Getting Started With Google Webmaster Tools

By: Daniel Imbellino
Feb 28, 2013

Google has implemented a plethora of information to help webmasters makes sense of how their websites content is indexed and interacts with Google’s search engine. Google’s webmaster tools consists of a set of interfaces and apps that can help you make sense of how Google perceives your content overall so that webmasters can make effective changes to their sites that show positive effects. Google is literally giving us the information we need to succeed, it’s up to us to make use of it! Here I’m going to explain how the webmaster tools account interface works, and how to make it work for you.

If you don’t have a webmaster account, get one! From your webmaster tools account dashboard, add your site by clicking “add a site” at the top left corner of the screen. Be sure to add both the non www, and www versions of your site. You need to do this, otherwise Google may not return all information about the indexation of your content, inbound links, statistics, etc. If you added your site as "www.example.com", then go back to your dashboard and add the non www version "http://example.com without the quotes." Now you need to select a preferred domain, and you can do this by clicking configuration, settings, and then selecting your preferred domain as either “www” or “non www.” You will need to verify both sites and Google will automatically prompt you to verify for your site with the inclusion of your first domain. You can verify using a tag in the head section of your index page, and once the verification is added to your page, simply click verify. When adding the other “canonical” domain (the second version as either “www” or “non www”) simply click verify, and the verification process will complete.

Under configuration, don’t set a geographic location! If you do, Google will tailor your site to appear in search results within a desired locale only. The preferred idea is to leave this alone since for instance, if your site is in English, Google will automatically return your content to users in most all English speaking countries. Besides, who doesn’t want their content to reach a bigger audience.

Under the “health” category, select “fetch as Google” in order to have Google fetch and index your main page. To fetch your index page, just click fetch, and then under “fetch status” click submit, and select “URL and all linked pages.” Google will now use your index page as a starting point in indexing your site. You should also consider indexing a majority of your pages independently and submitting each individual URL, since Google will only index so many pages unless you explicitly ask them to index more.

Now, it will take some time for Google system to update and return valuable information and statistics about your site through your webmaster tools account. Don’t be concerned if you don’t find much information during the first month or so, this is perfectly normal. People tend to think there’s a problem when 6 weeks go by and very little indexing information is available. Honestly, it can take several months to get comprehensive information about your domain. Also, it takes at least a few months for Google to begin to tie your content to users search queries in organic search results. Just be patient. Another thing to consider is that Google needs to find links from other reputable domains pointing to your site before it will jump the gun and just give you organic traffic. This is sort of a verification phase. Creating inbound links is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but you can read about it our other tutorials on “search Engine Optimization”, elsewhere on the site. For now just know you can see what links Google has found by clicking “traffic” and “links to your site.” This information will also take some time to populate as well.

At this point it is best to wait several weeks, possibly longer than a month before returning and checking to see your webmaster accounts current status. Just make sure you added both versions of your domain and have set your preferred domain! If you don’t, then Google may treat links pointing to your site, either “www” or “non www” as 2 separate domains, and likewise, you could end up with a divided ranking for your domain as a result. Once you’ve selected your preferred domain, continue to index pages using that domain, and not the other. It could take a considerable amount of time before Google updates this information, again just be patient. Also, the Google may return a message that states "Google was unable to crawl your site" for the non preferred domain, this is totally normal as Google has taken your preferred domain into consideration, and is merely blocking the non preferred domain, which is fine. Now Google will return your site in Google search using the preferred domain instead. And, when someone links to your content, Google will count all links, either "WWW" or "non WWW" as the same domain, effectively eliminating duplicate content issues, and tying all your rank to one place.

Once you’ve given Google some time to update, go back to your account and click “health”, then “index status.” Click advanced, and notice the properties returned. The first, “total indexed” returns the total amount of pages that Google has indexed from your site. The second, “not selected” shows which pages of your site are not considered to be unique content. This part may also reflect duplicate content, and if you have a large number of pages shown as “not selected” this could be an indication of canonical issues with your site, for instance, if your site sells 10 versions of the same type of shoe, but in different colors, returning 10 separate pages to users. In this case you should set a canonical (preferred) page to return to users. You can do this by adding a <link re=”canonical” href=http://www.preferred-page.html /> in the head section of your pages. In the example of the shoes pages, just set all the pages canonical links as the page you want to display in search results by default. This will tell Google, “this is the page I prefer to be returned to users.” Another thing to be aware of, is that the “not selected” pages status does not indicate that those pages will not be returned in search results, it simply indicates that these pages are not considered unique, are too similar to other information already indexed to Google’s search engine, or are considered to be canonical pages as we’ve just described.

If you compare your “total indexed’ with your “not selected” parameters, this will show you what pages are considered to be unique content, and will be given a higher status and more likely to be returned to users in organic search results (results returned to users from a given search query). The higher the number of pages marked as “total indexed”, V.S the pages marked as “not selected”, the better! If you don’t see a lot of indexed page’s, this may be an indication of a problem with your sites server, your robots.txt file, etc.

Now under “health” click “crawl errors.” This will show you which pages have returned a 404 error when Google attempted to crawl your site. Click the link for a given link that Google has shown an error for, and select the “linked from” property to see what page contains the link that is causing the problem. From here you can find the issue and fix it. If no info is returned by clicking the “linked from” status, and you are not sure where the error is derived from, just leave it alone and come back in a day or two to check the information again. Usually the “linked from” status will update sometime after the original error was found.

Under “traffic” click “search queries”, this will show you which pages of your site were returned in organic search results and for what keywords, descriptions, etc. Notice the set of “queries” below the graph. Here you can see each set of keywords. Click a given set of words to see what page was returned for that set of keywords. Above the graph, notice the “impressions” data. This data shows how many times your website appeared in organic search, and “clicks” shows how many times a user clicked on a link to your website. On the far right you will notice another parameter labeled "AVG.Position", and this part of the graph shows you the search position for given set of keywords. A lower number is better. A search position of 1 is great!

If you have implemented Google Authorship into your website, you can view the Author stats by clicking “Labs” from the menu on the left side, and clicking “Author Stats”. Here you can see which pages that include your Authorship info have appeared in Google search or Google+. The stats show you the number f impressions, clicks, and “Click Thru Rate” (which essentially shows the percentage of clicks to impressions), and your average position for each page. If you haven’t implemented Google Authorship into your webpage’s, feel free to check out our tutorial, Getting Started With Google Authorship , to learn more.

Google will also return important messages about issues with your websites through your webmaster tools account. I would keep an eye on this! If your site is penalized, or has been hacked, you need to know about it. Google automatically prompts users to choose whether or not to integrate their webmaster tools messages with their Gmail accounts. Originally, Google did not do this, and if you didn’t check on your webmaster tools account, and there was a serious issue, you had no way to tell. Now you can receive important messages directly to personal Gmail account, which you could not do before. The webmaster tools account is truly your friend. If there is a serious issue with your site, you will most likely find it here. One of my sites got hacked several months ago, and I’m grateful that Google caught the issue very quickly and notified me of the problem. Turns out the web host I had was actually responsible for the hacking as they wanted to charge me money for an antivirus. I was very suspicious of them and immediately attempted to transfer my domain. They locked me out of my account, gave me the wrong EPP code, and refused to answer any questions. The companies name? Greengeeks.com. Obviously shady! This just goes to show, we must all exercise extreme caution when choosing a web host. If you don’t, you may have to go through the 2 months long headache I did in order to get transferred. My suggestion, use Godaddy.com. They are reputable, trustworthy, and no matter what issue or problem arises, they always seem to have an answer. I can’t count how many times I’ve called them in the middle of the night with a question or problem, and they are always right there on the other end of the line. Worth every penny! They have excellent customer service, and what I like most of all, they have hosting services to meet any need you can think of. They will even custom build your site, and configure custom hosting services that are tailored to your needs. I give 100% approval to Godaddy! Sure, you could set up your own server, but you can’t monitor it 24 hours a day 7 days a week either! It will save you from major headaches to have someone else handle the hosting portion of your site for you. Then you can focus on your site and its content, knowing your domain is in safe hands.

I will be posting more information about working with Google’s webmaster tools in the future. This is merely a starter’s guide to get you up and running properly, and is necessary information you will need. Thanks for reading.