Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is a powerful resource for site managers and SEOs. It provides a look at how Google indexes your site and provides insight into site performance. If you are serious about improving your site and its rank in search engines, this tool is a must. Below, I discuss five ways I use GWT to improve search performance.
Before I jump into a how-to, I’ll first explain how to register your site with GWT.
Steps to Add Your Site to GWT:
1. Visit www.google.com/webmasters/
2. Choose “Add Site”
3. Enter the URL for the site you intend to add
4. Follow the steps to verify ownership of the site
Voilá! You’re ready. Let’s do this. Here are the five ways to use GWT to improve SEO performance.
One | Index Your Site Properly
Submitting a sitemap is an important step to ensure that Google indexes your site properly. A sitemap provides Google with a directory of pages on your website and defines the relationships between those pages. Once indexed, Google will search and store your site content and tags.
Sitemaps also allow you to define pages that should NOT be indexed — e.g., pages with duplicate content, secure information, low performance, etc. Note: Google reguarly crawls the web for new content, so your site will eventually be indexed without submitting a sitemap. However, if you regularly publish new content, or restructure your site, you should manually submit a sitemap.
Two | Make HTML Improvements to Your Site
Google uses title tags and meta descriptions to determine if the content on your site is relevant to search queries. It is important to keep this in mind when performing on-page optimization. However, sometimes it’s difficult to keep all of the tagging and descriptions straight and errors occur. Errors like the ones listed in the image, below.
GWT allows you to dig deeper into where the errors are occurring, so you can make edits to your site and improve performance. Click on any of the errors listed for details regarding which pages are missing tags, contain duplicate tags, etc.
Three | Track the Top Queries Triggering Display on Google Search
At first glance, this tool may appear to provide the same keyword reporting that Google Analytics provides in the Acquisition – Keyword report. However, it’s a completely different look at keyword performance. It doesn’t just provide insight on what queries drive traffic to your site, it provides a deeper look at which queries your site is ranking for.
Using the “Search Queries” tool, you can pull a report of the following:
Query: These are the keywords that your site is ranked for, not just the keywords that drove traffic to your website. To clarify, this is a full list of queries that resulted in your site displaying in the SERPs.
So what? Because of the holistic nature of this report, you can confirm which phrases people are actually searching for and work to optimize your site for the phrases that provide opportunities.
Impressions: This tells you the approximate number of impressions your site received on the SERP.
So what? For the purposes of branding, you can use this metric to determine how much exposure your brand is getting on search.
Clicks & Click Thru Rate: With this metric, you can see how many people actually clicked through from the search results to your site.
So what? Both of these metrics provide you with a look at how relevant your site content is in search. If you have a low CTR, consider optimizing the related pages to improve performance for the associated keyword. Also, try adjusting the description or rephrase the title tag to ensure that your content is clear. In other words, make sure your title tag, keyword tag, and description are consistent and use the same phrasing.
Average Page Position: Want to know where your site is displaying in the SERPs for each keyword? Here is where you can find out. This metric reveals the average position of your site by page-rank, when a specific query is performed.
So what? Obviously, everyone is seeking the first position. By examining the results, you can prioritize your optimization efforts. For example, if you’re currently ranked in position 20 for a keyword you’re targeting, it might be a better use of your time to optimize for keywords that represent lower hanging fruit, such as keywords in positions five through ten. The ability to determine how difficult it is to rank for a specific keyword, can focus your efforts and increase performance.
Increases and Decreases in Performance: This is where you can see the fruits of your labors. Look at the increases and decreases in performance to see what is working and what’s not. Keep track of the changes you’re making in your search strategy and refine accordingly.
Another important use for this report is filling in keyword reporting gaps caused by the “Not Provided” bucket in Google Analytics keyword reports. Google does not report on the keywords that drive traffic to your site from search if the person who performed the query is logged into a Google account. Therefore, a huge number of keyword results are hidden. Using the webmaster tools, you can get a better and bigger picture look at all searches driving traffic to your site.
Four | Find Optimization Opportunities with Top Pages
Within the same “Search Queries” tool, exists the “Top Pages” report. This report provides a list of the highest performing pages in Google search. This reveals how your pages are performing in search and what keywords are driving their display.
So what? Look at which pages have high CTR. Take advantage of the opportunity with internal linking and keyword optimization to improve the page rank for those pages. Dig in and research the keywords that are driving traffic to each of those pages. The results may surprise you. Reconsider your keyword strategy based on your findings.
Five | Examine Inbound Links
Examine external sites linking to your content. The “Links to Your Site” tool provides a report of external sites driving traffic to your content. It also lists the pages those sites link to. Even more, it exposes how publishers are linking to your content by providing a list of anchor text phrases used when an external site references a page on your site. This data provides the opportunity to see where and how online publishers reference your content.
So what? Use this report to curate a list of outbound opportunities to assist your link-building strategy. Also, refine the anchor text that is currently used and build a best practices guide for publishers to ensure that the correct pages are linked with optimized anchor text.
While this is not an exhaustive list of potential uses for GWT, these are the areas and reports that I find most helpful when performing daily SEO efforts. My hope is that it will get you started in the right direction.
If you already use GWT regularly, which reports do you find have the most impact on your SEO efforts?