John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. This is “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing company north of Boston, Massachusetts. Today my guest is Pavel Khaykin, senior vice president of digital marketing.
Pavel Khaykin: Hi, John. How are you?
John: Good. Today our topic is website analytics using Google Webmaster Tools; a little bit of a primer on what Google Webmaster Tools is. Give me the background on Google Webmaster Tools. What is it?
Pavel: Google Webmaster Tools was developed by Google. Basically it’s a tool to diagnose a website and identify potential problems such as errors, broken pages, and certain penalties that your website could potentially experience that you may not necessarily have an insight on when using other tools like Google Analytics. It’s an added platform to gain additional website analytics statistics and insights.
Why Is Google Webmaster Tools Important?
John: Why is it important to set up a Webmaster Tools account?
Pavel: It’s very important because it provides you statistics, especially that now Google took away all of your search queries, and you can no longer see which keywords are driving traffic to your website using Google Analytics.
John: This is that “Not Provided” thing where basically you used to be able to see every single keyword when somebody would come to your site. You could see what keyword they came in for, and now Google, for most of the searches, all you see is “Not Provided.” They’re not telling you what that keyword is that’s behind the scenes.
Pavel: Exactly. This is a problem that really created a lot of frustration with site owners. We no longer have access to the keywords, so we don’t really know which keywords are driving traffic to your site, but Google Webmaster Tools does give you some insight into the keywords.
It will give you a sampled set of data, but it can still help you diagnose which keywords on the branded level and non‑branded level, are driving traffic to your site. Even though it’s a sample, it’s still a good way to judge and get a sense of what keywords are performing, and which aren’t.
Setting Up A Google Webmaster Tools Account
John: What does it take to set up a Webmaster Tools account? I know you have to verify your site. What does that mean?
Pavel: It’s a very simple process, actually. It’s literally a matter of going to google.com/webmasters, and adding your website, and taking another step to upload a piece of code to your website, which is literally a snippet that Google gives you. You just paste it on your home page, and click “Verify” in Google’s Webmaster Tools Admin Panel, and you’re all set. That’s really all it is.
John: This basically just prevents other people from being able to set up a Webmaster Tools account and see all of your data. You have to have access to your website to add this little piece of code to it in order to verify it, so not just anybody can set up a Webmaster Tools account and see your data.
Pavel: That is correct. You have to have access to your FTP and you have to be an administrator in order to really get that information. Otherwise anyone could get that data, and you wouldn’t want that.
John: You can see some keyword information, what keywords are driving traffic to the site. What are some of the other things that I can learn about my site through Webmaster Tools?
Pavel: I feel that broken links report is super useful, just because it allows you to see which broken pages Google is aware of.
John: This would be error messages like “404,” “File not found” “Errors,” and things like that?
Pavel: Exactly. The nice thing about Google is it gives you the date that those links were discovered, and it gives you a trended history of going back, let’s say three months, so you can see if there was a spike in a certain level of errors, you can alert the webmaster in terms of if there is a sharp rise in links that we need to fix or address.
How Google Webmaster Tools Can Help with Penguin or Panda Penalties
John: Google Webmaster Tools also gives you information about your backlinks, or the other sites that are linking to your site. Is that right?
Pavel: That is correct. You’ll get a set of links that Google is aware of, so you can see some of the new links that you’re website is acquiring and keep track of that.
Another nice thing about Google is it’s something they started doing recently, over the past couple of years or so, actually giving you insight into penalties. Whether you were affected by Penguin or Panda update, or other algorithms.
If your website has some form of penalty, Google will now alert you so that you can take steps to address that and actually fix it and file a Consideration Request with Google.
John: They let you know there’s an algorithmic penalty on your site, or a manual penalty on your site, and if it’s a manual penalty, this is maybe the type of thing that we’re seeing that we’re penalizing you for, and then you have to go out and fix those things, so it gives you a lot of good information about that.
Pavel: That’s correct. Google is definitely becoming a lot more transparent in terms of communicating with webmasters and giving more details, whereas in the past, they were very secretive. They still are.
There are over 200 factors that go into the Google algorithm, but at least you’ll get some form of guidance and hints in terms of what needs to be fixed so you can use that and improve your website. Google does want to index quality content, and that’s a great way to communicate with webmasters.
John: You’re not just left in the dark where you’ve lost all of your ranks in Google, and you have no idea why. You can usually find out the reason why by going into Webmaster Tools, and there’s usually some sort of penalty there or something.
One of the things that I always used to like about Google Webmaster Tools was if you set up your site as both the www version of your domain name and the non‑www version of your domain name, you can tell Google which one of those you want to be the real or canonical or main version of your site that gets indexed.
That prevents Google from indexing your site under both types, with and without the w’s, and that can clear up some of the confusion there in the index.
Pavel: That’s a great point, John, and especially with duplicate content, sometimes you have certain versions being indexed, and sometimes you have the non‑www being picked up by Google, so it definitely helps create a consistency in terms of how your website is indexed
Also international targeting ‑‑ that’s another thing you can influence by creating certain settings in Google Webmaster Tools so that if you’re targeting a certain demographic, a certain country, you can specify that to make sure that your website is being picked up accordingly.
John: Also, if you’re not seeing all of your pages getting indexed, you can also submit a list of your pages, or an XML site map, or even just a basic text file with the URLs of your pages. That can sometimes help Google to crawl your pages.
That’s less important now than it was some years ago because Google’s gotten so good at crawling all of the pages on your site, but that used to be a big deal.
Pavel: It used to be, that’s true. For a brand‑new website, it’s super useful, just because you’re launching your site, and it still may not have historical value. It doesn’t really have any links, so if you create an XML site map, and let’s say the date of the launch, you submit it to Google Webmaster Tools, chances are the next day the entire website will be indexed by Google.
An XML site map is a great way to expedite that process so that you’re not waiting and waiting for Google to just pick up your site until links start coming in. You’re just guiding Google in terms of what pages should be crawled. Google is pretty fast at handling that process.
John: Any final thoughts on Google Webmaster Tools before we finish?
Pavel: Google Webmaster Tools just rolled out a new feature focused on search analytics. It’s really what they’ve been doing before, but it does have added benefits now where you can do more of a comparison on a month‑to‑month basis, and additional filter capabilities.
We’re still looking into it, but they’re definitely continuing to improve it over time, and it’s something that we’ll be investigating more closely.
John: Something to look forward to, and something for us to do another podcast on later. Thanks, Pavel, for speaking with me today.
Pavel: Thank you, John, it was great.
John: For more information about digital marketing, visit mcdougallinteractive.com, and make sure you subscribe to this podcast in iTunes. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.