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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.

Who links?
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!

Reid Bandremer

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.


21 Responses to “3 Ways to Use Google Webmaster Tools for SEO”

Thanks Reid, I find the ‘Search Queries’ application very interesting. I’m going to play with the click-through rate data for high-ranking pages and queries.

I also find GWT useful for highlighting any issues with sitemaps. Perhaps not as immediately relevant to SEO as the above, but I’ve found instances when engineers have mistakenly blocked content (or deleted sitemaps, shudder!), and I’ve used the sitemaps feature to troubleshoot.

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

Glad I could help Allie. Btw, the GWT sitemap features is indeed very helpful and super relevant to SEO! Very Highly recommended.

Karrie says:

Hey Reid, I find your post helpful but my particular situation is a bit more challenging. You see, I get these crawl errors in Google webmaster tools. The pages are shown but when I click on linked from, its says no data. Now I am sure those pages are not linked from my site internally, so is there another way to find out where those pages have been linked from?

Karrie says:

Wow, great! Thanks. I’ll take a look at your site also.

Evie says:

Another good tip is to use the page speed check within webmaster tools – as this is a ranking influencer. You should also take the time to submit your xml sitemap and select your preferred domain (www. vs non www.). While your there, you should also geo target. Specifically if your sites a .com targeting the UK for example.

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:


Great Tips! I have to admit I didn’t even realize the geo target feature was there, since we usually deal with U.S. clients. But that’s great to know its there; I’ll probably start using it from now on just in case. http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=62399 has good tips on best practices with geo-targeting practices. Thanks for commenting!

Rubel says:

Webmaster tools 404 (Not found).

Please help me.
I keep getting the above error in Google webmaster tools for my blog that I created with blogger (http://number1n1.blogspot.com). Google webmaster show me that my blog have some not found error.

This is the link that is not found.

But my real link is..

Can y tell me how can I fix this error?


Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

So there are generally two ways to fix such a 404 error. Either 1) find what is linking to the 404 page and change the destination URL in the hyperlink to the good URL, OR
2) Make a 301 redirect (permanent redirect) from the 404 page to the proper URL. If there is a link(s) to the 404 page with keyword-rich anchor text, then option 1 may be preferable (especially if the inbound link is on a high-authority page), because 301 redirects pass authority but do not pass the keyword relevance.

However, because 301 redirects are easy, this is probably the most commonly employed method. Good luck!

Raj says:

Useful info to us..it was helping to access my webmaster tool

Rabbit says:

Thanks a bunch, real helpful info. Will get to work on those 404s

Piers says:

I have a really severe problem with 404′s, the server which hold my web site directs google to their custom 404 page and then – thinking it is my page – grab their keyword and consequently I have lost my google position. Any ideas on that one?

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:


So I’m not sure how this affects specific rankings; if you had a page that was ranking for a keyword but is now 404, that page would no longer rank anyways. Now you definitely could be losing some link juice from your domain if there are any links going to the 404 pages. In addition, that 404 page is horrible from a conversion standpoint; the hosting company is basically trying to steal your customers with that page.

My advice is to get the 404 page changed; if the hosting company makes it hard for you to do that, switch hosts. In addition, try to eliminate 404s as much as possible through 301 redirects and fixing any links you can that go do a non-existant page on your site.

Good luck!

Jesus says:

Great post, I have been using blogger for a while and linked webmaster tools to my site. I have a problem where I have no data for the search queries, and I want to learn how to improve that or how to start getting data.

Thank you for your time.

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:


Is it possible that your site is not appearing frequently enough in the search engine results pages to there to be sufficient data?

If you do not see many unique visits through the organic medium in Google Analytics, this may indeed be the case.

todd says:

Webmaster tools dashboard dont look like the one you have in the photo above many of the links your showing are not there can you update this post to reflect the NEW webmaster Tools Dashboard

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

Screenshot updated, Todd.

sexleksaker strapon says:

Myselp prefer piwik,so much easier then webmaster tools.

Aaron says:

I’m using Google Webmaster Tools to see what domains are linking to my site and how many links from their site go to mine. I was wondering if there is a way to see others’ inbound links in the same format as Google Webmaster Tools as to see how many links each domain has going to these other sites?

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:

Bing Webmaster Tool’s Link Explorer is the best free tool for finding which sites link to another site that you do not own. Ahrefs, majestic seo, and SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer also do this, but their free versions (although worth checking out) are not very powerful. OSE will do the # of links (but the data is not as complete as GWT).

I find the Google search query tool to be pretty much a waste of time .

For example on query a top one it says im 90th so i look 90 places , no where to be seen , i look back 50 pages no where to be seen.

Its just not accurate a tall and Google should sort it out why have it if it doesn’t work

Reid Bandremer Reid Bandremer says:


I’m not sure what you mean.
If you mean “unnatural” backlinks, this article is a good start:http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2237534/Unnatural-Links-Recovery-Emerging-from-a-Manual-Penalty
If you mean you have “dead links” inside your site, where you are link to 404 pages, then resolve problem 404s by either 301 redirecting to the appropriate page or by changing the destination URL of the inbound link (when applicable).

Hope that helps.