As a webmaster, one of the most important things to consider is search engine optimization (SEO). Having an optimized website means getting valuable search engine traffic, which is traffic that you do not have to pay to get. Google has a set of free tools under their Webmaster Tools to help you optimize your website for search engines and create a functional website for your visitors. These free tools help you find broken links within your page and learn about valuable SEO statistics such as backlinks, Page Rank and what keywords are driving traffic to your website.
In order to use these tools, you will need a Google account. If you don't have one, you can create one with any email address; you do not have to use a Gmail address for a Google account. Once you have created your account, go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and log in.
On the Webmaster Tools main page, you will see a button in the middle of the page to add a website. Click this button and enter the domain name of your website. This will bring you to a verification page where you will have to verify that you are the owner. You can verify your website in one of four ways:
1. Link to an existing Google Analytics account
2. Add a meta tag to your homepage's HTML
3. Add a DNS record to your website's domain configuration
4. Upload a special file to your website
Most webmasters use Google Analytics to analyze traffic data, so this is the easiest option since Google has already verified that you own the website. If you do not currently use Analytics, you can add a special meta tag to your homepage and update the page so Google can see the meta tag. Adding an HTML file to your website requires downloading a file from Google and using an FTP client to upload this file to your website. After you upload the file, click on the button to verify, and Google will search for the file. These steps are necessary so Google knows that you do, in fact, own the website and should have access to data.
It can take up to a full 24 hours for Google to collect data about your website. During this time, your Webmaster Tools control panel will be blank. After a day, you will start seeing data and you can use the powerful tools Google provides.
Search engines, especially Google since the Panda release, frown upon duplicate content. Search engines will punish websites for duplicate content, even if the pages in question are located on the same domain. You can tell Google to ignore duplicate content by using a 301 redirect or by telling a search engine not to index a particular page.
You can manually tell Google which domain to search, either the domain with the WWW or the one without. For example, http://www.yourdomain.com and http://yourdomain.com may both contain the same content, but Google will think it is duplicate content and Page Rank will suffer.
To set one website as a priority, you must verify both URLs as outlined above. Once they are both verified, go to Site Configuration in Webmaster Tools and choose one domain name as your preferred domain. Once you do this, only the page on your primary URL will be indexed, and pages on the secondary domain will be ignored.
To exclude certain pages from search engines, use a robot.txt file or edit your settings through Webmaster Tools. To do this, go to your Site Configuration and select Crawler Access. Then select Remove URL to enter the URLs of all pages you wish to exclude from search engines.
If you have a dynamic website, like an e-commerce website, you may have duplicate content on many pages within your website. Webmaster Tools also lets you ignore certain parameters, so this information will not be seen as duplicate content.
Go to Site Configuration and select Settings, and then Parameter Handling. You can set parameters here to exclude certain parts of each web page. Google will then realize this is all the same content and not duplicate content.
Find And Fix 404 Pages
Broken links are frustrating for visitors trying to find information on your page. They click a link on your website or an outside website, and are taken to a blank page. Not only does this lead to less traffic, but broken links do not make search engines happy either. Luckily, Google Webmaster Tools makes it easy to find 404 pages so you can fix them.
Under the Diagnostics section, select Crawl Errors. This will give you all pages that Google had a problem crawling, no matter what the problem was. Look for Not Found errors, which is a 404 error. You will see a list of all pages with a 404 error and the pages that link to them. You will need to manually edit each backlink to point to the correct page.
Add A Sitemap
If you do not already have a sitemap, Google Webmaster Tools can add one to your website. A sitemap tells a search engine what pages are located on the website so spiders can crawl them. This helps new pages get indexed faster, and it helps search engines find pages that do not already have backlinks.
To add a sitemap, click on Site Configuration on the left side of the screen. Then select Sitemaps and then Submit Sitemap.
Google Webmaster Tools are free, powerful tools for a webmaster. They help you find what search terms are bringing traffic to your website and which backlinks are performing well. Find and fix broken pages to increase Page Rank and gain traffic. Prevent a possible penalty for duplicate content by telling Google which domain is priority and which pages or parameters should not be indexed.
Brian Flores is a SEO and blogger for InMotion Hosting, a provider of virtual private servers in the United States. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianAFlores.