Google Webmaster Tools has developed in line with the growing demands of the SEO industry over the past year. Many new and powerful features have been added, which are all well worth understanding.
Given the vast amount of information that Google don’t give you, when they do give you data, it is important to know. Therefore, the new features of Google Webmaster Tools are crucial to know and understand.
Webmaster Tools sets out to meet the following goals and aspects of your website’s visibility:
- Ensure pages are indexed and to report on errors
- To help drive traffic to your website
- To build a Google friendly website
- Integrate social data and search data into one place
Google has lots of great tools to help you achieve the above. Whilst it’s not possible to cover all of the tools in-depth within a single post, it is possible to discuss the most important and newest features, as this post will reveal.
Submit Your Sitemap
The below image has been taken from Webmaster tools and accurately reflects the way it has been displayed for many years:
With new features and updated graphics, the Sitemaps sub-section of Webmaster Tools now looks as follows:
One of the most valuable features is the ability to test your Sitemap.xml before you upload it to Webmaster Tools. This means that you can iron out any errors before Google crawls your Sitemap. Also, the updated graphics illustrate the ratio of pages that are indexed to those that are not indexed.
Submitting a Sitemap.xml to Webmaster Tools is a must for any website owner. It is the most effective way of telling Google the location of the pages that you want to be indexed.
Despite anyone’s best efforts, broken links will appear on a website. It used to be that Google would only tell you about the broken links on your website, this has now changed since the update.
Google are now providing everyone with data on broken links to your site from other locations on the web. This is invaluable information for your link builders; given the amount of time and/or money you spend on link building, finding out problems with those links affords you the opportunity to fix them accordingly.
As the image above shows, Google present you with a visual illustration of the broken links discovered over time to your website. Furthermore up to 1,000 of these broken links will be listed for you and can be exported to an Excel or CVS file for review.
Better still, Google have improved the system so that you can click on a broken link, see if it is in the Sitemap and also see every location on the web that links to the missing page. See image below:
This is very useful information and can be used to identify a host of potential issues with your website or your link building activities. For example, recently we looked at a Webmaster Tools account and identified 400 broken links. It transpired that someone external who was doing some link building for this site and had been using incorrectly typed URLs. As a result, all of the activities they had undertaken were ineffective and potentially damaging to the site. Being able to identify this meant that we could take action to resolve the issues.
This is a relatively new feature of Webmaster Tools and is great for excluding certain URLs from being indexed. This is really an extension or interpretation of the robots.txt file, where one can disallow pages from being indexed. If you have a WordPress blog, then adding the parameter “wp-” and disallowing it from within webmaster tools allows you to exclude any page containing “wp-” from being ignored by Google spiders.
This is an excellent feature, as it offers more direct control over how Google accesses and indexes your site. This will prevent the Google spiders from trying to index pointless pages, or dynamically created URLs. It can also reduce the time Google needs to spend indexing your site and prevent the spiders from getting caught in an infinite loop. All this means that Google finds the content that you want indexed faster; and hence is able to list that content sooner or higher.
Settings and Change of Address
These are relatively new features that can be helpful for Webmasters when migrating a site and resolving canonical issues between the ‘www’ and ‘non www’ versions of the site. Within ‘Settings’, under ‘Site Configuration’, it is possible to set the preferred domain to either ‘www.example.com’ or ‘example.com’. When used in conjunction with 301 redirects or canonical tags, this reinforces the preference for website access and forces Google to recognise that.
The ‘Change of Address’ in the same section is very useful if you have, or are planning, to migrate your website to a new domain. Once the new domain has been verified within the Webmaster Tools account you can tell Google that the site is moved to the new domain. There are many other factors to consider when doing this, such as setting up redirects, but this feature is a great way of telling Google you are now located on ‘xyz’ domain.
Under Labs, we find a host of other useful tools that reveal how your site is being displayed. The most important of these is the Site Performance section. This tells you over time how fast your website load times are in seconds, as well as how it compares to other websites:
This is very useful for understanding where you need to improve the load times of the site. Load time is fast becoming a very important factor in scoring your website, so that it ranks well. Slow websites not only frustrate visitors, but they are being ranked beneath faster sites as well. Evidence of this is that Google tell you how fast your site is and how that compares to others. Why do they tell you? Well, because it is an important factor in determining site authority.
Instant preview is a feature of Google that was released in 2011. Now you can see how your site appears in instant previews from within webmaster tools.
The advent of Google+ has meant that social interaction with your site through the Google +1 button can have an impact on the search results. Images of people you know that have +1’d a site can give you a guide as to what people think about it.
Google now show you how many +1’s you have, how they have affected your site in the SERPs and who your audience is. This allows you to see what impact that +1s have on your Click through Rate (CTR) for those pages.
Search Queries and CTR
Another one of the most useful features of Webmaster Tools is the integration of CTR data into the Search Query section. Only recently Google stopped providing keyword or search query data within Google Analytics from users logged into Google when they search. Now this data appears as ‘Not Provided’ in Analytics. However, and in spite of some discrepancies between Webmaster Tools and Analytics, this data can now be seen in the former.
As always, the data is best used for trend analysis, rather than focusing on specific figures for specific days. This data will also marry up with that provided in Analytics. That said, it is good to get a feel for the data, as well as where it is going and how it has developed over the past month.
It is very important to keep up-to-date with the tools available to Webmasters. This kind of insight into your data can help you to understand how your website(s) appear on the web, as well as offer you guidance on how this can be improved.
Alec Sharratt is a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai, a UK Digital Marketing Agency who specialise in SEO, Paid Search, Brand, Analytics and Social Media services. He can be found on Twitter as @Koozai_Alec.