Back in 2010, we wrote a thorough beginner’s guide to Google Webmaster Tools. Since then, there have been significant changes to Google Webmaster Tools. We have updated this guide to include new ways to set up your website with Webmaster Tools, the new data included in Webmaster Tools about your website, important data you might have forgotten about, and how to connect it to Google Analytics to learn more about search queries driving traffic to your site.
Setting Up Your Website with Webmaster Tools
If you haven’t already, the first thing you will need to do is set up your website with Webmaster Tools. To do this, visit the Google Webmaster Tools website, sign in with your Google Account – preferably the one you are already using for Google Analytics. Click the red Add a Site button to begin.
Next, you will have to verify this site as yours. Previously, this involved having to embed code into your website header or upload an HTML file to your web server. Now, if you already have Google Analytics, you can verify your site by connecting Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics. To do so, click on the Alternative Methods tab when verifying ownership. Then select the Use your Google Analytics account option.
Once your site is verified, you will want to submit a sitemap if you have one available. This is a simple XML file that will tell Google Webmaster Tools what pages you have on your website.
If you have one already, you can usually find it by typing in http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml to see it in your browser. To create a sitemap if you don’t already have one, you can use online tools like XML Sitemaps. If you are running a website on your own domain using WordPress, you can install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin. Once you have activated the plugin, look under your Settings in the WordPress dashboard and click on XML-Sitemap. Click on the Click here link to build your sitemap for the first time.
Right click on the sitemap link and copy the link address.
Then paste the portion of the URL after the http://yourdomain.com/ of your website into the box to submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools.
It may take a few days for Webmaster Tools to start pulling information about your website if you are setting up your website on Webmaster Tools for the first time. Be sure to wait a bit, then continue on to see what you can learn from Webmaster Tools.
Valuable Information within Webmaster Tools
Once you have data in Webmaster Tools, you will be able to view the following about your website. These are only the highlights of new types of data within Google Webmaster Tools and the most important data you should always remember to check on occasionally.
When you visit your website in Webmaster Tools, you will first come to your dashboard. This is an overview of the important data within Webmaster Tools. You can visit specific areas such as your Search Queries, Crawl Errors, Incoming Links, Top Keywords, and Sitemaps from this screen by clicking on the applicable More links. You can also navigate to these areas using the menu in the left sidebar.
In the Site Configuration section of Google Webmaster Tools, you can view the following important information.
Here, you will see information pertaining to your sitemap. If you notice the last date your sitemap was downloaded is not recent, you might want to submit your sitemap to refresh the number of URLs submitted.
Sitelinks are the extra internal links from your site shown below it in search results. If you Google KISSmetrics, for example, you will see their listing plus an additional six top links from this site.
Unfortunately, you can’t specify which pages you want to show up in sitelinks. If you notice one that you absolutely do not want under the sitelinks, you can demote it in this section of your Google Webmaster Tools.
Your Site on the Web
This section includes important data about search queries, keywords, and incoming links that are driving traffic to your website.
The Search Queries section of Google Webmaster Tools shows you the top keyword searches in which your website appears and shows the impressions vs. clicks, average position, and change in position. Why is this now more important than ever? So far, it doesn’t look like it is affected by the not provided keyword trend which leads to missing Google Analytics data. You can click on each search query to see which pages on your website rank for that keyword or phrase.
Links to Your Site
Curious about your backlinks? Google Webmaster Tools shows you the domains that link to you the most as well as the pages on your website with the most links. This is probably the most comprehensive listing of your backlinks that you will find, for free at least.
This section shows you the keywords Google believes to be the main subject matter of your site. If these do not fit with what you want your site to be known for, you might want to look at the number of times you are using these words on your website. You can click on each keyword to see why Google believes it is important.
If you don’t already have the +1 button installed on your website, you better make it a point to install it. Google Webmaster Tools now tracks metrics related to the +1 button activity on your website and its impact in your search performance in the following sections.
This section shows you the impact of click through rates with +1 annotations in search vs. without.
This section shows you the rate of +1’s you receive on your site vs. on other sites. Be sure to change the selection at the top to show All +1’s to get the best data.
This section, if you have enough +1’s, will show you demographics about people who +1 your site including age, gender, and location. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough +1’s to show Audience data, so I snagged the above screenshot from Distilled’s recap of Analytics & Webmaster Tools changes.
While there is a lot of valuable information in this section, the area I find myself using the most is the Crawl Errors.
It’s never good to have broken links on your website. When you click on the Not found link, you will see all of the pages on your website that result in a 404 page not found error and how many external pages are linking to them. If you have a lot of them, focus on redirecting the ones with the most incoming links.
Webmaster Tools Labs are sections where they are testing data. According to their own disclaimer, they may change, break, or disappear at any time. Some interesting data currently shown includes Author Stats for pages on your website where you are verified as the author by your Google+ profile. Also, there is a Site Performance section that tells you how long it takes your site to load and shows you some potential problem pages.
Integration with Google Analytics
Remember the Search Queries section mentioned above? You can view this within Google Analytics by going into your website profile and looking under Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization > Queries. If you haven’t set up data sharing between Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, you might see this message.
Simply click on the Set up Webmaster Tools data sharing to configure this option. You will be taken to your website’s Google Analytics settings. Click on the Edit link under Webmaster Tools Settings.
On the following screen, select the website within your Webmaster Tools to link to your Google Analytics account.
When you click save, you will then be taken back to Google Analytics where you can click Apply to finish. You will now be able to see the following under Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization > Queries.
You can also see your top landing pages within search plus the geographical summary of people who see your website within search under the Search Engine Optimization section of your Google Analytics.
Do you use Webmaster Tools? What areas do you find most useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and happy data analyzing!
About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.