In a meeting this morning, the subject of Google’s Webmaster Tools came up, and more specifically the messages Google sends to webmaster through the Webmaster Tools site.
Google will tell you, for example, if you have an unusual change in traffic, or if it looks as though your website has been hacked.
“If you don’t use Webmaster Tools,” I said, “you’d never know the problem had occurred — you’d just know your sales had slumped.”
“We should assume,” said Tom, “that clients are all using Webmaster Tools.”
Not at all. In fact, we often hear from clients who are their own webmasters and who don’t realize that their site has been hacked — or, in a couple of cases, that the site is no longer live.
The first problem is that people aren’t always aware that they are webmasters. If you don’t have a webmaster, that is if you don’t pay someone else to take care of your website for you, then you are the webmaster. This is true whether you feel like a master of the web or not. Read more about this in “Who’s Taking Care of Your Website?”.
If you are the webmaster, you should use Webmaster Tools. Go to Google’s Webmaster Tools page and sign up. You will be given a little bit of code to put into your website. If you don’t have access to your website, you can prove in some other ways that you have authority to learn secret things about the site. For example, you can prove that you have admin access to the Google Analytics for the website.
This step is to ensure that no one can get information about your website without your permission.
Once you’ve gotten access to the tools, you will see a dashboard showing a range of tools.
- Site Messages sends alerts from Google. They have access to a lot of information, to say the least, and they can therefore tell if something strange is going on. Pay attention to these. The messages will tell you any actions that have been taken by Google or by a webmaster, such as connecting your website with Google Analytics or a Google Places page, they will alert you to suspected hacking or outages, and they will make you aware of surprises like “Big traffic change for top URL” or “Increase in not found errors.”
- Search Appearance covers some very techie things, while Search Traffic is your only accurate source of information about how Google is showing your website to searchers. This section shows you the queries and landing pages being shown to people who search for your keywords. This part hooks up with Google Analytics, and we discuss it in “Query vs. Keyword” and “SEO Tools: Landing Pages.”
- Google Index shows how many of the pages at your website have been indexed, and also the keywords Google has identified. When Google indexes a site, they rank it by how useful and valuable it is, and they also identify the keywords for which it should be shown. If Google has chosen the wrong keywords for you, then your content is not doing its job.
- Crawl shows problems such as Not Found pages and lets you upload a site map for your website.
- Malware shows if Google has identified any malicious software on your website.
- Additional Tools and Labs take you to some other Google products.
If you are your own webmaster and you don’t know what these things mean, that’s fine. If you do nothing but check occasionally for messages, you’ll benefit from Webmaster Tools. If you are not your own webmaster, see whether your webmaster is monitoring Webmaster Tools for you.
Bing also has Webmaster Tools. They don’t have as much information as Google, but they still probably have more information than you.
Any questions? We’ll be happy to answer.
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