Beginner’s Guide to Google Webmaster Tools


 

Are you looking for some love… from Google? Other than buying paid traffic through their AdWords program, the best way to get more traffic from them is through search engine optimization. But before you start optimizing your site, the first thing you should do is sign up for Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).

GWT is a free toolset provided by Google that helps you first understand what’s going on with your website. This way you make decisions based off of data instead of going in blindly.

Here is how GWT works.

Adding your website

add website to google webmaster tools

The first thing you need to do after you login to GWT (it’s free to sign up) is to add your website.

After you add your website you’ll have to verify that you actually own the website. You can do this through four ways:

  1. Add a DNS record to your domain’s configuration – You can use this option if you can sign in to your domain registrar or hosting provider and add a new DNS record.
  2. Add a meta tag to your sites homepage – You can choose this option if you can edit your site’s HTML.
  3. Upload an HTML file to your server – You can choose this option if you can upload new files to your site.
  4. Link your Google Analytics account to GWT – You can use this option if your site already has a Google Analytics tracking code that uses the asynchronous snippet. You must be an administrator on the analytics account for this to work.

Dashboard

google webmaster tools dashboard

Once your site is verified you’ll start seeing data on your website. Sometimes it can take a few hours before you see any data, but it’ll start rolling in.

The dashboard gives you a rough overview of everything from what keywords you are ranking for to how much traffic you are getting. In addition to that you’ll see if the Google bot is experiencing any crawl errors when going through your website, the number of sites linking to yours, and how many pages Google has indexed.

Site Configuration

Just like everything else, Google isn’t perfect. So configuring your site can help them do a better job of ranking your website. When configuring there are a few areas that you should be familiar with:

Sitemaps

google webmaster tools sitemaps

Submitting a sitemap will help Google determine what pages you have on your website so they can index them. If you don’t submit a sitemap they may not index all of the pages on your website, which means you won’t get as much traffic.

Sitemaps have to be submitted in an XML format and they can’t contain more than 50,000 URLs or be larger than 10 megs. If you exceed any of those limits, you need to split up your sitemap in multiple files and then submit them.

If you aren’t technical, you can go to XML Sitemaps to create a sitemap. All you have to do is enter in your URL of your homepage and click “start”.

Once your sitemaps have been uploaded, Google will tell you how many of your URLs are being indexed. Don’t worry, it is common for them to not index all of your web pages. But your goal should still be to get as many pages indexed as possible.

Typically if pages aren’t being indexed it’s because the content on those pages aren’t unique, the title tags and meta descriptions are generic, and not enough websites are linking to your internal pages.

Crawler access

google webmaster tools crawler access

There will be some pages on your website that you just don’t want Google to index. This could be private login areas, RSS feeds, or crucial data that you don’t want people accessing.

By creating a robots.txt file you can block not just Google, but all search engines from accessing web pages that you don’t want them to get their hands on. However, for highly sensitive areas of your website you may want to consider password protecting all relevant directories.

Through the robots.txt generator and tester, not only will you be able to create a robots.txt file, but you will be able to see if it is done correctly before you upload it to your server. It’s wise to do because the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and tell them not to index your whole website.

And if you accidentally mess up and find Google indexing pages that you don’t want them to index, you can request them to remove it through this section.

Sitelinks

google webmaster tools sitelinks

Sitelinks are links to a site’s interior pages displayed on a Google search results page. Not all sites have sitelinks, but as you grow in popularity you’ll naturally get them. Google generates these links automatically, but you can remove sitelinks you don’t want.

Through this section you can somewhat control what sitelinks show up when someone searches for your website. The reason you can’t fully control what pages show up here is that you can only block which pages you don’t want to appear, and you can’t pick which pages you want to appear.

Change of address

google webmaster tools change of address

If you are looking to change the URL of your website, you better let Google know or else your traffic is going to decrease.

You can tell them through 4 easy steps:

  1. Setup the new site – You have to get the new domain up and running. Make sure all your content is available for the public to see.
  2. Redirect the old traffic – A 301 permanent redirect tells users and search engines that your site has permanently moved.
  3. Add your new site to GWT – Make sure you also verify your new website.
  4. Tell GWT your new domain – In the change of address section, you can select the new domain name of your website.

Settings

google webmaster tools settings

If your target audience is someone in a specific country, then you can select this option in GWT. For example if my target customer for KISSmetrics lives in the United States, I would then tell GWT that my target audience lives in the United States.

In addition to that you can select a preferred domain name. This is going to be http://yourdomain.com or http://www.yourdomain.com. Either one works, you just have to select which variation you prefer. The reason for picking one is that people may link to both versions of your domain and by selecting one Google will combine the links, which will help your rankings.

The last setting you should be worried about is crawl rate. If you feel that the Google bot needs to be crawling your website more often and faster then you can tell them to do so. Or you can just let them pick the crawl setting for your website. (this is typically the best option because if they crawl your website too often it can cause too much bot traffic going to your server and increase your hosting costs)

Your website on the web

Have you ever wondered how Google looks at your website? After all, it’s a search engine and not a human… so naturally it won’t be able to look at a website in the same way you do.

But luckily for you, through GWT you can see how Google views your website.

Search queries

google webmaster tools search queries

Not only is it important to go after keywords that have high search volume, but it is important to make sure that you have a good click through rate.

By monitoring the search queries page, you can work on improving your click through rate so that people are more likely to click on your listing when they search. Typically you can do this by making your title tag and meta description more attractive as that is what people read before clicking through to your site.

Links to your website

google webmaster tools links to your site

The best way to increase your rankings on Google is to get more sites to link to you. Usually this happens naturally if your website is providing valuable information to potential customers.

A good way to monitor your link growth is to continually monitor this area in GWT. In addition to that, make sure you monitor which pages people are linking to.

If your links aren’t growing fast enough consider writing relevant linkbait that could be submitted throughout the social web. Getting on the homepage of Digg.com can drive thousands of new links to your site.

Keywords

google webmaster tools keywords

You may have a good idea of what keywords you want to rank for, but that may not be consistent with what Google is ranking you for. Under the keywords section you can see what keywords your website is the most related to.

You can also see what variations of each keyword that are also relevant to your website. For example some people misspell keywords and you can find out which misspellings your website is most relevant for.

And if those aren’t the keywords you care to rank for, you can then use that data to adjust the content on your website.

Internal links

Google Webmaster Tools Internal Links

Linking your web pages together is a great way to get more Google love. For example, if you want your about page to rank for your company name make sure you link to it multiple times.

If you don’t link to your internal pages, they will not get as much PageRank and they won’t place as well in the search listings.

In addition to that, this data will also help you determine which pages Google feels is the most important. For example, if you look at the image above you’ll see that website owner felt that their about pages was one of the most important pages on their website. So naturally Google felt that as well.

Subscriber stats

google webmaster tools subscriber stats

If you have a blog, this area of GWT will be useful for you. If you don’t, it won’t.

Under the subscriber stats section you can see which of your blog posts are the most subscribed to by Google’s feed reader. You can then take that data and write more posts that are similar to your popular ones. And of course, you can stop writing blog posts similar to the ones that no one subscribed to, as readers probably didn’t enjoy them as much.

On a side note, if you want to track your RSS growth, you can also check out Feedburner, which will allow you to track how popular your feed is.

Diagnostics

Websites are made by humans, so don’t expect them to be perfect. Your code maybe a bit messed up, and even worse, your website may contain malware.

Through the diagnostics section, you can figure out what’s wrong with your site and how you can fix it.

Malware

google webmaster tools malware

If you have malware on your server, you should see a message here. If you don’t, GWT won’t show you much.

The reason it is important to not have malware on your server is that Google tries not to rank infected sites high because if someone goes to an infected site, their computer may get infected. If you do happen to have malware, make sure you clean it up.

Crawl errors

google webmaster tools crawl errors

The crawl errors section will show you if there any problems that relate to your site on the web or on a mobile phone. The most common error that you’ll see is a 404 error, which means Google’s bot can’t find that page.

The most common reason that you’ll see 404 errors is because other websites sometimes link to pages that don’t exist on your website or used to exist.

What you need to do is get a list of all of the websites that are linking to dead pages on your site and hit them up. When emailing them, ask them if they can change that link to a valid page.

Or if you see a lot of people linking to a dead page on your site, you can always 301 redirect that old URL to the new URL.

Crawl stats

google webmaster tools crawl stats

If you have thousands of pages on your site, then you should expect Google to crawl most of these pages on a daily or weekly basis. If they aren’t, then something is wrong.

Through the graphs and data tables that GWT provides, you should be able to get a good sense if they are crawling enough pages on your website. If they aren’t, consider adjusting the crawl rate under the settings tab.

HTML suggestions

google webmaster tools html suggestions

When Googlebot crawls your site, it may find some issues with your content. These issues won’t prevent your site from appearing in Google search results, but addressing them may help boost your traffic.

The most common problem is related to title tags and meta descriptions. If every page on your site has unique and detailed title tags and meta descriptions, you should be fine. At the same time, you also have to make sure your title tags aren’t too short or too long.

And if that isn’t the case, then you can go through the URLs that GWT tells you they have an issue with, and fix it.

Labs

GWT regularly tests new features out. The easiest way to find out about these new features is to go through the labs sections.

Fetch as Googlebot

google webmaster tools fetch as Googlebot

With Fetch as Googlebot you can see exactly how a page appears to Google. All you have to do is type in a URL and GWT will tell if they could successful see it or not.

There currently isn’t a ton of data that GWT is showing in this area, but I expect this to change in the future.

Sidewiki

google webmaster tools Sidewiki

If you’re a webmaster, you can leave a special Sidewiki entry on pages of your site. You can choose to leave a master entry for the whole site, or create page specific entries to engage your visitors.

All you have to do is:

  1. If you’ve successfully validated your account in GWT, you will see an option to write as the page owner.
  2. Select the “Write as the page owner” checkbox in the entry form. If you’d like to leave a master entry across the whole site, also select the “Show this page owner entry on all pages…” checkbox.
  3. Click Publish.

Site performance

google webmaster tools site performance

Your website’s load time is one of the most important things you should be monitoring. Every month you should be making sure you improve this number because if your website is too slow your Google traffic may drop.

Numerous website owners have seen a positive increase in their traffic by improving their website load time.

If you aren’t sure how fast your website should load, don’t worry. Google will tell you if your website is too slow or quick enough.

Video sitemaps

google webmaster tools video sitemaps

If you have video on your site, you want to make sure you include those raw video files in your sitemap. This way, Google can index them as they may not be able to find them otherwise.

This will help ensure that your videos are getting the traffic they deserve from Google video search.

If you are trying to create a video sitemap, this page should explain how to do so.

Conclusion

GWT is a useful tool that’s free. If you aren’t making use of it, you should start doing so now. The reason it’s worth using is because it will help guide you and tell you what to do if you want to improve your Google traffic.

What are you waiting for? Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools, it’s FREE!

A Guide to Google’s APIs


Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

 

 

Google has been opening up many of its most popular services to outside developers over the past year, including the Google Docs API this week. From quirky applications to venture-funded startups, a wide variety of new services are being launched leveraging Google’s APIs, helping users perform a multitude of tasks. Here is a non-technical introduction to some of the company’s most popular APIs and some of the most interesting applications built on top of them.

Google Toolbar API

The Google Toolbar is widely-used and comes standard with Firefox. The Toolbar API allows developers to create buttons for Google Toolbar, thus creating a way for you to add data from your web site to the user’s web browser. For example, the Fox News – Latest Headlines button will display all of the latest news from the Fox News site and let you click to the story. In addition to the more than 100 apps featured in the Google Toolbar Gallery from mainstream names like CNN and YouTube, dozens of independently developed applications and mashups have also been created. For example, the Twitter Google Toolbar Button allows you to input Twitter feeds and receive updates in your toolbar.

Google Gadgets API

Perhaps the most important of the Google APIs for those looking to take advantage of Google’s massive user base, the Google Gadgets API allows developers to create applications that run on iGoogle (formerly Google Personalized Home), Google Desktop, Google Page Creator, and the “Google Gadgets for Your Web Page” directory. For example, the CNN TV gadget streams live news, while Outlook Tasks imports your task list from Microsoft Outlook. Assuming you are able to get your application into Google’s official directory, the Gadgets API is a great way to gain exposure for your company’s product.

Google Base API

Google Base is Google’s service for listing things online – essentially a classifieds service integrated with the company’s other products like search and Google Checkout.

The Google Base API allows developers to both search the Google Base database and input new listings. Thus, shopping sites, classifieds aggregators, and others are building applications that either expand their own listings or allow sellers to submit items to multiple sites at once. vFlyer is a service that enables you to post to Google Base, Craigslist, and eBay, among others. For real estate listings, BaseEstate integrates Google Base listings into their service, which displays properties on a mashup of the Google Maps API.

Google Calendar API

The Google Calendar API allows developers to build applications that let users create, manage, and delete events from their calendars. Online task manager Remember The Milk has utilized the Google Calendar API to enable their users to sync their task list with their Google Calendar. For business users, there is a mashup on Salesforce.com that allows you to merge your events from salesforce.com with your Google Calendar. If you want to sync your Google Calendar with your mobile phone, open source project GCALSYNC allows you to do so. With dozens of startups focused on finding and managing events, expect more mash ups with Google Calendar in the future.

Google Desktop SDK

The Google Desktop SDK (Software Developer Kit) allows developers to build plugins that extend the functionality of Google’s popular desktop search software. Some plugins add capabilities to Google Desktop, while others are essentially widgets for other programs that you can place in your Desktop sidebar. An excellent example of an application that adds capabilities is the Google Desktop Search Plugin for Windows Explorer which links the “Search” icon that can be found throughout Windows to Google Desktop instead of the default Windows search tool. On the widget side of things, any Google Gadget can be quickly and easily added to your Desktop sidebar, thus making Gadgets an attractive method for developers to reach new users.

 

Google Maps API

One of the most popular (and longest running) Google API’s is that of Google Maps. The API allows developers to built applications that plot their own data on top of Google Maps. We recently took a look at 13 Must-See Google Maps Mashups, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of applications using the API, ranging from Frappr’s social maps to Trulia’s real estate search. In addition to the API, Google also recently introduced Maplets, essentially allowing developers to place Google Gadgets on Maps.

AdWords API

The Google AdWords API allows developers to design new programs for managing and analyzing AdWords campaigns. This has lead to a variety of software packages (many of which are of course advertised on Google) that built upon AdWords. For example, the VisualCalc AdWords Dashboard turns data from AdWords into charts and graphs for analyzing which campaigns are performing best, how clicks and conversions are tending over time, and how various metrics compare in different ad groups. Unlike most of Google’s other APIs, developers pay a fee to build applications for AdWords, which is why most of the applications built to-date such as VisualCalc cost money.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets APIs

As announced earlier this week, the Google Documents List Data API allows developers to build applications that can upload documents to Google Docs, request a list of a user’s documents, or search content within a document. The Google Spreadsheets API performs similar functions, allowing external applications to access and edit data within the company’s spreadsheet program. A good example of these relatively new APIs in action is Swivel, where data can be pulled in from Google Spreadsheets and then utilize Swivel’s community tools for analyzing and discussing data.

In all, Google currently offers more than two dozen APIs, which can be found on the Google Code site. Much like the Facebook platform or the APIs offered from widely-used startups like Flickr and Twitter, Google’s APIs provide developers with an “in” to millions of potential users through Google’s vast reach. In turn, creating applications that are both useful and provide smooth integration with an existing Google service is an effective way to spread your product through technology instead of relying solely advertising or viral marketing. At the same time, as Google continues to add new APIs and expand on existing ones, the company further expands its reach as the developer community builds new products tailored to Google products and services.

Make use of Cloud services. More effectively


Cloud computing icon

Image via Wikipedia

 

Cloud and cloud services are the latest buzz words, be it with major organizations, medium businesses, individual developers or ordinary home users. Everyone wants to share and store their documents, media and files on to the cloud. That is because it is simple, you can access it anywhere, gives you centralized storage, providesbackup and most cloud service companies claim that it is exceedingly secure. Many technology evangelists around the world foresee Cloud as the next big thing incomputer technology and predict that it will change the way we work, store, share and connect.

Listed below are few common tips on how an individual or home user can effectively use cloud service.

Backup your documents from Google Docs

Google Docs is the most extensively used online documents storage and sharing cloud service offered by Google. It offers to store, edit, save and share all major document formats commonly in use. Even after the assurance of online reliability from Google, it is safer to keep a backup on your offline storage. Not because Google data centres may crash tomorrow, but simply because your Internet connection may face issues one day and you may need a specific document urgently.

With Google Docs, you can download all your online documents into a zip file and save it offline. It allows a maximum download of only 2GB per zip file.

Open Google Docs and log in using your Google account. Select checkboxes of all or only required documents. Click Actions. Click Download. Choose the respective document formats or proceed with the default selection. Click Download. Wait for the processing to complete, post which it will prompt you to open or save the zipped file. Save it offline.

Backup your documents from Google Docs

Listen to music from Dropbox

Dropbox is fabulously good for storing and sharing any kind of files over the Internet. You can even store your music collection on Dropbox. These music files can also be played online via DropTunes service.

If you do not have any music files in your Dropbox, upload few from your hard drive. I uploaded a track by Enrique Iglesias.

Listen to music from Dropbox 1

Now, go to DropTunes and log in with your Dropbox credentials only. Navigate to the folder where your music files are stored. It will list all music files with a Playnext to each one. Click the respective Play button to play that track online.

Listen to music from Dropbox 2

Sync My Documents on your Windows to Dropbox

The My Documents directory on Windows acts as a primary document storage directory for most of us. Isn’t that the sole purpose Microsoft created it in the very first place? I think yes.

You can sync your My Documents directory to Dropbox. Therefore, anything you store, move or delete within My Documents will automatically synchronize with Dropbox. You should have the Dropbox client installed on your computer and a Dropbox directory already set.

Right click on My Documents and select Properties. Click on Location tab. Click the Move button and choose the already set Dropbox directory. Click Select Folder. Click Apply and then OK. Your My Documents directory is now synced with Dropbox.

Note: My Documents directory in Windows 7 may be found under the directory with your Windows Username (commonly placed on the desktop).

Sync My Documents on your Windows to Dropbox

How do you play around with Cloud services?

HOW TO: Become a Google+ Beta Tester


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Want to test new Google+ features before they become available to the public? Now you can, thanks to a newly launched Google+ program.
To sign up to be a beta tester, head over to the Google+ Platform Preview page and enter your email address. Any address will work, so long as you’re signed in to your associated Google+ account.
You’ll need to click on a link in a subsequent confirmation email to confirm your entry into the program. After that, Google will email you every time new features are available for you to test out.
If you’re looking for additional Google+ resources, be sure to check out our roundup of 15 guides and services for Google+ power users.

In Battle for Patents, Google Buys a Batch From I.B.M.


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In the heated battle for technology patents, Google is using its checkbook to bulk up.
The technology giant bought more than a thousand patents from I.B.M. this month, for a broad range of applications. In an e-mailed statement, Google confirmed the purchase: “Like many tech companies, at times we’ll acquire patents that are relevant to our business needs. Bad software patent litigation is a wasteful war that no one will win.”
The purchase was earlier reported
 by SEO by the Sea blog.
The deal comes less than one month after Google failed to win a cache of more than 6,000 patents from telecommunications equipment maker Nortel Networks
. The company lost out to a consortium of competitors that included Apple and Microsoft, which paid $4.5 billion in cash for the lot — well above Google’s initial bid of $900 million.
Google pursuit of patents is largely seen as a defensive maneuver, to deter lawsuits from rivals.
In a blog post in April, Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, wrote, “a company’s best defenses against this kind of litigation is (ironically) to have a formidable patent portfolio, as this helps maintain your freedom to develop new products and services. Google is a relatively young company, and although we have a growing number of patents, many of our competitors have larger portfolios given their longer histories.”

“Google Music” a challenger for iTunes


Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Google are about to give us a new gift this Christmas “Google Music”; rumors abound that Apples iTunes will have a credible competitor for the downloading of music.

Consider “Google Music” on Android phones, will certainly keep the pressure on the iPhone

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

An anonymous record label has confirmed that Google was in talks with labels and the general feeling was quite positive.

Reports suggest that Google began work in the music space last year with the launch of a music search feature. When users searched Google for any kind of music, among search results would be streaming audio previews and music discovery features from music-centric companies.

More info here …..