As most of you have already heard, Google Webmaster Tools is getting a facelift. Changes include a simpler dashboard and more intuitive navigation, more top search queries and message subscription, among others. In light of this change, I thought I’d revisit my love/hate relationship with Google Webmaster Tools.
My Favorite Uses:
- Duplicate Title Tags: a quick and dirty way to identify whether or not a site has an issue with title tag uniqueness or significant duplicate content issues.
- Web Crawl Errors: not only find 404 error pages, but the source of those errors as well.
- News Crawl Errors: details reasons why pages may not be getting indexed in Google News. Information provided here is pretty specific – ranging from “date not found” to “article disproportionately short”.
- Time Spent Downloading a Page vs. Number of Pages Crawled Daily: monitor for any fluctuations. A decline in download speed may negatively impact the daily crawl rate.
- Sitemap Categorization: more of a strategy than a tool, however for large sites consider creating multiple sitemaps categorized by site section. This will facilitate the diagnostics process by isolating problem areas (“wow there are a lot of errors in the Reviews sitemap, maybe I should focus on cleaning this section up”) and save a ton of time by not having to troll though thousands of URLs searching for patterns.
However, Google can easily step their game up with improved functionality and features beyond what the redesign is reportedly bringing.
- Sorting: include the ability to sort columns directly within the user interface. For example, with the duplicate title tag report, I can’t sort by the largest number of duplicates. In fact, this number isn’t included when the data is exported, nor is there a search feature within the report to help identify the biggest offenders.
- Reporting: add custom date ranges or the ability to run historical reports. Seems like a no brainer to include trended page indexing and link count information.
- Phrases in Site Content: currently just able to see individual keywords.
- More intuitive Top Search Query report. The most useful aspect of this information is being able to compare the impression and traffic keyword data to identify which keywords should be driving more traffic (on the impression list but not on the traffic list). I want a report that automatically does this for me, please.
Although Google is known for their ability to create user friendly services, Webmaster Tools is not quite there yet. But I’m not mad at Google Webmaster Tools. It is absolutely essential for identifying unique site optimization issues and increasing the likelihood that pages will get indexed. Just remember that as with the use of the nofollow and canonical tags, XML sitemaps are simply tools (and not a solution) to help search engines find and index the right content. The errors and information detailed in Webmaster Tools should be used to identify overarching architectural issues that will need to be addressed for long term success.
Rachel Andersen works for the Portland based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of dozens of search and social marketing campaigns over her time spent with Anvil.