Once your website is set up, you are (or should be) looking to achieve high rankings in Google's search engine results so that people have more chance of seeing and click through to your website.
The best way to accomplish this is through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
However, with so many SEO practices and methods out there, learning and trialling them all will cost you time and energy. And whilst, to some this may seem like an appealing alternative to an upfront financial investment, keep in mind that if it's not done properly, all that inexperienced effort may in fact hinder your success, rather then help you.
Which is why it cannot be stressed enough, the importance of getting all foundational SEO elements of your site done by an SEO professional.
Once your foundation is secure, your websites progress will require continuous monitoring. This can most definitely be outsourced to professionals (which is a popular option as it saves a boat load of time and stress). However, with knowledge and the right tools, you can manage your marketing results, and actively influence your momentum within Googles SERPs on your own.
In order to evaluate your online presence, efficiency, insights, and search rankings of your website, Google offers their proprietary Google Webmaster Tools.
GWT is a free suite of tools that grants you access to the data surrounding your website. Besides the aforementioned, GWT also offers data on malware flags and other potential issues that your website might have. With this data you can optimise your site, and increase your search engine rankings.
It's time to eliminate the guesswork or assumptions of your sites positioning and requirements, and back up your actions with applicable metrics.
Adding & Verifying Your Website in Webmaster Tools
The first step you will need to take once you have signed up to Google Webmaster Tools is to add and verify your website.
In order to prove that your website is, well, yours, you can link your Google Analytics Account.
This is the easiest way to verify your site, however, if you do not yet have an Analytics account, you have the option to sign into your website’s domain and add a new DNS record – if this is accessible to you.
If not, you can add a meta tag to the HTML within you site’s homepage, or, if you are able to add new files to your site, you have the option to upload an HTML files to your server.
Getting to Know GWT Dashboard
The Google Webmaster Tools dashboard may take some getting used to, but once you do it provides an overview of all of the information you will need to ensure that your site is optimised and tweaked to perfection, to increase your rankings in all major search engines.
The dashboard includes information such as search queries that include your site in the results – and how many clicks your site is generating through those queries.
Also shown are any crawl errors that Google is experiencing whilst travelling through your site, the number of other sites that have links back to your website and how many of your site’s pages have been indexed by Google.
Helping the Program Out
Sometimes it may take a while for the information to begin to show on your Webmaster Tools dashboard, but there are a few things that you can do to make sure that Google is able to find as much data as possible.
This is important as you want access to all of the available data in order to help you develop digital marketing strategies that will actually work.
Adding a site map top your Webmaster Tools account will improve your results greatly, as it assists Google in indexing as many pages from your site as possible, which gives you a higher chance of having your pages listed within search results.
To add a sitemap, you will need to ensure that your sitemap is in XML format, and contains less than 50,000 URLs and is less than 10 megabytes.
If your sitemap is larger than this, don't worry, it just means that you will need to split it into separate files to upload. If you are not sure how to do this, XML Sitemaps is a simple tool, which will create an XML file of your sitemap from the homepage URL.
The case may be that some pages are not being indexed at all. Fear not – there are a few causes for this and they are easily rectified.
Pages may be missed if the content on them is not unique; this can be fixed by ensuring that your content is original and has not been copied from another source.
Your page’s tags and meta descriptions may be generic and this will prevent the page from being indexed also, try tweaking the tags and descriptions to give your pages some individuality.
By now you may have noticed the “robot.txt” files popping up.
These are files that prevent Google from accessing and indexing certain pages, which are useful for parts of your site, such as member’s only forums or private access pages.
Webmaster Tools has a service within the dashboard to create robot.txt files and to check that these files are working properly, which adds extra security to the parts of your site that need to stay secure. Although, if you really want to make sure private things stay private, you can add passwords to areas of your site for added protection.
On the dashboard, you will find a “Site links” section, which enables you to control which internal pages are shown within search results. However, you can only control which pages are not shown, and not which of the permitted pages will appear, so the control is limited, but still worth getting to grips with.
Viewing Site The Way Google Views it
The main appeal of Webmaster Tools is the ability to view your site through Google lenses. This is becoming more important with todays algorithm competencies, since not only text data influences your ranking in search results, but also videos, images, news, mentions, social shares and more.
Performance insights such as the type of results your keywords bring up are useful especially as you explore what avenues of communication work best to connect with your customers and leads.
The Webmaster Tools dashboard has multiple ways to show you how your site is viewed.
Let's take a look in more detail shall we?
The ‘Links to Your Site’ tool shows you which sites contain the most links back to your website, where they link to and how many clicks each link is generating. This allows you to monitor the performance of each backlink, to analyse how you can increase the performance of links which are achieving less.
A tip for improving results in this area is to publish blog posts and relevant news articles (original content is the key) and promote them via social media, encouraging people to re-post and share the pages.
Doing so will increase your link visibility and simultaneously push traffic toward your site.
By using this tool, you will also be able to see which topics or subjects are shared the most and which titles encourage the most clicks. Then, with this knowledge you can focus your creative attention toward generating more of this high performing content.
Internal Page Links
This tool quantifies the links to pages within your website that are included within other pages on your website.
This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the Google search result ranking for a specific page on your site. By creating internal links to a particular page, you will increase the page ranking.
Essentially you're telling Google that this page is more important than others, therefore making that page more likely to show up in a high spot for relevant search results.
The Search Queries tool allows you to see which searches are producing your site in the search results, how many times your site is being seen in the results for each query and how often this results in a click through to the site.
It is important to monitor this information, to see how effective your title tag and meta descriptions are – these are what potential viewers will be reading when they decide whether to click through to your site or not.
Monitoring their success ensures your are aware of every potential to increase click conversions.
Similar to the Search Queries, but this tool works from the back-end of the site. The Keywords tool displays the most common words displayed within your site and ranks them by significance.
You can then use this information to optimise your site to include more of the keywords that people are actually searching for, to ensure that your site is being shown in as many relevant search result list as possible.
Google Webmaster Tools includes a tool which shows you how many subscribers each of your blog feeds has gained.
This is only useful if your site includes a blog, obviously.
However, for those sites that do, this will give you insights as to which subjects your viewers are enjoying, and which they have been less receptive towards, allowing you to create more of the popular posts, and possibly stop publishing the less well-liked subjects that deter your ideal client for spending more time on your site.
Using GWT Diagnostic Tools
Google Webmaster Tools has tools to diagnose and notify you of problems within your website. This is an extremely useful asset for determining whether code has been entered wrong or the detection of destructive Malware and more.
Crawl Errors & Crawl Stats
Whilst crawling your site, Google will document any errors it comes across and will present them to you using the Crawl Error tool. The most common errors are 404 (Page Not Found) Errors, which are usually caused by external sites linking to pages that used to exist but have been deleted or moved.
To fix this, try contacting the owner of the site containing the backlinks and asking them to link to a relevant page that exists (bonus points if you can be the one to provide them with quality, relevant content to replace it).
You can learn more about navigating the world of 404 Error Pages, here.
Google will also collect and display the amount of pages it is crawling each week and month. If this number is not as high as you think it should be, you can adjust the crawl speed for your site in your settings.
To protect users of search engines from being affected by Malware, Google does not highly rank infected sites. To ensure that your site is showing up within search results, you need to be sure that your site does not contain Malware. Thankfully, Webmaster has a tool to detect this as well, so you can easily see if your website is at risk or not.
The HTML Suggestions tool looks at the HTML coding of your website and displays for you any errors or inconsistencies, along with suggestions for improving and fixing the coding of your site.
Improving upon these inconsistencies increases the likelihood of your site being seen in search result listing and working properly for the end user. Win Win.
Getting the Hang of the Settings
Google Webmaster Tools includes many settings that you can customise to ensure that you are getting the most out of the toolset.
This includes adjusting you target locations, preferred domain and the crawl rate of your site.
The only way to feel confident that these are perfect, is by testing different settings and seeing how they affect your results. Don’t be afraid to experiment, any wayward results can be fixed.
Making the Most of Google Labs
Google often test their up and coming systems within the Google Labs part of the Webmaster Tools toolkit.
Maintaining an eye on this space will keep you informed of the emerging services and tools being trialled by Google and will grant you access to even more in-depth, insider information about your website.
Current Tools in Google Labs
The Downside of GWT
While these tools do offer useful insights they also come with some rather large limitations.
Most notably, if your website has low daily visitors.
Sites that don't generate at least 100,000 search impressions per day can't acquire enough data to provide accurate insights useful for strategy development.
In other words, GWT favours global results, rather than local results.
There's another challenge as well...
If you're running a local business that has branches in different locations, such as a chain of bistros, or clothing shops, without a few tweaks to it's parameters, GWT doesn't track separate geographic locations when it does the evaluations. In such cases, it's imperative to track each location separately to understand the trends that can boost your sales.
On a positive note, tracking your competition is made easy with Google's tool.
You can use GWT to track and analyse the websites of your competitors, not just to evaluate your own website.
However, keep in mind that It doesn't provide enough information if the niche or keywords are new.
So, if your website is just starting out, it might not be a great idea to use GWT for rankings purposes.
Allow your business to build authority in your niche, establish your keywords through SEO and content marketing and then pull out GWT to take your digital footprint to the next level.
Taking into account the vast amount of tools and the level of assistance that is given from Google to website owners, it's worth noting that the search engine should be viewed less of an obstacle, hindering your business' success - but rather a valued partner providing you insights into the tips and tricks required to optimise your website.
The fact that you can sign up and use these tools for free to increase your site views and analyse your current progress should be reason enough to take action.
However, if you need extra convincing, consider that Google is the most used search engine on the internet (facilitating over 90% of all searches), and with the help of Webmaster Tools, you get to see the inner workings of it. Use this information to your advantage and make sure your website is coming out on top of your competitors.