How To Use Webmaster Tools: A User’s Guide to Google Search Console
Last year, Google’s Webmaster Tools became Search Console. But, old habits die hard, so it isn’t easy for users to remember the name change. Still, “Google’s Webmaster Tools” can be very useful for website owners, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re not sure what is available and how to use it. This post will take a step-by-step look at the free tools available and explain how to use Webmaster Tools, or Search Console, within your own website.
If you don’t already have a Google Webmaster Tools account, you can sign up here.
After creating an account and signing in you will be given the option to add a new site. Once you have entered your website’s URL you should see the following message: “Next Step: Verify your site. By verifying your site you can access comprehensive statistics and crawl errors about the pages in your site.”
When you click on “Verify your site” you will have two options for verifying that you own your website. (Google forces you to verify your site so that people who are not the owners of a website cannot gain access to valuable and private information). The first option is to add a meta tag that Google provides to your website. The second option is adding a file, or page, to your website with a specific name that Google provides. With either option you can verify your site in a matter of a few minutes.
Once you’ve made the necessary changes you can click on the button to verify your site and you should see a confirmation message that your site has been verified. Once the site has been verified you will have full access to all of the tools.
From inside Google Webmaster Tools there are four main tabs: diagnostic, statistics, links, and sitemaps. We’ll look at the data found in each one of these tabs.
In the diagnostic tab you will first see a summary screen telling you the date when your homepage was last crawled and your index status. You should also see the following message telling you that pages from your site are indexed.
If pages from your site are not indexed, you can submit your site to Google, or submit a sitemap from within Google Webmaster Tools (which we’ll cover later).
Also on the summary page of the diagnostic tab you will see some very valuable information about problems that the Googlebot has had crawling your site. You will see the number of pages: with http errors, not found, with URLs not followed, with URLs restricted by the robots.txt, with URLs that time-out, and with unreachable URLs.
You’ll want these numbers to be as low as possible, preferably zero. If the Googlebot is not able to access your pages they will not show up in search results, and other pages on your site may be penalized in the search rankings.
URLs restricted by the robots.txt is not an error. If you use a robots.txt file you want Google to exclude those pages and that is exactly what this is showing. The other items on the list, however, should ideally be zero.
The URLs not found section usually will have most of the errors. This means that either someone has linked to your website with an incorrect URL, or some of your pages include internal links with incorrect URLs.
There are a few ways to fix this. First, if you know someone is linking to a particular page that does not exist, you can ask them to correct their link. Second, you can create a file (page) with the URL that Google is unable to find and use a 301 redirect to the page that you want the link to point towards. You can get more information about setting up a 301 redirect at www.isitebuild.com.
It may take a few days for Google to recognize the corrections that have been made.
You can also get similar information on mobile web crawl errors by click on “Moble web” under “Crawl errors.”
On the left-hand column you will see links to a few tools that are available from the diagnostics tab.
The first tool is the robots.txt analysis. If you use a robots.txt file you will see a copy of that file that Google has indexed. It should contain exactly what you currently have in your robots.txt file. If it doesn’t, try submitting it to Google so it can recognize the changes.
The manage site verification tool simply shows you if anyone else has verified your site. If you are the only user of Google Webmaster Tools for your website, it should say “No other verified owners were found for your site. You are currently the only verified site owner.”
The Google crawl rate tool will give you some information about Google’s crawl history of your site for the last 90 days. Towards the bottom of the page you should see that your site is being crawled at the normal rate, and you should also see the following message:
“The rate at which Googlebot crawls is based on many factors. At this time, crawl rate is not a factor in your site’s crawl. If it becomes a factor, the Faster option below will become available.”
If it says crawl rate is not a factor, leave it set at normal speed. If it says it is crawling at a slow rate you may want to consider setting it to a faster rate, but be aware that it can affect other things, like the amount of bandwidth used.
The preferred domain tool simply gives you the option to set a preference as to whether you visitors are taken to http://yoursite.com or http://www.yoursite.com. It is a good idea to set one or the other, most webmasters use http://www.yoursite.com.
The enhanced image search tool gives you the option to check a box if you would like to enable enhanced image search on your site. Google image searches are becoming more and more popular, so you will probably want to check the box as it will give you a better chance of getting traffic from image searches.
The URL removal tool allows you to expedite the process of having a particular page excluded from Google’s index. According to Google’s instructions you should still use one of the other methods to exclude a URL, like a robots.txt file or a meta tag. If there is a page on your site that you want to make sure no one visits through Google, use this tool.
The first page within the statistics tab shows your crawl stats. You will see a chart with the distribution of Google’s PageRank for your pages. This information is rather limited since it only categorizes the PageRank as high, medium, low, and not yet assigned. Also, you cannot see the specific pages that fall into each category. This tools primary use is to make sure that no drastic changes have occurred to your PageRank.
You will also see your page with the highest PageRank for each month. This information is somewhat useful, but still pretty limited.
When you click on “Query stats” in the left-hand column you will get to some very useful and relevant data. From here you will see the search queries where your pages have their highest rankings. In this situation you want low numbers (1 means that your page was the 1st result in the SERPs).
You will probably see some terms here that you would have never thought of targeting. If some of these terms are pretty relevant to the content of your site you may want to consider making some changes to your pages to be more optimized for these particular queries.
You should also check to make sure that the terms you are targeting are showing up on the list. If they’re not, you should make some changes to you pages to attempt to improve your rankings.
If your site is new don’t get discouraged by the stats shown on this page. It takes time to earn high rankings from Google, especially for competitive search phrases.
To the right of the page you will also see the “top search query clicks.” These are the search queries that have sent the most traffic to your site from Google searches. This too is very useful information. Queries that are already sending considerable traffic to your site can be optimized further, and you can also tell if you are not getting any traffic from the keywords and phrases that you are targeting.
By clicking on the “Page analysis” link in the left-hand column you’ll pull up some information on the anchor text of your external links. Anchor text is the word or phrase used in a link. Search engines consider anchor text to be somewhat of an indication of the topic of subject of a page. For example, if I use a link like website design services to point towards the page on my services, search engines will assume that the page I’m sending you to has something to do with website design services.
Anchor text can be very powerful in search engine rankings. Ideally, you will want to see your most targeted words and phrases high on this list. If not, you may want to consider asking those who are linking to you to use a specific anchor text. If you have a lot of articles on your website the titles of your articles are probably showing up on this list. That’s just one more reason to use keywords in your article titles.
This list can be quite extensive, so there is a lot of data to take in. In many ways the anchor text used to link to your site is out of your control. Consider supplying the html code on your website for visitors to use to link to you. That way you can provide the anchor text that you want to be used, and they can still have the final decision to use that anchor text or to change it.
Below all of that data you will see a section with the title “Keywords.” The first column, “in your site’s content, shows a listing of the words found most frequently on your site. The text of your pages will obviously have an impact on which search queries you will be ranking for, so look over this list to see where your targeted keywords are showing up. This table gives you a really good look at how Google sees the text of your site, and what it thinks your site is about.
To the right side of the page you will see information showing the most common keywords in external links to your pages. This is similar to the data at the top of the page, except it is showing individual words instead of phrases.
The final tool on the Statistics tab is the index stats. This page is really just a few links to Google’s advanced search results. There are links to the search results that show:
1- indexed pages in your site
2- pages that link to your site’s front page
3- Google’s current cache of your site
4- pages that are similar to your site
5- information that Google has on your site
It’s a quick way to see the same data that you can see through the advanced search.
The links tab will show you how many links each of your pages is receiving externally and internally.
Additionally, you can see which pages are linking to you.
When you first click on the Links tab the external link data will be displayed. Each page of your website that has an external page linking to it will be listed. For example, find you homepage in the list (it’s probably first). To the right you will see a number in blue text. Click on the number and you will see a listing of all of the external pages that are linking to your homepage.
Most likely you’ll see a much larger number here than you’ll see when you do an advanced search for sites that are linking to your front page (mentioned earlier). The Google advanced search only shows those links that Google is recognizing as counting towards your search engine rankings (and they’re pretty particular). This tool in the Links tab shows every incoming link, regardless of whether or not they influence your rankings. If you comment on blogs and leave your URL you’ll see a lot of those links showing up here.
How is this tool helpful? For starters it helps you to see how which pages are getting inbound links and which ones are not. If some of your more important pages are not getting any links you should consider trying to build links to those specific pages rather than just getting links to your homepage.
Also, this tool can be useful if you would like to visit the sites that are linking to you. It’s not a bad idea to stop by some of those sites and thank the site owner for linking to you. It might get a few more links to your pages and if nothing else it will give you a chance to put your name and your website in front of other site owners one more time.
If you click on the “Internal links” tab in the left-hand column you will see basically the same data for your internal links. Internal links are pages on your site that are linking to other pages on your site.
Your internal link structure can have an impact on which pages of your site the search engines see as being the most important. Be sure that your most important pages have plenty of links from other pages on your site.
Both the external and internal link data can be opened in Excel if you are interested in using spreadsheets for tracking or sorting.
The final tab, sitemaps, is useful for getting all of your pages indexed by Google. An XML sitemap will show Google every page that is a part of your site. If you already have submitted a sitemap to Google, you should see it listed on this screen, and “sitemap status” it should say “OK”.
If you haven’t submitted a sitemap yet, you’ll have to create one first. Visit www.xml-sitemaps.com to have one created for you.
Once the sitemap has been created, upload it to your website and go back to Google Webmaster Tools. Back on the Sitemaps tab where we were earlier you’ll see a link for Add a Sitemap. When you click on this link you’ll be asked to enter some information to tell Google where it can find your sitemap.
After you’re done, Google will verify your sitemap and you’ll be able to see it whenever you log in to Google Webmaster Tools.
That covers all the areas of Google Webmaster Tools. If you haven’t already, sign up for a free account and test it out.
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