One of the tools we use quite often here at GreenMellen is Google Webmaster Tools. It’s a suite of free tools that can be very beneficial for your website, and is included with our monthly maintenance packages (along with WordPress updates and some other tools; contact us for more info). However, this is a free tool for you to use so if you have the time to manage it yourself then here are some things to look for:
This is one of the most important features of Google Webmaster Tools. If Google finds a problem with your site, such as a drastic drop in the number of pages, or perhaps if they find malware on there, they’ll let you know about it. This is the only way for Google to directly contact site owners, so if you’re not here they’ll never be able to tell you what’s going on.
XML sitemaps are a great way to make sure that Google is aware of every page on your site. While Google does a great job of crawling sites, it can’t hurt to add your sitemap just to make sure that you and Google are on the same page. A neat feature here is that Google will tell you how many pages it found in your sitemap, and then it’ll tell you how many pages are in their index. While it’s ideal for those to be the same number, you’re not always that fortunate. Other factors (such as PageRank) play into how many pages Google is willing to index from your site, so it’s nice to be able to quickly see that exact number and watch it grow over time.
This is a fairly new feature, and one that 99% of us don’t need to worry about, but it’s great that Google released it. A big piece of Google’s recent Penguin update was that “bad” links pointing to your site could hurt you. While Google still recommends that you manually remove those links when possible (request that the other site take them down, etc), there are some cases where that isn’t possible. In those cases, this new tool is the answer. Here’s a short video from Google’s Matt Cutts that talks a bit more about how it works:
There are a ton of other great pages in there that I encourage your to explore. One in particular that I really like is the [Health] –> [Index Status] page. This gives a chart of how many pages from your site are in Google’s search index. If you’re continuing to generate solid content on a regular basis, that number should slowly rise. The more pages in their index, the more likely it is that Google will show one of your pages in a search result, and the more traffic you’ll see. Ideally, your chart will look something like this:
Google Webmaster Tools is a completely free system that is very powerful. If you have the time and skill to manage it yourself, we highly recommend that you do. If not, then talk to your web provider or marketing consultant about helping you get started.
Mickey – I figured out how to create a sitemap (using the Google Sitemap plugin from BestWebSoft – is there something better?) and submitted it to Google using the Webmaster tools. How often should I update it? Or since the plugin is supposed to update the sitemap.xml file when pages or posts are added, is it set and forget because Google will check back regularly?
Jim — You are correct; no need to update it. The plugin will update the file automatically, and Google will check for updates on it automatically.