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Let's take a look at how to use the very basics of Google Webmaster Tools to learn what information Google has about your website, as well as provide Google with a few instructions about how to index your pages. The first step is to go to google.com/webmasters and sign in to your account. This requires a Google account, and if you don't already have one, you can head over to Google.com/accounts to create one. Once you're logged in, you'll need to submit the domain you want to manage, and in this case, we'll use explorecalifornia.org.
To protect your account and your website, Google will need to verify that you actually own this domain and that you're authorized to see some critical details of this website. There are a few different verification methods that you can choose from, but you'll need to do this successfully before continuing. The options that you or your webmaster have include uploading a specific HTML file to your site, adding a specific meta tag to your source code, or making a small change to your site's DNS record. Another helpful option is the Google Analytics access method, which you can use if you have Google Analytics installed and administrative access to the account.
Once you've verified a website, you'll see a listing for it in your main dashboard, with any important messages. Here, we can see that there are some WordPress updates that should be installed, as well as some issues with unnatural inbound links. Clicking into this website will bring up a dashboard and a menu of all the different areas of Webmaster tools. You can see some high level information here around Crawl Errors and Search Queries, and you can also get a quick view of the number of URLs you've submitted through your site maps, and the number of URLs that Google has indexed.
You can drill into the Crawl Error reports to look at what problems Google has had while crawling and indexing your site. Crawl Errors can hurt your site in the Google Search Results. So it's important to identify the type of Crawl Error that's affecting your different URLs and take the appropriate steps to resolve those errors. This may include implementing 301 redirects or fixing some Web server configurations. You may also need to remove references to pages that are no longer a part of your site.
You can also click on the Search Queries reports, which provide some interesting details about your organic search visibility. You can see impressions as well as how many clicks you got for different keywords, and you can also see the average positions your site was ranking in for different keywords over a given period of time. You can also use filters to look at specific search queries, different types of search, different countries, or only queries that generated a certain volume of traffic. There are lots of reports and sections of Webmaster tools to review, and I would encourage you to spend some time going through each for your own website.
The Configuration section includes general settings, like what country your website is targeting, what URL parameters are used on your pages and for what reasons, and who else has access to the information in Webmaster Tools for your domain. We've already looked at the Crawl Errors report, but the Health section contains additional functionality that lets you block Google from seeing certain pages of your site, and also lets you know if you've been hacked. You'll also want to check out the Optimization section. This is where you'll be able to review and submit your XML Sitemaps, as well as take a look at the HTML Improvements section to identify potential problems with your site's content that you can address immediately.
As you can see, there are many other features to Google Webmaster Tools that you should explore, and there are always more new features coming out. Google has done a very good job of letting you know how it views your pages and allowing you to provide input into what it knows about you. Staying on top of Google Webmaster Tools month after month is certainly an endeavor that will pay dividends.
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