How to use webmaster tools
11:36 on Mon, 15 Mar 2010 | SEO | 2 Comments
Google webmaster tools allows you to examine, manage and optimise your SEO efforts by seeing among other things, crawl errors and the top search terms to your site.
When you sign up and log in to your webmaster tools account you’ll be presented with the Dashboard containing the following info about your site at a glance:
Top search queries
Links to your site
One of the most useful things about Webmaster tools is the ability to find any errors in your site the Google crawler has found.
If there are any URLs that the Google crawler finds that come back with HTTP errors then these will be displayed. The most common HTTP error is the 404 not found error.
If there are any URLs that are in the Google sitemap but happen to be uncrawlable (i.e. not existing)) they will appear here.
No, this doesn’t refer to external links with the “nofollow” tag. It refers to URLs that the Google crawler was not able to crawl completely along with some information about it.
Any URLs which return a 404 error code are displayed here, together with where the URL is linked from.
You can use this information to make sure your internal links are linking to the correct pages and that the flow of link juice is optimised.
Restricted by robots.txt
This part lists any URLs that the crawler tried to access but was prevented from doing so by robots.txt. It’s not necessarily an error, since there may be some URLs you’d like to restrict crawler access, but it’s worth it to see if there might be any incoming links to restricted URLs for example.
If the crawler tries to access a page and receives a time out, it will be displayed here.
If Google is unable to access the URL due to an error such as DNS issues, they will be displayed here.
Top Search Queries
The Top Search Queries section lists keyterms that bring in the highest traffic over a period of time, together with their relative position in the Google SERPs. This is useful for deciding which keyterms to target in your SEO campaigns.
This section lists what Google thinks are the most significant keywords on your site. This is generally calculated by the concentration of certain keywords – the more it occurs, the more significant it is.
This is a good method of finding out what Google thinks your site is about, and checking to see if there’s anything wrong. If for example, the term “Gambling” or “Viagra” appears in the list then it may be an indication that your site has been hacked.
Links to your site
This section shows pages on your site Google has found with links to them. The column on the right lists how many incoming links each page on your site has got. If you click on this, you’ll be presented with a list of the URLS which are linking to that particular page.
You could use this knowledge to suggest other pages a certain site might want to link to. For example, if you currently have a few deep pages which a similar site has found useful and linked to them, you could then let the webmaster know of a few other related pages which might be of use to them.
This is where you can upload your Google sitemap and to check on how many URLs Google has indexed compared to how many URLs the sitemap contains. Any errors Google has encountered with the sitemap will also be displayed here.
Two other very useful features of Webmaster tools are the ability to manage sitelinks and tell Google if your site has changed domain.
Sitelinks are (if you didn’t already know) the links to deep pages which appear below your site in the SERPs. These links are determined by the Google algorithm as being the most relevant to users.
The sitelinks for the Amazon.co.uk site for example, are “Books”, “DVD” and “Apple iPoD touch 8GB Latest version”. Although you directly can’t tell Google what you want your sitelinks to be, you can choose to remove certain sitelinks through Webmaster tools. You might want to do this if say, the Google algorithm chooses pages you don't want to drive users directly to.
Keep in mind however, that sitelinks will only be displayed for your site if there are 3 or more unblocked sitelinks available so if for example you have a sitelink pointing to your “Contact” page that you may want to block – but if it also means that other two converting sitelinks to your product pages are going to be removed then it’ll be best to leave it up there.
Change of address
If you have to change your domain to a different one, you should first 301 redirect the domain (on a page by page basis if possible) to the new site and also try your best to get incoming links changed to point to the new site by emailing the webmaster and informing him about the new site.
By verifying with Google you are the owner of both the new and old domain, you can help speed up the process of the new pages being listed. Essentially, you are removing some of Google's risk factor that the domain has not been hijacked and redirected to something they don't want listed.
Although these features are the most useful, Webmaster tools still has more features so it’s worth it to explore once you’ve mastered the basics.