3 Ways to Use Google Webmaster Tools for SEO
Here at LunaMetrics, sometimes our work with Google Analytics can overshadow GA’s cousin, Webmaster Tools. But Webmaster Tools is an essential component of the search engine optimization toolkit, and we use it regularly. You should too. Here’s 3 important ways how:
1. Fix 404s
Now, if you’ve never used Webmaster Tools before, don’t feel bad. A lot of folks we talk to never have either. But if you read this section and then still don’t use Webmaster Tools to find and diagnose your Page Not Found errors (server response code: 404), you should feel bad. Really bad. That’s how important it is that you use Webmaster Tools for dealing with 404s.
A 404 occurs whenever there is no page for the URL requested. Webmaster Tools will show the Page Not Found errors whenever Google’s spider crawls a link to a URL that has no actual page associated with it. Common reasons this occurs include typos in the destination URL of a link and failure to redirect the url of a page that was moved or deleted. Both causes of 404s can be detrimental to both the user experience and your SEO endeavors.
To find your 404 urls, simply click the “more” link in the “Crawl errors” section of your Webmaster Tools dashboard and go to the “not found” tab. Now some of the 404s are temporary crawl errors and don’t represent any inconvenience to your users or wastage of link juice, but many 404s will be problematic. Click on the URL to see the sites linking if you suspect the 404 may be a problem. Resolve problem 404s by either 301 redirecting to the appropriate page or by changing the destination URL of the inbound link (when applicable).
There’s been more than one instance where we’ve attained really significant traffic and engagement improvements simply by fixing 404s that we diagnosed using Webmaster Tools. Conversely, I cannot think of any major website I’ve looked at that didn’t have any problematic 404s – probability predicts that there will be some level of 404 problems.
Now, even if you can use server logs to see which urls are returning 404s, Webmaster Tools is still worth looking at because of the ability to see which 404s are being crawled by the Googlebot and where the links are coming from. It pays to look at some of the inbound links to your 404s: if the inbound link has keyword rich anchor text, you will want to attempt to change the destination url instead of 301 redirecting because redirects to do not pass full benefit of keyword relevance. Furthermore, knowing the causes of the 404s also better helps you prevent them from occurring in the future.
2. Examine Inbound Links
Webmaster Tools has arguably the best free tool for examining your inbound link profile. It is also the best tool I use personally for finding sheer quantity of links and linking sites.
Drilling down in the “Who Links the Most Section” can be particularly useful. If you want to track specific link building endeavors and you are not paying for a service to automatically track the status of given inbound links or requested links (like Raven Tools), you can download the linking domains and check to see if a given domain is linking to you. It’s also useful to check periodically to see if the quantity of linking domains is growing from month to month – this is a quick key indicator of link building success. Finally, be sure to individually examine many of the sites that link in to you and try to determine which sites types of sites are linking in, why they link to you, and how important certain types of sites are to your link building endeavors.
What do they link to?
You surely want to know which pages in your site attract links and what kinds of links they’re attracting. This helps you examine the effectiveness of your link baiting practices so you can figure out how to generate even better backlink-worthy content. For example, I just learned that our top link-getting article this year was 6 ways Brands can Rock Pinterest (way to go Brian!), and our other 2 Pinterest articles are also generating way above average link numbers too. You can bet that’s information we can put to use.
What anchor text is being used?
Many experts believe that anchor text of inbound links is the single most important factor (out of very many) in determining how high a page ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPS). It’s clearly something you want to analyze. You want your targeted keywords to be used in the anchor text of a substantial number of you inbound links. But if you see that your target keywords are used more as anchor text than your website and brand name and/or there is little diversity amongst keyword anchor text, then you may want to cut back on that spammy link building, huh?
3. Examine Keyword Performance in SERPS
By clicking on “Search Queries” link you can get an indication of what keywords you’re ranking for and an estimate of how often people click to your site when you show up in Google’s search results for given queries.
This is a tool that has been getting more attention lately, as people look for ways to compensate for missing data on keyword performance due to the growing number of keyword traffic showing up in Google Analytics as (not provided). Unfortunately, this is no replacement for the not provided keywords: the Webmaster Tools Search Queries report does not show # of click if the number was fewer than 10 and does not show any engagement or conversion metrics. Further, the data given is not as accurate as that of Google Analytics – the data is derived by different means. We’ve found that Search Queries data on clicks varies in reliability from site to site, so you should compare search query data to your Analytics data to gauge how accurate it is for your site.
That being said, because of (not provided), you still have more reason than before to look at Search Queries, because Search Queries can help you understand your keyword performance better. In particular, Search Queries can tell you 2 things Analytics doesn’t: estimated rank and estimated click-through rates. I emphasize estimated, because you need to take these figures with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, Search Queries can be helpful, and you can link Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics so you can do side-by-side comparisons (however, note that the Analytics will not display all the data available inside Webmaster Tools).
My personally favorite application of Search Queries is to examine Click-through Rate for high ranking pages and high ranking popular queries. To match search queries to their landing page (as in Analytics), click on the Query. If the click-thru is low, you may have accidentally targeted irrelevant keywords or maybe the title tags and/or Meta description is not enticing clicks and needs optimized. If the click-thru is high, then you’re doing something right, and you want to figure out what that is so you can keep doing it.
Well that about wraps it up. There’s really a ton of other SEO tricks you can do on Webmaster Tools (like analysis of title tags or xml sitemaps), but these 3 should give you plenty to do for now. Plus, I’m tired. But if you want to know about any other SEO tricks with Webmaster Tools, drop me a line in the comments, and I’ll help if I can. Cheers!
About Reid Bandremer
Reid Bandremer is a Search Analyst. He brings strong analytical abilities, a penchant for strategy, and a robust business background highlighted by an MBA at Robert Morris and experience in eCommerce marketing. Contrary to popular theory, Reid is not homeless – he just likes staying at the office late because he is passionate about increasing organic search traffic to client’s sites.