I’m a huge fan of Google Webmaster Tools, and I’ve written a tool for it which seems quite popular, (and might get an update soon). I’ve been noticing that people find my site by searching for the search term “how to use Google Webmaster Tools”, so I thought I’d post a guide of how I use it on a weekly basis to check on the health of my sites.
Web crawl errors
On opening Google Webmaster Tools I select a site. If you do that, the first thing you see is the diagnostic tab, with in it an overview of the latest web crawl errors Google encountered. This is the first thing I check out, as it provides very important data on the current status of the site. If you have a lot of URL’s that are either not found, unreachable, or timing out, you should look in to those and fix them. URL’s that aren’t found might be caused by people linking to you making an error in typing the URL. You could either ask those people to change that URL, if you know who is linking to you like this, or 301 redirect the page that Google didn’t find to the correct page. Be sure to check out all errors, and make sure you click all URL’s to see what happens.
The crawl rate
The second thing I look at is the crawl rate, linked in the menu on the left under tools. In this page, you want to see this box:
You want to be sure that Google does not want to crawl your site faster, if it does, you can put it to faster. If that’s the case though, chances are that your visitors aren’t experiencing a fast site either. So you want to speed up your server, or get your hosting provider to speed it up.
Above this box is an overview of the Googlebot activity over the last 90 days. Check out the graphs that are hidden underneath the links, and make sure that the number of pages crawled per day and the number of kilobytes downloaded per day isn’t going down drastically, but also don’t obsess over slight downward movements. You also want to make sure the time Googlebot spends downloading your pages is “stable”.
The next tab is the statistics tab. When you open this, the first thing you’ll see is a table showing “The PageRank of your pages in Google”, and a table showing the page with the highest pagerank for the last three months. I don’t think this data is very interesting, especially because PageRank is only shown as High, Medium, Low or “Not yet assigned”. If these things change heavily though, and you weren’t expecting them to change, you might want to take a look at your IBL’s.
Something else in this tab is a lot more interesting, though you might have gathered this data using other tools. Under “Page analysis”, there are two tables showing the common words for both your site’s content, and the common words in external links to your site. If you consider that the anchor text used for links towards your site is a very important factor in your rankings, you understand that this is an important table to have a look at. Any keywords that you’re targeting that aren’t in there? Perhaps you should think about your link building strategy again…
The Links tab
The tab with, in my opinion, the best information in Google Webmaster Tools for an SEO is the links tab. This shows an overview of all the pages on your site which Google has found links to, and the amount of links it has found to these pages. Clicking on the number next to the page URL shows the specific page Google has found the link towards that page on. If you use the extension I created, Google Webmaster Tools External Links++, you will also get the anchor text for the link and the PageRank for the page linking towards you.
I use this data regularly to check on which links Google has indexed, and how many links I have gathered with my new tools, link-bait actions etc.
If you use Google Webmaster Tools like this regularly, you’ll be aware of any (indexing) problems with your site in time, and have a thorough understanding of how your site is doing. Make sure you add this to your weekly routine!