With Google Webmaster Tools Google offers lots of useful features for website owners for free. When used properly, it is a powerful tool for SEO. We have gathered 9 features you really should be using for your website.
To gain access to Google Webmaster Tools, you need to add your website and follow Google's instructions.
Now you are ready to optimize your website!
At Search Appearance > HTML Improvements, Google points out problems with meta descriptions, title tags and non-indexable content. You should address all of these problems.
Sitelinks are additional links that Google appends below your search result. Google decides when to display which sitelinks, but you can indirectly influence this. At Search Appearance > Sitelinks you can demote unwanted links, whereby they are replaced with new ones.
Update (1.6.2015): This report was recently replaced by the new Search Analytics report.
Search queries, found at Search Traffic > Search Queries, give an overview of the most important keywords and disclose unused potential for your website. For each search query you get the following information:
CTR = Clicks / Impressions
The clicks tell you which keywords really drive traffic to your website. The amount of impressions, the CTR and the average position of your website for a search query can point out optimization potential. From this report you can also derive topics that your users are interested in and specifically create content.
Links to Your Site
You should regularly check on your external links (links from other websites that refer to your content). Bad links, e.g. from link networks, can harm your search engine rankings.
At Search Traffic > Links to Your Site you find the domains that link to your website the most. In addition, your most linked pages are listed.
Internal links are a relevant ranking factor. In Google Webmaster Tools, at Search Traffic > Internal Links, you can check if your important landing pages are well linked internally.
For Google it is very important that your website is optimized for mobile devices. Google Webmaster Tools provides you support with this as well. At Search Traffic > Mobile Usability, your website is checked against the relevant criteria.
At Crawl > Crawl Errors, Google Webmaster Tools shows not accessible pages the crawler has visited based on external or internal links. Such errors originate from deleted or blocked pages or from incorrect linking. Since they obstruct the indexing process and have a negative influence on the user experience, you should redirect these URLs to a suitable, available page (with a 301 redirect).
Fetch as Google
With this feature you can make sure that Google is able to completely read your pages and that no necessary resources (like scripts, files, etc.) are blocked.
Update (12.3.2015): Google has improved the reporting of blocked resources to help you find and resolve problems.
At Crawl > Fetch as Google you can test single pages by entering their URL and clicking on Fetch and Render. If the tested page is not in Google's Index, you can submit it directly at this point (Button Submit to Index).
XML Sitemaps are an important instrument for telling search engines which pages to add to their index.
At Crawl > Sitemaps you can submit and validate your sitemaps. It is recommended to check on problems with your sitemaps on a regular basis. Furthermore, you can compare the number of submitted pages to the number of pages indexed by Google. It is common that not all of the pages are indexed but the numbers should be similar.
With these tips you can monitor the SEO performance of your website and detect and fix problems as they happen.
Update (29.5.2015): Google Webmaster Tools has a new name: Google Search Console. The functionalities are still the same.
Source header image: SEO Experts Singapore