Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO

MAILE OHYE: Hi. I’m Maile Ohye, a developer programs tech lead with Google Webmaster Central. But today, I’ll pretend to be the SEO of the Google store at www.googlestore.com. The Google store sells many fine items, like Google T-shirts and fold up flyers. Using this site as an example, together we’ll take a look at how to make the most of the features in Google Webmaster Tools– my favorites.

Now, if I were the SEO of the Google store, the first thing I would do is log into Webmaster Tools, verify ownership of my site, then sign up for email forwarding in Message Center. Email forwarding allows important messages from Google– like malware notifications, or alerts for crawling issues– to be delivered right to my inbox. So I can get important news without even needing to log in to the webmaster console.

Next, stepping back a bit, as the SEO, I’ll talk to Google about their business strategy for the Google store. I’ll do my best to help make the online strategy that I’m managing consistent with their overall business goals. So let’s pretend that the owners of the Google store explain to me that a key part of their business includes online sales of Google merchandise. Let’s say they’d like to sell more Android T-shirts and Google yo-yos. Remember, please, that this is all make believe. Now my objective as their SEO is more clear. I need to help googlestore.com sell merchandise.

But rather than help the Google store sell every product in stock, I prioritize where to spend my time by optimizing the product pages for items that already have visibility in the market. This is much easier than also needing to create demand for an item. To do this, I’ll investigate the information available in Webmaster Tools, Search Queries.

This data helps me understand which products are already doing well in search. Now, there are many queries for which the Google store ranks, but only some of them are actually receiving clicks from targeted visitors. I’ll star these queries. The other queries, like YouTube, are likely irrelevant.

They may receive a lot of impressions, but when a user just searches for YouTube, they probably want to watch videos on YouTube.com. It’s not easy to upsell to a YouTube T-shirt. Now, with the queries starred like “Google T-shirt” and “Android shirt,” whenever I log into Webmaster Tools, it’s easy for me to track my progress without being distracted by extraneous terms.

For the rest of this presentation, in the interest of time, I’ll focus on helping the Google store increase sales for their Android shirts. Given my starred queries, I’ll check them out in search results. You can see here that for “Android shirt,” my second result, with an indented result, could be more descriptive and readable. The snippet can originate from the meta description, and that’s a quick fix I would immediately implement as their SEO. After viewing Search Queries to get an idea of the queries to prioritize, I’ll then go to the Key Words feature in Webmaster Tools.

Key Words tells me these are the key phrases Google has extracted from your site. As SEO, I want these key words to relatively match the terms for which I want to rank. Here I noticed the key words for the Google store include organic, eco, and cotton.

These terms don’t match the actual merchandise I’m trying to sell. To meet my online objectives, I’m better off if my site’s key words– the content on the page– are more about Android, Google, and shirt– the terms for which I’d like to rank– rather than generic fabric descriptions, like cotton and organic. Following Key Words, I’ll return to Search Queries to see exactly what URLs are ranking for the given query.

When your site shows an average position of 5.0, that means that when a user enters the query, the URLs from your site that are displayed in results average at position 5.0. In other words, a user in San Francisco may see my site in position number four in search results, while for the same query a user in New York may see my site in position six. My average position is then five.

Alternatively, if a query triggers my site in both result number four and number six, then my average position may also be five. Furthermore, when your site appears in a blended result, we’ll most commonly use the entire slot as one position.

So for example, all the sites shown in this blended shopping result could be calculated as being in the number one position. The change value is calculated as the delta between your search query for this time interval versus the previous interval, whether that’s a month, a week, or a day. In Search Queries, as the SEO, I also notice that some of these URLs are duplicates.

These two results look similar, but differ only in their parameters. Here’s some general advice for duplicate content issues. But to reduce duplicate content in this particular case, I’ll use rel=canonical as well as utilizing URL parameter handling in Webmaster Tools.

In URL parameter handling, I can signal to Google’s crawler that some parameters are valuable while others can be ignored. I can use parameter handling if my URL structure contains name value pairs using standard encoding. If I use something non-standard– being a maverick– search engines will have a harder time understanding my site.

Another step in addressing duplicate content is to check out HTML suggestions. Here are URLs already crawled and indexed by Google that have duplicate titles or metadescriptions. I can check if my Android shirt page has any duplicates detected by Google.

Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Every important page on my site should have a unique title and description. And that way I don’t dilute any of my page rank. Next I’ll check out Crawl Errors to verify that Google is properly accessing my site. Within Crawl Errors is Crawl Error Sources, where I can make sure that potential visitors to my site don’t receive 404 File Not Found, but instead come to the page they intended.

Fixing crawl errors both helps me, one, capitalize on potential shoppers originating from other sites, and two, accumulate page rank from external links to the right URL. Speaking of links, I’ll go to Internal Links next. A site’s homepage often has the highest page rank on their site.

It can be beneficial to make sure that for the pages we want to rank– such as my Android shirt page– that it’s well linked from within my own site and my own homepage.

In this example, my Android shirt has fewer internal links than the other product pages, such as the organic Basic T-shirt. To help users and search engines find my Android page, I’ll make it better linked internally and within fewer links from my homepage.

Another great tool I can use is Fetch as Googlebot. With Fetch as Googlebot, I’ll check that redirects, dynamic pages, and URL rewrites work as expected. I can also help ensure that my information, both the text and the links, are retrievable and more likely indexable.

For example, if I don’t see the content of my page clearly listed in the text from Fetch as Googlebot, it’s possible that it’s hidden to search engines through an image or Javascript. Many studies demonstrate that the faster a page loads in the browser, the happier the user.

Given my limited time today, I’ll conclude by checking out the Site Performance feature in Webmaster Tools. This feature provides improvements on how to make my site faster.

Here, unfortunately, I notice that my Android shirt URL requires over six seconds to render. Most e-commerce sites aim for under two seconds. Because, as the SEO, I don’t want to lose Google store’s visitors because of slowness, I’m going to make improving my site’s six second load time a high priority.

Now let’s recap the features I’ve used in Webmaster Tools. First I signed up for email forwarding and message center. Next I checked out Search Queries to see the items on my site that are already ranking and for which I can improve. Then I used Key Words to understand how I should better target my content.

I tried to reduce duplicates through HTML suggestions and URL parameter handling, then Crawl Errors to fix broken links. I prioritized my content by comparing internal links, verified crawler access through Fetch as Googlebot, and last I used Site Performance to improve my page speed.

Thanks. I hope you find some of these tips useful in making the most of Webmaster Tools. I look forward to seeing you at our Webmaster Central blog, and at Google.com/webmasters..

Using Webmaster Tools like an SEO

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