Guest Post: Let Google make your website better!

Here is the latest in the ongoing series of excellent web master type tips by my very good mate Paul Fairburn over at Aimable consulting. Paul is a total expert on all this stuff, as well as SEO and social media marketing and everything in between. I thoroughly recommend him if you need those sorts of services. (I have no commercial relationship with Paul)

Anyway, here we go…

If you run a website and haven’t explored the world of free data that’s inside Google’s Webmaster Tools (GWT) –  STOP – and read this!
Here’s how to set it all up, and a summary of what you’ll find when you do.
Sign up for an account
You’ll need a Google account, but assuming you have one already, go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/.
Just enter your website’s main URL in the “Add a Site” box:

 

Verify your website
You can verify your site by using one of several methods, but I prefer using Google Analytics (assuming it’s already set up on the site).
To do this, click on the Alternative Methods tab when verifying ownership. Then select the Use your Google Analytics account option.

… and that’s it. You’re up and running.

Features
Here’s what you’ll find once Google has had time to do its thing. Some of what follows uses technical terms – but don’t let that put you off.  Just try the bits you do understand!
 
Messages
The “Messages” section is important; it’s where any direct messages from Google about the health of your website appear. 
Check it regularly, and watch for notifications of inappropriate activity detected on your website. This is Google telling you to change something to avoid incurring a penalty.
Google has clear rules for sites that want to appear high in the search results, this is where you’ll see if you’re breaking any important ones.
Configuration
This is where you can set:
• Whether Google displays your URLs using www or not.
• How frequently Google crawls your site
• Which of Google’s auto-generated sitelinks should be demoted (if you’d prefer other links to be shown)
• A new URL for your site (Change of Address)
• Users and Associates.  Owners and Users can access data and make changes.  Associates can’t view site data or take any site actions in Webmaster Tools, but they are authorized to perform other tasks.
Health
Here you find information on how well Google is able to interact with your website, when it ‘crawls’ it:

• Crawl Errors: Google’s unable to reach certain pages on your site.
• Crawl Stats: Information about what Google’s robot did…
 

• Index Status: How many pages Google has indexed on your site, and the history of that statistic.
• Malware: If Google detects malware on your site, you’ll get a notification here.

Traffic
This is the best part for most of us… Google reporting how your search performance converts to web traffic.
Pay attention to the following:
• Search Queries: This shows specific search phrases for which your site has been seen in the Google search results.

 

• Top Pages: an estimate of the number of clicks you had for each phrase, your click-through rate and the average ranking position for your site. This can tell you if your keyword strategy is working, and can show keywords you didn’t realise you were doing well for! Useful…
• Links to Your Site: GWT doesn’t provide complete data on ALL the links you’re getting from other websites, but there’s still lots of solid information here about some sites linking in to yours. It’s good to see an indication of which of your pages have the most links too.
• +1 Reports: Google +1s are not the most powerful social signals in the ‘real world’, but you can bet Google thinks they’re worth counting.  More is better.
Optimization
To varying degrees, we all want to make sure our site is “optimised” (my preferred spelling…) to attract some web traffic from search.
This is not quite as powerful as the Traffic section, but here’s what you can do:
• Sitemaps: (Create and ) upload your website’s sitemap.  It’s how to make sure Google reliably knows what’s on your site.
• Remove URLs: You can make a custom robots.txt that specifies exactly how the search engine’s automated spiders should read and parse your website’s content (if your site already covers this off, don’t worry about doing this here).
• HTML Improvements: Telling you whether or not changes should be made to your website’s meta tags.
• Structured Data: If you make use of microdata on your website (it’s getting more important for certain sites), this page shows the specific types detected on your site.
Labs
This is where Google tries out certain new tools. Don’t set yourself up to rely on them, as Google can change or drop them without warning, but here are some worth playing with:
• Author Stats: With the growing importance of the “rel=author” tag, use this to track all of your verified content.
• Site Performance: Currently this just gives access to Google’s Page Speed tool, though in the past GWT itself would report on your site’s speed. (See what I mean about the Labs features changing?) It’s worth having a look though…  Poor Site Speed can encourage Google to penalise your site – this tool will tell you how your website is performing, and how you could improve your results.

This was just a quick introduction. Have a play – and let me know if you found anything great that I missed! 

Paul Fairburn runs Aimiable Consulting, and can help you with Search Engine Optimisation, Pay-Per-Click advertising and social media marketing.

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