One tactic I’ve not put to use as well as I should is keeping the “back end” of my site clean. By this I mean cleaning up broken links, creating redirects for my 404 pages, etc. The reason I don’t take care of these issues is because dealing with this stuff makes my eyes glaze over.
One of my goals for Q1, therefore, is to learn how to take care of these issues — and the first step for me is to begin paying more attention to Google’s Webmaster Tools.
For those of you who don’t know, Webmaster Tools is a nifty application that “provides you with detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google.” Like everything else with Google, it’s free — and pretty easy to set up.
To get started, follow the link and sign up. You will then need to verify your site. Google gives you a number of options, so use the one that’s easiest for you. I use WordPress, so I had my designer, Rachel Cunliffe of Cre8d Design, add the meta tag to my home page. Once the code is in place, you’re good to go.
With Webmaster Tools, you can learn all sorts of things about your site. Two very important areas include:
1. Site health — Google will tell you which pages it can’t crawl, if you have a valid site map, and if it has detected any malware. For my site, I have 113 “Not Found” or 404 page errors (most of which are due to changing my domain and deleting old blog posts).
What’s really cool is that if you click on a link that Google is showing as a 404 error, you can then see all the pages on your site that link to the non-existent page. For example, I have numerous links from blog posts going to a now non-existent Services page. Using this information, I can go into each post and correct the link.
According to Google, 404 errors don’t impact your search results. They do, however, impact the user experience, so it is good to clean them up. For consultants and freelancers with smaller sites, ensuring a site visitor finds the information he or she is looking for can help turn that visitor into a lead.
2. Optimization — For my site, Webmaster tools is showing I have two duplicate meta description tags and 12 duplicate Title tags — all of which are connected to my blog categories. This issue is relatively easy to clean up — which is what I’m currently doing.
3. Author Stats — Another area of interest, especially if you have a blog, is “Author stats,” which is still in beta (you can find it in Webmaster Tools under “Labs.”) According to Google, it’s now “piloting the display of author information in search results to help users discover great content.”
With Google Authorship, Google shows your photo next to content you’ve written in the search results.
When you click on the “More by [author name],” link, Google then takes you to a new page that shows all of the content written by you (or the respective author).
Once you have Author Stats in place, Google Webmaster Tools then shows stats for those pages for which you are the verified author.
Ensuring your blog and its content show you as the author requires that you have a G+ profile. It also takes a bit of work to set up correctly and is a whole other post in and of itself. I’m also still working on figuring out if the Yoast SEO plugin does this for you. (You can read this helpful article from Google on how it shows author information in search results.)
And last but not least, you can connect Webmaster Tools with Google Analytics. By doing this, you can see the same Tools information within Analytics without having to click back and forth between properties. To link the two, follow these instructions from Google.
Do you use Webmaster Tools? If so, how have you used it to improve your site’s health or optimization? Leave your comments below.