Google Webmaster is not the flashiest tool. There are other tools out there that have a ton more functionality and can tell you much of the same information.
Google Webmaster does have 2 distinct advantages, though, that make it something you should definitely set up for your website:
# 1 - It’s free. There is no charge for Google Webmaster tools and it is super easy to setup.
# 2 - The information is directly from Google. Google is responsible for over 66% of the search traffic in the world. If they want to directly tell me anything about my website, I’m going to listen.
These two reasons make Google Webmasters one of the first things to look at when starting to analyze a website.
Below is a list of things to check out to make sure everything is a-ok with Google.
Setup both www.website.com and website.com. This can be a frustrating one. Shouldn’t Google know better. Most of the time this will not be an issue, but occasionally Google will not provide accurate data for one of the two. If you only setup one, there is a possibility you are only seeing partial data.
Check Messages. Google is kind enough to send you messages for a number of different things ranging from a hack to an increase in 404 errors.
Check manual actions (under search traffic) to look for Google Penalties. This one isn’t the most intuitive to look for, but it is very important. If you see this you're in good shape:
If you see this it's time to contact an expert:
Check the Security Issues tab. When there is an issue here you should have received a message under your Site Messages tab, but it’s always safer to double check. This is where Google Webmaster’s lets you know if they have seen that your site has been hacked.
Check Internal Links (under search traffic). Google values good inbound links. In fact it is still one of the most important search ranking factors, but it has become harder on links that have no value.
Look for fishy links and clean them up before Google starts punishing you for them. Many times it is obvious the links are spammy, but watch out for directory links. If you have a site that is getting many links from a single directory, this is something you will want to look into further.
Check pages being indexed. This can be checked under Google index > Index Status (It can also be checked outside of Webmasters through a Google search “site:www.website.com”). It doesn’t do much good to have a website if Google isn’t indexing you. Always best to double check.
Look at HTML improvements. This can be found under search appearance. If this is the first time you’ve looked here the quantity of suggestions may be a bit daunting. I wouldn’t drive myself crazy to solve every suggestion on this page. This is a small part of your rankings and depending on your CMS some may take some time to solve. However, you should definitely take the time to sort out any that are easy to fix and start chipping away at the rest over time.
Check for Crawl errors. This will tell you if you have a bunch of page not found errors (404s). This can be corrected by submitting 301 redirects. If there are many 404 errors, 301 redirects should be submitted as soon as possible.
Sitemap submitted. This is found under Crawl>Sitemaps This helps the crawlers find pages on your site faster and more efficiently.
Going through this process every time you start a website can save you time in the long run. It lets Google tell you if the SEO foundation of your website is solid.
Are there any other Google Webmaster tricks or tactics you use? Let me know in the comments.