Deeper than analytics

What do you do when you want to discover more about how your website is performing, and Google Analytics isn’t quite up to the job? Start using Google Webmaster Tools too.

Setting it up

Setting up your account is quite simple as long as you have a Google account – you just head to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home and sign in. Within the site itself, you will find the “Search Console”.
In order to use the Search Console, you need to add properties to it – essentially, your websites. You can add any domain you want, but before you can access the data, you need to confirm that you own the site. This can be done through a variety of methods – adding a code to the page header, uploading a file, authenticating your Google Analytics usage on the site, or various ways through your hosting provider/domain registrar.
Once Webmaster Tools is satisfied you own the property as you have claimed to, you can proceed to access the data related to it.

Search presence

You will be asked a series of questions, including such things as “which country are you targeting with this website”. All the questions are designed to allow you to gain the maximum benefit from using the service, and also to notify the Google search index of any important changes that may need to be made.
If your site is new, it will take some time for data to accrue. If Google has already indexed your site, there may be data already stored for you to view.

Crawl Errors

A monitoring service is built in to the tools. Should your site be unavailable, pages go missing, or your server has trouble sending pages out, you will be notified of these problems and given potential solutions. Useful for monitoring the uptime of your server and availability of your site, it is not necessarily realtime data, and so should not be relied on as an emergency notification service.

Site analytics and keywords

A recent change in Google Analytics has meant that many search keywords are no longer displayed, meaning you may not be able to discover how people are finding your site. The site analytics within Google Webmaster Tools shows far more information, including many of the words or phrases that have been used to discover your site, along with the position on the search page that your site appeared at, and how many clicks you have received.

Sitemaps

Webmaster Tools allows you to upload or link to sitemap files, XML representations of the content of your site. This can improve the accuracy of your search listing, as it informs the search index where to look for all of your pages and media. Not every URL submitted will be indexed, as some may be recognized as duplicate pages, may have issues loading, or may not meet other conditions. You can see how many pages you have submitted and how many are indexed within the site, and which sitemap they relate to.

Links

Reports are available on links to your site, also known as backlinks. You can review which sites are linking to you, and should rogue links appear, you have access to a tool to remove them. Internal links are also shown, as is the way in which your data is linked – essentially the anchor text that gives Google an idea of what your site is about.

Mobile Usability

As Google is now very much a mobile-first search engine, mobile usability is crucial. Any issues with using your website on a mobile device are listed within this report. With luck, the report should just confirm that your site is mobile friendly – anything else is just asking for trouble!

Crawl

The search index is created by a program called the Googlebot, that is sent out on to the web to “crawl” websites. Crawl errors are shown, along with any blocked resources. If for any reason Googlebot can’t access something it believes it should be able to, it will be noted as a blocked resource. This may be a transient issue, or something you need to fix with the configuration of your website.
To help resolve any problems, there is the option to “fetch as Google” any URL you enter. This will show you how Googlebot sees the specified page – you may be surprised by what isn’t on there, as complicated code can obfuscate information and make it unavailable to the search index. This is a very big problem – you could find that a vast quantity of information on your site is essentially invisible.

Security Issues

Googlebot is also on the lookout for sites that may have been compromised. If your site has been hacked, or if Googlebot thinks it has, it will report this to you. Instructions and further reading are provided should you suspect there is a problem on your site.

Web tools

Tools including the Ad Experience Report are included. As always, Google’s aim is to index high quality, easily accessible, well presented, informative websites. Overuse of advertising or anything else that affects the user experience will be noted and reported, and will eventually affect the ranking of your website within the search results.
Testing tools are also available, including tests to ensure your structured data has been set up and entered correctly, as well as checks for the structured content of HTML emails.

An improved experience

All in all, the use of Webmaster Tools will benefit both you and the visitors to your site. You will have access to greater amounts of specific information about your site, and be able to resolve issues in the search index too. Your visitors will have the benefit of a nice experience using your site, which will potentially bring even more traffic as Googlebot takes notice of your performance.

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