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Google Webmaster Tools is a powerful suite of free tools that allow you to keep track of your website or blog – but casual users risk missing out on some of the best ways to use the platform.
Here are some little-known or often-missed methods of tweaking Google Webmaster Tools to suit your needs, starting from before you’ve even reached the dashboard for a specific website.
If you have a large number of websites to manage using Google Webmaster Tools, switch to Compact View on the homepage.
Click the list icon, next to the Sort options, and you can change the view so many more site profiles fit on to the home screen.
If you usually just click straight through to a site profile, this is one option you may have missed – but it can streamline the page substantially for power users.
The homepage is also where you can set up email notifications for any automated site messages – just click on the Settings cog at the top-right, and click through to Webmaster Tools Preferences.
Despite its name, this page is all about site messages, allowing you to alter the default language if you wish, and to set up email notifications.
You can, if you choose, change the notification Type to ‘All issues’ for much more frequent emails about your site health – helping to flag up things you might otherwise have missed, if you have a lot of profiles to manage.
At the time of writing, the Labs section – where new features are beta tested to decide whether they should be included in the main Webmaster Tools suite – has an ‘Author stats’ page.
If you have set up Google Authorship, this allows you to view statistics for all of the pages that are linked with your Google+ profile and have been crawled and indexed by Google.
Click on the ‘Filters’ button for advanced segmentation of this data by Search type, Location and Traffic – so, for example, you can see which are your best-performing pages on mobile devices in the UK, or among Image search users in the US, and so on.
Data on this page includes impressions, clickthroughs, CTR and average ranking – making it a powerful page if you are trying to determine the positive impact of setting up Google Authorship on your site.
The Additional Tools page is worth a look if you normally gloss over it – it is basically a list of links to services that can be beneficial to your web presence, such as setting up a Google Places page, or submitting your products to Google Product Search.
Once you’ve clicked through to an individual site profile, the options available to you become much greater – and some of the methods we’ve already mentioned above change, so it’s worth checking them again.
For instance, the Settings cog now has much more in-depth preferences, allowing you to link Google Webmaster Tools with the relevant site profile on Google Analytics, check your site verification details, and so on.
The Labs list should now also include more options than it did on the homepage, so again, determine whether any of those are worth trying.
If you linked your Google Analytics account as mentioned above, look out for hyperlinks from Webmaster Tools to Analytics.
The bottom of the Search Queries page is one example of where this occurs, and while it can be easy to miss, it gives you a direct comparison between the data collected by the two platforms.
Remember as well that the precise figures obtained may differ, due to the different methods used by each platform, so it’s important to compare the two before drawing any conclusions about the success or failure of your web marketing.
Google Penguin & Webmaster Tools
The Google Penguin update was a major algorithm update designed to remove duplicate and keyword-stuffed content from the top of Google’s organic search results.
If your site was affected by the update, Webmaster Tools can help you to respond, addressing the worst infringing content first, and building a better library of site content to help you return to the top rankings.
This option is found under ‘Search Appearance’ on the site dashboard and flags up repeated meta tag information including page titles and descriptions.
According to Google, these will not directly affect your search ranking, but giving a unique, descriptive title and description to each page is still good practice.
If you have URLs that have been flagged by Google as duplicate or keyword-stuffed content, you may wish to remove them from the search index entirely, rather than risk having them damage your ranking.
Under ‘Google Index’, click ‘Remove URLs’ to submit a removal request – but make sure the page meets Google’s removal requirements first.
These require either that the page is deleted entirely (and returns a 404 or 410 status code), or that it is blocked using robots.txt or a meta noindex tag.
Once you have removed any offending or unwanted URLs, check ‘Index Status’ in the same section of Webmaster Tools.
Click ‘Advanced’ and then check ‘Removed’ and hit the ‘Update’ button to see how many pages have been removed from your site, and when Google delisted them from its index.
Finally, you may wish to configure URL parameters if dynamic URLs put you at risk of having the same content appear at multiple URLs, and therefore be identified as duplicates by Google.
‘URL Parameters’ is found under ‘Crawl’ and can tell Google what parameters are used in your URLs, so that they can be accounted for in its assessment of what is duplicate content, and what is simply the same content accessed dynamically.
This is an option that should be used carefully, to avoid delisting large sections of your site entirely, but it may be the best solution if dynamic URLs proved problematic following the Google Penguin update.
The Google webmaster tools can help small businesses maximize their online presences. What parts of this platform do you find the most useful?