Google Webmaster Tools “provides you with detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google”, according to the search-engine giant. This guide will highlight the importance of this web service — also known by its abbreviation GWT — and look at the facilities users often miss. GWT can help you find out:
- The visibility of your pages on Google
- How Google sees you
- How to submit any structured data for rich snippets using the right tools
- If your site features any duplication
- Which queries have led to click-throughs from Google
- What your top pages are
- Which links are directing most traffic to your site
- If any manual actions have been taken against your site
- The index status of your site
- If there is a high number of crawl errors
- How to instantly update a new page and make it appear on search engine results
- The method for submitting your XML sitemap for search-engine spiders
- If your site has been hacked
These are just some of the insights that GWT can offer. If you are a site owner, webmaster, web developer, SEO professional or online marketer, you need to understand why GWT matters to businesses.
Would you like to see rich snippets on SERPs?
Search Appearance > Structured Data and Search Appearance > Data Highlighter
If you want your SERP results to appear in the form of rich snippets — ratings, price and product availability included — so that you can grab users’ attention, then you need to use the Data Highlighter or the Structured Data Markup Helper. These implement structured data, like those for images, price, ratings and product availability, within the source code of your site.
So why do they matter? Well, when users perform a query and they have to choose between two or more results (plain snippet VS rich snippet), they will opt for the rich snippet in most cases.
From the four results, the one that offers more information through implementation or structured data is Shuperb.co.uk. This is due to the fact that more item properties have been implemented in the source code of this product page.
To summarise, rich snippets are a source of crucial information that is likely to grab the user’s attention and enhance the chance of a link being clicked. For a business, this means increased number of impressions, higher number of clicks and a higher click-through rate.
If you feel comfortable adding the code to your site, then you can refer to the use of the Structured Data Markup Helper tool. However, if you are not familiar with markup HTML or you aren’t working with a web developer, an equally effective tool is the Data Highlighter as it allows you to tag your product pages. Recently, Google introduced structured snippets. This tool retrieves information and places it into the SERPs, as this image demonstrates:
Is there any duplication?
Search Appearance > HTML Improvements
If you don’t have access to crawling tools like Screaming Frog, then you can use GWT to find any duplication, excessively long or short page titles or meta descriptions, or even content that hasn’t been indexed yet.
Once you have identified problems, download data into a CSV file and make amends. Make sure that you have unique titles and meta descriptions that won’t be truncated on the SERPs (approximately 60 and 156 characters respectively). You can preview your page title on Moz to see exactly how it will appear.
When they are fully uploaded, all you have left to do is to wait until they are indexed (the Fetch As Google function is great for speeding up the indexation process and will be discussed in detail later).
Are there any links to your site?
The ‘Links to your site’ option on GWT will help you find out which domains have links to pages on your site. To get started, simply select the ‘Download more sample links’ option.
You will be able to analyse your backlink profile to inform your link-building strategy, looking at domain strength, anchor text usage and more.
Are there any manual actions taken against your site?
Keyword stuffing and low-quality content are two reasons why Google may take actions against a site and harm its ranking ability. If you are worried that you’re not following Google’s best practices, it’s a good idea to create a GWT account and see if any manual actions have been taken against you.
Which search queries brought users to your site?
Site Search > Search Queries
Search Queries can help you see the path users took to your site. You have two options when using this feature: either review the Basic Data or Data With Change.
You can only view historical data of up to 90 days. It is therefore crucial that you keep a detailed log of your site’s monthly activity, featuring information on queries, impressions, clicks, click-through rates and average positions in order to make comparisons.
The additional information available through Data With Change only covers 30 days. By clicking into one of the queries shown in the table above, you will be able to gain access to more in-depth data such as that shown below. Top Pages is another important section of Search Queries, as it allows you to see data about the pages on your site that are ranking prominently on the SERPs. You can even use filters to see data restricted by location, traffic, device type and so on.
How do I eliminate crawl errors?
Crawl > Crawl Errors
The ‘Crawl Errors’ function shows how many 404 pages you have. Google will usually send a message if you have a high number of ‘not found’ pages, because this problem can cause spiders to perceive low-quality signals and consider your site abandoned.
The optimal solution are 301 redirections (permanent redirections), which redirect the old URLs to the new ones. An added benefit is that you will also be ensuring almost 90 per cent of link juice will be transferred to the new pages.
How can I speed up the index process?
Crawl > Fetch As Google There will be cases where you make various updates to the source code, perhaps by updating content or amending meta descriptions. Rather than idly waiting for Google to crawl and index all of this new content, speed up the process by submitting the relevant URLs.
How do I submit my XML Sitemap?
Crawl > XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap tells search engine spiders how pages are organised within your site. The most common form of an XML Sitemap would look something like this: www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml.
When using this option, you will have to edit the Frequency and Priority tags according to the importance of your pages. Following this, you need to submit the sitemap index onto GWT.
If you have a multilingual site, it is important that you submit the XML sitemap for the respective language versions as well as the original.
How do I disavow links?
Website owners may have low-quality backlinks pointing to their site, which can violate Google’s guidelines and lead to a penalty. Even if you haven’t received a warning, it’s best to be proactive and work on removing spammy backlinks that could harm your site.
How would you like to get targeted data for your site only?
Google Index > Index Status
If you have a site with a well-resourced blog and relevant content and you want to see the index status report concerning your subfolder (www.mysite.com/myblog), all you need to do is submit and verify your subfolder on GWT. This will present you with targeted data.
How do I start using GWT?
To start, submit your website to GWT. Once you have done this, you will also need to verify your website using one of the methods that is shown in the image below.
Adding a multilingual site and using a generic TLD (.com)
If you are using a generic TLD (e.g. .com) and your website is multilingual (e.g. .com/ita, .com/gre, .com/rus etc), you need to work on international targeting as well. You need to submit your website as many times as the number of language versions you have set up.
Under Search Traffic > International Targeting, you will be able to easily choose the appropriate country and language. You don’t have to follow the aforementioned process in instances where you are still using a ccTLD such as .co.uk or .de.
Still have questions about taking full advantage of the potential of Google Webmaster Tools? Contact us and we will be happy to help.