What is Webmaster Tools?

Google Webmaster Tools offers users a way to see a website in the same way Google does. Webmaster Tools monitors your website's health, and will alert you of any problems it encounters, such as:

  • Indexing issues, such as Googlebots being unable to access your site
  • Malicious code and hacking
  • Broken links

Webmaster Tools also gives you information about your website's performance, and allows you to further inform Google of your preferences.

Webmaster Tools is an essential part of any website, and it is key to making sure your site is Google-ready. Think of it as a health check-up for your website; without it, your site may not reach its full potential.

Webmaster Tools gives you better control over how Google interacts with your website.

Getting verified

In order to use Google Webmaster Tools, you will first need to verify your site. Thankfully, this is relatively simple, though you may require the assistance of your web designer.

To begin, visit the Webmaster Tools site and sign in. If you already have a Google account, signing in will be a breeze; otherwise, just follow the sign-up instructions.

Webmaster tools verification

Once you are in, hit the red "Add a site" button at the top right of the screen. When the "Add a site" box appears, just enter the full URL of the website you wish to add to Webmaster Tools.

Now it's time to verify your ownership of the site. There are a couple of ways of doing this. If you already have a Google Analytics account, just click the "alternative methods" tab and check the "Google Analytics" box. You can then click "verify", and Google will check your website for its Google Analytics code, and link it with Webmaster Tools to confirm the website is yours.

Failing that, the recommended method is HTML verification.

Webmaster tools HTML verification

Follow the instructions on screen, and download the HTML verification file, which contains an identification code. Simply upload this file to the root folder of your website. This should be just a 2-minute job for your web designer. Once the file is uploaded, you can return to this page and click "verify". By placing this file on your website, you have now proven to Google that you own the site and that you are allowed to receive Webmaster Tools data.

In order to remain verified, it's very important that you do not remove the file from your website.

Important features in Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools offers a huge amount of in-depth information to website owners, but not all of it is absolutely necessary to know when getting started. To ensure this beginner's guide stays a beginner's guide, we'll be going over some of the basic areas to pay attention to.


Dashboard

Once verified, you should be taken to your dashboard, which shows an overview of the important data Webmaster Tools has about your website. Let's go over some of the key areas.

Webmaster tools dashboard

New and important

At the top of the page, you'll see any important alerts about your site. The most common message you are likely to see here is that Googlebot was not able to access your website. Other messages you may receive could be notifications of a Google penalty, or of any major changes you or someone else has made to your account.


Webmaster tools current status

Current status

This functions as a brief overview of some of the key performance stats concerning your website. Starting on the left, any recent crawl errors are found; these are errors picked up on your site by Googlebot. Next is "Search Queries", which shows you the number of times your website appeared in Google when people searched for particular keywords and phrases. Finally, on the right, you will find the sitemap data: a list of all of the URLs on your website.


Sitemaps

One of the most useful functions of Webmaster Tools is that it allows you to upload a sitemap to Google directly. This is excellent for a webmaster, because instead of just waiting for Googlebot to find you, you can give the information to Google directly. This helps new websites get indexed and added to Google a lot more quickly.

This type of sitemap is a little different than the kind we touched upon earlier in the guide. Instead of a literal map of all of the web pages listed on your website, an XML sitemap is a file containing a plaintext list of every page on your site. An XML sitemap is created just for search engines, and serves no real purpose for human users.

There are many free tools available online which will create an XML sitemap for you.

To create an XML sitemap, you can use a free online tool such as http://www.xml-sitemaps.com to easily and automatically generate one. Just pop in your website's URL and hit "start". The tool will search for every single page on your website and, when completed, will allow you to download the sitemap (which will be called "sitemap.xml"). Once downloaded, simply upload the "sitemap.xml" file to your website. Once again, this should be a very brief job for your web designer.

You can now submit the sitemap to Google. Return to Webmaster Tools and look for the "Crawl" option on the left-hand-side navigation bar, then select "Sitemaps". Next, click the red "Add/Test Sitemap" button on the top right hand side of the screen.

Your domain name will already be pre-populated, so just add the name of your sitemap (see example below) and submit.

Every time you add a new page to your website, it's worth creating a new XML sitemap and uploading it, as well. Google will periodically check your sitemap for any changes, so it's wise to keep it updated. For small websites with just a few pages, Google will not have any problem keeping tabs on the size of the site; but for e-commerce websites or blogs with hundreds or thousands of pages, keeping your sitemap fresh (and Google in the loop) is a must to ensure that all your pages are indexed and therefore findable.

Webmaster tools add sitemap

Be sure to check the sitemaps page on Webmaster Tools regularly. This way, you can stay abreast of any errors, and check on pages Google might be having problems indexing.

Webmaster tools sitemap screenshot

If you have searched Google, you've no doubt seen Sitelinks already. Sitelinks provide links to different pages under the primary result/homepage. The concept is best illustrated by the image below:

Google sitelinks screenshots

As you can see, the primary result is "www.lcn.com", but below that, there are also links to other pages on the website. Not only are Sitelinks useful to the searcher, but their inclusion also means you get a little more visibility on the search engine results page. Webmaster Tools gives you an element of control as to what displays here. Unfortunately, you cannot choose what pages are shown as Sitelinks, but you can demote certain pages from showing. Pages to consider demoting are ones that offer searchers no real value. For example, URLs leading to the "basket" or "account" page of an e-commerce website are pages you may want to consider demoting.

Remember, you cannot add a sitelink, but you can choose to demote any you wish not to show.

To demote a URL, just look for "Site Appearance" on the left-hand navigation bar, and click "Sitelinks". Simply add the URL you wish to demote, and click the red "Demote" button.

Webmaster tools sitelinks

Search queries

The Search Queries page can be found under the "Search Traffic" option on the left-hand navigation bar in Webmaster Tools. From here, you will be given a high-level view of the top queries and pages on your website.

Top queries are search terms users have entered into Google. There are two lots of metrics here: impressions and clicks. The Impressions heading shows how many times your website has appeared within the Google search results page, and the Clicks category denotes how many times people have gone on to click through to your website. Data gleaned from here shows your historic average position in search rankings, along with any other changes.

Clicking the "Top pages" tab will show you what the most popular pages are. You can see the data for Clicks vs. Impressions here.

Webmaster tools search queries

Content keywords

Content keywords

Listed under the "Google Index" section of Webmaster Tools, the Content Keywords page provides insight into what Google considers to be the main topic of your website. If you are a web hosting and domain registrar like LCN.com, you can expect to see keywords such as "hosting", "domain", "register", and "website". If you are seeing irrelevant words at the top of this list, or words you do not wish your site to be associated with, you may want to consider rewriting your website copy to better reflect your business and its services.

Clicking on any of these keywords will show you why Google feels that particular keyword is important to your site, and it will also display the top pages in which the keyword appears.


Google lists other websites that are linking back to your own. Webmaster Tools will display domains that link to you with the greatest frequency, and will show you which individual pages on your website are linked to most often, as well.

Webmaster tools links to your site

Additionally, you can export your backlinks and analyse the kinds of websites that are linking to you. You may find some surprises here, but ideally, you should see URLs that are relevant to your page, subject and industry. Anything too irrelevant or suspicious here could eventually result in Google issuing you a penalty.

It's important to note that not all of your backlinks will be shown. For some mysterious reason, Google likes to keep webmasters on their toes by not divulging every single link they find. Instead, they give you a broad snapshot of what's out there. Should you ever need to try and find every single URL that links to your website, try our guide here.

Webmaster Tools won’t find every link, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get the credit for the links it doesn’t show.

HTML improvements

The Search Appearance section of Webmaster Tools enables you to see your site through the eyes of Googlebot crawlers. You can ensure that everything is indexed, and identify areas that may not be displaying correctly.

Every page should be unique on your website, and Google will check all of your pages to ensure that you have all title tags and meta-descriptions in place, and to see if duplicates exist. If you find any duplicates, be sure to rewrite your title or description to better reflect the content of that page.

Webmaster tools HTML improvements

Crawl errors

As mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, one of the most important features of Webmaster Tools is that it allows you to see your site through the eyes of Googlebot (a web crawler) and ensure it can access your website and report any changes back to Google. That's how Google knows your website exists!

The Crawl section of Webmaster Tools allows you to check for any errors on your website such as 404 errors (page not found) or server connectivity issues.

Webmaster tools URL errors

404 errors will need immediate attention. Check the status of these pages and fix them; or, if you have deliberately removed them, make sure each link redirects to another active, relevant page on your website.

Ideally, you will want to fix any 404 errors that Webmaster Tools reports — for two reasons. First, a 404 error is never a good experience for a human visitor; it is simply frustrating, and visitors are likely to abandon your web page altogether upon discovering a broken link. Second, it's wonderful when someone links to a page on your website, but if the page they are linking to is broken, that link is no longer valuable. Always make sure you redirect a broken link to another relevant page on your website!

This concludes our SEO guide. As you continue to use Webmaster Tools, you will discover many other, more detailed features and statistics not included here; but in time, they are all worth getting to know!


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