Whether you have a large site or a very small site, having a Google Webmaster Tool account set up is essential. In GWT webmasters can see the inner workings of a website as it relates to Google. That information can be extremely valuable when evaluating your sites performance and tailoring your efforts to achieve your goals faster.
In GWT users can see what errors were encountered by the Googlebot when crawling and indexing your site. Errors with crawling sitemaps, HTTP errors, pages not found or broken links, URLs not followed, URLs restricted by robots.txt, URLs that take too much time to load, and pages that are unreachable can be seen in the “Crawl Errors” section of GWT. This information is extremely helpful if you have a large site to manage.
Errors may indicate an issue with innumerable items on your site. Each error should be examined in detail by an expert to determine its accuracy. Servers can often act strangely and not perform correctly for search engines. Some have even found Googlebot has crashed their sites, but offer solutions in many posts available online. Look at the error reports and determine the cause. Attempt to fix the issues you find because a site that can be crawled without error is certainly a good thing.
Meta Descriptions & Title Tags
I find the meta descriptions and title tags section to be very useful in GWT. Duplicate pages are shown in this section and errors with title tags or descriptions are shown as well. Any duplicates should be examined for accuracy. Inaccurate data should be further researched as it may showcase an issue.
For example, I’ve seen sites that showed thousands of duplicated meta titles and descriptions but the duplicated pages weren’t suppose to be seen. They had 301 redirects in place but Googlebot was still finding the content. These errors in GWT notified us of an issue which required additional research. In the end the issue led us back to their website’s load balancers and cache server settings. GWT can hold valuable information so make a point to examine this particular area often.
Find the top queries and top pages drawing in the most impressions and clicks on Google. With the limited data available in Google Analytics due to encrypted search, users can use GWT to see additional data as it relates to specific queries. Average position of a search query is available in this section along with percent increase and decrease over the course of a set period. A little over 30 days of data is available at a time and is available for download on demand.
Some webmasters have discovered their sites were hacked by examining this section in GWT. Search queries that contain pornographic terms, drug terms, or gambling terms are obvious signs you have an issue in the innermost workings of your site.
While the effect and popularity of Google + is still being determined, I’ve started to examine the +1 Metrics section of GWT to see if I can start to discern any patterns or growth. For certain sites with a high tech male demographic, Google + is performing quite well. GWT will show you +1 annotated impressions, CTR without +1 and CTR with +1.
Activity and audience data is also available, so you can see popular posts as they get +1s and grow over time. As the site grows in popularity, examination of this data will be important to your efforts with content marketing and social media marketing. Have a post that is seeing a decline? Repromote on Google+ and push renewed strength into the content piece. There are many ways you can use the data, the first step is actually looking.
These are just a few of the ways I use Google Webmaster Tools to help examine issues with a site and stay on top of all the moving parts involved in managing a website for search.
How do you use GWT to help you with your website? Share with us in the comments below.