If you own or run a website, you’re going to want to use Google Webmaster Tools. Some of you may have never heard of it, or have but haven’t taken the leap into getting it set up. It could seem a little intimidating at first, but really it’s pretty simple! We’re going to walk you through step by step on how to get Google Webmaster Tools up and running for your website.
1. Access Google Webmaster Tools
The first step will be getting to Webmaster Tools. The address to get there is: http://www.google.com/webmasters/. Once there, you can simply click on the “Sign in to Webmaster Tools” button.
Next you’ll be asked to log in. This isn’t a special account you need to use Webmaster Tools, it’s just a Google account. Most people have a Google account (if you’ve got a Gmail account, you’ve got a Google Account). If you don’t have one, you’ll need to create one, but we’ll assume you’ve got an account already. Once signed in it will take you to your main Google Webmasters dashboard.
2. Add your first site (or another site)
Your starting dashboard might look a little different than mine. I’ve already added a few sites to mine, but if you don’t have anything there don’t worry! It’s just because you haven’t added any sites to the system yet. The first step here will be to click on the red “Add Site” button in the top right corner.
Once you click on “Add a Site” button, you’ll be prompted to enter the site URL. This does not need to include the “http://” portion of the web address, just the address itself. I do want to point out here that in my example I’m including the “www”. This isn’t necessary, but I do recommend it as you will want to add BOTH with and without the “www”. You’ll see why later down the post.
3. Verify you own the site
After you’ve added your site, you’ll be taken to the verification page. The verification process is needed because without it, anyone could add any site to their dashboard and get valuable insights, which they could leverage to their advantage.
There are several options to verify your site, but I’ll cover the 3 simple options you have. The first option is to download an HTML file, which will be a coded file that you will upload to the root of your web hosting. This is pretty simple as you just need to download their file, and then upload to your website root.
The next option is to include a meta tag to your root website document. If you aren’t using a content management system, this file might be your index.html file or index.php file. If you are using a system like WordPress you’ll want to include this meta tag into their header.php file. The meta tag will look something like this
<meta name="google-site-verification" content="YOUR VERIFICATION CODE" />
The final option, and to me the easiest option is to verify through Google Analytics. You’ll need to have Google Analytics setup on your site before you can verify this way. Luckily, we’ve put together a simple guide to help you set up Google Analytics! Goto How-To: Setup Google Analytics if you don’t already have analytics setup on your site.
Once you’ve picked your method and have gotten everything setup correctly the next step is to click the red “Verify” button at the bottom left corner. If done correctly, you’ll see a confirmation page next.
After that you’ll be taken to the site dashboard, where all setup happens and all the information you need will be visible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t show you any information at first, it could take some time for Google Webmaster Tools to start showing data, and you’ll also need to add in your sitemap, which we’ll explain how shortly.
4. Add some users to collaborate
There are two reasons you’d want to add users to your Webmasters site. One, to collaborate with your partners or employees so that everyone and see and analyze progress with your site. The second would be if you are setting up a Webmasters site for a client, or another company. This is an easy way to give them limited or full access without having to rely on them to set things up properly.
To get to the users settings, you’ll want to click on the gear button in the top right hand corner and go to Users & Site Owners in the drop-down.
This will take you to the list of users. If you haven’t added anyone yet, you’ll be the only one listed here. To add a user, simply click on the red “Add a New User” button in the top right corner.
Next you’ll see a prompt asking for a little bit of information. This is pretty straight forward. You’ll need to provide their email address (keep in mind it doesn’t have to be their Google account if you don’t know it, because they will have to log in anyway, and the invite will still be valid). and then the level of access they have. The two options are Full and Restricted. The simple answer to the difference between these is that restricted access doesn’t have the ability to make changes and full access does have that ability.
5. Geo Targeting
The next thing you’ll want to set up is Geo targeting. This is good but necessary, and depending on the purpose of your site you might not want to limit the Geo targeting at all. If your website services people in a certain country only, than you’ll want to setup your Geo target. For TillerPhish, we’ve selected the United States. We’ve done this because we don’t service any areas outside of the US as of now (that might change in the future) as well as cutting back on spam. There is a lot of spam traffic that will come in from some of the bigger “hacker prone” countries and this helps to reduce that. You get to this section from the Search Traffic drop-down on the left hand side, and then selecting International Targeting.
Keep in mind that this option doesn’t allow you to select multiple options, so let’s say if you service the US and Canada, you’ll just want to leave this section un-checked.
6. Preferred Domain
If you’ll remember, I mentioned before that you will want to add both the “www” and non “www” versions of your website to Google Webmaster Tools. Go ahead and add whichever one you didn’t before and go through the same steps until you get to this step.
The next thing we are going to do is to set the Preferred domain. This is important because it affects the way that Google displays your site in their search results, as well as ensuring you don’t get any type of penalties for duplicate content. Let’s say that you have a blog post at tillerphish.com/some-blog-post/.. you can also access it via the address www.tillerphish.com/some-blog-post/.. If Google doesn’t have a heads up that you have a preferred domain of one or the other, and that you are the site owner of both versions, it might start to see this content as duplicate, and will penalize one or the other, which in reality penalizes both.
To get to your preferred domain settings click on the gear icon in the top right hand corner and select “Site Settings” from the drop-down menu.
Once there it’s as simple as clicking the radio button beside the domain that you prefer. You’ll also see an option below that for Crawl Rate. I recommend not changing this unless you really understand what you are doing.
7. Submit your Sitemap
This is probably the most important part of the setup. This is what will help Google in finding and indexing the pages that your website has. If you are using a content management system like WordPress, you can install a plugin that will generate a sitemap file for you. I recommend the plugin: Google Sitemap Generator. If you don’t use a management system, you can always generate your own. A great site to do this is: https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/. All you need to do is input your web address, and it will automatically create a sitemap file that you can upload to your web server. You will need to upload this file to the root of your hosting. So, the same location that your index file is in. The sitemap file is an xml file, so the full file-name will be: sitemap.xml. This is important to know.
To get to the section to upload your sitemap(s), click on the “Crawl” drop-down on the left hand side and go to “Sitemaps”.
Once there, you’ll want to click on the red “Add/Test Sitemap” button in the top right hand corner. After clicking there you will be prompted to give the URL to your sitemap. You’ll notice that it fills in your domain for you and just gives you a place to name the file. So, you would input “sitemap.xml” here and click “Submit Sitemap”. There is an option to Test your sitemap, but for regular users or users that are manually making their own sitemaps, there really isn’t any reason to test a sitemap before you add it.
After that you’ll be taken to the index URLs page, which shows the number of sites that have been submitted vs. the number of site that Google has indexed. So you can know for 100% that your sites are being indexed by Google!
That’s pretty much all you need to setup to have a good working Google Webmasters Account. Some things I’d like to point out is:
- There is a link to the left that says “site messages” this is where Google will send you messages that pertain to your website and help you configure anything that might not be done correctly, or will let you know if there is a crawl error with your website.
- The initial dashboard you get to when you access your Webmasters Tools is the listing of all sites you have in the system, to start editing or viewing information for one, you can just click on the thumbnail image it’s generated for your site
- Once at the site dashboard, you’ll get a good overview of the main information you need. It will have quick information and quick links to Crawl Errors, Search Queries, which show impressions vs. clicks, and Sitemaps with the pages that have been submitted and indexed.
- Don’t worry if you don’t see any data after you add a site! It could take days or even a week for data to start being visible here. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong if you don’t see data. If there is a problem, you’ll usually get a message in your “site messages” from Google letting you know what the problem is.