techniques. To check to see if that’s the case, go to the Manual Actions page on Google Webmaster Tools (located under search traffic). This page will have a list of the manual actions that have been taken and steps to address them. Once you’ve addressed all of the issues and you’re confident that your website now follows the Webmaster Guidelines, you can request a review of your site from the Manual Actions page. 

Keep in mind that Google discovers new pages on your web just as new users do: by following internal links. The easier your linking structure, the easier it will be for both Google and your website’s visitors to find the information they need.

Using Google Webmaster Tools to Understand Your Keyword Traffic

Google Webmaster Tools is vital to understanding keyword traffic. When compared with Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools actually provide a more holistic view that shows both the breakdown of traffic to your site as well as your traffic potential via impressions and site ranking.

For example, let’s say you’ve launched a new SEO strategy to better drive traffic to your website. One way to measure the strategy’s effectiveness is to use the “With Change” feature. From the Search Queries section, select the “With Change” button. This shows both your current search statistics as well as the change in performance over time. Tracking this information over time will help you better understand how changes to your website (e.g., new copy on your services page) affects your site ranking. This data is invaluable for adapting your SEO strategy over time.

Google Webmaster Tools uses five main indicators – query, impressions, clicks, CTR and average position – to provide a wealth of useful data, including:

  1. “Which keywords are my site currently ranking for?”
    You’ll find your answer in by comparing “query” to “average position” on the same page. It’s the fastest way to determine whether your efforts to rank for a specific keyword phrase are working. Query is useful for identify which keywords are relevant to your site, but may need a boost from linking or content optimization to really drive traffic. 
  2. “How many people are seeing my website when they search a specific keyword phrase?”
    The “impressions” metric provides information for how many people are seeing your content in the context of a specific search.
  3. “How many people see my site and then click on it?” 
    The “clicks” metric tells you how many people see your site in search results and then choose to click on it.
  4. “What is my click-through rate?”
    The click-through rate (CTR) is the percentage of people who are clicking on your website in search results. If your CTR is low, there may be an issue with the meta description on your page or your call-to-action from a PPC campaign could be failing to work. While a low CTR won’t tell you the cause for the problem, it will alert you to a site traffic problem that you might not otherwise have realized existed.

What Now? 

After launching the website, some marketers only return to Google Webmaster Tools when they’re in trouble because their website is losing rankings or traffic. Most of the time, you can catch issues before they have a huge impact on your rankings by keeping an eye on the errors, manual actions, and search traffic information on Google Webmaster Tools. Even reviewing the dashboard once a month (though, once a week is better!) could provide the valuable insight needed to run a successful, indexable website.

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