Friday, 10 October 2014

What is Google Webmaster Tools and do I need to get involved with it if I’m not a webmaster?

We all know that Google offers phenomenal free apps that can be very helpful for business and increase productivity.  With regards to website performance and digital marketing, the most celebrated tool is perhaps Google Analytics, as it gives you lots of data about the interaction of your clients with your business. But many business people neglect the opportunities that Google Webmaster Tools give you to get control of the health of your site in the eyes of Google.
The reason it is neglected is because it sounds too techy, and business people are not usually webmasters anyway.  The truth is Google likes to democratize information so that more people are able to use, although it is very successful at hiding some of the most important and insightful pieces of data, which not even the savviest professional can analyse with certainty.
In essence, it is a free tool which you can use to monitor how Google crawls and Indexes your website. It also allows the webmaster some degree of control in terms of what you want Google to crawl and how often. Another key feature is that you can help Google crawling your site through XML sitemaps. At the same time it also allows you to tell Google what you don’t want from your website to be crawled.
It is the only opportunity that Google gives you to tell them information about how to understand your website. Having this possibility means that Google has more reasons not to like a bit when webmasters try to trick their algorithm with spammy links and other black hat techniques.  So be thankful to the almighty.

How can you Use it?
There are lots of data that this tool can give you about your website and the crawling process, but at the end of the day we need to hand pick a number of points depending on our goals and convenience.  Here is a selection of the most urgent areas that any business person can understand and delegate action upon.
1) Analyse your search queries and discover keyword opportunities
This is a feature that is often overlooked and it is very helpful to identify keywords to which Google has served your sites and analyse the click through rate (CTR) of those search terms. It also helps to see any ups or lows in the amount of your impressions (the number times where your website appears in the search results), so that you can suspect it you have been penalized by some algorithm or by any other reason such as sudden spikes in back-links.
2) Check the overall health of the site
Google may alert you if anything Is needed to look at on an urgent basis. It will not tell you however if your site has been algorithmically penalizes, you would need to delve into that with more insight. But it does tell you if your site has been manually penalized and it tells you the reason and in some cases, the possibility of rectify your actions and getting back to normal rankings.
GWT dashboard
An overview of GWT Dashboard
3) Refer to it when the rankings are low
Google Webmaster Tools should be the first stop in know what is wrong when organic traffic from analytics shows a decrease. Check the alerts that Google might send in the dashboard. It also tells you if the Googlebot is finding any errors crawling the site and what to do about it. It might be that a document called robots.txt is blocking for Google some of the main pages and needs to be urgently edited.
Robots tester in GWT
This is what a Robots.txt file looks like
4) Identify Crawl Errors
If you want to have a more in-depth analysis of the way Google is crawling your site, you can check on crawl errors and see which links in your site are returning 404 errors or which ones have thin content that Google does not like visiting because it is a waste of their resources. The response to this is to make it easier for the Googlebot to read your site so that you do not waste its time, as it is an incredibly busy machine.
crawl errors GWT
This is how Google informs about Crawl Errors
5) Identify html duplication
As you might already know, duplication is a ‘no no’ in any website when it comes to SEO. Google wants your site to have unique pages with unique content because the fact that you have spent time creating every single page of your website for a specific purpose means that your site is higher in quality and therefore more worthy of people visiting it. One thing you can do to troubleshoot duplication (but this is just the tip of the iceberg) is by checking the duplicate meta titles and meta descriptions. These are very likely to appear in any site, and clearing these issues will be incredibly beneficial for the number of pages that make it to Google index.
html improvements
HTML improvements displayed by GWT
6) Check the backlinks to your site that Google has identified
There are many SEO tools out there that analyse your back-link profile with very good and useful qualitative data on where they can from and which might be harmful for your PR (Page Rank) or reputation in Google’s eyes. Google actually tells you about which back-links the Googlebot has identified. This is incredibly useful to compare against the links that other tools identify for you. You might be surprised of how this information differs. There will be links that Google has found and other tools have not, or vice versa, and it is important to understand that if Google has not identify a back-link already it does not mean that it will not do in the future!
7) Ask Google to Ignore Harmful backlinks
Closely linked with the previous point, Google actually lets you nowadays to tell them which back-links you consider harmful and want Google to ignore. This sounds great but it does not work in a very straight-forward manner. Google listens to this but it is not a top priority for them to attend your issues, especially when you got those links in the first place to trick Google’s algorithm. The best way of minimizing the harm of your links is to disavow them and at the same time delete them physically, if you can.
You can do this by uploading a single csv table with the backlinks that you want to get ignored by Google.

How much time do you need to get control of GWT
Simply put, 2 hours to understand it and 5 minutes every day.
If there is some serious problem or you need more information, then it would be necessary to hand it over to professionals. The most important is to identify problems well in advance to take actions as soon as possible, as Google can be rather slow in re-crawling the site and understanding changes, depending on the size of your page and the frequency and intensity the Google spider crawls your site. For instance it might take months before links you have disavowed are taking into consideration and improving your Page rank.
Our SEO professionals at 3KITS can help you troubleshooting your crawling and anything related to back-links to your site through Webmaster Tools.
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