The Five Most Important Things You Can Do with Google Webmaster Tools

One of the most important tools available to any webmaster is Google Webmaster tools. This is a FREE tool from Google, and its sole purpose is characterizing and diagnosing website technical-related issues. The objective is to make the website as search engine friendly as possible, not only for Google but other search engines as well. A search engine friendly website will then have no problems in rankings and maximize visitors’ site experiences.

To be able to use Google webmaster tools, you need to have the following:

  • A Google account – Since this product belongs to Google, it needs you to have a Google account. Registering is straightforward and easy, just go to: https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount
  • Access to your website’s main header template — This does not necessarily mean full FTP access. As long as you can access the main header template of the website, you can install the Google verification code. For WordPress users, this will be placed in header.php. For Blogger users, this will be placed in the template source code.
  • A fully indexable website — If you have placed restrictions on your website such as requiring a password or blocking the site in robots.txt, you cannot verify the site in Google Webmaster Tools.

Below are the important steps you need to take to use Google webmaster tools.

  1. Create a Google account here: https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount.
  2. Log in to Google webmaster tools here: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ using your new account. 
  3. Add your website to the Dashboard. When adding your website, add only the root and canonical URL of your domain.

For example, if the canonical version is http:// and you’re using www version, it should be in the form of http://www.yourwebsite.com. If the canonical version of your domain (canonical means “the official” or your “preferred version” to be indexed and to be shown to the visitors) is non-www, you should be adding the non-www version to the Dashboard (Add site), so it will be http://yourwebsite.com .

You can even add the secure version of your domain. In this case, add something like https://www.yourwebsite.com . The tricky thing in Google Webmaster Tools is that if you have both secure and non-secure versions of your domain, you really need to add and verify each of them, unlike in Google Analytics where you can add the secure JavaScript code which will gather traffic data for both secure and non-secure versions of the domain.

It is recommended to add only the root URL and not other URLs in the domain. For example, do not add something like http://www.yourwebsite.com/thisisanotherpage.html. Instead add only the root in the “Add site” section, http://www.yourwebsite.com .

When verifying the site, the most recommended method is to use a verification meta tag since you can just copy and paste it to the template in the <head> section. Click “verify” if you have finished pasting in the verification meta tag. After verification, you should see that your site is “checked” in the Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard. See screen shot below:

Wait around for two weeks to one month for Google Webmaster Tools to fully gather the initial data for your site. Note that the more popular your website (the greater will be the number of inbound links pointing to it), the faster Google will index your site and return those initial sets of data.

FIRST IMPORTANT THING: Turning 404 errors in the “back links” to your site into a live link.

One of the important but advanced features in Google Webmaster Tools involves diagnosing 404 errors in your site. 404s are URLs that are simply “NOT FOUND” when someone visits your URL. The primary causes are the following:

  • Someone puts a link to one of the pages of your site but it was misspelled. So when Google or any person follows that link, they will be taken to your 404 page. Google will then report this incident in your webmaster tools account for that site. 
  • You have a design-related issue. This means it is possible to have live pages, but the actual server header status for it will be 404.

So how do you get the most out of this piece of information? 404 means lost traffic or a lost sale, though not all 404s will be useful. Anyway, here is what you have to do:

  • Click on your site in the Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard.
  • Under “Overview,” find “Not found” and then click “Details.”
  • Take note of the URL that returns the 404 error.
  • 301 redirect that URL to the correct URL. This can be done in .htaccess or with a PHP-redirect script.
  • The next time a visitor clicks that link, it will now be 301-redirected to the correct URL.

For example, say the correct URL is: http://www.yourwebsite.com/product-23.php

But someone links to it using this URL: http://www.yourwebsite.com/products-23.php . This will give a 404 header status. If you 301 redirect http://www.yourwebsite.com/products-23.php to http://www.yourwebsite.com/product-23.php you will turn the dead link into a live link. Of course, you do not have control over the person that links to it. The only thing you can do is 301 redirect to the correct URL.

SECOND IMPORTANT THING: Further increase website traffic by using “Top search queries”

By going into Dashboard -> Statistics -> Top Search Queries, you can see important columns of information. They are Impressions, which is a measurement of how many times your website appears for a certain keyword; and Traffic, which is a measurement of which keywords generate the most traffic for your website. So how do you get the most out of using this information?

Rule number 1. If the highest contributing keyword under “Impressions” is NOT the highest contributing keywords under “Traffic,” then that keyword has great traffic potential. To exploit that keyword, optimize it in to your website; this means doing some ethical SEO work targeting that phrase.

Rule number 2. If the highest contributing keyword under “Impressions” is the same as the highest contributing keywords under “Traffic,” then you know you’ve reached your optimum traffic potential for it. Consider a broader keyword this time.

For example, if “Affordable housing loans” is on top in your Impressions column, and also on top in your Traffic column, you can start targeting just “housing loans.” It also means that your website is already relevant for “Affordable housing loans” and that targeting a broader keyword makes sense.

Rule number 3. If there are less than five keywords on the list (or none at all) in the Impressions and Traffic columns, or if there are more but the percentages are be relatively small, you need to put more content on your site and exert yourself more in marketing and networking with other sites.

THIRD MOST IMPORTANT THING: Know the back links pointing to your site

Back links are one of the most important ingredients for search engine ranking. To examine the quality of your back links, you can go to Dashboard -> Links -> Pages with External Links, and then under the External Links column, click that hyperlinked number. It will then show the back links that are pointing to pages in your site.

How can you use this data? If you are planning to increase the quality of your links, check to see if those sites that link to yours are related to your site. If not, start networking with related sites so that you can get more quality and targeted traffic, which can increase sales and conversions.

Referral traffic can be a significant contributor to site conversions/sales. Referral traffic is coming from those sites that link to yours, so make sure you have done a good job in getting only related websites to link to yours so that your traffic will be useful and at the same time its bounce percentage will be low.

FOURTH MOST IMPORTANT THING: Check your robots.txt and submit an XML sitemap

Robots.txt helps to prevent duplicate content and maximizes bandwidth in your site. By navigating to Dashboard -> Sitemaps (for sitemap XML) and Dashboard -> Analyze robots.txt, you can upload an XML sitemap and test your robots.txt before uploading to the root directory of your server.

For more details on robots.txt analysis, you can read this article.

FIFTH MOST IMPORTANT THING: Remove URLs from your site

In any website, there are pages that are unimportant and not useful for both visitors and search engines. In this case they can simply be blocked in robots.txt, and then you can remove that URL in Google Webmaster tools. The overall purpose is to have a clean index. A clean index in Google means that crawling will be efficient and Google will not revisit those unimportant URLs.

To remove URLs, you can go to Dashboard -> Tools -> Remove URL

Make sure you have followed the requirements before you remove the URL, which can be any of the following:

  • The URL will be blocked in robots.txt. 
  • The URL will be placed with meta no-index tag.
  • The URL returns a 404 header status.

Other than that, Google will deny your request. So make sure to double check things first before removing any URL.

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