When it comes to search engine optmisation (SEO) lots of time’s often spent on keyword analysis and fishing for inbound links, but housekeeping to make sure the right pages are in Google’s index will also yield results.
Google’s free Webmaster tools are incredibly useful. In this post I’m going to share a handful of practical ways you can put Webmaster tools to use right away.
Before I start, here’s a great video from Google I found recently that summarises some of these concepts.
Let’s go through some of the tools as they appear in the left nav.
Here’s where you can submit XML sitemaps to google. There are lots of free online tools that can help you create sitemaps. For large sites I’ve found downloading Xenu Link Sleuth to be worthwhile. It will crawl your site and report on broken links, as well as generate an XML sitemap you can submit to Google. A sitemap won’t help your pages rank any better but if you have a lot of pages it can help ensure Google isn’t missing any.
Once you’ve had a go at creating a site map using a link crawling tool, you may be shocked by the number of URLs and how many are not useful. For example, if you have print friendly pages on your site, you probably don’t want these URLs indexed and competing with your ‘normal’ pages.
In the crawler access section you can block search engine robots from indexing sections of your site. Be as thorough as you can.
Remove URL Tool
This can be used in conjunction with broken link reports (see Crawl Errors Report below) to remove pages that no longer exist from Google’s index. (In time pages should drop out if there are no links to them, but this tool can ensure anything you need removed comes out of Google’s index. First the page must be either blocked to search engines or produce a page not found status.
Your site on the web
The Search Queries Report in this section is magnificent. It shows you keywords used to search in Google for which your site was returned in the results. You’ll find impressions, Click Through Rates (CTR), the average positions in Google’s search engine results page, and percentage changes over time.
You can also filter this report to find specific URLs on your site and see how they’re performing in search. Take a look at this screenshot.
The Links to Your Site Report is also pretty amazing. It allows you to drill down and find all the links to your site that Google knows of. You start viewing by the domain that links to you, then drill down to the pages on your site that get the links, then click through again and see the actual URLs of the pages where you’ll find the links themselves. Great for seeing how your site is being promoted by others.
Spend as much time as you have to on the Crawl Errors Report – this will show you the Page Not Found results from your site in Google’s index. Down the bottom of the report you can download a spreadsheet of the sources of all the crawl errors. That is, a list of URLs on your site that produce a page not found and, next to that, where the broken link is (whether it be internal or external).
HTML Suggestions will also show you lists of duplicate title and meta description tags (which can be a good indication you may have duplicate content issues to sort out).
The Fetch as Googlebot tool can also be a useful way to check the status of pages – as Google’s robot sees them. Are your redirects working as expected? Are your friendly Page Not Found (404s) actually producing the 404 status you want?
Finally, in the Google Labs section, where new tools are tested, the Site Performance Report is worth viewing. At a glance you can see patterns in site load times. While you can run better performance tests, it’s difficult to get trends over time, which is exactly what this will show you at a glance.
If you own a website, it’s well worth making sure someone has set up and is monitoring your free Google Webmaster tools account, to make sure your site stays on the right track in search indexes.