Every website you run and would like to be successful in Google should have been added to Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to make sure you get suggestions, errors and data straight from the horses mouth.
Yes you can simply add your website to GWT and forget about it, OR you can be a bit smarter and make sure you tell Google how you want them to treat your website and where to send error messages to that might hinder your ranking ability.
There are seven essential settings you should configure to make the most of GWT. this doesn’t simply work out of the box and if you don’t tweak the settings, you’ll likely miss out on ranking opportunities.
1. Submit a Sitemap
A site map is highly recommended to help Google discover all your pages. They already do a very good job most of the times, but better safe than sorry right?
Here’s an example of the sitemaps I just submitted for this blog. As you can see, there are multiple XML sitemaps (read this MOZ article which explains the benefits of multiple sitemaps) added which conveniently gets generated by the WordPress SEO plugin which Yoast created.
Who spotted the error? Leave a comment and I’ll send you a good-job sticker Making sure you check your GWT dashboard regularly will help you to eliminate issues which could possibly hinder Google from crawling and indexing your blog. Just bookmark it or add it to your browsers starting tabs.
2. Set Your Preferred Domain
That WWW and non-WWW thing you’ve got going on with your new blog confuses the crap out of Google. Make sure you tell them which of the two is the one they need to pay attention to so they won’t leave your website with duplicate content issues based on this particular issue. This option will tell Google which one is your main domain, your canonical domain. Before you use this setting, make sure you’ve verified both the addresses with GWT. The easiest way to verify is if you’ve got Google Analytics installed on the website or blog you’re trying to add to GWT.
Once you’ve added the preferred domain in GWT, you should make sure that you redirect your non-preferred domain to your preferred domain with a permanent 301 redirect. This can be done in a few ways, but if you’re a newbie and not comfortable with editing a htaccess file, the Yoast plugin I previously mentioned can help you do the job. You can also simply change the blog address in the general settings area (/wp-admin/options-general.php) – this should have the same permanent effect (301).
3. Setup Email Notifications
Too busy to check your GWT from time to time? Let Google email you for either critical or all issues. This is an obvious setting that you should have enabled. Issues like malware can cause a lot of problems and if you don’t act on them swiftly, you might find your website dropping in ranking, losing visits and even getting injected with spam pages that can hurt your domain’s ranking abilities. You’ll find this setting under the top right cog icon that says Google Webmaster Tools Preferences.
4. Setup International Targeting
Do yourself a solid and check the country settings. If you’re in the US and you just want to target US visitors with Google – tell them by setting up that specific target country. The default setting is International which means you might not attract the type of visitors you want. Google looks at a lot of signals to guess where you’re from, such as your website’s IP address, incoming links, location information on the website and hreflang tags. Also remember that a .com is seen as international, not American. Just putting that out there because not everyone seems to know that
5. Check your Crawl Errors
If for some reason Google can’t access or find a bunch of pages on your blog, they’ll tell you about it. Make sure you check these URL errors as you might have pages offline which you depend on. It could be something as simple as a URL changing because you’ve moved content, or it could reflect a bigger issue where the missing pages have been deleted. Recently I had to deal with a client that had pages showing up in our browser, but Google received a wrong HTTP Header code from those pages and de-indexed them completely. In any case, you can find out what Google sees and align that with what you think they have indexed. Nothing worse that sending either paid organic traffic to a page that is missing.
6. Fetch as Googlebot
This is one of the features that lets you interact with Googlebot directly and see how it crawls and renders your website, both on desktops and mobile screens. It is ALWAYS a good idea to fetch as Google and render if you’ve just added your website to GWT, or if you’ve just done some serious website updating. This will help you to see what Google sees and you fix problems if they’re found and re-submit your blog to the index.
There is a 10 times per month limit on getting Google to recrawl and reindex so make sure you double-check the things you fixed before submitting. The other time you might want to use this feature is after you’ve cleaned up your site from makware that Google detected and flagged. (make sure you have those email notifications setup!)
7. Check your incoming links
This one is saved for last as it goes a bit deeper into your blog’s SEO health – particularly your backlink profile as Google sees it as displayed under the “Links to Your Site” section in the GWT sidebar. If you don’t know this, Google heavily relies on a websites incoming link profile to see how popular and important a page is, which can lead to better search engine rankings.
As a newbie it can be hard to figure out which of the incoming links provide real value vs the ones that could be hurting your blogs rankings. In order to make research easier, I suggest you download the latest links and add cross reference them with link data you might have gotten out of other tools, such as Ahrefs, OSE.
This type of research is done for example, when you need to submit a disavow file to Google when there are links pointing to your website that you don’t want, such a spam. Don’t use this option if you’re not familiar with it. Trust me, you don’t want to be throwing away good links by accident.
I hope this Google Webmaster Tools Setting and Configuration post was useful to some of you. Leave a comment and let me know if there are any questions about it or if there’s another topic you’d like me to go through in another blog post.