While most of us are primarily familiar with Google as a search engine, there are several products and services offered by the company that can help webmasters gain visibility into their websites. While Google Analytics is one of the better known of this suite of tools (we have an in-house Web Intelligence team as well as a web analytics blog which features articles on it), there is another very useful tool webmasters can use. Conveniently enough, it’s called Google Webmaster Central.
Just like Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Central is offered as freeware. All you need to gain access to these services is a Google account. But, once you are in, what can you do? Well, more than you might realize. Once you verify that you are the website owner (by the addition of a slim-line authentication code in your site metadata or via upload of a validation HTML file), Google Webmaster Central offers a fairly robust selection of services, among which are:
- Diagnostic information, such as the ability to identify “crawl errors”. Google Webmaster Central will show you the number of each type of crawl error the search engine has found on your website (with links to the individual URLs with errors).
- Top search queries. You are able to view and research the top searches that bring visitors to your site from the Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Visibility into what the GoogleBot sees. This is basically a detail of the words used most often in your website. As the search engine’s spiders are essentially “blind” (i.e. they can’t see the images used on your site), the way in which relevance to a particular search term is determined is from reading the words on the site’s pages. Knowing what the GoogleBot sees can help you with your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, as well as your web accessibility compliance efforts.
- A listing of external links. This will show you a list of pages on your site with external links to them, along with the number of links to each page. With this listing you can also click through to see the list of external URLs.
- A listing of internal links. This list is presented in an alphabetized format, showing links from your website to other pages within the site (this is also referred to as inter-linking).
- Statistical information for RSS/ATOM feeds. With Google Webmaster Central you can obtain information on the number of subscribers to each feed on your website via the Google Reader and iGoogle. It’s important to note that, if your site offers feeds using a service like FeedBurner, the data in Google Webmaster Central may not match the data from FeedBurner. The reason is that there’s currently no way for site owners to upload a FeedBurner file to the domain or to put an authentication/verification meta tag on the home page. Without this authentication, feeds served up via FeedBurner can’t get added to Google Webmaster Central.
- A listing of site links. This is the list of links and titles that Google has generated for the site and appears in the SERPs.
- Identification of site issues. Your site may have content problems. If there are any issues with missing, duplicate, or short titles or meta descriptions, you can find this information as part of the webmaster toolset.
As Google has the lion’s share of Internet search traffic (with an active reach for 59.41%*), understanding how Google views your site, and diagnosing potential problems, is crucial to increasing your site’s visibility. Learning how Google’s robots crawl and index your website, learning what drives traffic to your site so you can refine your SEO efforts, and actually telling Google about your site by using Google Webmaster Central can help to improve your crawl-ability.
*Figure 1: Nielson Online — Top Online Web Brands in the U.S.
By using the Google Webmaster Central service and its various tools, you can obtain information on how Google, and, by extension Yahoo, MSN, and the other search engines, sees your website. Google Webmaster Central is an excellent way to obtain direct, expert support, diagnose any site errors, and improve your site’s search visibility.