Are you a small business trying to rank for keywords for your industry? Have you experienced some success, a little success, or no success? There are some definite advantages to using Google Webmaster Tools that might just help your business get over some very real obstacles. First, let’s cover some history of how SEO has changed and why using Google Webmaster Tools is critical.
The way search engines reward websites has changed dramatically over the past decade. For a long time, some of the best ways to rank well for search terms was to make sure you had more keywords on your pages than your competitors, to simply have more pages than your competitors, and to have more backlinks than your competitors. More is no longer better, it is just more.
In an attempt to make the search experience better for its users, Google rolled out, and continues to do so, periodic updates to their algorithm and how they reward websites with good ranking. Some of these updates actually penalized content that was intentionally trying to trick the algorithm by stuffing keywords on web pages. One such tactic would put hundreds of key phrases on a page and make the font white if the background was white to hide their scheme visually. Another tactic was to pay third parties to create backlinks to your website from thousands of websites built only for the sake of linking to other sites. Well, that doesn’t make the content more valuable for the consumer, so Google penalized that practice. Some people simply would crank out a new web page for every keyword variation in hopes that it would generate more traffic to their website, as opposed to simply creating one great web page that explains each unique service or product. Needless to say, there were many tactics that Google now frowns on that Webmaster Tools may shed some light on, so let’s dig in.
Know Your Backlinks
I won’t be covering every tool, but here are some of the top features. Are you wondering if there are links to your site that Google frowns on? Once you have created a Webmaster account and verified it, you can dig into the tools. To find who is linking to your site, you can download an exhaustive list from Google Webmaster Tools by navigating to “Search Traffic” then clicking on “Links to Your Site.” Click on “more” below the initial short list and then request the download of the list. You can look through the list and see if there are any potentially harmful links that Google suggests you remove. There is a process for “disavowing” links. You can click here to learn more about this process. Generally, Google wants you to make an effort to contact the webmaster of the site that is linking to you that you wish to have removed. If this is unsuccessful, they have a way for you to manually disavow links.
Mobile internet usage has become the dominate platform for Internet use. Google Webmaster Tools offers an area also under “Search Traffic” called “Mobile Usability” to give you helpful information if there are any issues with your content getting indexed on mobile devices. On the description page for this tab, it says, “Global web traffic from mobile devices is on the rise, and recent studies show that mobile visitors are more likely to revisit mobile-friendly sites. The mobile usability report identifies pages on your site with usability problems for visitors on mobile devices.” It is critical that you fix issues related to mobile usability as mobile search continues to become the primary way people browse online.
Indexing and Keywords
Under the Google Index tab, you can see how many pages are actually being indexed by Google. This simply means Google knows about your content and uses it in search results for peoples’ search queries. It does not mean you are on the first page, but it gives you an accurate number of pages Google believes you have. If you believe this number is lower than it should be, you can use Webmaster Tools to crawl your website or unique pages you believe Google hasn’t indexed yet. If you see on the graph a sharp decrease in indexed pages, this might be cause for concern. Some possible causes could be a recent update to Google’s search algorithm, or the website platform you are built on may not be providing access to some of the content Google is looking for. Also, under the Google Index section, you can see your content keywords. This is a place where you can see how people are finding you. It does not offer insight to how they are not finding you, but at least you get a good picture of the words people are using to make it to your website.
Most webmasters should be familiar with the tools under the Crawl section. These tools can be utilized more routinely. I always encourage business owners to make sure they first check the “Fetch As Google” tool. This allows your entire site, portions of your website, or individual pages to be “crawled” by Google. This is the process they use to determine what content is on each page and how to appropriately add it to their search engine results. Google will crawl most websites regularly throughout the year; however, this tool manually causes Google to look at your content and index it. This is very helpful to do when you launch a newly redesigned or migrated website. Once you are certain you have successfully “crawled” your website, you should check any possible “crawl errors.” If there is content that was previously known by Google and it cannot be located, they will let you know. They will list out all the known errors and what types of errors they are. Minimizing the number of errors in this section is helpful for you and Google also likes to see that you are taking time to reduce errors.
Another great tool under the Crawl section is the sitemap tool that allows you to upload a sitemap directly to webmaster tools. The value of uploading a sitemap, in contrast to crawling the site, is that it may add more information that shows Google the importance of some of the pages over others. This may give additional information to Google that it cannot attain through the crawl. To read more about the benefits of uploading your sitemap, you can click here.
The Bottom Line
You don’t know what you don’t know if you don’t have a webmaster account for your website. Your SEO efforts might be like swimming upstream if you have undesirable backlinks, a large list of crawl errors, or mobile usability issues. Webmaster Tools gives you great insight to the health of your website from Google’s perspective, and that is about the most important perspective there is. If you need help setting up your webmaster account and getting feedback on the health of your website, give us a call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.