Google’s domination over the web extends far beyond the search engine into tools that help website developer’s fine tune their websites.

The mechanics of search rankings has changed so much over the years that there are now 200 ranking factors that determine where your site will appear in the search results.

Luckily, Google has a resource that allows users to check and monitor the performance of their website.

Google Webmaster Tools is a free service which allows webmasters to check indexing status and optimize a website so it performs better in the SERPs.

It has a variety of built-in tools, some more important than others, to help users make the most out of their web experience.

In today’s SEO environment, I believe every business should use GWT because of the insightful features.

Let’s look at some of the most important benefits…

Quickly Index Your Website

You can improve your indexing by submitting a sitemap.xml file to Google. A sitemap.xml will list all the pages on your site.

The language that it’s written in is .xml which makes the crawling process much faster and more efficient.

It’s very easy to submit and update your sitemap.xml however the initial submission requires that you create a sitemap.xml which can be done by going to XML-Sitemaps.com or by using a plugin like Google XML Sitemaps.

Once you’ve completed the creation process, upload it to your root directory through FTP and submit the URL within GWT.

Going forward the sitemap.xml will automatically be pulled by GWT when you click the update button.

Googlebot Crawl Monitoring

Google has made it clear several times that in order for your site to get indexed it must be accessible. If the Google bots cannot connect to your site they will NOT be able to complete the indexing process.

Within GWT you have “Check and Set Crawl Rate” option which will let you view the crawl errors on your site.

When you access GWT, on the left you’ll see crawl and once the drop-down menu opens, you can select “crawl status” to view the status.

Within this screen you’re given the reason for the crawl error and URL of the page not accessible.

At this point you can correct the error and then resubmit the URL for Google to re-crawl the page. If the crawl status is “ok” then your website is accessible and nothing needs to be done on your end.

External & Internal Links

This is great information to have easy access to since much of your sites rankings are influenced by the interlinking structure and external links pointing to your website.

The higher the authority of sites linking to your website, the more link juice is given to any specific page.

How can you use this information?

If you notice other blogs are linking to specific content on your website than you can adjust your effort to write more content relevant to the high linking page.

You can also use this information to contact the blog owners who have referenced your content to build alliances. Networking is very powerful since we are in a very competitive time with blogging and site development.

GWT will provide a list of people you are linking to as well which is a great way to keep an eye on your outbound links.

Search Queries

This feature provides a list of keywords that you are ranking for in the SERPs.

What a great insight to be able to see what Google thinks your website is already relevant for, and what your customers are actually searching for!

Once you log into GWT, click on “Search Traffic” then “Search Queries” to see a list of keywords that your website appeared for in the rankings.

You can use this information and focus your SEO and content building efforts around those keywords.

Since GWT will provide you page impressions, average position and clicks for each keyword, you’ll get a better idea of the ones performing well.

Add more relevant content for the keywords that have a high average position. This will help build your relevancy for those keywords that people are actually searching for and improve your position in the rankings.

Once you get a list of keywords relevant to your website you can perform keyword research narrowing down the ones you want to focus on.

Check For Broken Internal Links

For those of you familiar with bounce rate, you’ll know that a “broken” link is one way to negatively impact your exit statistics.

A bounce “hit” is marked against your site if a visitor cannot access your site or visits “1” single page before leaving.

There are several reasons why someone will visit only one page like poor content, design, slow speed, etc, however if your site is NOT accessible then this must be fixed immediately.

GWT will provide you a report of “broken” URL’s on your site so you can correct them before you lose valuable visitors and can figure out the real cause of your high bounce rate. Broken URL stats will be under the “Crawl Errors” section in GWT.

Google Penalty Monitoring

Finally, the GWT platform will provide a breakdown of any manual penalties that have occurred on your site.

There are 2 types of manual penalties that may happen.

First, there is what is called an All Site penalty. This is exactly how it sounds. This means your website was flagged as using tactics that were against Google’s guidelines and your entire website has been manually penalized.

Second is the Partial Site penalty. There are various combinations of this, but generally a spammy backlink profile has been detected and certain links going to your website have been devalued.

The typical side-effect is your website, or pages of your website, will not rank for certain keywords. Unfortunately, they are usually the ones you want to rank for!

GWT will let you know if your website is affected under ‘Manual Actions’ in the ‘Search Traffic’ tab.

Google Manual Penalty

You Should Be Using Google Webmaster Tools

If you are NOT using Google Webmaster Tools than you’re missing out on data that can increase your sites performance.

There are several tools available that will provide the same data, however do require a “high” cost monthly subscription.

But what is more valuable than the search engine you are trying to rank for actually showing you what it thinks of your website?

If you’re a business owner you need to open a Google Webmaster Tools account right away, and open the door to how your business website is performing.