Google Webmaster Tools Feature Update and Review

Google Webmaster Tools provide free tools that can be used to diagnose, troubleshoot and suggest ways to correct a website’s technical-related issues. As Google is constantly improving everything else it offers users, it has also recently improved its webmaster tools. Keep reading for a closer look at the changes.

One of the most common issues that most webmasters will be dealing with when using Google Webmaster Tools is in relation to search engine optimization. Naturally, we’ll be focusing on the new tools that can be most helpful to your SEO tasks. 

As of May 2010, Google made a significant improvement to its webmaster tools, which now feature a variety of diagnostic tools and data that can help webmasters to further improve their websites in terms of traffic, search engine visibility and crawlability in Google.

This is a review of the new features and tools available in the latest release of Google Webmaster Tools. This article also includes some of the latest techniques that the webmaster must know in order to get the most out of their use.

This tutorial assumes you have basic knowledge of Google webmaster Tools and that you have a site added and verified to get data from the tools.

Speed up the Transfer to a New Domain Using the "Change of Address" Tool

Moving to a new domain is common among webmasters and owners of online businesses. However, it’s a painstaking task, not only technically but also in terms of affecting your rankings and customers in the long run. Think about having thousands of indexed pages in Google and hundreds of key phrases ranking very well, and then one day you move your website to a new domain.

The result can be quite disastrous, because you will experience long periods of lost traffic and rankings, which of course translates to lost sales. Before, the classical solution to moving a website went as follows:

1. Set up your new website.

2. 301 redirect your old website to the new domain.

3. Wait a couple of months (six months for big sites) to stabilize website traffic and rankings. In this stage, the new website will be the one ranking for those keywords, and the old website will be dropped in Google index for successful 301 redirection.

Thanks to the "Change of Address" tool in Google Webmaster Tools, that process is much simpler. According to Google "Change of Address will help us update our index faster and smooth the transition for your users."

Using this tool can smooth and quicken the maturation of any website transfer. To do this in Google webmaster tools, you need to follow this procedure:

1. Set up your new website using your new domain name.

2. 301 redirect or use the link rel canonical tag to emphasize that the new website is now the canonical domain for your content.

3. Add your new website in Google Webmaster Tools. You need to verify this using any of the recommended methods (such as meta tags or others).

4. Go to Site à Change of Address in Google Webmaster Tools. Select the new domain in the drop down list under "Select a verified site…" And then click submit.

The webmaster already has lots of ways to solve duplicate content issues. The following are the classical ways:

1. Using robots.txt

2. Using meta-noindex tag

3. Doing 301 redirection

Last year, Google added the link rel canonical tag, which solves a lot of technical issues with handling duplicate content, even for those who cannot do a 301 redirect (for example, a Blogger account).

This year, Google added another new feature to their Google Webmaster Tools. Known as "Parameter handling," it further simplifies the solution for duplicate content issues, even for big sites.

"Parameter handling" is for those who cannot do either 301 redirection or editing of page source to implement the link rel canonical tag. Let’s illustrate how to use "parameter handling."

Case Example: Suppose you have an OsCommerce website and you decide to use the "Parameter Handling" approach for solving duplicate content instead of using the link rel canonical tag because it’s a much easier solution. With parameter handling all you need to do is enter the parameter to ignore in Google Webmaster Tools, instead of working with complicated PHP scripts to generate link rel canonical tag output.

The rest of the steps are as follows:

1. Identify the offending parameter that causes duplicate content. In OsCommerce, the common offending parameter is osCsid, which is a session ID.

2. Log in to Google webmaster tools.

3. Under "Sites," click the website that you would like to implement with "parameter handling."

4. Go to "Site configuration" à "Settings" à "Parameter Handling."

5. Click "Adjust parameter settings."

6. Under the "Parameter" textbox, enter OsCid, and then select "Ignore" under "Action."

Here is a screen shot illustrating the process above:

7. Click Save.

Google will then ignore that parameter. This offers users a robots.txt-like behavior, which helps Googlebot to crawl the website more efficiently in addition to preventing duplicate content.

One of the finest new features in Google Webmaster tools can be found under the "Search Queries" section. You can find this section under "Your site on the web" à "Search Queries."

Formerly, there was one major problem faced by most webmasters and SEOs: Knowing the targeted key phrases ranking for a site in a specific geographical location (country) and the ranking URL accurately.

It was almost impossible to do this before without the reliance on proxies to check rankings or details, as illustrated in this tutorial. For example, in order to check the website ranking for specific key phrases in Toronto, Canada for Google.ca, if the user is not in Canada, he or she would have to use a Canadian-based proxy and then connect to www.google.ca to check rankings. Still, this process is not 100% accurate.

Thanks again to Google’s webmaster team for adding a new feature under "Search queries" that solves this rank checking problem.

Case Example : The website www.php-developer.com is ranking for the targeted key phrase php preg_match, and the webmaster needs to find out the ranking for that targeted keyword in Australia.

Step 1. Be sure you are logged in to Google Webmaster Tools, and then go to "Your site on the web" à "Search queries".

Step 2. In the countries drop-down list, select "Australia."

Step 3. Expand the + symbol beside the targeted keyword.

Step 4. The ranking details and the URL are now shown. Example screen shot:

 

Encircled in red are the important items. The first on the top is the country settings, which is "Australia." Then it says that:

a. The key phrase php preg_match has 210 impressions in Position 6 to 10 and the average position is 9.4

b. The ranking URL is /testpregmatch.php

Of course, the above statistics only apply to Australia and are different in other countries. This time, since it is coming from and exactly using data from Google, it will be a lot more reliable than the other methods.

"Low performing keywords in terms of click through" means that, even though a certain key phrase which is ranking in Google receives lots of impressions, there are not that many click throughs that contributes organic search engine traffic to your website.

Under "Search queries," you can compute your overall %Click through from Google using the following formula:

%Click Through = Total Clicks / Total Impressions

There is no straightforward judgment to tell if you have a good or bad click through rate, but definitely you should do something if your click through is less than 1%. Even if it is greater than 1%, there still a lot of room for improvement.

Possible problems can be:

1. A poor snippet shown in Google’s search engine result for a particular query for which your website is ranking.

2. A poor title tag that is conveying a substantial difference in meaning from the query conducted.

3. The URL is tagged with "This site may harm your computer" in Google search results, so people are afraid of clicking the result. In this case, it is worth checking the "Malware" section in Google Webmaster Tools (Diagnostics à Malware).

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