Google Webmaster Tools should be just as important to a SEO professional as Google Analytics. Google has continued to develop and maintain webmaster tools to include new features as the same time it is improving Analytics. The Webmaster Tools labs continues to showcase new features, such as author stats and structured data. However, while these new developments mean better optimization of websites, some of the classic features of Google Webmaster Tools still help SEOs keep a firm grasp on their metrics and how to improve.
Verifying your website is fairly easy, as there are several methods to choose from. The easiest is verifying through your domain name provider, which Google has partnered with. There are several top name providers from around the globe and most verifications are ready in just a few steps through a pop-up window. Other alternatives include uploading an HTML to the root folder, adding a meta tag on the website home page (which Google provides), or verifying through your Google Analytics account, if the website already has Analytics installed.
Once a website is verified, it will take a few hours up to a few days for Google to gather the information and data displayed in the dashboard and reports.
Links to Your Site
The Links to Your Site report is under the Traffic section on the left hand navigation menu. This report showcases the total number of links to your site, as well as an overview report of who links the most, the most linked pages, and how data is linked (also known as anchor text).
In addition, the Internal Links section also shows the pages that are most linked internally within your website. For most business websites, this may be the product or service pages, but it is important to revisit these regularly, as it may be worth noting which internal pages need to be linked to more often within the website itself (for better navigation and traffic to all interior pages).
These reports can be downloaded as a CSV or Google Doc file for further analysis. These metrics should be reviewed regularly, as it shows what content is visited most often, as well as common anchor text phrases and words that others are using to link to the website.
Another section of the site that displays words and phrases that people are using to get to your website is the search queries section, which is also under the Traffic tab on the left navigation menu. The metrics that Webmaster Tools displays here are more specific than the top-level reports that Google Analytics gives and includes the number of clicks, CTR, change from the current 30 days to the previous 30 days, and average search position.
Users can choose the data range to display on the report, which can be downloaded as well. The flexible data range would be useful when running a campaign or promoting a specific event by helping track organic search traffic. Clicking on the keyword drills down the information further- showing the specific position in the search results for users (instead of an average that is in the top level report). This varies depending on the user’s past search history, as well as the total phrase they searched for.
There is a complete optimization section in the left navigation of Google Webmaster Tools that provides a wealth of information for SEOs. When a site is first verified, its sitemap should be submitted via the Sitemaps section. While in most cases the SEO spiders will find this automatically, inputting it at the beginning may help speed up the process.
The Remove URLs section allows for the remove of pages of a website in Google’s index that are no longer online or do not need to be indexed. Removed pages will be out of the index for a minimum of 90 days. There is also an available reinclusion tool for content that has been removed by Webmaster request.
The Optimization section also provides a HTML Improvements tab, which offers many common errors, such as duplicate meta tag descriptions or missing title tags, that can easily be fixed. Fixing these will help pages get indexed faster and more effectively for users by Google.
The Content Keywords tab provides more information about the keywords that are used most to display search results that include your website.
This tab within the Optimization section is relatively new and focuses on identifying the structured data that is found within a website. These can include schema.org and microformats.org markup. When clicking through, each data type report shows which pages the markup has been found on, as well as the date they were last detected.
For SEOs that are adding schema markup to a website, this is a good section to monitor to make sure it is getting recognized correctly.
Finally, the Author Stats section under Labs in the left navigation is a new feature that deals with Google Authorship. The report shows which pages appear in search results that are affiliated with a specific author who has been set up with Authorship through Google+. The report shows how many times the link appeared in search results (aka Impressions), actual clicks, CTR, and average position.
Clicking on the pages doesn’t take the user to a more specific report for that link; rather it just takes the user to the actual page in a new window.
The future for Google Webmaster Tools (as well as Google Analytics) continues to provide a wealth of metrics and features for SEOs to look forward to. More specific data that can be compared against one another (e.g. Do links with authorship get more traffic than those that don’t?) would certainly be helpful for SEOs, as well as scheduled reports that could be emailed via CSV or PDF. Webmaster tools should be monitored regularly (as well as Bing Webmaster Tools) to make sure your websites are optimized correctly for search traffic.