This is the second post in my series looking at Webmaster and SEO tools. Today I am going to look at Google Webmaster Tools. These are a set of free tools designed to make your web site more Google friendly and improve your site’s visability. The tools also help diagnose problems with your site, such as broken links.
You will though need a Google account before you can take advantage of these free tools. If you’re not already using any Google Account services like GMail then you will need to create a Google account first.
Google Webmaster Tools
We’ll begin by looking at the Google Webmaster Tools home page. There are several useful links on this page, but probably the best one to start with is the Google Webmaster Central page. This provides a good overview of what these tools have to offer and provides several useful links if you want to delve deeper into a particular area. It covers the following areas:
This can be used to find out whether your site is currently being indexed by Google. Just enter your web site address and click the Next button.
This is quite a useful blog to subscribe to if you want to keep up-to-date with how Google indexes and crawls your sites.
This link provides statistics, diagnostics and management of Google’s crawling and indexing of your website, including Sitemap submission and reporting. I’ll be delving into this area in more detail shortly.
This link allows you to talk to other webmasters about any queries or problems you have with your site, plus provide feedback to the Google webmaster team. Google employees occasionally post tips in this discussion group too so it is worth keeping a lookout for these.
Use this section to find answers to frequently asked questions about crawling, indexing, ranking and other webmaster issues.
That’s enough of an overview. Time to delve into the area which I think you’ll find most interesting, the Google Webmaster tools (including Sitemaps) page. Once you’ve logged into your Google account you can then start using the tools.
The first step is to add your web site. Once that is done you will then be prompted to verify your site. This is to prove that you are the owner of the web site. By verifying your site you can access comprehensive statistics and crawl errors about the pages in your site. There are two methods of verification. You can either upload an HTML file with a name that Google specifies, or you can add a META tag to your site’s index file.
Once your site has been verified the next step is to add an XML sitemap. A sitemap will allow Google to more easily index and crawl your web site. There are several ways you can create a sitemap. If you’re using WordPress then take a look at the Google Sitemap Generator for WordPress plugin.
This is an excellent plugin which will create an XML sitemap of your WordPress blog each time you update your blog with a new post. The sitemap is then automatically pinged to Google and Yahoo. If you’re looking for a simple hassle-free sitemap generator then it is worth a closer look. I’ve used this plugin on previous blogs before with success. I’ve run into some issues with it recently, but I think that is more to do with my WordPress installation or other plugins I’m using, rather than a fault with the Google Sitemap Generator plugin.
If your web site is not powered by WordPress, or you prefer not to use the plugin mentioned above, then there are other alternatives. The topic of XML Sitemaps is quite large though, so I will be covering that in more detail in a later post in this series.
Once you’ve registed your sitemap with Google you will need to wait a few hours for Google to download and process the sitemap. Once that is done you will have access to detailed statistics about your web site. The next step is to return to the page where you first added your web site to Google. You should see a table with your web site listed inside. If you click on that link it will take you to the Webmaster Tools page where you can access detailed information about your site.
The Webmaster Tools page provides four sections:
This provides a summary page of your web site where you can look at any errors that Google encountered whilst crawling your site.
My favourite area in this section is the information provided on query stats. The information in this section will show you at a glance what search terms are proving successful in driving traffic to your web site.
This shows the top search queries, together with the average top positions. Using this page you can easily see which search terms people entered in Google to get to your web site. The average top position is useful too, the lower the number the better. A figure around 10 or below would mean your web site is appearing on the front page of Google for that particular search query. I haven’t managed a number 1 position yet, although I’ve got quite a few at number 2 and 3
This is another good one. It shows all the external and internal links in your web site. The list of external links will show all the other web sites that link to your site. This can be useful in discovering other links to your site which you may have been unaware of.
This section shows the current status of your XML Sitemap. It shows the date and time you last submitted your sitemap and when the sitemap was last downloaded by Google. It also shows the number of URL’s referenced in the sitemap.
That sums up Google Webmaster Tools. I mainly use the tools to submit my sitemap when I update my web site, plus I occasionally dip into the Links section to see who is linking to my site. The information it provides is useful in showing ‘at a glance’ type details, but it is not that useful in drilling down into more details, for example it doesn’t show what the top external links are. I would recommend using this in conjunction with other tools like Google Analytics to gain a greater insight into how traffic is driven to your site.
Next week I will covering the next topic in this series so stay tuned.