By Crispin Sheridan at ClickZ:
Google Webmaster Tools is one of the most powerful tools available to search marketers, as it provides direct insights into how Google views your website; and best of all, it's free! However, if you're not involved deeply in the day-to-day SEO efforts or are not well-versed in some of the more advanced tactics, Google Webmaster Tools can at first be an overwhelming and daunting platform to examine. In this post we'll review five sets of data for quick SEO wins for small, medium, and enterprise-sized sites alike.
1. Crawl errors. The crawl errors report provides insights into crawling/indexing issues that Googlebot encountered while visiting pages of your site. Ensuring that Google can accurately and cleanly access all valid pages of your site while not wasting time attempting to access invalid pages is fundamental in ensuring that it has an accurate picture of your site as a whole. There are various types of crawl errors that may be reported on, including URLs that returned Server Errors, Soft 404 Errors, Access Denied Status, Not Found, Not Followed, and Other. In most cases, you'll want to review the list and determine whether or not they should be indexed by the engines, and if not, where to 301 redirect them to in order to preserve any SEO value and/or user experience.
How to access:
Health -> Crawl Errors. From here you can select either web errors or mobile errors.
2. Search queries. The search queries report provides insights into keyword and URL-level information around the number of impressions received via organic search as well as the number of clicks (and therefore CTR) and the average organic position that your site showed up in. Some excellent optimization opportunities can be gleaned from this data by simply reviewing which keywords are receiving the most impressions and clicks but are not ranking in a favorable position. For example:
- Download your data to CSV and begin by sorting by impressions
- Add a filter if average position is greater than three
- Add another filter to the queries to remove branded phrases
What you're left with are keywords that are resulting in a lot of impressions but do not rank in the top three positions on average. Adding further filters based on click thresholds will allow you to isolate keywords that you may want to focus optimization efforts around. Also, you can marry this data with conversion data from your analytics package to see which ones are actually resulting in KPIs.
How to access:
Traffic -> Search Queries
3. HTML improvements. The HTML improvements report is designed to give you quick insights into improving the title and meta description tags across your website. For enterprise-level sites there is often a wealth of information here that makes identifying problems on a larger scale easier. Included here are listings of:
Duplicate meta descriptions: Meta descriptions, while not visible on-page to visitors, are visible within the search results as the snippet of text below the link. The keywords used within the meta description do not directly influence your organic rankings, but can improve the click-through rates of your result, which can have a positive impact on rankings. Review this data to ensure that all meta descriptions are unique and highly relevant to the content of the page. Duplicate meta descriptions can oftentimes uncover duplicate content issues that you may need to take more drastic steps to correct instead of simply writing a unique description tag.
Long and short meta descriptions: In addition to ensuring that all description tags are unique across your website, it's important to aim to not exceed around 155 characters in length because that's all Google will typically display. While going over by a few characters isn't necessarily going to hurt you, the content will be cut off in the search results. In extreme cases of large blocks of content in the meta description tag, Google may deem this an attempt at spam and devalue the page.
On the other hand, Google will also alert you to description tags that are too short - typically one to three words only. Oftentimes if a meta description is too short or not relevant enough to the content, Google will take snippets of text from the page and use those in the search results instead. Therefore, it's important to make sure you are fully leveraging the 155 characters to get your messaging across the way you want.
Title tags: Title tags are one of the most heavily weighted on-page elements for targeting keywords and achieving higher rankings in organic search. Because of this, it's critical to ensure that you are fully leveraging the tag on every single page of your website while not going overboard and looking spammy. Similar to the description tag, each page on your website should have a unique and highly relevant title tag that includes the keywords for which you are aiming to rank. Within the title tag section of Google Webmaster Tools you can identify where you have missing or duplicate tags, as well as which are too long, short, or are non-informative. If there is only one report that you look at within Google Webmaster Tools, let it be this section, as it's the quickest and easiest way to get the biggest bang for your buck if you have an excessive amount of warnings.
How to access:
Optimization -> HTML Improvements
Beginning your SEO efforts with these three sections within Google Webmaster Tools will allow you to start the process of building a solid foundation for your site's crawlability, on-page optimization, and keyword targeting. However, there is a vast set of data and advanced optimization options offered throughout Google Webmaster Tools that you should spend time examining and with which you should become more comfortable. While these Google tools and data here are great, you shouldn't ignore those being offered by Bing's version of Webmaster Tools either. I think Bing's tools have become increasingly powerful and useful to search marketers over the last six months. Going beyond these three quick tips, which areas of Google Webmaster Tools do you find to be the most useful in your SEO efforts?