For those of you out there who are on the Marketing side of your organization, this entry is for you. And I know what you’re thinking: “Webmaster Tools? That’s something the actual developers need. I just need the Analytics.” And true, if you’re not regularly using an analytics tool, you’re hurting yourself. And while the majority of information & tools available in Google Webmaster Tools is more technical, there are many components of it that can be useful to you, whether you’re responsible for the SEO of the site, executing specific marketing tactics, or just setting the overall strategies for the site.
This article is not a tutorial on how to use Webmaster Tools. It’s a guide to make you aware of some of the resources available there, so that you can work with your web developers to get you the information you need. So let’s get started!
- Search Queries – Since we’ve already convinced you to use an analytics tool, you should know that there is information here that is not available in Google Analytics (or most anywhere else). While most analytics tools will tell you the top keywords people used to find your site, the Search Queries set of reports tells you things like how often your site appeared in a Google search query and how many of those times it was clicked. It will also give you the average rank position of your listing for each term. You can even get finer detail on that average rank such as what percentage of the time it was in the Top 10, Top 20, etc. This is all great information to discuss with your SEO, and for improving your PPC campaigns.
- Links To Your Site – More good tools for SEO activities here. Are your inbound links quality links from relevant sites? Are you at risk for Panda/Penguin type penalties? Seeing both the list of the domains linking to you and which pages are linked to most, and seeing the details behind each of them can also give you great ideas on building more new links.
- +1 Reports – There is a whole set of reports tying Google Plus to your site and the boost in traffic it receives from it. If Social Marketing is important to your site (and is there a site where it isn’t?), these reports can give you valuable insight.
- Crawl Stats – The Crawl Stats page in Google Webmaster Tools is a simple way to see if your site is consistently available or if you have persistent server problems. Laid out in a graphic format, if you see a big valley where very few pages were crawled for a given time, or worse a series of them, or if you see big spikes in Time Spent Downloading a Page, then your potential customers are probably being turned off by your poor performance. Poor page load times will also hurt your Google rankings.
- Index Status – The Index Status report gives you data on the number of pages that are in Google’s index, along with how many were crawled, but not included for one reason or another (such as multiple urls for the same page, or too much duplicate content). If you see a large number of pages not indexed, you might want to talk with your webmaster to see if there are any canonicalization measures which should be taken.
- Site Performance – There is a much more accurate tool for viewing what Google’s recording for page load times in the Labs section of Webmaster Tools. The Site Performance report will give you the specific average page load time that Google is seeing for your site, and how that measures up to the rest of the sites in their index. Again, slow loading sites are not only annoying for your customers, they get worse rankings by Google.
- HTML Improvements – This report gives you a list of things helpful for SEO activities, such as how many pages have Title tags that are either duplicates, too long, too short, or completely non-existent. It will show similar counts for Meta Descriptions, as well as any non-indexable content on your site. All of these could point to opportunities for improved SEO, and are worthy of discussion with those responsible for that.
- Sitelinks – If you’re fortunate, some searches that return your site will show an expanded listing, with a couple of columns of sub-pages of your site displayed. Rejoice that Google feels you worthy of such presentation! However, I’ve often seen a client wonder why those were the sublinks chosen. One time I saw three different Contact Us links shown there. You can’t really control what Google does show in that section, but with the Sitelinks Demote tool, you can influence which links they don’t show. Simply enter the url of the page you don’t think belongs in the Sitelinks section and click the Demote button. For more information on Google Sitelinks, click here.
- Geographic Target – If you are responsible for different international versions of your site, be sure you are using the Geographic Target tool to specify the intended audience for each site. This is especially true if they have neutral top-level domains such as .com.
- Moving to a new domain – If you are moving your site to a new domain, there are of course many things you should be doing, such as setting up 301 redirects from the old domain. But one thing you’ll want to make sure gets done is tell Google about the move through your Webmaster Tools. (You must have the new destination up and functioning and verified in your Webmaster Tools account before you tell them.)
Google’s Webmaster Tools is free and contains a wealth of data and tools that continue to be enhanced. And while it’s called Webmaster Tools, they are of benefit to many different people who have some level of responsibility for a web site.