Next up in the blog SEO series, I go a little deeper than just an overview of the basics and take a closer look at Google Webmaster Tools. Google’s Webmaster Tools and other similar offerings by Yahoo (SiteExplorer) and Bing (cleverly, Webmaster Tools as well) offer site owners and webmasters more insight into the nuts and bolts of the workings of their site, from the search engine perspective. While I will speak primarily about Google’s tool, Yahoo and Bing offer similar functionality in their versions as well. In other words, learn one and you’ve basically learned them all.
Webmaster Tools is a free online application that offers website owners insight into the workings of their site as it pertains to the Google search engine optimization (SEO). There are four primary pieces to the Webmaster Tools site – Crawl Errors, Site Keywords, Sitemap & Links. I will discuss each of these in more detail a little later in this article.
Google Webmaster Tools is a vital application for use in setting up and troubleshooting potential issues with your search engine results and rankings. Webmaster Tools will help you:
- Get more pages indexed with search engines – your content won’t show up in search results if the search engine doesn’t have it indexed!
- Have fewer crawl errors and be more ‘search engine friendly’
- Know and understand your site’s keywords
- View incoming links to your site from other sites (backlinks)
Webmaster Tools Setup
There is a bit of setup involved with Webmaster Tools simply because Google has to authenticate you as the owner of the website you’re attempting to monitor. Site verification can be done using one of a few methods, depending on your technical ability, access to your site & servers and preference. Let’s cover the options available:
Meta Tag Authentication (Preferred Method)
Meta tag authentication is likely the easiest way to authenticate your site – it’s the one I chose for my site. You will require access to your site’s <head> tag, which is usually included in many WordPress themes – the problem being its location likely varies from one theme to another. The meta tag authentication method requires that you place a ‘snippet’ of HTML code into the <head> section of your site. The search engine will see this each time your site is opened in a browser and will report statistics back to the Webmaster Tool. To locate your specific code, follow the steps below:
- On the Webmaster Tools Home page, click Verify this site next to the site you want.
- In the Verification method list, select Meta tag, and follow the steps on your screen.
The use of Webmaster Tools is quite prolific, so many blog site theme builders accommodate users with a field specifically labeled ‘Google Webmaster Tools verification meta tag’ or something similar. With some digging you should be able to locate the field inside your site’s settings.
For more information on Meta Tag verification click here.
HTML File Upload
Uploading a file provided by Google to your site structure is another method to verify your site however, you require access to your site’s server directories. This option is less common than the Meta Tag verification method.
For more information on HTML File Upload click here.
DNS TXT Record
Similar to the HTML file, you may also verify your site’s ownership by uploading a TXT file to your DNS host. You require access to your domain registrar in order to perform this action. Major registrar sites often have step-by-step instructions on how to perform this action.
For more information on DNS TXT Record Upload click here.
Add Google Analytics Code
This may be a bit of a case of the cart before the horse, but if you’ve already signed up for a Google Analytics account you can ‘link’ that account to your Webmaster Tools account and cross-authenticate.
For more information on using the Google Analytics Code method click here.
Webmaster Tools Basic Uses
Below are the four main areas of the Webmaster Tools online application.
View Crawl Errors
Google Webmaster Tools helps the owner of a website identify and correct any errors that the Google Bot encountered when ‘crawling’ the website. There are a number of errors, both correctable and benign, that you may see in this section. The most common is a ‘404 not found’ error, which typically occurs when a page’s url is either changed or the page is removed. Correcting these errors may not be valid, unless the page’s URL has changed inadvertently. Otherwise, these errors are due to the moving & shifting of content as you build, re-arrange and re-work your site.
Define/Refine Site Keywords
What are your site’s targeted keywords? What do you envision are the most common and/or more important words on your site? If you could rank high in search results, what words would you choose? Well, Webmaster Tools will tell you what words are currently the more prevalent on your site. You can then use this data (if nothing more than in the back of your mind) as you build future content for your site. If you know you want to rank higher for the term ‘mom blog’ and it’s either not in your list or is low then you know you need to mention that term more often in your site.
Upload a Sitemap
A sitemap is a very effective method for handing Google (and other search engines) a road map to your site. What good will that do? Having a site map makes for much more efficient indexing of your site by search engines. Think of it this way – if you were asked to document all of the streets in your neighborhood you can either do it by exploring, randomly from street to street or, if you had a map, you could do so methodically. The same goes for search engines when indexing your website.
For more information on providing Google a sitemap of your website click here.
This is one of my favorite tools, mostly because I’m nosey. Google Webmaster Tools provides insight into which external sites are linking to your website and how they are linking (also known as anchor text). You can see a full list of which sites are linking in and what they’re linking to. This is helpful for you to gauge which content on your site is most popular where popularity is measured by the quantity of links.
There’s quite a bit more to Google Webmaster Tools than what I can cover here. For more info on getting started with the tool, visit this link (look ma, anchor text!).