Setting up Google Webmaster tools to monitor the health of your website
Google Webmaster Tools is a free web based dashboard linked to your Google account that keeps you informed about your sites health and its current status in Google’s search engine. It also allows site owners to inform Google about new content via a sitemap, and deal with any Malware or security issues.
Google Webmaster Tools works hand in hand with Google Analytics to give you a clearer picture of how your site is performing.
Having a properly configured Webmaster Tools account will help you to:
- See Traffic: How are people are finding your site?
- The keywords they use
- The most popular pages
- The rank and position changes for popular terms related to your site
- Identify technical problems with the site
- Security Issues & Spam attacks
- Find some of the top Links pointing at your site
- Advises Google the region you are targeting
- The preferred version of the site you would like to see in search results
g. www.example.com or example.com
In this Google Webmaster Tools tutorial we will show you how to set it up correctly from the beginning, so you can monitor the health of your site and inform Google of any changes.
Initial Setup & Verification
The first thing you need to do is prove to Google that you are actually the owner of the site, or have permission to administer it. This is called Site Verification.
Google Webmaster Tools is linked to a Google Account. If you do not currently have a Google Account, you will be prompted to create one, or you can go here: https://accounts.google.com/SignUp
- Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and signup for a Google Webmaster Tools account.
- Add a site to your account
It is possible to add multiple site to your webmaster tools account so you can administer them all in one place.
- Verify the site
There are a number of different ways to verify the site.
- Google Analytics tag
- Google Tag Manager tag
- Domain registration: CNAME Record or DNS TXT
The 2 easiest methods are:
- Upload an html file to the root directory of your site
- Add a special Meta Tag to the <head> section of your webpages
The advantage of uploading the HTML file, is that if your developers update the code on your website (E.g. updating your WordPress theme) the HTML file is separate, and so will not be overwritten, and you will remain verified.
If you don’t have access to upload the file to your Webserver using FTP or cPanel, then it may be easier to use the Meta Tag method.
Many content management systems, WordPress included, have plugins that allow you to easily add the verification code to the <head> section of all webpages. If in doubt, ask your developer.
Here is an example of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress
Verify Multiple Versions of your site
Typically your site will be accessed either with or without the preceding www’s
You should verify both addresses in your GWT Account. This then allows you to choose the preferred version of your site that Google should index and give ranking authority to.
Once you have verified one, there is no need to upload another HTML file for the other version of the domain, you can simply hit the verify button and it will automatically be verified.
Make sure that if your site uses an SSL certificate to use HTTPS when adding the site.
Setting the preferred Domain
Now that you have both sites verified, you can choose the preferred domain.
How do you know which one is preferred?
- When you type both versions of the URL into your browser, does it redirect you to with or without the www? Choose the version it redirects you to.
E.g If example.com redirects you to www.example.com. Make www.example.com the preferred domain.
- If both versions show without a redirect, choose the version that has the most links pointing to it. Specifically the most number of linking Root domains. You can find this out by putting both versions in to a tool like Open Site Explorer from Moz.
- Choose the Gear icon and site settings
- Then select your preferred domain and save
Sync Data with Google Analytics
Over the last few years, Google Analytics has been showing less and less data about the keywords people search with when looking for your product or service. For non brand related keywords, they simply show (not provided).
The good news is, Google Webmaster Tools has some of this data, and you are able to sync keyword data from GWT with Google Analytics.
If you already have a Google Analytics property setup, simply choose:
- The gear icon and then Google Analytics Property from the menu
- Select the matching property from the list and save
Submit a Sitemap
Sitemaps make it easy for search engines to crawl your site and discover content. You can submit and XML site map within GWT.
- From the left sidebar menu select Crawl -> Sitemaps
- Select Add/Test Sitemap
- Enter the URL of your sitemap and submit
This will submit the sitemap, and will display information about the number of pages, and if there are any warnings or errors.
Set International Targeting
Google gives you the option to tell them the geographic region or language your website is targeting. If your target market is restricted to a specific country:
- Select Search Traffic and the Country Tab
- Tick the box to target users in a specific country
This concludes the basic setup of Google Webmaster tools for your site.
It will now start capturing keyword data and crawling your sitemap to identify all the listed pages and rank them in its index. It will also start to analyse your site and offer suggestions for improvement.
In Part 2 of this tutorial, we will look at how to interpret the data, and take action to resolve any issues highlighted by Google Webmaster Tools.
For further reading from Google themselves, try the resources below.
Further Google Webmaster Tools Resources