If you’re an SEO beginner, Google Webmaster Tools (also known as GWT, if my fingers get lazy) is a great place to start a site tuneup. If you’re buried in SEO minutiae and need to pull together some intelligent, actionable to-do items for your site, you could do a lot worse than signing in at Google.com/webmasters/tools. Here’s my quick guide to an SEO checkup, GWT-style:

1. Go Looking For Trouble

First, fix what’s broke. Use the Crawl Errors report as a great way to get a head start.

Click Diagnostics::Crawl Errors. This report will show all of the broken links Googlebot found in its last crawl of your site. It may also show ‘soft’ 404 errors – broken links that don’t deliver a proper 404 code – and pages where your server said “nope, I’m not responding. Phhbbbtttt.”

Broken links

Fix the broken links wherever possible. If you can’t fix ‘em, build pages at the broken link destinations or use 301 redirects to reroute visitors.

2. Find Duplicates Duplicates

Haha. Get it? Duplicates twice… it’s funny… sniff. I crack myself up.

Duplicate content is a long-standing SEO bugaboo. Use the HTML Suggestions report to help diagnose duplication problems.

Click Diagnostics::HTML suggestions. Then click duplicate meta descriptions or duplicate title tags. The report you see shows you pages that have identical description or title tags:

Duplicate description tags report

This report can give you great insight into duplicate content. Where there’s duplicate metadata, there may be duplicate pages. For example, I clicked one of the pages listed and found this:

Duplicate description tags example

The ?param=hello is creating a duplicate of my home page.

Even if you don’t find a single duplicate page, it’s important that you have unique, descriptive title tags and compelling description meta tags for each page. So combing through the HTML suggestions report is always helpful.

3. Find Crawl Depth Problems

In a perfect world, you want Google to crawl 100% of your site’s visible pages. Use the crawl stats report to see how close you’re getting to this ideal.

Now, click Diagnostics::Crawl stats. Google gives you a succinct report showing you how many pages Googlebot’s crawling per day, the number of kilobytes downloaded, and the average time spent downloading each page:

Crawl stats

Ideally, you want to minimize time spent and kilobytes downloaded per day, and maximize pages crawled per day. But what really matters is trending.

If pages crawled per day decreases, but time spent downloading a page increases, check your site for performance problems. Poorly-compressed images, bloated code and server problems are a few issues that could be hurting Google’s ability to crawl your site.

4. Check Your Relevance

Now for some really neat-o stuff. Click Your site on the web::Keywords and you can see what Google thinks are the most common keywords on your site. You can use this information to better optimize your content around central themes and topics:

Keywords report

Then, click on each keyword to see any variants found on your site, and to see which pages Google deems most relevant to those terms:

Keywords drilldown

You can use this information to map out keyword strategy, and figure out if the pages you want ranking for specific terms are on the right track.

5. Look At Rankings

Knowing what people type, and which searches get you clicks, is invaluable search intelligence. Use the Search queries report to gain great insight. Click Your site on the web::Search queries, and you’ll see a report like this:

Search queries report

Whoa. That’s a lot of data. Don’t panic! Break it down to what you really need:

  • Impressions shows the number of times you appeared in a search result for that query.
  • Clicks is the number of times folks clicked on your result for that query.
  • CTR is clickthru rate: The number of clicks per impression.
  • Average position is where you ranked.

Don’t treat this report as a benchmark for search performance. Rankings are a terrible benchmark, especially now that Google appears to be Bingifying their results pages. But you can look for easy improvements. For example, I think I should get more than 2% clickthru on ‘Google Analytics’. I click on that query and get a drill-down report:

Search queries drilldown

The pages I see listed probably need better meta description tags, and maybe more compelling titles. By rewriting these to present a better call to action, I can potentially improve clickthru.

6. Gain Insight Into Link Strategy

Find out what links Google thinks are important: Click Your site on the web::Links to your site. Then:

  • Look at ‘How your data is linked’ to review anchor text and see if you need to diversify;
  • Look at ‘Who links the most’ to see inlinking domains; and
  • Check ‘Your most linked content’ to find the ‘stickiest’ cotent on your site.

7. Check Your Site’s Structure

Take a look at Your site on the web::Internal links. Review which pages are getting the most links from within your site.

Remember: Links are votes. Make sure the most important pages on your site are getting the most votes. If the ‘Terms of use’ page is the most popular, something’s probably wrong.

8. Check Messages

Make sure you click Messages and see if Google’s alerted you to any big changes. Examples include a sudden increase in the number of URLs found by Googlebot or possible site outages. Google doesn’t go out of its way to tell you if there’s a problem. So, if you see a message from them, you need to pay attention.

9. Check ‘Fetch As Googlebot’

Got a page that’s stubbornly refusing to show up in the Google index? Click Labs::Fetch as Googlebot. Type in the URL of the pesky page and run the tool. In a few minutes, you’ll get a report showing exactly what Google found, including the headers:

Fetch as Googlebot

Use that report to see if there’s a specific problem, or if you just need to refresh content, build links or be patient.

Setup Is Easy

If you don’t yet have Google Webmaster Tools running on your site, setup is easy. Sign in to your Google account, then go to Google.com/webmasters/tools and follow the instructions. You’ll either need to upload a single file to your site, or add a simple META tag. If you’re using WordPress, you can use one of several easy plug-ins to handle the job for you.

There’s A Lot More

You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to:

I can go on forever. But you’ll only see benefits if you do something. So start simple, do the checkup, and be sure to explore the many other diagnostic tools available in GWT.

Note: Bing has its own set of webmaster tools. They’re pretty nifty, too. Stay tuned for a checkup guide using Bing’s webmaster toolset.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO

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About The Author: is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

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  • http://brent.rangen.net Brent Rangen MN SEO

    Ah, I was just about half-way done writing an identical article. Now, I don’t have to finish. My main reason for writing was because too many people under-value the WMT’s, especially the search query reports.

  • http://www.blogpersonal.ro Aurel Dragut

    I have a question about the first step. If an external site puts a wrong link to a page of my site shoud i worry? Do i really have to create a custom redirect rule for every case like this one?

  • http://www.alexiskenne.com kaleb

    Great job!
    Thanks!

  • http://www.studio119.com/ Studio 119 Degrees

    Excellent list of using Google Webmaster Tools!

  • Lucas Bigwood

    Great article Ian. I agree with all 9 steps but would have included an additional step for checking site performance and suggestions. Especially as the GWT guidelines state “Google strongly recommends that all webmasters regularly monitor site performance”. For those wanting to check performance click Labs > Site Performance (Page Speed Suggestions).

  • http://www.conversationmarketing.com Ian Lurie

    @Aurel I generally try to redirect those links or, even better, build a page at the broken URL address. But you can pick-and-choose a bit based on the authority of the website that’s pointing to the broken link. Low-authority sites may not be as urgent.

  • http://www.conversationmarketing.com Ian Lurie

    @Lucas yup that’s an important one. I’d write a list that’s 500 items long if i could, but figured the 9-step version might get folks to take action more quickly :)

  • Lucas Bigwood

    And your 9-step version was definitely a good one. Would love to see the 500 long list though :)

  • http://www.blogpersonal.ro Aurel Dragut

    I got it, Ian. Thank you very much! I will check the authority of all the sites that are linking.

  • http://www.expand2web.com/blog/ doncampbell

    Awesome write-up Ian. I especially like the tip about the drilldown report showing areas to improve title tags and meta descriptions.

    For people using WordPress, I made a short video showing how to verify you WordPress site in Google Webmaster Tools.

  • CanoConsulting

    Hey Ian….I’d like to see if you’ll allow me to republish this article in one of my blogs….I’m also a Web Designer as well as an SEO Consultant….I just finished a 12 week Webinar where I covered a lot of these points with GWT…Let me know…any contribution from you is welcomed at my website. Thanks again, Rick

  • Matt McGee

    Hi Rick — I’m not Ian, but speaking as a staff member here at Search Engine Land, I can say that we don’t allow our articles to be republished on other sites. You are more than welcome, though, to write your own summary/opinion, include an excerpt, and then link to our article. Hope this helps. Feel free to use the contact form if you need any more information: http://searchengineland.com/contact

  • Ian Lurie

    @Lucas Oh, you have to pay me for that :)

 

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