March 3, 2015 | Sarah Danks
GSC — Previously Webmaster Tools
If you’re in any way involved in online marketing and you’re not using Google Search Console — previously Webmaster Tools — you’re missing out (here’s how to set it up in case you don’t know).
Here at ThinkSEM, we mainly use Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) for
- search queries,
- crawl errors,
- security issues,
- site messages,
- HTML improvements,
- submitting XML site maps, and
- manual actions.
Although there is a lot more data to be had than just those listed above, these are our main uses — not just for our site, but for all our clients’ websites as well.
Search Query Data
In this tab (under Search Traffic) you can monitor a site’s impressions, clicks, CTR and average position in the SERPs:
So, the default view is the past 31 days, wherein you can arrange the keyword data by descending/ascending order of impressions, clicks, click-through rate or average position. The positive here is you have access to up to 3 months’ worth of data.
BUT the negatives are that’s all the data you can access (time-wise)…
…and GWT only displays a percentage of your website’s information.
And it’s not consistent — with some clients or even time periods we see a large percent of the data shown; others we see a much smaller data set. We don’t know why Google does that, but “it is what it is.” And, as long as you’re aware of it and don’t send a report to your boss thinking it’s the entirety of the data you should be fine.
We especially like to see the fluctuation in keyword activity, so we select “With change”:
The default setting within this tab is “Web,” but you can examine different data by changing the Filters. In addition to normal web search queries, you can see Image, Video, and Mobile search queries. Other options are filtering by traffic location and “All queries” vs “Queries with 10+ impressions/clicks.”
This area of GWT is helpful to determine problem URLs. An important thing to know on a website — especially if it’s your newly-acquired client’s site — is whether or not there are any 404 pages on your site, and where they are.
For example, let’s say you want to delete an entire section of content from your website. But, you either forget to redirect the old pages or don’t think it’s a big deal to just delete them. Fact is, Google will still attempt to find that old content, even though it doesn’t exist anymore. So, this tab offers the ability to look for 301 redirect opportunities.
Or, let’s say for some reason an entire site goes down (whether due to server issues or whatnot), and all your URLs will render as 404 pages. It’s good to keep an eye on this section of the data to ensure your visitors can always find your content.
In this section, Search Console will alert you if your website has been hacked.
This is a very serious issue and not to be taken lightly — especially since malware installed on your website affects your visitors; not just you.
The most common site message I’ve seen is “Googlebot can’t access your site” (which most likely means the robots.txt file isn’t set up correctly — or isn’t there at all, which by now you know it should be), but this is where you’ll receive notifications of anything going on with your website technically. Other examples are:
- Increase in not found errors
- Disavowed links updated
- The preferred domain for your site has changed
- Fix mobile usability issues found
There are many others; this was just an example. It’s pretty easy to spot Site Messages since they’re visible immediately upon logging in to Webmaster Tools:
In this section you can see data about your…metadata. (“Allow myself to introduce…myself…“) Basically, does your website have duplicate/too long/too short meta descriptions or title tags.
When we acquire new clients this is something we check out right away to see what we’re dealing with in regards to previous “SEO efforts.”
Submit XML Sitemap
We all know what a sitemap is…but why do we upload it from Webmaster Tools? Because, well, Google doesn’t know the URL of your sitemap until you’ve shown them where it is…
…and submitting it via GWT tells Google, “Here it is.”
If you receive a notification that a manual action has been taken on your site, it’s not good news. Still good to know about, of course (so you can fix it!).
This section is reserved for the big-time: this is where Google tells you something’s majorly wrong with your website. If you’ve somehow acquired (or are providing) “unnatural” links, this is where you learn about it.
Google reserves this section to also alert you:
- your site has been hacked,
- you’ve got user-generated (or any other kind of) spam,
- they’ve found out about your black hat attempts at gaming the system.
So there you have it — just a few of the reasons why we use Google Webmaster Tools (although there are definitely others).
How do you find GWT helps you in website management?