Examining the Google Webmaster Console

In a previous post I explained the registration and verification process for Google’s Webmaster tools. Now that Google has updated the Webmaster tools interface, it seems like a good time to examine the features found in the Google Webmaster Console.

In preparing this post, I found I was beat to the punch by Eric Lander’s Comprehensive Guide, so check that guide out for more information on the Webmaster Console.

First, the Google Webmaster Central page is worth noting as a launch page into Google’s Webmaster tools and other information. Webmaster tools, Submit Content, Webmaster Central blog, FAQ, and developer tools links provide a central location for locating Google resources for website owners. From this page you can click the Webmaster Tools link and login to the Webmaster Console.

Authenticated, you will arrive at your Dashboard page which consists of a list of your managed sites, a Message Center, and a list of links to Console Tools.

Dashboard

The Dashboard provides a central summary of the sites you have registered, displaying the site verification and sitemap status. The message center provides a method for Google to communicate with site owners of sites that are verified. This is the preferred method rather than email due to email spoofing occurring in the past. The types of messages that will appear initially in Message Center are for search quality issues and penalty notifications. I suspect (speculation) that malware/badware notifications will be added at a future date. Do not worry about the lack of messages appearing here; that is a good thing.

Also on the Dashboard page is a list of links to tools that hopefully you will not need to use often; reporting spam, reporting paid links and requesting reconsideration over any penalties that may be applied to a domain due to violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

The primary tasks performed from the Dashboard will be to registering a new site, as explained previously, or manage a previously registered site. To manage a registered site just click the site link to go to the site’s Overview page.

Site Overview

The Site Overview consists of six sections: Overview, Diagnostic, Statistics, Links, Sitemaps and Tools. These sections can be navigated using the left-hand navigation menu.

Overview

The Overview section currently provides the last crawl date by Googlebot and the sites status in the Google index. There are quick links to top search queries and index stats as well as to help center topics that may be of interest.

Diagnostics

The Diagnostics section consists of two sections, Web Crawl and Mobile Web Crawl. These items will display any URLs from your site that Googlebot had issues crawling. Issues such as 404 errors (pages or content not available) and content excluded from indexing by robots.txt will appear here. Checking this information regularly will help you identify and correct problems that may be preventing Google from indexing content on your site.

Statistics

The Statistics section currently provides five detailed reports useful to website owners.

  • The Top search queries report displays the search terms used on Google that returned your site and the average position of your site for those terms in the last seven days. This can be useful in analyzing incoming search patterns for your site.
  • The Crawl stats report displays the distribution of your site’s pages PageRank and a history of the page with the highest monthly page rank.
  • The Subscriber stats report displays the number of subscribers to your site’s feeds as seen by Google products like iGoogle or Google Reader.
  • The What Googlebot sees report gives an overview of Phrases, Keywords and Content of your site. This report seems to have replaced the Page analysis report that was available until the recent revamp. The Phrases section lists the phrases found in the anchor text of external links to your site. The Keywords section lists the top keywords found in your site’s content and external links. The Content section displays a breakdown of the content type and encodings of your site’s pages. This information can be useful to administrators of sites, but has little bearing on a website owner’s day-to-day information gathering.
  • The Index stats report provides links to the Google Advanced queries to list the pages indexed by Google, incoming external links to your home page, the current cache of your site, the info Google has on your site (site description) and a list of related pages.

Links

The Links section contains two reports: Pages that link to yours and Pages with internal links. The first report lists the sites linking to yours as known by Google. The second report lists the pages and link counts for all the internal links on your site.

Sitemaps

The Sitemaps section allows you to notify Google of a sitemap for your site. A sitemap is a file describing all the pages of your site in a standard format that Google can read. Using a sitemap file allows you to notify Google of changes on your site without having to wait for the next Googlebot crawl of your site.

If you have a sitemap created for your site, you can add it to your site’s sitemap page here and see information as to its status, last download date and number of URLs submitted. Click the Add Sitemap link and follow the instructions on screen.

Tools

Google provides some excellent tools for webmasters to manage their site with Google. From robots.txt analysis to removing content, the tools to manage a site’s visibility and content are found in this section.

All site owners should verify their robots.txt file, especially if they have specific disallow statements. Google provides a tool to report on the status of the Googlebot’s last check of your site’s robots.txt file, parsing results and a tool to test changes to the file and view the results. For more information on the robots.txt syntax, see robotstxt.org. More information can also be found in this post on the Official Google Webmaster Central blog.

The Enhanced Image Search tool allows you to control whether Google uses the Google Image Labeler to associate labels with your images to improve search quality. This may be of interest to sites which host images as a prime feature and expect to get substantial traffic from image searches. You can opt-in and out from this tool’s page; the default setting is opted-out when a site is registered. Currently, I would classify Enhanced Image Search as an experimental feature that would not be of interest to most small site owners.

Manage site verification allows you to check all verified site owners, and re-verify the site if needed. The Set crawl rate tool displays statistics on Googlebot visits to your site over the last 90 days and allows you to change the Googlebot crawl frequency. There are three settings — Slower, Normal and Faster — with Faster only available if Googlebot’s crawl rate becomes a factor in your site’s crawl frequency.

The Set preferred domain tool allows you to tell Google which domain you wish to use in their index if you use domain addresses with and without the www prefix. All sites should use a redirect on one of these addresses to your primary domain name so there is no ambiguousness with traffic arriving at your site. This is done at the site level which will affect all search engines and visitors to your site. Read the Redirect section of this post for more information.

The Remove URLs tool allows you to remove pages on your site from Google’s index. Follow the instructions on the page and submit a page for removal. The page will be removed with Googlebot’s next crawl. More information can be found in this post about removing content from Google’s index.

Conclusion

Claiming your site on Google is a quick and easy way to establish your ownership of a site and have management tools available to you at your disposal. You may use the tools infrequently but as Google continues to expand the service the Webmaster Console’s usefulness will only increase. Most uses of the tools are within the reach of the average individual site owner, however, a website administrator can help with advice and use of the more advanced tools.