9 Steps to Google Greatness: Step 8 – Google Webmaster Tools

The cool thing about Google is that they actually want to help you increase your websites ranking…assuming that you are willing to do it right. It’s when people try tricking the system that they get a little pissy. Google Webmaster Tools is a perfect example of this.

If you don’t know what it is, Google Webmaster Tools is a free service offered by Google that gives you some very valuable insights into your website such as internal and external links, crawl rate, keywords, broken links, errors and a whole bunch of other geeky stuff. By going through a few of these reports and alerts and cleaning up some of the mess, you are ultimately making it much easier for Google (and other search engines) to read, index and follow your site. The easier you make it for them, the better chance you have at a good ranking. Got it?

If you haven’t already signed up or have never logged in, let’s start there:

  1. Go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools and either signup or login with your Google Account.
  2. Click the “Add a Site” button in order to add your website.
  3. Once you add your website, follow the instructions to verify it.
  4. Once verified, click on your website and you will be greeted by your dashboard and you are ready to start poking around.

There is a lot of cool stuff for you to look at, so you are of course welcome to click on any of the links on the left hand side of the page to check out each of the different reports, however, we’re going to focus on just a few of the more important ones…

Sitemaps: Remember that xml sitemap we created yesterday? Well, it’s about to come in handy. Click on the “Site Configuration” link and you will see a few drop down options, one of which is “Sitemaps.” All you need to do is click “Add/Test Sitemap” and then enter the URL of your sitemap (which should be http://www.YourDomain.com/sitemap.xml) and click “Submit Sitemap.” Now Google will be notified of all of the links in your sitemap to ensure they are all indexed. You only need to do this one time assuming you don’t move your sitemap file (which you shouldn’t).

Crawler Access: Directly under the Sitemaps button is a button called “Crawler Access.” This page should automatically show the results of the robots.txt file that you created and uploaded yesterday. If you have anything other than “200 (Success)” as a status than there is something wrong with your file and you need to revisit yesterdays lesson and upload a new file.

Settings: Skip a few and you will get to “Settings” which allows you to tweak how Google sees your domain. If you are targeting a specific area, it’s a good idea to choose it here otherwise you can just leave this unchecked. Next, be sure to choose your preferred domain, with or without the www. It doesn’t really matter what you go with (I like using the www) as it’s just personal preference but it is good to pick one and go with it. You will have to verify both the www and the non-www versions of your url in order to be able to change this setting, which means having to go back to the 4 steps above. Leave the crawl rate at the default settings.

Crawl Errors: Click on the “Diagnostics” link and it opens a submenu of options, the second one being “Crawl Errors”. This is a list of pages that are currently indexed by Google where the page no longer exists, likely due to either deleting the page or changing the name of the link. Either way, it hurts your ranking when you have indexed pages that are not there so we need to fix each of these. This is where we get to use those 301 redirects we talked about yesterday. All you have to do is create a 301 redirect for each link on this list and direct it to a live link on your website. When you are done with each of these, click on the link on the list, test it to make sure your 301 redirect worked and then click the “Mark as Fixed” button.

HTML Suggestions: The last one that we are going to go over today is “HTML Suggestions” located under the “Diagnostics” tab. This tells you if you have any errors like duplicate titles, missing title tags, etc. If there are any problems it will be listed under one of the categories here. Click on the category and you will see a specific list of what is wrong. Go back into your Title Tags and start fixing each of the pages on this list.

So, at this point if you have gone through each of these reports and fixed all of the errors that you found along with each of the previous lessons, you should be in really good shape! Tomorrows lesson is the last one in this series and it is where we get to see how all of your hard work the past 2 weeks has paid off!

» Step 9 – Google Analytics
« Step 7 – Sitemaps, Robot Files and 301’s