You just launched your personal or business blog. Awesome! Now what? Before you get too busy publishing posts, responding to commenters and growing your online presence, please do yourself a favor. Take a deep breath and press the pause button. In order to get your blog wheels rolling and attract thousands of page views each month/week/day(!!), it is essential to give your website a solid technical check. What does this mean? Well simply put, you need to make sure that Google is viewing your website (and its brilliant content) the way that it should- enter Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).
GWT can show you things like:
- Which pages on your site are included in Google’s index?
- What, if any, errors were found when crawling your site?
- What other websites are linking to you?
- How many impressions has your website received in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?
- I could go on and on… if you’re interested, check out Webmaster Academy
In this quick guide, you’ll learn how to get started with Google Webmaster Tools, as well as a few of my favorite features within the tool to help your site flourish.
Set Up Google Webmaster Tools
To get started, visit the Google Webmasters website and sign in with your Google account (or create one). If you already use Google Analytics, Gmail, etc., then you’ve got a Google account and you can use that same login to access Webmaster Tools
Scroll to the bottom of the page and enter in your top-level domain (example: http://www.mydigitalally.com in the case of my site), then press Add a Site
You’ll then be prompted to verify your site. While there are four different options to achieve this, I highly recommend the “Link to Google Analytics” option for the SEO novice. Note that this option requires you to be logged in with the same account as the one you are using for Google Analytics
If you must be difficult, (kidding!) there are other options. You can 1) upload an HTML file to your server, 2) add meta content tag to your <head> tag, or 3) add a DNS record to your domain’s registrar in order to complete the process
Voila! You’re done.
Now you have a Google Webmaster Tools account that is successfully linked to your website. What’s next? On the left-hand side of the GWT dashboard, you’ll see various drop-down buttons that show all of the options available within the suite of tools. I highly recommend perusing all of them, but there’s a catch. Before you make any changes, be sure to do your homework. Long ago, there was a girl that erased all of her analytics data with one naïve, innocent click (and perhaps that girl was me…). Don’t be that girl.
My Favorite GWT Features
Submit an XML Sitemap
By submitting an XML Sitemap, you are directly telling Google which pages you want them to index. There are tons of resources available to help you create an XML Sitemap. If you’re using WordPress, I recommend Google XML Sitemaps.
Set a Preferred Domain
You may notice that a lot of websites choose to prefix their domain with “www” while many others do not. What should you do? There is no golden rule for choosing to utilize the www prefix or not. However, you must choose one and stick to it. Because http://www.domain.com is technically a sub domain of domain.com, the engines may see these URLs as two different pages and thus split your rankings. You should institute a 301-redirect to whichever version you prefer from the non-preferred version (if it’s not done automatically – thank you WordPress!) and then select your preferred domain structure in Google Webmaster Tools as seen below:
The Fetch as Google feature is perhaps my favorite tool within GWT. Originally created in 2011, I regularly use the Fetch feature for two very different purposes:
1. Troubleshooting a page. As Google puts it, “The Fetch as Google tool lets you see a page as Google sees it. This is particularly useful if you’re troubleshooting a page’s poor performance in search results. For example, if you use rich media files to display content, the page returned by the tool may not contain this content if Google can’t crawl it effectively."
2. When I publish a time-sensitive post. After fetching a page, you have the option to submit it to the index. When I’ve just written a post that is timely in nature – about a news event, upcoming festival, etc., it’s important to get traffic as soon as possible. If Google doesn’t re-crawl your site for a few days, you may just miss the boat. Using Fetch, you can tell Google right away that you have new content that searchers will be interested in reading. I recently used this in the case of my review of the Dove Real Beauty Sketch Ad, as seen below: