Most website owners I meet know about Google Analytics and have set it up (or some other Analytics package) on their website, but not everyone also sets up Google Webmaster Tools (often referred to as GWMT). This is a shame because they are missing out on an important conduit of information from Google about their website. In fact, I’ll go so far and say you are blind if you don’t have GWMT set up for your website.
While Analytics is all about your traffic, GWMT focuses on how your site is crawled and indexed. GWMT is also the place where Google notifies you of any penalties and when malware is detected on your site.
Setting up GWMT, like with GA, involves a verification step where you provide to Google that you own and operate the website. Once the initial site owner is verified though, you can add additional users (via a Google account) for access. I’ve talked about GWMT verification before in previous posts, here and here.
Five Awesome Things About GWMT
Keyword Data: In Google Analytics much of our keyword data is obscured by “not provided”. In GWMT under the Search Traffic -> Search Queries, you can get some of that missing keyword information back. Here you can see your top keywords (whether you sort by clicks or impressions), and if you click through, you’ll see what page is ranking for that keyword and details about the position.
Click on “With Change” to get data on whether things are improving or not. Keep in mind though, that this data only is available for 90 days, so you might want to download it periodically.
HTML improvements: Google will flag problems with your title tag and meta data information. Duplicate titles and meta descriptions might be an indication of duplicate content problems, so it’s worth checking into.
One annoying thing about this feature (true of other components of GWMT) is that reports of problems linger long after they have been fixed. Under menu item Search Appearance -> HTML Improvements.
Crawl Errors: Now why would Crawl Errors be awesome? Because it could potentially be a goldmine of valuable links. Yes you can find broken links on your website by crawling with Screaming Frog or Xenu, but Crawl Errors will give you more than that. It will also tell you about broken links from external sites.
I once worked with a client that had very well known products, so well known, that people would link to a non-existent URLs that were the domain name, followed by “/” and then the product name. These got 404 errors (fortunately the site had a helpful 404 page). We did a project that set up 301 redirects for these “vanity URLs” and picked up some new incoming links this way.
Now you may not have products that are a household name, however people screw up coding links all the time. Check and see if you have some malformed incoming links that you can 301 into real links both for a SEO benefit and a better user experience. Crawl Errors can be found under the Crawl Menu.
Sitemap submission: Want to give Google a roadmap to your website? Sitemaps help Googlebot and Bingbot find all your pages. Create a XML sitemap and submit via GWMT. If you have a WordPress site there are a number of plugins that will create a XML Sitemap for you. Otherwise there are also free tools that will help you create a static one.
Don’t forget to come back to GWMT after a few days to check for any errors or warnings with your sitemap submission. Sitemaps are also under the Crawl menu.
Structured Data Checks: The web is continually evolving and one new frontier is semantic search. One component that is key to this evolution is structured data, which is markup that is added to your pages that helps Google and the other search engines make sense of your pages. For example, you may have a recipe on your page that you have marked up with tags that define how long the recipe will take to make, how many calories it is and a rating. This data will show up in the search engine results pages as rich snippets.
If you haven’t been introduced to the world of rich snippets yet, check out my post on building awesome ones. GWMT now provides (under Search Appearance -> Structured Data) information on errors in your mark up.