Friday, July 23, 2010

Eight Uses for Google's Webmaster Tools

by Willy Gissen

A lot of people know about Google Analytics, but Google's other major web-site support program, Webmaster Tools, can be even more useful. Despite the intimidating name, Google's Webmaster Tools is a user-friendly program designed to look at your web site's structure and provide some actionable feedback to make major improvements.

Here are some of the ways it can be applied:

1) Evaluate your web site's loading time.


Loading time is one of the 200 signals Google uses to determine its search engine results. While not as important as quality content, the measurement should be checked to maximize your web site's performance. Generally, 2.0 seconds or less is optimal for e-commerce sites, while Google recommends an ideal value of 0.5 seconds.

After gaining access to Webmaster Tools -- you need to insert some code in your home page to verify you are the owner, as instructed when you sign in -- go to the Dashboard and click on Labs, then Site Performance.

2) Submit an XML sitemap.

Most experts recommend you create both an HTML and an XML sitemap for your web site to make it easier for the spiders to crawl and optimize your search engine ranking. You can download a free program to create an XML sitemap, but you need to go into Google Webmaster Tools to install it. Go to the Dashboard and click on Site Configuration, then Sitemaps.

3) Increase your inbound links.

Inbound links are an essential parameter Google uses to determine your search engine ranking.

Go to the diagnostics section of Webmaster Tools and click on crawl errors. By clicking on the tab "Not Found," you will see inbound links trying to access a URL that does not, or no longer, exists. Create an ".ht access" file on your root domain and forward these links to a currently existing URL by using a 301 redirect.

Search for "creating an .ht access file" and "301 redirect" for further instructions.

4) Check your site's meta tags.

Meta tags provide essential information to Google spiders about the content of your site and what words will return a high ranking. These include title tags and meta descriptions. Title tags appear on the top blue bar of each page, and meta descriptions appear under your company's link on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Each page on your web site should have its own unique title tag and meta description.

Go to Diagnostics, HTML Suggestions in Webmaster Tools to evaluate your meta descriptions and title tags.

5) Evaluate your deep links.

On the landing page of your Google Webmaster Tools' dashboard, you will see a section titled "Links to Your Site." It will give the total number of your links in the headline and the locations being linked to underneath. This item is very useful for evaluating "deep links," inbound links to any page other than your home page. Google considers deep links an indication of a web site's value, and you should always try to increase their percentage.

6) Create a robots.txt file.

There are some files you do not want spiders to crawl, such as the RSS feed of your blog, if it resides on your web site. Creating a robots. txt file tells Google's spiders what URLs you do not want them to crawl. It is simply a text (Notepad) file titled robots.txt that resides in your root directory.

Google's Webmaster Tools automatically generates coding for this file if you go to Crawler Access in the Site Configuration section and click on the "Generate robots.txt" tab. The program instructions are self-explanatory.

7) Change your Google settings.

While most of these parameters should remain as the default setting, you may wish to review the geographic target for your web site, preferred domain and crawl rate.

8) Check your web site activity and interaction with spiders.

Google Webmaster Tools provides graphs showing your Crawl Stats (Diagnostics section), Search Queries (Your Site on the Web section) and other parameters. It's a good idea to review them periodically to ensure your site is performing properly.

About the Author

Willy Gissen founded Cut-It-Out Communications, Inc., a full-service public relations firm based in Hartsdale, NY, in 2003. See his related essays at public relations review and his blog at NYT analysis.