Improve SEO with Google Webmaster Tools
Thursday, 14 February 2008 — by Wayne Smallman
Google’s Webmaster Tools are growing into a very useful set of utilities for Webmasters, search marketeers and web developers. With a little time and planning, you can fine tune your ‘blog or website like a professional…
In this article, I’ll be discussing issues related to web design & web development. So there’s going to be technical assumptions aplenty!
If this article isn’t for you, then maybe you ought to read about how close are we to Star Trek technology, instead?
What is Google Webmaster Tools?
Taken straight from the Webmaster Tools help page, here’s what Google has to say:
“Our suite of webmaster tools provides you with a free and easy way to make your site more Google-friendly. They can show you Google’s view of your site, help you diagnose problems, and let you share info with us to help improve your site’s visibility.”
You get to see things like crawl info, Robots.txt files, top queries and indexing information, too.
As an additional bonus, Google Webmaster Tools are ideal for those managing more than one website or ‘blog.
I could go on, but you can read on for yourselves. I want to concentrate on two things; top queries and web crawl errors.
Top search queries
Something you won’t find in Google Analytics is a list of the top queries for your websites or ‘blogs.
Sure, you’ll see a list of search queries that brought people to those websites and web pages, but you’ll not see a list of those search queries you ranked for, but didn’t receive a click for.
On the “Top search queries” page, you’ll see two columns; the first is “Top search queries” while the second is “Top clicked queries” and it’s these lists that will offer you an insight into the performance of those search queries and how best to convert a high rank into a click.
The first column lists the ranking of the search query, which is itself determined by the % (percentage) column. The third is the search query itself, which is clickable. While the final column tells you where you’re ranking for that search query.
The life and times of a search query
Imagine you’re ranking in 3rd place on Google for the phrase: “Long blue widgets” in the “Top search queries” column, with a healthy growth rate of 25%. Problem is, over in the “Top clicked queries” the phrase: “Long blue widgets” is nowhere to be seen!
Start by clicking on the search query in the left-hand column. You should see a window appear with a search results page for that query.
Take a look at where you rank and see how your listing compares to those around you. Chances are, you’re lacking the right density of keywords.
Creating search engine friendly web pages isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. In fact, you could create search engine optimized web pages in less than 5 minutes!
It’s also worth looking at the meta description tag, which is inside the header tag of your web pages.
It’s a common mistake to make (one I’ve made myself many times) to have the same description for every web page. So the first thing I’d suggest, in addition to adding more relevant keywords and key phrases to your web pages, is add a relevant description of your web page into the meta description tag.
Here’s a great tutorial on making the most of the meta description tag, which is well worth a read.
Alternatively, for those running WordPress like me, you might want to take a look at the Head META Description Plugin, which is but one of several Plugins I’m using for the Blah, Blah! Technology ‘blog.
Once you’ve made your changes, it may take a while for the updates to filter through Google’s index, so be patient.
Web crawl errors
As you continue to build and grow your website or ‘blog, stuff gets changed along the way.
Some web pages get deleted, while others are re-named. The reasons don’t really matter, but what does matter is the fact that the search engines will wonder where those web pages went to!
Help is at hand.
Go through your list of URL’s that Google can’t find and see if you can figure out why. If a web page has been deleted, then it’s as well to point the old URL that Google is looking for to a new one.
What if someone added a link to their ‘blog or website using one of those old links? Well now it’s not going anywhere! Worse still, this could have been a very high authority link that you’ll no longer feel the benefit of.
What a blow.
So now you have two options:
- If you’ve re-named a web page, then point the old URL to the new one.
- If you’ve deleted a web page, point the old URL to an article you feel is related to the one you deleted.
Using .htaccess on your website or ‘blog
Now that you’ve decided how you’re going to “map” old or deleted web pages to new ones, you need to let Google know. The best way to do this is using the “.htaccess” file, which is part of the Apache web server.
Rather than spend a whole evening writing out a tutorial, here’s a great how-to from Apache, explaining the Redirect directive in full.
Just as before, once you’ve made your changes, it may take a while for the updates to work their way into Google’s index.
I suspect the real power of Google Webmaster Tools will emerge once Google combine FeedBurner with Webmaster Tools and Anlytics, which may happen sooner rather than later.
As a collection of utilities, Google Webmaster Tools are in my opinion indispensable. And I’ve only really scratched the surface of what can be done.
So sign up right away and let me know how you get on…
- 5 minute SEO primer for beginners
- Making the Most of Meta Description Tags
- Google FeedBurner, Analytics and Webmaster Tools should be combined
- WordPress Plugins on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog